Malta in Winter, Malta is an island south of Italy and Sicily and was where we spent 4 days between Christmas and New Years. I know that it is a very popular destination in the summer but not as much is known for the winter months. Let me tell you, it was truly wonderful!
Why visit Malta in December?
Although it was the Maltese “winter” it was nothing compared to that of colder climates such as London. In fact it felt more like autumn, where I was wearing a light jacket and a maxi dress or jeans on most days! Beach days were also involved.
If looking for somewhere in the British winter that is slightly warmer with a vast history, Malta should be on your list! Temperatures ranged from 14-16 degrees Celsius and everyday the skies were blue with no clouds in sight!
See below for my recommendations of what to see, where to eat and where to stay.
How to get there?
British Airways flies to Malta from London once a day. We left London on the 8:05am flight which brings you into Malta for mid-day
The island is small making it easy to get around to all places with less than 30 minutes drive to most visitor sites. It takes 45 mins to drive the entire length of the island! Buses are dotted all over the Island and will take slightly longer.
Taxis – there is always a fear when abroad that you’ll get ripped off with prices or taken the long route. I never felt this in Malta, the people are truly kind and generally want to help you enjoy your holiday! At the airport there is a taxi stand where you can pre-pay your journey. They have fixed fares for all part of the island, it cost 17 Euros from the airport to Valletta. I thought this was very reasonable.
Where to stay?
The top 2 hotels in Valletta (based on my personal research) were the Phoenicia and the Grand Excelsior. Valletta would be my recommended area to stay for a short break as it in the main old town and also port town.
From here it is the perfect place to base yourself, in the heart of all the sites. I have done a more detailed post on Phoenicia vs Grand Excelsior, comparing the two here but you can’t go wrong with these two, we stayed in both hotels.
Things to do
There are so many things to do and places to see, below are my favourites and why.
St John’s Co-Cathedral
This Cathedral is based right in the heart of the old town. There was a small queue to get in, but with good reason. The line helped to regulate the traffic so it isn’t too busy inside. Once you pay for your fee, they also provide audio guides in a variety of languages.
The history of this place is amazing, there is also an exhibition in here, on one of the most famous painters for the Cathedral, by Caravaggio. The main painting he did of St John the Baptist is the most famous piece in this Church and the only paining he signed.
Lower Barakka Gardens
Great spot so see the harbour and watch boats go by in the last afternoon whilst the sun was setting. The coast of the gardens is lined with canons to protect the border in the past. As part of tradition, at 4pm everyday there is a ceremony where they fire the canons. It is quite a surreal experience and takes you back in time for a moment.
This is a beautiful spot along the coast to see the bluest sea and there is a little town with cafes to have a little bite to eat. I also saw some people scuba diving. You can also pay for tours that will take you along the different caves and grottos by boat. Although I didn’t take the tour myself, I have heard great reviews, although I was more than happy to watch the view from a nearby cafe!! 🙂
Hgar Qim is a architectural site known for rock formations that are older than Stonehenge in England. In fact there seemed to be quite a few sites in Malta that are older than Stonehenge!
Archeologists found and restored this site. The experience stats with an informative 4D video, followed by an entrance into their museum with lots of information and photos. This was great to already build your knowledge base. Then there is a walk outside along a path that will lead you to the architectural site. You can walk around and through parts of the ruins which is great to see it all up front and close.
This used to be the capital of Malta and is in the middle of the island. The whole city of Mdina is built on a hill and makes sense being the capital in the past. You can see across all of Malta so would have been perfect for security.
It is so much fun walking around here. It is all picturesque alleyways with different shops and houses. Literally every corner felt like another photo opportunity. It felt like a real castle, like how royalty would live.
I would recommend coming here in the late afternoon. The city gets quieter at this time and watching sun set over one of the roof top bars is magical! I would fit Blue Grotto, Hgar Qim and Mdina into one day (in that order), it forms a perfect route if driving from Valetta.
This island is north of Malta Island and is a great day trip if you have the time. The best way to get there is driving up to Cirkewwa ferry terminal and there are boats every 45 minutes. There is so much traffic to Gozo on the weekend so I would highly recommend arriving early on the weekend or try to visit during the week. We went on Saturday and waited 2 hours to reach Gozo.
Once we arrived onto Gozo we drove to the capital, Victoria, which is also a medieval town similar to Mdina. It too was beautiful and rich of character. Afterwards, we drove to the seaside town of Xlendi where we watched the sunset and had an early dinner. I liked the local feel of this seaside town, with a few restaurants along the waterfront serving seafood and Maltese food. Just before we headed back to Valetta, we also had a cheeky gelato as well!!
Sliema by ferry
Sliema is on Malta island well know for being a popular place to store your boat but also a ship dockyard. All the yachting companies will have a base in Sliema. It is possible to reach here by walking along a few bays from Valetta. However there is also a boat ferry that goes across the bay. This is much faster and I always love exploring different types of transport when in a new city! This was so much fun and the boats run every 45 minutes.
Must visit Restaurants
If you go to one restaurant in Malta, you must go here! I am actually craving to go back as a write this! It is located jus off Strait Street which is where most of the restaurants and bars are in Valletta. This place makes all their pasta fresh and their menu includes traditional and specials. You get to pick the pasta type you’d like and the type of dish. They have seating inside and outside. It gets busy so even if you have to wait a bit, it it well worth the wait!
They have 2 serving sizes: starter and main. The difference is that starter is 140g of Pasta whilst main is 160g. We were a group of 4 and had a starter each, shared some bruschetta and also made sure we left room for their yummy chocolate panna cotta desert. The chilli, garlic and oil pasta was delicious. So was the carbonara, but after tasting the 4 on our table I bet the rest of their dishes are just as good as well. This was just the right amount of food!
This place was wonderful for a more upmarket sit down restaurant. It is in an old building with beautiful high ceilings and traditional Maltese decor. This is also on Strait street in downtown Valletta. We tried a delicious bottle of Maltese wine called Caravaggio for only 15 Euro’s and was so good! You can also order fresh fish where they bring out a trolley of fish for you to see which one you’d like! I went for a seafood pasta – it had to be done as we went here on my first night in Malta! As you can see – I like my pasta haha.
The Terrace Restaurant
We took the ferry to Sliema from Valetta, I always enjoy trying different forms of transportation in new places. The ferry was so much fun! This restaurant is on the waterfront and has a great choice of seafood dishes. The place transforms into a club over the summer as they have a swimming pool downstairs.
I liked the menu, as you could turn your starters into a main course should you wish. We shared mussels and prawns with a refreshing bottle of rose! The food isn’t as good as they other restaurants but the view makes up for it!
This is not a specific gelato place, but wanted to say that you must utilise those post dinner walks and grab a gelato. They are so yummy and reasonably priced, even in the touristy areas we paid 1.70 Euro for a cup/cone of gelato. In Italy I have paid much more!
If I had more time I would have loved to try Roots restaurant, their charcuterie board looked delicious!
Let me know your Malta recommendations!