If you’re planning to visit Malta, you might be wondering how many days to spend in Malta. Although it’s easy to spend to one week in Malta, I considered four days to be the perfect amount of time in Malta to see the main sightseeing attractions in Malta. If you’re wondering what to do in Malta without the expense of a car, keep reading as you can do a surprising number of things in Malta during four days. I wrote this guide as most of the guides that I found about Malta focused on having a car. Malta is small, so my husband and I chose not to rent a car during my long weekend in Malta as I felt that we could see everything that I wanted to see with the bus after checking the schedule.
Summary of your Malta itinerary:
- Day 1: Valletta
- Day 2: Day trip from Valletta: Game of Thrones / Mdina and Rabat
- Day 3: Gozo
- Day 4: Marsaxlokk
- Map of our four day Malta itinerary
Note about four days in Malta and Gozo and going car free in Malta
At the time that I took this trip to Malta, I didn’t have much vacation time left. In trying to maximize my vacation time while working full-time, I ended up deciding to take a long weekend in Malta. I was very concerned that four days in Malta would be far too rushed, but the trip felt laid back with an easy pace. Most of the fun of Malta is enjoying their food, culture, wine, and history, so if you’re lounging at a good restaurant with a glass of Maltese wine, good on you.
Although most people rent a car in Malta, I was more interested in exploring the city centers, where a car isn’t practical. As a result, we chose to spend our four days in Malta and Gozo without a car. I don’t feel that we missed out on much as it allowed us to walk around in warm weather. Our carbon footprint grows as soon as we take a plane anywhere and I liked the idea of countering a bit of the emissions spent on our plane ride with minimizing our footprint via taking buses instead of driving. (Additionally, renting a car just adds to the cost of the trip!)
Whenever I mentioned that I wouldn’t rent a car in Malta, every Maltese person that I met was concerned. However, I really felt that getting around Malta with public transportation was easy enough with using Google Maps. If you’re interested in getting a bit off the beaten path in Malta in places where it’s harder to get there without a car, it’s easy to take a tour or taxi. I hope to revisit Malta to see more of this beautiful country in even warmer weather.
Day 1: Valletta
I was lucky enough to arrive into Valletta bright and early ready to explore. I took the bus from the airport into Valletta, which was quick and easy. Thanks to a colleague of my husband’s, I was lucky enough to be introduced to a charming local who was eager to show off her hometown. I include detailed information about the Maltese public transportation system as well as how to get from the Malta airport to Valletta at the bottom. Valletta’s modern day architecture dates back to the 16th century and the city now falls under a UNESCO world heritage sight. Valletta very much feels like an old European city due its Baroque architecture, however you’ll find evidence of British rule, including iconic red telephone booths.
Every alleyway and street is full of charm, so be sure to look for the pregnant windows, a Maltese classic that you might spot in movies that tried to pass off Valletta as another European city. Be sure not to miss the stunning Upper Barrakka Gardens, which give you panoramic views of the Harbor. Originally these gardens were used by the Knight of St. John, who are responsible for building Valletta. Note: The closer you are to the tourist attractions, the more that you’ll find prices for basics will rise.
After enjoying the Upper Barrakka gardens, be sure to pass by the elaborate buildings along Triq-In Nosfsinhar, which mostly belong to the government. Valletta is small and walkable, so meander the narrow streets until you find St. John’s Cathedral, which dates back to the 15th century. Of particular note is the Palace of the Grand Master, which is the administrative capital of Malta since 1571. Originally used by the Knights of St. John for governing, it was also used using British colonialist times for the government. Now, this building is used by the House of Representatives in Malta. Even if you don’t enter to visit the Armory (8 euros), the exterior is worth admiring. Be sure to stop off at the Lower Barrakka Gardens for scenic and romantic views over the water, especially around sunset. For the iconic shot of Valletta from the water, consider taking the Sliema ferry.
At the request of my husband’s colleague who had been living in Valletta, we went to Anciova, a Sicilian restaurant with phenomenally fresh seafood multiple times. (It’s a little outside of the city center in Gzira.) Martese also brought us to Sotto Pizzeria Italiana, which is her favorite pizza place in Valletta for a nice sit-down dinner with high quality ingredients. For a more complete guide to Valletta, please check out this comprehensive local guide to Valletta.
Where to drink in Valletta
If you’re into craft beer, do not miss Wild Honey. This cozy, small craft beer bar in the historic center has a fantastic selection of both local beers as well as international beers (including hard-to-find Belgian beers!). The bartender is friendly and it’s even possible to sit outside on a nice day. For wine, you’ll find many great wine bars in Valletta, many with a historical atmosphere. My husband’s colleague recommended Trabuxu Wine Bar for both cocktails and wine for unparallelled atmosphere. The bar is located in a 400 year old stone cellar and their bartenders are truly talented.
Where to stay in Valletta
You’ll find numerous 4* hotels in the historic center of Valletta as well as boutique hotels in historic buildings. There’s also a number of hostels close to Valletta. Although St. Julian’s is more popular than Valletta among the partier crowd, I think that it’s worth it to stay in Valletta for two nights to experience the historic atmosphere of the capital of Malta. To save money, consider staying right outside of the city center in Sliema, which means that you can take the ferry to/from Valletta. We stayed in Pieta, which was even less expensive and required only a longer walk to Valletta. I felt that Pieta was a better base for exploring Malta without a car.
Day 2: Day trip from Valletta to Mdina/Rabat
If you’re coming to Malta for Game of Thrones locations in Malta, you must include Mdina on your Malta itinerary! Even if you’re not into Game of Thrones, Mdina and Rabat are beautiful cities with a rich history and stunning architecture. It’s possible to do a Game of Thrones tour for the full-day, as I did, or you can independently visit Mdina/Rabat. There are good resource online about the various locations, so don’t feel that you’re required to have a tour to visit Mdina.
How to get from Valletta to Mdina by bus: Get onto bus 51, 52, or 53 and get off at Mdina Gate. The journey should take about thirty minutes. Although most people assume that you cannot visit Malta without a car, you should have no problems if you use Valletta as a base.
Mdina existed prior to Roman times, however it was fortified during Roman times. This small fortified city had three main gates, including the stunning Mdina Gate, which was renovated in the 1700s. Mdina is and remains the silent city, where many noble families have their ancestral family homes. As a result, very few people (400) actually live in Mdina full-time. In peak season, Mdina is crazy, so try to come here early in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the bus loads of tourists as visiting Mdina is one of the biggest attractions in Malta included in most Malta itineraries. There are countless alleyways in this historical city, so don’t be afraid to get lost.
Some people choose to stay in Mdina overnight to enjoy the beautiful atmosphere once all the tourists leave after taking a day trip although there aren’t many hotels within the city center of Mdina, bur rather in Rabat outside of Mdina. You’ll find a variety of hotel options here and it should be easy to drop your luggage off at your hotel after arriving into Mdina. Just be aware that the alleyways make it tricky to find the same spot twice, so be sure to flag your location on Google Maps! If you’re looking for something special, Xara Palace is a historic five star boutique hotel in an old palace in Mdina where celebrities often stay while filming in Malta, close to the city gate.
If you spend the morning in Mdina, be sure to stop for lunch outside of the city center (in Rabat) at Il-Veduta Restaurant. This stunning restaurant has incredible views over the nearby countryside, a friendly cat (if you’re lucky enough to see it), and delicious food at a reasonable price. As Mdina is quite touristic, I can recommend stopping here for a late lunch after doing some city exploring.
Rabat is derived from the word “suburb” in Arabic and it’s what lays outside of Mdina (derived from “market”). It’s a short walk (1.2 kilometers) from the Mdina Gate to St. Dominic’s Priory. The reason? Game of Thrones. This stunning church with a quiet courtyard was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones and stands in for the Red Keep.
Beyond Game of Thrones, this church has a fascinating history as it originally started in a nearby grotto (now below the church) where a local farmer saw the Virgin Mary. Although the grotto is not accessible anymore due to the steep steps, pilgrims often come here after a marble statue of the Virgin Mary appeared to be shedding tears of blood, starting in 1999. After the Vatican tested the blood confirming it as a miracle, they put the statue beyond glass where you can see it today. The church is free to enter.
Once you’re finished in Rabat, feel free to head back to Valletta or Mdina depending on what you prefer. Although I loved Valletta, the atmospheric alleyways of Mdina was one of the highlights of my four day trip to Malta.
How to get from Rabat to Valletta by bus: Get on bus 51, 52, or 53 from outside of the church
Day 3: Gozo
For today, I recommend getting up early if you’re visiting Malta without a car. In the morning, hop onto bus 41 or 42 towards the Cirkewwa Ferry Terminal. The bus journey from Valletta to Cirkewwa will take about an hour and a half (less if you’re lucky), so be sure to get up bright and early today. I recommend bringing your bags with you as the journey is long enough that you’ll want to stay overnight in Gozo or back on the main island closer to the ferry.
The ferry to Gozo is one of those really experiences in Malta that allows you to appreciate the Malta and Gozo coast by sea, even if you don’t have time to kayak around the island. I spent most of my journey enjoying the views from the deck. You can purchase a ticket on the Gozo Ferry upon arrival and the journey will take about 45 minutes. Expect to pay a bit less than five euros round trip. (It’s possible to pay with card.) Inside of the ferry station, you’ll find a cafe in case you’re in need of a coffee or breakfast although there’s also food/drinks on the ferry itself.
Where to stay on Gozo
Once arriving into Gozo, you’ll need to take bus towards your accommodations and the main attractions on Gozo. For ease of transit, I’d recommend staying in Victoria as it’s the main bus hub of Gozo and you’ll have more food options in Victoria. We stayed further away in Qala, close to the ferry although over three miles away from the ferry, which made things quite a bit more difficult for us with our bags without taking a taxi or a bus. There are certainly more scenic parts of Gozo to stay in than Victoria, especially if you can stay in Gozo near the coast. If you have the opportunity, try to stay in a historic Maltese farmhouse for the unique experience.
Once you drop off your belongings, explore Victoria. Victoria is pretty small and walkable, with a charming atmosphere, complete with red telephone booths. Be sure to stop off for pea pastries, which you’ll find at many of the bakeries that you’ll pass by in Victoria. These Maltese specialities are delicious! If you choose to, you can head up to the Citadel for epic views, but we chose to focus on doing an adventure activity in the morning prior to heading to Ġgantija.
Ġgantija it-Tempji tal-Ġgantija
I’m quite into history and I had to visit the neolithic temple of Ġgantija. Built before Stonehenge (3600 and 3200 B.C.), this massive temple of connected rocks was hidden from sight for hundreds of years prior to its discovery in the 1800s. The museum within Ġgantija has some kid-friendly exhibits although I felt it was one of the most engaging museums about neolithic history that I’ve seen.
Some visitors and locals assumed that the temple belonged to giants due to the size of some of the stones, however it’s believed that this Maltese megalithic temple, used for ceremonial sacrifice, could be seen from all around the island at its peak. I was impressed by the sophistication of these early settlers to Malta as well as the ambitious construction that involve stacking numerous stones that fit together. (It takes maybe two hours to see Ġgantija if you’re a history geek like myself although longer if you befriend the friendly kitties who make it home now.)
Adventure activities on Gozo
You’ll find a number of adventure activities on Gozo as the rock face is some of the best in the world for climbing due to the porous holes in the rock and the crystal clear water makes it perfect for diving . If you’re visiting Gozo in warm weather, be sure to look up deep water soloing. This is when you climb directly over the sea without ropes and if you fall, you fall into the sea. No sweat. It’s still best to try this activity with a knowledgeable guide who will know the safest routes where you cannot harm yourself if you fal.
Many climbing activities and diving activities on Gozo will be half-day adventures, so if you’re interested in going sea kayaking in addition to climbing, this is possible. We went with Gozo Adventures (Phone number: +356 99 99 45 92) and I was very happy with our experience. Our guide was well experienced at climbing and would give us feedback on the routes/how to improve our climbing. The rock was a bit sharp, but easy to grasp due to the many holes. For beginner climbers, it might be harder than you realize as I struggled on natural rock despite climbing regularly at a rock climbing gym.
Other notes on Gozo
We stayed out in Qala with an adorable snuggly cat who loved to fall asleep in my lap. The Maltese are cat lovers and this really pleased me. We went out at Zeppi’s Pub, a cozy hole-in-the-wall bar with a mix of locals and tourists. The drinks were very reasonable. I found the prices for food and drinks higher in Victoria although we ended up having a great meal at a cozy local cafe.
Note on travel in Gozo: The Azure WIndow on Gozo is unfortunately underwater now. If you’re a diver, you can still see the remains of it, however it is NOT possible to visit the Azure Window anymore. I was lucky enough to see it and it’s heartbreaking to see this stunning landmark gone.
Day 4: Marsaxlokk
Depending on your day, I recommend leaving Gozo earlier to have time to head towards Marsaxlokk, one of the gems of Malta that you cannot miss during your four day trip to Malta. This sleepy fishing town is one of the best places to get seafood and fish in Malta, as recommended by our local friend. It will take about 1.5-2 hours to get from Cirkewwa to Marsaxlokk using the public bus and you’ll have a transfer close to Valletta.
Marsaxlokk is an easy day trip from Valletta if you have an evening flight and prefer to stay in Valletta, otherwise you can do it as a half day trip prior to departing for the airport. It’s also possible to stay in Marsaxlokk if you’re interested in soaking up the charming atmosphere for one more evening in Malta prior to heading to the airport in the morning. The airport is only five kilometers away.
Once you to get to Marsaxlokk, ask one of the hotels if they can hold your luggage for a small fee, so you can explore this beautiful town unencumbered by your baggage. If possible, be sure to to visit Marsaxlokk on a Sunday in order to enjoy the market, a great place to buy Maltese souvenirs. (Be sure to have cash as you’ll want to buy the homemade salt, honey, and alcohols!) There’s usually stalls on other days if you miss the main market that cater to tourists.
Marsaxlokk has a small port area, however it’s full of charm, so it’s easy to spend a half a day here just taking in the colorful boats painted in traditional colors. Be sure keep an eye out for the eye on the boats, which is a tradition that dates back to Phoenician times.
Marsaxlokk is still a fishing town and you can get some of the freshest fish in Malta here. As described by our local friend, walk along the port to see the various restaurants and what their catch of the day is before committing. Most restaurants will provide a set meal with 2-4 courses for less than fifteen euros depending on the fish included. Lampuki (Mahi-Mahi) is very popular although you can also get swordfish or tuna. My husband loved the lampuki that he got although you’ll find other specialities. Ask what’s fresh before you order as it’s a good sign when a restaurant has a handwritten menu that changes with the catch.
We ended up having our lunch at Ta’ Mattew, a casual seafood restaurant with a good lunch special. The owner was incredibly friendly and the portions were massive, so be sure to have a light breakfast… I absolutely loved the fresh octopus, lightly cooked in lemon and spices. Eating was definitely my favorite thing to do in Malta and the high quality meals were a highlight of our four day trip to Malta. My meal at Ta’ Mattew was one of my favorite meals in Malta due to how fresh the seafood and fish was.
To get from Marsaxlokk to the Malta Airport, you can take a taxi for about 20 euros (if you’re in a rush) or two buses, which will take about thirty minutes with a transfer close to Valletta. If you’re considering staying the night in Valletta, it should be possible to drop off your baggage earlier in the day prior to taking a day trip from Valletta to Marsaxlokk.
Advice on taking the bus in Malta
The public transportation in Malta is far better than many residents described to me, however the buses don’t run that regularly between certain cities, so it’s important to check the bus schedule ahead carefully. I used Google Maps and the journey planner on their website for up-to-date information about bus journeys. We usually paid with cash/coins as I didn’t end up buying the tallinja card, which allows you to tap in for the bus with a preloaded balance. Another option is the 12 single rides card, which is valid for up to one year.
How to get from Malta Airport to Valletta by public transit
Depending on your destination, you’ll find several buses from the Malta Airport into Valletta, including bus lines 71/72/73. I recommend double-checking your route as well as the stop before going as well as having three euros for the bus in case you don’t have time to get a reloadable bus pass.
The Maltese buses are modern with electronic stop announcements, so check the top scrolling bit to determine if you’re stop. Maltese people are super friendly/helpful if you seem like a tourist and you’re unsure where to get off. There are clear signs to the bus stop. If you’re more into taxis, you’ll find taxis waiting in front of the airport although you should go to the booth first to pay for your fare.
Taxis in Malta
Malta and Gozo are fairly small. If you need to take a taxi, you can get across the islands in around forty minutes. Our Maltese friend recommends pre-booking or ordering your taxi in Malta using eCabs, a reliable taxi service that we used multiple times on Malta. They have a handy app that allows you to pay by card and I was impressed by their professionalism.
At the airport, you’ll need to go to the desk in order to book a taxi and prepay for the distance, which will get you a cheaper rate. According to our friend, it’s best to prepay if possible as some taxis will take a roundabout way if you’re paying by fare and you’re clearly a tourist.
Map of the Malta itinerary
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