48 Hours in Malta
We began our European cruise in Spain and we cruised into the stunning grand harbour of Malta on a beautiful sunny day. We were about to spend 2 days in Malta and it just wasn’t long enough. You really need much more than 3 days in Malta to really appreciate the island.
Malta’s Unesco World Heritage capital Valetta is a perfect tiny gem of a capital city. It is extremely walkable although there are many steps up and down the charming cobblestone streets. It is known as a Citadel Capital surrounded by the bluest seas you have ever seen and towered over by its 16th-century fortifications.
Malta was built by the Knights of St. John, the Knights of Malta and it has the highest density of historic sites of any country in Europe. Some sites are older than the pyramids and it’s famous Grand Harbour takes in tens of thousands of cruise visitors a year.
It was at Grand Harbour that scenes for Game of Thrones were filmed at. On the east side of the Grand Harbour in Karkala, Fort Ricasoli doubled as the Gate of the Gods of King’s Landing.
Ships dock at the Valletta Waterfront just outside and below the walls of Valletta.
From our ship, we could see Valletta and the Three Cities. The Maltese call the 3 cities Cottonera, they are Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Bormla (Cospicua).
From the docks, you can take an elevator/lift up to the top of the Barrakka Gardens which is a must-see on the 2 days in Malta list. From this point, you can simply walk through Valetta very easily. You could also walk up the 100’s of steps to the city but since eventually you will want to visit the Gardens perhaps the lift up and a walk down is in order.
The bus station is just a 5-minute walk from the elevator and from here you can get to anywhere in Malta quite cheaply. The taxi stand is a few minutes from here or you can catch one from the waterfront itself. The White taxis have set fares from the airport to most places on the island.
Opposite the lift at the cruise dock you can find the Three Cities ferry, or why not take a traditional dghajsa water taxi either straight across to Vittoriosa (€2) or on a half-hour tour of the Grand Harbour (€10).
Did you know that Malta is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites? These are the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples and the Hal Safleni Hypogeum.
The Best Time to Visit Malta
Thanks to some great weather Malta is a year-round destination. We went in October and found the weather simply perfect. During the summer months, if you like lots of heat and humidity July and August are the busiest months for beach holidays.
Spring is a perfect time to visit Malta, April, May and June are supposed to be the most pleasant months and there are tons of local festivals and holidays to take in.
An international fireworks festival in May and June are held in Valletta, local village feasts, medieval re-enactments in Mdina take place in May, and the strawberry festival Festa Frawli are a few of the things you can do in Malta in the springtime.
Getting from Malta’s airport to Valetta
Flights arrive at Maltas’ international airport hourly from all over the world. Getting to the airport or from the airport in Maltas is easy and there’s re 4 express bus lines to transport you there. Reaching the airport in Malta by bus is very straightforward thanks to four express lines designated X1, X2, X3 and X4.
The cheapest option to get to Valetta is by taking the X4 bus that leaves the airport every 30 minutes. The trip lasts around 25 minutes and costs about 2€.
You can also just take a taxi, taxi fares are fixed in Malta and the cost will be 15€.
2 Days in Malta: What to Do and See?
For your two days Malta Itinerary, there is no time to waste. Our cruise ship sailed into the capital Valetta and we disembarked for an adventure in seeing as much as we could with walking tours of Valetta. First stop from the harbour is the lift to the Barakka Gardens which saved us some hard uphill walking.
Once you get off the lift make your way down Valletta’s main street – Republic Street and make sure to take some side detours to have a look at the beautiful little laneways and the homes with the gorgeous balconies and the outstanding door knockers.
The gallerias are an important and unique design feature in traditional Maltese buildings. These galleries decorate many buildings in Valletta but I couldn’t find much about them. Today there is legislation in place that protects the gallerias and grants are available to restore them.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
The Upper Barakka can be found close to Castille Place on the Southeastern part of the city. Located not very far from their Upper Barrakka twin, the Lower Barrakka Gardens are perched atop the Valletta bastions (St. Christopher’s Bastion to be precise), a little further North, on the same side of Valletta.
The Lower Barrakka Gardens are about a 15 minutes walk down from the Upper Gardens. Both gardens are simply magnificent providing stunning views over the Harbour.
The Upper Barakka is a collonaded garden created in 1661, and they were the exclusive private gardens of the Knights of Italy. It was only in 1824 that the gardens were opened to the public, during WWII the Gardens were heavily damaged by bombing but have since been beautifully restored.
The terrace provides one of the best views of Malta Harbour a panoramic view that includes the three cities. The gardens are home to a collection of statues, busts and plaques dedicated to various famous scientists, explorers and notable heroes of Malta. The famous Maltese sculptor, Antonio Sciortino sculpture ‘Les Gavroches‘ depicts three children hurrying forward, with the statue itself signifying the extreme hardships faced by the Maltese population at the turn of the 20th century.
The Lower Barrakka Gardens has brilliant views of the mouth of the Grand Harbour and you could sit here watching the ships, boats and yachts come and go for hours.
The Lower Gardens also have a midday gun salute that takes place on the Lower Barakka Gardens. This takes place every day and the cost is Adult (16+ years old): €3. The views alone make this worthwhile.
Victoria City Gate
Named after Queen Victoria you will spot the gate near the bus station. It is the only gate within the fortification of Malta that has survived. If you are taking the lift up when you exit the lift and walk towards the bus station which you can see from the elevator you will spot the gate itself.
National Museum of Archaeology
This is an important Knights-period building and home to the extraordinary Goddess statues and other carvings from Malta’s unique Neolithic temples. If the Goddess Archaeology on Malta fascinates you as much as it does me take a tour to Mnajdra and Hagar Qim to visit these unique neolithic temples that are older than Stonehenge. The sites are only 500 metres apart so make sure you see both of them.
My feminist hackles rise when studies (by men) show that these may not be related to the Goddess cults found all over Europe. Not only that but when the goddess figures are tagged as “fat ladies” or “obese figures” I get really annoyed. It’s pretty obvious when you take a look at some of the representations that not only do they look remarkably similar to others found across Europe but there is also an amazing resemblance to the Sheila-na-gigs of Ireland.
If you get a chance and are as obsessed with this type of anthropology and archaeology as I am take a Goddess Tour.
Enjoy unrushed visits to the temples of Ggantija, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, Tarxien, and the spell-binding, world-famous Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, where the ‘Sleeping Goddess’ was found. We also visit archaeological sites which require special permission to access.
Explore the abundant folklore of caves and miraculous springs, handcrafts (most notably the beautiful handmade bobbin lace of Gozo, weaving, and the delicate beadwork of ganutil), visits to local artists’ studios, and the indigenous folk music of Malta (Ghana).
This little church is nothing compared to the big cathedrals in other European capitals but it was the first building to be erected in Valletta way back in the 16th century.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the city’s iconic monument. The Cathedral looks a little underwhelming from the outside but it hides its incredibly sumptuous interior. Inside everything is covered with gold and painted. It isn’t a huge cathedral by some European standards but it is amazing.
The marble floors hide some 375 tombs of the Knights of the order and there are 8 chapels dedicated to each of the orders.
If you want to avoid the lines you should get there first thing in the morning or around 12:30 during the lunchtime break. In addition, you should know that you need to be appropriately dressed for women you need to cover yourself with a shawl if you have a sleeveless dress or top on.
Casa Rocca Piccola
Open to the public Casa Rocca Piccola is a 16th century Palazzo belonging to the 9th Marquis de Piro. Guided tours are available and inside you will find some stunning treasures and ancient artefacts of Malta.
The tour even includes 3 bomb shelters cut from solid rock. The prices for the guided tours are €9 for Adults
The Grandmaster’s was the leader I guess you would call him of the Knights and of the people of the Island. The Grandmaster role is still in place today but has evolved to a more community-based role rather than a warrior one. The Grandmaster’s were pledged to take care of their knights, ensure that they practised and kept their vows to God and took care of the community.
The Grandmasters Palace is now the seat of the President of Malta. You can visit the Palace’s State Rooms and view the only full set of the famous French Gobelins tapestries left in the world. The Staterooms also contain an incredible display of armour and weapons once belonging to the Knights of Malta.
Republic Street and Merchant Street
The main shopping streets in Valletta and on Sundays there is an awesome market on Sundays known as The Stalls of Valletta or Il-Monti. It takes place on Merchant street you can literally buy anything here from clothes, leather goods, snacks souvenirs the displays are endless.
There are smaller markets that take place during the week but this is the big one.
The 3 Cities – Malta’s Harbor Towns
The shuttle boat to the 3 Cities will stop first at Vittoriosa in Birgu. Birgu is the oldest of the Three Cities and existed well before the arrival of the Knights. It is also the most popular town among the Three Cities due to its historical and cultural significance. A grand restoration project has been going on in Birgu for several years and there is now a great selection of little cafes, fine restaurants and boutique hotels.
The Birgu Waterfront project, which includes a magnificently restored fort, museums, a yacht marina and several places for entertainment and fine dining. Fort St. Angelo is where the Knights of St. John first settled in Malta around 1530.
Fort Saint Angelo
Fort Saint Angelo was also used in the filming of Game of Thrones. It was the location for the Red Keep Prison and the Underground Chambers. In Season 1, Episode 5 Arya chased a cat into the dungeons under the castle and overheard Varys and Magister Illyrio. The Fort is also where Ned Stark was kept before his beheading.
Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Bormla doesn’t have a lot to see but there is the famous Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Worth it for the restored beautiful interiors and precious works of art including The Madonna and Child by the Italian painter Veneziano.
Bir Mula Heritage Museum
The Bir Mula Heritage Museum will give you a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived here before the Knights set foot on the island.
Senglea is also small with not a lot to see except for some stunning works of art on display in the Our Lady of Victories Parish Church. There are also outstanding views of Valletta from the Gardjola and its garden.
The Mdina Malta
Around a 25 minute drive from Valletta is the Mdina a must-visit in your 2 days in Malta. Mdina is the old capital of Malta but it was abandoned by the Knights of the Order when they wanted to be closer to their ships in case of attack. Mdina is a superb fortified city with charming narrow streets. You can get a bus easily to Mdina which is the way to go as cars are not allowed here at all.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan (like myself) some of the GOT filming locations are a must for your 2 days in Malta bucket list.
It was in the Mdina that Games of Thrones filmed Catelyn and Ser Rodrik riding into King’s Landing to attempt to find out what caused Brandon’s fall and later where Ned Stark says his goodbyes to Catelyn when she leaves King’s Landing after the death of King Robert Baratheon.
Mesquita Square was the setting for the attack on Ned and his guards which led to his imprisonment. It was also used for the setting of Little Finger’s brothel and the Street of Steel.
You will need at least a morning or afternoon to explore and here are some highlights.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral and its museum rank as one of the highlights of a visit to the Mdina. The cathedral is said to be built on the site of the villa belonging to Publius, the Roman governor of Malta who welcomed St Paul in AD 60.
Vilhena Palace was the site for the Grandmaster’s Palazzo and is one of the most Baroque buildings in Malta. It opened as a National Museum of Natural History in 1973.
The former home of Capt Olof Frederick Gollcher who was the son of a prosperous shipping merchant. Gollcher was a collector of objets d’art and historical objects. Palazzo Falson was not only his home but also a setting for his works of art and antiques. After his death in 1962, the house was restored and the contents displayed to the public.
Rabat is across the public square from Mdina. Here you can visit the Church, catacombs and caves dedicated to Paul the Apostle.
St. Dominic’s Convent
The Convent was used as the Red Keep Garden when Ned Stark confronted Cersei about the father of her children being Jamie her twin brother. The famous quote that came out of this confrontation was from Cersei ‘When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.’
St Paul’s Catacombs
A Roman cemetery complex which represents the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity on the Island. These catacombs are perfect examples of Roman and Byzantine burial sites.
This is a unique Royal Palace passed down through many generations it is a 16th Century Palazzo that has recently been restored. It is a private family home where you can take tours and see how the other half lived and still live.
The Blue Grotto Malta
Any 2 days in Malta must take in the world-famous Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is a complex of 7 caves across from the islet of Filfla. For those oldies among us, you may remember the Robin Williams movie Popeye which was filmed in the area.
Sadly the world-renowned Azure Window Tieqa tad-Dwejra, as it is known in Malta collapsed after heavy storms. A boat tour is the best way to see the caves and you can swim and snorkel in the waters. If you are spending 2 days in Malta you can take a 20-minute boat trip to the area as well.
What to eat in Malta
If you are like us and taking a cruise and spending only 2 days in Malta here are some fabulous Maltese dishes that you should try. Yes you can eat vegan in Malta the options are somewhat limited but they are available.
Coffee and pastries
Located in an old palazzo in the bustling streets of Valletta, Caffe Cordina traces its origins back to a small tea shop in Bormla, it has since grown and become a beacon for foodies going to Malta.
This is absolutely where you must enjoy a Coffee and pastry or a light lunch.
Sitting in the main square enjoying a glorious cup of Maltese coffee you must have some Pastizzi. This delicate golden flaky pastry traditionally contains a filling or either peas or ricotta.
Because of Malta’s situation on the Med, you will find some of the finest restaurants serving traditional foods everywhere. Do not however be tempted to eat on the waterfront near your ship. There are much better restaurants in town and you will find the prices much lower. Be aware though that many of the restaurants are closed on Sunday evenings.
A top favourite among the Maltese people is stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew), often identified as the national dish. Legend has it that it started off as a form of resistance to the Knights of St. John who imposed strict hunting laws.
Traditional Maltese food is rustic and based on the seasons. Look out for Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Rabbit Stew, Bragioli (beef olives), Kapunata, (Maltese version of ratatouille), and widow’s soup, which includes a small round of Gbejniet (sheep or goat’s cheese).
Where to eat in Malta
In the Mdina try Medina with its beautiful stone courtyard dripping with oleander and vine leaves. In the winter months, there is a roaring fire to settle by with a glass of wine. The food is both traditional and modern, fresh local and beautifully presented.
Set between the bastion walls in Valletta it has a terrace tucked in between the inner and outer fortifications. Known for its fish dishes the restaurant has a fabulous ambience.
A tiny wine bar and restaurant this is where to come to sample Maltese home cooking. The Maltese Meze includes bread, two types of olive oil, arjoli (made from sun-dried tomatoes, capers, olives and anchovies), local goats’ cheese and ravioli. Meat and vegetable dishes follow usually including a couple of slow-cooked hotpots. To end the Mezes have some of the Chef’s homemade chocolates and limoncello. Legligin is open on Sunday nights, one of the few restaurants in Valletta that is.
A “national” restaurant serving traditional Maltese cuisine you would think it would be chocka with tourists but even the Maltese themselves love this place. On Fridays and Wednesdays during the summer months, it hosts Maltese Extravaganza Nights, with roving mandolin players and singers and a Maltese folk show along with supper.
This is a great place to try the local favourites including fish soup, fresh pasta filled with local cheese, beef bragioli, bakes and thick Maltese sausage. Everything is served in really large portions and on Saturday nights and Sunday lunchtimes there is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and Thursday night is rabbit night (rabbit is Malta’s national meat).
What to buy in Malta
A Silver filigree cross or a gloriously colourful piece of Mdina glass. Souvenirs that you can eat or drink make fabulous treats for friends. Try some of Malta’s prickly pear jam, nougat or some baked honey rings.
Qubbajt (Maltese Nougat)
Nougat is one of Malta’s most popular sweet treats here it is known as Qubbajt.
Maltese Filigree Jewelry
Filigree jewellery is not my particular favourite but here in Malta, it is beautiful art. Gold or silver wires are twisted into intricate patterns and adorn earring, necklaces, brooches and bracelets.
If you have never tasted prickly pears then you are in for a treat with this liqueur. It’s very mild and often served as an aperitif after dinner. If you are not crazy on the booze grab some prickly pear jam to remind you of those lovely 2 days in Malta.
You can find Ġbejna in most shops in Malta but it is a product of Gozo. It’s a round cheese that’s made from unpasteurized goat’s or sheep’s milk. It comes plain or flavoured and the garlic one is delicious.
Bizzilla is a Maltese lace using practices that date back to the times of the Knights. Dozens of bobbins threaded with various thicknesses of thread are used to create these beautiful lace items that range from coasters to full bed covers.
What to Pack for 2 days in Malta
Thanks to the pleasant Mediterranean weather, you can really pack light for exploring Malta in 2 days. Pack light particularly if you go in the summer months and if you just want to take carry-on make your outfits different with accessories. Don’t forget to take some cash with you as many of the little local shops don’t take credit or debit cards and in particular when shopping the markets. There are bank machines on the Island so you can get cash when you need it.
Personal experience tells me that I need a carry-on bag with those twisty wheels that go in all directions and has both carrying handles and a pull-out drag bar thingy. I want sturdy fabric, preferably in a day-glow colour so I can see the damn thing if I do have to check it. I also want soft sides that give a little – just in case. My recommended one? Well, I pick the azure blue Travelpro Maxlite 5 19″ Expandable International Carry-On Spinner. I know it’s a mouthful but it is a great case and so far so good it’s lasted me 5 years of repeated airport bashing.
Now this one may seem a little odd but I see a lot of N. Americans complaining that most hotels and B&B’s in Europe and the UK don’t have washcloths. Well, that’s true I mean after all who wants to use a used washcloth. Take your own these are great quick-drying washcloths that are reusable and environmentally friendly.
Now if you are really concerned about the whole liquid issue why not take solid shampoo bars and body wash bars. These products are paraben and SLS free, TSA approved (so to speak) perfume-free and chemical-free. That makes them very environmentally friendly and they are so easy to use.
Now you are going to need a 110v to 220v voltage converter so you can plug in hairdryers, phones, laptops or tablets and so on. My personal favourite and one that has lasted me 4 years is the Bestek Universal Travel Adapter.
Trust me on this one you will have more photos than you can store on either your phone or your camera and you don’t want to be deleting any to take more before you get home.
This Ultra Scandisk chip will work under adverse weather conditions (we get a lot of those here) and keep your photos or drone footage totally safe. A flash drive for your Smart Phone or Android will also come in very handy.
I’m not going to recommend cameras or other types of photographic equipment such as a drone because – well because I am a crap photographer who uses a good cell phone for most of my photos. Now I want a drone but I have to admit I haven’t bought one yet. So I was reading all kinds of reviews and know which one I want this a Holystone 1080P Drone….sigh if only. This has a huge flying time of 26 minutes.
This little beauty is a Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger, which is an absolute, must-have when travelling. I keep mine charged and then bring it with me just in case. There is nothing worse than running out of juice when you are snapping some of the best views ever. You will never be out of power with this charger.
A concealed travel pouch may be one of the most important items you bring with you on your trip to Ireland. This unisex RFID blocking concealed travel pouch is lightweight and comes in several colours. It has lots of organization to give you peace of mind. You can keep your most valuable documents safe and secure next to your body.
If you have a pouch already you may not want to or need to invest in a new one, like me. If it does not come with RFID protection, these RFID sleeves would be handy to prevent identity theft. This configuration comes with enough passport and credit card sleeves that the entire family would be protected. They are slim too, so they will easily fit into your wallet.
If you are planning on taking a lot of pictures with your phone you will definitely want to consider an external charging battery. This Anker high-speed phone charging battery is the exact one I use. It can be used on a variety of phones.
I hate selfies but if you have to have one or if like me you have shaky hands the FugeTek Selfie Stick and Tripod has Bloothtooth connectivity so it is very easy to use. It is made of long-lasting aluminium and is very lightweight and easy to carry.
Don’t forget to bring along a universal power adapter on your trip to Ireland. This worldwide power plug is a great example and will charge your phone at the end of your busy days. And this world traveller adapter kit can charge several devices at the same time.
If you want to travel light and in Europe with paying extra for luggage you need packing cubes. These Bagail packing cubes are the exact ones I use whenever I travel.
This foldable water-resistant backpack is brilliant for making sure your things are protected and secure. I don’t bother to carry a purse this is what I find works for me mainly because it’s “hands-free” and I can easily carry everything in it.
I love this antitheft backpack it looks good and doesn’t look scruffy it has a grey finish and it fits my 15″ laptop perfectly.
I adore a scarf – when travelling light scarves can make or break your wardrobe. I always take around 5 with me to change up my outfits. I’m not exactly an “outfit” kind of person but when I want to cheer up my basic black, white and grey wardrobe a scarf fits the bill perfectly. They are also extremely handy when entering sacred sites or churches so you can cover your head instantly.
This lightweight cotton scarf comes in a huge variety of checks, plaids and stripes perfect for adding that little personal style to your travel wardrobe.
I do love a fancy embroidered scarf as well, it can be used as a shawl and I have this type of scarf in a few colours and I can use it as a shawl, scarf or headwrap with its beautiful embroidered flowers I feel a little more dressed up.
If you have an aversion to mixed fibre scarves and wraps why not go for an environmentally friendly hemp version? This type of scarf will last virtually forever and the colours it comes it will brighten every wardrobe.
Now I’ve had my eyes “done” – no it’s not what you think I had cataracts quite bad ones in each eye. So it took 2 years on a waiting list to get them removed. Now I can actually see without glasses and I’ve worn them since I was 8 years old.
What I have noticed is that I react quite strongly to sunlight and my eye doctor recommended that I wear sunglasses whenever I’m out and in particular to make sure they are polarized. What a difference I got my Oakley’s and haven’t looked back and I can see stuff I never thought possible, when the glare of the sun reflects on the ocean or any kind of water I can actually see it’s like a miracle.
Last but not least for Malta a beach bag big enough for all your beach requirements – that is if you go to the beach. I adore this one it’s big enough to pack for the entire 2 days in Malta and it has great hidden pockets. I also love the fact that it is made by a small company and is very sustainable.
So there you have it 2 days in Malta and a fabulous review of what to do in those 2 days.