The best city breaks to enjoy in Malta

With 300 days of annual sunshine, Malta is the perfect place for a short break any time of year.

Team Wanderlust
15 November 2023

Whether you’ve a passion for history and culture, consider yourself a committed foodie or enjoy immersing yourself in nature, Malta is a great place to plan a short city break. Mild winters and hot sunny summers give you the flexibility to choose when to come – any season is ideal. You’ll soon appreciate that the beauty of this archipelago lies in its diversity.

Each of the three main islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino – offers something unique. Getting around is straightforward, thanks to its excellent public transport and frequent ferry connections. English is widely spoken and they drive on the left, making it easier to explore independently and get around on your own. And remember that this versatile destination is only a 3.5-hour flight from the UK and Ireland. The hospitable Maltese extend visitors a warm welcome, so let’s tempt you with some suggestions for five different but equally appealing city breaks.

Valletta

Stroll through Valletta’s storied streets (Visit Malta)

The Knights of St John founded the Maltese capital in 1565. It’s still one of the best-preserved fortified cities on the planet, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, it remains compact and easily walkable, though as it’s packed with more than 320 monuments you’ll need your comfiest shoes. Take a break and enjoy the sea views from the Upper Barrakka Gardens; refuel in the warm Mediterranean sunshine on the Waterfront.

Republic Street is a must; running parallel to the sea, it’s lined by an eclectic mix of shops, cafés and restaurants, museums, galleries and palaces. Strait Street is where you’ll find the city’s best bars and live music. In centuries past, this was the city’s wanton reprobate. Sailors flocked to this rowdy, debauched place to let off steam – they called it The Gut. Today, it’s cleaned up its act to become the focal point of Valletta’s nightlife. But in the light of day, the honey-coloured cityscape deserves to be viewed from the water, making a boat trip an essential activity.

Mdina

Vilhena Gate is Mdina’s Main Gate (Visit Malta)

Hop on a vintage bus from Valletta’s modern bus station and feel the breeze on your face as it winds its way up to the walled city of Mdina. The Phoenicians founded this hilltop town as Maleth; it later became Mdina, Città Vecchia and Città Notabile. It was once Malta’s capital. Because of this, you’ll hear people refer to it as the Silent City – a nod to the depopulation it experienced when it lost that status to Valletta. Today, however, it’s thriving. In peak season, the town throngs with day-trippers; stay overnight to appreciate its charm.

Cross a stone bridge and enter through its ornate Main Gate, designed by Charles François de Mondion in 1724. Within the old city, visit the National Museum of Natural History in Palazzo Vilhena and the Mdina Cathedral Museum, housed in a former Jesuit seminary. Or, simply lose yourself in its labyrinthine alleyways which lead to elegant mansions, stone bastions and scenic overlooks promising stellar views.

The Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua)

The Three Cities sit on their own peninsulas, facing Valletta (Visit Malta)

The Three Cities face Valletta across the Grand Harbour. Vittoriosa, also known as Birgu, is the oldest. Occupying a narrow and easily-defended peninsula, it was the first place settled by the Knights of the Order of St John, when they arrived in Malta in 1530. Fort St Angelo was rebuilt from a partial ruin to become their headquarters. Now a museum, the Inquisitor’s Palace was also important during the 16th century, serving as a courthouse and prison.

Covering a more recent period in history, the Malta at War Museum repurposes an 18th-century army barracks to recount the horrifying events of the Siege of Malta during the 1940s. Senglea, known as L’Isla in Maltese, perches on the opposite side of the water. The view across to Valletta from Gardjola Gardens at its northern tip is one of the loveliest on the peninsula. Cospicua is the largest of the Three Cities and is also known as Bormla in Maltese. You’ll arrive here if you take the ferry from Valletta; the yachts of its marina make a delightful first impression, both from the water and as you walk uphill into Vittoriosa.

Gozo

Gozo’s picturesque port (Visit Malta/Olly Gaspar & Haylea Brown)

Gozo’s cute capital, Victoria, makes an ideal base for a city break. It’s possible to visit just for the day; to do the place justice requires a longer stay. The Maltese name for it is ir-Rabat, Arabic for fortification, which is probably a reference to the nearby Citadel. Basing yourself here will enable you to tour this 17th-century citadel, along with the old gunpowder magazine, battery and grain silos, at an unhurried pace. It also houses a clutch of visitor attractions, including museums devoted to archaeology, nature, folklore and religion. You’ll want to explore the Old Prison, whose inmates included Fra Jean Parisot de La Valette, the founder of Valletta. The graffiti on its walls tells the stories of those who were incarcerated here.

After you’ve had your fill of the past, spend time in Victoria’s Pjazza Indipendenza and embrace the present. Sip a coffee at one of its pavement cafés or visit the bustling morning market. Nearby, admire St George’s Basilica and take a stroll through the characterful old town.

Mosta

The Mosta Dome, also known as the Rotunda of the Parish Church of Santa Marija (Shutterstock)

Under-the-radar Mosta is best known for the Rotunda of the Parish Church of Santa Marija. Miraculously this huge dome, the third largest in Europe, emerged from World War Two unscathed despite receiving a direct hit from a German plane. The bomb that fell didn’t explode, sparing the congregation who were worshipping below; a replica is displayed in the church’s museum. Mosta’s serene and tranquil Għarusa Gardens are a peaceful place to reflect on the futility of war.

On the edge of town you’ll find the Ta’ Bistra catacombs, the second largest such complex after St Paul’s. Access is via an old farmhouse; in the past, some of these underground chambers were used to shelter animals. Head out into the countryside to hike through the Valley of Honey (Wied il-Għasel). Amidst this bucolic landscape, you’ll hear birdsong and the buzz of bees. Keep your eyes peeled for the Chapel of St Paul the Hermit and a section of the Victoria Lines, a series of fortifications built by the British in the late 19th Century.

Feeling inspired?

Start planning your short break to Malta today.

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