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Where to stay in Malta

When deciding where to stay in Malta, check out these five neighbourhoods across the city, from Valletta to Mdina

By Gemma Bowes |
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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jose A.

In the 1980s, this European destination became a huge hit among a demographic of people aware of where to stay in Malta to make the most of each neighbourhood's offerings: from sun and sea to cultural must-sees.

The country has come a long way since then, especially since the awarding of European Capital of Culture status to Valletta in 2018, which has sparked a new generation of contemporary hotels and cultural openings in the area.

The coastal capital has always been one of Europe’s most beautiful walled cities, full of interesting winding streets and Baroque mansions. Mdina, further north, is even more fairytale-like, with its high bastions and moat.

The truth is the rest of Malta is quite overdeveloped, but there are pockets of beauty and characterful villages on both ends. Plus, there are all the unsurpassed ancient temples and cathedrals that really make visiting worthwhile, not to mention all those sublime seafood restaurants overlooking the glimmering Med.

Check out our guide to the top neighbourhoods in town.

Where to stay in Malta

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Valletta, Malta
Valletta, Malta

Valletta

EAT Dine in opulent surroundings in a nineteenth-century palace at Palazzo Preca. Beautiful tiled floors, high arched ceilings and chandeliers set the scene for fine food such as sea bass carpaccio, burrata with aubergine, whitebait fritters, and a bottle from the commendable wine list.

DRINK Live jazz fills the warm sea-scented air outside the Bar Bridge just above Victoria Gate and with views of the Grand Harbour, on Friday nights. Punters spill out with their wine glasses to sit on the candlelit steps opposite a spot on the bridge where the musicians play.

DO As the flagship project for Valletta’s European Capital of Culture year, the new Muza national art museum had to impress. Housed in Auberge d’Italie, a World Heritage property once home to the Knights of St John, it has architectural clout, plus an impressive collection from the (now-closed) former national gallery.

STAY Casa Ellul (doubles from €245) is a romantic hideaway with nine suites in a Victorian palazzo on a narrow sixteenth-century street, a song of original wrought ironwork, pretty mouldings, cornices, statues and floral motifs. One room features a vintage piano, another, a balcony looking out at the Carmelite Church’s stained glass windows.

If you do just one thing…

Caravaggio’s The Beheading of St John the Baptist will stop you in your tracks at the Baroque St John’s Co-Cathedral in the centre. His largest canvas, and painted while in Malta, is one of several Grand Masters on display in this ornate setting of gold and marble.

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Mdina
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/John Haslam

Mdina

The medieval walled citadel of Mdina, with its tall bastion fortifications, deep moat and honey-toned alleyways, occupies a hilltop position overlooking the sea. Also known as the Silent City, it’s a place to lose oneself in a maze of narrow, paved (car-free) streets of chapels, beautifully restored palazzi, nobles’ houses (some open to visitors) and squares. There’s a car park just outside from which it’s easy to walk or take a horse-drawn carriage. Beyond the city walls, Rabat is a characterful unspoilt town.

EAT In the evening, head to the swanky Mdina near the cathedral for a table in the courtyard beneath oleanders. These Mdina restaurants have, artful takes on Maltese and Mediterranean classics include pasta with tuna, fennel and olives, or fish soup, then local rabbit with shallots.

DRINK On a hill just outside Mdina’s city walls, The Fork and Cork has a fabulous wine cellar. It’d be rude not to taste a few Maltese vintages, such as the sparkling Cassar de Malte white, Nexus Dok reds and a Dolce Vita dessert wine from Camilleri Wines.

DO St. Paul’s Cathedral, built between 1697 and 1702, is the main draw, and dedicated to the patron saint of Malta. He was supposedly shipwrecked here, an event depicted on the ceiling of its arched vault. Floors of marble comprise tombstones dedicated to important clergymen and nobles.

STAY Splurge on the five-star Xara Palace Hotel (doubles from €192), a seventeenth-century palace on the bastions overlooking Mdina with 17 opulent rooms full of antique furniture. Run by Relais & Chateaux it’s the only real luxury hotel within the city walls.

If you do just one thing…

St Paul’s Catacombs just outside in Rabat, is an underground Roman cemetery representing the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity in Malta. Tunnels and stone steps lead to different tables, platforms, and tombs – a fun and slightly creepy place to scramble around.

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Northern Malta
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Linda De Volder

Northern Malta

Malta is not really an island for unspoilt beaches and quiet coves, but the north has a few lovely stretches of sand where you can dip a toe in the Med, away from the big hotel complexes around Mellieha. St Paul’s Bay, a little less touristy than adjoining Bugibba and Qawra, is fun for food and drinks, while clubbers should make a beeline for the nightlife of St Julian’s.

EAT Pick up traditional Maltese street food snacks all over St Paul’s Bay (and everywhere else really). Pastizzi kiosks sell popular crispy pea or cheese pastries, while the bakeries’ crunchy hobz tal-Malti bread is super tasty when sold as a snack smeared with olive oil, tomato paste, salt and pepper.

DRINK For cocktails on smart white sofas by an infinity pool looking out to sea, hit Cafe del Mar in St Paul’s Bay, one of the franchises of the Ibiza original, with DJs spinning the brand’s signature chill-out dance tunes.

DO Book a scuba diving session to explore some of the island’s reefs, shipwrecks, caverns, caves and drop-offs. There are a few centres to choose from, but Scuba Kings Diving Centre has a good range of dive sites including the Inland Sea, a huge crevice through a cliff with sheer walls on either side.

STAY In a quiet part of Sliema, a coastal town just south of St Julians that’s seen as elite and aspirational by locals, the Palazzo Violetta (doubles from €56) inhabits an attractive townhouse with red shutters. There’s a small outdoor pool built against a high stone wall, and 20 simple rooms in earthy shades.

If you do just one thing…

Hit the beach. Many of northern Malta’s most famous beaches, such as Ghadira Bay are rather built up. Much better is Ghajn Tuffieha, with a crescent of golden sand, calm swimming waters and one little café on flat rocks at one end, for when the ice-cream craving calls.

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Haqar Qim Temple
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jacqueline Poggi

Southern Malta

A bit more rural than the north, Malta’s south coast has attractive fishing villages and the incredible prehistoric sights that are one of the island’s primary draws. There’s a shortage of classic sandy beaches, but Ir Ramla is a large bay with shallow soft banks, and diving from the rocks at beautiful St Peter’s Pool has to be done. It’s best to explore the island with a hire car, but the City Sightseeing Malta bus is a good alternative.

EAT For the best fresh fish, head to Marsaxlokk, a fishing harbour with a colourful waterfront and brightly painted luzzu boats. It has an interesting Sunday fish market, and excellent fish restaurants lining Xatt is-Sajjieda street. Roots does modern dishes such as crab salad with grilled pineapple, octopus carpaccio, tempura of local fish.

DRINK Take a cool Cisk beer to watch the sunset from Dingli cliffs on the west coast, one of Malta’s highest points at 250m, with views of the uninhabited island of Filfa. Then head indoors to the 1640 Wine Room in an old tenant house in the village’s heart.

DO It’s probably too famous already but we can’t not mention the Blue Grotto, a cathedral dome with six caves, only accessible by boat, where the white seabed beneath reflects light, creating a heavenly cobalt glow. Boat trips depart from Wied iz-Zurrieq village.

STAY Villa Sky, Zejtun is one of the island’s most appealing Airbnbs, a tall townhouse with a gorgeous pool area, big airy rooms and pleasant footpaths across farmland and along the coast nearby.

If you do just one thing…

The Neolithic temple complex of Hagar Qim is Malta’s most captivating attraction. With a magical setting looking out to sea, approached dramatically by descending a long straight path through a beautiful rugged landscape, its colossal stone slab apses date to 3600-3200 BC.

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Gozo

Gozo

It’s strictly a different island, but the two destinations go hand in hand. Linked by ferry from Cirkewwa on Malta, Gozo is more relaxed than its busy big sister, with friendly bars and cafes, rocky landscapes and farmland, and excellent swimming and diving. Going walking on Gozo isn’t really a case of choosing a way-marked path. Just wander where you feel, it’s impossible to get lost and easy to cross the countryside.

EAT Good value restaurants include Tmun Mgarr (going for over 25 years), which has reliably good fish supplied directly by the fishermen whose boats come into the marina over the road. Try grilled swordfish or fish baked in salt or with local olive oil and herbs.

DRINK Run by the same owners for decades, the Gleneagles is a down-to-earth harbour bar in Mgarr (ooh arg!) near the ferry terminal. A bit of an institution, with walls covered in boaty paraphernalia, it’s first port of call for visitors but popular with Gozitans too.

DO The megalithic Ggantija Temples in Xaghra are 5,600-years old – predating the pyramids of Egypt. Two temples feature altars and apses of huge stones, some weighing over 50 tonnes. Human and animal bones, pottery and sculptures are among prehistoric artefacts in the small museum.

STAY With its graphic palm-print wallpapers, coral-pattern bedding and tribal rugs, ThirtySeven Gozo has injected some fun boho interior styling to Gozo’s accommodation scene. Pink woodwork, a cute courtyard and two pools make it a cool and relaxing luxury bolthole, with views of cactus-filled fields.

If you do just one thing…

Take a boat to the even smaller car-free island Comino. It’s just three and a half square kilometres big and almost uninhabited, so it’s lovely for snorkelling and walking. The beautiful Blue Lagoon, an inlet with white sand and glittering water, gets horribly busy by lunchtime, so arrive very early, then hike along the coast.

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