How long should I spend in Malta? It was a question I asked several friends and I got varied answers. Some said a couple of days while others told me they could easily spend a month. I settled for a week thinking that even thought I was visiting in November, it would still be warm beach weather for this Canadian girl. However, my beach days were not to be. My dreamy week of Malta sunshine ended up being mostly thunderstorms and torrential downpours. Oh, and food poisoning, but that’s another story. Needless to say, my time in Malta didn’t end up as expected but, despite being sick and the terrible weather, it turned out ok because Malta is actually really small and, to be honest, one week was probably too much time there. So, for those thinking about visiting Malta, but short on time then this Malta itinerary is for you. Here’s how to spend 3 days in Malta.
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Getting to Malta
For those who aren’t sure, Malta is an island nation in the Mediterranean, quite close to Sicily, Italy. As an island, there are only two ways to arrive: by plane or by boat. If you arrive by boat you are likely coming from Sicily, or, are visiting Malta on a cruise ship. Which means, obviously, the most common way to arrive is by plane.
Malta’s international airport is located in the town of Gudja, which is south of Valetta. It’s the only airport in the country and is serviced by a number of airlines including many of Europe’s top budget airlines.
There are several buses to take you to different areas in the country (Buses X1, X2, X3, and X4 are the express airport buses). Of course, you can also arrange an airport pick up (you can pre-book one here) or hire a taxi.
How to Get Around Malta
Malta may be small, but that doesn’t mean that you can walk your way around the island. Which leaves you two options: renting a car or using public transit. There are pros and cons to both.
Should I rent a car in Malta?
Renting a car in Malta is often the recommended way to get around and see the countryside. It’s a great idea for those who are shorter on time or those who want to get out to the less touristic spots and more inaccessible places. Not to mention, renting a car in Malta is actually pretty cheap. That being said, there are some downsides to it as well.
To start with, in Malta they drive on the left side of the road. Not a big deal if you are from the UK, Ireland, or Australia, but those who are used to driving on the right might struggle. Roads are also quite small and some, especially on Gozo, are just downright tiny. I had friends who had to get a tractor to pull them out after getting stuck in this tiny hairpin bend that their GPS sent them too. Not ideal.
Another thing to consider is parking. If you stay in Sliema (which is where I recommend, but more on that later) then you can expect to spend quite a bit of time finding space. The woman where I stayed told me that she usually spent an hour finding parking in the morning.
Public Transit in Malta
The bus system in Malta is actually really decent. But, it’s slow. For example, if you were to drive from Sliema to Mdina it should take about 20 minutes. By bus? An hour. There were over 40 stops. I’m dead serious, 40+ bus stops.
However, the scenery is pretty and the bus system is very affordable and easy to use so if you are only going to be in Malta for 3 days, it’s an easy to way go. You can pay for your tickets in cash on the bus itself (change is provided, but use small bills) or you can get a tallinja card which is a pre-loaded card you can use. However, you have to preload it with 20 euros, so it’s probably not a good option if you are only spending a few days in Malta.
Tip: download the Moovit App which lets you see bus schedules and times for whatever city you are in. I used it in Malta and it was great.
If you don’t want to rent a car, and aren’t loving the idea of the public transit, then you can also do one of the Hop on Hop Off buses in Malta. There are two different routes so you can easily keep busy by using this option during your 3 days in Malta. Plus, it allows access to some of the smaller more removed spots that you can’t get to by the local bus. Book your hop on hop off bus ticket for here (there are north and south routes, to do both you will need 2 tickets on 2 separate days).
Malta also has some ferry options. Sliema to Valetta is a popular route as it only takes about 5 minutes. There’s also the Ferry to Gozo that you can catch on the north end of the island. Again you can pay cash at the dock for both.
Where to Stay in Malta for 3 Days
Malta has plenty of accommodation options but when it comes down to where to stay in Malta I recommend Sliema. Sliema is a trendy area along the waterfront overlooking Valetta. It’s not the most exciting place in terms of things to see and do, but it’s a central location with accommodation options for a range of budgets, and plenty of restaurants and dining options. Also, many buses start and end here making it easy to get around, plus it’s just a 5-minute ferry across to Valetta or, a short bus ride (or walk) to the famous nightlife and bars of St. Julian.
Need some recommendations? Try the following:
Budget: Two Pillows Malta (hostel and budget boutique hotel with a sauna. This is where I stayed, awesome location and friendly staff.
Food and Drink in Malta
When it comes to Maltese food, I liked what I tried. I found it similar to Italian with lots of pasta dishes and meat options. It’s definitely rustic and seasonal. Expect lots of seafood options and, if you are going to traditional Maltese restaurants, rabbit.
There are lots of traditional Maltese dishes but plenty of other options as well. I saw everything from burgers and pizza, to kebabs and Asian dishes. As mentioned above, Sliema had a large assortment of restaurants to choose from. My personal favourite was a family-run spot called Ta’ Kris. I ate there twice and both times the meal was delicious and, while not cheap, definitely affordable. Plus, the staff was really nice.
Another local spot that was recommended to me was Il-Merill. It had great reviews but I was turned away when I tried to go. It could have been because there were reservations (I saw 4 empty tables) but I kind of have a feeling that it was because I was alone which was a first for me and really awkward and uncomfortable.
One of the best things to eat in Malta are Pastizzi. These are basically little Maltese hand pies; fluffy pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese or other yummy things. They are delicious and super cheap; the place I went sold them for 0.50 euros. While one wouldn’t be considered a meal, it’s a great snack if you are feeling hungry mid-day.
As for drinks, you can technically drink the water in Malta, it is safe. However, it tastes awful. It’s like all chemicals and chlorine to make it safe which is ok for brushing your teeth but disgusting to fill your water bottle with. Sadly, this means you’ll want to buy water from the shops.
When it comes to alcoholic drinks, Malta is actually quite affordable. Maybe not so much at the nice cafes in Sliema overlooking Valetta, but in restaurants and in the bars and clubs, alcohol is quite affordable. Malta is also known for its wine and you can buy bottles of wine from local wineries for pretty cheap.
3 Days in Malta: The Top Things to See in Malta
Day 1 in Malta: Valetta + The 3 Cities
Valetta and the 3 Cities are probably the most popular tourist sites in Malta. They are known for their beautiful streets, colourful balconies, and there are plenty of museums between both areas as well for history lovers. From Sliema, you can bus to The 3 Cities (or take a tour like I recommend below). For Valetta, you can either take the bus or hop on the ferry which only takes 5 minutes.
Morning: The 3 Cities
Valetta and the 3 Cities are two of the most beautiful areas in Malta. Both are quite small (though hilly!) so you can easily see both in a day. You can explore both on your own but I chose to take a half-day guided tour of the 3 Cities (which also includes a visit to a winery) so I could get some of the history behind the area, and Malta in general, as well.
The 3 Cities of Malta are Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla), and Bormla (Cospicua). Don’t let the word ‘cities’ deter you though, because they are all quite small and can easily be explored by foot. As mentioned above, there is a lot of history tied to this area, especially regarding the Knights Templar and WWII. Unfortunately, this part of Malta was heavily bombed during WWII and much of Senglea and Bormla are in ruins. Birgu (Visttoriosa) on the other hand is in pretty good condition and is where you’ll likely spend the most time exploring whether you go on your own or join a tour.
After my experience, I do really recommend the tour that I did which can be booked here. Our guide told us plenty about the Knights of Templar, how they came to the island of Malta and built the cities. We also learned a bit about Malta during the war. These were things I wouldn’t have known on my own so I appreciated the extra insight and it made the city (and Malta in general) even more interesting to me. Plus, I picked up a few extra tidbits about Valetta and Mdina as well-both of which are also included in my 3 days in Malta itinerary.
If you do take the guided tour, you’ll spend a couple of hours in the 3 Cities then be taken to a winery called Marsovin (which has samples, a really good charcuterie spread, and sells bottles for as little as 7 euro for those who are looking to buy). After the winery, you will be dropped off back at where you were picked up. However, you also pass by Valetta so asked to be dropped off there to continue your day.
Valetta is the capital of Malta and was Europe’s capital of culture for 2018. A lot of money was invested in beautifying the city for that year, so you’ll definitely want to walk around and see as much as you can. Valetta isn’t very big, but some parts of it are steep so wear comfortable shoes and, if you are visiting in the summer, prepare to get a bit sweaty.
Valetta is a beautiful city. There are several museums and churches that you can, of course, enter should you choose but personally, I just loved walking around the streets and taking in the atmosphere. This is where you’ll find many of Malta’s picture-perfect coloured balconies. There are also a few parks that offer beautiful views and lookouts so make sure to stop by the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens to get some gorgeous photos.
If you like, you can grab dinner in Valetta before heading back to Sliema (or wherever you are staying). I didn’t eat in Valetta personally but I’m sure they have some great spots. I have heard that it can be pricier than Sliema though.
If you are interested in a guided walking tour of Valetta, you can book one here.
Day 2 in Malta: Mdina and Rabat
For your second day in Malta, I suggest exploring Mdina and Rabat. Both are located beside each other (like walking distance) so it’s easy to combine both whether you are using the bus or have rented a car. If you are taking the bus, you’ll need to take bus 202 from Sliema (takes about an hour) or bus 53 if you are departing from Valetta.
Start the day off in Mdina, the ancient capital of Malta. Unsurprisingly, this walled city is quite small but it’s very beautiful and impressive. I overheard a tour guide while I was there telling her group that less than 250 people actually live in the city, and the families that do are quite wealthy. Personally, as beautiful as it is, I’m not sure why you’d want to live there since it seems to be catered completely to tourists, but that’s beside the point. As a visitor, it’s gorgeous.
Expect plenty of windy streets, gorgeous colourful doors, and walls covered in climbing flowers. There are a couple of museum-type attractions but I didn’t bother with those, I just walked around with my camera.
If you are feeling hungry, stop at Fontella Tea Garden for their chocolate cake. Locals and fellow travellers alike told me how amazing it is. Sadly, I visited the day after I got over my bout of food poisoning so wasn’t going to risk it with the 1-hour bus ride back to Sliema. As a chocolate addict, I do sort of regret it.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Mdina, you can book a walking tour here.
Rabat doesn’t have a ton to see or do, but there are a couple of museums and the highlight which are the Catacombs of St. Paul and the Catacombs of St. Agatha. Since it’s right beside Mdina anyway, it’s worth wandering around a bit.
Evening: Sliema/St. Julian’s
Since Mdina and Rabat are both quite small, you probably won’t spend the whole day there. If you arrive back in Sliema early in the evening take a walk along the boardwalk area from Sliema to St. Julian’s. It’s a pretty walk with gorgeous views overlooking Valetta. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and bars along the way as well.
Day 3: Day Trip to Gozo
Gozo is one of the smaller islands located to the north of the main island of Malta. Some people come here and spend a week or more on this smaller, less busy, island. However, if you only have 3 days in Malta, I suggest doing a day trip. It will be a long busy day but it’s definitely worth it.
If you have decided to rent a car, that’s the best way to get there and explore the island as taking public transit can be pretty time-consuming. However, it’s pretty easy to get there and around by bus so don’t feel like you NEED to rent a car. Bus number 222 will take you to Cirkewwa which is where you’ll take the ferry to Gozo. Once you arrive, you can book a hop on hop off bus which will take you to the highlights of the island, or, you can rely on public transit and explore on your own. There are pros and cons to both.
The hop on hop off tour will allow you to see more as it follows a set route of the highlights. However, it can get very crowded. The local buses are a much cheaper option but everything starts and ends in the capital of Gozo, Victoria, so every time you want to go somewhere new you have to backtrack which will eat a lot of time in your day. Again, this may be a day where you wish to rent a car because a lot of Gozo’s beauty is in the landscape.
I definitely recommend making this a full day trip. Leave early in the morning and come back later in the evening, or when it gets dark. Just make sure to check the bus and ferry schedules ahead of time, you don’t want to have to pay for a taxi to get back! More more tips on what to see and do, and how to get there, check out my full guide for a day trip to Gozo.
Not sure you want to do it on your own? You can book a full day Gozo tour with pick up and drop off in Malta here.
Malta Day Tours and Other Things to Do in Malta
The places that I Iisted above are the highlights of Malta, and the easiest to manage if you are relying on public transit. That being said, Malta does have more to offer. So, if you have more than 3 days in Malta then you may want to consider these options as well.
Spend a Night in Gozo to Explore More
To start with, if you have an extra day or two, I suggest changing your day trip to Gozo into an overnight trip. Especially is you are using public transit. Gozo is absolutely stunning and I wish I had more time to explore the island. Oh, and for scuba divers, Gozo is one of the top diving destinations in Europe!
Visit Comino and the Blue Lagoon
Depending on the weather, you may also want to add in a visit to Comino which is home to Malta’s famous Blue Lagoon. You can visit Comino either on your own by taking the bus then ferry, or by taking a day trip and sailing up from the port in Sliema. Sadly, I didn’t make it here as the weather was not on my side, however, I’ve heard nothing but good things. Book a tour to Comino and the Blue Lagoon here.
Have a Beach Day (or Two)
My Malta dream involved a lot of beach time and I was so sad that it didn’t happen because Malta has some beautiful beaches! If you don’t feel like doing too far, you can swim by Sliema and St. Julian’s (I did this one day just to say I went in the ocean once) but there are bigger, nicer, sand beaches on the island. Here are a few Malta beaches to consider:
- Anchor Bay (this is also where you’ll find the Popeye Village)
- Armier Bay
- Balluta Bay
Visit Ancient Ruins in Hagar Qim and Mnajdra
Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are megalithic temples and your best bet at seeing examples of Malta’s prehistoric sites. The sites have been reconstructed and restored for visitors to explore and learn more about ancient Malta. An additional perk to visiting these temples is the location; the are perched on cliffs overlooking the sea. Book a tour to Hagar Qim and Mnjdra here.
Final Thoughts on 3 Days in Malta
Malta is small but beautiful. 3 days in Malta is, in my opinion, enough to see the highlights however if you are looking for a more low-key and relaxing vacation, it’s also a great place to stay a little longer. There are some great beaches, beach clubs, places for hiking or exploring, plenty of scuba diving sites, or you can just spend your days enjoying Malta’s beautiful and historic cities.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Malta
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.