Cruising in the Mediterranean. What could be more romantic? endless sun. Impossibly blue water. Fascinating ports with superb food and delicious umbrella drinks. Malta is an archipelago in the center of the Mediterranean Sea and will be the highlight of your trip.
If you’re the independent type, you’ll find it easy and safe to explore Malta on your own. Public transport is ubiquitous, efficient and very inexpensive. Also, the islands are small, so a car is not necessary. English is Malta’s second official language alongside Maltese. Most people speak English, Maltese and Italian.
I suggest spending the day in Valletta, Mdina, Victoria or on a Gozo tour. Picking just one will be a challenge. However, my suggestions will help you immerse yourself in Malta quickly and make the most of your day ashore in fascinating Malta.
1. Discover Valletta
A city experience
Valletta is the capital of Malta and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of Malta’s human history has taken place in Valetta, leaving its mark on architecture, government, art and belief.
Valletta is ideal for sampling sumptuous Mediterranean cuisine, admiring the art and absorbing some history. Get an early start for a less crowded encounter. When ships are in port, Valletta can get crowded.
Walk from your cruise ship to the Upper Barrakka lift, about a five minute walk away. Then, via high-speed elevators, quickly descend 190 feet to the ancient city of Valletta. The elevator is free upstairs and about €1 downstairs.
Visit the sleeping lady
The National Museum of Archeology is my lucky place in Valletta. Housed in the Sleeping Lady, a figure found during the excavation of the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the museum beautifully presents the history of Malta. Prehistory and early history, the Neolithic and early Phoenician periods are illuminated with permanent and temporary exhibitions.
The museum is calm and quiet. A self-guided tour is available that you can download to your smartphone. Tickets cost €2.50-5.00.
A food tour of Valletta is one of the best 3 hour hiking and food experiences you can have. Maltese food is fresh and locally sourced. Timeless recipes are influenced by season and history. Just 60 miles away, Italy has a strong influence on traditional Maltese cuisine, as does the Middle East, Africa and Greece.
Offbeat Malta Food Trails is my pick for a Valletta food tour. You will taste traditional cuisine and learn the history behind the dishes and Valletta. Ask for Daniela Aquilina as your guide. Originally from Malta, she is a chef, historian and artisanal chocolate maker in her company Oil and More.
A walk in the shade
Leave Valletta on Republic Street, through the city gates and through Triton Plaza. If it’s early, the square will have few people around. This is the best time to take a picture of the enchanting Triton Fountain. Walk past the fountain to the street and cross it to admire the Independence Monument.
From there, take a stroll through the tree-lined mall. Beautifully sculpted commemorative statues honor Malta’s leaders and heroes throughout the ages and form a sculpture garden. Stop at a bench and watch the world go by. Along the way there are churches, parks, squares, fountains and small neighborhoods. When you reach the end of the mall, turn around and go back.
In front of Triton Plaza, stop at Phenicia for an afternoon refreshment. The 5-star hotel and resort is Malta’s crown jewel. You have multiple options for food and drinks, indoors and outdoors. A cool drink by the pool or in the gardens reveals a ‘secret view’ of Valletta’s ramparts and walls on a sunny day.
Inside the hotel and in the gardens you will find a great collection of art. The beautifully curated works cover all genres and multiple eras. Ask the concierge for advice upon entering the hotel.
2. Experience Mdina
Especially if you like the cool and mysterious
Mysterious Mdina, home of the Knights of Malta and wealthy Maltese citizens for centuries. The narrow passages and winding streets lined with two-story sandstone buildings and walls will invite you to explore. The Maltese call the walled city of Mdina the “Silent City”, partly because of the strict car bans.
From the cruise terminal, take a direct bus to Mdina; It takes about 26 minutes and costs around €2. You can also take a taxi, which takes half the time but costs many times more.
Pro Tips: Use the “Itinerary Planning” feature for local buses with Malta Public Transport. The app can also be downloaded to your smartphone.
If you decide to take a taxi, use the Taxi Booking Office on the Valletta Waterfront Walkway. You pay in advance at the regular rate for your destination, then give a voucher to the next driver in line.
Things to do in Mdina
When you arrive in Mdina, go to the Tourist Information (take the 2nd street).nd just behind the city gates) for a map. Then sit in the courtyard and decide which of the many attractions you want to visit. There are churches, chapels, museums, city walls with breathtaking views, shops and restaurants. You could do the same and wander the aisles aimlessly.
Lunch at Bacchus
Bacchus serves the best Mediterranean food I’ve had in Malta. I have enjoyed the beautifully prepared food, excellent service and historic atmosphere many times. Expect a menu that changes daily depending on the season. Many things are homemade, including the creamy burrata cheese and charcuterie. Take your time; it’s a place for a long lazy lunch.
3. Immerse yourself in the history of the Citadel in Victoria
Victoria is the capital of Gozo, the little sister of Malta’s main island to the north. It is a bustling town of 6,900 people and is the largest town in Gozo. It is a busy transport hub dominated by an imposing citadel, the Cittadella. The sandstone monolith protected citizens from pirates and invaders in past centuries. Today it’s a beehive of history, churches, museums, restaurants and shops.
Just a few minutes walk from your cruise ship along the waterfront to the Gozo Fast Ferry Terminal. Take the high-speed boat to Gozo Ferry Terminal. Board a direct bus to Victoria outside the terminal. The journey costs around €2 and takes about 15 minutes. Walk north on Triq That Putirjal to Triq ir-Repubblika. Turn west. The citadel is 5 minutes away. It is the tallest in Victoria.
What to do
Once inside the Citadel, go to the Visitor Information Office (follow the signs). There is a small fee to visit the center, which includes entry to several of Cittadella’s other attractions. You can also get a map and decide what you want to see.
Don’t miss the ‘historic house’ for a well presented reproduction of 16th-century life. Gozo Cathedral has a famous painting depicting a dome that does not exist. Although there are a few steps to climb, head up to the ramparts. The view is outstanding. You can see Gozo, Camino and Malta.
Stroll through the street market
Exit the Cittadella and cross Triq ir-Repubblika, then cross the square where people are having refreshments and talks. You will see the street market in front of you. It meanders and wanders through side streets and squares. It is an excellent place to shop for locally made products and souvenirs.
4. Explore Gozo in a tuk-tuk
If you want to get a taste of Gozo’s beauty, I suggest a full day tuk tuk tour of the island. Yippee, a locally owned and operated Gozo tour company, curates chauffeur-driven tuk-tuk tours, quad bike tours, self-drive e-jeeps and GoCar explorations. Yippee tour guides and drivers know the culture, geography and history of the Gozation.
Walk from your cruise ship to the Gozo Fast Ferry terminal, just a few minutes along the waterfront. Then take the high-speed boat to the ferry terminal on Gozo. Your Yippee guide will meet you at the terminal.
Tuk-tuk tours are a maximum of six people and one driver. The small vehicles can reach places that the large tour buses cannot. You will visit villages, towns, cliffs, terraced farms, salt pans and a Roman laundry. Stops are often made with your comfort in mind.
Full-day tours include a Mediterranean lunch at a seaside cafe. It’s a wonderful taste of the Mediterranean diet. After your tuk-tuk tour, hop aboard Yippee’s boat and set sail for Camino Island. There you can swim and walk before returning to the Gozo Ferry Terminal in time to catch your ferry to the Valletta coast.
Why travel alone?
Going out on your own is an adventure in a new country. However, if you are willing to give it a try, Malta is ideal. Malta and Gozo are tiny islands; it’s hard to get lost. Malta is 17 miles long and 9 miles wide. Gozo is 9.5 miles long and 4.5 miles wide. Additionally:
- The history and architecture of the country are outstanding.
- Most people speak English, Maltese and Italian.
- While many street names are in Maltese, other signposts are in English.
- Public transport is frequent, efficient and inexpensive.
- Malta has the lowest crime rate in the EU.
- Maltese are friendly and dedicated people. They love talking about their country and helping you enjoy it.
Enjoy your independent adventure in Malta; It will be the highlight of your cruise. See Visit Malta and Visit Gozo for more information.
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