Malta is one of those rare places that can appeal to any kind of traveller. Not only is it charmed with awe-inspiring natural scenery, sandy beaches and a pleasant climate, it also has an absorbing history and a captivating local culture to discover. Even better, its Mediterranean setting means there is plenty to do all year round! After exploring this beautiful country in the midst of January, we have compiled this guide to visiting Malta in winter, including what to expect, how to get around, and things to see and do.
To help plan your trip, you can also read our perfect 3-day Malta itinerary for sightseeing and exploration and complete guide to where to stay in Malta, which we have kept updated with the latest Covid-19 information after keeping in touch with local tourism businesses.
Looking for more options for your off-season adventures? Read our collaboration with travel bloggers on the best winter destinations in Europe.
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In this article:
When is winter in Malta?
First things first – in case you weren’t already aware. Malta’s winter season lasts from December to March, in accordance with the northern hemisphere.
Malta in winter: the advantages
Malta is a popular summer destination, especially for Europeans who flock here for the long, hot days and crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean.
We decided to visit Malta in winter instead, and found that there are many advantages of doing so. It suited our active travel style perfectly!
These are some of the nuances of visiting Malta in winter:
- It’s cheaper to reach from elsewhere in Europe. Low season means that flight prices are rock-bottom. We found flight from the UK for less than €30 each.
- The temperature is much better for sightseeing. In July and August, highs of over 30°C could make it laborious to do anything more than laze around. The mild winter temperatures of 10–16°C are perfect for getting outdoors.
- Many things are cheaper. In the low season, transport fares come down, and you can get cut-price deals for tours and activities. Accommodation is cheaper too.
- It’s less crowded. The summer months see the biggest influx of tourists into Malta. Visiting in January, we found it much more pleasant to explore with fewer people around, and it was easy to get tables in restaurants without booking in advance (especially in midweek).
- Museums and attractions are still open, and less crowded than in summer.
- Winter lighting makes for some great photos. The sun being slightly lower in the sky brings out the yellows and oranges of the sandstone buildings that Malta is famous for.
- Although transport is scaled down, it’s still easy to get around the islands.
There are a some downsides of visiting Malta in winter. While the climate is mild, there’s more rain and the winds can get pretty strong. And as mentioned above, transport and other services are scaled back a bit due to lower demand.
On balance, though, we thought that the benefits of visiting Malta in winter far outweighed the drawbacks.
Things to do in Malta in winter
Explore the sandstone capital, Valletta
With a population of just 6,000, Valletta is one of the world’s smallest capital cities. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm, character and pale sandstone beauty.
On cool or mild winter days, Valletta makes for a great day of exploration. Its central streets and narrow cobbled alleys are a pleasure to wander around, while there are a multitude of museums, churches and eateries to escape into should you need an injection of indoor warmth.
The main entrance to Valletta is through its imperious City Gate. The structure has changed its appearance many times over the years, with today’s V-shaped version designed to blend into the city’s sandstone visage, and flanked by two 25-metre spikes that resemble knights’ sabres.
We would usually take a free walking tour to discover a city for the first time, but in Valletta these are seasonal and mainly run through summer. As an alternative in winter, for about the same price as a typical free tour tip, you can book onto a 3-hour Valletta walking tour. For something a bit more quirky, you can also try a dark side walking tour of Valletta to learn about the city’s spooky secrets.
The highlights to see include the Royal Opera House (now an open-air theatre after it was destroyed by a 1942 air raid), St John’s Co-Cathedral, Manoel Theatre and the Upper Barrakka Gardens. For museums, try the National Museum of Archaeology and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Another great indoor activity to try is a trip to Malta 5D. For €9 you can see a unique simulated documentary of Maltese history, complete with moving seats, water spray and air blasters. The show runs every 30 minutes through the day.
Tip: be careful with your footing in Valletta. The weathered stones can get very slippery, and the steep backstreets are unforgiving – we found this out the hard way when Lisa slipped and hurt her knee.
Learn about 7,000 years of Maltese history
Malta’s human history is as long and eventful as almost any civilisation in the world, predating even ancient Egypt and Greece. As a result of its strategic position in the heart of the Mediterranean, it has endured a chequered past of war and plundering.
The relics of this history can be explored all over the Maltese Islands, but perhaps the best starting point is Valletta’s National War Museum (entry fee €10). Its grounds occupy a stunning setting inside Fort St Elmo on the tip of Sciberras Peninsula, with views into both Marsamxett Harbour and the Grand Harbour either side.
The museum depicts Maltese wartime history dating back as far as the Bronze Age, but has a strong focus on the 20th century world wars. Among the many artefacts on display is the George Cross medal awarded to the Maltese people in 1942 for their bravery.
Elsewhere around the Maltese Islands you can find intact structures several millennia old. Qrendi, on the south side of Malta, is home to the Mnajdra Neolithic and Haqar Qim temples, each with origins as far back as 3,600 BC. The entry fee to each is €10.
Over on the island of Gozo, the Ggantija Temples (entry fee €9) are the oldest and most impressive example of a megalithic complex in Malta, older even than the Egyptian pyramids.
For us, Malta’s most enchanting historic sites were the medieval citadels of Mdina and Cittadella – more on both of those below.
On rainy days, The Malta Experience in Valletta provides an alternative means of learning about Maltese history. For €10, this audiovisual show covers the earliest human settlements through to the 21st century in just 45 minutes. You can also get 20% off visits in 2020 and 2021 if you book online before 31 December 2020.
Visit the historic walled city of Mdina
The old fortified city of Mdina has a population of fewer than 300 people today, but was once Malta’s capital. Confined within the town of Rabat in the north-west of Malta island, Mdina is in line to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Like Valletta, the main entry point to Mdina is via a beautiful gate across a sandstone bridge – the Mdina Gate. Inside, Mdina is characterised by narrow streets, sandstone walls, and colourful doors and window-frames.
Occupying an area less than one square kilometre, Mdina is quick and easy to get around on foot. The centrepiece is St Paul’s Cathedral, a towering structure built originally in the 12th century. We pivoted from here and enjoyed getting lost in the pretty winding alleys leading away from it.
Mdina offers various indoor activities in addition to its picturesque exterior. Soon after entering the main gate you will pass Mdina Glass, a small shop selling beautifully crafted colourful glasswork that is one of the citadel’s artistic trademarks. There are museums to try too, including the Cathedral Museum (entry €5) and the National Museum of Natural History in Palazzio Vilhena (entry €5).
Once you’ve had your fill of history, you can relax with a cuppa and a legendary homemade cake at the famous Fontanella Tea Garden.
For some organised exploration, you can book onto the very popular Mdina old city walking tour.
Explore the historic Cittadella in Gozo
No trip to Malta would be quite complete without spending some time on the island of Gozo. Its main city, Victoria, is slap-bang in the middle and the perfect launchpad for exploring the island. It is also home to the architectural heritage site of La Cittadella. This hilltop castle served as a refuge and defence for the people of Gozo for many centuries.
The old citadel now makes for a captivating mixture of indoor and outdoor activities, with magnificent grounds, jaw-dropping views across the island, and various museums and historic buildings inside. You can access all of this for just €5.
We began with the Visitor’s Centre, which was opened in 2016 and has won awards for its interactive presentations. Our timing was perfect, as an audiovisual show was just about to start as we arrived. Standing in the centre of a square room, we watched as the history of Malta was projected all around us in an impactful eight-minute 360° film.
The open ticket allows you to explore the Cittadella at your own pace. With far fewer people around in winter, we enjoyed slowly working our way around from the outside in, and taking time to appreciate the features.
From the top levels, the views across Gozo are mesmerising. You can see as far as the giant domed Rotunda of Xewkija church in one direction and the Christ-the-Redeemer-like Tas-Salvatur Hill statue in the other. When the sun comes out, the sandstone villages sprinkled among brilliant green fields and hills is an awesome sight.
Within the confines of the walls you can spend hours perusing the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, Gran Castello Historic House, the Old Prison, the Natural Science Museum and the Cathedral of the Assumption. It’s an educational haven for inquisitive travellers.
To combine a selection of the most popular landmarks on the island, you can book a Gozo full-day sightseeing tour, which runs throughout winter.
See the sunset at the Azure Window ruins
The Azure Window was once the most famous natural feature of the Maltese islands. The giant limestone arch over the sea was an Instagram hotspot and a filming location for the likes of Game of Thrones.
Sadly, it is no more; the Azure Window collapsed into the sea during ferocious storms in 2017. But even though the arch has gone, the rocky-cliffed coastal scenery at the site is still amazing to see. What’s more, it’s on the west-facing shore of Gozo, making it an ideal spot to catch a sunset.
Check the sunset time and aim to arrive at least 20 minutes beforehand. While the sun descends you can hop about the rocks and pools, and take a look at the Blue Hole and Dwejra Tower, which are just a stone’s throw away.
The great thing about doing this in winter it that the sun sets early, between 5–6pm, so you can enjoy it after a day’s sightseeing and then round it off with dinner.
Visit the Blue Grotto
With the Azure Window fallen, the Blue Grotto has risen to claim the title of Malta’s most photographed spot. This system of sea caverns on the south side of Malta looks quite spectacular from a viewing point perched high above it, and in good weather conditions you can take a boat trip into it.
While it’s possible to reach the Grotto viewpoint directly in a public bus or by car – and most people do – we took a bus to the town of Qrendi, a couple of kilometres inland. The route from here to the Blue Grotto is a scenic one through lush fields and farmland, and the moderate winter climate is perfect for a bit of hiking.
From the viewpoint, you can walk downhill to the small village of Wied iż-Żurrieq on the waterside. The walk back up is a steep one (as we found out), so you may want to go the viewpoint first. In the village there are a few places to eat and a nice scenic spot down in the bay. This is also where the boat trips to the grotto depart.
During winter the buses only run past here once an hour, so check the schedule and get your timing right – or you may be waiting around a while.
Try scuba diving
Surrounded by pristine azure Mediterranean waters, Malta is one of the top locations in Europe for scuba diving. Not only is there a diversity of marine life and interesting underwater rock formations waiting to be discovered, as a historic wartime battleground the islands are dotted with fascinating wrecks to dive as well.
You can dive in Malta at any time of the year thanks to outstanding levels of visibility and mild waters. While the summer months offer particularly excellent conditions, it’s also great for diving throughout winter, and there is the additional benefit that there are fewer people in the water and you can expect a smaller, more focused diving group.
We had a fantastic experience diving in Malta with Watercolours Dive Centre, a five-star registered PADI dive centre located in Sliema, a popular area for tourists. You can read all about our experience here, as well as some of the best dive sites and information on how to book.
Take a harbour cruise
One of the best ways to see the historic sites around Valletta’s harbours is from the sea. There is no shortage of options for cruises, even during winter.
When walking along Triq Ix-Xatt in Sliema, the main road along the waterfront, we couldn’t walk ten metres without being offered a deal for a cruise. It’s also possible to book one in advance with GetYourGuide.
On a two-harbour cruise you will see the forts and walls of Valletta from different perspectives, and venture into the various creeks and marinas around the headland.
Harbour cruises last a couple of hours at most. If you’d like to make a full day of it, you can instead book a longer cruise to to the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island.
Eat Maltese food
Maltese food is a pleasure to indulge at any time of year. The national cuisine incorporates influences from Italy, France, Spain and the UK, but with a distinctively Maltese character. The typical ingredients reflect the Mediterranean setting, with fish, olives, cheeses and regional vegetables commonplace.
We loved Maltese food because it’s satisfying, tasty and versatile. There’s a fix for any kind of hunger. For a light bite you can try a fish soup or Mediterranean salad, or with a bigger appetite you can stodge out with some traditional Maltese ravioli or hot lampuki pie. You can barely turn a corner without finding somewhere to buy pizza either.
Rabbit stew is considered the national dish, which tends to be on the pricey side in restaurants. We tried a roasted rabbit instead, another popular meal.
At least once during your trip you must try a pastizzi. This is a savoury snack that costs as little as 40 euro cents, consisting of puff pastry filled with mushy peas, ricotta cheese or meat. You will find them sold everywhere from street carts and bakeries to restaurants.
Our favourite spot for traditional Maltese food was Café Jubilee. We ate twice in their Gzira restaurant, and they have another premises in Valletta. The prices were extremely reasonable (e.g. €8.95 for the legendary house ravioli) and the food delicious.
See live music at the Beer Cave
Winter nights in Malta are more of an intimate occasion with fewer tourist crowds around. While St Julian’s is renowned as being the heart of the party, we found a gem of a place in Valletta: the Beer Cave.
This bar is built into an underground cellar with sandstone arches beneath Castille Hotel, and only opens in the evenings. It’s a cool and unique setting with an ambient atmosphere that livens up later into the evening.
Every Friday and Saturday night, a live music show is staged from 9pm. We went along to see a Jamaican ska band strut their stuff while sampling some of the many craft beers on tap and devouring a sharing platter of bar snacks. The perfect weekend night out.
How to get around Malta in winter
The main island of Malta is just 27 kilometres long and 14.5 kilometres wide, and with a good road infrastructure it’s easy to get around.
One option is to hire a car. Rental prices are at their cheapest in winter; you can hire a vehicle for as little as €6 per day. Browse rentalcars.com for the best deals.
If, like us, you’d prefer to avoid the hassle of driving, you can use Malta’s excellent public bus system instead. Bus routes cover all the major sites and urban areas around the islands, including the airport.
We paid €21 each for a seven-day travelcard that gave us unlimited travel on buses. This worked out quite a bit cheaper during the course of our trip. Another card offers 12 single journeys for €15. Single bus fares in winter are €1.50 (compared to €2 in summer), so calculate beforehand which option works out best for you.
The downside of the bus service in winter is that it runs less frequently. Some services run just once an hour. This can make it extra tricky when you need to take more than one bus to get somewhere, as it can cost you a lot of time if you miss a connection. It’s best to plan your journeys in advance to try and avoid this.
The ferry services, like the buses, are scaled back in winter. The ferry between Malta to Gozo runs every 45 minutes (in summer there are extra services during the peak time in the morning).
You can find more information on services, schedules and fares on the Malta Public Transport website.
One final tip: you can save time and hassle when arriving in Malta by pre-booking an airport transfer. It’s especially good value if you’re arriving with a group.
Things to do in Malta in winter: map
The map below shows the locations of the sights, activities and eateries detailed in this article:
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