It’s easy to see why people are falling in love with Malta. Just a short hop from mainland Europe, the Mediterranean island nation is awash with rugged coastal scenery. Its sandstone citadels and crumbling temples reveal a history as rich and complex as any civilisation in the world. We have compiled the perfect 3-day Malta itinerary, jam-packed with sightseeing highlights and local cultural discovery, to help plan your trip.
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In this article:
3-day Malta itinerary: at-a-glance
A summary of our Malta itinerary is as follows (read on below for the finer details):
- Day 1: Valletta. Self-guided walking tour of the city, National War Museum, audiovisual show, traditional Maltese dinner, evening drinks in a cellar bar
- Day 2: Blue Grotto and Mdina. Ancient temples at Qrendi, short hike to the Blue Grotto, seaside lunch, walking tour of Mdina, dinner and evening drinks in St Julian’s
- Day 3: Gozo. Morning ferry, La Cittadella discovery, lunch in Victoria, Ggantija Temples, sunset at Azure Window ruins, seaside dinner, return ferry
- Accommodation: Sliema is a great base for this itinerary, a short ride from Valletta, walking distance from Paceville, and easy to get around the island. Check out our guide to where to stay in Malta for more options.
Who is this Malta itinerary for?
We have based this itinerary on our own experiences in Malta, and so it reflects our active travel style. It is especially suited to the curious traveller who loves to learn about the culture and history, eat plenty of local cuisine, and spend time outdoors.
The itinerary combines some of Malta’s famous natural landmarks with exploration of the country’s fascinating history and distinctive architecture. We also give our recommendations on our favourite places to eat and drink.
If you’re planning to stay for longer, we’ve thrown in some extra ideas to add to your itinerary. We’ve included a sample trip costing too to help you manage your budget.
3-day Malta itinerary: the details
Day 1: Valletta
Malta’s capital city occupies the tip of the Sciberras Peninsula, protruding into the sea and surrounded by harbours, bays and creeks. Its sandstone walls and towers cast a striking image that can be seen from all around this section of coastline.
With a population of only 6,000, Valletta is one of the smallest capital cities in the world, but inside its fortified walls there is no shortage of things to see and do.
Morning: self-guided walking tour
Hop on a bus to Valletta for an early start after breakfast. It’s a good idea to aim to arrive around 9–10am, so you can find your feet and tour some of the attractions before lunch.
There are direct bus services to Valletta from all over Malta island. From Sliema and Gzira, take the 13, 14, 15 or 16. An alternative, more scenic option is to take the ferry from Sliema, which costs €2.80 for a day return.
All buses to Valletta drop off right next to the famous City Gate, the main entrance to the city. It’s an unmistakable sight, fashioned in the shape of a V, flanked by high sandstone walls either side, with two 25-metre metal spikes rising into the sky.
This is the ideal pivot point to explore Valletta’s sightseeing highlights and it’s where our self-guided walking tour begins. If you would prefer to build your own tour, then Lonely Planet’s suggested route is a useful resource. Alternatively you can book a guided 3-hour walking tour of Valletta to have the added benefit of an expert local guide.
Within close proximity to the gate you will find the Parliament Building, the Royal Opera House open-air theatre, Pjazze Jean de Valletta and Palazzo Parisio.
Continue walking straight down Republic Street and you will pass St Francis of Assisi Church before reaching the National Museum of Archeology (€5 entry) on your left. This gives an interesting introduction to Malta’s ancient history before you have the chance to witness some of the surviving ruins over the next couple of days.
Alternatively, a little further along on the right, you can visit St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum (€15 entry).
To round off the morning’s sightseeing, turn left down Old Theatre Street to find two more of the city’s icons: Manoel Theatre and St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral.
Lunch: coffee and paninis at The Corner
There is a broad choice of places for a light bite of lunch around Valletta. The Corner, just around the corner from St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, is a quiet little café occupying a backstreet corner with a nice upstairs seating area.
During peak lunchtime, this was one of the few places we found that had plenty of free space. This may be because it looks like just a takeaway bakery from outside, and it isn’t immediately obvious there is a sit-down area upstairs. It’s a pleasant place for a very simple lunch of a sandwich or panini with a delicious house coffee.
If you don’t mind walking a few minutes towards the Grand Harbour side of Valletta, another option is The Submarine, where you can build your own Maltese sandwich. It’s a top spot for lunch on a budget, and a popular one too, as you will see by the queue. If it’s raining, though, you will need to eat on the go, as the only seating is outside.
Afternoon: National War Museum, Upper Barrakka Gardens and 5D movie show
From The Corner it’s about a kilometre’s walk to St Elmo Fort on the tip of the peninsula. Just right for walking off lunch! For a more scenic (but slightly longer) route, walk down St Lucia’s street to reach the waterfront, turn right, and then you can enjoy the views of Marsamxett Harbour all the way around to St Elmo.
The National War Museum is housed inside the fort, and showcases Maltese history from the Bronze Age through to the 20th century world wars. The €10 entry fee gives you access to all the exhibitions and the beautiful grounds.
It’s well worth taking some time to explore the outside of the complex and the views over Grand Harbour before perusing the displays and artefacts inside. You can easily while away a couple of educational hours here.
Once you’re done in the museum, take a leisurely walk along Mediterranean Street and Quarry Wharf, taking in more Grand Harbour views, to complete the circuit of Valletta. At the end of Quarry Wharf you will reach Upper Barrakka Gardens, an immaculately cultivated public space of fountains and archways, with a row of black cannons facing out into the harbour. If you get the timing right, you can see a cannon fired at 4pm.
To round off the afternoon, walk across South Street to Malta 5D and catch the last show of the day at 5pm. For €10 a ticket, this 18-minute show brings Maltese history to life with a simulated experience incorporating moving seats, sprays of water and blasts of air.
To mix up your itinerary, as an alternative you can try The Malta Experience en route from the National War Museum to the Upper Barrakka Gardens. This is a 45-minute audiovisual show depicting Maltese history. Note that the last show of the day is at 4pm on weekdays and 2pm at weekends. Tickets are €16.
Dinner: Maltese favourites at Café Jubilee
Our favourite spot for traditional Maltese food at very reasonable prices was Café Jubilee. We ate twice at their restaurant in Gzira, but there’s another one in Valletta, so you can stick around in the capital (it’s actually right next to The Corner, our lunch recommendation).
The house speciality at Café Jubilee is Maltese ravioli, which is a wholesome local favourite, and a steal for €8.95 a dish. They also do rabbit stew (the national dish), various other Maltese staples, and particularly excellent salmon.
Evening: food and live music in the Beer Cave
While Valletta isn’t Malta’s liveliest place for nightlife, there are a good few bars and pubs, many of which are concentrated around Strait Street. We discovered an absolute gem right next to Upper Barrakka Gardens: The Beer Cave.
This underground bar is in a sandstone-arched cellar beneath Castille Hotel. It has a ton of international and Maltese craft beers to try, and various bar snack platters, including the local delicacy ftira.
If your visit coincides with a Friday or Saturday night, you can catch a live local music act from 9pm. Check The Beer Cave’s Facebook page to see what’s on. (And here is an example of how cool this place is… during the forced pandemic shutdown, the Facebook page was completely repurposed to showcase local musical talent.)
Day 2: Blue Grotto and Mdina
The second day of our itinerary combines one of Malta’s most famous natural landmarks with some of its most important historic sites.
Morning: visit megalithic temples in Qrendi
The village of Qrendi on the south side of Malta is our base for the morning of day 2. Just a couple of kilometres inland from the famous Blue Grotto on the coast, it’s also within close proximity of some of Malta’s most impressive megalithic ruins.
From Valletta, you can take bus 72 or 74 directly to Qrendi, and from elsewhere you can connect onto these routes. From Valletta it’s about a 30-minute ride; if you arrive in Qrendi for 10am it allows plenty of time for the morning’s sightseeing.
After arriving in Qrendi, walk out of the village south-west on Triq Hagar Qim towards the coast. It’s a lovely area of green countryside, farming fields and bricked walls. After about a kilometre and a half you will reach the site of Hagar Qim, a temple complex built some time between 3,700 and 3,200 BC.
Continue another half-kilometre and you will reach Mnajdra, another temple complex from the same period. These are some of the most ancient sacred sites on earth, and both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Midday: Blue Grotto and a seaside lunch
From Mnajdra, walk back up past Hagar Qim and then east along the main coastal road. After about 20 minutes at a steady pace you will reach the viewpoint for the Blue Grotto. This network of caverns inside the coastal cliffs is one of Malta’s most photographed images. When the sea is calm, you can also take a boat right into it.
After enjoying the view and taking your photos, walk down the hill to the small village of Wied iż-Żurrieq. It should be about lunchtime if you’ve timed it right, and there are a handful of restaurants and cafés to choose from along the waterfront.
We had lunch in Kingfisher Bar & Grill, which has a great ocean view from its restaurant area. We were enticed in by staff handing out leaflets with a 10% discount and free glasses of wine (the free wine being the deal-breaker of course).
The food wasn’t bad at all – not the very best we had in Malta, but the views made up for that. We tried some quirky local dishes, such as Maltese snails, fish soup and roasted rabbit, as well as a Mediterranean platter of cheese, stuffed olives, water crackers and sundried tomato.
In the village you can walk down to the sea inlet where boats to the Blue Grotto depart. Even if you don’t take a boat, it’s a nice spot to enjoy the coastal scenery.
Afternoon: the fortified medieval city of Mdina
From Wied iż-Żurrieq you can take the 201 bus directly to Rabat (about a 45-minute journey) and alight just a stone’s throw from the walls of Mdina.
This historic citadel was once the capital of Malta, but today is home to less than 300 people. It covers just one square kilometre and is confined within the town of Rabat.
Entering at the front by the main Mdina Gate over a sandstone bridge, you will immediately come to a courtyard where you will see the National Museum of Natural History and the Dungeons Museum on the right (€5 entry each). Time depending, you can consider dropping into these for insights into Mdina’s history.
On the left, you will walk past Mdina Glass, where you can shop for the colourful crafted glasswork that is one of Mdina’s trademarks. Continuing into the citadel, there is plenty more to explore around its narrow cobbled streets and quaint old buildings. The most impressive structure is St Paul’s Cathedral, which towers over the buildings around it. The cathedral has a museum as well (entry fee €10).
When you’re done exploring Mdina, there’s one last thing to do before you leave the area. Back outside in Rabat, walk around the corner to Serkin Crystal Palace Bar. This little café, recommended to us by our Maltese host, is an institution among locals and is renowned for making the best pastizzi in Malta. These filled puff-pastry snacks are astonishingly cheap and very tasty – we recommend the peas variety.
Evening: dinner and drinks in St Julian’s
Luckily, there are a row of bus stops just across the road from Serkin Crystal Palace Bar for the final leg of the day’s journey. Take the 202 bus to St Julian’s; it’s an hour-long ride, but waiting at the end of it, right next to a bus stop, is the welcoming sight of a pub.
It’s not any old pub, either – the City of London Pub is reputedly the oldest in Malta, opened in 1914. It’s a comfy place to have a couple of pints of local Cisk beer before dinner, with a homely atmosphere and uber-friendly bar staff.
There is a huge choice of places to eat dinner around St Julian’s, albeit mostly on the pricey side. We took a liking to a cute little pizzeria called Zeppi’s, which serves delicious large pizzas for less than €10, and has a nice view over the bay if you can get the window seat upstairs.
If you want to keep the evening fun going, you’re in the right place; St Julian’s is the nightlife capital of Malta. There are scores of bars all along the waterfront. On our walk back to Gzira we found a cool little place called Step Down Bar; chilled vibe, cheap wine, beer sold in cans! Our kind of ending to another busy day.
Day 3: day trip to Gozo
The final day of our itinerary focuses on Gozo, the second-largest island in the Maltese archipelago, with its own turbulent history to explore.
It’s possible to find your own way to Gozo, and I explain below how you can do self-guided sightseeing. Alternatively, if you prefer to have the practicalities taken care of, you can book a full day of sightseeing at Gozo, Comino, Blue Lagoon and Sea Caves with GetYourGuide. This tour is excellent value for a whole day’s activities and you can cancel for free up to 24 hours before.
Morning: ferry transfer and La Cittadella
The journey to Gozo can take quite a while, and so you need to make an early start if you want some quality time on the island. As an example, from Sliema it’s a one-hour bus ride to the Cirkewwa ferry terminal; then a wait of up to 45 minutes to make the 20-minute crossing (€4.65 for a return ticket); once on the other side, there’s another 15-minute bus ride into Gozo’s main city, Victoria.
The timing depends on how much you want to pack into your day, and what you want to see in Gozo. In this suggested itinerary, we recommend aiming to reach La Cittadella in Gozo for around 11am.
The hilltop castle of La Cittadella is a beautiful structure that has been at the fulcrum of Gozitan history for centuries. Serving as a refuge and defence for the island’s people since the medieval period, it has witnessed countless sackings, invasions and uprisings over the years.
In the Visitors’ Centre you can buy a €5 ticket that gives you access to all the museums inside the grounds. In this building you can also see a brilliant 360° audiovisual show depicting the history of the complex.
Take some time to explore the impressive grounds of the complex. For us, the highlight was the outstanding panoramic view around Gozo island from the top level of the castle.
Within the grounds there is a lot to explore; your ticket gives you access to the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, Gran Castello Historic House, the Old Prison, and the Natural Science Museum.
Lunch in Victoria
Victoria caters heavily for tourists and so there are many places to eat and drink close to La Cittadella. We recommend Tepie’s Coffee Bar, a lovely café and restaurant in a secluded courtyard just a few minutes’ walk away.
Tepie’s has a sheltered outdoor seating area and serves daily specials as well as a standard menu of local food. This was where I tried a hearty Maltese lampuki pie – it’s easy to see why this fish dish is so popular in Malta…
Afternoon: Ggantija Temples / Salt Pans
The afternoon’s activities are time-dependent; you need to be back in Victoria in good time to make it to the Azure Window ruins for sunset.
One excellent option nearby is the Ggantija Temple complex. This is the most impressive in-tact megalithic ruin site on the Maltese Islands, and is just a 12-minute bus ride away from Victoria. The entry fee is €8.
If you have a little more time, you could instead choose to head out to the Xwejni Salt Pans on the north coast, just past Marsalforn. This journey is about 25 minutes from Victoria by a combination of bus and foot. These rock-cut salt pans, stretching three kilometres along the coast, are intrinsic to the historic tradition of Gozitan sea-salt production, and a pretty awesome sight as well.
Sunset at the Azure Window ruins
The giant rock arch of the Azure Window was Malta’s most recognisable image until it sadly collapsed during storms in 2017. The ruin site remains a place of stunning coastal scenery; and facing west into the sea, it’s tailor-made for sunsets.
The 311 bus from Victoria runs directly to the Azure Window ruins site in just 15 minutes. Check the sunset time beforehand, and aim to arrive at least 20 minutes beforehand. Keep an eye out for the stunning Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu on the right-hand side about half-way along the journey.
The rocky area by the ruin site can get quite busy for sunset, so take some time to pick your spot. Then, all that’s left to do is relax and watch.
Dinner at Country Terrace
It’s time for one last Maltese meal before taking the ferry back to Malta island. Just up the hill from the ferry terminal at Mgarr is Country Terrace, a restaurant with great elevated ocean views and cracking food. This place was recommended to us by two different residents of Malta when we asked for ideas.
At €12–16 for main dishes it’s a bit more expensive than usual for our style, but why not end your trip with a special treat?
How much does this Malta itinerary cost?
The following sample costing for two people covers all domestic transport, accommodation, food, drink and activities in this itinerary:
- Accommodation: three nights in a self-catered apartment in Sliema for two people: €210
- Transport: two unlimited journeys bus passes plus return ferry tickets: €51
- Food and drink: all meals and evening drinks: €190
- Activities / entry fees: €86
- Total: €537
Prices are shown in euros – find the latest exchange rates at xe.com.
For backpackers on a tighter budget, there are many ways you could bring these costs down. For example, cooking your own food would make a significant saving on the biggest cost area, or you can stay in one of the many excellent hostels around Paceville.
More ideas for your Malta itinerary
Looking to spend more time in Malta? This itinerary covers many of the highlights, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more to see and do.
If you’re up for getting in the ocean, Malta is one of the best places in Europe to try scuba diving. Its warm Mediterranean climate is conducive to diving, and there is a multitude of beautiful rock formations and marine life to discover under the water.
Furthermore, Malta’s history of maritime conflict has left the surrounding seas littered with fascinating real-life shipwrecks to discover.
Game of Thrones tourism
In recent years, Malta has gained fame as a filming location for Game of Thrones. If you’re a fan, you can take a tour of the various iconic sites with Malta Film Tours.
Wine has been produced in Malta for over 2,000 years. Although dwarfed by the nearby giants of Italy, France and Spain, Malta is gaining increasing recognition internationally for its wines.
Check out Visit Malta for details of vineyards around the islands where you can take tours and tasting sessions. If your visit is in August, you may just be lucky enough to coincide with the Valletta Wine Festival.
Beaches and bays catamaran tour
Malta has some of the most picturesque coastline of any nation in Europe, with azure waters lapping on its beaches and secluded bays. A great way to experience this on a short trip is to take a beaches and bays catamaran tour from St Paul’s Bay. This full-day trip takes in some of the best beaches and spots for swimming and snorkelling around the islands.
Segway tour to Dingli Cliffs
To experience the historical rural villages and picturesque coastline of Malta in an alternative way, you can take a tour by segway and see the beautiful sheer faces of the Dingli Cliffs. The village of Dingli itself dates back over 2,800 years, and nearby you can also see the 16th-century Verdala Palace.
Where to stay in Malta
The most popular districts for travellers to stay in Malta are Sliema, Valletta, St Julian’s and St Paul’s Bay. There is also the option to stay over on the island of Gozo. Our guide to where to stay in Malta covers each of the most popular areas in detail, with accommodation recommendations.
We chose to base ourselves in Gzira, a fairly quiet neighbourhood right next to Sliema. The backstreets are nice and chill, but in just a short walk to the waterfront there are rows of bars, restaurants and shops, as well as the main bus route. It’s a comfortable walking distance to Sliema and St Julian’s, and just a 15-minute ride to Valletta.
When is the best time to visit Malta?
Malta’s warm Mediterranean climate makes it a great place to travel all-year round, with 300 days of sunshine on average per year. Summer (from June to August) is the high tourist season, with temperatures soaring over 30°C and the sea at its most calm.
We loved visiting in winter (December to March – our trip was in January). The temperature is mild, around 10–16°C, perfect for getting about on foot. It’s also much quieter and pleasant to explore with far fewer tourists around! Did I mention that everything is cheaper too? Check out our article on visiting Malta in winter for more.
The shoulder seasons of April–May and September–October are a good option for warm weather without peak tourist crowds. The rainiest months are November and December.
How to get around Malta
When you first arrive in Malta, the first thing you will need to do is get from the airport to your accommodation. You can book an airport transfer with GetYourGuide, which is particularly good value when you are travelling in a group. We arranged our airport transfer in advance of our trip, and it was great not to have to worry about transport after we landed.
Our preferred mode of transport for exploring Malta is the excellent public bus service. It’s efficient, easy to use, and there are routes that cover all of the main sites around Malta and Gozo.
As such, this itinerary is based on using bus transport, and we’ve included information on the services you can take for each journey. You can find full information on schedules and prices on the Malta Public Transport website.
We would recommend buying a travel card rather than paying for individual journeys. The best option will depend on your exact itinerary; we used the seven-day unlimited journeys travel card. Take a look on the website above to assess the options and decide which will work best for you.
To visit Gozo island, you can take ferries from the port at Cirkewwa in Malta for a standard return fare of €4.65.
Note that the frequency of services is seasonal. During the winter, bus and ferry services are scaled back due to lower demand. Visiting in the low season ourselves, we didn’t find this to be too much of a problem.
Another option for getting around Malta is to hire a car. Daily rental prices are cheap, and the road network is very well developed (driving is on the left-hand side). To find the best price, you can search car hire options on rentalcars.com.
Have you spent time travelling in Malta? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.