48 Hours in Malta: The Ultimate Itinerary

Three Cities and Grand Harbour in Malta
Artur Bogacki / Getty Images

The Mediterranean country of Malta is composed of three main islands: Malta, Gozo, and sparsely populated Comino. Malta draws visitors for its interesting history, home to some of the world's oldest stone structures, as well as historical and cultural sites from thousands of years of occupation. People also come to Malta for its beaches and sea; it's a top diving and snorkeling site, and waters are crystal clear and warm enough for swimming for a long summer season. There's also a party scene on Malta, particularly in the summer, which draws the young and fun-seeking from across Europe and beyond.

Two days isn't really enough time to spend in Malta but if that's all you've got, then you can make the most of it. Our 48-hour itinerary in Malta itinerary packs in a lot, but leaves some downtime for enjoying the relaxed, beachy vibe that draws so many visitors to the country.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Domes and roofs of Valletta , Malta
KavalenkavaVolha / Getty Images

9 a.m.: Get an early start on your day of cultural immersion. After breakfast at your hotel, head out to discover Malta's capital city of Valletta. The walkable city center is filled with Baroque-era architecture and monuments. Top sights in Valletta include St. John's Co-Cathedral, with its incredibly ornate interior, the Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury, and views from the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

Military history buffs may wish to make the longish walk over to the National War Museum at Fort St. Elmo, and learn about the strategic role Malta has played in centuries of conflicts in the Mediterranean.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Grand Harbour

TripSavvy / Linda Strauta

12:30 p.m.: Republic Street, Market Street and Straight Street are among a cluster of streets in the old city lined with sidewalk eateries offering plenty of options for lunch. Try stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew), the unofficial national dish of Malta that's prepared in a number of varieties. Hobz biz-zejt, open-faced or stuffed sandwiches, are a go-to streetfood. Or try some fresh seafood with preparations ranging from fish stew to raw-bar offering to baked, broiled, or fried fish.

2 p.m.: After lunch, take the Barrakka Lift down to the Valletta waterfront, and hail a dgħajsa, a colorful, gondola-like boat that for 2 euros per person, will whisk you across the majestic Grand Harbour.

Spend the afternoon exploring The Three Cities: Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua. These historic bastions face the Grand Harbour, and offer peaceful waterfront areas and quiet neighborhoods for strolling—quite the contrast from busy Valletta. In Vittoriosa, the middle of the three cities, the Inquisitor's Palace and the Malta at War Museum provide additional glimpses into the nation's long history.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Alleyway in the Mdina

TripSavvy / Linda Strauta

6 p.m.: Take a taxi for the 12-kilometer ride to Mdina, an enchanting walled city in Malta's interior. The city was founded in the 700s and until the 1500s served as the capital city. Most of the honey-colored stone architecture inside the city walls dates to the Norman and Baroque periods. Wandering the narrow streets of Mdina's car-free interior really does feel like stepping into the past. Watch the sun set over the walls, then find a restaurant in the old city, or walk a few hundred yards over to Rabat. The sister city to Mdina is newer, though still several hundred years old and built atop Roman ruins. You'll find plenty of places for alfresco dining amid a dense grid of antique streets and buildings.

10 p.m.: Head back to your hotel in Valletta. Take an evening stroll, or pop into one of the city's many, many bars, where crowds spill out onto the sidewalks. Enjoy a nightcap and get ready for another full day ahead.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
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9 a.m.: Take a deeper dive into Malta's prehistoric past with a visit to one of its ancient archaeological sites. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a series of underground burial chambers dating to 4000 BCE, is closest to Valletta. On the south side of the island, the Ħaġar Qim temple complex dates to at least 3200 BCE and is among the oldest free-standing stone structures in the world, predating Stonehenge and Egypt's oldest pyramids.

12 p.m. Take a taxi or bus to Cirkewwa, where you'll catch the ferry to Gozo Island.

For the rest of the afternoon, hit the beach! Or if it's not beach weather or you prefer a more active afternoon, see our alternative afternoon suggestions below.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Mgarr Harbor Gozo Malta
Marina BW / Getty Images

12:30 p.m.: Once you arrive at Gozo's Mgarr Harbour, arrange for a half-day tuk-tuk tour of the island with Yippee Malta. Make sure to have the driver make a pitstop for lunch, preferably for a ftira ghawdxija, the specialty pizza of Gozo. You'll hit the highlights of Gozo, which has a culture that's similar, but in many ways distinct from Malta's.

3 p.m.: By late afternoon, stop at one of Gozo's sandy beaches, like Ramla or smaller Hondoq ir-Rummien, and get some sunning and swimming in.

6 p.m.: Take an early evening ferry back to Malta and get ready for your last night on the town.

Alternative Afternoon on Malta:

Wide shot of Marsaxlokk's Harbor from afar

TripSavvy / Linda Strauta

12:30 p.m.: Head to Marsaxlokk, the colorful, pretty fishing village on the east side of the island. First thing to do is have lunch. Find a spot on the waterfront and enjoy a meal of fresh-caught seafood that was likely hauled in this morning. After lunch, stroll the scenic harbor, and see how many brightly painted "luzzu" fishing boats you can spot with their distinctive eyes painted on the prow—the ancient Phoenician symbol brings good luck and health and protects the fishermen when they're out to sea.

2:30 p.m.: After a relaxing lunch, head to St. Peter's Pool, a natural swimming pool carved into the sea cliffs near Marsaxlokk. Courageous kids and adults jump into the azure pool from the cliff above, but you can also scramble down the rocks and enter via a ladder—or just admire from a distance. You can also head over to the Zurrieq Valley Sea Inlet, where you can swim and snorkel in a natural, narrow inlet, or catch a boat to the Blue Grotto, a surreal sea cave that's accessible only from the water.

4 p.m.: Head back to Valletta for some afternoon sightseeing and shopping, or rest up before dinner.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Spinola Bay in St. Julian, Malta
Sylvain Sonnet / Getty Images

7:30 p.m.: You're faced with a fork in the road. You can stay in Valletta for an upscale dinner at one of the city's fine-dining restaurants (try Palazzo Preca or Under Grain, in the Rosselli -AX Privilege Hotel), or head to Saint Julian's, a waterfront entertainment district about 15 minutes from Valletta. Dine with a view of the megayachts at the Portomaso marina (Acqua Terra e Mare is an excellent choice), or head to Spinola Bay, which is chockablock with casual and upscale eateries.

11 p.m.: After dinner, party like the locals in Malta by heading to Paceville, the island's biggest nightlife district. Paceville abuts Saint Julian's, so you can stroll right over to the blocks of crowded bars and nightclubs.

If you want something more low-key, head back to Valletta, and walk along the glittering Grand Harbour. Pop in for an after-dinner drink or maybe some live music in one of central Valletta's many bars.