Malta in winter time. The ULTIMATE ECOLUXURY GUIDE
Visiting Malta in winter. What to do? What to see? But above all, why visit Malta in winter?
Isn’t Malta the sun&beach holiday island? Well, it is true that Malta has 300 days of sunshine a year … but it has soo much more than that!
Did you know that the Maltese archipelago boasts one of the highest concentrations of historical-cultural heritage for km² in the world? Did you know that Malta has 7,000 years of history … more than the Egyptian pyramids?
I already wrote several articles about various aspects of Malta (general info, beaches, megalithic temples, cities) that you can find very easily here in the travel section of my blog.
As some of you already know, I was lucky enough to spend several months in Malta with my family, and I’ve had the chance to live the island during different seasons. So here are my insider tips for you!
Why visit Malta in winter?
Here are some of the main reasons:
- a lovely mild climate to escape from the harsh continental winters (we are talking about 18-20 degrees)
- finally the perfect temperatures for walking and enjoying the architectural beauties of the island without melting like an ice lolly
- daily flights at very good prices (I just flew direct from Milan Linate with Air Malta, in just over an hour and a half I found myself eating ftira on a terrace overlooking the sea!)
- fewer tourists, less crowds of kids and students than the summer, less queues, less traffic ..
- great chance to appreciate the island more “like a local” and less like a tourist in flip-flops
- wonderful Christmas atmosphere, events, concerts, markets… the spirit of Christmas in Malta is really strong and enveloping! The whole island is full of craft cribs (presepji), lights and fireworks!
What to do in Malta during winter? Here is my complete guide!
The Malta Experience: the very first thing to do in Malta!
The very first thing I strongly recommend you do before starting any tour is something I personally consider essential (and I would like to stress that this is NOT sponsored content!)
Go see The Malta Experience, a beautiful and moving documentary available in 17 languages (audio-visual show is the official term) of 45 min on Malta’s exciting 7000-year adventures.
Few other countries have such a rich, unexpected, eventful and troubled history like this small archipelago, coveted and contested among all the empires over the centuries for its strategic position.
I assure you that it will be the most entertaining history class you have ever attended, exciting for children and informative for the older ones, and only then can you REALLY understand and appreciate everything you will see on your trip. TRUST ME!!!
You can find The Malta Experience at the Bastions of St. Elmo, at the tip of Valletta basically, near the Siege Bell War Memorial and the Holy Infirmary.
Careful: do not confuse it with “Malta in 5D” that you find just inside the Valletta Gate. I saw that as well but I must say that does not stand comparison with The Malta Experience!
TIP: if you are traveling with Air Malta you will find a discount coupon in the in-flight magazine Il-Bizzilla to show at the cash desk along with your boarding pass!
Good, now you are truly ready to visit Malta!
Valletta: European Capital of Culture 2018!
The marvelous capital, a UNESCO heritage site with 300 monuments, is set to become the European Capital of Culture in 2018 (for all the events of the opening week 14-20 January read here).
The city of Valletta, Il-Belt Valletta in Maltese, is the smallest European capital, did you know that? But it’s a treasure chest! I’m going to very briefly sum up its history to intrigue you a little more!
It was founded on March 28, 1566 by the Order of the Knights of St John, commonly known as the Knights of Malta. The Knights arrived in Malta in 1530, after having lost Rhodes and Cyprus to the Ottoman empire and having wandered in the Mediterranean for years.
Why the name Valletta? The new city took the name of the then Grand Master of the Order of the Knights, Jean de la Valette, who in 1566 (at the age of 71!) led the Maltese defense against the longest and bloodiest siege of Malta’s history by the Ottomans, led by the ruthless pirate Dragut, a bitter enemy of the Knights since ever.
After 4 grueling months, the undaunted courage and sacrifice of Knights and Maltese people together, although in a much lower number than the Ottomans, forced the latter to surrender, never to return again!
Hence La Valletta was born, also called “The Most Humble City”, designed by the engineer Francesco Laparelli, and thanks to its high walls was impenetrable and dominant. Before that the capital was Mdina, of which I will speak later.
Valletta: main things to visit
The main street is called Republic Street, but personally I like Merchant Street (Triq il-Merkanti) better, which is the parallel on the right, with the fascinating lines of colorful gallarija, the typical balconies! Careful not to stumble, because it’s a walk to do looking upward! 😉
You must enter St.John’s Co-Cathedral, I know it doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, but rest assured you will remain open-mouthed as you walk in! Did you know that there are two extraordinary paintings by Caravaggio inside, including the only one in the world with his signature?
Upper Barrakka Gardens, the highest view point in Valletta with a spectacular view of the Three Cities.
At noon and at 4:00 pm you can watch the Saluting Battery, a 400-year-old traditional ceremony in which cannon shots are fired to pay homage to the city’s defense and to regulate the pace of life in the city! It is said to be the oldest saluting battery in the world still in operation.
TIP: arrive 15 minutes early so you don’t miss the interesting explanation of the meaning of the ceremony! It is also possible to attend closely downstairs, ask questions to the staff and visit the museum. Check their website.
Valletta Waterfront: this is Europe’s largest natural port! Back in the days of the Knights the pretty colored doors you see were warehouses to store the goods that the sailors unloaded. Today in the renovated buildings there are bars and restaurants, and during the Christmas period it is full of activities. It is without doubt one of my favorite spots, both during the day and the night!
Grandmaster’s Palace, home to the Maltese Parliament and residence of the President of the Republic located at Palace Square. Inside there are wonderful frescoes on the history of the city!
National Museum of Archeology, Fort St. Elmo, Church of the shipwreck of St. Paul, Our Lady of Victories church, museum of the Knights Hospitallers, the new Valletta Gate built by Renzo Piano … Depending on how much time you have, Valletta is small but full of gems!
I also like to go hunting for old signs of record shops, laboratories, barber shops, cafes and red telephone booths that you won’t even find in London anymore! For your info, Malta is still part of the Commonwealth.
I invite you to enter one of the many jewellery laboratories and shops: their handmade jewels are beautiful and with an excellent quality-price ratio!
Given the great success and the awards received by The Malta Experience, they have been doing docu-movies on other major topics such as Valletta, Mdina, the history of the Knights, etc. The one in Valletta is called Valletta Living History. I have not seen it yet, but I’m sure it will be very interesting and undoubtedly a little more history (and curiosity) never hurts! You can find it on the third floor of the Embassy Complex cinema / mall.
Also, at the entrance of Valletta you will find the Mdina Glass Christmas tree made with over 2000 handmade, mouth-blown glass baubles, crafted according to tradition since 1968.
CHRISTMAS EVENTS in Valletta:
From December 1st at Valletta Waterfront you will find the Christmas Village with lots of activities, music, food, lights and entertainment for kids!
December 13th marks the anniversary of the Republic, with big celebrations in Valletta! Malta has been an independent State since 1964, a republic since 1974 and an EU member since 2004.
In this Christmas period Valletta, just like the whole island, is a blaze of lights and garlands. Enchanting! It is not uncommon to see fireworks all over the island in all seasons, but should you be in Valletta for New Year’s Eve, the show on the Grand Harbor will be an unforgettable experience!
If you decide to spend Christmas Day in Malta, the Mass inside the Co-Cathedral of St. John is immensely beautiful and evocative!!
Moreover, all theaters have a rich calendar of shows, exhibitions, musicals, plays, orchestras..
The 3 Cities: Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua
Many mistakenly think that Valletta is the only city in Malta, just because it is the most famous. Malta has several other towns, and in particular I recommend you visit the three fortified cities on the three headlands that you have just admired from the Upper Baraka Gardens, namely Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, which were the protagonists of Malta’s resistance to the Great Siege in 1565 and managed to save the island!
In Vittoriosa (Birgu in Maltese) where the first settlement of the Phoenicians arose and that for a few years was the city of the Knights before Valletta was built, I would point out the Maritime Museum and the Folklore Museum, and above all the historical re-enactment “In Guardia” held once a month and the Birgufest in October.
In Senglea (Isla in Maltese) I would suggest the Gardijola Gardens at Fort St Michael, the church of St Philip and Our Lady of Victory, and the Guard Tower Garjola, one of the Maltese icons found on all travel guides! And from the small port of Senglea you can make a tour of the Grand Harbor on the typical dghajsa.
In Cospicua (Bormla in Maltese) do not miss the three megalithic structures: the funerary monuments of Ghajn Dwieli, Ta ‘German and Ta’ Kordin and some quarries used as places of prayer at the time of the arrival of St. Paul on the island (60 BC about)
TIP: I have just discovered something very clever that I still have yet to try myself: Rolling Geeks, small electric cars with pre-programmed GPS and incorporated audio-guide in several languages to drive around in the Three Cities!
You can rent them for 2 and a half hours, follow the planned itineraries to discover the highlights, park and get back on freely. I say it’s brilliant!! I only found out about them on the last day so I could not try them, but it’s the first thing I’ll do as soon as I get back to Malta (again I’d like to stress it is NOT sponsored content).
Naxxar: an authentic Malta experience!
Few guides speak of Naxxar (pronounced Nashàr), and even fewer tourists go there, but it is one of the most inhabited cities of Malta! If you want to breathe some real Maltese daily life in one of the most ancient places on the island, I think it is a very interesting addition to your itinerary, especially with this golden Christmas atmosphere!
Naxxar is located inland and the human presence dates back to prehistoric times, as proved by the megalithic remains at Tal-Qadi and Qaliet Marku, or the car ruts that go from Salina to Targa. A very important historical fact for this town is the shipwreck of St. Paul in 60 AD, who was rescued and welcomed by the inhabitants of this village.
In Naxxar you really feel that sense of community, with the elderly sitting outside their doors chatting, the food smells coming into the street from the kitchens and cafes, the very characteristic narrow streets (at this time full of Christmassy lights!) that suddenly open up onto the elegant and staggering Duomo. So beautifull!!
I recommend you visit Palazzo Parisio with its art nouveau façade and Sicilian Baroque interiors, the archaeological sites, public gardens and above all I suggest you get lost in its narrow streets chattered by chapels and churches (there are at least 12!) Do not forget your camera at home!!
Chapel 5 Palazzo Suites: best eco-luxury b&b in Malta
For my winter stay this year I chose to sleep in Naxxar, to feel the authenticity of the island myself. So I searched online and chose Chapel 5 Palazzo Suites, an authentic and eco-luxury b&b located in a small alley on St Lucia Street, 100 meters from the Dome.
I could not have wished for anything more beautiful and welcoming, and for this I strongly recommend it! It is a building, or rather two joined, of 400 years built in typical Maltese style with the local stone, adjacent to St Lucy Chapel.
Malcolm and Alex, the two lovely hosts, have created 10 gorgeous suites, each one different from the other, each with a name, a style, a design that is totally unique and taken care of in the smallest detail.
A classic Maltese imprint skilfully and harmoniously combined with furniture they purchased themselves all over the world, from Morocco to Indonesia. This is what I call an eco-luxury accomodation! I wanted to see all of the rooms because each one is enchantingly original and I couldn’t resist the curiosity to see what the next looked like!!
At Chapel 5 Palazzo Suites there are two lovely courtyards with two swimming pools, several terraces and rooftops where you can sunbathe, relax, have a massage or a yoga class! Waking up to this sight made me immediately feel fully immersed in the colors and the scent of the Maltese wind!
Every corner of the building has a touch of warmth and personality, a piece of furniture or a detail that makes guests feel at home, literally.
In the morning, in this bright and colorful room with a glass roof, the delicious breakfasts buffet is served, including sweet and savory with all the typical Maltese products, from honey rings to local cheeses! Every morning the buffet is fresh and different and the kindness of Malcolm and Alex will make you feel super pampered!
Mdina the silent city: spectacular at sunset, mysterious at night!
Chapel 5 Palazzo Suites is located a few kms from Mdina (L-Imdina in Maltese), a fortified medieval town of unparalleled beauty located in one of the highest points of the island.
Surrounded by a moat (now gardens) Mdina was the old capital before Vittoriosa and Valletta.
An open-air museum, luxurious palaces, Arab and Baroque architecture, labyrinths of very narrow streets, dominating view points. Words cannot describe the beauty and elegance of Mdina, so mark it as a must-see in your agenda!
In particular, I would like to mention the Cathedral of St. Paul where you will find the painting of the Shipwreck of St. Paul, one of the many works by Mattia Preti on the island, Palazzo Falson which is one of Mdina’s oldest buildings and houses a private museum inside with over 3500 works, the national museum of natural history and to go check the panoramas from the walls … you will clearly see where the island meets the sea!
Just outside the walls of Mdina there is a Roman villa with beautiful mosaics and the city of Rabat, rich in history is less touristy than Mdina but much appreciated by photographers! Go and find out why!
I have been to Mdina many times, but this December I decided to do a carriage ride for the first time. It was fun! If you have children, it’s definitely a nice way to entertain them.
I’m a big fan of Mdina by night, strolling down its illuminated streets is even more impressive! There are many excellent restaurants in Mdina, pick your favourite.
TIPS: Because Mdina is so high, there are always pretty strong winds, both in summer and in winter, so bring a comfy windbreaker and maybe ear muffs or a cap. And keep in mind that during this season the sun sets just before 5pm.
Once again, to proove the Maltese are brilliant at teaching a bit of their compelling story to young and old, in Mdina you will find the show “The Mdina Experience” that I recommend, and also the Knights of Malta wax museum with a short initial documentary and audio guide. Both are interesting, maybe Knights Of Malta could be a little cruel for the younger children (well those of my generation at least … I was forgetting that today children play war videogames since they are in the cradle … okay then just look at the brochures and do what you think is best)
I also invite you to take a look at the Mdina Glass shop if you are looking for colorful and original presents. Whereas If you intend to buy some jewellery, I must say that in Mdina prices are higher than in Valletta.
I’m really holding back from telling and recommending you like a thousand places I personally love to avoid making this article any more papyrus-long than it already is … but if you keep an eye on my blog every now and then you will see that I often add new things on Mdina and Malta in general ! Obviously if you have any questions feel free to contact me via email or on my socials!
CHRISTMAS EVENTS in Rabat: From 7th to 12th of December in Rabat there is Natalis Notabilis, an evocative Christmas Village with stalls and handicrafts.
Mosta e Ta’ Marija: awarded the best Maltese restaurant for 10 years!
Spare some time to visit Mosta, Malta’s most populous city located right in the middle of the island, not far from Mdina. The city of the famous “Rotunda” dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, a splendid church whose dome is inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, the fourth largest dome in Europe and the ninth in the world!
Did you know that during the Second World War a bomb dropped by Luftwaffe right on the church during Mass damaging the dome, miraculously did not explode?
During World War II Malta was largely destroyed by aerial bombing and the Maltese people were put to the test once again. But just like in 7000 years of history, the tenacity of these people with a simple life and a strong character managed to revive the island from its own ruins.
A fantastic example of the strong character the Maltese have, of their constancy and dedication, of their welcoming spirit and their open-mind attitute towards languages and cultures from the world, is just a few steps from the Rotunda, in the person of Mrs. Marija Muscat, who for over 50 years has been welcomes tourists and Maltese alike in what has been awarded for 10 years as the Best Maltese Restaurant!
“Ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs, meine damen und herren” as she would say, welcome to Ta ‘Marija!!
When you’re in Malta, in any season, you CANNOT MISS OUT on a dinner (or lunch) at Ta ‘Marija!
Every time I go, not only do I eat amazingly but I also have so much fun! First of all, the place is unique, you will feel like you’re in a typical courtyard accompanied by local music played on mandolin and guitar by two very sweet musicians!
Here you can try all specialties of Maltese cuisine. Did you know that the typical Maltese dish is rabbit? Here I had mixed Maltese starters and a combo of three rabbit specialities (fenek) . Phenomenal!!
And when dinner is over … festa! Mrs. Marija herself is present every single day at her restaurant and, after having chatted in various foreign languages at the tables with the clients literally welcoming them as guests in her own house, on Wednesdays and Fridays during Folklore Nights she takes on the microphone and introduces in all the languages of the guests present the various Maltese typical dances that a group of 6 dancers will perform.
And after the typical dances, the dancefloor turns into a disco!
Really an experience you cannot miss during your trip whether you are a couple, friends or family. I am sure you will come out with a smile on your face … and a happy stomach!
Bear in mind: Folklore Nights are wednesdays and fridays, but check the website beforehand! In case you can’t make it on those days, don’t worry you will still enjoy your wonderful evening!
TIP: Ta ‘Marija Restaurant can also organize your transfer if you need it, contact them in advance!
St Julian e Sliema: the ideal waterfront running spot!
So far I have talked you through the most authentic and historic Malta, and now let’s move to the pounding heart of modern life: St Julian’s (San Ġiljan in Maltese) and Sliema.
Once a small fishing village, since the 60s it has become the favorite location for the second homes of the Maltese, and then directly the place to live all year round.
All around wonderful Spinola Bay (that’s where I lived with my family some years ago btw) and in the whole district up to Paceville is a multitude of clubs, restaurants, bars, cafes etc etc.. Most are of very high quality, some (very few) a bit more touristy.
And guess what, the promenade from Spinola Bay to the end of Sliema is perfect for jogging! In Sliema you will also find some outdoor gym equipment. St Paul’s Bay area, on the north of the island, has a long and pretty walk that’s quite nice for jogging too.
Go down the stairs of the residential complex Portomaso and you will find a relaxing walk admiring the yatches, where you will no longer hear the noise of the city but only the wind and the sea, sunbathe on one of the waterfront benches in Spinola Bay and walk up the pier, visit the Church of Balluta, and maybe go up to the top floor of the Portomaso Business Tower, the highest building in Malta with its 23 floors!
At the end of Sliema you will find a modern district called Tigne Point, from where you can see Manoel Island and the western side of the Valletta promontory.
CHRISTMAS EVENTS in Sliema:
On December 17 at the pier near Independence Gardens in Sliema, many Santa Claus will be diving and swimming in open waters for the 19th edition of the Thomas Smith Christmas Charity Swim, to raise funds for the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation. Everyone can participate…that way you will be able to say “I swam in the middle of december!” 😉
Throughout the month of December in Pijazza Tignè (Tigne Point) you will find the lovely Christmas Market and fairy-tale rides for children.
Marsaxlokk: the harbour of colors and of great fish
On a sunny day, head for lunch at Marsaxlokk, the typical and colorful fishing harbor south of the island! The colorful wooden boats with eyes (Luzzu in Maltese) will make you fall in love! There are so many great restaurants, I haven’t found a bad one yet so…pick your favourite!
Megalithic temples in Malta older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge
Did you know that in Malta there are megalithic temples … older than the Pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England?!
Visiting them in summer under the sun I must admit is a bit challenging, while autumn, spring, or why not a sunny winter day are perfect for a bit of history and archeology. I will not dwell too much on this topic because you can find my article about to these unique temples here.
But the final question that many will be making is: so no sun&beach in Malta in wintertime?
Well, I tell you I remember swimming in Gozo in november … clearly it very much depends on the weather and the different years, if the sun shines it could be possible!
As I already mentioned there are also some very funny events in which people dive all together dressed up as Santa! A couple of years ago my dad swam on January 1st with the short-sleeved suit while I was sunbathing in my tank top on the balcony 🙂
But of course do not expect to be walking around in t-shirts and flip-flops … we are in the middle of the Mediterranean, not the Caribbean!!
What should I pack in my suitcase then?
Here is the question what to bring. The advice is to dress up in layers because when the sun comes out a cotton shirt is enough, but within an hour the weather could change. I recommend a windbreaker, earmuffs and a scarf.
You can check the weather forecast on Malta Airport Weather Forecast and may want to pack a foldable umbrella too.
Bear in mind: Malta uses English sockets so bring, or buy on the spot, some adapters! Many big hotel chains probably also have European outlets … but certainly not the typical b&bs!
How to get around in Malta?
Renting a car in Malta is very easy and pretty cheap. You can book a car online on portals such as Budget to pick up the airport or rent it daily from various car rentals around the island. Remeber in Malta you drive on the left, like in the UK!
Public transport in Malta is quite efficient and all buses are quite new. A ride costs 1.50 Euros and you can use the ticket for two hours, otherwise you can do the Tallinja Card for 21 euros/7 days. Tickets are to be done on board with the driver.
The nice thing about going by bus is you get to pass through streets and villages that you would not otherwise see; all buses terminals are in Valletta where there is a well-organized station with digital displays with times and departing positions (A, B and C, for B and C stations you have to turn the corner, I tell you in advance so you can’t miss them ;)) On the other hand, bear in mind that going by bus takes longer, but the app will tell you the number of stops and duration of the route. Good news is, you save yourself the time to look for parking!
Another easy way to get around is eCabs, which are bookable and payable via their app. With approx 15-20 euros you basically can go everywhere.
What did I use? When I was living there with my family and when I came back for vacation for at least 2 weeks we rented a car. This time as I only stayed a week I alternated buses and eCabs.
If you sleep in Chapel 5 Palazzo Suites in Naxxar you are very close to the bus stops for all directions. Ask Malcolm and Lucy should you have any doubts!
Well friends, I believe you now have all the info you need to enjoy your time in Malta! If you like my article and you found it useful, please share it with your friends who you think might want to discover Malta! Of course if you have any questions or would like any other specific advice feel free to contact me via email or on my social networks … and then let me know how you enjoyed your trip!!
Visit Malta www.visitmalta.com
Valletta 2018 valletta2018.org
Air Malta www.airmalta.com