Malta is an archipelago nation located in the Mediterranean Sea. Its history has been eventful, having been invaded/ruled/colonised by many including the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Spanish, Napoleon and the British. As you will see from this Malta travel tips post, it’s the latter coloniser that has left a number of visible marks on everyday life.
Visa: Malta joined the EU in in 2004 and is part of the Schengen Agreement bloc which allows for free movement between Schengen member countries (a combination of EU and non-EU countries). Not all EU countries are members of Schengen. A Schengen visa entitles its holder to travel within Schengen countries for a period of no more than 90 days in a 180 day period.
For further information on the Schengen visa process have a look at the European Commission’s website. Citizens of a number of countries including the US, Canada, and Australia can visit Malta visa-free for up 90 days.
Geography: Malta is located 50 miles south of Italy and 176 miles from the African coast. Although an archipelago, only three of its islands are inhabited – Malta, Gozo and Comino.
The topography of Malta island and Gozo is hilly. Valletta is the capital city of Malta.
Best time to visit: Malta has a Mediterranean climate of mild winters and hot summers. I visited at the end of June where the maximum daily temperature always exceeded 30 degrees Celsius. So one of the prime Malta travel tips I can give you is this: If you don’t want to melt, avoid the late June to August period.
Language: Malta is bilingual Maltese/English as it gained independence from the UK in 1964.
Time zone: Central European Time (CET) and Central European Summer Time (CEST). In other words, same as most of continental Europe.
Dialling code: +356
Plugs: Another trace of Malta’s time in the British Empire, it has the same plug type as the UK and Ireland which is the three-pin square 13A 220-240V plug. It’s classed as Type G in World Standards list.
Food: Malta’s tasty cuisine is influenced by both the local ingredients, which are typical of the Mediterranean region, and by its neighbour to the north, Italy. Expect stews of rabbit and fish such as octopus, and plenty of pasta dishes. Filled pastries are popular for breakfast.
Drink: The Maltese love their fruit juices, wines and fruit liquors although I saw that Aperol Spritz was by far the most popular cocktail in Valletta. A bottle of wine cost €2-€4 in supermarkets. Tap water was safe to drink but had a strong taste of chlorine.
Is Malta safe: I found Gozo and Valletta to be safe. I felt a little unnerved walking on Triq L-Indipendenza between Floriana and Pieta on a late evening as a number of men were lingering in the park next to the road. I was later told that this is a popular gay cruising area.
Getting to Malta: Malta is a popular sun holiday destination for European holiday makers and is served by a number of flag carriers and low cost airlines. Malta International Airport (MLA) serves the entire country and is located approximately 15 minutes drive from Valletta. MLA is probably the easiest airport I’ve rented a car at. I travelled to Malta with Ryanair direct from Cork.
Valletta features on many cruise itineraries and its Grand Harbour has direct ferries to Sicily in Italy.
Getting around Malta: Malta is small but difficult to traverse. The road network in rural areas is narrow and potholed. Many roads were not wide enough for two cars to pass so I found myself reversing occasionally. I felt the suspensions of my little Hyundai i10 struggling to cope on some roads with Marsalforn’s thoroughfares on Gozo island being the worst surfaces I’ve ever driven on.
Like Ireland and the UK, Malta’s driving side is on the left which didn’t pose a problem for me but I could see visitors from right-side countries struggling. Road rules and signs also follow the Irish/UK layout but in many rural areas signs and road markings did not exist. Learning to drive in rural Ireland in the 1990s prepared me for the Malta experience!
The east coast region from St. Paul’s Bay to Valletta is well serviced by public buses including night buses so access to a car is not essential. For bus options and the Valletta bike-sharing scheme check out the Malta Public Transport website.
I visited Valletta, the North West coast and the island of Gozo. Here are my recommendations on What to see in Valletta.
OTHER MALTA TRAVEL TIPS
Even though Malta’s minimum wage is less than half that of my own country I found the cost of eating out similar to Ireland. Bottled water was also expensive with lots of it consumed in 35°C heat. Other drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were inexpensive.
I felt a rip-off undercurrent on a few occasions. For example, some restaurants put extra (unwanted) food on the table and tried to charge me for it while others said the ingredients for the inexpensive dishes were not available. I was short-changed in a few shops. The food and drink at Malta Airport was more expensive than on the flight!
Topless sunbathing is illegal in Malta. All of the beaches I visited had cafes/restaurants at their entrances but none of the beaches had vendors walking amongst the sunbathers.
The east coast of the main island is the most densely populated part of the country.