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Visit Malta in winter

Tempted to visit Malta in winter? Malta, a small island or actually three small islands, attracts many tourists during the summer season. The population of people doubles in the summer here! It is known for its beaches, grottos and caves (sadly the Azure window collapsed years ago), snorkelling and diving. Travelling to Malta in winter is on the rise. The cheap flights from Europe and possibility of mild weather certainly help.

In winter (January) we decided to go on our first holiday with a baby. Considering that he was still a little baby, only 3 months, we narrowed down our destination plans to Europe. Most of the Europe is cold or very cold in January and we wanted some sun. We stumbled upon some cheap flights to Malta. After reading of what to do in Malta apart from being on the beach, we bought the tickets. The holiday planning with the little one kicked off!

We had three full days to explore Malta. Here we share what we have seen in those three days. The sights we divided into Cities & Villages and Natural Sites. It may tempt you to go to Malta in winter as well!

Getting around?

We decided to rent a car as it would be much easier to get around the island with a little one. The parking was not an issue. We only paid for parking in Valletta and it was only €3 for a day. Everywhere else it was free. Some roads where we went were pretty bad and drivers not that friendly (yes, we are used to the British driving culture). We had a small car which proved to be useful as streets in some places were very narrow. The places we have visited were short distance from each other and our base. We stayed not too far from the airport, in Zurrieq. Alternatively, you can use public transport. Many travellers have said that public transport is well developed for commuting.

Weather in winter?

During our visit in January the temperatures were mild, 15°C to 16°C. On our last day there were no clouds so it felt more like 20°C. We were fine just with sweaters and in the evenings with lightweight jackets, not bad for a winter weather! There was mild breeze, more pronoun at places on hills and close to water. However, beware that January can be rainy and very windy in Malta. I guess we were lucky with the weather. Either way we were prepared for the colder weather with some extra layers packed in our backpacks.

Travelling with a baby?

This was our first holiday with our 3 months old boy. We decided to rent a car for the ease of getting from one place to another. As he was under 2 years old, we could bring our own baby car seat free of charge to the flight. We used baby carriers during the trip instead of a stroller. Moving around with the baby carrier made the trip so much easier and gave us flexibility, especially at the natural sites we visited. The cities and villages we visited would be fine for a stroller. Only Valletta could be a little bit more tricky due to winding streets.

I noticed that not many places, including museums, had baby changing facilities so a baby changing mat was a must for me. It was also handy to have a car as I could just change him in the car. Some mums had concerns regarding breastfeeding in public as Malta has a low breastfeeding rate compared to other EU countries, i.e. possibly lower public acceptance. I found no issues with breastfeeding in public, of course I did it discreetly.  If you need baby supplies, you can easily get them at local stores, so do not worry if you forget to pack some (as I did!).

Cities & Villages

Valletta

Valletta, also known as the city of the Knights of Malta, is a charming capital of Malta and on the UNESCO World Heritage List. You can think of Valletta as an open-air museum with its backstreets full of charming Maltese balconies. You may expect Valletta to be big but actually it is the smallest capital in Europe. The population in the city is around 6,000 inhabitants. Everything here is within a walking distance. We had a day in Valletta so had to give a pass to some of the museums.

Triton's Fountain & Valletta City Gate

We started our day with sight of Tritons’ Fountain and entered the city via the city bridge and through the City Gate. I was awed that the Great Ditch below the city bridge was man-made by digging and the excavating the stone.  It was cut across the Sceberras Peninsula after the Great Siege of 1565 to protect the city from a land invasion. Imagine the man power required for the job! The excavated stone was used to build bastion and buildings close by. The Ditch has been recently regenerated and now there is a public park.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Once you enter the city, you will see the impressive Renzo-Piano designed Parliament Building completed in 2014 and iconic Royal Opera House. We turned right and headed towards the Upper Barrakka Gardens. It is one of the few green spaces in the city. Actually, we did not see much of green spaces or trees in cities of Malta compared to what we see in other European cities. Interestingly, locals call Malta 'The Rock'. The Maltese Islands themselves, and almost everything on them, are, quite literally, carved in stone. So, you will not see wooden houses here. Back to the gardens, the Upper Barrakka Gardens give great views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities.

 

View from the Saluting Battery

The Saluting Battery

The Upper Barrakka Gardens have great panoramic views of the Three cities. Below the gardens is the Saluting Battery, which is possibly the oldest one still in operation anywhere in the world. The gun fires everyday at mid-day and at 4pm. The sound can be heard from anywhere in Valletta and even from the Three Cities. It is a spectacular unique to Malta and not to be missed. A tour of the Saluting Battery costs €3 and includes brief military history of Malta and a demonstration with an explanation of how the fire gun operates. You can also observe the firing of the gun from up close.

War Headquarters Tunnels

Malta has a long military history and thus there are many war related museums and sights in Malta. One of them is the Lascaris War Rooms close to the gardens, actually 40 metres under. We initially planned to visit it but changed our minds and went for the War H.Q.Tunnels tour. The tunnels are spread over 28,000 square meters and some sections are 80 meters under the gardens. The War H.Q. tunnels were actively used during the WW2. It is definitely an interesting and unique site to visit. The tour costed €15pp and included the Saluting Battery tour as well. During our visit the group was small, which was a bonus.

 

Saluting Battery

Streets of Valletta

After being underground, we left the gardens and wandered the backstreets of Valletta. The streets are full of character thanks to the baroque architecture with intricate details, colourful Maltese balconies (blue and green were the most common colours for the balconies), iconic old shop signs and corner niches with saints. Some of the streets that we thought stand out more than others were: St Lucia Street, Triq-Santa' Orsa street, and Strait street. The Republic Street is the main street of Valletta with many shops and restaurants. While walking we also passed the St John's Co-Cathedral , Cathedral of the Knights of Malta, but decided against going inside (lack of time and paid entrance). Others highly recommend visiting it. The main squares, Republic square and St George Square, were relatively quiet. Maybe because of the time of the year.

Valletta streets

Lower Barrakka Gardens

During our walk we reached the Lower Barrakka Gardens. As the Upper Barrakka Gardens, it offered panoramic views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities. It was smaller that the Upper gardens but I personally think was more beautiful. The last stop on our plan was the Siege Bells Monument. If you have more time, Fort St Elmo and National War Museum are near by as well.

We headed towards the Republic street and planned to see the sunset at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. But we missed the sunset as we were still at one of the restaurants on the Republic street. Planned timings badly this time.

Lower Barrakka Gardens
View from Lower Barrakka Gardens

Mdina & Rabat

Mdina & Rabat are located next to each other in the south west of Malta and popular sites to visit.

Mdina

Mdina is an old capital of Malta, dating back 4,000 years- older than Valletta! It is also known as a Silent City. This small beautiful city attracts visitors for being a fine example of an ancient golden-stone walled city. It houses a mix of medieval and baroque architecture. It is worth visiting Mdina just for the architecture alone. Unsurprisingly, Mdina has been nominated to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It is a small city, so you will not need a map. It is best explored on foot. Half-day visit will be enough to explore the city and visit museums, if you wish. The entrance to the city is via grant city gate with a bridge. Then, loose yourself in the narrow and monochromatic back streets of the city. As it was off season, the city was relatively quiet and many streets were completely empty, hence the nickname of Silent City.

 

Mdina city gate

I usually do not recommend places to eat as everyone has different taste and budget. But this time I can not resist to mention Fontanella Tea Garden cafe. Mainly, because the cafe has stunning panoramic views of surrounding cities and villages. We had no issue in getting a table in winter. Mostly people recommend to come for coffee & cake but we went for lunch.

In Mdina you can also look for the famous blue door that fills instagram feeds or visit St Paul's Cathedral. There is something for the Game of Thrones fans too. Two locations of Mdina were used in the filming of the series: Mdina City Gate and Mesquita Square.

Rabat

Rabat is just outside Mdina. Since you do not need all day in Mdina, you can spend the rest of the day in Rabat. We visited St Paul's Catacombs. The catacombs are dated back to the 3rd century AD and were used for burial for around 500 years. The catacombs were also used as shelters during WW2. It is a relatively large area of tunnels with rooms carved into stone. There is also St Agatha's catacombs but they are smaller. Rabat did not wowed us as Mdina did. Actually, except for catacombs we did not think there was much to do here.

If coming with a car, there is plenty of free parking available. We parked just outside the entrance of Mdina, next to playground.

 

Blue door Mdina

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk is a small fishing village in the south eastern side of Malta. It is known for its harbour, Marsaxlokk Bay, with colourful traditional Maltese boats with eye of Osiris called luzzu and a fishing market on Sundays. Most recommend to visit the village on a Sunday due to the market, but we did not have a Sunday so went on a weekday. You do not need a full day here, a morning or afternoon will be enough.

The main attraction for us was the walk on the promenade of Marsaxlokk Bay. The weather was very good on our visit, so the morning walk was very pleasant. We even saw fishermen tending to their nets before going to sea for their next catch. Also, visiting in winter meant that the place was relatively quiet and peaceful, not buzzing with visitors. We even grabbed some ice-creams, so it felt a bit like a summer and not a winter day. There are restaurants, bars and cafes line the waterfront with very reasonable prices. Free parking was available on the waterfront too. Although it was not a Sunday, there was an open air market on the waterfront, mainly for souvenirs and local Maltese sweet treats.

Marsaxlokk

Another bonus of Marsaxlokk is for it being close to beaches and bays. One of the them is St Peter's Pool, which we visited afterwards (see below). You can also take a short boat trip from the harbour to the surrounding beaches and bays.

Marsaxlokk bay

Three Cities

Three Cities is a collective name for three fortified harbour cities opposite Valletta and across the Grand Harbour. The Three Cities are Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Bormla (Cospicua). Each city has two names: old and a new one.

Birgu (Vittoriosa)

We went to Birgu (Vittoriosa) as it was the oldest and most popular city of the three. It is often referred to as ‘the cradle of Maltese History’, famous for being the first home of the Knights of the Order of St John, who settled on the island in 1530. We parked (free) just outside the city. You can reach the city from Valletta on a boat or water taxi in around 15 minutes. Birgu (Vittoriosa) impressed us with its lovely and long-stretching harbour promenade and pretty quiet streets. The harbour is overlooked by St Lawrence Church, one of Malta’s most historic surviving churches. At the end of the promenade was Fort St Angelo with panoramic views of the Grand Harbour. There were quite a few nice restaurants on the promenade, perfect for lunch.

We found Birgu (Vittoriosa) to be similar to Valletta with little winding streets full of colourful balconies and doors but smaller in size and less touristy. Also, with much less cars. On some streets we were the only people! Couple hours to walk the city on a leisurely pace would be enough. There are couple museums to visit as well: Inquisitor’s Palace and Malta Maritime Museum.

As we have seen a lot of pretty Maltese streets in Valleta, Mdina, and now Birgu, we decided against visiting other two cities and headed to the next spot on our list.

 

 

 

Birgu
Birgu streets

Marsaskala

Marsaskala is a seaside village close to Marsaxlokk in the southeast of Malta. Interestingly, it was originally a Sicilian fishing community. Hence, the name Marsaskala means 'Sicilian Harbour'. We visited it in the evening, before thee sunset, as we were in the area. The main point of interest here was Marsaskala Bay. Here you can have a nice walk on the promenade. There are several restaurants, cafes and bars next to the promenade. Otherwise, there was not much to do here. It was certainly quiet and peaceful, by no means a tourist hotspot. This was our last stop before heading to the apartment so we did not mind the quiet walk. There is also St Thomas Bay, a popular swimming location in summer.

Overall, I would not put Marsaskala on my list of top places to visit in Malta in winter as there are better and more central places to go.

Marsaskala

Natural Sites

Dingli Cliffs

Dingli Cliffs is the highest point of Malta at 253 metres above sea level. They are located on the western coast of Malta, actually not far from Blue Grotto. Stunning panoramic coastal views on a good day can be seen from the cliffs. We also went for a short walk alongside the cliffs as the weather was very good. This is also a good spot to see a sunset. What we also liked about the place, that it was not crowded. Actually, only few tourists were there at the same time us. If coming with a car, parking is available near the road.

Dingli cliffs
Dingli cliffs
Dingli cliffs

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto is a popular and some say a ‘must see’ sightseeing place in Malta. Pictures of the sight are frequent on Maltese postcards and guide books. It is on the southern coast of Malta, very close to Zurrieq and then Qrendi Village. Blue Grotto is actually a complex of seven caves which can be seen on a boat trip. The boat trips leave daily if weather conditions are good. We did not see any boats on our visit so went to the viewing point instead. From the viewing point, you will have panoramic views and see the main arch of the cave. The arch is massive, almost 30m in height.  If coming with a car, free parking is available next to the viewing point and at the boat trip departure point.

St Peter’s Pool

St Peter’s Pool is a natural swimming pool close to Marsaxlokk fishing village. Although it is very popular in summer, in winter during good weather is worth a visit too. You can have a quiet and enjoyable walk around the area and on the cliffs overlooking the pool. If you are visiting Marsaxlokk, it will be a nice change of scenery. On the way to the St Peter’s Pool you we had great panoramic views of Marsaxlokk fishing village, which was a bonus.

There is a free parking on top of the cliff close to the St Peter’s Pool. But the road leading there was bad and narrow at some places. As you would expect, the parking lot was almost empty on our visit. Alternatively, you can walk from the Marsaxlokk but it will be a longish walk. Nevertheless, we saw some tourist taking the walk.

St Peters pool
Around St Peter's Pool
St Peter's pool

Sunset at Golden Bay Beach

Golden Bay beach is said to be one of the best sandy beaches in Malta. It is located on the north-west coast of Malta. No doubt it is very popular in summer but why to visit it in winter? We went there for a sunset! As the weather was mild, it was also great to go for a short walk on the beach.

Golden Bay beach is a short drive from Mdina & Rabat. You can finish your day here with a sunset after visiting the cities. It is very easy to reach the beach by car or public transport. There are free parking and a restaurant next to the beach.

Golden Bay Beach
You may think of Malta as a summer destination and for a reason, but it is worth visiting it winter too. Three to four full days we think is enough to see the main sights of Malta in winter. This time we left out Gozo and Comino islands due to limited time we had. Also, we thoughts Gozo and Comino are better to visit in summer for their beaches. Have you been to Malta in winter? What were your impressions? Please share it with us in the comments below.

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