If you’re looking for the perfect romantic destination in Europe that brings together fabulous food, fascinating history and beautiful nature, consider visiting Malta. Located in the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Sicily, Malta is an archipelago of three islands: the main island where the capital Valletta is found, the more offbeat island of Gozo and the uninhabited island of Comino. In addition to allure of great weather, reasonable prices and the convenience of English as an official language, there is actually a large variety of things to do in Malta.
From picking your way through archaeological sites to hiking Gozo’s stunning landscape, you can easily fill five days, a week or more, but can also choose Malta as an add on of a few days from another European city. Plus you can actually get around quite easily without a car, especially for a first trip as main sites are accessible by public bus and ferry. What’s more, in our current climate, Malta is one of the safest Covid-19 travel destinations, therefore you can go stress-free AND the country is currently subsidizing hotel stays and some other activities! The country is also very LGBTQ friendly and is hosting Europride in 2023, so that might be a good time to visit (or revisit!). Discover this enchanting island below!
General Tips & Planning
The Maltese government is currently offering rebates for hotel stays, ranging from €50-€100 per person/per night depending on the star ranking of your hotel and for stays of 3 nights or more. This goes up by 10% if you stay on the island of Gozo! The hotels in the program are also expected to match the Authority’s amount in equivalent sums for dining or other services at the hotel. More on the program here.
Tips for a Perfect Trip to Malta:
- Malta International Airport: is only a 10-15 minute journey from downtown Valletta, its capital city. There is a convenient city bus which can get you straight to the entrance to the historic centre. You can order a taxi at the official taxi stand, however, you can save money by downloading the local “Uber” style app called eCabs. Uber also exists on the island.
- Local buses: Malta has an excellent bus service which can get you to most parts of the two islands. Tickets can be purchased from the bus driver, it’s best to have exact change, although on some buses you can also pay by tapping your credit card. Tickets cost €1.50 in winter and €2 in summer. The single journey tickets can be used to get to any destination within two hours, this also means that you can sort of “hop on and off” in case you really wanted to visit one site that is a bit out of the way and nothing else you wanted to see is around it. There is also an unlimited travel pass. Called Tallinja cards, the 7-Day Explore Card is €21 for unlimited travel on both islands. So if you think you’ll be taking the bus a lot, this could be a good option. That said, depending on where you are staying, you might be mixing and matching the bus with the local ferry. It can be tricky to find where to buy Tallinja cards as bus drivers do not sell them. See where to buy them here.
- Valletta Ferry Service: is a line of two ferries which go between Sliema and the three cities. An adult single ticket is €1.50 or a return ticket is €2.80. If you’ll be using the ferry several times, you can get a 7-day unlimited pass for €10. Ferries run every 30 minutes, see the schedule here.
- The Gozo Channel Ferry: is the official ferry which goes between the main island and second island of Gozo. It departs roughly ever 45 minutes and the journey takes 25 minutes. If you just want to take a quick trip to Gozo, there are private ferry companies that can take you there and back in one day as well as do some sightseeing boating along the way.
- Heritage Malta Pass: If you plan to visit several museums and historic sites, then you may want to get this €50 pass (discounted rate off-season). This is especially worth it if you want to see the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum (see below) which is €35 and included in the pass (advanced reservation still required).
- Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum Reservation: While we’re on the topic of this site, one of the top archaeological sites of Malta, advance reservation is required since they only let 10 visitors inside at a time and on an obligatory guided tour (by audio-guide available in many languages). So be sure to book as soon as you book your flight!
- Tipping: it is customary to leave a 5%-10% gratuity for wait staff. However, it’s worthwhile to check your bill as a service charge is sometimes automatically included, in which case you don’t need to leave any extra. It isn’t necessary to tip taxi drivers, but you could if you had exceptional service.
Now on to the fun stuff! Below is an outline of what I thought would make the perfect romantic holiday in Malta, but you could always do a little mixing and matching.
Brief Overview of Malta
What makes Malta so unique is that it really has dozens of layers of fascinating history. Around 5,000 BCE, the archipelago was inhabited by a mysterious civilisation that left behind a number of intriguing archaeological sites (see below). These people either died off or left the island and their vestiges remained hidden for millennia. The Phoenicians and the Carthaginians used the islands as an outpost before the Romans arrived in 218 BCE. The Arabs conquered the islands in 870 and their 200-year presence is still evident in the names of some towns, fortifications and in the hybrid Maltese language. In 1090 “neighboring” Sicily was won over by the Normans who also conquered Malta in the process.
After losing their bastion of Rhodes to the Turks, in 1530 Charles V giflted the Maltese Islands to the Knights Hospitaliers, also known as the Order of St John. Their wealth and patronage transformed the islands through the building of elaborate forts, mansions and churches. Everything was fine… until the arrival of Napoleon in 1798, who managed to hang onto the islands for two years until the British “freed” Malta in 1800… and stayed for 150 years. They left their own mark on Malta in the form of pubs, regal statues and the widespread use of English over the islands. Malta gained its independence from England in 1964 and has been a member of the European Union since 2004, in fact, its the EU’s smallest nation state!
Day 1: Exploring Valletta
Although it wasn’t always the capital city of Malta, when it became the country’s centre of power in 1571, Valletta was embellished with extravagant buildings and gorgeous city streets. But before you start your exploring, get fuelled up with breakfast or a coffee at the Caffe Cordina. First opened in 1837, the interior of this historic cafe is lovely, however, its chic terrace spread over the Republic Square is where you’ll want to sit. The pretty square is presided over by a statue of Queen Victoria, a reminder of the country’s former links to the British Empire.
Over your coffee you can decide which of Valletta’s many sites you might like to pop into, but the safe and beautiful city is perfect for simply wandering. Located on a peninsula, the grid organisation of the streets makes it easy to find your way around. Let yourself get lost down its quiet, little trafficked streets, stop to gaze up at a decadent palaces and steal kisses to the backdrop of fortifications or the sea.
Of the main tourists sites in the city, St John’s Co-Cathedral is a must. Although it doesn’t look all that special from the outside, the interior is spectacular. An artistic masterpiece of the Baroque era, the wealthy Grand Masters of the Order of St John’s decked it out in gilded carvings, passionate paintings and detailed statues. Its most famous works of art are two Caravaggio paintings (located in a side chapel you visit at the end of the circuit), the most precious being The Beheading of St John the Baptist, the Italian master’s largest work and the only one he signed.
The Grand Master’s Palace is also an important site to visit the interior. The official residence of the Grand Masters of the Order of Malta, the opulent building provides valuable insight into the importance of the Order and its influence on the island. The pretty courtyards and fountains add some extra romantic allure.
After lunch I suggest visiting the Casa Rocca Piccola. I’m a big fan of smaller museums and house museums and this noble residence is a true delight. Dating back to the 16th century, the palace has been owned and lived in by the family of the Marquis de Piro for nine generations. Guided tours in English take place on the hour (last one at 4pm) and reveal the fascinating story of the home and family as you make your way through the elegant rooms decorated with antiques and family heirlooms. After your visit be sure to visit the underground bunkers and then enjoy a quiet moment in its enchanting courtyard garden.
If you’re looking for another romantic historic site to visit, then stop in at the Teatru Manoel. Constructed in 1732 to entertain the Knights of the Order and the island’s nobles, this is one of the oldest theaters in Europe. Visitors can buy a ticket which grants access to its gorgeous gilded hall and an exhibit on the theater’s history. Alternatively, you can check its schedule to see if there are any concerts or performances during your stay.
Afterwards weave your way through the quiet back streets to the Upper Barraka Garden. The lovely garden has tall trees, pretty arches and romantic benches. Don’t leave without going under the arches where there’s a plaza offering a stunning vista towards the Three Cities (see below). Why not finish your day with a walk around the old fortifications, around the Saint John’s and Saint James’ Bastions, to further soak in the city’s ambiance or settle down onto a terrace for aperitivo.
A Unique Experience in Valletta with Real Malta Tours
If you’re looking for a different way to experience Valletta, then I highly recommend Real Malta Tours. I’m a big fan our quality and unique tours. They provide you will wonderful insight into your destination much beyond the brief few lines in your guidebook, plus your guide will almost certainly give you other excellent insight into your location and other tips. I was very happy to come across the website of Real Malta Tours as they seemed to embody this perfectly. Run by dynamic duo, Chris and Giacomo, passionate and knowledgeable local guides, the company offers wonderful insider tours of Malta. While they have more traditional private tours to orientate you to Malta’s top sites (Valletta, Mdina, Gozo), they have some more offbeat tours, including one on the history of Corsairs in Malta! … Corsairs as in state-authorized… pirates!
I had the pleasure of joining this tour and was transported back through time thanks to my Corsair-guide’s riveting stories, accompanied by historic images and other visuals. It was such an amazing way to discover Valletta, I could recommend it more highly! It would also add a fun and original element to your romantic itinerary! More information about this tour here.
Valletta By Night & Dining
Rubino: Opened in 1906, this family-run restaurant is one of the oldest eateries in Valletta. It serves daily changing Maltese and Mediterranean dishes.
Rampila: Located within the historic bastions of the city, this is perhaps the most uniquely set restaurant in Valletta. On nice days, which is usually the case for Malta, sit on the terrace surrounded by the stone fortifications. On the menu are nicely presented modern Maltese and Mediterranean cuisine.
Adesso: Meaning “now” in Italian, this discreetly chic bistrot specializes in the day’s freshest seasonal ingredients used in their creative Maltese/Italian dishes.
Trabuxu Wine Bar and Bistrot: A dual establishment, the wine bar is set within a 400-year-old stone vaulted cellar, and the restaurant has a warm decor with Parisian-style café tables and chairs and colorful art. The regularly changing menu has Maltese and Mediterranean dishes using fresh local ingredients.
Ortygia Food Experience: This cozy bistrot has great Sicilian food and a charming terrace on a small side street.
Capo Crudo: For a stylish dinner with a gorgeous view, book a table at this chic seafood restaurant located between the city fortifications and the sea and with a retractable roof and large windows.
The Phoenicia: The elegant restaurant of this historic hotel is ideal for a special occasion dinner.
Day 2: The Three Cities
A trip Malta wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Three Cities: Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. Located along the three-fingered peninsula to the east of Valletta, Birgu used to be the capital of Malta. In addition to having some interesting historic sites, it’s also an easy 15-minute ferry ride over from Valletta (the little ferry departs from beneath the Upper Barraka Garden so you could technically wait to visit the gardens on your way over the the Three Cities, there’s an elevator or you can take the stairs).
Hopping off the ferry, start with a meander through the back streets of Senglea. heading west you’ll eventually come to the Gardjola Gardens, a pretty park at the tip of the point. It offers splendid views over to Valletta and Birgu. After snapping some pics of the vista, take cute pics in the little bastion nooks or take a moment to relax together on a bench.
When you’re ready, walk down to the water (facing Birgu) where you can pick up a dgħajsa, a traditional water taxi, which you can hire to take you over to Birgu. If you’re ready for lunch then you’re in the right spot as where the taxis drop you off, near the St Angelo fort, is the excellent restaurant Terrone. Not only does it have a unique location at the base of the historic fortress, it also serves fantastic market-based contemporary Maltese cuisine. If you don’t eat there, there are plenty of restaurants along the waterfront with outdoor terraces overlooking the port.
After lunch you should visit the St Angelo Fort. Originally constructed as a medieval castle, it was rebuilt in the mid 1500s by the Knights of Saint John as a bastioned fortress. The imposing fort offers a chance to further learn about the Order of Saint John and Malta’s history as well as take in some stunning views. If you don’t feel like going inside, you can also walk along the rocks below, the views aren’t quite as good… but it’s free!
Afterwards take some time to walk along the ramparts and to explore the narrow and lovely streets of Birgu, stop for an ice cream as you go. When you’re done your wanderings, stop at one of the terraces along the port for a sunset drink before returning to Valletta.
Day 3: Malta History Option
If you’re interested in history, then you could combine two facets of the island’s history on your third day. Start by taking a 30-minute bus inland to Mdina/Rabat. The fortified city was the capital of Malta capital from antiquity to medieval times. Since it was the capital, the town is dotted with large mansions. The best activity to do in the charming town is to simply wander. Keep your eyes peeled… there are all kinds of lovely details here and there on buildings. Walking along the ramparts is also fun, where you can get some great views. There is also a park within the old moat. For a break, stop in at the Fontanella Tea Garden, a pretty café near the cathedral, with a panoramic terrace.
At some point, you’ll certainly come across the cathedral, which is lovely, but since there’s an entrance fee it mightn’t be necessary to go inside if you’d visited St John’s in Valletta (the fee includes the cathedral museum, a highlight of which is a stunning collection of Durer prints). Other sites in town which are somewhat romantic include the Domus Romana (the remains of a a roman villa) and St. Paul’s Grotto (part of the Wigancourt Collegiate Museum).
If you decide to come to Mdina in the afternoon instead, you could have dinner after your sightseeing at the Grotto Tavern. Located in a 2000-year-old natural cave, it might be the most unique restaurant on the whole island! Plus it has a great seasonal menu of Maltese and Mediterranean specialties with a modern twist. If you’re looking for a chic meal with a stunning view, try de Mondion, a one-Michelin starred restaurant located in a 17th-century dining room in the The Xara Palace Hotel.
It would be a shame to visit Malta without visiting at least one of its ancient archaeological sites. I weighed up the various options and for first time visitors with less than a week in Malta (and without a car), I recommend pairing the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Tarxien Temples as these sites are very interesting AND are nearby each other.
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is Malta’s most significant ancient site. It’s located in a local part of Valletta and is easily reached by public bus. The unique site consists of an underground, multilevel burial site dating back to 4,000 BCE, but hidden beneath houses until the early 20th century. Carved directly into the rock bed and mirroring what an above ground monumental architecture would look like, the site is exceptionally unique and awe-inspiring. Some caverns are decorated in wall paintings or carvings. As it is fragile, the site can only be visited on a half-audio guided tour. These take place on the hour and since only ten visitors are allowed inside at a time, advance booking is required (which you can do here).
Found around a 10-minute walk from the Hypogeum, the Tarxien Temples is the remains of four megalithic temples built between 3,600 and 2,500 BCE. The site was discovered by a farmer in 1913 and excavated into the 1920s. Protected by a large canvas covering, an app and descriptive panels explain the various sections as you work your way along a path observing well-cut massive stone blocks, reliefs, statues, ‘oracle’ holes and altars. This site provides additional context into the bewildering prehistoric civilizations of Malta.
Day 3/4: Romantic Day & Overnight Cruise Option
Alternatively, another great activity to do in Malta is take a boat cruise, it is a grouping of islands after all! This could be squeezed into one of the other days, or done on a day 4 (or 5 or 6!). There is an abundance of options, however, the one which I felt stood out above the rest were the cruises offer by Hera Cruises.
They offer full-day cruises aboard a luxurious Turkish Gulet which allows you to take in Malta’s spectacular scenery from the vantage point of the water. You’ll be able to see a number of charming villages (including the Marsaxlokk fishing village and the quirky Popeye Village), beautiful bays, the majestic Dingli Cliffs and the Blue Grotto. It also circles the island of Comino and stops in the famous Blue Lagoon for a swim or snorkel. Lunch, drinks and hotel transfer are included, all for the price of 57 euros/person. If you want to add something extra special to your romantic trip to Malta, they also offer a luxury cruise of 2 nights/3 days on the Hera II during which clients sleep on the boat and the boat can also be rented for weddings! Contact them through their website for further information about these options.
Day 4/5 or more: Gozo
If you’re just having a quick getaway to Malta, you could forgo visiting its second island, Gozo, however…. that would be a shame as it’s really lovely! Despite its size, there is also a lot to do on this island, enough to fill a few days or more. The island’s main city, Victoria, is charming and has a majestic citadel which you can visit the exterior for free and from where you can take in exceptional views of the surrounding rolling hills. Stop for a coffee in the pretty Independence Square then spend some time wandering its historic laneways just beyond it. If you stay in Victoria for dinner, I highly recommend Maldonado Bistro. Located in arched cellars, they have an excellent menu of modern Gozan cuisine focusing on locally sourced ingredients.
Here are my top romantic suggestions for Gozo:
- Ramla beach: This is one of the prettiest beaches of the Maltese islands. It is a long curved bay of golden sands and there are nice views of it from the cliff hillside next to it.
- Ġgantija temples: Another important archaeological site, this one is probably nicer than Tarxien Temples and it also has a breathtaking location and views.
- Sunset in Xlendi: This tiny village in the south of the island is one of the best coastal places in Malta to see the sunset. Be sure to go along the cliff towards the tower for a good view.
- Book a B&B with a Terrace/View: You might not need to go to Xlendi if you pick the right be accommodation (if you decided to stay overnight in Gozo – which I recommend!). There are some great small hotels and “farm stays” which often face over the undulating valleys of the island… where they also grow grapes and make fairly good local wine!
- Hiking: The island is also wonderful for hiking and a lot of people come just for that. Even a small hike of a few hours is a great way to take in the island’s stunning scenery. An easy “hike” can be done by visiting the Salt Pans and continuing on the road which leads to some great view points.
- Salt Pans of Marsalforn: Salt Pans might not seem romantic, however, these historic ones, some dating back to Roman times, have a gorgeous location on the water and have the backdrop of unusual rock formations. If you’re walking from Marsalforn, be sure to go past the first ones as there are more further along which are the nicest and there are also a few small beaches where you can take a swim.
- Boat Trip to Comino island: The third and uninhabited island of Malta, Comino is nice for walking, swimming and relaxing on the beach. There are many small boat companies which leave frequently from the port and which visit the Blue Lagoon on the way back… or you can also go by kayak!
See … there is lots to do on Gozo! Stay a few days to fully enjoy yourself and simply soak in the islands stunning vistas and landscape.
Where to Stay in Valletta
Here are a few suggestions for your romantic places to stay in Valletta and the Three Cities.
Palazzo Consigna: Located within a traditional Maltese townhouse in the heart of Valletta, this boutique hotel has 13 rooms each with its own decor and feel. More information and discounted rates the hotel’s Agoda Page.
Palais Le Brun: This seventeenth century baroque palace in a convenient spot in Valletta has been transformed into a chic boutique hotel, with a rooftop pool. More information and discounted rates the hotel’s here.
The Phoenicia: One of the island’s most famous hotels, this grand establishment facing the main gate to Valletta is perfect for those that want to be elegantly pampered. More information and discounted rates here.
Casa Ellul: This swank boutique luxury hotel is found within a Victorian-period palace. It’s located on a quieter street yet it’s steps away from Valletta’s top sites. Check for the discounted rates here.
The Coleridge: This stylish boutique hotel, also in a refurbished townhouse, takes romantic decor to a whole new level. It might be a bit over the top, but it could be the right fit for an extra romantic trip! More information and discounted rates here.
Grand Harbour Vista: If you’d like to live like a local during your stay, consider this lovely apartment over in Senglea which has stunning views of the harbour, Valletta and Saint Angelo fort.
Use our handy Romantic Malta Google Map to help with your trip planning.
I hope you enjoyed these suggestions for the perfect romantic holiday in Malta and I hope you’ll love the country as much as I did! If you have any other suggestions for romantic things to do in Malta, feel free to add them to the comments section below!