When you think of Malta, you probably imagine an idyllic beach destination. You are right: Malta has beautiful beaches. However, it offers so much more. In fact, its immense architectural heritage surpasses by far the number of beaches. So why do people mostly connect Malta with beaches? We believe it is because the sun always shines in Malta, including winter. The weather is splendid year-round, with 300 sunny days each year. Did we mention that there are fewer tourists, and prices are lower in Malta in winter?
Why Visit Malta in Winter
Splendid Weather is Everything
Malta’s Capital Valletta enjoys around 3000 hours of sunshine a year, making it the sunniest city in Europe! To put things into perspective, that’s roughly double the number of sunny days in London and Paris! Winter temperatures in Malta range from 10-17 degrees in January to February, up to 18-25 degrees in December and March. Once we visited in late December and the weather was superb. It occasionally drizzled, but other than that, it was constantly sunny and warm. Some days we even walked without a winter jacket. Bravo!
Over the past few years, tourism in Malta has grown exponentially, and the islands are becoming overcrowded. With the arrival of 340000 tourists, the country’s total population of half a million people almost doubles in August. Fortunately, numbers are quite different in winter. Only 120 to 130 thousand people visit Malta in December, January, and February. Even March with 170 thousand tourists, is a great month to visit. Walking about Valetta’s half-empty streets is pure pleasure. Besides, you won’t find big crowds in bars and restaurants.
If you are thinking of visiting Malta in fall (autumn) or winter, you’ll be surprised by how cheap plane tickets are. For instance, one way from Malta to Barcelona can be as low as 10 Euros. Can you believe that? The same applies to accommodation. In summer, most great hotels and apartments are full and quite pricey. As from fall through winter, you can get up to 50% off the best hotels in Malta. One thing that keeps surprising us is the change in the price of public transport. In winter it costs 1.5 Euros versus 2 in summer!
Things to Do in Malta in Winter
1 Admire Malta’s Capital in Peace
La Valletta represents the best of Malta’s vast historical and architectural heritage. The tiny city occupies the tip of the Valletta peninsula, surrounded by Marsamxett and Grand Harbors. Inside the 16th-century city walls, you’ll find lavish baroque palaces, grand churches, beautiful gardens, and monumental squares. Due to its size and beauty it is extremely crowded in summer. Everybody knows that if there is one thing you should do in Malta, it is visiting la Valletta.
There are countless things to do in Malta and its capital in winter. What could be better? Step outside of the main attractions, and you will be alone. La Valletta is view central. There are literally countless spots to catch fantastic views, and you can enjoy most of them on your own. Valletta’s highlights include the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Grandmaster’s Palace, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, and the Manoel Theatre. You can go all day long and enjoy La Valleta under different lights.
2 Walk on the Rocks by the Sea
Summer in Malta is great to spend time on the beach, but you can do that in winter too. Only that you most likely won’t dip in the sea. That is if you are not adventurous. That said, walking by the sea is a splendid idea all year round, and no better place to do that than on the rocks north of Sliema. Since the rocks are lower than the street, you’ll only hear waves and seagulls. Begin your walk in Saint Julian’s Tower and go all the way to Fort Sliema. Approximately halfway, you will pass by the Victorian era baths at Font Għadir. We are talking about the geometrical pools carved inside the rock.
3 Visit an Animal Sanctuary next to a Fortress
Winter in Malta is a great time to do unusual things, like visiting Manoel Island. The small island across la Valletta is home to an impressive Manoel fortress from the 18th Century. In spite of its location, the island is still somewhat abandoned. What’s more, you can’t access the fortress, except on special occasions. Naturally, we found it to be a great off the beaten track destination with wonderful views of the capital. Another thing we loved about this island is the colorful Duck Village close to the entrance. Ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens, pigeons, cats, and rabbits live in harmony in this charming little sanctuary.
4 Have Coffee on a Square by the Beach
One of our favorite things about Malta is how relaxed it is. Here you can easily escape your usual European brands and franchises and find a great local bar in a superb location. We discovered ours on the first day in Malta, and keep coming back. Our favorite café in Malta is actually a small kiosk located on Balluta Square in Saint Julian. They serve delicious coffee and homemade cakes on one of Malta’s nicest squares. We sip our coffee in peace while contemplating the views of tiny Balluta Bay Beach, the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and art nouveau Balluta Buildings. Heaven! Once in November, Eitan dipped in the sea in front!
5 Go on a Day Trip to Gozo
If you have at least 3-4 days in Malta, you should go on a day trip to Gozo. If Malta’s main island is half empty in winter, just imagine what Gozo is like. Maybe you end up discovering its gorgeous heritage in silence. Getting there is fairly easy and an adventure in itself. You have to take a bus to Cirkewwa, where you’ll board a ferry to Mgarr in Gozo. As a gift, you’ll get to see the Island of Comino up close. Gozo’s main highlight is its capital Victoria, also known as Rabat. Stroll along its narrow streets, enter the baroque churches and visit the impressive medieval fortress Cittadella.
6 Visit a Megalithic Temple
Malta is home to three World Heritage Sites: the City of Valletta, the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, and the group of Megalithic Temples of Malta. Since you have to book your visit to Hypogeum months in advance, even in winter, we suggest visiting some of its Megalithic temples instead. Take note that several prehistoric sites dot Malta. However, we are talking here about the 7 included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list. These architectural masterpieces are so relevant because they incorporate local innovations. We strongly recommend visiting Tarxien and Ħaġar Qim Temples.
7 Try Delicious Food at a Market Place
If you’ve been following us for some time, you’ll know we are not into formal restaurants. Dressing up and spending hours in a fancy place is not our thing. We rather try something less formal and local. In la Valletta, we dine at the beautiful Victorian-era Valetta Food Market. It is a fantastic experience. All you have to do is choose your fresh ingredients, and they will cook them in a matter of minutes. The food is delicious, and the atmosphere unique. What more can you ask for? A great supermarket in the basement, if you prefer cooking!
8 Explore Early Christian Catacombs
One of the most memorable places to visit in Malta is Saint Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat. These early Christian catacombs are a large underground system of galleries and tombs. The catacombs are part of an ancient cemetery. Probably built during Phoenician times, they were used constantly until the 7th or 8th century. Unfortunately, some opened again in the 13th century during Malta’s re-Christianization, and you can explore them mostly on your own in winter. Do not let the catacombs overshadow the adjacent museum. After your visit get lost on the streets of Rabat and the nearby Mdina.
9 Have Coffee and a Cake in a Historical Café
We said before we are not big fans of formal restaurants. However, having coffee in a historical café is truly our thing. On your visit to Malta, you should not miss one of its oldest coffeehouses, Caffe Cordina. This legendary café has been serving guests in the historic Casa del Común Tesoro Palace since 1944. But its story begins in 1837 when it was just a small confectionery in Bormla. We love sitting down and having coffee and different cakes in its lavishly decorated interior. Not only is people watching great, but raise your eyes and admire the vaulted ceiling painted by renowned Maltese artist Giuseppe Cali. We almost forgot to mention that their sweets and pastry are homemade.
10 Watch the Sunset in a Fishing Village
There is something special about Malta. The islands feel like a bunch of towns interconnected into one giant agglomeration. But each of those small places has its distinct character. While most feel quite urban, few feel like a village. Our favorite is the fishing village of Marsaxlokk on the eastern coast of Malta. This charming little village was an important harbor in Roman times. Today it’s a laid back destination perfect for trying seafood and enjoying killer sunsets. You’ll love its numerous traditional colorful luzzu boats.
Where to Stay in Malta
Most tourists stay around Sliema, Gzira, and San Julian. Though the majority of shops and restaurants are here, there aren’t many sights nearby. That said, it is probably the best-connected area on the island, apart from the capital. We stay at the lovely Carlton Hotel. Though we like everything about it, its best feature is the views from the balcony. The service is pretty cool too. If you want to stay in la Valletta, we recommend the chic Ursulino Valletta. It offers comfortable rooms and some of the best views of the area. For a unique, out of time experience, stay at The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux. This real palace from the 17th century is inside Mdina’s medieval walls.
Moving Around Malta
Malta has an extensive system of public buses that covers both islands. Most roads in Malta are quite narrow, so traffic jams are common. Since there are no tourist masses, riding Malta’s public transport in winter is quite comfortable. Though you can reach la Valletta by bus, the best way to do so is on a boat. You will never forget the views. If you are staying around Sliema or the Three Cities, you can take a public ferry to la Valletta. You’ll enjoy the nicest views of the three areas for a fraction of the cost. Take note that ferries in Malta operate longer hours in summer, but there are fewer people in winter.
Nothing Beats the Mediterranean in Winter!
In all honesty, we try to avoid summer in Europe. Yes, the weather is great, and everybody is full of energy. But that’s the thing. For us, it is too hot. We could probably live with that, but what about the number of people? Therefore, over the past few years, we’ve been going to traditionally summer destinations in winter. There are loads of things to do in Mallorca, Santorini, Sicily, Azores and Malta in winter and autumn (fall). The sun always shines, the temperature is warm, and there is space to see and enjoy things.