Last updated on May 30, 2023
I have to admit, my main reason for first visiting Malta 6 years ago was the amazing price deal my friend and I managed to secure. I didn’t know much about the country itself, and I didn’t know what to expect either. It was during the trip that I completely fell in love with this vibrant place and its culture, and I’ve since been back to explore more of it with my boyfriend. That’s why I decided to put together the ultimate guide to visiting Malta on a budget. I’m hoping it will inspire you to follow in my footsteps and see what this country has to offer.
Located less than 100 km south of Sicily and nearly 300 km north of Africa, Malta is a unique archipelago of islands. Its picturesque landscapes, clear blue waters, and approximately 300 days of sunshine per year attract over 2 million visitors annually.
A little bit of history of Malta…
The country’s main selling point, however, has to be its rich and turbulent history. According to the New Testament, Apostle Paul brought Christianity to Malta around 60 A.D. when he was shipwrecked on the island en route to Rome. Eight centuries later, the Arabs conquered Malta, significantly influencing the country’s culture and language.
It existed merely as an extension of Sicily until 1530 when it came under the rule of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem for over two centuries. This period is commonly known as Malta’s Golden Age, as the country flourished under the Knights’ reign.
Napoleon Bonaparte ended the Knights’ rule in 1798 when he took over the country on his way to Egypt. His actions, which included dismantling the institutions established by the Knights and confiscating gold, silver, and church property, sparked anger among the Maltese society. It led to an uprising with the help of the British who later retained control of Malta.
Being under British rule left a lasting imprint on the country’s culture, language and politics. In 1964, Malta was granted independence, but British influence spans across many fields to this day. English remains an official language alongside Maltese, red telephone boxes still adorn the streets of Malta, and everyone drives on the left side of the road.
This mixture of various cultures and influences makes Malta a one-of-its-kind country that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether you want to go on a beach holiday and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, explore the legacy of the Knights of St. John, or visit the cradle of Christianity with its magnificent churches, Malta is the ideal destination for you.
How to get to and from Malta Airport
When we first arrived in Malta, we landed at 11 pm, after the public buses had stopped running. So, we decided to book a shared shuttle bus to our hotel through MaltaTransfer, which cost €12 for the two of us. However, when we got to the arrivals hall, we had trouble finding the MaltaTransfer lounge where we were supposed to wait for our driver.
Every 10 minutes, we kept going outside where all the shuttle buses were parked, but nobody was there. We asked various airport employees for directions to the lounge. Strangely enough, no one was able to help us, and their command of English was rather limited.
Finally, one of the employees mentioned that these shuttle buses were no longer running at that hour. We had no reason not to believe him. As it was getting late and our nerves started kicking in, we decided to take a taxi to the hotel.
Back home, I messaged MaltaTransfer to request a refund. They told me that the airport employee had misled us and the shuttle buses were indeed running. As an apology, they offered us the option to use the tickets we purchased during our next trip. Since it took me 6 years to return, I never messaged them again, but it was a nice gesture on their part nevertheless!
If you want to get a taxi from the airport, you have to walk up to the counter, say where you would like to go, pay a fixed price (in our case it was €25), and get a receipt with your destination and taxi number on it. Little did we know that our stress level was about to get even higher.
While we were waiting for our taxi outside the terminal, a taxi with a different number pulled up. The driver quickly put our suitcases in the boot and insisted that he was the one who was supposed to pick us up. At that point, various scenarios went through my head. I kept hoping it was just a misunderstanding and not a kidnapping attempt. Luckily enough, there was no suspicious activity, and 20 minutes later, our driver dropped us off at the hotel.
Since then, both Uber and Bolt have launched in Malta. We used their services a couple of times during our second trip. They were super affordable, quick, and we never had to wait more than a few minutes – would highly recommend!
If you’re going to be landing during the day, you can also take a public bus. While Maltese buses aren’t exactly known for their reliability, I used them multiple times and only had an issue once when the bus from Rabat to Bugibba was an hour and a half late and it started getting dark. However, you have to be aware that these might be more common occurrences.
Overall, using public transportation in Malta works out really cheap, especially if you purchase a weekly pass – but more about that in the next section!
How to get around Malta
The best way to explore the islands is to rent a car. As neither of us have a driving licence, we were left with no choice but to use public buses. However, once we saw how narrow and winding Maltese streets are, we came to the conclusion that driving in Malta requires a level of courage and skill that we simply do not possess.
At one point, our bus driver turned into the narrowest street I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding, if I’d stuck my hand out of the window on either side of the bus, I could have easily touched the walls. Just watching that made me incredibly stressed and gave me a newfound appreciation for anyone who drives in Malta and makes it out in one piece.
Luckily for us, the public transport system is very affordable, with 80 routes connecting various destinations throughout Malta. Our Explore Cards cost €21 each and provided us with unlimited travel for 7 days. The whole system reminded me a lot of London, as you also need to touch the reader with your card when boarding the bus.
If you plan to stay longer, you might consider applying for a personalised Tallinja card, which is essentially the Maltese equivalent of an Oyster card. Since October 2022, it allows you to use public transportation in Malta for free!
When to visit Malta
The answer depends on the main purpose of your trip. Are you seeking a beach holiday and don’t mind the heatwaves and hoards of tourists? Or perhaps you want to save some money and explore the islands without having to beat the crowds?
When I first visited in March, the weather was as unpredictable as it gets. It was warm enough to relax by the pool in our bikinis, but the second my friend and I stepped behind the hotel walls, we had to put on our coats and scarves again. It was gloomy and rainy most of the time, which meant we had to prioritise comfort over looking cute in pictures.
During my second trip in April, it was already much warmer, but still extremely windy. If I were to go again, I would choose to visit between May and June. I’ve heard from multiple locals that Maltese summers can be unbearable, so this way I could avoid the largest crowds and scorching weather!
Where to stay in Malta
Depending on your personal preferences, there are many areas worth considering when looking for accommodation. When I first visited Malta back in 2017, my friend and I were both university students. That’s why we set ourselves a challenge to do this trip on a budget as much as possible.
We decided to stay in Bugibba, a lovely village located on the northern coastline of Malta. It is quite affordable and conveniently situated, allowing easy travel to other parts of the island, as well as Gozo and Comino. Other options for budget travellers include Qawra and St. Paul’s Bay. If you are looking for vibrant nightlife and clubbing, St. Julian’s and Paceville are the perfect choices.
Cardor Holiday Complex
The place we stayed in was Cardor Holiday Complex, and it remains my greatest achievement in terms of budget travelling. We paid a mere €88 for 7 nights in an apartment accommodating 4 people, but there were a few catches…
There was no heating except for a portable radiator on wheels. The view from our balcony and bedroom window was a staircase, so we had to sleep with the curtains closed. However, our apartment had a mini fridge and an extremely outdated oven (honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life), so at least we were able to cook our own meals. There was also an outdoor and indoor pool with a jacuzzi that we could use.
Overall, if you’re travelling on a budget and don’t mind the inconveniences, it is worth looking into as you get an apartment for the price of a hostel. Otherwise, I would happily pay a little more for extra comfort now.
Urban Rooms by NEU Collective
When we returned to Malta for the KeyFrame 23 conference, we decided to stay closer to the venue. We eventually chose Urban Rooms by NEU Collective in Gżira. It was a slightly less budget-friendly option, but let’s be honest – even Cardor probably costs 3 times the amount now! At a little over €400 for an entire week, including breakfast, it’s still a really good option if you want to be closer to the action. You can find more details about the hotel in my Valletta and Sliema guide.
What to eat and drink in Malta
Now, Malta might be a tiny archipelago, but don’t let its size fool you. When it comes to food, Malta offers a delightful fusion of tastes influenced by Sicilian, Middle Eastern, and British cuisines. There’s also no shortage of local drinks to enjoy.
Here’s my list of the best Maltese specialties you absolutely need to try during your trip:
Ftira is a ring-shaped Maltese bread. You can either eat it on its own or with various fillings, such as tuna, anchovies, mixed salads, and many others. Having tried it both ways, I can totally understand why a petition has been launched to include ftira as part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Interestingly enough, the Gozitan version of a ftira looks more like a pizza. During my second trip, I attended a cooking workshop where I learned how to make one from scratch! You can read all about it in my post about the 8 unforgettable experiences you can’t miss in Malta.
2. Rabbit meat
While many people can’t fathom eating rabbit meat, Stuffat Tal-Fenek (rabbit stew) is one of the most popular Maltese dishes. As I was a little apprehensive about it myself, at first I only had a small rabbit pie. While the crust tasted stale, the meat itself was pretty tasty.
On my recent trip, I had a bite of Mac’s rabbit in a red wine gravy, but I didn’t really enjoy it served in this form. I’ve been trying to cut down on my meat consumption lately for moral and emotional reasons, so I very much doubt I’d ever order it for myself.
Like any Mediterranean country, Malta is famous for its variety of cheeses – from mild to slightly stronger flavours. The most popular one is Ġbejna – a round cheese made from local sheep or goat milk. On my recent trip, I went to a cheese tasting where I got to try the different types of Maltese Ġbejna, including one matured in Alpine grass imported from Italy! It’s probably not the most budget-friendly activity, but you can also buy Ġbejna from local shops and have your own little tasting if you’re looking to save money.
4. Pastizzi and other pastries
As you navigate the sun-drenched streets of Malta, you’ll stumble upon numerous tiny pastizzerias serving up warm pastries fresh out of the oven. The most popular kind is pastizzi. They are diamond-shaped snacks made with a flaky pastry that resembles Greek phyllo pastry. The most traditional fillings are ricotta cheese (known locally as “irkotta”) and mushy peas (called “pizelli”).
Let me tell you, the aroma that hits your nostrils when these are freshly baked is enough to have you floating towards the nearest pastizzeria. And not only are they delicious, but also extremely affordable – we typically paid between €0.50 and €0.70 each. The locals’ favourite place for a pastizzi fix is Is-Serkin, also known as Crystal Palace Bar, located a short walk away from the entrance to Mdina.
As we later found out, they use a lot of butter for the dough, so a single pastizz can have up to 500 calories! The upside is that they can keep you full for hours. On our first trip, we basically lived off of these, which ended up saving us a lot of money.
We also tried Qassatat, a larger rose-shaped pastry with a cheese, peas and spinach filling, and Arancini, deep-fried rice balls with breadcrumb coating. They were all just as delicious as they sound, and it’s totally worth returning to Malta for this reason alone.
5. Galletti crackers
Galletti crackers are a snacking staple in Malta. They make an excellent accompaniment to a variety of dips and cheeses, or you can simply eat them on their own. The most popular way to serve these is with bigilla, a traditional Maltese broad bean dip spiced with garlic. You can either buy plain crackers or try them in different flavours – we got rosemary and onion and they were great!
6. Qagħaq tal-għasel (Honey rings)
Although they are traditional Maltese Christmas biscuits, you can find them at local supermarkets all year round. Despite their misleading name, there is actually no honey inside, and the filling is made of treacle. Personally, I wasn’t a fan and would’ve preferred them to be softer.
7. Bambaluni with vanilla
I’ll admit these red donut balls, called Bomboloni in neighbouring Italy, didn’t look very appetising at first. Even though they tasted a little artificial due to all the food colouring, there was something about them that made me really enjoy this dessert.
This bittersweet soft drink made from bitter oranges and aromatic herbs was launched in 1952 as an alternative to Coke and other fizzy drinks that were becoming increasingly popular after World War II.
It’s a flavour you might need a sip or two to adjust to. I feel like if Coke and Aperol Spritz had a love child, this would definitely be Kinnie, which is why I personally can’t get enough of it. Many locals also enjoy it with a slice of orange or a splash of rum for an extra kick!
9. Cisk beer
Every journey to Malta should include a cold glass of Cisk. Pronounced “Chisk”, this local beer has been a part of Maltese culture for almost a century. On our recent trip, we had the chance to explore the historic Farsons Brewery and sample some of the brews on a rooftop terrace offering a magnificent panoramic view of the island. You can read more about it in my post about the best experiences you can’t miss in Malta.
10. Prickly pear liqueur
And finally, the prickly pear liqueur. Known as “Bajtra” in Malta, this sweet pink liqueur is made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which grows abundantly on the island. It’s often served chilled as an after-dinner digestif or used as a cocktail ingredient. It also makes for a perfect souvenir to bring back home for your loved ones.
Best places to visit in Malta
Despite its compact size, Malta is bursting with attractions. From ancient walled cities and prehistoric temples to a vibrant fishing village and dreamy beaches, Malta caters to every traveller’s needs. So, whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or simply love wandering around, here are some of the best places to discover in Malta:
On our first trip to Malta, we were based in Bugibba. I wrote all about exploring this town, along with the adjacent town of Qawra, and the maritime city of Birgu in the first post of my Malta series. If you have been hesitant about visiting or staying in the St. Paul’s Bay area, the fact that the Malta Chocolate Factory has since opened in Bugibba might just sway you in the right direction. 😉
Dingli Cliffs and the Blue Grotto
The next stop on our itinerary were the island’s natural wonders – Dingli Cliffs and the Blue Grotto. While I found the first a little underwhelming, I couldn’t stop waxing lyrical about the latter despite some people’s claims that it is commercialised and overhyped. I believe the fact that we went off-season hugely influenced my opinion, so I suppose the best thing to do is add it to your itinerary and see for yourself!
Our holiday wouldn’t be complete without a day trip to Malta’s sister island of Gozo. Although the island’s biggest tourist attraction, the Azure Window, no longer exists, you shouldn’t by any means skip Gozo while planning your trip itinerary. I wrote a blog post where you can find out more about what the island has to offer.
Valletta and Sliema
Some of the country’s most important historical landmarks are concentrated in the tiny capital city of Valletta. We absolutely loved strolling around its charming streets. They are set out in a grid system, which makes it extremely easy for tourists to get around and immerse themselves in the culture. It is also worth stopping in Sliema for some relaxation by the waterfront and that postcard shot.
Rabat and Mdina
If you want to delve deeper into the history of Malta, you cannot miss the city of Rabat, where Christianity was born on the island, as well as its neighbouring city and Malta’s former capital, Mdina. Being able to see where St. Paul lived and preached the word of God during his time in Malta will truly feel like a trip back in time, while entering through Mdina’s Main Gate into its quaint, picturesque streets will resemble stepping into a fairytale. You can find all the photographic proof in my little guide to Rabat and Mdina.
On the southeastern coast of Malta, you can find the charming fishing village of Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsa-schlock). You can’t talk about this place without mentioning the “luzzu,” the traditional Maltese fishing boat. These colourful, eye-catching vessels are painted in bright blues, yellows, and reds, with the iconic pair of eyes on the bow watching over the fishermen.
The sight of dozens of luzzus bobbing gently in the harbour against the backdrop of the sea is genuinely postcard-worthy. And, being the island’s fishing hub also means that the waterfront is lined with restaurants that serve the freshest catch of the day. We only had less than an hour to explore the village, but what I saw was enough to make me want to return and spend more time there.
Overall, I think it is safe to say Malta is one of my favourite places I’ve been to, and not just because it was the first trip I planned with my friend from beginning to end. The memories of captivating landscapes, magnificent architecture, and friendly locals enjoying a slower pace of life have stayed with me ever since. So, if you keep wondering whether you should visit Malta… don’t. Stop wondering and start planning your trip to this one-of-a-kind country as soon as possible!
Which of these tips did you find most useful? Would you add anything to my guide to visiting Malta on a budget?