Friday, August 29th, 2014

Why Don’t More Backpackers Come to Malta?

34

Game of Thrones in Malta?

Is Malta a great country for backpackers? Absolutely. It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s got nice hostels, it’s easy to get to and get around.

But are there backpackers here? Very few. I was shocked at how few people I saw actually backpacking Malta. Sure, there are lots of young people with backpacks, but they tend to be staying in Malta to teach or learn English. And that doesn’t include the young Brits who come to party.

The thing is, I found Malta to be a great country to backpack — the only issue is that people don’t know about it. People see that tiny speck on a map and think it’s too difficult to get to. Well, it’s really not!

I’ve put together a Malta backpacking guide. Here is how to plan your trip on the cheap:

View of the Three Cities

Getting There: Cheap Flights

While you can get to Malta by ferry from Catania, Sicily, it’s often cheaper and faster to fly from wherever you are on the European continent. Easyjet has budget flights to Italy and the UK; Ryanair (eek!) has budget flights all over Europe.

Air Malta also flies all over Europe and though it’s not a budget airlines, the prices are competitive.

I was shocked at how many cities fly direct to Malta!

Boho Hostel, Malta

Cheap Lodging: Boho Hostel

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood a 15-minute walk from the waterfront in St. Julians is Boho Hostel, a fun and colorful enclave for backpackers exploring Malta. Boho Hostel and HostelWorld hosted us for four nights, and we ended up loving this place.

It suits its name — it’s a very bohemian place, with hammocks, brightly painted rooms, creatively mismatched furniture, a slew of guidebooks, and a great chill-out area outside.

Boho Hostel, Malta

The wifi was fairly fast, but it kept crashing. The staff was very friendly and helpful, though it did seem that they weren’t around a lot of the time (and we thus had to reset the router ourselves most of the time).

We stayed in a giant handicap-accessible suite with a double bed and a bathroom big enough to do cartwheels. This room starts at €40 ($53) per night; they also have six-bed dorms from €15 ($20) per night.

Boho Hostel, Malta

I loved the sense of community — they planned activities, like an evening dinner on a secluded beach most people wouldn’t know about.

The location, while decent, wasn’t the greatest — a 15-minute walk from St. Julians isn’t that bad, but I wouldn’t be comfortable walking that distance alone at night. Additionally, it’s a residential neighborhood — you can’t just walk down the street to a cafe. You need to take that 15-minute walk.

That said, it can be hard to find quiet places in Malta, especially on a budget, and I appreciate the location for that reason.

As far as cheap lodging in Malta goes, Boho Hostel is a solid place. I highly recommend it.

Valletta Skyline

Getting Around: Buses and Ferries

While getting around by car (provided you can handle the horrific Maltese driving) is the ideal way to see the island, getting around by bus is easy and shockingly cheap. A single ticket costs €2.20 ($3), a day ticket costs €2.60 ($3.50), and even a seven-day ticket costs just €12 ($16)! They run fairly often and their network is extensive, covering Gozo as well as Malta.

In some cases, taking a ferry is best. The ferry from Sliema to Valletta — in my opinion, the best way to travel between those two cities – takes about 10 minutes, runs every 30 minutes, and costs €2.80 ($4) for a round-trip ticket.

You can check bus schedules here; ferry schedules are here.

If you want to spend more for a tourist-oriented route with commentary, CitySightseeing Malta buses cost €15 ($20) for one day and €28 ($37) for two days (the two-day one includes a harbor cruise). There are three routes to choose from: two in Malta and one on Gozo.

Ricotta Pastizzi

Cheap Eats: Pastizzi and Pizza

I found restaurant prices to be overall cheaper than what you’d expect in other touristed regions of Western Europe. And Malta has two particularly cheap eats: pastizzi and pizza.

Pastizzi (seen above) are incredibly delicious and supremely unhealthy pastries stuffed with ricotta or peas. I prefer the ricotta ones (everyone seems to!). Go for the boat-shaped ones, not the round ones (Mario insists the round ones are evil).

These adorable little deep-fried pockets of goodness usually cost 30-50 cents ($0.40-66) each. Maybe 80 cents ($1) somewhere fancy. I couldn’t eat more than two in a sitting.

Pizza, pronounced PIT-sa, not PEET-za, is basically a large sheet of pizza cut into squares. Nothing revolutionary — but it only costs around €1 ($1.30) a slice! Mario’s favorite place for pizza is Mr. Maxim’s in Gzira.

You’ll see produce trucks around the island, and these are great places to stock up on cheap fruits and vegetables.

And if you want a nice dinner but still want to keep it cheap, head to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk and eat fish at one of the restaurants on the waterfront. Some of them have super-cheap specials around lunchtime, but you’ll find high value meals all day. Many range from €10-15 ($13-20) including a glass of wine.

Mdina House

Free Things to Do in Malta

Malta is the kind of place that lends itself to wandering, taking photos, and just enjoying the atmosphere. Here are some cool free things to do:

Go on photo walks in cool cities. Valletta is a photographer’s gold mine, filled with a perfect grid of streets, colorful balconies, retro charm, and the incredible views from the Upper Barakka Gardens. Mdina is equally photogenic but completely different, with its immaculate white buildings and narrow streets. So is Marsaxlokk, with its calm bay and brightly painted boats.

This is about 90% of what I did in Malta, and I would have been happy if it had been 100%! It was so much fun. But there’s more:

Check out the crazy, opulent churches. With the exception of St. John’s Co-Cathedral, just about the rest of the churches in Malta are free to enter. Try to check out a church or two in tiny towns.

Walk the waterfront from St. Julians to Sliema and Gzira. Not only will you work off the pastizzi, this is THE place to see and be seen in the early evening.

Catch some rays on the rocky beaches. They might not be BEACH beaches — but they’re free and located throughout the country.

Visit Gozo’s Citadel. From the top, you can see coastline in every direction!

Check out the natural wonders. It’s free to visit the Azure Window or the Dingli Cliffs.

Mario at the Beach

Cheap Things to Do in Malta

Nothing in Malta is ridiculously expensive. The one pricey activity is diving (and most divers will say it’s worth it to experience one of the world’s best dive sites), but you can find plenty more activities for €20 or under. Here are some of my favorites:

Lie on a sandy beach with a chair and umbrella. While beaches can get insanely expensive in Europe, you’ll pay only around €10 ($13) for a chair and umbrella in Mellieha or one of the beaches on Gozo.

Check out the Old Prison and Citadella Sights of Gozo. Located in Victoria’s citadel, the prison is still filled with etchings of boats and hands carved by prisoners centuries ago. Tickets cost €8 and also include admission to the Gozo Archaeology Museum, Folklore Museum, and Natural History Museum.

Check out Malta’s UNESCO-listed ruins. Malta is covered with ruins, including the Tarxien Temples, which I visited and which cost €6 ($8)The Hypogeum, home to Malta’s underground ruins, costs €20 ($26.50).

NOTE: If you want to visit the Hypogeum, book your visit as soon as you book your flights to Malta. They limit the number of visits and it gets booked out months in advance. MONTHS! We weren’t able to go for this reason.

Take a Captain Morgan Cruise around the Grand Harbour. Captain Morgan (no relation to the rum) have tons of cruises around Malta, from full-day cruises circling Malta to romantic sunset cruises to booze cruises on a catamaran. The Harbour Cruise is a great way to learn about Malta’s crazy history and costs €16 ($21).

Visit St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Of all the crazy ostentatious churches in Malta, this is the craziest, most ostentatious church of them all. Tickets cost €6 ($8) and include an excellent audio guide.

Gozo Citadel

Make Malta Part of Your European Trip

Malta may not be the most convenient place to fly to from North America — but if you pair it with another European destination or two, you can visit Malta easily and affordably.

If you’re planning to spend two weeks in Europe, you could plan to visit three destinations, booking cheap flights between them.

Some suggestions?

How about first Sevilla, then fly to Malta for a few days, then finish in Paris? Or you could start with a few days in London, fly to Malta, and check out Rome before flying home. Why not hit up Amsterdam, then Malta, then fly to Budapest? Or do what Mario and I did — we flew to Malta from Vienna, then flew on to Istanbul!

All of these itineraries can be done with direct flights into and out of Malta, many of them on budget airlines. The possibilities are endless! Type “fly to Malta” into Google to see a full list of direct routes.

Malta is a wonderful place — and it deserves to be a spot on your personal backpacking trail.

Many thanks to HostelWorld and Boho Hostel for hosting us for four nights. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Comments

34 Responses to “Why Don’t More Backpackers Come to Malta?”
  1. Ele says:

    We spent a week in Malta and every word you say it’s true. I recommend coming during Easter week and go to a small village to see the Easter procession-we were fascinated. We also went to a small fishermen’s village and ate our first octopus there. The only bad thing is that it can get windy and chilly, so one day we had to wear sweaters and scarves around our ears. Buses don’t stop unless you flag them down.

  2. I’m surprised by the lack of backpackers as well! From your recent posts about Malta, I thought for sure more people would be traveling there by now. This is a wonderful guide that I will definitely be referring to in the future! From the photographs you got, I can tell the photo walk would be so exciting.

  3. Jenn says:

    While a ton of the things you suggested sounds like a lot of fun, I’d also be happy just wandering around photographing as well. I have to admit Malta is never really a place I thought about visiting, but after your great post, it’s starting to look like something we’ll need to add to our itinerary.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I’ve always wanted to go to Malta, but I really thought it was more expensive!
    Also, I think most young people only know it for this: http://www.isleofmtv.com/be-nl/ :D
    Your post definitely convinced me to go there in the near future :)

  5. Lindsay says:

    It’s so strange – I never hear a thing about Malta when it comes to backpacking Europe, but it looks like it deserves more attention (though maybe not TOO much… that might take away from its charm, no?). Thanks so much for introducing us to such a fantastic destination!

  6. I had never heard much about Malta before your trip there and now it’s one of the destinations I most want to visit. The mix of cultures there, as well as the food and architecture, look absolutely incredible!

  7. Liz says:

    I was there and thought the same thing. We actually ended up going because flights were so cheap-12 euro from Barcelona! There was so much to do and see, and since we went in the off season, the nice hotels were insanely cheap. Plus, the people were so friendly. Definitely a great place to visit on a budget.

  8. Are there any good places to hike? If not the beach looks like the place to be after exploring the city.

  9. Charlotte says:

    Hey I recently stumbled across your blog and love it so far! Malta looks amazing; I just had one question about visiting: Sicily looks like it’s similar to Malta in landscape, architecture, etc., so is it worth visiting both places? I’m sure Malta has plenty of unique characteristics, but for a long international trip from North America, is it worth seeing both Sicily AND Malta?

    • ramon says:

      yes but Sicilians cant speak much English but they are great actors at body language so u should be fine ;)

      • Charlotte says:

        Ah good point, didn’t think of that, thanks:) Language barriers aren’t too daunting to me, so definitely hoping to visit Sicily at some point.

    • Laura says:

      While the weather is pretty similar, Sicily and Malta are quite different in culture and landscapes. There’s a lot to visit in Sicily but I think Malta deserves a couple of days: visit at least Valletta, Mdina, the prehistoric sites and go for a daily trip to the green island of Gozo. You can catch a cheap flight from Trapani (north-west Sicily) to Malta, even 20€ one way with Ryanair. ;)

  10. Laveen says:

    To be honest I didn’t know about it. When I went travelling through Italy a few years ago, the last leg of our journey was from Catania to Palermo – it took like 4 hours. If we’d known that the ferry to Malta was only 90mins and that it was in some ways cheaper than Italy we would have gone too. Shame really. Thank you for this.

  11. Yeison says:

    Great post ! Now this post has made me interested to go to Malta… very good information

  12. Gina says:

    You make a great case for visiting Malta. Even though I’m not a backpacker per se, I am wondering if this might make a great family vacation destination…

  13. i’m a backpacker and i’m in malta right nowww!! :)

    although, i will admit, it’s under unusual circumstances.

    i’ve been backpacking/hitchhiking/couchsurfing europe with a group of friends for about 2 months now. a few weeks ago, one of my friends and i went to amsterdam, where we couchsurfed with this really incredible host. her dad flew in at one point and we all had really deep, intellectual conversations. he decided he liked us enough to fly us out to his home in malta to dogsit for him for 2 weeks. so here we are!

    i think you’re right in suggesting that most people just don’t know about this perfect place. i wouldn’t have known about it, were it not for this unbelievably kind dutch man. but you bet i’m spreading the word to all of my north american friends.

    i’m in love.

  14. Sara says:

    Malta has always been on my list of destinations I want to see. Sounds like a cool place :)

  15. sean says:

    Great article. We are in Malta now and this is festival time. The church festa season is in full swing, Wine Festival at Valletta free entry and live entertainment just pay for what you drink 12 Euro was plenty, Beer Festival is now on with live bands every night free entry just pay for what you drink 2 Euro a beer, see theatre in San Anton Garden for 15 Euro. If you want night clubs see Paceville happy hour cocktails for hours and no cover charge. Short film festival, street festivals…There’s so much happening.

  16. Well as a Brit, I always imagined Malta to be the land of rather pricey Thomas Cook all-inclusive package holidays, but after speaking with you in Istanbul and reading this post, it’s obviously not! I’d love to go, and maybe tag it on with Tunisia, Italy or Albania as part of a trip.

    You forgot to mention sexy men, by the way. If you did a post featuring Mario’s…I want to say cousin’s husband?…this would be VIRAL FOREVER. Mainly because I’d be visiting it about ten thousand times per day.

  17. We’re in love with your blog so we’ve included it in our latest web wrap: http://www.frugalmonkey.com/travel-news/frugal-monkeys-web-wrap-31-july-2013.html. Keep up the good work!

  18. Arianwen says:

    That’s a very good point! I can’t imagine many Brits see Malta as a backpacker because it’s marketed as a package holiday destination. I’d love to travel my way around staying in hostels one day.

  19. Oh dear >< I think it's on the list now. Love love LOVE the look of Boho Hostel.Thank you for the informative post! Great pics.

  20. Georgia says:

    I’ve always (probably unfairly) dismissed Malta as a bit of a package destination for drunk young Brits. I’d never really considered it as a backpacking destination, I guess because of the above and also because it’s an island and seems a bit of a pain to get to.
    It’s nice to see a different, and very beautiful, side of the country.

  21. Amanda says:

    I must say that you’re selling me on Malta!

    And I *do* have two weeks with no plans yet in September… hmmm. Malta may need to go on the list of possibilities!

  22. noel says:

    Wish I could go there, it looks fantastic! Wish it wasn’t half way around the world – it has all the travel attractons I would love to see.

  23. I have been to Malta before and enjoyed it very much. The only thing I didn’t like so much was British influence on their food.
    I think Malta is a perfect destination for a history buff – there is literary tons of history on behind every corner.

    I only posted a short post about the trip. If you are interested in a few nice photos you are welcome to check it out: http://www.travel-pb.com/search/label/Malta

  24. Thomas says:

    Never really heard much about Malta before today! Seems like a nice little place to visit but since we don’t travel much the wifey usually wants to go to places high on her to do list. Not sure how to squeeze this place in. Those pastizzi do look tasty and nothing like free and cheap things to do while traveling to save some money.

  25. Jack Kent says:

    I have not imagined Malta this beautiful and amazing. If I will be backpacking then Malta will be on my priority list. I would like to explore new culture and check out the natural wonders. Thanks for the complete information in going to Malta. This is so helpful.

    Thank you again for this informative tips.

  26. I think amongst Europeans there is a conception that Malta is full of package tourists and teenagers on wild summer holidays (and not language classes like they told their parents). I didn’t think it would be that nice either, so thanks for sharing your post.

  27. Barbara says:

    Sounds like a very cool place to visit and one definitely on our travel bucket list. Thank you so much for all the valuable information. Happy Travels!

  28. Your posts, as always, are very informative Kate! Malta is certainly on my wish list ! Thank you for all the tips!

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