Monday, July 29, 2013

Malta on a Shoestring

I've received a few emails recently from readers travelling to Malta on a budget, a topic I haven't covered on this blog yet.

Malta is a fabulous travel destination to make your Euros stretch. Here's how:

luzzu fishing boat at marsaxlokk

TRANSPORT

Malta: Get a week bus pass (available at the bus terminal in Valletta, or at the airport). At €12 for the week, it's the cheapest way to get around, but I'll warn you in the summer it can get very hot waiting for buses (35-40 degrees Celsius) and it can take a little bit of time to get to out-of-the-way places, like Malta's temples. You should also know the bus pass doesn't include bus travel after 11:30 pm. For that, you'll have to buy a night bus ticket (€2.50). Alternatively, you could buy a bus tour ticket (€20-€25/day, includes a free harbour cruise) and use these double decker tour buses to get to the hard-to-reach places.

Gozo: You'll have to take the bus to the Cirkewwa ferry terminal (I'd recommend going early in the morning) and then take a ferry to get to Gozo. The ferry ride is about €5 per person, and you pay the fare on the way back to Malta. Once in Gozo you can take a bus tour around the island (about €20-€25 per person), but if you are really wanting to stretch your Euros, you could also try to take the public buses. You'll need a separate bus ticket for Gozo, as Malta bus tickets don't work in Gozo. A day pass in Gozo costs €2.60.

Taxis/Cabs: Black cabs are the cheapest taxi option in Malta (we love eCabs). You have to call them or book in advance (they can't sit and wait for passengers at taxi stands) but they are air conditioned, professional, many have free WiFi, and you won't get ripped off with 'tourist fares.' Taxi rides within a village cost €8, and €19 from Sliema to the airport. You can find eCabs' easy rate calculator here.

the three cities from upper barrakka gardens at sunset

THE SIGHTS

Valletta: Go to St. John's Co-Cathedral (if you don't want to see every nook and cranny you can use the side entrance to just poke your head in, free of charge, or you can attend a mass. Otherwise, admission is €6.

Valletta: Go to the Upper Barraka Gardens for a nice (free!) view across the harbour to the Three Cities. If you're eating in the city Cafe Cordina is a local landmark but it's hard to get seating inside and you might want to relax under the A/C with the high temps in the summer. Cafe Jubilee is super quaint with lots of cheaper options, it's located just past the Embassy Shopping Complex. Or you could grab a pastizzi and a beer and eat that in Upper Barraka Gardens (less than €3).

Mdina: Go to Fontanella Tea Garden for a drink and a slice of cake or lunch with an incredible view over the island.

Mdina: You can pay admission to the Mdina Cathedral museum (about €5), but it's nothing to write home about, so you can just poke your head in the cathedral itself for a quick look. If you want to really explore a church in Mdina, the Carmelite Priory and its museum is a good alternative (admission is about €5).

Sliema: If you're interested in night life, go to Sliema, St. Julian's or Paceville for dinner one night. My favourite restaurants in the area are U Bistrot, Piccolo Padre, Cafe Cuba, Vecchia Napoli, Gululu, Waterbiscuit and Tapaz. Paceville is where the clubbing action happens, but it doesn't get busy until after midnight. There's no cover charge at bars in Malta, and plenty of free and half-off drink specials, so it's easy to have a really cheap night out.

Sliema: If you aren't into clubbing it's really lovely just to walk along the promenade that runs from Paceville to The Strand. If you walked the entire promenade from end to end I think it would take you about an hour or so. At night there will be plenty of crowds on the promenade escaping the heat, and lots of little pubs and kiosks open for cold drinks.

North: Go to the beach. My favourite sandy beaches are Ghadira (North East) and Ghajn Tuffieha (also called Riviera) (North West). You can take public buses to these beaches, and beaches are of course free! Or, you can just swim off the shore anywhere in Sliema or St. Julian's (you'll see the swimmers zones marked off with buoys during the summer). For sandy areas in Sliema go to Balluta Bay. If you don't mind rocks, the swimming area in front of the The Point Mall on The Strand has a beautiful view of Valletta, and Exiles swimming area (the park with all the colourful metal umbrellas) is one of the most popular local swimming spots.

Gozo: In Gozo go to the capital city of Victoria (also called Rabat). There's a Cafe Jubilee there too, as in Valletta, with A/C and affordable, home cooked food and Maltese specialities. You'll want to walk up to the citadel for a beautiful view of the whole island (just follow the signs). And be sure to wander around the little pedestrianized streets in Victoria, they're adorable.

Gozo: My other favourite spots in Gozo are the Azure Window and Inland Sea (every bus tour goes there, they're at the same location) and Xlendi Bay, a little fishing village with awesome seafood. There are also some nice temples in Gozo, like Ggantija, but if you only do one temple site skip it and go to the one in Malta.

South: Do the temples! You'll never see anything like them anywhere else. Hagar Qim and Mnadjra are the main temples in Malta. You can take a public bus there or a bus tour, and admission to the site is €9 to €6.50. It's worth wandering through the temple museum (it's got some great interactive exhibits) and seeing the little audio visual show while you're there. It can get really hot walking to and from the temples in the summer, so you may want to avoid going at midday.

Tarxien: If you can get a ticket, see the Hypogeum (Malta's underground temple). You'll have to book in advance (€20) but it's worth every penny. It's amazing. You can get there by public bus, and do the Tarxien temples (above ground) at the same time.

Marsaxlokk: See the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. It's in the south of the island, and you can get there on a bus tour or by public bus. It can get really hot in the summer, and there's not really anywhere suitable for jumping in the sea, so I'd recommend going early in the morning. It's really cute, and there's some nice souvenir shopping there. And if you like seafood this is a good place to get it.

Malta: Catch a festa, a local religious feast that is a unique combination of street party, fireworks show, marching bands, techno beats, and religious ritual. You'll never see anything like a Maltese festa anywhere else, I promise. You can find a calendar of Malta's festas here.


THE TAB

If you follow the itinerary suggested above, your most expensive tab would come to:

Bus tour in Malta and Gozo: €40
Ferry to Gozo: €5
Admission to museums and churches: €45
Night out in Paceville, including cab: €30
= €120 + meals

Your cheapest tab would come to: 

Week bus pass: €12
Ferry to Gozo: €5
1 day bus pass in Gozo: €2.60
Night out in Paceville, including night bus: €15
= €35 + meals


pastizzi, a maltese ricotta pastry
THE FOOD

Malta is a fairly cheap place to eat and drink, depending on your point of reference. Mike and I enjoy a good meal, so at most restaurants we go to our bill comes to €50, give or take, including wine, water, entrees, and appetizers. But you can easily get a good meal for two for €30, including wine. Here are some typical food prices:

RESTAURANT
Pizza: €6-€12
Pasta: €7-€13
Sandwiches and wraps: €3-€8
Salads: €4-€10
Fish entree: €15-€25
Meat entree: €15-€25
Breakfast: €5-€10

DRINKS
Bottle of foreign wine: €11-€15
Bottle of local wine: €8-€12 (I recommend local red wines)
Large bottle of water: €2-€4
Pint local beer: €1.50
Pint foreign beer: €3

CAFE/PASTIZZERIA
Pastizzi (local cheese or pea pastry): €0.30-€0.80
Slice of pizza: €1-€2
Espresso: €0.80-€2
Coke or Kinnie (local bitter orange soda): €1-€2
Order of fries/chips: €1.50-€2
Gelato: €1.40/scoop

Here are our favourite affordable meals:
  • Breakfast and brunch at U Bistrot and Waterbiscuit starts at €5-€6 for a hearty meal
  • The Hobz biz-zejt platter at Piccolo Padre is the perfect size for two people for a light meal, and at €7 it's a steal
  • The cheese platter at Cafe Jubilee is massive - a meal in itself for two - and sets you back just €10
  • Cafe Cuba always has great deals (this month it's a free smoothie with crepe purchase). Check their Facebook page for details.
  • Look for happy hour deals (typically buy one get one free drinks, and/or half off appetizers) at just about every bar and restaurant in Malta, typically from 1 or 3 pm until 5 or 6 pm.
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Do you have more suggestions about how to see, eat, and travel Malta on a shoestring? Leave them for other readers in the comments below!

12 comments :

  1. Thanks Jess. This sounds great. Will include the link with the list of things to do in Malta I normally send to people who ask.

    A few other suggestions I normally give:
    Valletta: If have a choice, schedule the trip to the Upper Barrakka to coincide with the firing of the noon gun at noon. If Upper Barrakka is too crowded, Hastings Garden, offering a view over to Msida/Sliema area is a good, uncrowded, alternative.

    Mdina: We like to visit Palazzo Falson. I love that place :). For pastizzi try Crystal Palace next to the Domus Romana outside Mdina's wall. Open nearly all hours.

    Otherwise I think you wrote pretty much my ideal time in Malta itinerary!

    Oh - do you have any recommendations for accommodation in Malta? People always ask that, but since I stay with family when there I never have a clue of what to say.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Accommodation is always a tough question for us, since we live here and haven't really ever stayed in hotels in Malta. For cheap options, in recent years a few new hostels and B&B's have opened up around the island.

      Hostel Malti: http://www.hostelmalti.com/en/home.htm

      Granny's Inn: http://www.hostelbookers.com/property/prp/38398/arr/2013-08-05/ngt/2/ppl/1/

      Two Pillows: http://www.hostelbookers.com/property/prp/99573/arr/2013-08-05/ngt/2/ppl/1/

      Otherwise, I would keep my eye open for hotel deals around the island. The Corinthia often does 3 nights for the price of 2. And obviously, the farther away from Sliema/St. Julian's, the cheaper.

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  2. I seriously love how informative your Malta posts are! If I ever visit, I feel like I won't need to do a pinch of research outside of your blog. This post is incredible, thanks for sharing :)

    xxx
    Jenna

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Jenna! That's a massive compliment, I really appreciate it.

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  3. Such great tips! You have definitely moved Malta up on my Bucket List!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm so happy for having found your blog!!! I should also thank you for the valuable information concerning the sandfly vaccination for dogs. Greetings from a Chinese Crested Dog, who has just moved to Malta a week ago... Feel free to visit my blog, too!

    All the best!

    Liina
    lifeofliina.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. So glad we found your blog. The resources and information you provide are worth paying for and you provide it all free of charge..
    We will certainly point our clients in your direction in future.

    Keep up the good work guys!

    ReplyDelete
  6. These are really great tips, and can be applied to a lot of cities. Thank you!
    http://liveitinerantly.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. what wonderful, useful words! your blog is so great!
    xx

    ReplyDelete
  8. Having been to Malta many times (and planning to go again soon) all I can say is that you are spot on with your advice. For anyone who has never been to Malta......GO!!!!! It's a fabulous place

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hey Jess,

    What's your opinion on tipping in Malta? I've read so many different things online and don't know what's customary.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great question, Michelle!

      Lots of my Maltese friends say it's traditionally not customary to tip in Malta. Typically, you would round up to the next Euro or not tip at all.

      BUT

      I like to tip for good service. Particularly because, since I started to come to Malta in 2008, I have noticed service standards in Malta continuously improve and I like to reward that. Typically I'll round up to a number that feels right -- If my bill is 41 euro, I might leave 45. Anywhere between 5-15% is fine. However, if I get bad service I don't tip, and I don't feel guilty about it either.

      I should also mention that if you are a "foreigner" visiting Malta (or anywhere in Europe), and particularly if you have an American/Canadian accent, your server will know you are used to tipping in your home country and may expect you to tip in Malta, too.

      In the end, it's entirely up to you. I've never been refused service in a bar or restaurant because I didn't tip. But, every time I do tip my server is exceptionally thankful, and I like to think they'll pay that kindness forward.

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