Heading to Malta this year for some summer (or winter) sun? Here’s a comprehensive overview of where to stay in Malta – including its beach resorts, city neighbourhoods, medieval towns and sandy beaches.
This Malta resort guide will cover:
The name ‘Malta’ refers to the country, the archipelago (there are 3 main islands), and the main island in the group. The other two islands are Gozo and tiny Comino.
Together they make up one of the best destinations in the Mediterranean for history lovers and sun-seekers. It’s one of the most southerly destinations in Europe, with relatively warm and mild winters. Malta has long attracted snow birds migrating south for warmer temperatures – meaning package deals are available year-round. Just don’t expect the same nightlife outside the summer, or beach weather past October.
It has been a stalwart on the European package scene for decades but these days Malta draws in young clubbers with its festivals and events, and it makes a great short boutique getaway for those looking for a dose of culture. They are small islands and easy to get around, so transfer times are short.
Malta was ruled by the British until 1964 and you’ll spot signs of this around the island – red telephone boxes, post boxes, and high street shops. It may look like Italy in photos, but it doesn’t feel like it. The language is beautiful and baffling and the cities are awash with baroque buildings and crusader fortifications in golden limestone. The history doesn’t stop there though – there are ancient neolithic remains scattered throughout the islands.
But for a summer destination Malta is surprisingly short on sandy beaches. Most resort areas are built around harbours rather than beaches Don’t come expecting the beachfront resorts of Mallorca, Ibiza, or Sicily. Malta’s coastline is mostly rocky but the water is an amazing turquoise colour and there is swimming, snorkelling, diving, and boat trips galore. The best sandy beaches are in the north west and a short drive from the resorts.
The north coast is heavily developed and is wildly busy in the summer. As such, there are issues with pollution and traffic. In high season it’s best suited to those looking for buzz. To escape the crowds, explore the inland towns and villages or hop over to sleepier Gozo.
Bus: See Malta Public Transport for routes and timetables.
Ferry: It’s possible to take a ferry to Malta from Sicily and mainland Italy – see Direct Ferries for more information.
Regular ferries link Ċirkewwa on the northern tip of the Malta with Mgarr on Gozo and Comino throughout the day.
The Best Places to Stay in Malta
- BEST LUXURY HOTELS: Rosselli, Phoenicia Hotel, Grand Hotel Excelsior, Xara Palace Relais & Chateau (Mdina)
- BEST RESORT HOTELS: Ta’Cenc (Gozo), Radisson Blu Resort & Spa (Golden Bay), Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz (Gozo)
- BEST HOTEL RIGHT ON THE BEACH: Radisson Blu Resort & Spa
- BEST INFINITY POOL: The Palace (Sliema)
- SWANKIEST VILLA: Villa Rosa, Villa Floriana, Burmarrad Farmhouse
- BEST PLACE FOR FAMILIES: Mellieha
- BEST PLACE FOR COUPLES: Mdina/Rabat
- BEST BOUTIQUE TOWN HOTELS: Palais Le Brun, Palazzo Consiglia
- BEST PLACE FOR NIGHTLIFE: Sliema and St. Julian’s, Bugibba
- BEST QUIET VILLAGE: Marsaxlokk, Mgarr
- BEST SANDY BEACH RESORT: Mellieha
- BEST HOSTEL: Two Pillows Boutique Hostel, Inhawi Design Hostel
Which Part of Malta to Stay In?
NORTH/WEST MALTA – Capital city Valletta is on the north coast, in the centre of a densely populated and sprawling urban area that encompasses several smaller medieval cities and modern resort towns. These are referred to as separate places but essentially they all blend into each other and most are easy to travel between. At the northwest end you’ll find the best sandy beaches and a few large beach resorts.
SOUTH/EAST – The southeastern end of the island is less touristy but some parts are blighted by heavy industry. Highlights include the pretty fishing town of Marsaxlokk, the swimming areas of St. Thomas and St. Peter, and the Blue Grotto.
INLAND MALTA – Inland you’ll find the gorgeous medieval villages, archaeological treasures, and vineyards.
GOZO – Quiet and unspoilt, come here to escape the crowds, hike, dive, and visit pretty churches.
COMINO – A tiny island which is a popular daytrip destination thanks to its incredible turquoise lagoon waters.
If you want to be in the thick of the history then stay in Valletta itself. Known for being Europe’s smallest capital city and virtually an open air museum, the whole walled medieval city is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Valletta is packed with historic sites and monuments, amongst them St John’s Co-Cathedral, the Palace of the Grand Masters, Casa Rocca Piccola, the National Museum of Archaeology, the Manoel Theatre, and Upper Barakka Gardens (come here to watch the cannons fire twice a day). There are fantastic art galleries, cultural events, and sophisticated bars and restaurants too – though late night clubbing tends to take place outside the city.
Valletta is named after the Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, who founded the city. Its narrow golden streets lead to the sea and are highlighted with colourful doors and wooden galleried balconies.
It’s a convenient location if you’re relying on public transport to see the island, but if you have a rental car then think again – driving in the walled city is not advised due to narrow streets and lack of parking. Many of the side streets have steep steps. The bus station is just outside the city gates, in the area called Floriana. There are cheap boats which trundle over to Sliema or the Three Cities. Arriving into the harbour of Valletta is memorable so don’t miss a boat trip whilst you’re here.
5-star luxury can be found at several hotels – the spacious Phoenicia Hotel and Grand Hotel Excelsior are both located just outside the city walls, but the Rosselli gets our vote for its central location and rooftop pool.
There are many atmospheric boutique 4-star hotels in gorgeous restored buildings. If a pool is import to you then start with Palais Le Brun and Palazzo Consiglia. Otherwise, Casa Ellul and Domus Zamittello are tempting options.
Transfer time: 18 minutes from Malta International Airport
Sliema is a large resort town across the water from Valletta. The coastal promenade known as the Sliema Front has an modern vibe and is lined with shops, cocktail bars, and restaurants. Behind the promenade is the familiar warren of narrow residential streets.
In contrast to Valletta’s historic appeal, Sliema is all about the modern conveniences – it’s the site of rapid development with many high-rise apartment blocks concealing older backstreets. It’s a bustling social place with a commercial and affluent feel and is home to a large expat community, many of whom work in the gaming and tech industries which have been lured to Malta.
There’s no beach at Sliema, only the rocky platforms at Font Ghadir for swimming and sunbathing, but there is a marina and harbour where you can find watersports and party boats. It’s only a short ferry ride to across Valletta. Nearby St. Julians is within walking distance.
On a budget or travelling solo? Flashpackers will love the Two Pillows Boutique Hostel with its charming design. Private rooms are available as well as dorms.
Transfer time: 20 minutes from Malta International Airport
St. Julian’s & Paceville
Continue around the coast from Sliema and you’ll reach the buzzing town of St. Julians is located to the northeast of Valletta and is the liveliest resort area in Malta. There’s a small artificial beach to enjoy at St. George’s Bay, but St. Julians is also home to the biggest concentration of resort hotels on the island so there should be no problem finding one with a pool. There are also some rocky swimming areas and public lidos.
It’s a 20-minute bus ride into Valletta. In the evening, head to the waterfront at Spinola Bay for a good selection of restaurants (including international chains) and then on to the Paceville area for nightlife.
Many of the big international chain hotel are present and correct in St. Julian’s – there’s a Marriott, a Hilton, an InterContinental Malta, and the Radisson Blu Resort St Julian’s which is one of the best resort hotels on the island.
But there are also some great independent options at a lower price point. Standouts include:
Backpackers have plenty of options in St. Julian’s – social Marco Polo and Hostel Malti are run by the same team and have plenty of activities, and for flashpackers there’s the Inhawi Boutique Hostel which has a pool and fresh design.
Transfer time: 18 minutes from Malta International Airport
The Three Cities
If you’re looking for a quiet but atmospheric area to get a feel for local life them look no further than the Three Cities. Situated south of Valletta and across the Grand Harbour, the Three Cities encompasses three neighbourhoods – Birgu, Isla, and Bormla. Just to confuse you, they are also known as Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (Isla), and Cospicua (Bormla). These ‘cities’ are actually older than Valletta and each were renamed after battles in the Great Siege of 1565. You’ll see both names used, and you might also see the Three Cities collectively referred to as Cottonera. Gentrification has recently arrived in the form of the Cottonera Waterfront and marina.
Vittoriosa is the oldest (it was the original crusader capital before Valletta was built) and best preserved of the three, which were heavily bombed during WWII. It also has the most life, with some decent wine bars and a long history of boatbuilding.
You can easily hop between Valletta and the Three Cities by boat or bus. There are several lovely hotels plus plenty of apartment rentals on Booking.com, and the area has a few small war, folk, and maritime museums worth visiting as well as its impressive fortifications. There’s a street market on Tuesdays. Beyond Cospicua is Kalkara which is essentially the fourth of the Three Cities.
Standout hotels include:
- Locanda La Gelsomina (Vittoriosa)
- Cugo Gran Macina Grand Harbour (Senglea)
- The Snop House (Senglea)
- BOCO Boutique (Cospicua)
- Casa Birmula (Cospicua)
- The Lodge (Cospicua)
Transfer time: at least 15 minutes from Malta International Airport
Marsalokk and Marsaskala
If you prefer low-key fishing villages to big harbour cities then look east to low-key Marsaskala and Marsaxlokk.
Marsaxlokk is known for its weekly fish market and is the more interesting of the two. Most just visit for the day, so it’s quiet at night. The coastal stretch in between is home to the popular swimming spots St. Peter’s Pool and St. Thomas’ Bay, with dazzling rock formations and a sandy beach. However it’s worth noting that there’s an industrial presence in the area.
Transfer time: 20 minutes from Malta International Airport
Just around the coast from Marsaxlokk is the seaside town of Birzebbuga, which is more popular than its neighbours thanks to the sweeping artificial sand beach which is known as Pretty Bay. It’s popular with locals in the summer and has a lively nightlife as well as family-friendly facilities. Several archaeological sites and the Playmobil FunPark are within a short drive of town and boat trips run daily to the nearby Blue Grotto. Unfortunately Malta’s main port is nearby – stick to the north and west coast if you’re looking for Blue Flag beaches.
Check VRBO for apartment rentals and villas.
Transfer time: 20 minutes from Malta International Airport
If you don’t mind not being near the sea then there are several incredible medieval towns inland worth exploring – plus Malta is so small that if you fancy a trip to the beach it’s only a 15-minute drive. There’s not much in the way of activities or nightlife though so these towns are best suited to those renting a car and looking for a quiet rural base or romantic escape.
The main attraction inland is Mdina, the old walled capital of Malta which is immaculately preserved and also known as the ‘Silent City’. Rabat is the area of town outside the walls. Alternative options include the quiet village of Mgarr, an untapped destination which is close to the best sandy beaches on the island (Golden Bay, Riviera Beach, and Ġnejna Bay), and the small historic towns of Mosta and Naxxar which are a short drive from the bigger resorts of the north coast.
Transfer time: 20-30 minutes from Malta International Airport
The small clifftop town of Mellieha occupies the northern tip of Malta and has morphed into one of it’s premier resort areas. The main appeal is the sandy beach at Mellieha Bay (also known as Ghadira Bay) which becomes predictably packed in summer despite the long walk from town. The sea is calm and watersports are available. Up on the hills are many large family-friendly resort hotels plus plenty of restaurants and amenities. Mellieha has a much calmer vibe and more local life than other resorts on the north coast. It’s the best option for beach access as long as you don’t mind the hills (buses are available) or being further away from Malta’s main sights.
Popular tourist attraction Popeye Village (built for a film set and then abandoned) is nearby, and you can catch a ferry over to Gozo from the harbour of Ċirkewwa.
The main resort hotels in the area are:
- Ramla Bay Resort
- Seabank Resort & Spa (package deals available through TUI)
- Barcelo Labranda Riviera Premium Resort & Spa
- Paradise Bay Resort
But there’s also plenty of self-catered acccommodation in the area on VRBO.
Transfer time: 40 minutes from Malta International Airport
To the west of Mellieha, the beach at Golden Bay is one of the most beautiful and popular on the island. It attracts a lot of daytrippers, but if you want to stay right on the beach check in to the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa.
Two more excellent beaches are around the coast to the south – Riviera Beach and Ġnejna Bay.
Transfer time: 25 minutes from Malta International Airport
Bugibba / St. Paul’s Bay
St. Paul’s Bay is one of the busiest and most popular resort areas with international tourists, especially the British. It actually encompasses several different villages that have merged into one, and each area has a different feel.
The oldest part is the harbour village of St. Paul’s Bay. As it became popular development extended up into the peninsula to the areas now known as Bugibba and Qawra..
Bugibba is is where to head if you get bored easily. There’s every activity you can think of in this buzzing purpose-built resort, including a waterpark, and a long promenade lined with beach clubs and bars. Restaurants cater to international tastes and there are hotels and apartments at all price levels. However it does lack a proper beach – there are rocks and a few gritty beaches. Buses and boat trips to other beaches are available but they do get very busy.
The north of Bugibba morphs into Qawra, the posh end of the peninsula which is quieter and home to the more upmarket hotels. To the west there’s Xemxija, a quieter harbour with a traditional feel and many apartments to rent.
St. Paul’s Bay is prime package holiday territory so check out TUI and Jet2 for deals and availability. If you’re booking independently then have a look at San Antonio Hotel & Spa for all-inclusive and Park Lane Boutique Aparthotel for self-catered accommodation.
Transfer time: 30 minutes from Malta International Airport
The island of Gozo is like Malta in miniature, and thanks to the extra ferry journey it has so far been spared the worst of Malta’s overdevelopment and commercialisation. It’s much more relaxed and has a traditional rustic feel.
Gozo is popular with a more mature and active crowd who come to enjoy the island’s natural attractions and beautiful churches, and increasing number of chic hotels and farmhouse conversions. It’s feels like an island escape, is a renowned diving destination and beaches are much quieter.
Ferries from Malta dock at the harbour of Mgarr, itself a picturesque small town. The capital Victoria (which is also known as Rabat) is located in the centre of the island, and the main coastal resorts are Xlendi on the south coast and Marsalforn on the north coast. Of the two, cliff-enclosed Xlendi is the prettier village. Marsalforn is more built-up but is better for beach-lovers – it has a small beach and is a short drive from the sands at Ramla Bay and San Blas Bay.
Boutique hotels (most are inland) on Gozo include:
- Dar tal-Kaptan
- DGolden Valley Boutique & Breakfast
- Hotel San Andrea
- Quaint Hotel Sannat
- Cesca’s Boutique Hotel
Transfer time: 1-2 hours from Malta International Airport
The smallest island of the archipelago is little Comino, squeezed in between Malta and Gozo. Comino is the location of the famous Blue Lagoon which is one of the most popular day trips on the island. Very few stay here – and even fewer live here – but if a day isn’t enough for you there are rooms at the aptly-named Comino Hotel.
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Sliema waterfront: © FredP / Shutterstock
Blue Lagoon: © Mirko / Adobe Stock
Mount Carmel church: © sakkmesterke / Shutterstock
Riviera Beach: © Corentin / Shutterstock
Map of Malta: © The Mediterranean Traveller
Valletta: © Kavalenkava / Adobe Stock
Sliema: © Karina Movsesyan / Adobe Stock
St. Julian’s & Paceville aerial: © ingusk / Adobe Stock
Senglea waterfront: © Allard One / Shutterstock
Marsaxlokk: © kavalenkava / Shutterstock
St. Peter’s Pool: © Jaroslav Moravcik / Adobe Stock
Birzebugga: © kerenby / Adobe Stock
Mdina: © Calin Stan / Adobe Stock
Mellieha: © Karina Movsesyan / Adobe Stock
Golden Bay: © Parilov / Adobe Stock
Bugibba: © efesenko / Adobe Stock
Mgarr: © Fred / Adobe Stock
Marsalforn: © Davide D’Amico / Adobe Stock
Comino: © Nicholas Courtney / Shutterstock