For the past 5 years, Malta has been on our bucket list of places to visit. Finally, we were able to make a trip to the island a reality this past January with a much-needed reprieve from the winter weather of central Europe. While we were only here for a week, and in the dead of their ‘winter’, we still found plenty of activities & things to do in Malta in January.
Malta is an island in the Mediterranea Sea just south of Sicily. The Republic of Malta consists of 5 islands, Malta, Gozo, and Comino, and the desert islands of Cominotto and Filfla. With a history dating back to thousands of years ago, Malta consists of old historical cities with fortresses, cathedrals, and ancient ruins.
We already have an affinity for islands in the Mediterranean and are always looking for alternative places to potentially retire to in the future. I told James when we arrived that this was a research trip. Happily, Malta did not disappoint, even in January.
What to do in Malta in January
Where To Stay in Malta
If you’re researching places to stay in Malta in January but don’t know where to start, I’m here to help. With unfamiliar countries & cities, it can be hard to know where to stay. Is this neighborhood safe? Are we near the airport? Do you want to be near nightlife, or somewhere a little more secluded and quiet?
Our suggestion is the beautiful 4 Star Hotel 1926 in Sliema. This hotel is centrally located in Sliema with easy access to public transportation that can take you pretty much anywhere on the island. Did we mention it’s a stones throw away from the water on three sides?
Also, less than 20 min to Valletta via the ferry, or 30 min by public transportation it’s the perfect location if you are wanting to explore the capital city but don’t want to be overrun by tourists from the cruises.
Since daily exercise is a significant part of our routine, and not only in January, staying at a place that included a gym was important to us. Hotel 1926 did not disappoint. Additionally, the hotel also offers spa packages if you want to take your experience to the next level.
With very modern amenities (we had a tablet in our room to order room service, spa packages, or to provide information about the hotel & area), an excellent and helpful staff, and an incredible room, Hotel 1926 is the perfect headquarters for your adventures in Malta in January, or any time of the year.
For our travel hacking readers, you’ll be happy to know that Chase Travel has just added Hotel 1926 at a bargain at just over 4,000 Ultimate Rewards points per night. Check out our Travel Resources to see how we travel the world using credit card points.
How to Get Around Malta in January
Malta is a small and dense country with an excellent bus system. You can buy a ticket on the bus for €1.50 during winter, €2.00 during summer, €3.00 for night service and TD (Tallinja Direct) buses. These tickets are valid for 2 hours from purchase, so you can transfer to unlimited buses and change directions within those two hours.
Tallinja Direct buses are intercity buses that offer more direct routes with fewer stops to popular destinations around Malta. Due to this express service, these buses cost more.
If you’re like us, and never carry cash, we have good news. There are travel cards, called Tallinja cards, available that offer discounted rates. You can buy these at the airport, large bus stops, and other random locations around the island.
You can buy unlimited 7-day travel cards for €21, or a 12 journey card for €15. Importantly, the 7-day cards cannot be shared or used on TD busses. On the other hand, the 12 journey card can be shared and used on TD buses, but it uses two of your available journeys.
While the country is small and public transportation is easily accessible, it doesn’t mean I didn’t get motion sick on almost every bus ride. Malta bus drivers really like their brakes. So be prepared with a few extra doses of Dramamine. James, on the other hand, was annoyed at times due to the erratic driving but was never on the verge of getting sick.
Also, top tip: when you are waiting for a bus, be attentive. We had two buses that we were waiting on drive right by us because we weren’t waving them down. One older Maltese lady stepped off the curb and into the street to indicate to the driver to stop. She’s a pro, so we wouldn’t suggest that. A simple wave worked for us, but be sure to indicate to the drivers as they arrive that you want on, otherwise they won’t stop at all.
Google Maps worked excellently for us during our stay in Malta. Not only does it work well with bus routes and notates the TD routes & buses, but it also worked great on hikes and other obscure routes that would be inaccessible by car.
What To Do
It’s important to note that there is so much to see in Malta, even in January. Whether you are there for a few days or a few weeks, it would be hard to see all of the rich history that Malta has to offer. Because of this, I am separating the things to do by cities to make it easier to plan an itinerary.
Malta’s capital city of Valetta is 0.3 sq mi, making it the Europe Union’s smallest capital city. Because of the size, Valetta can either be done quickly in one afternoon or slowly over a day or two. We were lucky to meet up with a couple of friends that retired to Malta. They showed us all of the beautiful lookout points and filled us in on the fascinating history of Valetta.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens and Lower Barrakka Gardens are the perfect places to go for a quiet stroll through the park. The gardens are decorated with lovely palm trees and other beautiful vegetation. If those don’t satisfy your horticultural desires, then the views over the sea will take up the slack. From the gardens, you can see the Three Cities, Fort St. Angelo, Fort St Elmo, and much more.
James and I have a thing for walled cities. Since we visited Dubrovnik a couple of times and fell in love with the walled old town, we actively seek out walled cities wherever we go. Luckily, our trip to Malta in January included a trip to Mdina, the original capital city of Malta. With a history dating back to the years BC, it’s easy to marvel at the ancient architecture and let your imagination run wild.
We thoroughly enjoyed walking throughout the walled city of Mdina. The city walls were not made with access to walk on, but you can walk through the 18th-century gate into the city. At the back of the city, you can overlook the city walls at the beautiful landscape and the city of Valetta in the distance.
Inside the walled city is the famous ‘Blue door’ of Malta. The building has vines growing up the front of the property with blooming purples flowers adorning them. As far as I know, there’s no significance to the door, other than it makes for the perfect backdrop to a photo to every Instagrammers delight.
Once you’ve finished inside the walls, make your way outside to the moat that was converted to a courtyard. The courtyard gives you a different vantage point of the Mdina gate and city walls. Once again, your imagination runs wild trying to imagine the moat full of water and what must have occupied the cages that were littered along the path.
#3 Mellieha, Malta
Even though January weather in Malta is perfect for hiking, this area is quite large to cover on foot. Consequently, James and I took a bus to this side of the island and enjoyed a long hike to the observation towers littered along the coastline. The watchtowers were built in the 17th century by the Knights of Malta as a defensive system to warn the troops in the case of a threat.
When walking along the Ta’ Lippija trail from the Ta’ Lippija Tower, there is an incredible view of Qarraba Bay and Ġnejna Bay. Even though we were in Malta at the beginning of January, the weather was incredible, as we were both shirtless enjoying the sunshine & the coastal breeze.
From the observation towers, we took the ‘scenic’ route, AKA rocky terrain, to Popeye’s Village. Popeye’s Village was built back in the late 70s as the film location for the 1980 Popeye movie with Robin Williams. Since the village is now an overpriced amusement park, James and I enjoyed the free view of the village from afar at the lookout point.
Since St. Paul’s Bay and Mellieha are so close together on the Eastside, I combined them for this section. Not only does this area have so much history, but it’s also like being out in the country with fields and hilly countryside.
With another beautiful day in Malta despite it being January, start this area off with a walk along the Xemxija Hill Heritage Walk. Along the path are Roman ruins, punic tombs, a 1000-year-old carob tree, and a traditional farmhouse. The Heritage Walk is free, and it contains so much history. It’s a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the ruins with views of St. Pauls Bay.
From the Heritage Trail, make your way over to the Selmun Palace. Built in the 18th century by knights, it is now completely abandoned. We didn’t really get a chance to explore the area because there was a really awkward photoshoot going on when we arrived (#naked).
We made our way along the road to Fort Campbell which was built by the British. What was an important fortification during World War II is now in ruins. We explored the old barracks and fire stations, which unfortunately are covered in graffiti. Even though the ruins have been vandalized, it is still an interesting place to visit. Go at your own risk.
Fort St. Angelo is located at the tip of the peninsula of Birgu. The fort is one of the only historical sites that we paid to get into…and it was well worth it. We went with our friends in Malta, and they were a wealth of knowledge in the history of the area. The top of the fort provided coveted views of Valetta, Three Cities, Kalkara, and the Bay.
Walking the streets of Birgu sounds really understated, but trust me, you won’t regret it. The streets are clean with a very limited number of cars driving through. Birgu has quaint little shops including Find the Door, which houses vendors selling homemade jewelry, decorations, and sustainable goods.
Where To Eat in Malta in January
Unlike some beach cities we’ve been to, most places in Malta are open even in January. Some seasonal places around the resorts, like ice cream parlors and things like that, might be closed for winter but overall the restaurants were still open. One of the biggest perks of visiting Malta in January is that you never wait at a restaurant. With your pick of any place across the island, it can be hard to decide where to eat in Malta in January. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Margaux at Hotel 1926: Whether you’re staying at Hotel 1926 or just wanting a gourmet meal, this is the place to go. The meals at Margaux include a bountiful continental breakfast, a lunch menu full of Mediterranean fare, and European style cuisine for dinner.
Caffe Cordina: Caffe Cordina has been open since 1837, with their location in Valetta from 1944. Aside from the food, the restaurant is beautiful. With large arches adorned with gold and paintings throughout the location, the atmosphere takes you back in time. They serve everything from Maltese pastries and desserts to lunch and dinner specials. Pro tip: walk through the cafe to the eating room on the right. It is much less crowded, and you will get to enjoy the laid back atmosphere of the cafe.
Is-Suq Tal-Belt – Valletta Food Market: This food market is home to restaurants and food vendors. The cool thing is that for decades this place was a traditional food market for farmers, but trendy restaurants breathe new life into it. You can have your pick of just about any type of cuisine you want. It can also be fun to just walk around and look at all of the food available for purchase. Pro tip: there are public toilets available in the food hall.
Main Square: Located in the main square of Birgu is a cute little restaurant with the friendliest cook and wait staff. Our friends took us to this restaurant because it’s one they frequent for cheap pizza and drinks. They have Maltese beer, pizza, and traditional Maltese platters and dishes. James and I each had a couple of local Cisk lemon-flavored beers, which paired perfectly with the sampler platter that we shared.
Crystal Palace Bar: This place was recommended to us by a worker at Hotel 1926. He said if we made a trip to Mdina, check it out because they had cheap pastries and it was really good. On our day trip to Mdina, we tried it out and were blown away by how good it was. We were shocked to get three pastizzi for €1.20, which was enough to fill us up and hold us over until dinner. For dinner, we took a €1 green pea quassatat from Crystal Palace. If you’re ever in Mdina and need a quick snack to help fuel your day of exploring the old city, check this place out.
Malta in January
Malta is unlike anywhere we have visited. This Mediterranean island has so much history, and you can tell just by walking the streets. With a beautiful coastline and green, hilly countrysides, it has everything you could want from an island in the Mediterranean. The weather is 60’s to 70’s in January, making it perfect to walk everywhere and soak up the sun. Also, since it wasn’t tourist season, we often felt like we had most of the places to ourselves.