Considering their location and terrain, one could easily be mistaken into thinking that the islands of Malta are all the same. Fortunately, that’s not the case. There’s the developed main island of Malta, the barren Comino home to the Blue Lagoon and finally the rustic gem that is Gozo. Serene and rural, Gozo is perfect for those seeking peace and quiet, not to mention hiking, as covered by this post on hiking in Gozo.
However, the island is also home to a vast range of destinations and attractions. From its many villages, neolithic remains, scenic bays and more, Gozo packs quite the punch. This Gozo guide should give you a vital rundown on all the places you need to know when visiting Gozo. The guide will start with the islands centre and then spiral around the island, with the destinations covered shown in the map below.
At the centre of Gozo is the island’s main city and also one of its most biggest tourist destinations, Victoria. This is the name the city has had since the British rule in the 19th century, but it’s also known by locals as Rabat. Much like other places in Malta, this can be confusing when there is also a town on the mainland known as Rabat. Situated on a hilltop, the settlement of Victoria dates back to the Neolithic age. Today it hosts about a fifth of the island’s population, as well as government offices, multiple churches, schools and restaurants.
The nexus of Victoria has to be Citadella, the city’s mighty fortified citadel. The spot has likely been settled since Neolithic times and fortified by 1500 BC. The site was later adapted by the Romans and its modern fortifications owe their design to the Knights of St. John in the late Middle Ages. The Citadella would continue to function as an important military defence and even housed the entire population of Gozo at night during Turkish raids in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The moment you enter the citadel your met with the city cathedral and from there you can explore its streets and grounds. From the fortified walls, you get views out over the city and to distant landmarks across the island. Inside the walls, there are various ruins and remains, as well as museums like the Folklore Museum and Museum of Archaeology.
Victoria is also one of the best places in all of Malta to explore the traditional Maltese architecture and way of life. The city centre is a maze of narrow, snaking pedestrian alleys and back streets, perfect for wandering about. Here you’ll find the typical Maltese balconies, as well as plenty of old stone houses that look to have been well lived in. Rather adoringly, many houses bear metal name plates adorned with images and designs.
Despite being the main city on Gozo, Victoria doesn’t have a particularly large range of accommodation options. Given its heritage, that’s probably a good thing, preserving the city and not ousting locals for visitors. I think this only adds to the atmosphere of Victoria, and the city is only a bus ride from most places anyway.
One of the main villages in the island’s east, Nadur is a convenient hilltop village for those arriving to Gozo by ferry. The village itself is about as typical as they come, so you can enjoy traditional Maltese architecture as you walk through its streets. This is probably best shown in the village’s main square seen above, which is also home to the beautiful local parish church.
A feature that makes Nadur so appealing as somewhere to stay is the number of restaurants there. Throughout the centre you’ll find enough bars, restaurants and cafes to offer you some choice, as well as several mini markets. I particularly enjoyed the Fat Rabbit restaurant during my stay in Nadur.
Overlooking the harbour of Mgarr, Nadur has some truly breathtaking views, with the main island of Malta easily within sight. While there are various viewpoints throughout the village, the Triq Il Madonna Ta Fatima square and Ta’ Kenuna Tower offer some of the best.
Speaking of views, it was hard to beat the poolside view below from my accommodation at the Blue Harbour B&B. A small boutique B&B, everything from the owners to the rooms was fantastic and staggeringly cheap considering. Even the pool looked awfully tempting despite it being winter.
The entry point to Gozo, the harbour village of Mgarr is a ferry port with a pleasing grace to it. Mgarr harbour is where the ferry from Malta arrives, not to mention home to plenty of smaller tour boats and fishing boats. As a fishing village, it only makes sense that Mgarr is home to a number of seafood restaurants.
Given its small size, Mgarr is only home to a few noteworthy landmarks. The most immediate and obvious of those is the Lourdes Chapel sitting high above the village. The chapel was built in 1893 after a statue of the Virgin Mary of Lourdes was placed into the small cliff a few years before.
The other major landmark in Mgarr is Fort Chambray, a large stone bastion by the coast. Built in the 18th century, the fort was part of an unrealised plan to relocate the city from the Victoria Citadella. Fort Chambray saw use both as a fortification and military hospital over the years. Now, it is being renovated and converted into a luxury accommodation complex. Only the outer ramparts are currently open to the public, but it’s still quite an intriguing sight.
While actually a wider municipality, the centre of Ghajnsielem is basically another small village neighbouring Mgarr. Ghajnsielem is a pretty low-key place, almost indistinguishable from Mgarr or other urban areas. Certainly the most striking part of the village is the high bell tower of the Ghajnsielem Parish Church.
Curiously, on the road to Mgarr you’ll come across one of the more unlikely attractions in Malta, Bethlehem. This christian-themed open-air site features a recreation of a Judean village and even a nativity scene. The site includes craft shops, a barn and even a tavern. During the festive season, actors bring the village to life recreating Judean life.
Sanap Cliffs and Ta’ Cenc Cliffs
Stretching across much of the south coast, the Sanap and Ta’ Cenc Cliffs feature staggeringly sheer drops to the Mediterranean Sea below. These rocky cliffs offer sweeping views along the dramatic coast that are sure hard to beat. Running parallel to the cliffs are a series of gentle walking trails that let you really appreciate the landscape you’re in. It’s hard to tell where one set of cliffs end and the other start but basically the Sanap Cliffs are at the eastern end while the Ta’ Cenc Cliffs are at the western end.
Yet another small coastal village, Xlendi lies on the south coast tucked away within a small cove. With a pleasant waterfront as waves roll in below outdoor restaurant seating, Xlendi definitely has a relaxed pace to it. In calmer seas, there is apparently a small beach here by the village centre but all I saw was waves when I visited. Xlendi is home to a number of nice bars and restaurants, some which are more high-end than I saw elsewhere on the island.
Either side of the village, signature Maltese rocky coastline stretches away with coastal walks along them. Exploring the eastern side of the bay, you start to get views of the immense cliffs to the west. At the mouth of the bay Xlendi Tower, one of the distinctive Lascaris Towers of Malta, sits watching over the village.
Gebel Ben Gorg
Stretching along the southwestern corner of the island, Gebel Ben Gorg is another series of dramatic cliffs to witness. This wild pocket of the countryside epitomises Gozo’s rustic charm. Much like the Sanap Cliffs, walking trails lead along fields, sometimes eerily close to the cliff’s edge.
An oddity for Gozo is San Raflu, a small lake home to ducks and frogs. It’s not until you see the lake that you realise how few rivers and lakes Malta really has. I failed to see the local frogs sadly, as Malta isn’t really known for much in the way of wildlife.
Right at the point of the island lies one of Malta’s lesser known historical sites, the Wardija Punic Temple. This temple dating from the 3rd century BC, includes a chamber carved into rock, a well and reservoir. It’s believed that the site was still used during the Roman occupation and may have even been used to worship Christianity.
Before the Azure Window sadly collapsed into the sea, the area around Dwerja Bay was surely Gozo’s most popular spot. It was mere months after my visit when one of Malta’s greatest icons fell, but it certainly wasn’t the only reason to visit Dwerja Bay. Any Gozo guide would be remiss in not explaining why tourists should continue to visit this part of the island now.
For starters, when standing on the former site of the Azure Window, behind you sits the unusual Inland Sea. This lagoon connects to the sea by a natural tunnel in the cliffs and is where boat tours departed for the Azure Window. The area is also apparently a diving site, much like the Blue Hole on the open water side of the cliffs.
The actual Dwerja Bay itself is just south of the inland sea, along a trail past Dwerja Tower. The bay itself is quite sheltered thanks to its shape and the island at its entrance. This means you can really appreciate the colour of the water, especially contrasted against the rocky cliffs of the headland. This kind of coastline is typical of much of Malta and a convenient place to get up close to it.
A minor village tucked away in the island’s north, Gharb is a serene patch of Gozo away from most of the big sights and crowds. The one big landmark that call’s Gharb home is Ta’ Pinu, whose full name is actually the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. Shrines and chapels on this spot go as far back as the 16th century, but the modern incarnation was built in 1922. Ta’ Pinu is quite a revered place in Malta and several of the recent popes have journeyed to Malta for it.
Perhaps because it’s so quiet and secluded Gharb actually has an unlikely number of B&Bs and farmhouses. The great thing is that owing to the small size of Gozo, it’s never really that far from visiting the rest of the island. This was unfortunately a part of the island I missed during my time there, but high on my list for next time.
Despite being a large region of Gozo, the village of Ghasri is one of the smallest in all the Maltese islands. It makes sense then that visiting Ghasri is more about its countryside and scattered landmarks than its village. A beacon from far and wide, Ġordan Lighthouse is one such landmark, resting high above most of the island. Perhaps this was to compensate for its odd distance from the coast. Regardless, its unmissable in this part of Gozo and an obvious draw for lighthouse lovers.
Along the north coast, past Reqqa Point towards Marsalforn, the rocky coastline is peppered with historic salt pans which are quite the sight to see. The salt pans have actually been carved into the rock of the coast and for centuries played a crucial role in a traditional Gozitan economy. Full of seawater, these salt pans can make for some truly stunning photos with the Mediterranean backdrop.
The real highlight for me in Ghasri though is the epic coastal gorge Wied Il-Ghasri. Here the sea surges through the rocky canyon roaring as the waves crash and roll about. There’s actually even a small beach at the bottom, but the water was so chaotic when I visited it seemed smarter not to venture down. At the mouth of Wied Il-Ghasri you can get superb views along the island’s northern cliffs, not to mention the waves crashing into them and a small rocky island.
The small northern village of Zebbug didn’t really register as much of a destination by itself. However, it is surrounded by some of the most scenic countryside I came across during my many hikes on Gozo.
Sitting on a hilltop, Zebbug is neighboured by a verdant valley to its east featuring quintessential Maltese countryside. That means small rock fences, terraced farmland and plenty of cacti all over the place. In fact Zebbug looks far more impressive when viewed from within the valley as it looms on its ridge line.
One major landmark that is hard to miss in the Zebbug countryside is Tas-Salvatur Hill. This isolated hill is topped by a statue of Christ the Redeemer, placed there during the 70s to replace another statue from the turn of the century. The choice of location is no surprise when you learn that the hill is linked to multiple ominous local legends.
This coastal town on Gozo’s north coast is one of the more popular places for visitors to the island to stay. Running around the appropriately named Marsalforn Bay, Marsalforn features a plethora of hotels and restaurants by its waterfront. This is not only because it sits on a picturesque bay, but also because it makes for a great base to explore the numerous attractions littering the island’s north.
During my visit in winter, the town was the scene of some truly epic waves as they crashed into and over the waterfront. Watching as water soared several storeys high was one hell of a sight to behold. However, it must have been a big disruption for the various dive centres that are based in Marsalforn. One would assume that with calmer weather, which is the norm, that there must be some superb diving to be had along the coast’s many bays and coves.
Just outside the city of Victoria, the village of Xaghra is one of the island’s most stand out destinations. Within this central village are some of Gozo’s more interesting historical and cultural sights. For those looking to experience a traditional Maltese church, the Xaghra Parish Church has quite the dazzling interior. Its bold decor of gold and red seen above also includes some beautiful artwork.
The other fascinating sight in Xaghra is Ġgantija, a well-preserved Megalithic site and temple complex. This UNESCO heritage-listed site hosts the remains of temples built over 5000 years ago. As the oldest found throughout Malta, these temples harken back to an era of the island still shrouded in some mystery. Local folklore tells that the temples were built by a giantess, with a child slung over her back.
A visit at Ġgantija starts with the museum which takes visitors through the history and archaeological work that has occurred on the sight. This includes their use during the Bronze Age all the way up the days of the Grand Tour, where wealthier travellers visited historic sights throughout Europe and recorded their experiences. Nearby, but far less well preserved is the Xaghra Circle, which has been all but lost due to the passing of time. The museum does a good job of explaining its decline as well.
Lying on the island’s north coast, Ramla Bay may well be home to Malta’s best beach. Somewhat isolated from the nearest villages, Ramla Bay features a golden sand beach between two dramatic headlands. The wide stretch of beach almost has an orange-red glow to it and fairly sheltered waters to swim in. Found on the beach is also a statue to the Virgin Mary and supposedly some submerged Roman ruins.
The bay is also home to Calypso’s Cave, fabled to be the home of the nymph Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. The cave is situated high above the beach at its western end. Recent geological activity means that the cave is obscured from the viewpoint above it.
San Blas Beach
Another swimming spot along Gozo’s north coast, San Blas Beach is on the next bay over from Ramla Bay. A smaller beach that Ramla, San Blas makes up for it by being even more remote. This means there’s a better chance that you won’t be sharing it with as many visitors. San Blas Beach is also blessed with the same orange-red sand found at Ramla Beach, making it equally as scenic. Despite not having been myself, I’ve heard of it enough that I felt it had to be included in this Gozo guide.
Getting to Gozo
There’s really only one common way to reach Gozo and that’s with the ferry from the mainland. There is technically a tiny airport and helipad but you have to be really motivated to arrive that way. The ferry from Malta departs from the harbour at Cirkewwa with a fairly frequent schedule that varies in low/high season. As a car ferry, you’re also able to bring your vehicle with you to get around the island of Gozo.
Have you ever visited Gozo before? Where would you include in a Gozo Guide? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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