For visitors looking to travel to the picturesque Mediterranean island of Malta, deciding on where to stay in Malta can be a challenge. Unlike other European countries, Malta isn’t really broken up into clearly defined cities. This is in part due to the country’s small size, but also because of its urban sprawl. Valletta, the main city and capital of Malta, is a perfect example of this. It’s hard to know where the city truly ends.
What would typically be deemed the city centre or old town of Valletta is often seen as the complete city. The surrounding neighbourhoods, while just a stone’s throw away, are treated as separate entities but without a clear classification. They’re not cities, towns, villages, districts … they’re just there.
To make matters worse, the island’s size can be deceptive. Distances that would take 15 minutes elsewhere can take over an hour to traverse on the island. All of this can make it tricky to figure out where you should actually stay when visiting Valletta and Malta. So allow me to try my best in demystifying the islands’ layout and detail all the options of where to stay in Malta in and around Valletta.
Despite being the capital and generally the main cultural and historical point of interest for tourists, Valletta is surprisingly light on accommodation. Perhaps that is to preserve the area and prevent hotel development tarnishing this exceptionally well-preserved historic area. Regardless, it does mean that if you absolutely have to stay in the capital then book in advance and have your wallet ready.
From boutique hotels to elegant 4* and 5* hotels, this is where you stay if you want to lay down a lot of money. For around 200€ a night, you can even stay in some of the city’s historic palaces! Of course you’re not just paying for luxurious digs, but the opportunity to stay in the beating heart of a historical gem. Not to mention you’re walking distance to some of the best restaurants that Malta has to offer. If you’re after the very best, Valletta’s your spot.
Summary – Be prepared to spend big if you want to stay in the capital, but there’s a reason it’s expensive.
Probably the most popular place for visitors to Valletta and Malta is the neighbourhood of Sliema. Situated on a large peninsula north of Valletta, Sliema is home to pretty much everything a tourist to Malta could need. It also happens to have a great wide range of accommodation options, meeting the needs of all travellers. What’s more, it’s home to the main ferry to Valletta and plenty of bus routes as well.
When it comes to amenities, Sliema is home to The Point Shopping Mall, full of your typical clothing stores, cafes and supermarket. Along its ample waterfront and inland too, you can find some of the area’s most well-regarded restaurants, serving local and international cuisine a like. There aren’t all that many attractions in Sliema though, beyond Fort Tigne and its pleasant waterfront parks.
Summary – The safest bet when it comes to staying in the vicinity of Valletta, Sliema caters to all sorts.
The next neighbourhood over from Sliema towards Valletta is Gzira, or Il-Gzira. Compared to Sliema, Gzira is far quieter and mostly a local area. With that comes fewer amenities like restaurants and supermarkets, but there’s enough there for you in a pinch. Plus, it’s only a comfortable walk or short bus ride over to Sliema.
Light on attractions, Gzira has a nice enough stretch of waterfront and the fascinating Manoel Island is right nearby. From its strange little duck farm, to the remains of Manoel Fort, it’s an unusual part of Malta to explore.
During my times in Gzira, I stayed at the affordable Blubay Apartments. They may not have been luxurious, but the studio apartments had everything I needed. They have multiple buildings in Gzira without much real difference.
Summary – A surprisingly low-profile area with a far more quite local feel to it, all the while walking distance to all of Sliema’s amenities like restaurants.
St Julian’s Bay
If you’re coming to Malta simply to getaway for a vacation, or escape winter, then St Julian’s Bay is ideal. Lying to the north of Sliema, St Julian’s or San Giljan in Maltese, is all about providing home comforts. Basically, culture vultures stay away. It’s in St Julian’s that you will find the fast-food chains, the pubs, the clubs and casinos. It may sound like an unfair description, but it’s accurate. Fair to say, it wouldn’t be my choice of where to stay in Malta.
Together with its extension Paceville further north, the aim of this area is to cater to the desires of Brits looking to unwind. It’s basically Malta’s equivalent to the Costa del Sol or any of the other Mediterranean spots sought by those from the British Isles. That being said, it’s only a bus ride or bus and ferry to visit Valletta for the day and actually experience some Maltese culture. I do try not to judge people for how they like to travel, I’m just trying to get across the vibe of St Julian’s as best I can.
Summary – The most “touristy” of options around Valletta, with all sorts of accommodation and all the usual stuff Westerners can get back home.
For those looking for an unconventional choice, the neighbourhoods that comprise the Three Cities are a great choice off the beaten path. On the opposite side of Valletta from the likes of Sliema and St Julian’s, the neighbourhoods around the Grand Harbour offer an authentic slice of Maltese life. Together Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua have managed to remain untouched by mass tourism, which is impressive considering they actually predate the capital.
With plenty of historical sights to see and local cuisine to explore, the Three Cities are able to more than cater for visitors that choose to stay there. The area is also just a bus or ferry ride from Valletta, so it’s by no means out of the way. Definitely somewhere I’d consider staying next time I visit Malta.
Summary – Off the beaten track and providing a slice of local life, all the while staying close to Valletta.
St Paul’s Bay
Much further up the northeast coast of Malta lies St Paul’s Bay. This area is broken up into various neighbourhoods like Bugibba and Qawra, although working out their boundaries is challenging. Although only about 13-14 km away from the capital, it’ll feel ages away. That distance will take at least an hour by bus, with good traffic. So unless you only plan on making a single day trip to Valletta, it’s best to think of this area as completely separate.
There’s not much to entice visitors to this part of the island, beyond the pools and resorts in the area. You won’t find much of cultural or historical value here and more like to find an Irish Pub or Indian restaurant than local cuisine. That said, if you do decide to come to this part of the island then a decent, affordable place to stay is Sunstone Guesthouse.
Summary – Removed from Valletta, St Paul’s Bay is a base for those looking to see the island’s north and aren’t too interested in Maltese culture.
Now, if I was going to pick somewhere to stay in Northern Malta, I’d be looking at Mellieha. Compared to St Paul’s Bay, it has a much more pleasant, local atmosphere to it. Mellieha was seemingly far less affected by whatever tourism boom came and went around St Paul’s Bay, and it’s better for it. Situated on a hilltop, the town has some spectacular views across the country. It’s also home to some impressive sights like the town’s Parish Church.
Again, being in the north means it’s removed from Valletta and the big sights of Malta. It does however allow visitors the chance to explore the rest of the north, from Popeye’s Village to Fort Campbell. There’s also the beach just down the hill, apparently one of Malta’s most popular. For those staying in Mellieha, you’ll find plenty of dining options along the town’s main road.
Summary – A central town that has avoided too much modern development, and offers itself as a base to explore the north of Malta.
If you’ve been before, what would be your recommendation for where to stay in Malta? If not, which of these areas seems to suit you best? Lastly, if I put together an infographic for this, would you find it useful? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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