DISCLAIMER: This article was originally written for a major publication, after a friend recommended me for the prompt. Alas, the publication didn't like it. While the piece is a bit more "sales-y" than I like, it's still a great guide to visiting Malta with an all-ages family. As always, comment with your ideas below!
Few countries boast so delightful a mix of historical fascinations, modern adventures, and nearly-perfect weather as Malta. The cosmopolitan landscape offers delightful activities for every member of the family-- even those discerning young adults! Here’s why families with older children love visiting Malta...
While Malta was voted the second-best place for expats to live, expats and locals alike enjoy spending as much time next to the sea as possible! During summertime establishments like MedAsia and KuYa Asian Pub open beach lounges. For as little as €10 daily families can rent deck chairs, take dips in the pool and/or private beaches, and nibble globally-influenced food concoctions.
All are Welcome
It is common to see gay couples walking hand-in-hand in Malta. Malta is ranked #1 on the Europe Rainbow Index as an LGBT-friendly place. One website, Gay Guide Malta, details LGBTQ-friendly attractions. Certain bars and clubs, like Monaliza Lounge in Valletta and Michelangelo Club in Paceville cater specifically to gay clientele.
Certain classic Maltese food items are ubiquitous: pea Pastizzi; wood-fired pizza with olives, gbenja cheese; crisp Cisk beer. For more flavour, try Malta’s innovative dinning options. There are hip restaurants like PastaHaus, where home-made pasta is derived from unique ingredients. Legliglin offers a multi-course meal of traditional Maltese small plates with impeccable flavour from inside a quaint cellar. Even freaky Maltese foods, like rabbit and horsemeat, are exciting and accessible at fashionable restaurants like United Bar & Restaurant in Mgarr.
Focus on Fitness
Perhaps because people spend so much time in swimsuits, Malta is packed with gyms and fitness groups. Young people frequent trendy gyms like Fort Fitness. Yoga is a big industry; from Bikram-style HotYogaMalta to outdoor sessions with freelance instructors, there’s many classes choose from. Take an outdoor group fitness class to get a new perspective on Malta’s beach scene. Most classes and gyms offer affordable single class and day rates.
There are many creative ways for family to travel in and around the Maltese archipelago. Guided tours by segway, jeeps, boats, and on-foot are easy to find. Self-guided alternative transportation, like moped and mountain bike rentals, are also available. Traditional Maltese ferries run between Valletta and the Three Cities. You adults feeling particularly adventurous might try a StandUp Paddle Board for their island tour!
The European Environment Agency recognises Malta as having some of the best bathing water in Europe. Visitors are encouraged to take a deeper dive into Malta’s fascinating underwater sights: sunken WWII ships and freighters are just meters off-shore. While younger swimmers hone their snorkeling techniques, young adults might consider earning PADI training course with local scuba schools like DiveShack.
Educational OpportunitiesEven teens will appreciate the fascinating lessons in Malta’s recent history. Well-preserved citadels in Mdina and on the Maltese island, Gozo, offer history-rich tours. The architecture alone at the Esplora Science Centre is an intriguing blend of historical Maltese elements and contemporary design. Climbing into the Lascaris War Rooms is like walking back in time, complete with archival footage of Malta under siege.
Just DanceAt the end of the day, Malta is a great place for all-ages to party. In Paceville music-filled bars and eateries open until the wee morning hours. For a relaxed night, seek out reggae-inspired music venues like Funky Monkey in Gzira and Zion in Marsaskala. Or, dress-to-impress at high-rise Suite 22 and high-energy events by The Electronic Factory. But if a casual family night out is on the agenda, enjoy a drink and live music at one of the restaurants on the St. Julian’s/ Sliema promenade.
Overview: Recognized by Maltese people as one of the most legitimately Italian places on the island, Scoglitti is one of the rare restaurants as packed in winter months as summer. That’s because Maltese people visit here to celebrate in a place where they will receive the type of fine dining experience normally reserved for tourists. Scoglitti was full of Maltese people when my friend and I blundered in late one weeknight, two lost, starved, and buzzed foreigners.
Atmosphere: Tables sit under a wide roof lined with glass frosted by light blue inscriptions. Bright lights shine under heaters and then bounce off metal and glass chairs, tables, and ice buckets. Even in the middle of Maltese “winter” (if it can be called “winter”) the restaurant feels sunny. The Maltese emit a special series of noises when they’re together, consonants intermingled with rolling chuckles. I felt like a happy seal laying on a beach, being fed fish.
Service: I’m not sure what was more delightful: the suave service I received from maybe five different people throughout my evening or the stellar food. Socglitti’s service matches the food perfectly. Smart, efficient, and demurely superb. NOTE: Much of the staff only speaks Italian, so you may need to request an English speaking staff or use charades (which is perfectly acceptable).
Prices: Despite the story below, Scoglitti’s prices are shockingly affordable! Like all Maltese establishments the food comes in huge portions. A couple can easily split a starter, a main, and a bottle of wine and walk out only €20 shorter. Considering how much fun eating at Scoglitti is, it’s great value for money.
Location and Contact: Access Scoglitti by walking down the long ramp toward Sliema/ Valletta ferry port and the Sliema. It’s located directly on the Sliema port’s Valletta entrance. Use the online reservation system to find details and book.
The Story: One blustery weeknight, my friend and I decided to meet in Valletta for drinks at Café Society. A very fast two hours later, we giggled gingerly back into the uneven streets of Valletta in search of sustenance. We were carrying backpacks, wearing jeans, and smiling in the foolish way slightly buzzed people do. What was supposed to be a quick jaunt to a mid-range restaurant for which I had a coupon turned into a 30-minute dilly-dally to an empty, checker-tabled dive that told us, “the kitchen closed at 7PM.” Which is ridiculous considering most kitchens OPEN at 7PM in Malta.
Wondering which one of us might cannibalize the other first, the blue Scoglitti sign beckoned us like the North Star calls a shepherd. “It’s probably too expensive,” I muttered. “Let’s treat ourselves!” she said. “Good idea!” the beer taking over my nervous system replied.
I wonder about the scene my friend and I must have made throughout the course of our dinner. Windswept, we started by “ooing” and “aaaing” over the fish lining the front entry. Then we stared at the other customers with our mouths open, realizing how terribly underdressed we were. The compassionate hostess approached us, smiling, as if we were wearing the same glitter and heels of other guests. If there’s one thing I appreciate about Scoglitti, it’s the fact that every one of our servers treated us like a deserved guest, ignoring completely the fact that we ordered the cheapest wine, devoured the free bread, split two appetizers (also the cheapest) and an entrée, and then struggled to pay the check with a denied credit card. As the meal progressed my friend and I grew more animated. We drove through our appetizers like a bulldozer, savouring every bite the way a lion savors a gazelle (not slowly, but with appreciation). I was completely awed by the flavors, the efficiency, the service, thanking the waitstaff as only an American will—repetitively. My brilliant friend spoke fluent Italian, so the staff had every right to ignore my incomprehensible purring. But the staff started giggling right along with us, seeming to enjoy my amazed satisfaction as much as I did. As the wine disappeared I started asking staff to pull up a seat and have a drink with me. I don’t know why Italian made me act like a drunk British bloke. Apparently, swordfish and white wine make me ballsy.
Walking out of Scoglitti around 10:30PM in our interpretation of a straight line, my friend and I marvelled about our luck. I promised to pay her the €15 I owed her (plus tip), since my credit card had been denied at the table. Embarrassing, yes. And still, as I ignored nausea and men on my bus ride home, I couldn’t help but chuckling about how very “Pretty Woman” the whole evening was…
Rejoice: If you follow this post exactly, you’ll have made one of the most burdensome aspects of moving to abroad more delightful. Here I recommend a route to purchasing a mobile phone and plan in Malta. And since it just so happens that my recommended purchase location is right next to a well-priced, popular beauty salon, you’ll have ample opportunity to treat yourself to a pampering celebration.
Beware: There’s a few pre-requisites to this post.
1) I do not herein explain how to get a new mobile phone. I explain how to purchase a used mobile phone. Why? Personally, I’m not interested enough in mobile technology, nor am I dexterous enough to brave the purchase of a fancy new gadget. Furthermore, modern techies drop their “outdated,” barely-used gadgets to used shops, allowing the rest of us to purchase their excellent gear at half the price while they chase the next iPhone. I haven’t bought a brand-new mobile phone in a decade, and I won’t start simply because I moved to Malta.
2) I recommend getting a pay-as-you-go plan with Melita. Why? I really loathe contracts, especially when I move home so frequently. And I really loathe trying to sift through all those GREAT PLANS and SIGNING DEALS and BUY NOW, PAY LATER in small print. I like Melita because it’s Maltese, it has free WiFi across the island, and it’s most helpful customer service employee works right next to the used mobile phone shop which is right next to the pedicure salon. Done.
3) In case you didn’t notice, I’m all about local and budget. Want to buy a shiny new phone and a loaded contract and wear plush white flip flops while sipping cucumber water and having your toes poked? Then you might be reading the wrong beauty blog. I recommend you get in touch with this sophisticated and sweet blogger, Elaine at Some of my Favorite Things instead.
Step 1: Get your Gadget
Mobile-Malta is a used mobile repair and sales shop in Park Tower Supermarket. It’s the newest offshoot of my favorite used laptop repair and sales shop, Laptop-Malta in Balluta Bay. Mobile-Malta is located at the top left of the northern escalators of Park Tower Supermarket. It’s the shopping mall between the St. Julian’s LOVE sign and Ballutta Bay. When you arrive, ask the nice Hungarian fellow for a mobile phone in your price range that meets your requirements. Be sure to explain that you want Melita as your provider—you’ll need to purchase an unlocked phone or a phone locked to Melita. Even if Mobile-Malta hasn’t got what you need then, they’ll likely be able to source it for you. Don’t worry about a warranty: these guys will continue to assist you with your phone or laptop long after the purchase was made. I frequently visit them for things like getting my SIM card stuck in my phone; dropping my laptop after falling asleep with it on my lap in bed; and other dumb accidents. If you need a small fix (like the SIM card), Mobile- and Laptop-Malta won’t ask for a cent.
Step 2: Get your Plan
I highly recommend purchasing Melita’s Pay-As-You Go plan, then getting an optional add-on for 600MB of data for 30 days. It works like this: Every month (or so) I purchase a €10 top-up card. After topping up, I text Melita at a certain number to request a data add-on (your Melita representative can provide you a paper with the add-on phone numbers). The add-on is €4.50 and lasts 30 days. Then, all Melita customers are able to register one of their gadgets for Melita’s free WiFi anywhere on the islands. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the WiFi’s reach, but you’ll have to be still in order to connect (no walking and Instagramming). With my combined data allowance and use of Melita’s WiFi, I use alternative programs like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook to get in-touch via voice calls. Normal telephone calls come in for free. There’s a small fee to receive/ send text messages. My total monthly cost is around €10. I rarely use more than my 600MB, even when stream music for my fitness classes. It’s the best plan I’ve ever used, and it’s not even a plan.
Step 3: Celebrate with a Pedicure (even if you’re a boy, because Italian men do it all the time here)
Well, that was easy! If all goes well, you’ll have a functioning new phone within an hour. If you’re someone who moves regularly, you’ve probably allocated way more time for this normally painful process. Great! Take the opportunity to walk directly across the hallway from Mobile-Malta to Skye Chinese Massage & Beauty Salon. This salon was recommended to me by a Maltese lady because it’s one of the few massage parlors that doesn’t offer a “happy ending.” Lo and behold, a large sign on the door says “DO NOT ASK FOR A HAPPY ENDING, WE NEVER DO A HAPPY ENDING.” Maybe that’s why this salon is always busy. With at least three staff members working, these ladies know how to get people trimmed and toned. Their deluxe pedicure costs €23, which involves soaks and scrubs and polish. They’ll even take that cheese-shaver thing to remove callouses until your feet look like a newborn’s. The best part of the salon is its seaside view. Ask for a seat by the window to watch yachts, sailboats, and scantily-clad tourists meander by. The ladies are happy for you to sit awhile until your nails dry. Do so while marvelling at how lucky you are to have a new mobile phone, a new mobile phone plan, a new set of shiny toenails, and to call this turquoise vacationland “home.”
Like most neighborhoods in Europe’s Catholic countries, San Gwann is arranged with its church at the center. On Sundays the mostly Maltese population of San Gwann flocks to the Church and then dissipates to various family-centered activities. A most popular pre-and post-Church stop-off is Café Pinto, located just to the left of San Gwann Parish Church. It’s crowned by a red awning. Here’s your guide to a very Maltese Sunday in San Gwann.
Part 1: Churching
Mass is held at San Gwann Parish, locally named Madonna ta’ Lourdes, multiple times on Sunday morning, beginning at 7AM and ending in the early afternoon (or, if you’re super hungover, there’s a 6PM service, too). Attend an earlier service and you’ll see mostly older generations and singles; as the morning progresses you’ll witness more families. Get there at least 15 minutes early to secure a spot near the action up at front. The church’s thick white columns are pretty, but unless you speak Maltese you’ll become fairly bored by looking at those columns and listening to the gobbly-gook that is Maltese to the undiscerning ear. If you forgot your nun’s habit, don’t fret: most people are dressed “conservative casual.”
If you’ve never been to Mass before, simple follow along with the standing/ kneeling/ bowing/ praying procedures. It’s kind of like an aerobics class! Mass is 100% Maltese. I know my way around a Mass and could have recited the prayers out loud in English. But I didn’t feel comfortable enunciating a foreign language within the sea of mumbled Maltese, so I kept my head bowed and fingers clasped. Unlike the very organized Catholic masses I’ve attended in the States, whereby you are cordially asked to leave your pew by an usher in a quiet, humble procession at the appropriate time, the Maltese jumped from their seats in a free-for-all communion bid. If you’ve completed Catholic Confirmation, then you’re free to enjoy a piece of the Body of Christ at the front with the rest of the congregation. If you’re not Catholic but curious, respectful, and in need of a blessing, walk to the front with your arms crossed over your chest. Bow your head in front of the priest and he will thumb a small cross onto your forehead. While whine flows freely in the Bible, in Malta t seems that the only person who gets a sip of Jesus wine at church is the priest. The rest of us can only imagine…
Been bad? Confession is open between the 7AM and 8:30AM services. I suggest going to confession early. The confessional sits at the very front of the church pews, near the altar. I wonder if maybe this is another way to discourage one from leading a shameful life?
Part 2: Café Pinto
After you’ve worked up an appetite with all the kneeling and standing and bowing and walking to communion, move your way to Café Pinto next door. With tables outside and inside, you’ll likely find a place to sit, although I recommend not lolly-gagging after mass just in case. At Café Pinto you’ll most likely find the following patrons: men sitting in one’s and two’s, smoking cigarettes on the spindly tables outside; an elderly couple reading the Sunday [Malta] Times; someone British, looking at the ground; and a family of five or more, crammed onto tables hastily aligned. Servers will likely be a young girl, slightly flustered; a dark-haired woman who coos and caws like a loving crow; and the chef, watching TV when not taking orders from behind the counter. He’s cooked most of the hot and cold savoury items you see lining the display, like traditional pastizzi and croissants. By far the most popular items are on the menu are thin grilled sandwiches served with a single leaf of lettuce and one-half a cherry tomato. If you’re okay with waiting, order the vegan “mixed veggie” baguette. In about 10-15 minutes you’ll receive a fresh, slightly herbed, just-grilled vegetable delight. Drizzled with a little balsamic dressing and washed down with a cappuccino, it’s practically perfect.
Sit and be Maltese. Read the Times, stare out of the window, contemplate picking up a smoking habit, listen to the rising-and-falling, l-m-n-o packed Maltese chatter. Mella! Mella! [flip of the hand, chuckle, cluck]. Watch fruit sellers man trucks lined with green plastic bins; see a small sandy-haired woman carrying a bouquet larger than her head. In case you didn’t get enough God earlier, live Mass plays on the local TVM channel from a silent TV in the corner. Order a dessert of one of the home-made cookie or bread things (kwarezimal is my favorite) and sink into the scene like a clam in the sand.
Part 3: Lackadaisical Shopping
Café Pinto is not expensive, so burn that hole in your pocket by enjoying some lazy shopping on your way back toward St. Julian’s. Since most of the shops are actually closed Sunday, you won’t have that much opportunity to over-spend. What will be open is the hodge-podge thrift shop just a few doors down from the Church. In need of a bright pink nutcracker? What about vintage comic books? A mug? A picture of Elvis Presley? Then this is the store for you! If you’ve still got money after purchasing those treasures, explore the little grocery stores along Birkirara road. While they look nearly identical on the outside, each one of these grocery shops opens into its own unique world. Some double as bakeries; some specialize in cheeses; some sell organic products. Most are tied to the fruit sellers in stalls and trucks outside, gayly free of competition from San Gwann’s Lidl (closed on Sunday). Paws for a Cause charity shop is also open later in the morning, located down the street to your left just after the Bank of Valletta. As you walk back toward St. Julian’s, take a moment to pause outside Titu’s Place on the right. I’m not exactly sure what this shop is—a café? betting shop? “timeout” for naughty husbands? It’s always packed with men and never seems to be closed. The men are either speaking loudly at one another or sipping coffee and mumbling like they’re planning a dangerous heist. If you can figure out what Titu’s Place is, do comment below!
Emily Stewart is an insatiably curious merrymaker and busy-body.
Everything on this website is Copyright © 2017 by Emily E. Stewart, Sole Trader. All rights reserved.
Special thanks to Paul K. Porter, who's pictures appear most frequently on the site, for being the best yoga retreat photographer EVER.