Malta is a bit like an onion. Most tourists only experience the outer layer or two, sticking to touristic areas like Sliema and Bugibba, perhaps venturing to a couple of popular sites here and there. Dare to go deeper and you will find an endless series of layers where you can be exposed to more and more of the unique character of this land and its people.
So, would you like to discover the island from a different point of view while studying English in Malta?
The following are a few ideas that will help you live an authentic Malta experience away from the routes followed by day-trippers.
Pastizzi and Tea from Crystal Palace
Try Maltese pastizzi; cheap, flaky pastry pockets filled with either ricotta or peas in their original (and best) format from this 100-year-old establishment in Rabat. Usually full of old men enjoying pastizzi, tea and whatever is on television, Crystal Palace is a true slice of Maltese culture. Enjoy your pastizzi and glass of tea (yes the strong black tea is poured into thick glasses, no fancy cups here) on the bench right outside the simple shop or roam further and take your pastizzi and tea across the road.
Walk towards the left of the gardens opposite and sit on one of the benches enjoying your treat with views of Mtarfa to one side and the Mdina bastions to the other. Triq San Pawl, Rabat. Within walking distance of Mdina’s main gate.
Birgu Flea Market
Delve into Malta’s cultural history and grab a few bargains in the process, probably ones you weren’t expecting to walk away with. The Flea Market in Birgu (Vittoriosa) is one of the few markets in Malta where you can experience an unusual combination of weird artefacts, authentic antiques (some falling to pieces, others beautifully restored and cared for), second hand furniture and clothes, tools old and new, plants, books and sometimes in-season fruit and vegetables. The market attracts a mixed crowd made up mostly of locals out for a bargain.
- TIP: Be there at crack of dawn for the best selection or towards the end (round 13:00 hrs) for the lowest prices as stallholders try to get rid of the last items before they pack up. Always remember to haggle for the best price.
The market sets up in a football pitch up from Couvre Port in Birgu (Vittoriosa). Bus stop: Fortini
Staples of Maltese life and the exact food which the Maltese crave when they have been away from the Islands for a while, Cisk, Twistees and Kinnie are absolute must-tries while in Malta. Cisk is a lager beer, Twistees a cheesy snack and Kinnie a fizzy drink made out of bitter oranges. You should definitely pack these in your beach picnic cooler.
Swimming and beach life are crucial parts of Maltese summers, with long days by the sea being regular weekend activities. The sea in Malta is both warm and crystal clear particularly in the north and north-west parts of Malta and most of Gozo and Comino.
For an authentic Maltese experience, pack a picnic cooler with copious amounts of Ħobż Biż-Żejt, bottles of Kinnie and Cisk (see below for more information) along with a beach umbrella and straw mats. The local tourist board has a handy list of most of the swimming spots on the Islands:
Sliema and Valletta in Malta and Victoria in Gozo are the Islands’ main shopping areas, providing a good selection of high street brands popular in most European cities. Aside from these two thoroughfares, smaller shopping centres exist in Fgura in the south of Malta and Mosta, Birkirkara and Hamrun, further towards the island’s centre.
These areas provide for good bargains but high fashion might not be their strong point. Aside from permanent shops, Malta has an active group of market hawkers who set up weekly in different villages. These open-air markets can be fun to browse and practically always yield an unexpected find. The local tourist board website includes a handy guide of shopping areas, complexes and open-air markets: http://www.visitmalta.com/en/shopping.
Shops in Malta are usually open from 09:00hrs to 19:00hrs, sometimes with a siesta break between 13:00 hrs and 16:00 hrs for small independent shops. Open air markets usually run from around 07:00 hrs to 13:00 hrs.
Would you like some more ideas about how best to live in Malta as a local? Check out the chapter “The Real Maltese Experience” in our Malta Travel Guide. Download it now for FREE!