Valletta Or Gozo? This is a choice between the big city that sits on the main island of Malta and the smaller fragment of land that resides off its north-western haunch. They are quite different places: One a bustling capital topped by grand history sites that date back to the Middle Ages, the other a rugged land of wave-lashed bays and rustic farming hamlets. But where’s best for you?
This guide will pull apart all the details of both destinations. It will reveal the secret walking paths and peaceful country hikes there are on Gozo, but also take a look at the urban buzz and nightlife you can enjoy in Valletta. It will showcase the jaw-dropping beaches that cut the coast of one and the more idyllic bays backed by bars and restaurants that adorn the latter.
Of course, the best way to decide this issue is to give yourself enough time in Malta to see both places. They aren’t hard to tie together in the very same trip. Regular car and passenger ferries connect to Gozo from Ċirkewwa on the Malta north shore throughout the winter and the summer, while the docks take just 45 minutes to reach from Valletta itself. Anyhow, just in case that’s not an option…
Valletta or Gozo for ease of travel?
Valletta is the easiest place to get to in this comparison. It’s the capital of the country, so well linked by road to pretty much everywhere else on the island. However, the main point is that it’s better connected to the only international airport in the country: The Malta International Airport. That gets flights from all across Europe, including on short-haul budget carriers from the UK, Germany, Poland, Italy – the list goes on. It’s a 20-minute transfer from the terminals to the town center in normal traffic.
Gozo is a touch harder to get to because you still have to jet into the Malta International Airport but are then faced with a longer overland and sea journey to get to the smaller island in the archipelago. That usually involves a bus or taxi transfer to Ċirkewwa and then the onward boat connection to Gozo, which leaves every 45 minutes in the peak season and costs just shy of $6 a pop. Jet setters could plump for a helicopter transfer, though, as there’s a single helipad over on Gozo.
Valletta or Gozo for things to do?
Valletta is really all about the culture, the history, and – if you’ve still got the energy after a day’s sightseeing – the nightlife. The sights really are quite formidable, including legendary cathedrals and old barracks used by the Knights of St John. To squeeze the most out of your jaunt here, we’d always recommend joining one of the daily free walking tours in Valletta that take place in the summer, or even going for a paid guide to the Co-Cathedral and the old town area. Later, hit St Julian’s to have a swim in the Med and to party.
Then there’s Gozo. Being a whole island and not just a city, the list of potential activities inevitably swells a lot here. Sightseeing abounds in the village of Xewkija and the main town of Victoria, but there’s also hiking paths along the salt-sprayed coast and through inland valleys, and a series of fantastic beaches and coves to explore, from the strange Inland Sea to golden Ramla l-Hamra. And that’s not even mentioning the horse riding, the scuba diving, the boat charters – where to end?
Valletta or Gozo for history and culture?
Valletta has been hailed as the most historically rich capital in Europe. Yep, move over Rome. This town is a whole citadel that dates back more than 500 years. Landmarks lurk around virtually every corner. Make sure to see the highlights: The grand Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens (once a gun battery now a lush park topped by palms), St. John’s Co-Cathedral (a breathtaking church that hosts a priceless Caravaggio painting), and the Fort St Elmo (the mighty citadel, now a museum). That’s only a taster, too.
For Gozo’s part, the history is more niche and nuanced. It’s not as in your face but does exist in reams. Chief among the sites are the incredible Megalithic Temples of Malta, which are said to predate even the Egyptian pyramids, with a history that goes back some 6,000 years! The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu (a mouthful, we know) is a revered religious site thought to have been the location of miracles. Then there’s the citadel of old Victoria, swirled by ancient streets and plazas.
Winner: Valletta, but there’s not much in this one!
Valletta or Gozo for beaches?
There’s not too much space for shimmering sands under the high walls of old Valletta. The city plunges into the deep Grand Harbour on one side and the equally deep Marsamxett Harbour on the other. There are some places to dive into the Med, though you do have to escape Valletta’s downtown for the nearby areas of Sliema and St Julian’s – the first has the rock reef lagoon of Fond Għadir Beach, while the latter has lovely Spinola Bay.
The offering is way better for beach lovers on Gozo, though, mainly because there’s a whole island’s worth of coastline to get through. One of the great joys here is cruising the shoreline or hiking the coast paths to see what cove comes next, so at the risk of spoilers we’ll say that the highlights of the island are Ramla l-Hamra, with its rust-ochre sands and lapping waves, and Dwejra Bay, also known as the Inland Sea thanks to its walls of cliffs that cut it off from the open Mediterranean.
Valletta or Gozo for hotels?
There’s quite a big difference in the sort of hotels you encounter in Valletta and Gozo. That’s because one’s a city and the other is a whole island.
Between the streets of the capital are countless options, ranging from budget backpacker dorms to boutique aparthotels with their own self-catering kitchens. If you expand your hotel search to include Sliema and St Julian’s, which are technically separate but also often considered an extension of Valletta, you can add five-star resorts and stylish condos by the Med into the mix. Here are a few of the top choices:
- Grand Hotel Excelsior ($$$) – Views of Marsamxett Harbour and a location below the gates of Valletta’s famous medieval fort makes this a luxury hotel to consider.
- Vallettastay Lovely House Private Rooms ($-$$) – A budget option that prizes location in the middle of the old city.
- The Embassy Valletta Hotel ($$-$$$) – A classy hotel with a rooftop pool you’ll write home about.
Gozo is more about escaping the crowds and dodging the big hotel resorts. That means there’s a charming side to the hotel options that sit between the farm fields and the woodlands of the old island. They often channel a rusticity and time-stood-still character, have more space, and quieter settings than you get in and around the capital. Check it out:
- Sweet Life Gozo ($$) – On-site bike rental, suites with balconies and lovely views, and a private pool all add up to make this one of the island’s best stays.
- Gozo Ferrieha B&B ($$) – Everyone from couples to families is bound to love the peacefulness of this historic B&B.
- Kikka Holiday Home ($$-$$$) – A good family option that gives you a private pad to call your own on Gozo. There’s also a BBQ area and a swimming pool.
Valletta or Gozo for nightlife?
Gozo makes its reputation on being much more laid back and relaxed than the larger island in the Maltese archipelago. As such, it’s got a far more chilled nightlife scene than you get in the capital. The main place to grab a drink and have some fun is in the ancient town of Victoria (also known as Rabat). But don’t expect thumping EDM clubs. It’s more about slow-going cocktail venues that spill onto the weathered stone piazzas.
Not so in Valletta. The big city has some pretty lively evening spots wedged between the old castle walls of the Order of Saint John – we wonder what the Christian knights would make of that? They are often people-packed places that emerge into the tight-knit alleyways, like Kamy Cocktail Bar or the Carmen Bar. For real 18-30s Euro nightlife, though, you have to head to the area of Paceville and St Julian’s to the north of Valletta proper. It’s about 20 minutes away but has its own strip, Irish pubs, karaoke dives – you name it!
Valletta or Gozo for nature and exploration?
The title here goes to Gozo. No question about it. The small islet packs one hefty punch when it comes to nature. It’s much less built up than the main island of Malta, especially when compared to the area around Valletta. You can do hikes through the lush green meadows and olive groves of the Nadur Valley. You can navigate the dusty paths of the Gebel Ben Gorg Cliffs headland to see rugged rock formations. There’s award-winning scuba diving on offer in Dwejra Bay and beyond, along with sea kayaking and coasteering when the water’s calmer in the summer.
Valletta’s not really one for the Bear Grylls sort of traveler. It’s more of a city-break destination. The closest thing you’ll come to a hike here is the walk along the coastal Barakka Gardens and the promenade up to Sliema. That said, it is possible to do day trips out from Valletta that offer a taste of the wilder side of Malta. They’ll take you to the surf-ready beaches of Gnejna or down to the carved Blue Grotto caves on the south side of the island.
Valletta vs Gozo – our verdict
As you can see, it’s pretty evenly matched when it comes to weighing up Valletta and Gozo – hardly surprising, given that they are both two of Malta’s great draws. However, it’s also clear to see that they are very different destinations.
Valletta is the big capital of the country. It’s famed as one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe and showcases the cream of the country’s art and culture. Gozo is a wild island all on its own. Go there if you’re more about hiking trails that high renaissance art, more about sandy beaches than bumping summer bars.