Malta on a Budget

I’ll be honest from the start; I’m no fan of beach holidays. The idea of roasting away on a beach heaving with sunburnt tourists, plastic loungers and blow-up beach-balls just doesn’t float my boat. I’d much rather be strapping on my hiking boots and getting lost in the wilderness, or exploring the winding, cobbled backstreets of a city, immersed in its history and culture. And this is why, on my recent trip to Malta, I gave the stretches of coastline taken over by villa complexes and package-holiday resorts a miss, and headed for Malta’s capital: Valletta. Here, history stands on every street corner; culture, in every nook and cranny. Indeed, the sun-kissed streets of this fortress city, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, boast architectural delights, massive fortifications, and over three hundred monuments. Having been ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Greeks, and the Order of the Knights of St John, this city is obviously a must for all history buffs and culture enthusiasts. But what can it offer the budget travellers amongst us?

Malta on a Budget

As a habitual penny-pincher myself, I was worried that Valletta would prove too pricey for my meagre budget. As a capital city, I’d expected prices on par with Rome, Paris and London, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. Like any travel destination, a trip to Valletta certainly won’t break the bank if you’re a careful shopper and know how to sniff out a good deal. The website http://, for example, can give some very useful tips on travel in Malta, and a quick search online gives a wide range of cheap, but decent, accommodation.

Wanting to be at the heart of things, I opted for the Palazzo Sant Ursula, a guesthouse converted from a beautiful 17th century building, just a stone’s throw away from Valletta’s Grand Harbour. For a mere €12 a night I got a private double room, a shared self-catering kitchenette, and breakfast included – which I ate whilst sitting in the roof garden, enjoying the views of the winding city streets below. Quite a bargain, if I do say so myself.

Malta on a Budget

Dining in Malta can be another surprisingly cheap affair, but with the plethora of pizzerias, snack bars and English-themed pubs, it can sometimes be a little difficult to find a place that serves traditional Maltese dishes. Difficult, but certainly not impossible. If you’re eager to sample some local cuisine, as I was, then ‘Papinnos Wine and Dine’ is undoubtedly the best restaurant in the city: the aljotta, a traditional fish soup with tomatoes, marjoram and rice, is delicious, especially served with a chunk of hobz, crusty Maltese bread. However, for the most authentically local food in Valletta – not to mention the cheapest – you really have to hit the street stalls. The city is teeming with hundreds of pastizzeriji, small stalls selling diamond-shaped puff-pastries, filled with either mashed peas or ricotta cheese, and for dessert, I’d recommend opting for a maqrut; deep-fried, orange flower-scented pastries, stuffed with dates. I bought about a dozen of these from the local vendor at City Gate and – I’ll admit – they were so delicious that I ate most of them myself.

But I didn’t just go to Valletta to eat and sleep; I went to witness the city’s impressive history and soak in its timeless beauty. And that is exactly what I did. Occupying the whole tip of the city’s promontory, surrounded by sea on three sides, is Fort St Elmo. It was built in 1552, and entry to this massive structure is free with only a minimal charge for a guided tour, and within the same complex is the National War Museum, which charges €6 and takes us through the military history of Malta from 1800 to WWII. Unfortunately, the fort is only open at weekends, but if you’re lucky enough to be in Valletta on a Saturday or Sunday, I found that it’s well worth a visit.

Malta on a Budget

With my thirst for history quenched, I sought out an escape from the hustle and bustle of Valletta’s vibrant streets, and found my haven in the Upper Barrakka Gardens. This beautiful piece of land offers unsurpassed views across the Grand Harbour, pretty lawns perfect for picnicking, and paths lined with statues and plaques dedicated to famous figures from Maltese history. And the entry-fee? Absolutely nothing. However, the most rewarding – and free! – activity in Valletta is to simply lose yourself in the backstreets of this charming city. Around every corner is a hidden jewel; some pocket of history or some architectural masterpiece. And as I found myself walking along the city’s ramparts, their rocks strewn with wildflowers, with the turquoise waves of the Mediterranean crashing below, I realised that a tight budget doesn’t have to hinder a holiday. It costs next to nothing to experience the true flavours of a city; to taste its colourful history, its vibrant culture and its sun-blessed beauty.

Author Bio: Ceri Houlbrook is from Manchester, England – no, she doesn’t support United – and her passions include reading, writing, hiking and travelling the globe in search of some adventure!


  1. Great article on Malta. Didn’t expect it to be cheap either, would definitely try one day. For some reason I think I can relate to the beach thing. Apart coming from a tropical country, I used to live in Penang for a very long time, so the sea and beach was part of the things I see everyday. Living in London now, most of my European counterparts really enjoy lazing around the beach. I think the London cloud is too much for anyone.

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