To help you to find a location that works for you, here’s a guide to the regions of Malta; this isn’t an exhaustive list – part of the fun is exploring the island to figure out which area will work for you.
Mellieha is the main hub of the north. It’s a lovely place, bookended by the old town at the top of a long hill and Ghadira beach at the bottom. The newer Santa Maria Estate spreads out to the east and is mainly dominated by large bungalows and villas. Mellieha gets busy in the summer but the ambiance is usually more Gozitan than Maltese. There’s a gorgeous stretch of countryside through Selmun and Mistra, before the village of Xemxija, which is up and coming; it has Is-Simar Nature Reserve at its heart, a fantastic heritage trail and some nice bars and restaurants. Follow the water round to St. Paul’s Bay, which has improved since the by-pass road removed a lot of the traffic and has a nice waterfront. On the west coast here, Manikata is a popular village near two great beaches, Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay. Quality of life is high in these locations, as they are close to the sea and have lots of recreational opportunities, but you’ll need to factor in any commuting. Qawra and Bugibba have become a multicultural mecca, partially due to rental opportunities with lower fees, bustling with tourists and locals, visiting the many eateries, bars, cafes and kiosks that cover the seaside area. They do get busy during the summer months and if you own a car, parking is a nightmare unless you have your own reserved parking spot. The northern area is choosen often by expat relocating to Malta for retirement.
Mosta, Naxxar, Rabat and Attard are in a broad band between the North of Malta and the busiest urban centre. They are all pleasant, local places to live, with a good mix of traditional town houses, residential developments, shops and restaurants. If you like houses of character, these are good places to look. The villages of Mgarr and Lija are quieter options in the same area. Birkirkara and Qormi are less picturesque but offer better value for money. Housing is cheaper in this zone than they are in the Harbour Area, but generally, most work opportunities will be located elsewhere – traffic to the Harbour Area and Valletta can be heavy; these towns are also further away from the sea.
The Harbour Area
Much of the commercial and business action in Malta happens in the Harbour Area, which incorporates Sliema, St. Julian’s and the slightly cheaper (and grittier) Gzira, Msida and Ta’ Xbiex. As a consequence, many expats end up renting or buying here (particularly Sliema and St. Julian’s), with foreigners also choosing to live in nearby Swieqi and Pembroke. Sliema is a business hub where much of Malta’s shopping and dining happens and a lot of businesses set up, along with the plush Tigné Point shopping mall (there are some apartments with great views there if you’re feeling flush with cash). St. Julian’s has good eateries and bars, while Paceville is the place to go for clubbing. Nearby Portomaso is a residential waterfront development with a prominent business tower and expensive apartments to match. Although these areas are busy, the proximity to the sea, spectacular views of Valletta and a hub of businesses mean that the Harbour Area is a sought after place to live. There is a promenade that runs from Gzira all the way to Sliema and starts again in St. Julian’s. It’s good that so much of the area is accessible on foot because parking can be a bit of a nightmare.
The capital city is five minutes from the Harbour Area by ferry but considerably longer (40 minutes on a bad day) by car. For years, Valletta languished in a rather run-down state, but the impressive City Gate redevelopment has energised “Il-Belt” as it is known, and created an entrance fit for this spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site. Valletta is the European Capital of Culture 2018. The city is still surrounded by imposing walls built by the Knights of St John and much of the interior is off limits to cars. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars and there are some magnificent properties. For decades, the city has not been a particularly popular place to live however we have seen a great shift in this with prices of property soaring and entertainment places mushrooming across the City. Multitude of boutiques hotels have also set up in recent years. The surrounding areas of Floriana or Pietà offer much cheaper accommodation options, however these places were mainly re-built following WWII and therefore lack the magnificent architecture offered by Valletta and the Three Cities.
The Three Cities
Vittoriosa (Il-Birgu), Senglea (Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla) tend to be overlooked but they have lots of character, with winding streets and great views of Valletta, within relatively easy access of the action in the Harbour Area (Sliema) but also just a ferry ride from the Grand Harbour in Valletta. The Knights of St. John lived here when they first arrived, so there are plenty of historical properties, military fortifications, palaces and churches. There’s been some imaginative regeneration work done in the harbour area of the Three Cities, making it a place to stroll or grab a drink. This area is increasingly seeing people coming from all areas of the island for the great restaurants and picturesque views. This has also led to a spike in rental opportunities.
Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk and Birzebbuga are the three main locations in the south of Malta, with surrounding towns also popular being Zabbar, Zejtun, Fgura and Paola. If you have to work anywhere central, they have the same drawback as the north – long commuting times. Towns and villages down south have great charm if you aren’t in a rush to get anywhere and would enjoy life in an authentic fishing community. There’s something of a north-south divide in Malta, a throwback to when the blue-collar dockyard workers and farmers tended to live there, while the elites lived in the North, but in reality, wealth and culture are pretty evenly distributed now, although ‘traditional’ values might be stronger in some of the southern areas.
Free yourself from the traffic by catching the ferry to Valletta and enjoy stunning views into the bargain. Find the ferry schedule here. An adult single ticket costs €1.50 and a weekly pass is €10. There are also 3, 6 and 12 month passes.
The ferry leaves from the Sliema Strand (opposite the main café / shops zone). It goes to the Marsamxett terminal in Valletta.
There’s another ferry that leaves from Cospicua in The Three Cities to the Lascaris ferry landing in Valletta.