When moving to Malta, probably one of the very first questions every person will ask is – where?
Even though Malta is an incredibly small country, there are still a myriad of towns and villages to choose from, and some tend to differ from each other A LOT.
I was in this exact situation some years ago when I moved myself, and having done a lot of research when I first moved, followed by seeing a lot of different places on the island over my 3 years, I’ll try to make this decision easier for the new arrivals.
Malta Area Guide
Many people will disagree with me here (and that’s OK), but in my opinion, Malta can be split roughly into 6 areas:
• The “Harbour” area, comprising Sliema, St. Julian’s and their “satellite villages”
• Valletta, which deserves a category of its own
• The “Central” area of Birkirkara, Mosta, Naxxar and many other villages
• The “South” (which isn’t really south on the map) of Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Marsaxlokk, etc.
• The “North”, which is mostly Bugibba/Qawra and Mellieha
• Gozo, which is a separate island with a number of localities within it.
In order to not make this overview too long and winding, I’ll dedicate a section below to each of these 5 general areas. And even though many would say that it isn’t right to put, say, St. Julian’s and Valletta into the same bucket (and I agree), it will likely serve the purpose of this guide, and I’ll try to dive into the differences of each individual village as much as feasible.
Sliema, St. Julian’s and their “satellite villages” of Gzira, Msida, Ta Xbiex and several others are where you’re likely to find the majority of expats in Malta.
That’s both because the majority of international companies are located in this area, as well as due to the abundance of restaurants, shopping and services.
Even though Valletta is the capital of Malta, when it comes to finding activities, Sliema would likely qualify as the “the city”. Think of it like New York – even though the capital of the state is Albany (and there’s a lot to see there), you’d find far more to do in New York City.
The downside to living in the Sliema area is that everything tends to be far more expensive than elsewhere on the island. This includes rents (which can be as much as twice compared to some other towns), as well as groceries and services.
St. Julian’s (along with its “party district” Paceville) could be looked at as the “entertainment capital” of Malta. Even though there’s an abundance of bars also in Sliema, St. Julian’s is where the island’s nightlife mostly takes place. But it’s not just club after club in St. Julian’s (Paceville excluded). There are also a number of businesses and quiet-er residential regions.
Similarly to Sliema, you can expect to pay much higher rent in St. Julian’s than you would elsewhere on the island, but in return you’ll get the convenience of being in the middle of everything and rarely having to travel by car or by bus.
Many expats also live in villages like Msida, Pieta, Ta Xbiex (pronounced Ta Shbiesh), Swieqi and a few others. All of these are very close to either Sliema or St. Julian’s, and often provide an easy commute to the “main town”, while offering lower cost accommodation than what you’d find in central Sliema.
A note on distances: You probably know by now that Malta is very small. But just to illustrate this, it’s about a 10-15 minute drive (or a 30-40 minute walk) from the centre of St. Julian’s to the centre of Sliema.
Valletta (also known as Il-Belt in Maltese) is the capital of Malta, and is located just across the bay from Sliema. By a ferry it’s only a 5-minute ride from Sliema, but driving can take considerably longer – usually around 20-40 minutes depending on traffic.
Valletta is an incredibly beautiful town that has preserved a lot of the medieval feel. The whole city is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the historical walls surrounding the city are still intact. Cars are also not allowed in a large part of the city, making it a very pleasant place to walk (bar the somewhat steep hills).
As such, it’s a great place to visit not only once but from time to time. But living there is a different story. The city only has a population of just under 7,000, and while there are businesses operating from Valletta and an abundance of cafes, bars and restaurants, it’s likely not the best place to move to unless you have a good reason for it.
Valletta gets a huge share of tourists at nearly all times, so unless you live on a very small side street (they do exist!), you can expect to deal with hordes of tourists nearly all year round.
With all this in mind, Valletta also has its “satellite villages” similarly to Sliema and St. Julian’s. Floriana is the largest of such, and it’s very close to Valletta. Pieta is also not far off – located roughly in between Valletta and Sliema.
What qualifies as “Central” is largely debatable, but for the sake of this overview I’ll be talking about towns like Birkirkara, Mosta, Naxxar, Attard, Lija and the surrounding ones, leaving out Bugibba and Qawra.
When it comes to population density, the Central area (and mostly Birkirkara) is by far the most populated region on the island. With Birkirkara being the largest town in terms of population, there’s been a lot of development in the area.
What’s important to bear in mind, however, is that while these towns do have a lot of residences – both blocks of flats and townhouses – this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d be particularly “buzzing” or overflown with opportunities.
I lived in Mosta for a year myself, and while I liked it, I did find myself driving to Sliema or St. Julian’s almost on a daily basis. If you’re working (or planning to start working) for an international company, then it’s also likely that you’ll need to commute to the Harbour area for work.
Most of the time, that’s fine though! As distances are small, it can only take as little as 10-15 minutes to drive from Birkirkara to Sliema. An exception is the rush hour when it can sometimes take up to an hour.
The clear benefits of living in the Central area are expenses (accommodation is MUCH cheaper there than in Sliema / St. Julian’s), as well as the fact that you’re, well, in the centre of the island. This means that it never takes you too long to get anywhere. I’ve had several days when I pop over to Bugibba for breakfast, have a lunch meeting near the airport in Luqa and then pop over for evening beers in Sliema.
The one drawback is the lack of beaches (as one would expect being inland!) so if you want to be near the sea, you should consider elsewhere.
The “South” has a lot of villages, with the “main” ones being Birzebugga, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk and a few others. This is also the area where the Malta International Airport is located in.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of first hand experience with the southern towns, apart from having visited them 5-10 times (if you do then please speak up in the comments section below!) but I’ll try to do my best to give you an overview.
Generally speaking, most seaside towns in the south are very nice, somewhat less “touristy” than the harbour area and Bugibba, and in most cases more affordable. There’s also an abundance of bars and restaurants, and the close proximity to the airport is also a big plus.
The south also has some of the nicest beaches on the island, some of which are bang on in town centres, not requiring much travel.
The main drawbacks are the fact that Sliema can be difficult and time consuming to reach via public transport, and finding work can be a challenge.
The above applies for the towns and villages mentioned above. Apart from these, you also have places like Marsa, which are more industrial, in-land towns that usually don’t attract many foreigners, apart from those working at factories.
Personally, I would divide North into two main areas – the Bugibba & Qawra area and Mellieha.
Bugibba/Qawra (the two towns are interconnected) are a major tourist hotspot with a lot of hotels, bars and restaurants. This means that there’s a lot to do all year around, but also that you’ll be constantly amongst hordes of tourists.
Bugibba generally tends to be a tad cheaper than Sliema and St. Julian’s, but in recent years rents in this area have also risen quite a bit, making it far from cheap.
There’s a long seafront in Bugibba/Qawra so you’re never too far from the sea, but finding a beach where you can actually fit on can be a challenge.
And then you have Mellieha, which is the home for a large number of villas and holiday homes, and generally attracts somewhat older expat population, mostly Brits.
Being a far quieter place than some others, Mellieha can offer a fantastic quality of life for those not looking to go out a lot, but rather just want to enjoy life, valuing their peace and quiet.
There are also some very nice beaches in and around Mellieha. You have a long seafront in Mellieha itself, but also brilliant beaches at Ghan Truffieha and even the Armier Bay, not too far off from there.
Finally, you have Gozo, which as you probably know is an island of its own.
Gozo is a fantastic and lovely place (and I spent my first year in Malta there myself), and offers something for virtually everyone, but it does have its major drawbacks, especially for those who need to work.
Jobs are not easy to come by in Gozo, and even a lot of Gozitans commute to Malta daily, so unless you’re running your own online business like I do, or are planning to retire, Gozo might not be the best option.
But if your situation is such that you don’t need to worry about finding a job, living in Gozo can be very rewarding indeed. You’ve got the choice of the in-land towns of Victoria (the capital of Gozo), Xaghra and a few others, as well as seaside towns of Xlendi, Marsalforn and Mgarr.
The ferry ride from Malta to Gozo takes less than 30 minutes and the tickets are fairly inexpensive, especially for Gozo residents, so even though Gozo is quite secluded from the rest of the country in many ways, going to Malta every now and again is not a huge effort.
Despite its small size, Malta offers a lot of very different options for each taste. There’s no one “best place to move to”, as it all depends on your own personal circumstances.
I’m hoping this guide at least gave you an idea of what to look for, though, and also that other people will speak up in the comments section about their own experience with both these places and others that I haven’t mentioned.