An archipelago less than 200 miles off the North African coast, Malta has more than 300 days of sunshine per year, plus an epic beach season that can start as early as April and last deep into October—or even early November. As such, knowing when (and where) to claim a patch of sand is essential.
Though the most popular stretches of surf will get crowded come summertime, Malta’s bevy of beaches means there’s no shortage of places to take a dip when the mood strikes. (Unlike Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who elected to close a beach during the 2014 filming of By the Sea, you unfortunately will have to share.) There’s something for all tastes: red sand, golden sand, no sand, clothing required, clothing optional, quiet, or for partiers. Consider this your guide.
Staying on Malta, the country’s largest island? Looking for a family-friendly, sandy beach? Want to rent sunbeds, pedal boats, and water skis? Done, done, and done. The waters here are shallow, making it a great option for swimmers, and there are plenty of cafés, restaurants, and kiosks for sustenance and people-watching. Head to the Sundancer kiosk for good-quality fast food, like fried calamari, burgers, fresh salads, and the like.
Ramla il Hamra
Known locally as the “Red Sandy Beach,” Ramla il Hamra is one of the most family-friendly beaches in Malta. The waters are shallow, making it a great place for kids to swim; the red-hued sand is soft; and the area around the beach is blissfully undeveloped. (The Romans once built an opulent villa here and the remains are supposedly buried beneath the sand, but don’t bother hauling your metal detector—the area is protected.) There are sunbeds and umbrellas for rent—€15 for a set—and you can walk from here to the Calypso Caves, where, according to legend chronicled in Homer’s epic The Odyssey, the beautiful nymph Calypso kept Odysseus as a prisoner of love for seven years.
A stunning, sandy, bowl-shaped beach in northwest Malta, Ghajn Tuffieha is a perfect spot to chill out and watch the sun sink into the water—that is, if you’re willing to walk 200 steps down to the sand. The water is clear, shallow, and ideal for swimming, and the beach gets bonus points for renting umbrellas and sunbeds at reasonable prices. The surrounding rock formations and hills make for a dramatic spot for photography; be sure to climb up the Ghajn Tuffieha watchtower on the right side of the beach for sunset. Movie buffs may recognize this beach from the movie Troy, which was filmed in part here.
In staunchly Catholic Malta, where church attendance is among the highest in Europe, nude sunbathing is technically illegal. But at Qarraba Bay, the country’s best-known nude beach, it’s quietly tolerated. The preferred option to reach this isolated spot is to go to Gnejna Beach and follow the narrow, rocky footpath from the parking lot to Qarraba Bay.
Let’s face it, the world’s best beaches are rarely located in convenient places with ample parking. If you want to find a little slice of paradise and have it (mostly) to yourself, you’ve got to earn it. This brings us to Selmun Beach, which has no natural shade or facilities but is a lovely, unspoiled stretch of sand with crystal clear water. The catch is that it’s reached via a long drive on a very narrow, bumpy country road opposite the Selmun Church—and then a steep walk. It’s worth the effort if you’re in search of some solitude, but be prepared for a bit of an adventure getting there.
Saint George’s Bay
This small, sandy beach in Saint Julian’s, just outside the capital, Valletta, is easily accessible and packed with restaurants, cafés, and subathers in the summertime. If you want to be right in the middle of the action and love people-watching, music and partying, this is your spot. While here, try the lumpuki (Maltese mahi mahi) at Andrew’s Bar and Restaurant, a neighborhood institution since 1909. If you want to stay in a lively area within walking distance of the beach, try the Corinthia St. George’s Bay or the Intercontinental Malta.
Once secluded, this picturesque pebble beach on Gozo, Malta’s second largest island, shot to fame after Jolie and Pitt spent three months here shooting By the Sea. Mgarr ix-Xini (pronounced im-jarr ish shee-ni) is a beautiful spot for swimming and snorkeling, and visitors can also snap the surrounds from the 16th-century stone tower and feast on fresh seafood overlooking the beach at Restaurant Ix-Xini. If you want to truly live like Brad and Angie, drive 15 minutes north from your beach excursion for dinner at Ta’ Frenc, a restaurant set in a pretty farmhouse, to dine where they did in the film.
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