Gozo is a lesser-known destination in Malta and is the second-largest of the Maltese islands.
With a population of around 34,000 or so inhabitants, yet covering an area of 67 km² (26 square miles), Gozo is a much quieter place to be. In fact, many people refer to Gozo as “what Malta used to be like”: A rural area where time just seems to pass a little slower than in most other places.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to Gozo and help you decide whether to stay there, whether just to visit, how to do your sightseeing, where to sample local food and much more!
Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the Gozo ferry as it sails away is strangely comforting. As you board the vessel you feel like you’ve shed an enormous weight off your shoulders, leaving the stress of everyday behind you.
Gozo is magical, and the magic starts when you arrive at Mġarr Harbour, with its quiet marina and church sitting on the hilltop overlooking the harbour.
From personal experience, every single time I make the crossing to Gozo there’s an instant sense of peace and zen. And I’m not even a very spiritual person! 😉
There’s no direct road connection to Gozo (yet – although plans have been drafted for an underwater tunnel to be constructed), so you’ll need to get to Gozo over water.
There are three options to do so (and all get you to Mġarr Harbour at the southeastern side of Gozo):
You can catch the main Gozo ferry (which transports both foot passengers as well as vehicles) to make the crossing. The ferry departs from Ċirkewwa (at the Northernmost tip of main island Malta) at frequent intervals, with trips that continue even throughout the night.
Once you’re onboard the Gozo ferry, head up to the topmost deck to enjoy some exquisite views of the islands. Midway between Malta and Gozo, if you look toward your right, you will catch a glimpse of Comino – a tiny island with one of the most sought-after swimming zones of the archipelago – the stunning Blue Lagoon Bay.
The tower on top of the cliff stands out, and if like me you’re a movie buff you’ll recognise it as the prison where the count of Montecristo was kept in the 2002 version of Alexandre Dumas novel.
Once you leave Comino behind, Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs loom into view, as the ferry heads for Mġarr Harbour. If you’re lucky enough, you might even spot dolphins following the trail left by the vessel.
Next, the ferry docks and lowers the ramps to set the vehicles in its belly free. At the same time, foot passengers disembark via the passenger terminal. Many Maltese will cross over to Gozo just to stop at one of the cosy restaurants in the harbour, while others continue their journey inland.
If you’re considering making Gozo your main holiday destination, there is a direct bus connection (route X1) that take you right up to Ċirkewwa from the airport. Right from outside the arrivals terminal you can find the bus terminus.
Route X1 usually departs every 45 minutes. There’s no night service though, so the earliest trip departs at around 5.20 am, while the last bus leaves the terminal at 10.55 pm. Taking potential traffic into account, it’s not exactly a short trip. If you’re unlucky it could take up to 1.5 hours. The good news is the price: A ticket costs just €2 per person for a single trip (summer rate).
Alternatively, a taxi ride will set you back around €45. Depending on the time of day it’s usually a 45-min trip.
Get more detailed info here: How to get from Malta Airport to Gozo
Using one of two fast ferry services offered by Gozo Fast Ferries and Virtu Gozo Ferries is another easy option to get to Gozo. These ferry trips take under 45 minutes and are a good option if you don’t want to take a car to Gozo and you’re staying in or near Valletta.
Since the vessels used are smaller, however, the ride can be a little rough and trips are more likely to be cancelled than with the much larger Gozo Channel ferries.
If you’re looking at this option for travelling from the airport, you’re best off taking a taxi at around €16-18 for a one-way trip to the ferry dock on the East-facing side of Valletta.
Using iSeeMalta’s hop-on-hop-off ferry you can get to Gozo and use their buses to explore the island as well. Have a look at their Gozo Pass if you’re interested in their bus and ferry hop-on-hop-off combo. Very convenient, especially if you’re staying in Sliema, St. Julian’s and Buġibba/Qawra/St. Paul’s Bay (since this ferry stops in Sliema and Buġibba).
Get my recommendations on the best day trips, boat trips, excursions and activities and book in advance!
Although tiny, the island has a lot to offer to the visiting tourist:
Gozo is a pretty small island but there’s enough to see, taste and do to fill an easy-paced week’s itinerary. These are a few suggestions to start with, but you can find a bigger list of itinerary ideas here: Things to do in Gozo.
Taking a day tour or excursion around Gozo can be a great way to explore the highlights that Gozo has to offer if you’re not actually staying there (and then be tempted to visit again for a proper stay ?). These are a few options to consider:
More ideas here: Top 10 Gozo Day Trips, Tours and Excursions
If you’d like to get a taste of a few local flavours, with fresh produce including oil, tomato paste, cheese, a variety of wines from locally grown grapes and more, pay a visit to Ta’ Mena Estate, on the winding road between Victoria and Marsalforn. They organise guided tours and food-tasting sessions, which need to be booked in advance. You can find more details on their website.
Curious about locally brewed craft beer? Visit Lord Chambray beer brewery. Their taproom is open from Mon-Sat between 2 pm and 6 pm, and you can book a tasting tour from their website.
All roads in Gozo lead to the Citadel in Rabat (also known as Victoria) – a beautiful (but small) fortified town that has witnessed many historical moments and stood the test of time in the most handsome way. When or who originally built this fortress isn’t exactly known, but we do know that they were constructed in the 15th century. Research shows that settlements have been present on the same hill since the Neolithic period. That’s no surprise since it’s one of the most central hilltops on the island with commanding views in all directions.
Archaeologists are certain that the site was fortified during the Bronze Age, around 1500 BC. The Phoenicians and the Romans added their share of temples and buildings. The Aragonese period saw the Citadel take the shape we know today, with improvements carried out by the order of the Knights between 1599 and 1603 to withstand and provide shelter against Ottoman incursions.
For this reason, until 1637, the entire population of Gozo was required by law to spend the night within the Citadel for their own safety.
The view from the bastions is not simply breathtaking – it is incomparable to any other on the islands. Within its walls, the Citadel holds many precious gems, such as the little old graffiti ridden-prison where, in 1538, a young La Vallette was held here for four months after attacking another man. There are also museums and old medieval houses open to the public, as well as a couple of nice restaurants specialising in traditional Gozitan cuisine.
Outside the Citadel, you’ll find the busiest city on the island: Rabat. Also known as Victoria, it is the capital city of Gozo and the only place on the tiny island where you can find a concentration of shops. Buying pastizzi and eating them in the main square (called ‘It-Tokk’) is a tradition many locals follow religiously. And you should try it too.
Gozo is not shy of its fervent Christian roots, with cathedrals, churches and chapels around every corner. Some of these Christian temples are fine examples of architecture, ranging from seventeenth-century baroque to twentieth-century neoclassical. Although all of them are beautiful in construction and in décor, three of these are surely worth mentioning (and visiting):
From Victoria, it is easy to reach all the other towns and small villages. Head West towards the setting sun to visit Għarb, the most western village of the Maltese islands. From this village, you can gain access to Dwejra and the location once known for the Azure Window – a natural rock formation which sadly collapsed into the sea in March 2017.
From the little natural harbour in Dwejra, you can easily hire a boat trip on a little traditional Maltese fishing boat called a luzzu, to go out and explore the Gozitan coast from the water. Head down to what’s known as the Inland Sea: A small pebbly bay surrounded by tall cliffs and a large cave leading out to the open sea.
If you don’t fancy a boat trip, you can walk around the area and admire Fungus Rock and its surroundings or visit the Dwejra Tower, one of a number of watchtowers built by the Knights around the coast of Malta and Gozo. From these towers, two sentinels kept watchful eyes on the horizon to alert the cities against Ottoman invasions. The tower in Dwejra is particularly impressive because it has been impeccably restored in recent years.
Prehistoric Gozo has some interesting offerings for the curious traveller. The Gozo Museum of Archeology is a perfect place to start. It offers a glimpse of all the important settlements that lived in Gozo from the early Neolithic up to the arrival of the Knights of St John. The museum itself resides within a beautiful 17th-century townhouse within the Citadel.
A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Ġgantija temples is a must if you want to see how the anonymous Neolithic inhabitants of the islands planned and built shrines thousands of years before Stone Henge and the great pyramid of Giza were even conceived.
The Ġgantija temples recently gained a refurbished visitor centre, and it’s a great place to get a glimpse of the past with videos, information and guided tours around the small complex. On the same hill, the Xagħra Circle echoes the wonders of the Hypogeum in Ħal Salflieni, Malta. This was a burial site that dates back to 4,000 BC.
Other sites worth a visit include:
The sea around the little island is as beautiful as it looks, and although there aren’t a lot of sandy beaches in Gozo, there are a few beautiful ones around. Ramla Bay beach (Ramla l-Ħamra) and San Blas Bay (on the Northern coastline) are perhaps the most accessible and the most popular among swimmers.
Marsalforn (North) also has a small sandy beach, although usually quite busy and probably not the prettiest of all. Ħondoq ir-Rummien (South East) is far more beautiful, but its sandy beach is pretty small and fills up easily.
Finally, Dahlet Qorrot Bay has a small sandy beach that is much more secluded, and only really the locals know of it. Highly recommended for an early morning swim. Peaceful, quiet, clean – a stunning little bay.
Have a look at the best beaches in Gozo for more info!
However, there are plenty of other places that, although harder to access, provide a lasting impression on visitors. Imġarr ix-Xini, for example, is a secluded pebbled beach at the end of a long gorge and is a good spot for both swimming and diving.
Ix-Xatt l-Aħmar is another undiscovered spot ideal for swimming and diving. Divers should take note – the crystal clear waters hide the wreck of an old ferryboat called ‘Ix-Xlendi’, which lies just beyond the bay.
As far as accommodation is concerned, there are quite a few options to choose from. In terms of variety, Gozo offers several accommodation types that can make it hard to decide which is best:
Get my best recommendations and their rates here: The 12 Best Gozo Hotels reviewed.
Although it’s a small island, you can’t really get around Gozo on foot (unless you’re on a mission).
Gozo car hire gives you the most flexibility to get around the island, and several companies offer rental cars for pickup at Mġarr Harbour. If you hire a car in Malta, you can cross over to Gozo with it using the ferry at an additional fee. Compared to Malta, driving in Gozo is easier and much more relaxed.
There’s hardly any traffic, except perhaps in and around Victoria at times, particularly when the ferry’s just arrived, with the majority of drivers heading to the centre of the island. That kind of traffic is referred to as tal-Vapur (of the boat) by the locals.
If you cross without a car, then you have some options as well:
There’s a lot of great food to sample all around the island. I have a separate list of recommendations of the best restaurants in Gozo, but here are a few quick suggestions to whet your appetite:
If you’re looking for a quiet holiday, yes, Gozo will be a better fit. If you’re looking to explore the country and do a lot of sightseeing, you’re probably better off in Malta and paying Gozo a visit as part of your exploration.
No. There’s only a small heliport and the nearest airport is Malta International Airport, on main island Malta. You’ll need to catch the ferry to Gozo to get to the island. Direct bus connections exist between the airport and the Gozo ferry terminal at Ċirkewwa in the North of Malta.
As the Maltese often say, Gozo is what Malta used to be: Quiet, rural and not nearly as developed as its much bigger sister island. Just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering as your main holiday destination. There’s plenty to do and see and the island has a few beautiful points of interest and sandy beaches to help recharge your batteries.
The best way to get around in Gozo is to rent a car. Public transport in Gozo isn’t super efficient, so you’re better off with a car hire in Gozo.
Using a local taxi service like Bolt or renting a scooter or mountain bike are other options. If you’re fit and up for a challenge, you could rent a (mountain-)bike as well, though beware of the heat of summer!
If you’re just visiting and looking to tour the island, here are a few suggestions to check out: Top 10 Gozo Day Trips, Tours and Excursions to Take
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