Marsaxlokk: Malta’s fishing village – travel guide and tips
As a tourist destination, Marsaxlokk is popular for a daily open-air market, offering a selection of the finest fish restaurants on the island, for the peaceful walks around the coast and harbour, as well as for its secluded and untainted swimming zones. Locals enjoy the nightlife especially in Summer when you can walk the promenade, grabbing an ice cream as you go and letting the sea breeze cool off the typical Summer heat.
On Sundays, many Maltese visit the Marsaxlokk fish market to buy from the morning’s catch.
- Marsaxlokk is the largest fishing village in Malta
- It’s a popular location among locals for Sunday lunch, but a quiet village otherwise
- The current population of Marsaxlokk is close to 4,000
- In Marsaxlokk there were a number of military outposts built by the British to protect the Marsaxlokk harbour during World War Two. Some of these still stand today.
- Malta’s power station is located in an area of Marsaxlokk known as Delimara.
Marsaxlokk’s fishing industry
Marsaxlokk fishing village is the largest fishing harbour of Malta. It has been so since antiquity and today the greater part of fish sold on the islands are caught by fishermen coming from this village. Traditional luzzu’s and larger fishing vessels line the sheltered harbour in a colourful display that has been the subject of countless photo shoots.
During the week, fishermen coming in with their catch take the fish to the fish market in Marsa – a recently opened facility. From there, hawkers, fish retailers, restaurant owners and others gather in the early hours of the morning to buy fish for redistribution. However, on Sundays, fish is sold directly to consumers by the fishermen from stalls in the Marsaxlokk Sunday fish market.
A brief history of Marsaxlokk
The natural harbour has attracted seafaring cultures since ancient times. In the 9th century BC, Phoenicians used this port to land in Malta – they even had their own temple dedicated to Astarte. The Romans used Marsaxlokk bay for safe anchorage during their reign, as did the Arabs after them. Later on in Malta’s history, Marsaxlokk provided anchorage for the Ottoman fleet when they came to lay siege to Malta in 1565.
The area that’s known as Tas-Silġ (‘silġ’ being the Maltese word for ice) has seen human activity for thousands of years. Archaeologists identified the remains of a megalithic temple originally built in the Neolithic period. Subsequently, it was inhabited by Bronze Age people, Phoenicians, Romans, until the same temple was finally used as a Byzantine monastery in the 4th or 5th century AD before being completely destroyed.
Unfortunately for visitors, the area holding the remains of the temple has been isolated off by a large boundary wall. Visits can be arranged by appointment with Heritage Malta, the organisation in charge of the site.
How to get there
Marsaxlokk village is only 6.5 kilometres away from Malta International Airport. You can be in the village in just 10 minutes by car. Various bus routes can take you to Marsaxlokk as well.
If driving your own car, the roads close to the village core are fairly easy to navigate but get a bit bumpy on the outskirts, especially towards the area known as Xrobb l-Għaġin. Parking at the seafront is pretty difficult on Sundays, though you can usually still find a parking spot in one of the side streets of the main boulevard.
The following bus routes can get you to Marsaxlokk:
- From Valletta: Routes 81 or 85 (45 mins)
- From Sliema and St. Julian’s: Take routes 15 or 21 (Sliema) or 13 (St Julian’s, also Sliema) to Valletta, then hop on the 81 or 85 (around 1h 15 mins total travel time)
- From Buġibba, Qawra and St. Paul’s Bay: Easiest route is 48, taking you to Floriana (outskirts of Valletta – ask the bus driver) or 49 (to Valletta), then take the 81 or 85 to Marsaxlokk (1h 30m). However, if you’re staying in this area it might be more worthwhile visiting Marsaxlokk with a hop on, hop off bus tour. You’ll get to see much more on the way there, considering the relatively long distance.
Things to do and see
The Marsaxlokk church was built in 1897 and is dedicated to the Madonna of Pompeii. The village holds three annual religious celebrations: on the 8th of May, on the first Sunday in August and the first Sunday in October. The statue of the Madonna and child was commission in Lecce, Italy, in 1900.
Fort St. Lucian
Located just 15 minutes walk from the village centre towards Birżebbuġa, Fort St. Lucian was built in 1610 by the Order of Saint John to protect Marsaxlokk Bay against Turkish attacks. Through the years, the building has seen several modifications.
The British used it as a munitions depot during World War Two. Currently, it is being used by the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre. Small groups of visitors, up to 5 people, can visit the fort on Saturday morning. For larger groups, an appointment needs to be made beforehand.
Marsaxlokk Harbour walk
A walk along the Marsaxlokk harbour presents local fishermen busy mending their fishing nets in the street and fleets of colourful traditional Maltese boats (called Luzzu) still in use to this day. Restaurants, bars and cafes line the waterfront so you are spoilt for choice if the sea air suddenly brings on your appetite. The open air market is located along one side of the harbour and is an all week event.
15 minutes uphill from Marsaxlokk village centre lies the area that’s known as Tas-Silġ. This part of Marsaxlokk is mostly known for its archaeological importance, being the site of a shrine that was transferred from one civilisation to another over thousands of years. Unfortunately, the site is open only by appointment with Heritage Malta, so you cannot just go in and visit the remains yourself.
In the area, there is also the Carmelite church, built around 1833 on the site of an older church and dedicated to the Madonna of Snow. The church is open daily for functions and is also used as a retreat centre.
Fort Tas-Silġ is a fort built between 1879 and 1883 by the British at the end of Delimara Point, above il-Ħofra-ż-Żgħira. It was part of a number of fortifications protecting Marsaxlokk Harbour along with Fort Delimara, Fort San Lucian, Fort Bengħisa and the Pinto and Ferretti batteries. The fort today is used by The Island Sanctuary, a charity organisation that takes care of stray and abandoned dogs in Malta.
There are two markets in Marsaxlokk – where one is essentially the extension of the other. The Marsaxlokk open market sets up shop from Monday to Saturday along the quay with stalls selling a variety of food, clothes, souvenirs, ornaments, paintings and traditional objects – however on Sundays it extends farther, focusing mainly on the retailing of fish caught by local fishermen. They set up stalls to sell their catch directly to the numerous clients that flock to the Sunday fish market.
A word of warning: Sundays are usually pretty busy when locals flock to the village. That means it can be tough to park close by and you’ll have to find a parking spot in one of the back streets from the seafront. During the week, the village is much more relaxed and navigating the market is a lot easier.
Xrobb l-Għaġin Nature Park
Xrobb l-Għaġin Nature Park and Sustainable Development Centre is a Government project that aims to safeguard an area of over 155,000 square metres of natural habitat. The park provides a nice walk along the peninsula with stunning views. On site there is also a hostel run by the centre and provides accommodation at very low prices.
Beaches and bays around Marsaxlokk
There are 4 stunning coves with clear water in Marsaxlokk – but none of them within easy reach. This makes them perfect swimming spots for swimmers who want peace and quiet. You will rarely find crowds within these areas and their remote locations (and bad roads) have kept away the vendors and beach combo entrepreneurs that hog other swimming zones in Malta.
The first two Marsaxlokk beaches are il-Ħofra ż-Żgħira (small cove) and il-Ħofra l-Kbira (large cove) – two coves adjacent to each other. To reach them, you must travel a number of narrow winding roads to the Southwest of the village. Kalanka and St. Peter’s Pool are the other two of these bays, with St. Peter’s Pool (one of my top 10 beaches in Malta) being the most accessible of all four, reachable via the road that leads to the Delimara Power Station.
All four coves have crystal clear deep waters which offer excellent snorkelling opportunities.
When the wind is strong from the South or East the water in all four bays can become rather rough and dangerous, especially for young or inexperienced swimmers.
If driving there, it is advisable to park your car on the main road at the top of the cliff.
Restaurants in Marsaxlokk
Marsaxlokk is synonymous with fish and seafood cuisine. Here you’ll find the best restaurants in Malta of the category. The following is a list of the top 5 restaurants in the village:
- Ir-Rizzu – a family run restaurant situated a few metres away from the village square. Specialising in fish, patrons can select their fish and watch it being cooked in an open kitchen setting.
- La Reggia – focusing mainly on seafood and fish cuisine in a modern surrounding on the Marsaxlokk seafront.
- La Nostra Padrona – A corner cosy place that is always busy, so it is highly recommended to book your table in advance. Like most Marsaxlokk restaurants, La Nostra Padrona specialise in seafood, offering a great dining experience with beautiful scenery.
- Tartarun Fish Restaurant – offering quality cuisine in a casual atmosphere, Tartarun is another family run restaurant serving fish based dishes with an international twist.
- Ta’ Victor Restaurant – Located on the waterfront, this restaurant specialises in traditional Maltese cuisine offering a unique dining experience – the owner of the establishment discusses food options with patrons, explaining the specialities of the day.
Marsaxlokk Hotels and other accommodation
There are no big hotels in Marsaxlokk, however, a stay in this fishing village is ideal for those seeking a relaxing time away from it all. The village offers a limited number of accommodation options that get good reviews from customers.
- Port View Guesthouse – Located just up from the quayside this family-run guesthouse offers bed and breakfast accommodation in clean and comfortable twin, double and quadruple bedrooms. Although it’s up a side street, balconies have an excellent view across the harbour.
- Duncan Guest House – This bed & breakfast accommodation has rooms with balconies overlooking the harbour. A bar and restaurant on street level serve a good selection of food at budget prices.
- Harbour Lodge – Just minutes away from the centre of Marsaxlokk fishing village, Harbour Lodge offers rooms for up to 8 guests. All rooms have satellite TV, WI-FI and air-conditioning. Rooms also available for wheelchair access. Additional facilities include a laundry room and underground car park. Pisces Restaurant around the corner is owned by the same proprietor and offers a 10% discount to guest house clients.
- Xrobb L-Għaġin Hostel – Located within the Xrobb l-Għaġin Nature Park about 3 kilometres from Marsaxlokk village centre, this budget accommodation is suitable for groups. It has 4 large dormitory style bedrooms and prices start from just 15 Eur per person per night. It is not the right choice for those requiring privacy.
- Seagull Penthouse Marsaxlokk – this four-bedroom penthouse lies 200 metres away from the harbour. Its elevated position offers views of Marsaxlokk harbour and surrounding countryside. The property has two bathrooms and a fully fitted kitchen with a dishwasher. Additional facilities include a barbeque area on the terrace, air condition, 3 flat-screen TVs, washing machine and free WiFi.
- Med Deluxe Apartments – Med Deluxe Apartments offers a two-bedroom fully air-conditioned apartment with balcony, a very spacious living/dining area, kitchenette and a laundry room with washing machine. Additional features include free WiFi and flat-screen cable TV.