Sliema travel guide and tips
Originally a small fishing village, the present-day Sliema is home to thousands of residents. The small fishing village of days gone by transformed into being the home of British inhabitants during the 19th and early 20th century, looking for a quiet respite, yet being close to the then commercial hub of Valletta. Over the past 50 years or so, the town and the surrounding areas underwent another transformation of commercial development and saw the beautiful stately properties of its past inhabitants replaced by large apartment buildings and modern offices.
Its coastline extends towards Ta’ Xbiex and Gżira (South) on one side and towards St. Julian’s (North) on the other. The front, in fact, is a wide walkway that joins these three towns, where you’ll find crowds any time of day. Early in the morning and in the early evening there’ll be loads of people out for a jog on this same promenade while those less keen on exercising their leg muscles will be kick-starting their day in one of the numerous cafès overlooking the harbour.
Sliema still has a very distinct feel to it. A character found nowhere else and appreciated by locals and travellers alike. Offering various hotels as well as bars and pubs, Sliema can be a good choice for a holiday location for couples and groups travelling together. Neighbouring St. Julian’s, with its nightlife area known as Paceville is a stone’s throw away, while Valletta is nearby as well (and easy to reach with a short ferry trip across Marsamxett Harbour), offering plenty of culture, history and places of interest to appreciate.
The area is a popular tourist destination but is also a sought after residential area for local residents, with some of the most expensive property available in the country. Sliema is viewed as an elite area to live in and is loved by its inhabitants. With the rapid changes the town has seen in recent decades and the ever increasing problem of traffic congestion and parking, however, it’s undeniable that it’s lost a little of its friendly character and has fallen prey to highly lucrative property development.
Nevertheless, it’s one of the rare places in Malta that has a blend of hustle and bustle of city life, good food and recreation and a slight British tint with its pubs and easy going lifestyle.
Trying to figure out whether you should stay at Sliema for your holiday? Here’s my advice on the where to stay in Malta.
- Sliema (Tas-Sliema in Maltese) means ‘peace’ and some say the name originates from a chapel that was built in the area. Ironically, it’s one of the busier places in Malta nowadays.
- The current population count is around 17,000 residents.
- Once popular as a summer resort for wealthier Valletta residents.
- Good selection of hotels and restaurants
- Doesn’t have sandy beaches, although swimming is possible along its coastline
- In 1881, the first Maltese sea water distillery was erected in Sliema to supply water to British troops in the area.
- A number of Sliema streets are named after British governors or places. These include Norfolk Street, Prince of Wales Road, Windsor Terrace, Graham Street, Milner Street and Fort Cambridge.
- The fortifications at Tigné Point played an important role during the Great Siege of 1565 (a milestone in Malta’s rich history). General Dragut, of the invading Ottoman Empire, was fatally wounded at this location, greatly affecting the outcome of the conflict.
From the airport
Malta’s national airport is 11 kilometres from Sliema. You can use the public transport by using the X2 bus. This will cost you €1.50 per person in winter, €2 in summer, or €3 when travelling at night. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi. From the airport to Sliema a taxi ride will cost you €20 and the fare includes up to four persons and up to four suitcases. These prices apply all year round including holidays and include all taxes.
By public transport
Buses 15 and 21 run from Valletta on a frequent schedule. On average, a bus ride from Sliema to Valletta takes about 20 minutes when the traffic is normal. From the central bus station in Valletta, you can then visit pretty much anywhere on the island.
Other useful buses that go through Sliema are the X2 which takes you to the airport, and bus 222 that goes directly to Ċirkewwa from where one can get the ferry to Gozo.
Bus tickets for a single day cost €1.50 per person in winter, €2 in summer, or €3 when travelling at night. These prices allow you to travel anywhere on the island for up to two hours. You can also opt to purchase a block ticket costing €21 with which you get unlimited travel by bus all throughout Malta and Gozo for 7 days.
For as little as €1.50 per person (one way – €2.80 with return) you can catch the ferry from the Sliema waterfront to Valletta and back. The ferry runs straight across the harbour, which makes it quicker than public transport since the bus has to go around the coastal road. It also provides excellent opportunities for some great photos of the harbour. The trip takes just 15 minutes, however, it tends to be affected by weather conditions. The service runs only till 19:15 in winter, while in Summer it continues till after midnight.
Hop-on & Hop-off-bus
Open top buses are a great way to explore Malta and visit the most interesting places. Buses leave from Sliema Ferries Terminus every half hour from 9:00h to 15:00h on weekdays and from 9:00h to 14:00h on Sundays. A full day ticket costs €20.
Tips for if you plan to drive to Sliema
Traffic is chaotic especially during rush hours and finding a parking slot is like looking for diamonds in the desert. You can find larger paid parking garages near the shopping centres at The Point (Tigné Point) and nearby The Plaza at the Sliema multi-storey car park – but be aware that the rate is quite costly (thanks to the high demand). Between 6:00h and 20:00h you’re charged €1.10 every 30 minutes at the multi-storey car park, for a maximum of €10 per day.
Hotels and Accommodation
Apart from shops, cafès and restaurants, there’s something else that’s abundant in Sliema – Hotels. And there’s a whole range to suit everyone’s needs and budget.
Hotels level 1 – High end
- The Fortina Spa Resort, overlooking the harbour with a view of Valletta across the water is a great choice if you intend to indulge in luxury.
- The Palace is located in the older part of Sliema and is a 5-star luxury hotel offering facilities like designer suites and a spa.
- Pebbles Boutique Aparthotel – Located on the Southern promenade of Sliema, this aparthotel offers beautiful views across the harbour of Valletta and offers high-quality accommodation.
Hotels level 2 – Affordable ( < €100/night)
- The Victoria Hotel building echoes the Victorian era but with a contemporary design. It is situated in the older and quieter part of town.
- The Waterfront Hotel is a 4-star hotel along the promenade within walking distance from public transport and other services including bars and restaurants, several shopping outlets and the Sliema Ferries.
- The Preluna Hotel & Spa is set on the promenade, featuring a vast variety of facilities in the hotel building, as well as off-site facilities.
There are a number of private homeowners who rent out their self-catering apartments at around 80-90 Euro per night. These are a few options to consider.
Note: I cannot personally recommend any of these, unfortunately, although all were carefully selected.
Have a look at another one of my articles for more recommendations for hotels in other parts of Malta.
Restaurant & food recommendations
There are too many restaurants and bars in Sliema to name them all. So here you’ll find a selection of the most popular. It’s always advised to book a table for dinner, especially on weekends.
Recommendations for lunch
- Giorgio’s Cafè – Very busy place serving coffee and also lunch. The service is good, the menu provides an interesting selection of good food and sweets in a fantastic location.
- The Surfside Sports Bar and Grill is a place where you can watch sports while having lunch.
- Mint is a waterfront cafe offering a selection of freshly prepared salads, freshly baked cakes and also dishes ranging from Thai fish cakes, Moroccan lamb tagine to a Spanish tortilla.
Recommendations for dinner – moderately priced
- Vecchia Napoli offers an exceptional Neapolitan and Italian pizza baked in a wood-burning oven.
- Il-Merill is a small, family-run restaurant tucked in a side street away from the hustle and bustle of the main street.
- Ta’ Kris is a restaurant situated within an old bakery. Menus are based on a mixture of traditional Maltese food blended with some Mediterranean dishes.
Recommendations for dinner – a little more pricey (but great!)
- Medasia Fusion Lounge offers Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. The menu includes dishes from sushi to traditional dishes inspired from Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Mediterranean cuisines.
- Can Thai offer an extensive menu of Chinese and Thai dishes prepared by oriental chefs. Can Thai is located in the Fortina’s Tropical Garden, with an option of outside dining.
- The Chophouse is a meat restaurant, offering a great choice of succulent steaks. Selected cuts of Aberdeen Angus and Scottona beef from Italy are dry aged in house.
Have a look at another one of my articles for more recommendations for restaurants in Malta.
Drinks & bars in Sliema
- The Black Gold Saloon is a popular venue that’s been around for over 30 years. It offers good drinks and also a selection of pasta, pizzas, grills and salads.
- Time Square is a traditional pub with friendly staff where patrons hang out to have a drink and watch a game of football.
- The Rawhide Saloon serves all kinds of drinks in a cosy setting, with good rock music playing in the background. It is located on the main road close to the Balluta Church.
Things to do and places to go
But what is there other than visit restaurants, bars, cafés and walk the promenade? Well, plenty more! For starters, those who love shopping can knock themselves out because retail outlets of all kinds are in abundance:
- The Plaza Shopping Centre and its surrounding shopping area are right in the heart of Sliema (Triq Bisazza), bringing together a number of popular brands under one roof.
- Then there’s the iconic The Point complex – a shopping mall with a good selection of shops and international brands built at the very tip of Sliema, called Tigné Point .
Beaches in Sliema
If like me, you’re a fan of swimming in the sea, Sliema offers a very popular piece of rocky coastline on the Northern side of the town where you’ll find people bathing almost all year round. The locals call it Għar id-Dud. Although it’s not a sandy beach (in fact, there are no sandy beaches around), there are several points with easy access to the sea and the rocky surface is smooth so sunbathing is perfectly possible here.
Another particularly popular spot alongside the coast for bathing is referred to by the name of Exiles. It attracts locals and tourists alike, with easy access to the sea and clear and clean waters.
If you prefer sandy beaches, you could take one of the direct bus routes to Golden Bay or Mellieħa Bay, but it’s quite a drive – over an hour usually. If spending time at the beach is one of your top priorities there are better places to stay in Malta.
Points of interest and tours
And as you lie there on the quiet, rocky beach, listening to the soft sound of the waves splashing gently against the rough dark coast of Għar id-Dud you might feel inspired to grab yourself a harbour cruise to explore the area. These cruises depart right from the Sliema sea front (on the Southern part of its coastline, referred to by the locals as The Ferries) and takes you from Marsamxett harbour into the Grand Harbour for a complete tour of the three cities. The harbour cruise takes about 2 hours and costs around €15. Other itineraries are offered as well.
Take a walk to Independence Garden (on the Northern side), an area that used to be a farm until 1990. Along the way you can look out for the few Victorian and art nouveau houses that still stand along the shoreline. A group of six houses with traditional Maltese balconies has survived remarkably intact at Belvedere Terrace.
Tigné Point offers a quiet, traffic free, kid friendly walk along the coast, with views of Valletta. Along the way you can visit Fort Tigné, a five-pointed star-shaped fortification built by the Knights of St. John in 1793. Its purpose was to defend Marsamxett Harbour from attacks. It is one of the oldest polygonal forts in the world and has been recently restored.
Between Sliema and Gżira, one can find Manoel Island, a very small island connected to the mainland by a bridge. In its centre lies Fort Manoel, built in 1725.
Nightlife in Sliema
Sliema offers a good variety of bars and pubs, and a handful of nightclubs spread alongside the coastal promenade over the St. Julian’s side of Sliema as well as the Gzira side. For the club hoppers, Paceville (part of St. Julian’s) is pretty close and easy to reach by (night) bus, or on foot if you don’t mind a 15-minute walk.
Annual Festa’s in Sliema
Retaining a little of its original character, Sliema, like many other villages around Malta and Gozo celebrate their local festa to honour and celebrate their Patron Saint – a cornerstone of Maltese culture.
- Our Lady of Sacred Heart – 1st week of July
- Our Lady Star Of The Sea – 3rd week of August
- St Gregory The Great – 1st week of September
Read more: Maltese village feasts or festa
Other places worth visiting
- Il-Fortizza (Tower Road)
- St. Julian’s Tower (Tower Road Sliema) – One of the few remaining coastal watch towers in the area
- Chapel of Our Lady of Graces (Tigné Area)
- Anglican Church (Rudolph Street)
- Qui si-Sana Gardens
- Annunciation Square
- St Anne Square (The Strand)
- Stella Maris church
History of Sliema
Sliema is one of Malta’s most densely populated towns with over 17,000 residents – but it was not always so. A jump of just a few hundred years into the past would take us to a small village with a few fishermen and their families.
In fact, Sliema started gaining popularity in the second half of the 19th century when wealthy Valletta residents started investing in the area to build their summer houses. Influenced by the British who ruled Malta at the time, they built Victorian styled villas and townhouses along a three kilometre stretch of coast – most of these properties have disappeared when the aggressive development of the area started in modern times. Few of the prestigious, Victorian and art nouveau residences remain in the inner streets and only a handful remain on the seaside. A few of these older seafront residences remain intact and untouched, now protected by law. A small cluster of such residences can be found on the Gzira side of Sliema, opposite the bridge towards Manoel Island. In the 1950’s, development of properties in the area really kicked into high gear as tourism in Malta increased, making the town the first tourist resort on the island.
If we go farther back in time, to the period that has shaped the future of the island, we would find Sliema occupied by Ottoman Turks during the Great Siege of 1565. In fact, the Turks used the area known as il-Qortin as a base of operations from where they shot one canon ball after another at the fortifications of Fort St. Elmo.
On that exact spot, Tigné Fort was built in 1792 by the Knights of St. John to add security to the harbour. After decades of neglect, the fort has been largely restored, financed by a property development company that’s building (and has partially completed) a large residential complex right behind the fort.
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