I don’t know what I expected of Gozo – it’s an island that seems always to be an adjunct to the main event. Malta and Gozo is a little like the hors d’oeuvre to the entree, with Gozo rarely having its time in the limelight without mention of its big sister island. But years after I went to Malta for the first time, and keen as ever to dig deeper into a destination and explore the slightly lesser known, I finally made my way there and found many lovely things to do in Gozo.
This is an island where time moves that bit slower. Let’s be fair, even Malta’s capital city isn’t a racy metropolis – so in Gozo you’ll find a very relaxing pace to life.
Gozo has plenty of culture and history – perhaps the fact that it doesn’t have an airport, has shielded it from the excesses of modern tourism – and you’ll find even megalithic sites here. The island feels just small enough to make for a perfect weekend break of pottering around, eating great food and drinking lovely local wine. At least, that is what I plan to do when I return; and return to the island I will. Here I explain why and give you plenty of reasons to head there too.
Where is Gozo?
The island of Gozo is just over three miles from Malta’s northwestern coast, sitting in the Mediterranean Sea. A good few miles north of Tunisia and Libya and south of Sicily, means that the island is in a perfect stretch of blue sea that is blessed with year-round sunshine and warm temperatures.
Is Gozo worth visiting? Why go to Gozo?
My immediate response would be absolutely, and why not? This dot in the Med is made for a little adventuring and getting off the beaten track – if you’ve tried any of Croatia’s islands, Spain’s islands or the Greek Islands, then it’s a great alternative.
More though, Gozo to me, is a perfect place for a weekend break, whether with your partner, or with friends. It may even suit some people for a longer break, but at just nine miles long and four-and-a-half wide you may struggle to find enough to do for a week or longer, unless of course, you’re looking to fly, ferry and flop on a beach or by a pool.
How to get to Gozo from Malta
Without its own airport, most visitors to Gozo will arrive by ferry from Malta, although there are routes there from Sicily also (taking just short of two hours).
From Malta, the ferry leaves from Ċirkewwa in the north and sails to Gozo in around 20 minutes, up to 74 times a week. There is also a fast ferry with dozens of daily crossings from Malta’s capital, Valetta, taking about 45 minutes.
Find out more on the website for Gozo Ferries.
Can you take a day trip to Gozo?
Yes! You can take a day trip to Gozo as it’s super easy to get to from Malta, and I managed to pack in a lot of attractions in just one day. So if you haven’t the time to spend a whole weekend in Gozo, you could certainly make the most of a day there.
How big is Gozo?
Well, you won’t easily get lost. Gozo is a mere 67 square kilometres, seven kilometres wide by 13 kilometres long, so it’s certainly small enough to explore in a day or two. But has enough to see and do for a weekend break.
What are the best things to do in Gozo?
First of all, relax. The island of Gozo is a step-back-in-time land where part of the pleasure of being there is just to be able to get away from it all, rest, recharge and enjoy the local lifestyle. This is not a party-hard island (head to St Julian’s in Malta if wild nights are your thing).
However, there are plenty of Gozo attractions to make it worthy of a day trip from Malta, or better still, a few days on island.
Step back in time at Ġgantija Archeological Park
Start at the beginning, in fact let’s make that a step back to pre-history, by taking in the Ġgantija temple complex. Dating back to the neolithic era, these crumbling rocks of varying shapes and sizes were stacked upon each other with incredible engineering for the time – they were constructed between 3,600 and 3,200 BC long before metal tools had reached the islands or the wheel was invented.
An UNESCO World Heritage Site, it shows signs that rituals and feasting took place there. I found myself feeling dwarfed by the depth of the site’s history, as looked up at the walls and the guide on our tour explained what each of the two structures that make up the temple were used for.
Alongside the site, the Ġgantija Archaeological Park Interpretation Centre houses artefacts excavated from across the area, including ornaments and objects of fertility.
Explore Gozo’s capital Rabat and uncover links to Queen Victoria
The island’s capital is actually more of a suburb, if you take note of the Maltese language. The word Rabat means suburb and when locals refer to Rabat it was historically a reference to the area that surrounds the ancient Citadel at the heart of the city.
But Rabat has another name. Malta and Gozo’s ties to the United Kingdom are many, and Rabat was given its status as a city when it also gained it’s more recent name, Victoria, in honour of the former British Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1887. But no matter what you choose to call it, you will no doubt enjoy your time in Rabat/Victoria as much as I did.
It is a city that begs you to slow your pace, to potter in its gift shops and selection of boutiques, to while away the hours at any number of bars and long-lunch haunts, people watching in one of its many squares.
Here, churches like Basilica San George, in what’s known as the city’s Old Town, and set in beautiful sand coloured stone, are worth stepping into to see richly painted interiors and stained glass windows.
Photo: Diego Delso under Creative Commons
Next, head to Republic Street (Triq ir-Repubblika) the city’s main street and home to Villa Rundle Gardens, a small landscaped park, perfect for a peaceful preamble. Next door, Arkadia and The Duke are arcades with a variety of shops. Then at the far end of Republic Street you will enter into Independence Square at the base of the Citadel, which has the It-Tokk market until noon, from Monday to Saturday, selling souvenirs as well as small rounds of Gozitan cheese, known as gbejniet, fresh fruit and vegetables.
The street is also home to two small theatres, Teatru Aurora and Teatru Astra which host shows from time to time.
Make like Cersei in The Citadel
If like me, you love Game of Thrones, you will definitely have a feel for it in Gozo’s old capital. Though the show was not filmed in the Citadel – more on Gozo Game of Thrones locations later – the city that lies behind thick, ancient walls is reminiscent of the Red Keep from the show. And that is to its credit, in as much as it whisks you away to a past seemingly conjured up in the pages of fiction, it is so wonderfully preserved.
I wandered deep into its heart, my footsteps pattering on stone slabs, echoing off the walls of the arches that cut a path through it’s feet thick walls.
Built in the 13th century on top of a hill on the site of a Stone Age settlement, it was reconstructed between 1599 and 1622 by the Knights of the Order of St John. The Knights ruled the islands, and decided to build the citadel to fortify their defences across Malta and its sister island, following the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottomans in 1565. You can visit the Cittadella Visitor Centre for more information on its history.
Traders huddle inside the walls of the Citadel, much as I supposed they would have in centuries past, but today you’re more likely to find gift shops than blacksmiths.
At the heart of the Citadel is the Cathedral of the Assumption, its steps an introduction as well as an overwhelm, the like of which should be the domain of any cathedral. Built between 1697–1711 this Baroque building is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church on the island.
Head into the Cathedral Museum and you’ll find a collection of more than 2,000 exhibits including statues, paintings, silverware, and special issue coins.
Across from the Cathedral is the Old Prison, next to the Courts of Justice. Though slightly eerie, it is fascinating for the historical graffiti that lines it walls.
The Citadel is also terrific at night when the glow of its lanterns coax you into amber alleyways, and views from the walls of Rabat’s buildings punctuate inky, starlit skies.
Gozo: things to do beyond the city
Take it in with a tuk-tuk tour
Do away with the car and hire a tuk-tuk to explore Gozo. I took my pick of red, yellow, blue and green electric-fired wheels and headed into the island’s hills to explore. Going at a cruising speed just faster than your average golf cart is a great way to ensure you don’t miss the island’s landscapes. And how unexpectedly verdant it was!
I was visiting Gozo in the spring, but I was surprised to see lush green hillsides giving way to terraced farmland and yellow wildflowers gathering around plump paddles of cacti, which would undoubtedly soon be bearing flowers, and spikes, themselves.
Cameras at the ready!
There are though, some places that Tuk-Tuk’s can’t reach, and from a drop off point, I continued on foot to discover one of the most dramatic Gozo attractions. Reaching the end of a rough path, I descended down a slightly rocky area to follow the walkway into a cave to be rewarded with one of the best views on the island.
I’m sure Ramla Bay is wonderful beachside, where its warm golden sands shift softly underfoot, but from up here at the viewing point, it was all the more spectacular. This is definitely one of the best places on Gozo for Instagram-worthy shots.
Forgo a restaurant for a picnic
I love supporting small, local businesses on my travels, and so Gozo Picnic was a great discovery.
This little company, set up by Ukrainian come Gozitan Ana Kisling, will deliver a picnic hamper filled to the brim with tasty local dishes, made with locally-sourced ingredients. You can choose from a range of menus and Ana even helps with setting up and suggesting picnic spots as needed.
Plus, much like travelling by a Gozo tuk-tuk, you don’t have to fear your carbon footprint as the picnics are eco-friendly with no single-use plastics. Instead she use reusable containers and even coconut husks for serving at times.
It’s a lovely way to enjoy Gozo’s countryside and Ana’s dishes are very, very tasty. If, though like us, you find that your planned day for a picnic is a bit of a washout, she can also set up for you under cover.
Sea with a view
It’s a little strange to refer to a Gozo attraction which to all intents and purposes is no longer in existence. The Azure Window was famed for its eye-watering good looks and as the location of Game of Thrones’ Dothraki wedding feast between Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen, but a combination of erosion and a heavy storm caused its collapse in 2017. However, the area surrounding the site still has the capacity to captivate with incredible views.
Around 20 minutes drive from Rabat/Victoria, Dwejra sits on the island’s west coast. A tiny bay where small boats bob on the tide, it has the feel of a tiny fishing hamlet, but has become a popular location with visitors keen to see the marvels of Gozo’s coast.
Hopping into a boat our captain took us on a tour, floating out across clear waters given a dazzling sparkle by the bright sunshine.
First we went through a cave, the colour of the sea below us still managing to shine a bright blue in the gloom. Then we were out along the coast, whizzing now, past other boats and towering cliffs. The Azure Window is no more, there is no gap, no view to look at through the space between the rocks, but the area is no less beautiful.
I was fascinated alone by the variegated blues of the sea here, and watching schools of fish dart beneath our boat, so it is still worthy of a visit and a lovely way to spend an hour or two.
With my time on the island at an end, I realised that though it isn’t a big place, I had plenty to fill my time. I had arrived wondering what to do on Gozo. If I’d find enough there to entertain me.
By the end of my stay I had found many wonderful things to do on Gozo. And that perhaps a weekend wasn’t long enough. All I would have wished in fact, was more time to do less, so I could enjoy my fill of Gozo’s restful nature.