Europe

A Day Trip to Gozo – Exploring Malta’s Sister Island

Gozo is one of the three islands that make up the European island nation of Malta. Gozo – sometimes called Malta’s sister island – is smaller and more rural than the bigger main island, but it’s still filled with interesting sites.  Spending time on Gozo is an essential part of any Malta travel itinerary.  While Gozo does offer plenty of lodging options, many Gozo visitors experience this island while on a day trip.  Taking a day trip to Gozo is quite easy. Let me show you what our day trip to Gozo was like.

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My Day Trip to Gozo Vision

When I plan a day trip, I inevitably develop a vision for the day’s events. Of course, as with most travel adventures, day trips don’t always go as planned.  And our day trip to Gozo was no different.  My vision –  rent some scooters and enjoy the island air blowing against our faces, while gliding along the quiet roads, while leisurely visiting most of the islands major sites. 

Reality? Well….keep reading.

Getting to Gozo

Our day trip to Gozo originated in Malta’s capital city Valletta.  From here, the Gozo Fast Ferry takes passengers on a 45 minute trip up along the eastern coast of Malta, then across the Gozo Channel to the southern end of Gozo.  It only costs 15 Euro for the round trip, and the interior is quite comfortable.  

The Gozo Fast Ferry sitting in the Mgarr Harbor on Gozo Island
The interior of the Gozo Fast Ferry as we embark on our day trip to Gozo

(The alternative is the Gozo Channel Ferry that operates between Malta’s north shore and Gozo’s south shore.  This is the best option if you have a rental car, but if staying in the Valletta area, the Fast Ferry is much more convenient)

The only disadvantage of the Fast Ferry is the schedule.  The service doesn’t even leave on an hourly basis.  Our only options were a 7, 8, or 10am departure. 7 and 8 were just a little too early for our vacationing bodies.  This meant our day trip to Gozo didn’t actually start on actual Gozo soil until around 10:45.

Then, we had to choose between a 4:15pm, 5:15pm, or 7:15pm departure time when booking our return.   We opted for the 5:15 pm return, giving us only 6.5 hours on the island.  Is 6.5 hours enough time for a day trip to Gozo?  Well…keep reading. 

Mrs. TT’s Scooter Bucket List

Mrs. TT has a dream of driving scooters in Europe.  As I researched how we would travel around Gozo, I discovered that scooter rental is an option.  I’m always happy to make her happy, and she was ecstatic to finally have the chance.  A few days before our day trip to Gozo,  I made scooter rental reservations via text with Mgarr Tourist Services (located just a few steps from the Gozo ferry terminal) and we were set.

The exterior of Mgarr Tourist Services

Unfortunately, driving scooters in Europe is still on Mrs TT’s bucket list….  

When we arrived at Mgarr Tourist Services, Paul took one look at us, and talked us out of scooter rental.  Our general lack of scooter experience was probably also a consideration for him, too.  We told him that we’ve both driven scooters in the distant past and asked for a quick lesson, but he strongly suggested that we take the RZR 4×4 instead.  And even though it cost a little more (100 Euro), I didn’t feel he was upselling us.  I think he was genuinely concerned for our safety.  

RZR UTV along side a sweeping view of the Gozo countryside
Our RZR overlooking the Gozo countryside at one of our stops

And in retrospect, after actually driving around Gozo, we had no regrets.  Traffic was busier than I anticipated, road speeds were higher than I anticipated, and we had directional challenges at times – something that always reduces focus.  I can see where our limited scooter experience wouldn’t have been enough.

I’ve driven a RZR before.  (In fact, you can click here to read about our RZR adventure near Kanab Utah).  So, only a quick refresher was needed and off we went. 

The Map and The Plan

Before we left, Paul showed us the most important sites on the island on a tourist map, along with a suggested route for the day. 

A marked-up tourist map of Gozo with suggested day trip stops

Now of course, being The Thorough Tripper, I had already researched these and had a general sense of our goals for the day.  The Ggantija Temples topped my list and I also absolutely wanted to see the cliffs along the island’s southwestern coastline.  His suggested route looked quite ambitious to me, and I wondered aloud if we could pull it off in our 6 remaining hours.  He assured me that we could. 

But Lunch…

We’ve always gotta eat though.  And we were hungry by then.  So we headed straight for lunch, about 15 minutes away in Xaghra, near the Ggantija Temples.  While I would have loved to try one of the many great restaurants on Gozo, European lunches aren’t always the quickest.  We generally don’t mind that slower European meal pace – except on a tight day trip schedule.  

We chose what we hoped would be a fast meal at Cafe Reale, located next to Xaghra’s church.   And we guessed right – it was quick and good too.  We were back on the road within 45 minutes.

The outside tables at Cafe Reale in Xaghra Gozo alongside the town church

Ggantija Temples

Why did the Ggantija Temples top my Gozo wish list?  Because this UNESCO World Heritage site is the second oldest free-standing manmade structure on earth, dating to 3600 BC – over 5000 years old!! (A temple complex in Turkey is the oldest.)  I would say that Ggantija is not only a Gozo must-see, but one of the most important sites in all of Malta. 

Inside the Ggantija Temples

The islands of Malta are home to several different monolithic temple sites and Ggantija is the oldest. The term monolithic refers to the giant slabs of hand-strewn rock used to construct these ancient religious structures.  The builders didn’t have written language.  Consequently little is known about their culture or the exact purpose of these temples, but it’s fairly clear from the archeologic record that animal sacrifice and other religious ceremonies took place inside.

The exterior of the Ggantija temples

The temple site is situated on the side of a hill, overlooking the surrounding countryside. And it’s awe-inspiring to walk through.  After all, it’s The Second Oldest Structure on Earth!

A pathway through monolithic slabs of stone at the Ggantija temples

Ta’ Kola Windmill

The Ta’ Kola Windmill sits only a block north of the Temples. Several centuries ago, lots of windmills dotted the island.  This is one of the few remaining.  It dates to the late 1700s and now serves as a museum. We didn’t take the time to go inside. Its outside is photogenic though.

The exterior of the Ta' Kola Windmill

Calypso’s Cave

Calypso’s Cave was next up on the tourist map route. I had read about Calypso’s Cave while preparing for our visit.  And I had decided that it wasn’t worth visiting,  I’d read that the cave itself could not be accessed. So, despite its history (see below), the site didn’t seem interesting to me.

Instead, I determined that we would quickly move on to the next sites on the map – the seaside village of Marsalforn, the Xwenji Salt Pans, and the Basilica of Ta’ Pinu

However,  we found that the road to Marsalforn was blocked, and Google Maps continually redirected us on a route with sign after sign pointing towards…Calypso’s Cave. 

Direction signs on the back streets of Gozo island

So I gave in to what I figured was fate’s message and we continued on to see the Cave.  

Calypso’s Cave has been known for thousands of years, and is reputed to be the cave in which Homer’s Ulysses was kept captive by the sea nymph Calypso for 7 years in The Odyssey. 

Now, it seems pretty much forgotten – surprisingly so for one of Gozo’s “top sites”.  The small  parking area was empty and any direct access to the Cave itself was blocked off.  We were able to stand above it, where we did have a great view down to one of Gozo’s most popular beaches – Ramla Beach

Ramla Beach from Calypso's Cave on Gozo Malta

Our visit to the disappointing cave was significantly shorter than Ulysses’.

Re-Routing

We next tried to find another route to Marsalforn and the northern sites of Gozo, but to no avail.  What seemed to be the only through-road from our location was blocked.  

By this time, we only had 2.5 hours left on our day trip to Gozo, and so I decided to forget about going to the northern half of Gozo, focusing instead on my other goal for the day – the island’s southwestern cliffs.

Driving a RZR through the back streets of Gozo Malta
Re-routing through the back streets of Gozo in our RZR

Xlendi & The Cliffs

The southwest Gozo coastline is defined by tall limestone cliffs.  My original vision for our day trip to Gozo included hiking out to an area called the Ta Cenc Cliffs.  However as our time was ticking down, I concluded that in the interest of time, we would stop at the seaside town of Xlendi instead.   I had previously read that a portion of the cliffs could be seen here.  Plus I knew that Xlendi itself was picturesque.

The small seaside village of Xlendi on Gozo Island in Malta
Xlendi

So we crossed the island, passing through the capital city of Victoria (my hoped-for last stop of the day if time allowed), and parked next to Xlendi Bay.

On of the bays near Xlendi Gozo

Here we found cliffs and a beautiful inlet. We took a short hike around the inlet and out to the coastline, where we found a great collection of salt pans.

Salt Pans and Cliffs near Xlendi Gozo Malta

 Plus, further views out along the area’s spectacular limestone cliffs.

Tall Limestone Cliffs near Xlendi on Gozo Island

The Citadel

By the time we finished in Xlendi, we only had about an hour left before we need to return to the ferry port.  Just enough time to quickly head back to Victoria and check it out its main attraction – the Citadel.

Exterior of the Citadel in Victoria Gozo

The Citadel was Gozo’s principal fortress, and the current version was constructed around 1600.  It is perched atop one of the highest hills on the island, and the city of Victoria sits at its feet. Gozo’s most important church, dating from the late 1700s, was constructed inside its walls. 

Cathedral inside Victoria Malta's Citadel
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (inside the Citadel)

Fortunately, there is a small parking lot at the top of the hill, right next to the main entrance. This was big time saver for us as we hurried to finish up our day trip to Gozo.  Even then, by the time we parked, we only had 30 minutes to explore The Citadel. And our visit did feel rushed. Nonetheless, we were able to walk through most of it. 

I especially appreciated the views from the outer high outer walls out across the island and down to the city of Victoria

The Gozo countryside from atop the Citadel
The city of Victoria Gozo from atop the Citadel

Back to The Ferry

As we left Victoria and hurried back to drop off our RZR, I counted up our ticked-off sites for the day.  We had only managed to see five of Gozo’s top sites.  My initial skepticism at Paul’s ambitious itinerary for us had been correct.  Plus my vision for the day in no way matched reality.

But, our day trip to Gozo was certainly no bust.  We successfully visited the two sites I most wanted to see, had a nice lunch in a Gozitan town square, and criss-crossed the island in a UTV – not exactly the scooter experience we had hoped for, but still fun nonetheless.

Alternative Ways to Experience Gozo

I personally prefer the flexibility and adventure of our do-it-yourself approach to travel, but there are certainly easier ways to experience Gozo.

Let me first suggest though that Gozo is worth more than just a day trip.  As we hurriedly explored the island, we found ourselves wishing that we had carved a few days out of our Malta itinerary to stay somewhere on the island and fully explore Gozo at a more leisurely pace. 

But, if you only have time for a day trip to Gozo here are some alternative approaches to seeing the sites on the island.

Hop-on Hop-off Bus

The City SightSeeing Hop-On Hop-Off Bus operates two different routes around the island with stops at 15 different sites.  The routes conveniently begin and end at the Gozo ferry terminal. 

Organized Tours

Several companies offer organized tours of the island, including a self-drive option with various types of recreational vehicles to choose from.  Many of these companies also provide transport to Gozo from the main island. Viator is a great way to explore this option (see below).  But note that many of these tours don’t include Ggantija on their itinerary – so read the details carefully when choosing one if Ggantija is a priority for you (as it should be).

Our day trip to Gozo was just a small part of our 3 weeks exploring Malta. You can check out all the posts in my Malta series by clicking any of the links below.

A Thorough Guide to Traveling in Malta

The Historic Three Cities of Malta

Maraskala Malta – Relaxing on Malta’s Southeast Coast

Talbot & Bons B&B – Better than a Malta Airport Hotel

Or read about other some of our day trips in other parts of the world

Day Trips from Seville Spain

Day Trips from Kyoto Japan

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