Planning a trip to the Mediterranean but can’t decide between Malta and Sicily? Well, you’re not alone and it’s a tough decision. Both are beautiful and historic islands with plenty of charm and character.
They both offer a unique blend of culture, cuisine, and stunning coastlines that’s sure to leave anyone in awe. But if you only have time for one island on your trip, should you choose Malta or Sicily?
In this article, I’ll compare and contrast the two islands, covering everything from food to beaches to people, to help you make the best decision for your Mediterranean holiday.
Are Malta and Sicily Worth Visiting?
First things first, let’s answer the most important question: Are Malta and Sicily worth visiting? Absolutely! Both islands offer a rich cultural experience that blends history, architecture, and natural beauty.
Malta is a tiny, picturesque island that’s steeped in history and brimming with ancient architecture, while Sicily is a much larger island that boasts stunning landscapes, charming towns, and, of course, delicious cuisine.
Whichever island you choose, you’ll surely have a great time exploring and discovering what they have to offer.
Time For Just One: Should I Visit Malta or Sicily?
If you only have time for either Malta or Sicily, which one should you choose? Well, it all depends on what you’re looking for.
If you’re short on time:
If you don’t have long and want to get a taste of Mediterranean island life, and plan to return to Sicily for a longer trip in the future, then Malta is a great destination. With its compact size, it’s easy to see all the highlights of Malta in just a few days.
If you have at least 7-10 days to explore:
If you have more time and want to experience the full range of Mediterranean landscapes and culture, then Sicily should be your destination. Its vast size and diversity make it impossible to explore in just a few days, so plan to spend at least a week or two discovering this gem of the Mediterranean.
If you don’t expect to return to this region:
If you do not think you’ll ever make it back to the area, and have to choose one of the two islands to visit ever, Sicily is my recommendation. Keep reading to find out why.
Malta vs. Sicily: Island Size Comparison
One of the most obvious differences between Malta and Sicily is their size. Let’s review just how different they are.
Sicily: The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, stretching almost 26,000 km².
Malta: A lovely, but small island in the Mediterranean
Malta is a tiny island that’s just 246 km². It’s approximately 27 kilometers in length and 14 kilometers wide.
Based on square area, Sicily is almost 100 times larger than Malta. Naturally, this means that Malta is much easier to explore and navigate on a short trip, while Sicily requires more planning and time to see and explore the different parts of the island.
However, Sicily’s size also means that it boasts a stunning variety of landscapes, from rugged mountains, to extensive vineyards and olive groves, to golden beaches, with multiple larger cities and many small towns to explore. Malta’s scenery, while beautiful, is mostly limited to its rugged coastline.
Size Category Winner: Sicily
We have to give this category to Sicily because there’s just so much more to explore given its much larger size. That said, if you are planning a short vacation of less than a week, you won’t have time to explore the whole island anyway. So for a short trip, just pick one area of Sicily to focus on, or use your shorter Mediterranean trip as your chance to check out Malta and come back to Sicily for a longer trip.
Malta vs. Sicily: The Food
If you’re a food lover, then either Malta or Sicily should not disappoint you. Each island has its own unique cuisine, influenced by its location, history, and cultural traditions.
Maltese cuisine is known for its simplicity, using fresh and local ingredients to create hearty and delicious dishes. Some of its most famous dishes include pastizzi, rabbit stew, and braġioli.
On the other hand, Sicilian cuisine is full of rich flavors and textures, thanks to its long history of Arab, Greek, and French influences. Some of its famous dishes include arancini, caponata, and cassata.
Overall, in my opinion Sicily has more and better options for cuisine. On my trips I’ve found restaurants to be executing at a very high level, while at the same time being accessible from an ease of access and a price point of view. With it being a smaller island, Malta’s top restaurants tend to fill up quickly. While there is very good food in Malta, most of the travelers I speak with also agree that Sicily edges out above Malta in this category. In my book, just open air cafes with fresh gelato and granita in Sicily are worth a trip on their own.
Food Category Winner: Sicily
Malta vs. Sicily: The Wine
This category is hardly fair, since Sicily has so much more varied wine terroir to work with.
Malta is one of the world’s smallest wine producing countries and it has some fun local wines and varieties, such as Ġellewża (red) and Girgentina (white) and even a local sparkling wine made in the traditional method like Champagne. Definitely make sure to enjoy some of the local wines if you decide to visit Malta, it will be well worth it.
Sicily on the other hand, boasts many more grape varieties, vineyards, and producers and its wine quality is much more well known on the wine world stage. Wines from the vineyards in the volcanic soil around Mt. Etna are particularly well regarded among wine lovers around the world. Sicily always has me wanting to load up suitcases to carry home as much wine as I can.
Wine Category Winner: Sicily
Malta vs. Sicily: The Beaches
Both have stunning beaches
The Mediterranean is famous for its beautiful beaches, and both Malta and Sicily have their fair share of them.
Malta is known for its rocky coastline, with small but picturesque beaches scattered throughout the island. Some of the most popular Maltese beaches include Golden Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa, and St. Peter’s Pool. Many people in Malta (and many Italians, for that matter) are perfectly happy to hang out on rocky beaches, and some even claim that it helps keep the water more clear and blue. But if you prefer beaches with sand, Malta only has a few options.
Sicily has more sandy beaches than Malta
Sicily, on the other hand, is known for its stunning sandy beaches in addition to rocky ones. Some of the more remote spots have stretches of light sand and crystal-clear waters that some people feel rival those of the Caribbean. Some of the most famous Sicilian beaches include San Vito Lo Capo, Mondello, and Siculiana Marina. I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the best beaches in the world, and in my opinion the mainland beaches of Sicily don’t compete with those of the Caribbean or of Thailand, so level your expectations if you’ve set your bar based on these destinations. That said, there are very beautiful beaches tucked all around the shores of Sicily where I’d be more than happy to sip an Aperol Spritz (or a local Sicilian white wine) on any day without complaint.
If the main focus of your trip is the beach, it’s worth picking a Sicily hotel with a great sandy beach close enough for easy daily visits, since some of the best beaches are spread around different parts of the island.
Beach Category Winner: Sicily
Malta vs. Sicily: The People
Another important factor to consider when choosing between Malta and Sicily is the people. Both islands are known for their warm and friendly locals, who are always willing to help visitors. Some say that Maltese people are generally more reserved and formal, while Sicilian people are known for their outgoing and passionate personalities. In my experience people are friendly and helpful in both places.
As just one example, when I asked a local chef in Sicily which Mt. Etna wineries I should visit, he not only recommended some for me but also called them himself to book our reservation for a tasting.
In either case, you’re sure to feel welcome and at home in both Malta and Sicily.
If you already speak some Italian you may feel a little more at home in Sicily, where most locals speak standard Italian in addition to the local Sicilian dialect. The Maltese language is derived from a version of Sicilian Arabic, with some Italian and English words mixed in. So unless you happen to already know Maltese, you’ll be speaking English with the locals. Generally, locals in both locations know enough English to help get through everyday tourist life, so no need to worry.
People Category Winner: Tie
Malta vs. Sicily: Things to See & Do
When it comes to things to see, both Malta and Sicily are packed with history, culture, and natural beauty. Both islands feature multiple unesco world heritage sites.
Both have nearby islands that people enjoy visiting by boat on day trips to explore their natural beauty. This is a bigger topic than I have time to cover in this article, but you can learn more about the best islands around Sicily here and around Malta here.
Malta’s sister island Gozo tends to be a favorite for Malta visitors, while Sicily visitors rave about the Aeolian islands. Suffice it to say that both have beautiful nearby island options if you have time for a day trip from your home base.
In Malta, some of the must-visit attractions include the stunning walled city of Valletta, the ancient temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, and the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk. Malta has an extremely interesting history that is even more fun to learn about while visiting historical sites in person.
In Sicily, some of the top attractions include the ancient Greek city of Syracuse, the Greek temples at Agrigento, the stunning mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, and the charming towns of Taormina and Cefalù. There’s also the famous baroque towns such as Modica, Noto, and Ragusa that boast amazing architecture that is not easily found elsewhere in the world. And if you’re into agritourism, Sicily has a lot worth checking out from olive groves, to vineyards, to citrus orchards and more.
Depending on what you’re looking for, Sicily offers a variety of both big city life (Palermo and Catania) with lots of nightlife, or charming small towns and countryside.
Things to Do Category Winner: Sicily
Malta vs. Sicily: Getting There
Finally, when it comes to getting to Malta and Sicily, it’s relatively easy to reach both islands. Malta is served by Malta International Airport, with direct flights from many European cities such as London, Paris, and Berlin.
Sicily is served by two international airports, Catania–Fontanarossa Airport and Palermo Airport, with direct flights from major European cities such as Rome, London, and Madrid. You can also reach Sicily via car ferry (or even train ferry) from mainland Italy.
In general, accessing either island is not a problem, though Sicily is of course closer to Italy if you are planning on driving your own car and taking it on the ferry.
Getting There Category Winner: Tie
Malta and Sicily: When to Visit
For both islands my top recommendation is the shoulder season from April-June or September-October. If you’re really focused on beaches for your vacation, lean more toward June or September, as the months closer to winter can get chilly for a swim. Keep in mind that most european countries schools break in July/August so these months can be extremely busy, especially August. July and August can also be extremely hot in both Malta and Sicily.
Hotel Options and Where to Stay:
Some of the most commonly recommended Malta hotels are:
- Mazzaro Sea Palace Hotel
- San Antonio Hotel
- Mellieha Bay Hotel
- Radisson Golden Sands
Many travelers recommend basing in St Pauls Bay or St George’s Bay, and I agree they are both good options.
If you’re going in the off season and plan to hang out at the hotel pool, check to see if there is pool service available in the month you plan to visit.
Conclusion: Sicily vs. Malta (or Both) for Your Next Trip
In conclusion, whether you choose to visit Malta or Sicily, you’re sure to enjoy a wonderful Mediterranean holiday. Both islands offer a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, and each has its own unique charm. The official tourist authority site is a great resource for trip planning. So, take your pick based on your travel preferences, and get ready for an unforgettable journey to the heart of the Mediterranean.