After several days in gorgeous (but crowded) Malta, we decided to visit the island’s even smaller sister, Gozo. With a fraction of the population of the main island, Gozo is much quieter and has a slower pace about it. It’s also awe-inspiring.
Gozo has stunning swimming spots, charming villages, and a beautiful coastline all punctuated here and there by unique buildings and ruins. We set out on our day trip from Malta with the goal of enjoying all the things to do in Gozo at a leisurely pace.
Here’s what there is to do on this unique island in a day.
See the Citadel
From the ferry, we made a beeline to the Citadel (also called the Citadella or Kastell). This hilltop fortress is one of the top places to visit in Gozo, and we had heard it gets crowded, so we wanted to get there early.
In the capital city of Victoria (locals call it Rabat), the Citadel sits on a site previously settled by Romans, Arabs, and Normans. Its current incarnation was reconstructed after a conflict with the Turks in 1551. The history in the place is remarkable.
Arriving just a few minutes before 9:00am, we felt like we had the whole Citadel to ourselves. We walked into the Cathedral of the Assumption in the heart of the Citadel just as the priest was finishing his morning prayer and got to wander through the 17th-century building alone. From the bastions outside are some of the best views in Gozo, as the whole island spreads out around the fortress.
Although some areas are in ruins, exploring the streets and alleyways provides an interesting glimpse into history. Other top attractions in the area include the Folklore Museum, the Archaeology Museum, and the Old Prison, which was used from the 16th century until 1962.
Visit Ta’ Pinu Basilica
Even in a country full of churches, Ta’ Pinu Basilica stands out as one of the more striking attractions, in large part because of its setting—it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.
Surrounded by fields in northern Gozo, Ta’ Pinu Basilica is a national shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary. In 1883, a local woman reported hearing Mary’s voice in the chapel that stood on this spot, and it rapidly became a center of pilgrimage.
To accommodate all the visitors, construction began on Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu in 1920, incorporating the original 16th century chapel. Everything about this church from its 155-foot bell tower to its series of marble statues is done to stand out. If you’re short on time, stop by for a quick exterior photo op. If you care to linger, check out the museums inside and the statues that line the walking path adjacent to the cathedral.
Gaze at Wied il-Ghasri
After some quality time with buildings and churches, we were off for some outdoor sightseeing on the island’s northern coast at Wied l-Għasri, the Ghasri Valley. All through the area, people were hiking, biking, and enjoying the scenery.
On a whim, we decided to follow a handful of people walking down to a spot just out of sight, not knowing what was at the end of the path. What we found was probably the most gorgeous swimming area we’ve ever seen—a place where the Mediterranean dips in between the impressive Gozitan cliffs.
Just a few feet away, waves crashed against the cliffs, but in Wied il-Ghasri, everything was calm. The tiny rocky beach was a perfect place to relax, and the swimming and snorkeling here was great. It’s also a popular destination for those who visit Gozo for scuba diving.
Walk through the salt pans
About a mile from Wied il-Ghasri was one of our favorite things to see in Gozo—the amazing salt pans below the village of iz-Zebbug. All along the soft limestone of the coast, salt pans form an intricate pattern that begged for closer inspection.
Before summer, the pans are filled with seawater, which ultimately evaporates and leaves the crystallized salt behind. It’s been this way for thousands of years, as some of these hand-carved cut outs date back as far as Roman times. The combination of the rock formations, the patchwork of salt pans, the sea, and all the surrounding scenery was astounding.
Relax at Xwejni Bay
Just steps from the salt pans, the waves of shallow Xwejni Bay greeted sunbathers and swimmers. Families and couples congregated along the pebbly beach to snorkel, swim, and just have fun. Unlike busy Marsalforn Bay just a mile away, Xwejni Bay is quiet and understated with just a couple of businesses and room to spread out in the sun.
Swim at Xlendi
All of the exploring and sightseeing had us quite hungry, so we took a 20-minute drive to the coastal village of Xlendi. There’s great traditional Maltese and Gozitan food all over Malta, but we had heard great things about the seafood offerings in Xlendi, in particular. Plus, it was reported to have exceptional views. Our detour was well worth it.
The village sits on a sandy inlet of Xlendi Bay and the seaside is lined with restaurants, cafes, and modern hotels. Sitting right on the water at secluded Ta’ Karolina, visitors can watch boats returning with some of their fresh catch. A quick hike to the top of one of the cliffs provides views of the bay. It’s easy to see why the area has gained popularity and more tourist traffic in recent years, but thankfully the natural beauty of the bay endures. Our visit here was one of our favorite things to do in Gozo.
See the red sand at Ramla Bay
The red sandy beach at Ramla Bay is often cited as the best beach on Gozo. Its ruddy, soft sand is unique on both Gozo and Malta—two islands known for pebbly beaches—and leads into perfect turquoise water. The area provides a great swimming, snorkeling, and diving spot for families during much of the year and can get very crowded with locals and tourists in high season. While the Ramla Bay area is not particularly built up, there are two cafes and ice cream kiosks as well as chairs and umbrellas for rent.
If the beach gets too crowded, head for Calypso Cave nearby. Overlooking the western side of the beach, the carved out area is believed to be the cave referred to by Homer in The Odyssey in which the nymph Calypso kept Ulysses for seven years.
How to Get to Gozo from Malta
Traveling by ferry is the only way to reach the island, but luckily it’s quite affordable at less than €5 per passenger roundtrip. The ferry to Gozo departs from Ċirkewwa in Malta roughly every hour year-round, and the trip takes about 20 minutes. You can reach Ċirkewwa via several different bus routes, but a taxi is the most reliable way to reach the ferry station if you’re hoping to get on a specific ferry.
There are a number of options for getting around the island.
- Public bus – There are 10 bus routes that run hourly in every direction. This option is likely best for those with lots of time and flexibility, as the service is reported to be inefficient.
- Hop on hop off bus – If you’re short on time and don’t want to drive, hop on hop off buses are an option. They stop at all the major attractions and provide information in eight languages. We decided against this option because we did not think we would be able to see as much as we wanted to with just one day in Gozo.
- Taxis – Taxis are readily available from the port. They may be a good option if you want flexibility but aren’t comfortable driving yourself.
- Rental car – There are several rental car options right in the ferry terminal. We ultimately chose to rent a car in Malta because we wanted the flexibility to be on our own schedule and to see what we wanted during our Gozo day trip. Driving was very easy and not nearly as hectic as driving in Malta. If you’re considering a rental car, check rates for cars on Gozo here (via AutoEurope). You can also see our e-book on driving abroad here.