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Door and window view of ancient limestone structures of Hagar Qim Temple in Qrendi, Malta.

10 Tips for Visiting the Megalithic Temples in Malta & Gozo

Partway between mainland Europe and Africa in the Mediterranean Sea lies the small island of Malta and its even smaller neighbour Gozo. These islands are best known for their megalithic temples built by Neolithic inhabitants some 5 – 6,000 years ago. The temples are a testament to a tradition of prehistoric architecture that is totally unique to this part of the world. Recognising their international importance, UNESCO classified six of them as a World Heritage Site. Not surprising then the temples are a popular tourist attraction. Having recently visited the islands, these are my tips for visiting megalithic temples on Malta and Gozo.

The megalithic temples on Malta and Gozo were made using large limestone blocks, hence the label ‘megalithic’ – large stone. Typically they have circular features that have been called ‘apses’ and are often found to have contained carved female figurines. Eager to see these enigmatic ancient structures for myself, I visited the islands during November, a time of year which avoids the crowds, sweltering heat, and heightened prices of peak tourist season.

At the same time, the Mediterranean climate ensures that the autumnal weather is mild and for several hours a day I needed only a light jumper. Although Malta is a great place for archaeological explorers, particularly those interested in prehistory and ancient religion, one thing I soon realised was how important it is for visitors to plan ahead so that they make the most out of their adventures. Here then are my top ten tips for visiting the Megalithic temples on Malta and Gozo.

Door and window view of ancient limestone structures of Hagar Qim Temple in Qrendi, Malta.
Doorways in the Ħaġar Qim Temple.

What Shouldn’t I Miss?

Over the centuries, archaeologists have discovered at least twenty megalithic temples on Malta and Gozo. Unfortunately many are not open to visitors, but the six that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site are. No keen prehistorian can visit Malta without seeing these at least.

A paved path leading to the covered Mnajdra Temple, with is ocean view.
Mnajdra Temple overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
A near aerial view of the Tarxien temples under the protective tent.
The Tarxien Temples complex.

In Gozo, the Ġgantija temples are among the most impressive of all those on the Maltese islands. Here, two temples stand side by side, encircled by the same megalithic wall and overlooking Nuffara Hill, home to a Bronze Age settlement. Like the temples at Skorba and Ta’ Ħaġrat, the Ġgantija temples are still open-air, although the overall impression is hindered slightly by scaffolding and metal girders holding parts of the temple in place.

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What About the Museums?

As well as the temples themselves, the Maltese islands boast several museums containing artefacts found during site excavations. In several cases, the two are linked: with impressive modern exhibits on display at Ġgantija as well as the Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim visitor’s centre. The latter even includes a brief interactive cinema experience taking the viewer through thousands of years of history.

A view of the permanent exhibition of megalithic sites in Malta at the National Museum of Archaeology.
Permanent exhibition on the megalithic temples in the National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta.

Definitely worth a visit is the National Museum of Archaeology in Valetta. Although some of the rooms and labels are a bit dated and tatty, the museum’s collection of prehistoric artefacts is among the finest in Europe. It includes various engraved and patterned megaliths as well as a fascinating collection of rounded female figurines, including the famous Sleeping Lady sculpture. I recommend visiting this museum before any of the temples themselves, to get a better appreciation for the periods in question. Set aside at least two hours to ensure that you see everything.

A view of the interior of the Ggantija Visitor's Centre, showing freestaning display boards and glass cabinets with artefacts.
Ġgantija visitor’s centre, Gozo.

When in Gozo, consider popping into the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, a small affair located in the Medieval citadel of the Gozan capital city, which is known as either Victoria or Rabat. Although its prehistoric collection is restricted to a few sparse cabinets, it includes several interesting items excavated from the Ġgantija Temples and Xagħra Stone Circle (the latter sadly closed to the public). For those with an interest in later periods, the rooms devoted to Roman and Medieval archaeology are more likely to impress. The entire museum can be seen in 20 to 30 minutes, and is ideally paired with a wider exploration of Victoria’s Medieval fortifications.

Are There Combination Tickets?

The best option for those wanting to visit all the sites mentioned here might be to buy the Multisite Pass, which costs €50 for adults, €38 for students and retired people, and €25 for children. It remains valid for 30 days from its first use. This allows entry into all the sites mentioned here except the Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum. In addition, it permits entry to a wide range of other sites of archaeological and historic interest across Malta and Gozo, and gives a 10% discount in Heritage Malta shops. In all the pass gives access to 23 sites and museums. This is a good option for those who intend on visiting not just the temples but other sites as well, particularly if you are staying on the island for two or more weeks.

Those with a more limited time in Malta would be financially better off purchasing individual tickets for specific sites. In those cases where the temples are close to one another, one tickets serves entrance to both sites. The most obvious case of this is at Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim, which are covered by a single entry-fee. Similarly, only a single ticket is provided for both Skorba and Ta’ Ħaġrat; I should add that the ticket also includes entry to the Ta’ Bistra catacombs, dating from the late Roman period.

When on Gozo, the entry ticket to Ġgantija also permits entry to the nearby Ta’ Kola Windmill, built in the 18th century. Tickets to the Gozo Museum of Archaeology entitle you to entry to the Cittadella Visitor Centre, Gran Castello Historic House, Gozo Nature Museum, and Old Prison. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was only able to visit the archaeological museum. Those on a day trip to Gozo from Malta should similarly not expect to include all these sites into their itinerary, particularly if you wish to visit Ġgantija.

Where Should I Stay?

The megalithic temples are scattered across Malta and Gozo, rather than being clustered in any one area. It is therefore impossible to stay in one place that puts you in walking distance of them all, and – unless you hire a car – public transport will be essential.

Malta’s transport hub is on the western outskirts of its capital city, Valetta. Encircled by walls and towers built between the 16th and 19th centuries, this small yet beautiful city is located on the island’s eastern coast. Basing yourself in the west of Valetta or just outside of it places you in the best position to make use of the country’s transport links. I stayed in Floriana, a more rough-and-ready, working-class area to the west of the city, which meant that I had to walk for less than five minutes to the bus stop each morning, an ideal situation for the archaeological explorer.

Being located in either Valetta or Floriana also means that you have access to a wider range of eateries, bars, and shops than are present in most other parts of Malta. It also means that you are in walking distance of the city’s various attractions, which include the National Museum of Archaeology, the 16th-century Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, and the palatial Casa Rocca Piccola. As well as connecting you with transport links to archaeological sites, it also ensures that you are only a thirty minute bus ride away from the night-life hub of St Julian’s, ideal for those wanting to party on a Friday or Saturday night.

Do I Need to Plan Ahead?

One thing I learned (at times to my cost) during my trip to Malta is that it really is important to plan ahead when it comes to visiting the temples. This is particularly the case with Skorba and Ta’ Ħaġrat, which are off the main tourist trail and only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Tickets cannot be purchased at the sites themselves, but must be obtained either online (here for Skorba, and here for Ta’ Ħaġrat) and/or beforehand at the National Museum of Archaeology, which is located on the other side of the island. Those hoping that they will be able to see these two sites without a prior ticket will be disappointed; I saw one man being turned away from Ta’ Ħaġrat by a security guard for arriving without a ticket.

It is also important to make sure that you know exactly where each site is and how to get there. While sites like Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim are well-signposted and easy to find, the others are not. I would therefore recommend that you make use of a good printed map or online resource like a Google Map, and if using public transport ask the bus driver to let you know what stop to get off at.

What About the Ħal-saflieni Hypogeum?

Perhaps the jewel in the crown of the Maltese megaliths is the Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum, a subterranean cemetery in Paola. Unfortunately, I never got to see it. To preserve the site, only eighty visitors are allowed in per day, and demand is high. I had hoped to obtain a ticket once I had arrived in Malta, although by that point it was fully booked. Planning again!

Avoid making the same mistake as I did and reserve your slot before travelling to the island! You can book online on the official Heritage Malta website. For peak tourist seasons tickets are booked up well in advance.

Statuette found at Hal Saflieni Hypogeum in the National Archaeology Museum in Valetta.
The so-called ‘Sleeping Lady of Ħal-Saflieni’, now on display in the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

Can I Join a Guided Tour?

Where Can I Get Food and Drink?

None of the sites I visited have cafes or restaurants attached, so visitors must look elsewhere for food and drink. So I chose to buy supplies in the shops near where I was staying in Floriana and prepared a packed lunch each morning. That helped me keeping costs down and saved time searching for cafes, which meant I could see more of the archaeology by staying longer at the sites.

Those who prefer a sit-down meal have a few options available to them. Tarxien and the Hypogeum are in an urban area, approximately fifteen minutes’ walk from the main high street at Paola, where various bakeries and cheap food outlets are located. There is also a small, cheap café close to Skorba.

The Mnajdra/Ħaġar Qim visitor’s centre is in a rural environment with few amenities. There is a coffee vending machine, but unless you want a cup of tepid milk I would not recommend it. Those wanting something to eat and/or drink should go to the nearby village of Qrendi or town of Siġġiewi, although I do not have personal experience of either.

In Gozo, the Ġgantija temples are in the urban environment of Xagħra, where several cafes and eateries are found, although few appeared open for lunch when I visited. Greater options are available in Victoria/Rabat, the capital city where the Gozo Museum of Archaeology is located.

A hand holding a typical Maltese timpana, a pastry filled with pasta and a bolognese sauce.
A Maltese timpana, pastry filled with pasta and a bolognese sauce.
A tourist shop in Malta.
A typical tourist shop.

Are There Toilets and Gift Shops?

Toilet facilities vary at the different sites. Decent indoor facilities are present at the Mnajdra/Ħaġar Qim visitor’s centre, Ġgantija, and at the Tarxien Temples. There is no facility at Skorba itself, although a public toilet is almost directly adjacent. The only toilet facility at Ta’ Ħaġrat is a portaloo.

Guide books and souvenirs are available for sale at several sites, including the Tarxien Temples, the Mnajdra/Ħaġar Qim Temples, Ġgantija, and the National Museum of Archaeology. The museum’s shop sells excavation reports for those seeking more than just an introductory guide to Malta’s Neolithic heritage. Conversely, there are no gift shops at either Skorba or Ta’ Ħaġrat.

Small figurines, fridge magnets, and other items drawing upon the iconography of Malta’s prehistory are also available in tourist shops situated on the departure side of the island’s only airport.

Archaeology Travel Writer

Ethan Doyle White

When not exploring archaeology and history sites at home and abroad, and then writing about these for Archaeology Travel, I research religion in early medieval England and contemporary uses of heritage. In 2019 I completed a PhD in medieval history and archaeology from University College, London. Read More

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