Malta or Greece: Which Mediterranean Country To Visit?

Malta or Greece
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With equally inviting Mediterranean waters, beaches that hug the bays, and warm year-round climates, the question of Malta or Greece might come down to what don’t these dreamy European hotspots have in common? But Malta and Greece are more different than you might think and we’re here to compare them. 

The teeny nation of Malta is the world’s tenth smallest country. Located between Sicily and the North African coast, its renowned for its heritage sites and a long list of historic rulers. Like Malta, Greece is an archipelago in the Mediterranean. But Greece comprises over 6,000 diverse islands, scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and just 227 of which are inhabited. 

Distinct histories, cultures, and cuisines make these destinations unique, and our guide looks at it all to see which nation comes out on top. Whether you pick Malta or Greece for your next holiday, you’re in for a treat. But if you’re still umm-ing and ahh-ing between the two, keep reading to make your choice…  

Malta or Greece: The General Vibe

Malta or Greece
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First things first. They might have similar geographical locations and Mediterranean climates, but Greece is considerably larger than Malta – about 420 times bigger to be exact, and this makes a huge difference to the general feel of both countries. Malta has a population of just over 500,000 spread out across its three main islands. While Greece is home to an intimidating 10.6 million residents and this isn’t necessarily a win on Greece’s part. 

Malta maintains a small island feel no matter where you go. The people are friendly and there’s a slower pace of life with sleepy fisherman’s villages dominating the coast. It’s become a popular tourist destination in recent years but you can still find undiscovered coves and authentic rural villages. No one is more than 30 minutes away in Malta, meaning there’s a familiar feeling between all locals, and old character houses with colorful Maltese balconies aren’t yet disturbed by intrusive resorts. 

Likewise, Greeks are notoriously welcoming and warm with strong family values and a community spirit. But mainland Greece is much more diverse and Athens is as bustling as any other European capital. Greece has also been on the tourist radar for decades so the infrastructure, even on the small islands, is developed and catered toward visitors. 

Where this gives Greece the upper hand in the high hygiene standards across the country and the well-maintained streets that you’ll find in most regions. Malta, on the other hand, has a reputation for being grimy. Although most litter is generated by visitors, poor tourist infrastructure means the small island hasn’t yet adapted to deal with pollution and dirt.   

Still, Malta is the best of both worlds. Tourists flock in the thousands in summer, bringing the islands alive. But the quaint feel of the seaside villages is undisturbed and unparalleled, grime or not.

Winner: Malta 

Malta or Greece: The Natural Wonders

Malta or Greece
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Both Malta and Greece are packed full of mesmerizing landscapes. Malta is small but mighty, and Greece is much more than sun, sea, and nights out. But how do they compare?

The first thing that stands out about Malta’s scenery is the lack of greenery, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate it. With limestone cliffs and red sand beaches that meet crystal clear waters, Malta is beautiful and diverse. It’s a great place for walking and exploring, and there are a number of famous hikes to showcase the natural beauty of all the islands.

On the Maltese island of Gozo, you can also find the Inland Sea, a large tidal lagoon overlooked by majestic cliffs and peppered with fishing boats bobbing in the bay. From here you can visit Fungus Rock, in the center of Dwejra Bay, a 60-meter high limestone formation that has become a popular diving site. In fact, Malta is home to some of the most bizarre and magical underwater landscapes in the Mediterranean. Wrecks, caves, and the Azure Window, a landmark that collapsed into the sea, can all be visited underwater. You can also find the Qbajjar Gozo Saltpans on Malta’s second-largest island. This impressive chequerboard of rock-cut repositories upholds the history of the ancient trade, introduced to Europe by the Romans.

Still, with so many islets it’s no wonder that Greece is chocked-full of its own plethora of natural beauty. Take the Kefalonian Melissani Lake Cave for example. Located 20 meters underground and surrounded by forest, you can explore the lake by rowing-boat and even take a dip in the azure waters. The popular party island of Zante is also as beautiful as it is lively. Here you’ll find the underground Blue Caves, a winding system of waterways that you can follow to the coast. 

From hiking trails on the mainland to volcanoes and UNESCO World Heritage sites on the islands, Greece has it all. 

Winner: Greece

Malta or Greece: The Cities and Towns

Valetta at night
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Both countries have their fair share of package resorts, but Malta and Greece shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to city breaks. Venturing off the beach to the charming sun-soaked cities and towns promises a much richer cultural experience and journey through antiquity.

From Valetta to Rhodes, Malta and Greece are full of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, perfect for soaking up the ancient worlds of these islands. The Maltese capital is alive with baroque charm. Illuminated by Mediterannean sunshine, the honey-colored city walls, palaces, and grand churches are synonymous with the Valetta skyline. An undoubted highlight is the historic St John’s Co-Cathedral, with its ornamental facade and opulent interior where you can find Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of Saint John”. Be sure to check out the 16th-century Casa Rocca Piccola and the National Museum of Fine Arts, housing artworks spanning some five centuries. 

Megalithic temples are also scattered across Malta’s settlements and are as much as 6,000 years old. The Tarxien Temple complex is another UNESCO site, dating back to 3,150 BC. The archeological structure in Tarxien represents the peak of temple construction and confirms the island’s thriving ancient culture. Other cultural must-sees include the Gjantija structures in Gozo, older than the Pyramids of Egypt, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, an ancient burial ground from 4,000 BC. 

But Greece certainly gives Malta a run for its money when it comes to the vast array of charming ancient towns, fisherman’s villages, and heritage sites. Take Santorini for example, with its two iconic towns of Fira and Oia which hang on to the volcanic cliff-face, a sea of white-washed, blue-domed houses standing strikingly on the hillside.  

Rhodes is another one of Greece’s most famous islands, with its azure waters and UNESCO Old Town. The walled city on the north side of Rhodes perfectly balances the ancient and the modern, with its car-free cobbled streets, medieval fortresses, and contemporary art complex. Greece also offers much more than island life, with the capital Athens being a commercial and economic hub, still with its own historical significance, far superior to that of Valetta. Home to the 5th-century BC Acropolis and Parthenon temples, as well as the Acropolis museum which perches above Athens with its large glass planes but houses Ancient Greek artifacts from centuries gone. 

Winner: Greece

Malta or Greece: The Cuisines

Malta or Greece
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Both Maltese and Greek cuisines are full of Mediterannean flair, influenced by the sea, the climate, and the rich blend of cultures. Focusing on fresh produce and natural flavors, Greek gastronomy relies heavily on olive oil, seasonal vegetables, grilled meats, fresh fish, and flatbreads. You’ll always find olives and local dips served alongside a meal, like taramasalata and tzatziki and mealtimes are always about family and sharing. 

Likewise, Maltese food culture reflects the history and geography, with Mediterannean staples borrowed from Italy, Spanish, and France, but executed in a hearty Maltese way. Traditional food in Malta is much more rustic than in Greece, with grilled dishes replaced by seasonal stews, fish pies, and ratatouille, called Kapunata in Malta. Sicilian culture lingers in Maltese gastronomy, with a dash of Arabic and North African influence. You’ll find pasta, risotto, antipasti, and dips on every menu, but at home, the Maltese cook potato bakes, hearty casseroles, and the favorite, rabbit stew, depending on the season.  

Maltese food is far less globalized than Greek cuisine, and in this way, is more unique. If you want a real taste of Malta, you’ll have to venture to the island. 

Winner: Malta 

Malta or Greece: The Costs

Euro notes
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Holidays to the Med can be expensive as you make them, but Western Europe isn’t traditionally known for its budget appeal. So how do Malta and Greece compare when it comes to cost? It might come as a surprise that Malta is considerable more costly overall than Greece, with restaurants prices coming out at almost 40 percent more than in Greece, transportation 17 percent more, and groceries as much as 50 percent more. 

Research suggests you can expect to spend €15 for the same inexpensive meal in Malta that should cost €10 in Greece. While the average rent in Malta sits at €700 a month but just €300 in Greece. So what does this mean for your holiday to Malta? The truth is, Greece is a much bigger country with much more diversity. As an island nation, high importation costs hike up the prices in Malta but the same can be said for all of Greece’s islands. The average prices might be on par, but if you compared Valetta, Malta’s capital, with Oia in Santorini or Kérkyra in Corfu you’ll find that accommodation, meals out, and transport are all at least ten percent higher. 

For budget Mediterannean deals, head to the Greek mainland. But if you’re after a cheap island getaway, Malta steals the win.

Winner: Draw

Malta or Greece: The Weather

Gozo salt planes

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Warmer summers and cooler winters, but only just – Greece and Malta both benefit from balmy Mediterannean climates with year-round sunshine. You’ll find highs in the low-30s in the Greek islands and Malta’s archipelago, and January highs of 14 degrees Celcius in both. Humidity is also high throughout summer in both nations, particularly around Kos in Greece if the north Meltemi winds are not blowing and Corfu and Crete can creep into the early 40s. But the mainland offers some relief, especially in the north, with pleasant summer temperatures between 22 and 27 degrees. 

The sea hovers around 25 degrees Celcius in the Aegean and the Med in July, but when temperatures drop, Malta remains slightly warmer in autumn and spring thanks to the Sirocco winds from the Sahara. This might bring dust or sand with it, but also a much longer season for soaking up the sun. 

Both nations are perfect for some January sunshine, although Malta steals the win if you’re after real warmth outside of the summer months. But Greece is more diverse again, and you can even find snowfall in the north between December and February. 

Winner: Draw

Malta or Greece: The Verdict

If you love Greece, you’ll love Malta. Inviting waters, rich ancient history, and warm Mediterranean climates just waiting to take your winter blues away. But these countries have their own quirks and are separated by culture and cuisine. If you’ve got your sights set on an island-hopping adventure, it’s Greece every time with its unbeatable beaches and lively towns. But if you’re looking for something different this summer or to embrace the winter sun, Malta with its rustic meals, friendly locals, and untrodden lands gets our vote, but who will win yours? 

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.