12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions on the Island of Gozo
The legendary Calypso's Isle described in Homer's Odyssey, Gozo is an idyllic Mediterranean island of quaint fishing villages and peaceful bays. The pastoral landscape features green rolling hills with a patchwork of small farms that lead down to sandy beaches and inlets. This charming destination feels further from Malta than the eight-kilometer channel separating the two islands would suggest. Gozo is known for its sleepy ambience but comes to life during summer, holidays, and festivals. The main resort town, Marsalforn, has excellent restaurants and outdoor cafés.
Stunning nature sites draw many visitors to the island. Much of the scenery is wild and rugged, and the crystal-clear waters are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The beautiful coastline has many scenic pathways, ranging from gentle walks to invigorating hikes. To arrive in Gozo, visitors take a ferry from Cirkewwa on Malta to the seaport of Mgarr in Gozo. Tourists can then hop on the buses (and taxis) to get around the island. Buses run less frequently than on Malta, but it's easier than renting a car. Gozo bus drivers know how to navigate the island's hairpin turns and narrow one-lane roads.
1 Victoria: A Medieval Hilltop City
Surrounded by a sun-parched Mediterranean landscape of rolling hills and old sandstone buildings, this walled hilltop city looks like a miniature version of Jerusalem. Victoria, also known as Rabat, is the capital city of Gozo. The historic center of Victoria stands on a high ledge and is enclosed within a citadel. This site was settled by ancient Romans, 9th-century Arabs, and 12th-century Normans, but the present Citadel was reconstructed by the Knights of Saint John after the medieval walls were destroyed by the Turks in 1551. The immense fortified ramparts of golden stone glow a pinkish-ochre hue in the sunlight. From the three bastions (semicircular battlements) of the Citadel, tourists can take in panoramic views of the Gozo countryside dotted with villages in the hills and valleys all the way to the sea. It's also possible to see the dome of the Xewkija Rotunda.
Within the Citadel, the old town is a maze of winding streets, narrow alleys, and quaint houses with delightful balconies. In the heart of the citadel is the Cathedral of the Assumption, built in 1697 by Lorenzo Gafà. The facade exemplifies 17th-century Maltese Baroque style with its ornamented doorway and Corinthian pillars. Take a look inside to see the inspiring interior, which is surprisingly bright because of the windows above the high vault. Delicate ceiling paintings, gorgeous works of art, and ornate gilded moldings dazzle visitors. In the center of the nave, a remarkable trompe l'oeil painting tricks viewers into believing that there is a dome (it was never completed). The cathedral also has a noteworthy statue of The Assumption of Our Lady created in Rome in 1897. The cathedral's Feast Day is on August 15th, a lively occasion that brings the entire town out to celebrate. Other top attractions in the citadel include the Folklore Museum and the Old Prisons used by the knights in the 16th century (the cells are covered in prisoner's graffiti). A must-see site is the Archaeology Museum, which displays an exceptional collection of prehistoric art, tools, and architectural elements dating from 4100 BC to 2500 BC found at Neolithic sites on Gozo Island. One of the highlights is the group of statuettes from the Xaghra Stone Circle.
Outside the citadel, the more modern area of Victoria has several interesting tourist sites. The main square, It-Tokk, is a bustling marketplace of street vendors and shops. Saint George's Basilica is a beautiful 17th-century Baroque church that rivals the cathedral. Known as the "Marble Basilica," the church interior is covered with marble inlays and columns. The breathtakingly ornate interior is a riot of gilded arch ways, lavish ceiling paintings, and fine art works. There are numerous paintings by Mattia Preti including Saint George and The Virgin of Mercy with Souls in Purgatory. Another important work is the painting of Saint George Francesco Zahra. Be sure to admire the awesome dome with its stained-glass windows and paintings by Giovanni Battista Conti of Rome. To see another lovely Baroque interior, visit the Church of Saint Francis. The sanctuary features gilded moldings and gorgeous ceiling paintings with a multitude of pudgy winged cherubs.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Gozo Island
2 Ggantija Temples
Ggantija Temples is one of the most impressive and best-preserved archaeological sites on the Maltese Islands. This UNESCO-listed prehistoric site dates from a very early period of human life: 3600 BC to 3200 BC, the Ggantija Phase during the Copper Age. The etymology of Ggantija is derived from the Maltese word "ggant" associated with a race of giants. Along with Ta Hagrat and Skorba in Malta, the Ggantija Temples are believed to be the oldest freestanding monuments in the world, predating Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids in Egypt. Visitors enter the Ggantija Temples through a contemporary Interpretation Center, a museum that illustrates various aspects of Neolithic life to provide a context for understanding the temples. The Interpretation Center displays significant findings from various prehistoric archaeological sites on Gozo Island. To arrive at the temple site, visitors take a pathway with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside. The archaeological complex itself is well maintained and beautifully situated; the ruins are lined with vibrant bougainvillea and colorful flowers.
Excavated in 1827, the site contains the ruins of two temples enclosed by a perimeter wall, which is the most striking element of the site. With its megalithic proportions, the stone wall reaches six meters high in places, and the largest of the slabs measures six meters by six-and-a-half meters. The large temple facing southeast is the older of the two and has five apses. In the left-hand of the two inner apses, there are six-meter-high walls curving inward. It was here that the intricately carved snake relief was found, now on display in the Victoria Archaeological Museum. The central apse has similar pitted decoration to those found at Tarxien Temples. In the niche at the rear, remnants of female "Fat" deity figures (on display at the Valletta Archaeological Museum) were discovered. On the right is the smaller temple with four apses and a raised altar in the central niche at the end.
The site is just outside the center of Ix-Xaghra. This small village has a splendid 19th-century church and a pleasant main square lined with outdoor cafés.
Address: John Otto Bayer Street, Xaghra, Gozo
3 Dwerja Bay and the Azure Window
The most famous and photogenic site on the Island of Gozo is the Azure Window at Dwerja Bay, a dramatic landscape that has inspired many painters. The Azure Window is a gigantic 60-meter-high natural window in the seaside cliff, formed from a sheer limestone cliff when two caves collapsed. With the deep blue waters lapping up against the cliff and boats sailing through the opening, the Azure Window is a spectacular image to behold. The site was featured in two popular movies: The Clash of the Titans and The Count of Monte Cristo. Walking on top of the Azure Window is not advised as the site is at risk of collapsing. Many tourists arrive here just for a photo opportunity, but it's also an excellent location for scuba diving. In front of the Azure Window is the popular diving spot called the Blue Hole, an inland sea pool that is 10 meters wide. Divers pass through a natural rock arch and a tunnel of rock formations before diving into the sea. The clear blue waters at this site are filled with octopus, lobster, parrot fish, sea bream, and other schools of fish.
Several wonderful swimming and diving areas are found away from the crowds of the Azure Window along Dwejra Bay. The Inland Sea (known as Il-Qawra) is a large seabed of shallow water in a recess along the coastline, creating a natural pool. An inlet and tunnel connected to the Inland Sea also leads to one of the best diving sites in Gozo. Divers can combine the Inland Sea and Blue Hole dives on the same day. Nearby is the Fungus Rock, a 65-meter-high rock named after the flowering parasitic plant found here. The Knights of Saint John praised this plant for its medicinal properties. The area around Fungus Rock has a wide variety of fish and is considered one of the finest diving spots in the Mediterranean. The clear sea is also ideal for snorkeling. Fishermen will take tourists on their small fishing boats from the Inland Sea to Fungus Rock.
4 The Seaside Resort of Marsalforn
On a picturesque bay, this little fishing community has evolved into Gozo's most popular resort destination. This lively beach town defies Gozo's reputation as a sleepy island. During summertime, Marsalforn swells with hundreds of Gozitan visitors, Maltese families, and European tourists. The town is full of activity but still has a peaceful seaside ambience. During the day, Marsalforn's small pebble beach is filled with sunbathers lounging under colorful parasols and kids playing with beach balls. The water is safe enough for swimming and for children to wade. Along the waterfront of Marsalforn's tiny harbor, Il Mengq, fishermen sometimes offer fishing excursions in their boats. Marsalforn is a good base for snorkelers and divers as well, with its diving school and several dive sites.
Marsalforn is a charming and convenient place to stay, especially for families and travelers seeking a relaxing vacation. Local grocery stores and shops sell essentials like snacks, sunscreen, and swim suits, and the town has a great selection of hotels and holiday rentals. The most delightful accommodation in Marsalforn is the Maria Giovanni Guest House. This family-run bed-and-breakfast hotel offers lovely rooms decorated in traditional Maltese style and delicious breakfasts complete with homemade cakes and muffins. For entertainment, Marsalforn's waterfront is a hub of activity. It is lined with many excellent restaurants and cafés, most with outdoor terraces overlooking the sea. In the evenings, many families stroll along the waterfront promenade after dinner. Throughout the summer, local festivals and outdoor concerts take advantage of the balmy weather.
5 Gozo's Best Beach: Ir-Ramla il-Hamra
Tucked into a protected bay surrounded by steep cliffs, Ir-Ramla il-Hamra is the largest and sandiest beach on the Island of Gozo. Unlike most beaches in Malta, Ramla Bay has a wide shore covered in fine reddish sand. There are almost no pebbles except for a few where the shore breaks. In this sheltered location, the gentle sea is shallow and calm, ideal for swimming. The Green Flag that is usually flying indicates the safety of the waters. Ramla Bay is also popular with sunbathers and vacationers lounging under parasols. This pristine nature site is a relaxing place to spend the day. The beach is well-equipped with public bathrooms, showers and changing facilities, umbrella and lounge chair rentals, snack kiosks, and ice cream stands. In the middle of the beach is a large statue devoted to the Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Hope. A seaside path leads to Taht l-Irdum, an area of Ramla Bay where the water is deeper.
About one kilometer away from Ramla l-Hamra Beach is a legendary site-the cave described in Homer's Odyssey where Calypso enticed Odysseus. The Calypso Cave is set on a craggy bluff with a panoramic view of small farms in the valley, the expansive Ramla Beach curving around the bay, and the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The cave itself is only interesting with the use of the imagination. This tiny, cramped space was hollowed out by a rockslide in the Xaghra Cliffs.
6 The Spectacular Sea Views of Historic Nadur
This traditional coastal village is steeped in history. Nadur was the watch point where the Knights of Malta kept vigil over the channel between the islands of Malta and Gozo. The name of the village comes from the Maltese word that means "to observe at length" and "to keep guard." From its hilltop position, Nadur overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and is surrounded by an idyllic landscape of fertile green valleys. At the highest point in the village, the Ta' Kenuna Tower offers gorgeous views. The panoramas sweep over the Gozo countryside to the Island of Comino and the Island of Malta.
The village has a lovely 18th-century Parish Church designed in Baroque style by Giuseppe Bonnici and dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The splendidly ornate interior features marvelous ceiling paintings by Lazzaro Pisani, gilded Corinthian columns, and an airy dome with stained-glass windows. In the right-hand aisle is a processional statue of the saints created in 1881 in Marseilles. This statue is paraded through town on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul religious festival on June 29th every year.
Along the coastline are three peaceful bays with excellent beaches. Gozo's most popular wide sandy beach at Ramla Bay is a little more three kilometers away. San Blas Bay (less than three kilometers away) has a pristine beach of fine red sand; the beach is unspoiled because it's only accessible by a narrow road and steep steps. In the small inlet of Dahlet Qorrot Bay is a pebbly beach popular with swimmers and a cove used by local fishermen.
7 The Basilica of Ta' Pinu: A National Shrine and Pilgrimage Church
The magnificent Basilica of Ta' Pinu is an important pilgrimage church and a national shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary. A place of worship has existed on this site since the early 16th century. With its solitary 47-meter-high campanile, the Basilica of Ta' Pinu stands in austere isolation as a beacon of faith to travelers making their way through the rugged Gozo landscape. The Basilica of Ta' Pinu was built in the 20th century in Romanesque style. The building has a stark exterior and a surprisingly inspiring interior. The sanctuary is plain but has a moving and reverential ambience. Part of the original 16th-century church was incorporated into the basilica and can been seen in a small chapel behind the apse. The basilica has two museums: the Ex Voto Museum displays signs of devotion and gratitude to the heavenly Mother of Ta' Pinu and the Sanctuary Museum illustrates the history of the Ta' Pinu Basilica and exhibits the art of the famous Maltese painter Emvin Cremona.
8 Fishing, Swimming, and Diving at Xlendi
On a narrow bay along Gozo's beautiful southwest coast, Xlendi is an old fishing village that has become one of the island's most popular seaside resorts. Traditional fishing boats in the bay seem unaffected by the passage of time, but flocks of tourists have changed the overall scene. This typical Gozitan village now has many contemporary seafront accommodations and modern hotels built into the steep hillsides around the bay. Along the waterfront and the small streets of the village are many restaurants and cafés. The small beach has sandy shores and gentle waters ideal for swimming or bathing. Another great swimming area is around the rocks below the watchtower. The natural coves around the beach are also ideal for snorkeling and diving.
9 Xewkija Rotunda: Gozo's Largest Church
Xewkija is a historic village (the oldest on the island) best known for the impressive Rotunda of its parish church. Dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, this remarkable church at the center of the village is Gozo's largest religious monument; its dome is a distinctive landmark visible across much of the island. Built in the 20th century, the Xewkija Rotunda is the third largest dome in the world after Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. The dome is an impressive 74 meters tall by 27 meters in diameter and has a weight of 45,000 tons. In the spacious white limestone interior are eight beautifully crafted columns supporting the dome. The sanctuary is sparsely decorated with sculptures and modern paintings. The floor is polished marble from Carrara, Italy, and the main altar is also carved in precious marble. The Xewkija parish church is the seat of the present-day Knights of the Order of Saint John (Knights of Malta). Xewkija is about five kilometers from Mgarr ix-Xini, a beautiful inlet with a small pebbly beach that is popular with swimmers and snorkelers.
10 A Heritage of Handcrafted Lace in Sannat
Gozo is well known for its handcrafted lace, and the village of Sannat was the traditional center of the island's lace-making cottage industry. On rare occasions, visitors can still see women sitting on chairs in the shade of the 18th-century Parish Church of Saint Margaret, creating lace tablecloths and other crafts. The Maltese lace industry was established in the early years of the 17th century. The earliest forms of lacemaking came from Italy and were altered to create the easily distinguishable type known as "Maltese Lace." Sannat is in the south of Gozo Island just eight kilometers from Mgarr. The Feast of Saint Margaret is on July 27th, and the village Festa (religious festival) is held during the entire third week of July every year.
11 The Dramatic Scenery at Ta'Cenc Cliffs
Just two kilometers (a 25-minute walk) from the village of Sannat along the coastline is a breathtaking sight. Ta'Cenc Cliffs are the highest cliffs in Gozo at 130 meters high. These spectacular cliffs were important to the Knights of Malta, because they provided breeding grounds for their Peregrine Hunting Falcons (Maltese Falcons), although the species is now extinct on the Maltese Islands. The sheer precipice of white limestone cliffs looks like a slice of layer cake, with hundreds of layers, dropping off into the sea below. It's a breathtaking and surreal scene of nature and an excellent place for bird watching. From the top of the cliffs, visitors can admire awesome views of the Mediterranean Sea and the verdant valleys of Gozo. In the middle of the Ta'Cenc Plateau is a mysterious monument of the Temple Period (4100 BC to 3000 BC). The ancient remains include an oval courtyard typical of ancient temples found on the Maltese Islands, but the archaeological site has never been excavated. On the northern tip of Ta 'Cenc, looking across to Xewkija, tourists can find three tombs from the Early Bronze Age (2500 BC to 1500 BC).
12 Mgarr ix-Xini: A Secluded Beach and Snorkeling Site
Mgarr ix-Xini beach is a small, secluded inlet in a picturesque bay, surrounded by steep-sided cliffs and a natural valley. Just five kilometers from Xewkija, Mgarr ix-Xini is one of the most unspoiled beaches on Gozo. This pristine site offers a sense of tranquility. The pebble beach of Mgarr ix-Xini is popular with swimmers and snorkelers because the clear waters allow views of the flourishing marine life as well as excellent opportunities for underwater photography. More adventurous types will find areas suitable for rock climbing around the bay. Mgarr ix-Xini beach is accessible by car or a hike from Sannat or Xewkija. The walking trail around the valley offers magnificent views, but note that there are no lifeguards or public restrooms here.