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 small coves. This rural destination feels farther 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. Most visitors are drawn to the island's picturesque coastline of sheltered beaches. The crystal-clear waters are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The countryside also has many scenic pathways, ranging from gentle walks to invigorating hikes.
To arrive in Gozo, visitors take a ferry from Cirkewwa on the island of Malta to the seaport of Mgarr on the island of 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.
For ideas on the best places to visit, see our list of the top attractions on the island of Gozo.
See also: Where to Stay on Gozo
1. Victoria: A Medieval Hilltop City
Gozo's capital city, Victoria (also known as Ir-Rabat) is surrounded by a sun-parched Mediterranean landscape. The historic center of Victoria stands on a hilltop enclosed within a Citadel (Cittadella), constructed 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 afternoon light. 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. Within the Citadel is a maze of winding streets and narrow alleyways.
At the heart of the Citadel is the Cathedral of the Assumption designed by Lorenzo Gafà. The facade exemplifies 17th-century Maltese Baroque style with its ornamented doorway and Corinthian pillars, while the awe-inspiring interior features gorgeous works of art and ornate gilded moldings. Above the nave, a trompe l'oeil painting tricks viewers into believing that there is a dome. The cathedral also has a noteworthy Virgin Mary statue created in Rome in 1897. The cathedral's Feast Day on August 15th brings the entire town out to celebrate.
Cultural attractions in the Citadel include the Folklore Museum, which presents traditional costumes and crafts, and the Old Prison used by the Knights of Saint John in the 16th century (the cells are covered in prisoner's graffiti). Housed in one of the Citadel's typical 17th-century townhouses, the Archaeology Museum displays an exceptional collection of ancient art, tools, and architectural elements dating from 4100 BC to 2500 BC found at Neolithic sites on Gozo Island. Highlights are the prehistoric statuettes from the Ggantija Temples and the ix-Xaghra Stone Circle.
Outside the citadel in the more modern area of Victoria is Independence Square, a bustling hub of street vendors and shops. Nearby, the Saint George's Basilica is a 17th-century Baroque church known as the "Marble Basilica," because the interior is covered with marble inlays and columns. The basilica also has lavish ceiling frescoes and numerous paintings by Mattia Preti.
A short walk from the basilica is the Baroque Church of Saint Francis. The exquisite interior features a charming ceiling fresco that depicts a multitude of pudgy winged cherubs.
2. Ggantija Temples: A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ggantija Temples is one of the best-preserved and most impressive 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. 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.
The etymology of "Ggantija" is derived from the Maltese word for "giant" ("ggant") because it was believed the site was built by a race of giants. This mythological idea makes sense considering that the temples are constructed from megaliths (massive limestone blocks) measuring more than five meters in length and weighing over 50 tons.
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.
Excavated in 1826, the site contains the ruins of two temples enclosed by a perimeter wall, which is the most striking element of the site. The temples feature a terrace in front, which would have been used for ceremonial rites, while stone hearths and animal bones found throughout the site suggest rituals of animal sacrifice. Statuettes and other objects found at Ggantija Temples are now on display at the Museum of Archaeology in Victoria.
The Ggantija Temples archaeological site is just outside the center of Ix-Xaghra. This small country village has a splendid 19th-century church and a pleasant main square lined with outdoor cafés.
Address: John Otto Bayer Street, Xaghra, Gozo
Official site: http://heritagemalta.org/museums-sites/ggantija-temples/
3. The Seaside Resort of Marsalforn
This picturesque fishing village turned beach resort defies Gozo's reputation as a sleepy island. During summertime, Marsalforn swells with hundreds of Gozitan visitors, Maltese families, and European tourists. Despite the bustle of activity, the town has a relaxing seaside ambience. On hot sunny days, 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. Marsalforn's tiny harbor is also a popular starting point for scuba diving expeditions.
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 swimsuits, and the town has a great selection of hotels and holiday rentals. For entertainment, Marsalforn's waterfront is a hub of 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 music concerts give tourists other reasons to linger during balmy evenings.
4. Gozo's Best Beach: Ir-Ramla il-Hamra
Nestled along a protected bay surrounded by steep cliffs, Ir-Ramla il-Hamra (Ramla Bay) is the largest 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 and snorkeling. The Green Flag that is usually flying indicates the safety of the waters. Many vacationers come to Ramla Bay simply to sunbathe and lounge under parasols.
A relaxing place to spend the day, the Ramla Bay beach features well-maintained facilities: public bathrooms, showers and changing areas, 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.
Gozo buses stop at the Ramla Bay beach, but a more scenic route is the eight-kilometer walking path from Marsalforn. This moderately difficult hike traverses hillsides and clifftops (beware of steep drops), affording superb seaside views along the way. The route continues through rural valleys, past the village of Ix-Xaghra until reaching the coastline at Ramla Bay.
5. Spectacular Sea Views and the Baroque Church of Nadur
Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by verdant valleys, this strategic hilltop village was the watch point where the Knights of Saint John 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 keep guard."
Outside of the village, the Ta' Isopu Tower was built in 1667 by the Knights as a watchtower. At the highest point in Nadur, the more modern Ta' Kenuna Tower offers panoramic views of the Gozo countryside and the islands of Comino and Malta.
The village has a lovely Parish Church designed in lavish Baroque style and dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The splendidly ornate interior features marvelous ceiling paintings, gilded Corinthian columns, and an airy dome with stained-glass windows. In the right-hand aisle is a pair of processional statues of the saints created in 1881 in Marseilles. The statues are paraded through town on the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul religious festival on June 29th every year.
Along the nearby coastline are three tranquil bays with excellent beaches. Gozo's most popular wide sandy beach at Ramla Bay is a little more than three kilometers away. San Blas Bay (2.5 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 (three kilometers away) is a pebbly beach popular with swimmers and a cove used by local fishermen.
6. Swimming and Diving at Dwerja Bay
The famous Azure Window, a huge natural arch along the coastline, collapsed during a storm in 2017. Although the Azure Window was previously the main tourist draw of Dwerja Bay, the area is still worth visiting to appreciate the dramatic coastal scenery and deep blue waters. The bay begins with the Inland Sea (Il-Qawra), a natural lagoon of shallow water in a recess along the coastline. The Inland Sea is a favorite spot for swimming and snorkeling.
An inlet connects the Inland Sea to a premier diving spot in the Mediterranean, the Blue Hole, a 10-meter-wide sea pool. Divers pass through an underwater rock arch and 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.
At the entrance of the Dwerja Bay 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 clear sea around Fungus Rock has a wide variety of fish and is suitable for scuba diving (accessible by boat). Fishermen also offer boat rides to tourists from the Inland Sea to Fungus Rock. Another interesting boat trip is to Fungus Rock to the nearby seaside resort of Xlendi Bay.
7. The Basilica of Ta' Pinu: A National Shrine and Pilgrimage Church
In a remote valley between the villages of Ghammar and Gharb, the Basilica of Ta' Pinu is an important pilgrimage church devoted to the Virgin Mary. 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. Several miraculous events occurred here that inspired the building of the Basilica of Ta' Pinu in the 20th century on the site of a 16th-century chapel.
Designed in Romanesque style, the basilica has a stark exterior and a surprisingly inspiring interior that features exceptional Maltese craftsmanship. The sanctuary is plain but has a moving and reverential ambience. Part of the original 16th-century church with its shrine to the Blessed Virgin May was incorporated into the basilica.
The basilica's Sanctuary Museum illustrates the history of the Ta' Pinu Basilica and exhibits the art of Maltese painters Giuseppe Briffa and Emvin Cremona. Tourist Tip: Visitors must wear appropriate clothing.
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. The natural coves around the beach are ideal for snorkeling and diving. Another great swimming area is around the rocks below the watchtower.
9. Xewkija Rotunda: Gozo's Largest Church
Xewkija is a historic village (the oldest on the island) best known for 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.
The spacious white limestone 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 three kilometers from Mgarr ix-Xini, a beautiful inlet with a small pebbly beach that attracts many 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 craft of lacemaking came from Italy and was altered to create the easily distinguishable type known as "Maltese Lace."
Sannat celebrates the Feast of Saint Margaret on July 27th, and the village Festa (religious festival) is held during the entire third week of July every year. Sannat is in the south of Gozo Island just eight kilometers from the port town of Mgarr, where travelers arrive by ferry from the Island of Malta.
11. The Dramatic Scenery at Ta'Cenc Cliffs
The breathtaking 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.
The Ta'Cenc Cliffs are just two kilometers from the village of Sannat. It's possible to hike to the cliffs from Sannat, which takes about 30 minutes and affords sensational views along the way. From the cliffs, visitors can admire sweeping views of the coastline.
12. Mgarr ix-Xini: A Secluded Beach and Snorkeling Site
About a 10-kilometer drive or hike from the port of Mgarr and five kilometers from Xewkija, the tiny beach of Mgarr ix-Xini is found in the narrow inlet of a secluded bay, surrounded by steep-sided cliffs and a valley. The beach at Mgarr ix-Xini is tiny and pebbly but is popular with swimmers because of the calm waters. Snorkelers appreciate the crystal-clear quality of the waters, which allow for views of flourishing marine life, as well as underwater photography. Visitors should note that the Mgarr ix-Xini Beach does not not have lifeguards or public restrooms.
Surrounding the Mgarr ix-Xini inlet are opportunities for other outdoor activities. Adventurous types will find areas suitable for rock climbing. Hikers can explore the walking trail around the valley, which affords magnificent views.
Where to Stay on Gozo for Sightseeing
Visitors could stay almost anywhere on the Island of Gozo, whether by the seaside or in the countryside, and enjoy a relaxing vacation experience. The choice of location depends on travelers' preferences for time spent at the beach, in nature, or sightseeing. Either Marsalforn or Xlendi are ideal for a relaxing seaside holiday, while Victoria is the most convenient location for sightseeing. Larger resort properties are found near quaint villages in the countryside, where the sea can be seen in the distance. We recommend these highly rated hotels and guesthouses on the Island of Gozo:
- Luxury Hotels: In the peaceful countryside near the village of San Lawrenz (a short drive from Dwerja Bay), the Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz is an upscale five-star resort with sprawling palm-studded gardens and swimming pools, five restaurants plus poolside refreshment, and a spa with indoor pools and relaxation areas. At the heart of Victoria on a street with many restaurants and shops, The Duke Boutique Hotel features contemporary-style guest rooms with luxurious bedding. Accommodation includes concierge services and a generous breakfast buffet. This hotel is a short walk away from the Citadel and 200 meters from the bus terminal. In the resort town of Xlendi, the seafront San Andrea Hotel offers guest rooms with sea views and a Mediterranean restaurant with an outdoor terrace.
- Mid-Range Hotels: At the heart of Marsalforn, near many shops and restaurants and just a short walk from the beach, the Maria Giovanna Guest House is a delightful family-run bed & breakfast. This popular guest house offers lovely rooms decorated in classic Maltese style, and delicious breakfasts complete with homemade cakes and muffins. Right on the harbor in Marsalforn, the four-star Hotel Calypso offers stunning sea views and three restaurants. Just outside the village of Xaghra, the Cornucopia Hotel occupies an authentic converted farmhouse with traditional decor. This four-star property has a resort feel, thanks to its swimming pool, outdoor terraces, distant sea views, and a restaurant that serves excellent Italian and Maltese cuisine.
- Budget Hotels: Tucked away in the quiet village of Gharb, just a short walk from the town square, Grotto's Paradise is a bed-and-breakfast hotel in a typical Maltese house. This three-star hotel has an outdoor swimming pool and sun terrace. The hotel is located within walking distance of the Basilica of Ta' Pinu and three kilometers from the Dwerja Bay. In the seaside resort of Marsalforn, the Lantern Guest House provides affordable, family-friendly accommodations, including breakfast. This three-star hotel is just one block from Marsalforn's waterfront promenade and a short walk away from the beach.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Gozo Island
- Sightseeing Tours: For tourists wondering how to see all the sights on a short trip to Gozo, an organized tour provides a solution. The Gozo Full-Day Quad Tour offers a delightful seven-hour spin around the island, allowing for stops at highlights such as Dwerja Bay, the Basilica of Ta' Pinu, and Xlendi. To see both Gozo and Comino islands, the Comino Cruise and Gozo Jeep Safari Malta Tour is a fabulous option.
- Use the Bus System: The Island of Gozo has an excellent bus system that provides access to all of the top tourist attractions on the island. Although the Gozo buses run less frequently than on Malta, this mode of transportation is an easy to use and affordable way for tourists to travel around the island.
- Hiking Excursions: Gozo is a small island, and many sights are within reasonable hiking distance, although the steep hillsides do provide some challenge. The eight-kilometer hike from Marsalforn to Ramla Bay leads through hillsides and valleys to the coastline, providing amazing views from the highest vantage points. Travelers can also try the five-kilometer hike from Xewkija to the tiny beach and snorkeling site of Mgarr ix-Xini. The most exhilarating hike with wonderful views is the eight-kilometer trail form Victoria via Xlendi to the Ta'Cenc Cliffs.
- Boating Trips: The most scenic way to arrive at Gozo's seaside destinations is by boat. One of the most popular boating excursions is from Gozo to the Island of Comino; multiple ferry services shuttle tourists from Gozo's port town of Mgarr to the Blue Lagoon on Comino. It's also possible to travel by boat to and from other destinations, such as from the seaside resort of Xlendi to Dwerja Bay.
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Other Sights on the Maltese Islands: Many travelers visit the island of Gozo as part of a Maltese Island itinerary. Gozo is accessible by ferry boat from the island of Malta, so usually tourists start out in the elegant capital of Valletta, then visit the UNESCO-listed medieval walled city of Mdina before taking a bus trip across the island of Malta to embark on the ferry in Cirkewwa, Malta to the port of Mgarr on the island of Gozo. While visiting the Island of Gozo, one of the most memorable things to do is sail or take a ferry ride to the Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino.