If you’ve found your way to the lovely island of Malta, don’t stop there! Hop on a ferry for a quick ride to explore the lovely sister island of Gozo. From touring historical sites to basking on beautiful beaches, you’ll find fabulous things to do in Gozo.
When I first visited Malta more than 18 years ago, my greatest regret was not exploring Gozo, the smaller sister island only a short ferry ride away. I knew on our most recent Malta visit, exploring things to do in Gozo ranked high on my priority list.
While we spent most of the week touring Malta and visiting its sites, led by our Maltese family, we reserved a full day to play in Gozo. After all, the island is only a 20-minute ferry ride away…and who can resist visiting the land where Odysseus spent seven enchanted years? Obviously, there’s something fascinating about Gozo, whether it involves a siren or not.
Exploring Gorgeous Gozo.
Gozo is Malta’s more introverted sister. Slightly quieter, more laid back, and – in some respects – even more beautiful, Gozo enchanted us with its charming countryside and quaint towns. Drivers, beware: like in Malta, where you also drive on the left side of the road, in Gozo you may find many streets only wide enough to fit one car. Somehow, we didn’t die. I’m not quite sure how my husband navigated those “chicken” stand-offs, because I tend to close my eyes during times of driving anxiety. (Not while I’m driving, obviously….which I refused to do in Malta and Gozo.)
Our first venture after disembarking from the ferry found us weaving through narrow streets in Victoria, the capital of Gozo, in search of parking. While the city is named for the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the original name, Rabat (Arabic for “city”), continues to be used by the locals. (Everything in Malta and Gozo tends to have two names, it seems.) Here, shops tucked into ancient walls line the street, and open-air markets give the city a festive feel.
(We appreciated the cafés after walking the steep inclines of Victoria. It’s nice to stop in for a drink and a quick break from the heat.)
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: The Citadel.
Il-Kastell, or the Citadel, provides an impressive start to touring Gozo. As the center of activity on Gozo since Neolithic times, it’s the perfect place to experience the history of Gozo, while also enjoying incredibly picturesque views.
Walls surrounding the Citadel date from the 15th century, but the fortifications atop the hill began during the Bronze Age, approximately 1500 B.C. Phoenicians developed the Citadel, and during Roman times, it became a complex acropolis. During intense raids by the Turks, the Citadel served to protect the island’s families, with all residents staying within the secure walls of Il-Kastell overnight—a practice that lasted until the 17th century. Sadly, the Turks eventually prevailed and enslaved the island residents.
Walking along the walls of the Citadel, we could feel the rich, incredible history of the site, and could imagine the fear of residents as they looked out upon Turks approaching the fortress. Because of restoration efforts, we couldn’t walk along the entire perimeter, but the panoramic views of the hills and valleys of Gozo gave us a perfect overview for our day of touring.
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: Cathedral of the Assumption
Now, I know that if you’re traveling with kids, they’re likely to roll their eyes when you tell them you want to visit another cathedral. Our kids really like history and architecture, but even they weren’t thrilled with the idea of another cathedral tour after a week of many church visits in Malta.
However, the Cathedral of the Assumption offers a pretty amazing optical illusion. Really.
An earthquake destroyed the original church in 1693, and the current cathedral was built between 1697 and 1711 to replace it. Designed by Lorenzo Gafa, the stone exterior houses a rich, elaborate interior. However, due to lack of funds, the dome was never completed.
Instead, artist Antonio Manuele painted a convincing trompe l’oeil “dome” on the flat ceiling. It startled me to realize that the painting provided the dimension, and that there’s no actual dome in sight.
Our kids were impressed. (So was I!)
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: Inland Sea and Fungus Rock
After making your kids endure the cathedral visit (even though it was cool, let’s face it), it’s time to take them to the water.
Although my family always likes off-the-beaten-path adventures, sometimes we must do the touristy sites, too. And you know what? It’s worth it.
Dwejra: Worth the Tourist Experience
When we visited the Dwejra area, we understood why tourists flock here; it’s home to some of Gozo’s most spectacular photo ops. Sadly, one of the famous sites recently succumbed to the elements. The beautiful Azure Window, a natural limestone arch that served as the backdrop for the Dothraki wedding scene in HBO’s The Game of Thrones—and one of Gozo’s most prominent landmarks—collapsed in March 2017 after a fierce storm.
However, the area still boasts beautiful rock formations and views. The Inland Sea is a popular attraction. A saltwater lagoon connects to the sea through a 100-meter tunnel. Boats take tourists through the limestone opening, and the more adventurous swimmers can reach the open sea in about 10 minutes.
With the Inland Sea at your back, you can see Fungus Rock (also known as General’s Rock) across the water. Here, the prominent outcrop is guarded by Qawra Tower, built in 1651. Fungus Rock provided a plant prized by the knights for its curative powers. The parasitic plant Cynomorium coccineum controlled the flow of blood and treated intestinal disorders. The knights considered the plant so valuable that anyone found attempting to raid the rock could be sentenced to death.
That’s a powerful plant!
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: Beautiful Beaches for Snorkeling.
Of course, with my snorkeling-crazy family, we planned to spend part of the day playing in the water. Gozo’s beaches offered lovely, clear water and beautiful views. We checked out several beaches, from the popular (and crowded) red sand beach of Ramla Bay to the small cove of Mgarr Ix-Xini Bay, a local favorite. In fact, our Maltese family took us there to picnic and swim. It’s one of their favorite outings. You can read about our favorite beaches on Malta and Gozo here.
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: Calypso’s Cave
Legends abound in Malta and Gozo. Of course, we all know the story of the siren Calypso and her enchantment of Odysseus. According to legend, Gozo is Homer’s Island of Ogygia in The Odyssey, and the cave is where the beautiful nymph Calypso entranced Odysseus as a “prisoner of love” for seven years.
There’s something a little surreal about walking up to a sign with an arrow pointing to “Calypso’s Cave.” High school English field trips were never so exciting!
However, visitors can no longer tour the cave, as seismic shifts caused collapses, making the cave unsafe. We knew this before setting out on our journey, but we still found it exciting to stand on the viewing platform above the den of love. Yes, we are that geeky; we all love to read, and we all love a good tale of sirens and smitten men. (Well, our youngest son mostly appreciated the amazing views over Ramla Bay as he practiced his karate moves, but he hasn’t read The Odyssey yet.)
As my daughter gazed into the opening of Calypso’s Cave (which, truthfully, looks like a hole in a collapsed pile of rubble), she said nonchalantly, “Wow. Calypso must have been very talented to keep Odysseus entertained for seven years.”
Yes, daughter. Yes, I think she must have possessed some special talents.
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: Explore Gozo’s Festivals—Intentionally or Not
While driving in Gozo is adventurous, driving in Gozo during a festival is especially perplexing.
Gozitans love their festivals. Each month, at least half a dozen feasts celebrating saints entertain residents and tourists. On the day we visited, we found ourselves deeply engrossed in a festival. We suddenly became tangled in the festivities while trying to navigate the decorated roads to our next destination. Roads closed for the local horse races. (Yes, the horse races occur on the streets.) Detour signs couldn’t be found…around and around we drove, until my brother-in-law, a native Maltese, angrily hopped out of his car in front of us, waving his arms and expressively “discussing” with the local Gozitan police officer how to circumnavigate the festival. The officer shrugged, having no idea how we should proceed, and waved us away.
Somehow—I have no idea how—we managed to creep out of the festival onto a passable road and continue our adventures. If you have time, though, find a parking spot and immerse yourself in the local festivities. I love a good festival when I’m not on a deadline.
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: Salt Pans and Shark Teeth
One of the amazing things that our kids loved in both Malta and Gozo was the ability to see fossils and shark teeth imbedded in cliffs throughout the islands. While collecting fossils is forbidden, it’s still entertaining for kids and kids-at-heart to search for them, which is what our son did while I was busy photographing saltpans.
Ancient Salt Pans: An Epicurean Appreciation
Located just outside Marsalforn on the northern coast of Gozo, the centuries-old patchwork of saltpans creates a stunning view against the gorgeous seascape. The flat limestone here provided a perfect, fairly soft surface to cut the saltpans, allowing seawater to run into the shallow basins. The wind and sun provided the rest of the work, evaporating the water and leaving the salt.
The knights originally oversaw harvesting of the salt, storing it in small caverns cut into the rock. They also fined anyone who produced salt without permission. Today, three families own the saltpans, and the salt is harvested from May to September.
Since I cook with sea salt in abundance, I formed a new appreciation for its relatively reasonable price.
Fabulous Things to Do in Gozo: Eat the Seafood
The best way to cap off your visit to Gozo is to sit in one of the waterfront restaurants, preferably outside with a lovely view, and experience the taste of the island. My husband and I celebrated our anniversary on the day we visited Gozo, and we enjoyed lounging outside, sipping icy cold wine, surrounded by our kids and Maltese family, as we ate the freshest, most delicious seafood before racing back to meet the ferry. Sadly, I have no recall of the name of the restaurant, but I do have a delicious memory of that ideal evening.
It was the perfect ending to our fabulous adventures on Gozo.