Visiting the Marsaxlokk Market on Sunday is probably on every traveller’s list of things to do when they are in Malta. Marsaxlokk was established by the Phoenicians in the 9th Century BC, but the fish trade was likely established along its bay centuries before the colonisation.
Tip: When to Visit Marsaxlokk Market and How to Get There
Marsaxlokk Market takes place every Sunday, and you should go as early as possible. The ideal time would be around 6:30 a.m., when you’ll get the opportunity to catch the sunrise and see some of the last fishermen coming into bay. Bus 82 (dock A7) and 85 (dock A6) leave as early as 5:30 a.m. from Valletta bus station. They will get you to the market in 45 minutes. The fresh fish sells out fast and most of the fish stalls will be shutting down by late morning.
If you want to visit the market, you have two options, go early (something I find difficult to do while on holiday in a town like Valletta, with its vibrant nightlife), or stay in Marsaxlokk for the night. Since getting to Marsaxlokk from Valletta is a bit of a faff, I highly suggest booking a room in town. If you really want to experience this ancient bay, the best time to come is at dawn or dusk.
Tip: Beat the Tourist Crowds to and from Marsaxlokk
We went to Marsaxlokk during peak hours, between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.. Getting there was just a little crowded, but coming back was really difficult. Hundreds of tourists will try to leave the fishing village right after lunch and there aren’t enough buses back to Valletta to accommodate them. We found ourselves having to walk around to the earliest bus stop on the circuit to get a space on the bus. By the time the bus gets to one of the later stops, they are packed to bursting and are impossible to board. If you want to avoid crowds, go early and leave at lunchtime, or arrive late and leave after dinner.
If you are unable to make it at dawn, I would suggest skipping the market altogether and heading down to Marsaxlokk later in the evening. We, unfortunately, arrived around 10:00 a.m., which was a bit too late. Most of the fishmongers had closed shop by then and what remained were stalls selling cheap crap from China. Only a small portion of the Sunday market felt authentic, with fresh seafood, fruit and pastries on sale.
Is Marsaxlokk Worth Visiting?
That said, Marsaxlokk is a beautiful little village that is worth visiting, particularly at sunset. Sunrise would also be a great time for photographs, but then you would miss out on the fantastic dining opportunities along the bay. This is certainly not something you’d want to do as Marsaxlokk is a seafood lover’s paradise.
Marsaxlokk is the oldest port in all of Malta, a little island that is mostly made up of old ports. It was here the Phoenicians first landed and set up trading posts for their goods which shipped from the Orient to the west. It has long fallen from importance – first to Mdina, then later to the three cities – Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua, and then to Valletta. However, it remains far from forgotten. Today, it is among the Maltese islands’ most popular attractions.
The truly unique thing about Marsaxlokk is its bay filled with colourful boats. These are traditional fishing boats called “luzzu”, which date back to Phoenician times. The giveaway to their ancient heritage can be most prominently seen in the eyes painted at the prow of most ships. Even if you’re not that well versed in ancient Egyptian history, you probably would recognise the eyes as closely resembling the Eye of Horus, a symbol of protection.
Around the bay are old buildings that are a mix of British colonial and Moorish architecture. Looking across it, I felt I wasn’t in a European country at all, but lost in time in a city of some ancient civillisation, when the boundaries between east and west were unclear. A stroll around the bay and back is a must, after all this is the main attraction of Marsaxlokk.
Where to Eat in Marsaxlokk
Along the bay are plenty of restaurants and cafes, most, if not all, of them are highly rated. It took us a while to weave our way through the crowded market stalls – once you enter the thoroughfare between the stalls, it’s very hard to find a way out. Eventually we managed to leave the market and made our way to the many restaurants lining the waterfront. Being a fishing town, all the restaurants specialise in seafood. We highly recommend having seafood here. All the restaurants purchase their seafood fresh from the market – so although we were unable to experience the market proper, we still got to enjoy its produce indirectly.
The seafood in Malta – and particularly, Marsaxlokk – is unbelievably delicious and fresh. Not only that, the Maltese really know how to prepare seafood. Some of the best fish and crustacean dishes I’ve had were by Maltese chefs.
Tartarun Seafood Restaurant
After stopping by several restaurants, we decided on Tartarun, which was near the main square, facing the bay. Compared to the other dining options, it was a bit more upscale, which wasn’t a bad thing. After battling the crowds, all I wanted was a nice, quiet lunch in a relaxed atmosphere where everything was taken care of perfectly.[flex_col_images num_cols=3] [/mh_gallery]
The experience was absolutely perfect and the food certainly some of the best seafood I’ve had. We began with their best-seller, which was a prawn carpaccio. It was deliciously creamy and sweet, and the delicate flavour of the prawns was sublime. If you enjoy your seafood raw, like me, this cannot be missed.
Tartarun has a relatively small menu, but each item is crafted to perfection. I settled on seabass with an octopus barley risotto and creamed greens, and Danijel had a platter of fresh caught shellfish. Each dish was actually three small dishes expertly put together, and the flavours went excellently with each other, although there was quite a lot of ingredients on the plate. And I cannot stress again how fresh the seafood was!
What We’d Like to do the Next Time in Marsaxlokk
As we were strolling back, we noticed a few fishermen handling their nets and tidying their boats. As we walked, we contemplated returning on another day, perhaps at dawn, to catch the bay at its most active – when the boats were returning with their catch. Perhaps if you truly want the authentic Marsaxlokk experience, that’s what you would have to do.
Unfortunately, we did not manage to find the time during the rest of the holiday to return, but we will most certainly be heading back to Malta for another week of exquisite dining, diving and history. If so, we would most certainly return to eat our way around the bay of Marsaxlokk and to catch sunrise behind the colourful boats!
FAQs for Visiting Marsaxlokk and the Sunday Market
Marsaxlokk Market takes place every Sunday. The market opens at 8:30 a.m.. By 10:00 a.m., most of the seafood is sold, so you need to get there early.
Head down to Marsaxlokk well before the market opens. It’ll give you a chance to catch the sunrise over the beautiful bay as the fishermen come in with the catch of the day. Failing that, skip the market altogether and come in the evening. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy a lovely seafood dinner without the crowds, while watching the sun set over the bay.
You can take either bus 82 from the A7 dock, or bus 85 from the A6 dock in Valletta. They begin operation at 5:30 a.m.. Between them, there is one bus every fifteen minutes. It takes 45 minutes to get there on a Sunday morning. If you plan to go on a weekday, watch out for peak hour traffic in the morning, which can be bad.
The Sunday fish market is very popular and frequented by both locals, restauranteurs and tourists. If you don’t have a kitchen because you are staying in a hotel, you can alway sample the catch by having an affordable lunch at one of the many restaurants along the bay.