The question for many when trying to decide between Cyprus or Malta, is what separates these Mediterranean islands from each other? The beaches beckon in both, and the crystal blue waters glisten in anticipation. But while both island nations have similar climates and are fantastic coastal destinations, each has it’s own distinct histories, cultures, sights to visit, and cuisines that set each other apart.
Depending on the style of holiday you’re looking for, this guide will help you decide which island is the one for you!
Malta is smaller and more accessible with excellent public transport so you can squeeze in more sights, but bigger Cyprus is perfect for leisurely beach holidays and mountain hikes. You may need a rental car to experience the whole island, but if you’re looking for a vacation with many things to do away from the beach, Cyprus may be the best choice.
Below is our honest comparison as we pit Cyprus vs Malta. We look at the sights to explore, the food you can try, what natural attractions you can see in both countries, as well as some amazing towns and cities you should visit.
But let’s start with some essential facts about each:
• It’s divided into two parts – the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Independent Republic of Cyprus (the Greek south).
• Mount Olympus is Cyprus’ highest peak and is 6402 ft above sea level.
• It receives almost 300 days of sunshine a year and has world-class beaches.
• There are 365 churches on Malta and Roman Catholicism is the majority religion.
• Forests, mountains, and rivers are non-existent on the Maltese islands, but dive underwater to find fascinating sea landscapes.
• The name of the island nation derives from the Greek word for honey and they have a species of bee that produces an incredibly unique honey.
Cyprus vs Malta: Delve into unique histories
The strategic geographical importance of both Cyprus and Malta made them ripe to be fought over by warring empires from the Assyrians to the Romans. As such, both have rich histories.
Cyprus is a divided island, but visitors are free to explore both sides. Take the time to discover the glut of historical sites that are spread across Cyprus, each telling their part of the island’s story. The north is often overlooked by tourists, but is well worth visiting – we’ve written previously on why you have to visit North Cyprus.
The city of Paphos offers tourists a bustling resort but do a bit more digging and unearth the Hellenistic necropolis, The Tomb of the Kings. Paphos Castle, a medieval fortification turned national monument sits in Paphos harbor. Meanwhile, near the harbor are the remains of ancient Roman villas in Nea Pafos with its impressive mosaics.
Travel further across the island and find unassuming Byzantine churches with beautiful frescoes in the Troödos mountains. Near Limassol is Ancient Kourion (Curium), a city left in ruins by an earthquake in the 12th century.
Castle hunters will enjoy the St. Hilarion castle ruins on the Kyrenia mountain range or Kolossi near Limassol.
On the island nation of Malta, they are re-energizing their cities with contemporary architecture, but also work hard to preserve their past.
The Knights of Saint John built the capital of Valletta in the 16th century in a grid-like system. Its early Baroque façades are dazzling, and historic attractions include the ancient St John’s Co-Cathedral, Teatru Manoel, and Grandmaster’s Palace.
Peppering the landscape are Megalithic Temples which are 5 – 6,000 years old! Discover the Tarxien temple complex in the south of Malta or travel across to Ggantija on Gozo to see structures built before the pyramids of Egypt.
Finally, the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is an ancient burial ground which allows visitors to travel back in time to 4,000 B.C.
Cyprus or Malta: Alluring natural wonders
Cyprus and Malta pack in extraordinary landscapes and captivating coastlines that are unique to each island.
The sheer size of Cyprus compared to Malta gives nature lovers a lot of choice, from active breaks to tranquil beach escapes. This National Geographic map which highlights many places of interest is well worth bringing along to help navigate the country, especially if renting a car.
In Limassol, explore hidden sand dunes before heading over to the Salt Lakes of Limassol and Larnaca to visit the flamingos.
The Adonis Baths in Paphos are perfect for swimming in. At the same time, the Avakas Gorge offers unusual rock formations – a favourite with hikers.
Between Agia Napa and Protaras is a gorgeous national park called Cape Greco. There are two natural rock bridges, caves, and excellent diving spots.
Meanwhile, Cedar Valley is an idyllic pine forest with hiking trails where you can see Cypriot Cedar trees.
Up in the Troodos Mountains are the Millomeri Waterfalls that are really worth a visit. If you’re wanting to walk in the mountains – or elsewhere in Cyprus – this walking in Cyprus book could be a good buy.
Or if you’re craving white sandy beaches head to Nissi Beach which is arguably Europe’s best beach. In fact when it comes to beaches, you will have better choices for sunbathing and swimming than in Malta.
The first thing you’ll notice is a lack of forests and greenery in Malta. Cyprus on the other hand has mountains, forests, hiking trails and much greenery inland.
Still, Malta’s limestone cliffs and red sand beaches are unparalleled in their beauty. There’s also dozens of fantastic walks on the island that showcase it’s stunning scenery. This map highlights some of the best, as does this walking on Malta book.
The archipelago is a haven for snorkelers and divers who can explore wrecks, caves, and coves. Malta’s famous Azure Window collapsed into the sea, but divers are now taking the opportunity to breathe new life into the natural landmark by visiting it underwater.
Over on Gozo is Inland Sea, a large lagoon brimming with small fishing boats in the summer to take visitors to Fungus Rock and the gorgeous cliffs that surround Dwejra Bay. It’s also a popular diving spot!
Gozo is also home to the Qbajjar Gozo Saltpans, the impressive Roman sea salt repositories.
Cyprus vs Malta: Fascinating cities and towns
Stepping away from package holiday resorts and into the cities and towns of Malta and Cyprus will give you a richer, cultural experience.
Starting near Limassol is the town of Omodos/’Ομοδος, best known for its wine production, and the Timios Stavros Monastery. In Limassol/Lemesos is an attractive marina, 16th-century castle, and an opportunity to do some boutique shopping.
While the port city of Paphos/Pafos is a tourist hotspot with lively bars and souvenir shops, it has another side. Paphos is full of historical gems, including medieval baths and churches. In the north is Ktima (Upper Pafos) where you’ll find locals going about their daily business, colonial buildings, and museums.
The capital of Nicosia/Lefkosia is a ‘divided city’. It is where you’ll find the Green Line (the UN Buffer Zone). Across the city, a labyrinth of streets, tree-lined avenues and a vibrant street life await travelers. Finally, Larnaca provides long stretches of golden sands, historic religious sites, and chic cafes.
Fortified Birgu, Senglea, and Cospicua are referred to as the ‘Three Cities’ and are often forgotten about in the eyes of tourists, but they offer a slice of authentic Maltese life.
In the center of Malta is Mdina, an ancient and small, fortified town which also goes by the name, ‘The Silent City’. Its streets are a maze of hidden courtyards and limestone buildings.
On Gozo, all visitors are drawn to the medieval city of Rabat (Victoria) with its Citadel visible from everywhere on the island. It’s the cultural center of Gozo, with bustling markets and friendly ambience.
Valletta is rich in historical sites, but visionary contemporary buildings such as the Valletta City Gate have reinvigorated this ancient city. A boat ride across the Grand Harbor is also a must, even for short-term tourists.
Cyprus or Malta: Tempting cuisines
The traditional food of Cyprus and Malta is a Mediterranean cocktail of the various civilizations that have inhabited the islands.
Indulge in some meze dining. From kebabs to hummus, you’ll find all kinds of tantalizing delights that are a mix of Turkish, Greek, and Middle Eastern food cultures.
The stars of Cypriot cuisine are halloumi and the grilled sausage sheftalia kebab (şeftali kebap).
Cyprus is also home to the sweet treat Loukoumi, and prominent flavors include rose water, pistachio, and almonds.
If you fall in love with Cypriot cuisine and want to try it at home, then check out this award-winning Cypriot recipe book!
There’s an emphasis put on local ingredients such as rabbit and honey with Sicilian and Middle Eastern flavors. In Valletta, take in the Is-Suq tal-Belt food market which is situated in an old derelict Victorian building and let your taste buds run wild.
Try local delicacies such as Timpana (baked macaroni), Gjebna cheese, Aljotta (fish soup) and Zalzett Tal-Malti, a local Maltese sausage. Pastries in Malta are called Pastizzi, and a favourite for locals is Imqaret, a fried date pastry.
Cyprus vs Malta: Which one should you choose?
Depending on the time you have, Malta is smaller and accessible with excellent public transport so you can squeeze in more sights. Cyprus is perfect for leisurely beach holidays and mountain hikes, but a rental car might be best to experience the island.
Whichever island nation you decide on, you will be guaranteed a Mediterranean climate, handsome coastlines, delicious food, and unique cultures.