One of the real joys of staying in Senglea is using these small wooden boats take you across the harbour to Valetta.

When I visited Malta a couple of years ago, I stayed in The Snop House in Senglea.

Senglea is one of the ‘Three Cities’ that sit on the Grand Harbour, directly opposite Valetta. Little more than a narrow peninsula, it’s a largely residential area that has been barely touched by tourism.

Staying there gives you a real sense of daily life in Malta.

Locals gossip on street corners.

The pastizzi are fresh and cheap.

And each house seems to have a small religious tableau, no more than a niche in the wall, next to the front door.

One of the real joys of staying there, however, is getting to shuttle back and forth to Valetta aboard the tiny, traditional dgħajsa.

Dgħajsa were first developed in the 17th century during Hospitaller times.

They are narrow and slight like a gondolier, and many dgħajsa have been in the family for generations. Their captains take great pride in keeping them lacquered and shiny to a high degree.

Dgħajsa fell out of favour in the 20th century but are enjoying something of a resurgence.

At only €2 a ride, they offer a cheap and authenticly Maltese way of getting from one side of the Grand Harbour to the other.

On the ‘Three Cities’ side of the Grand harbour, the boats gather in the marina in front of  the Martime Museum in Birgu.

On the Valetta side, you’ll find them milling around in the water just below the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

Just indicate to the gathered boatman that you want a ride and the next one in the queue will row forward and welcome you aboard.

That high, gondolier-style stempost at the front isn’t just for show. 

You’ll need to grab hold of it to make sure you don’t fall into the drink when you’re getting onboard. 

Dgħajsa ply the waters of the Grand Harbour day and night. I’d often catch one just for the hell of it.  

For less than the price of a cup of coffee I got to breath in the smell of the sea, feel the salt on my skin and experience the absolute drama of the golden stone walls of Valetta rising up right in front of me.

I’d go as far as saying that dgħajsa were my favourite thing about Malta.

  • Pronunciation guide: Dgħajsa – dye-sa

For more information about things to see and do it Malta, drop by

Main image: A dgħajsa waiting to take passengers from Valetta to Senglea (© Peter Moore)