Getting Around Malta: Car Hire vs Bus
Created by Colleen Sims * 20 August 2023 * Updated 20 August 2023
Malta and Gozo are one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Mediterranean and increasingly popular as a year round destination. With low cost flights from Europe, azure seas, history, culture and stunning landscapes awaiting, it’s no wonder that so many people are choosing to spend time on Malta.
However, getting around Malta can sometimes be a challenge and choosing the right mode of transportation could significantly shape your journey.
Getting Around Malta: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Car Hire vs Bus vs Tours
How you get around Malta is down in large part to personal choice. Would you prefer to embrace the freedom of the open road, hiring a car and steering your own course to Malta’s hidden gems, or perhaps you’d prefer to travel like a local and embrace Malta’s well-connected bus and ferry network? Or maybe a private tour is the right solution for you, allowing someone else to take care of the planning and the driving so that you can relax and soak in the sights!
Fortunately, there are several convenient ways to help you get around Malta, including car hire, using the islands extensive bus network, or choosing one of the host of guided tours.
In this guide, we’ll unravel the options for getting around Malta using :
- Car hire
- Bus and Ferry travel
- Guided Tours
- Taxis and Private Transfers
Which is the Best Way to Get Around Malta?
There is no best way to getting around Malta because every visitor will have different needs and preferences. Indeed the the best way to get around will be the option that makes your holiday most enjoyable.
Each form of transport has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, car hire gives you the freedom to discover destinations beyond those served by public transport, but not everyone likes to drive, and Malta’s traffic is legendary!
Bus or ferry journeys can be cheaper, but may take longer and involve one or two stages. Guided tours are an excellent choice but do add additional cost and taxis and private transfers offer door-to-door travel in comfort at a price.
We choose to hire a car but we travelled in November and December, we opted for an apartment out of town and we were staying on the islands for a few weeks. But we also had several days when we left the car behind and opted to use Malta’s excellent public bus and some days we also took guided tours. This system worked well for us and perhaps this combination is a great solution for a lot of travellers.
Every form of transport has its own advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately, the best way to get around Malta is whatever works for you.
Travel from the Airport : Car Hire vs Private Transfer Vs Bus
If you plan to hire a car you will probably collect it from the airport. However, if you are planning to stay in Valletta or Sliema for a short break then I would recommend that you use public or private transfer into the city. Traffic and parking in Valletta or Sliema will only be a hindrance and you really do not need to hire a car to get around these cities.
If you are staying at one of the more distant beach resorts then a car hire might be a good idea.
Public Bus from the Airport
The public bus network from the airport in Malta is a convenient and inexpensive way to get around. The buses are operated by Malta Public Transport (MPT) and run from the airport to nearby towns, villages and resorts.
There are four routes available and there are also Summer and Winter timetables, so it’s important to plan your journey in advance.
Malta Public Transport offer an excellent website and a fabulous free app and we strongly recommend downloading the app before you arrive; and checking which bus route you’ll need to take you to your destination.
You’ll find buses just outside the Airport terminal, across the road from the Departures Hall. There is also an Information Office in the Arrivals Hall for further information on services and travel cards. There are 4 airport buses, with a bus leaving every 10 minutes in summer and journeys costing from as little as €1.50 or €2 per journey.
Private Transfer from the Airport
Choosing a private transfer from the airport is one perhaps one of the most convenient ways to get to your destination after your flight. It can be arranged in advance and is certainly going to offer you the most comfortable and stress-free journey.
If we’re arriving late at night or early in the morning, or we have limited time at our destination private transfer is the choice we most often take. And we now always book in advance as we’re not the biggest fans of airport taxi queues (we had to wait over an hour at San Francisco airport and we almost missed our train in Dublin thanks to the queue!)
If we are going to use private transfer from the airport we often find that the service offered by booking.com is the cheapest. We like that we can arrange this in advance and pay for it in advance. If this isn’t an option my second choice is always Viator.
We opted to hire a car during our stay in Malta. We found it relatively easy but having said that we’re 1) used to hiring a car during our travels and 2) we’re Brits who live in France so it’s easier for us to drive on both the Right and the Left hand side of the road.
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Malta is relatively easy get around and most roads are well-maintained and well signposted. We used google maps to navigate and as the navigator I’d say that was pretty easy.
We chose a small car which was a good choice given that some of the roads can be very narrow and lined by stone walls. It was also very economic as hire prices are cheaper for smaller cars and petrol is inexpensive compared to France and the UK.
Getting around Malta Using Public Transport
It is easy to get around on Malta without the need of a car. If you would prefer not to drive then the public transport on Malta, operated by Malta Public Transport, offers a range of bus and Ferry Services.
Whilst we did hire a car for our stay on Malta we also made good use of both the bus and the ferry services to get around; particularly when we wanted to avoid the traffic or trying to park in Valletta!
Tallinja Malta Bus App
Before you start using the buses on Malta, I 100% recommend that you download Tallinja App. It’s free and it really helps to make your journeys easier.
You can use it to help plan your route and check real-time information.
When we were on Malta we used the app a lot!
You can select the bus stop you are travelling to or from and the app shows you the available routes, the bus number and how long until the next bus. Equally, once on the bus you can track your journey; this was really useful when we weren’t sure where to get off.
You can create your own account within the Tallinja app and get updates of any service disruptions that may affect your plans.
Summer and Winter Timetables
Without doubt the busiest time for tourists on Malta are the summer months, and particularly during the main European summer school holiday season. There are more frequent services during the summer months and certainly a more reduced service in winter. The easiest way to stay up to date with timetables is either via the MPT website or the Tallinja Bus App.
Bus Pass and Travel Cards on the Malta Bus Network
Buses are great value but if you know that you will be travelling a lot on the buses, then it might be an idea to purchase the 7-Day Explore Card. You can use this to travel on all of the bus routes on both Malta and Gozo.
You can hop on or off at anytime and the card is valid on all the pubic bus routes. It’s not exchangeable so each passenger will need to purchase a card but as they start from 21€ they offer excellent value if you intend to get around the island using public buses.
Disadvantage of the Bus Network in Malta
Whilst the buses are cheap and the network is extensive it is accepted that they are well used and as a result they buses are often packed.
We were lucky most times in that we were picking up the bus at the start of it’s journey and as a result we managed to find a seat but as the bus continued on it’s journey it became more and more full and at some stops it simply failed to stop as the bus was full.
This is particularly true during rush hour or start and end of the school day and we would recommend trying to avoid these times.
The other issue is that there are limits to the bus route; if you really wish to get off the beaten track then a car makes more sense for getting around Malta and Gozo.
Hiring a Car in Malta
As we mentioned above, you can collect a rental car from the airport. If you would like to hire a car part-way through your visit you can jump on an airport bus to return to the airport; this would save you the hassle of driving out of the big city traffic areas. You can hire a car from the main beach resorts and also on Gozo but check the cost; you may pay extra for the convenience. We book through Discover Cars a comparison site which can save you up to 70% of the rental.
Malta Drives in the Left
Malta drives on the left, British-style.
Another quirk to be aware of; the speedometer in the hire car was marked in miles per hour but the road speed limit road signs are shown in kilometres per hour. It took Gerry a little while to work this out and was surprisingly complicated. If you have the same then do like us and make a conversion chart and leave it in the car!
Top Tip : You can drive up to 90 days on your standard license. But it doesn’t hurt to have an International Drivers Permit particularly if your own license is not in English. The IDP is simply a translation of your own license.
Whilst it is safe to drive in Malta there are two things you’ll have to accept.
- The first lesson is that Maltese drivers are crazy and have a loose affiliation to the rules of the road. (Gerry’s words not mine but he was the driver!) His advice, drive slowly and always allow plenty of braking distance and beware that you will be given little leeway at junctions or when changing lanes.
- The second lesson is that Malta has too many cars for her roads and every journey takes longer than anticipated.
Top Tip : We have an annual Car Hire Excess Policy. We often hire a car and this annual policy is not only cheaper than using the car hire’s insurance, it also gives us peace of mind where ever we travel.
Malta is very populous and the South and centre extremely built up. Many towns just merge together and driving can seem like a long commute. Don’t be reluctant to use the bus into Valletta or busier towns. Whilst the buses are also busy, we loved the Malta Buses, we found them very easy to use and excellent value for money.
I’m summary Malta is fine and cheap hire a car and self-drive but very busy. Car hire was a great choice but not essential as the bus service is very comprehensive. When we return we’ll opt to stay in Valletta and not bother with a car for the duration of the visit; although we might hire a car for just a few days.
Top Tip : In Winter 2022 there were extensive road works around the Airport. Check before you leave if there are any diversions you should be aware of.
Finally, we stayed in an apartment in the south of Malta. Most of the attractions, including Valletta were north of us and this meant that every journey involved driving through Valletta and Sliema traffic. If like us you like to be independent and you wish to stay out of the main cities then book accommodation in the north of the island; it will save you a great deal of time getting to and from your destination.
Fuel (Gas) Stations on Malta
We were surprised at how few petrol stations there were on our travels. To be fair we had a small car and as Malta is so small to drive around, we didn’t use much fuel. But we would recommend you make a note of where you local fill-up point is. And top up well in advance of needing to. There is a garage at the airport but it was cash-only when we were there.
Parking in Malta
We are very glad that we never had to attempt to park in Valletta. Our apartment was in Marsaskala and we were able to park outside our front door.
We also found on our travels around the island that parking was relatively easy; However we were travelling in November and December and I would imagine during peak summer months the car parks that we found would be much much busier. I recommend that if you have a particular destination in mind you message in advance and ask about parking.
Using Ferries and Private Boat Tours in Malta
If you plan to base yourself in Valletta or Three Cities or Sliema then you really do not need to hire a car to get around. Valletta is a small and very walkable; and there’s a small tourist train if you would rather not walk everywhere.
We made good use of the Ferry service between Sliema and Three Cities; it’s cheap and regular and is just like taking a bus. The Valletta Ferry Services operates between Valletta and The Three Cities (stopping at Cospicua) and also between Valletta and Sliema.
We also made use of the private ‘water taxi’ and enjoyed a trip around the Grand Harbour too.
Both the ferry and the private taxis offer excellent value for money with the ferry fare starting from 1.30€
Malta to Gozo Ferry
You can take a ferry from Malta to Gozo. There are a couple of options available.
From Valletta to Gozo
If you are travelling on foot (or bike) you can take the Fast Ferry from the Grand Harbour in Valletta to Gozo. The ferry docks in Mgarr on Gozo; this is the main harbour for all boats from Malta. From here you can choose your onward travel options.
Travelling from Cirkewwa
If you are driving or you are based in the north of Malta you can also use the Gozo Channel Ferry. This departs from Cirkewwa at the northern tip of Malta and crosses the channel between the two islands, arriving at Mgarr.
You can travel as a foot passenger, there is a public bus that runs through Malta to Cirkewwa, or you can take a car or bikes with you.
We loved this ferry! it’s so easy to use, it just keeps running night and day. Loading and unloaded was quick and easy, there are even drinks and services on board and if you time it right the sunsets from the deck are amazing!
Top Tip : You pay the fare on the Gozo side of the ferry. So if you travel from Malta you only pay on the return journey. The return fare is currently 15.70€ and there’s a reduction for senior citizens!
Ferry from Malta to Sicily and Italy
If you’d like to travel further afield from Malta there are direct ferries to Sicily; The fastest ferry from Malta to Sicily is on the Valletta to Pozzallo or Catania ferry in approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Guided Boat Tours on Malta and Gozo
If you’re keen to explore Malta and Gozo by boat this perhaps the most popular day trip on the island!
Taxis and Private Transfers on Malta and Gozo
Uber does operate on Malta alongside some other great options. If you’re looking for a private transfer you have the choice of
- Malta Taxis
Bolt is pretty much like Uber or Grab (in Asia). Bolt has an app and it works just like other taxi apps. Enter your destination and the options will be offered. Download the app if you’re visiting Malta or Gozo and you’ll know that you can always call a taxi!
eCabs is another app that works just as Uber does. Download the eCabs app and you can use it to call a cab or arrange transport from the airport. They have a useful FAQ on their website for more information.
Malta has an official taxi company and it prides itself as being the oldest taxi company in Malta and one that is licensed by Transport Malta. They also have an app and it’s worthwhile downloading and adding to your transport options for getting around Malta.
Ryde say they have revolutionised ride-hailing in Malta. They offer a service much like the other options but they manage a fleet of iconic fully electric London Cabs. Ryde also has an app to make booking your taxi easier.
Trains on Malta?
There is no train service on Malta. Historically there was one line which ran from Valletta to Mdina, it’s purpose was to reduce the travel time from the then three hours between the two cities. The line was opened on 28 February 1883 and the journey took just 25 minutes.
In the early 1900s with the introduction of more buses the popularity of the railway fell into decline and by 1931 the trains stopped.
There is talk of reintroducing some kind of rail network, in an attempt to ease the Malta traffic congestion and help locals and tourists alike get around Malta, but so far there are no firm plans.
Getting To and Around Gozo
If you’re based on Malta and you’d like a day trip to Gozo, or maybe you plan to spend part of your holiday on Gozo then you have a few choices.
Hire A Car
If we were based in Valletta or one of the major resorts and wanted to spend some time on Gozo then for us hiring a car would be our first choice.
Gozo is small and quite drivable. When we visited it didn’t share the traffic issues faced on Malta. There are of course some pinch points like the traffic in and out of Victoria but on the whole we found driving on Gozo easy.
The Gozo Channel ferry was also very easy to use and navigate from Cirkewwa; remember that you pay on the way back as you board in Mgarr on Gozo.
Buses on Gozo
Just as on Malta, the buses on Gozo are excellent and will take you to the main points in the island. The same app is used on both islands and if you have a travel card it works across both islands too.
Getting to Gozo from the Airport
If you are travelling from the Airport to Gozo you can opt to take a public bus from the airport to Cirkewwa and then take the Gozo Channel Ferry as a foot passenger. Once you land in Mgarr you can opt for a taxi or a bus to get you to your Gozo destination.
Alternatively there are transfer options on Malta that will take you to Gozo.
Of course if you’re hiring a car, you can collect this at the airport and drive to the ferry terminal.
On Malta the reviews for the Hop on Hop Off are not so good and we wouldn’t recommend that option but the reviews for Gozo are much better; I suspect because of the traffic in part!
Alternatives for Getting Around Malta
Cycling Around Malta
Malta is a great country for cycling. With its beautiful countryside and relatively flat terrain, it’s a great alternative for exploring Malta.
Cycling in Malta offers the visitor the chance to discover some of the most stunning scenery in the quieter corners of the island. There are some dedicated cycle lanes, with more planned and cyclists can use bus lanes in certain area.
If you’re interested in hiring a bike to get around, one of the highest rated company on Malta is Eco Sports and they’ll deliver bikes across Malta and Gozo.
Open Top Hop-on Hop-off Bus
Both Malta and Gozo operate a hop-on hop-off bus service and whilst the bus on Gozo has good reviews the service on Malta is not so favourable. Many of the reviews suggest that the service is overwhelmed in summer and the buses are full or they fail to stop (because they’re full).
Out of season this might be a good option but given the reviews on Malta this isn’t an option we’d recommend.
A few Fabulous Tour Ideas for Getting Around Malta
If you don’t want to hire a car whilst on Malta but you’re still keen to explore the island these are some more amazing and unusual options for getting around
This is an amazing and fun way to spend a day getting around Gozo. The reviews are all fabulous and they offer a pick-up service from across Malta. This would be a a great choice tour is you’re staying in Valletta and you’d don’t wish to hire a car.
This tour offers a really great way to explore parts of Malta and might be a good choice for families. It offers a self-driving electric car that is pre-programmed with GPS along a 12-mile (18-kilometre) stretch of road beside the coast. .
The reviews are all 5* and much like this review :
This was so much fun! The experience was far more than we expected… The tour is well narrated and so informative about Malta’s rich history. We got to see some hidden gems that we would have never explored had it not been for Rolling Geeks. Thank you so much a memorable ride!
Private Full Day Tour for Groups
Private transport tours can sometimes be expensive but they do give you control over where you go and what you see. If you’re travelling in a group then they can also offer excellent value for money.
This tour can be organised for groups of up to 15 which makes it a fabulous and affordable option for some private sight seeing.
Horse Riding Tours
I’m always a little reluctant to suggest tours which involve animals but these tours on Gozo are so highly recommended and clearly the family-run business has the welfare of their horse at it’s core, that I’m making an exception.
Ever since my horse ride to O Cebriero on the Camino Frances I’m keen to find an opportunity to ride. I rode horses as a girl and the ride in Spain re-awakened that young spirit!
If you’d like to book a horseback tour on Gozo then you should try Gozo Stables Horse Riding but they’re not just for riders; check out their website for information on carriage rides too; they offer trips for all ages and abilities.
The Last Word : Getting Around Malta
Malta is an excellent holiday destination and thankfully offers many choices for getting around both Malta and Gozo for everyone’s budget and preference.
Car hire is a great option for those travellers who wish to be more independent want to see Malta at their own pace and have full flexibility over their itinerary.
Alternatively, buses are hugely affordable and are a great choice for those who prefer not to drive. Buses on Malta are perfect for sightseeing to the main destinations on the island and the Ferry service makes transfer from Valletta, Three Cities and Sliema an easy option.
In addition there are taxis and a huge selection of tours that offer the visitor many alternatives ways to see all that the islands have to offer.
Getting around Malta is much like the islands themselves. There are options to suit every kind of traveller, whether you’re looking for an action packed holiday, a peaceful getaway or a city break. When it comes to getting around Malta you’ll be spoilt for choice!