Though small in size the southern European islands of Malta and Gozo have an extensive public transport system. Concentrated on reliable, modern and cheap bus, ferry and taxi services. Given the size of the islands it’s easy to get around.
Surrounded by water Malta’s international connections are through air and sea. The only airport on the island is located at Gudja. Malta’s national airline is Air Malta. Malta operates two main harbours which connect it to the rest of the world. The Grand Harbour serves as its passenger sea connection and caters for maritime trade. It has several docks and wharves and it is home to the cruise liner terminal. The Marsaxlokk terminal is home to the Malta Freeport which is the island’s transhipment terminal. Gozo has its own harbour. The Mġarr harbour connects the island of Malta to Gozo. Ferries between the two islands transport passengers and vehicles.
Buses are the most popular mode of public transport in Malta. They are the cheapest means of transport on the island. Buses have been in operation since 1905. Though the system has been revamped in recent years. This led to significant improvement in service. A new operator commenced its services and a new bus fleet was launched. They operate an extensive bus route across all the island. Several bus routes operate direct routes. From major towns to other major towns by-passing the need to enter Valletta to change buses. The bus terminus is located in Valletta. The majority of the buses that service the island leave from here.
Otherwise you can opt to drive your car, take a taxi, use the ferry, walk, cycle or use e-scooters to get to your destination.
Getting around by Bus
Malta and Gozo are densely populated. Coupled with the fact that a large percentage of the population own a private vehicle. The majority of the local residents use their car to run errands and go to work. Which makes it a heavily congested place. Especially, during peak hours at 7am – 9:30am and 4pm – 7pm.
An alternative to driving your private vehicle is to use public transport.
In 2011 the traditional Maltese buses terminated their operation. These buses were a symbol of the Maltese islands. Riding one of the buses was an experience in itself. Yet, a couple of these classic colourful buses have been renovated. Today, they provide tourist tours. These buses are unique and a tourist attraction in their own right.
Malta Public Transport is the only company which operates buses in Malta. Malta’s buses are green and white. These new buses are more comfortable and are less harmful to the environment. They are equipped with WI-FI and air-conditioning. Air-conditioning is a blessing during the terrible summer heat! At least commuters are in a cool environment during their travel time. A small part of each bus caters for parents with strollers and wheelchair users.
Malta’s bus network is the cheapest way to travel by public transport. Besides being the only means of public transport around the Maltese islands. Locals and tourists alike take the bus so expect it to be crowded especially at peak times. It is not uncommon for buses not to stop on each bus stop as they may be full. So if you want to alight make sure to press the stop button.
Buses operate on schedule between 5.30am to 11pm. They cover 80 routes around Malta and another 15 around Gozo. A night service runs between nightlife hubs to major towns. This service operates on Friday and Saturday Nights and on public holidays.
Buses connect all towns to major destinations. Such as the airport, the cruise liner terminal, the Gozo ferry terminals, major tourist areas and places of interest. The main bus terminus is situated in Valletta. In Gozo it is situated in Victoria. There are other major bus interchanges at Mater Dei and University, Buġibba and the Airport. The operator runs an express bus service. These buses are designated with the letter X. This service runs from Malta’s tourist hubs to the airport. It has a limited number of stops. In total there are 4 dedicated routes covered by the express buses.
Consider that traffic congestion at peak times makes the bus system unreliable. Bottlenecks cause buses not to keep with their scheduled time. Download the Malta Public Transport app on your smartphone to plan your journey. You can also log onto the operator’s website to check out the bus route schedule and frequency.
The app gives you all the routes available. In the drop-down box you can either input the street name or place of interest or bus stop number of your point of departure and destination. You will get suggested routes together with the time. Besides being easier to plan your journey you have real time information.
There is a bus schedule for the winter months and one for the summer months. Bus operators cater for the influx of tourists. Buses on sought after routes are more frequent as demand increases. In summer buses in Sliema, St. Julian’s, Gżira, Mellieħa and Rabat areas tend to be packed. These locations are popular with tourists. They are home to many tourist attractions. Make sure to take these factors into consideration and plan your trip.
Malta’s bus fares are amongst the cheapest in Europe. Ticket prices vary depending on the season. In winter a single journey ticket costs €1.50 and in summer €2.00. The night rate is fixed at €3.00 all year round. You can buy bus tickets when boarding. The single journey ticket has an expiry of two hours from time of purchase. During these two hours it can be used for any destination and it includes any interchanges. But you need to scan the ticket at interchanges.
From 1st October 2022 the bus service on the islands became free of charge. For residents who are holders of the Tallinja Card. This move was in a bid to reduce traffic congestion. To encourage the use of public transport as opposed to private vehicles. To enjoy free transport you can apply for your Tallinja card online.
If you are not a frequent traveller you can buy the 12 Day Journey card. This card entitles you to 12 trips which include night routes. You can either use it for 12 single day journeys or 6 single night trips or a combination of both. The cost of this card is €15.00. There is also the option to buy a 7-day pass for unlimited night service for €12.00.
Tourists on a short visit can opt to buy one of the Explore cards. These cards come cheaper than paying for every single ride.
The Explore card entitles the holder to 7-day unlimited travel. You can ride the bus at any time of the day as much as you please. The cost of this card is €21.00 for adults and €15.00 for children.
Another option is the Explore Flex card. This can be topped up and used as pay-as-you-go. This card offers cheaper fares on winter, summer routes and night services. You can buy this card for €6.00 this amount is credited on your card.
Another alternative is the Explore Plus Meep card which costs €39.00. This entitles the holder for 7-days unlimited free travel on public transport. It includes 2 free trips on the Valletta ferry to Sliema or the Three Cities and 2 free trips on the Tallinja bike. You can choose from 1 full day ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus or a harbour cruise or a boat trip to Comino.
These multi-day cards can be purchased from the Malta Public Transport sales booths, dispensing machines or leading outlets. Ticket booths are situated at the airport, at the Sliema Ferries, Valletta and Buġibba bus terminals in Malta. At Victoria in Gozo. These booths are open early in the morning till late in the evening.
Travel around by Ferry
Surrounded by water the ferry is the best alternative means of transport.
By and large the most popular ferry is that used to cross between Malta and Gozo. The peaceful island situated at the northwest of Malta is only accessible by ferry. Gozo Channel runs a daily schedule between the Ċirkewwa Terminal and the Mġarr Terminal. Ferries leave from both terminals every 45 minutes. The trip takes around 20 minutes. You can take a car on board the Gozo Channel ferry service.
Ferry tickets are sold only at the Mġarr Terminal. The standard adult passenger fare costs €4.65 and €1.15 for a Gozo resident or child. A pensioner travels for free. If you travel by car the standard cost is €15.70 for a car and passenger. A motorcycle plus passenger costs €8.15. Lower rates apply if you are a pensioner or Gozo resident. You can enjoy cheaper fares if you commute throughout the night.
There is also a fast ferry service from Valletta to Gozo. This is operated by Gozo Ferry Service. The journey takes around 45 minutes. This ferry only transports passengers. An adult ticket costs €7.50 per trip and a child ticket €3.00 per trip. Reduced rates apply for students, Gozo residents, adults over 60 years and persons with a disability. Consider that this ferry service is not as frequent as the service offered by Gozo Channel. Make sure to check the company’s website for the monthly schedule.
Visitors on sightseeing trips can use the hop-on hop-off ferry. This service runs between Sliema, Buġibba, Comino and Gozo. A private company operates a coastal route and harbour route. The coastal route lands at Sliema, Buġibba, Mġarr (Gozo) and Comino. The harbour cruise crosses between Sliema and Kalkara. There are 2 types of passes the 24 and 48-hour pass. The 24-hour adult pass costs €25.00 and the 48-hour adult pass costs €40.00.
Another ferry service which is in-high demand is the Valletta ferry service. A private company runs two crossings. One over the Marsamxett harbour from Valletta to Sliema. The other journey is from Valletta across the Grand Harbour to the Three Cities. This service is cheap and a convenient way to travel. The Sliema – Valletta schedule runs every 30 minutes starting from Sliema at 6:45 till 19:15 in winter. The last ferry to leave Valletta is at 19:30. In summer it operates extended hours. With the last departure from Sliema being 23:45 and from Valletta 00:00. On weekends and public holidays the service starts at 8:45. The Three Cities – Valletta service runs every 30 minutes. It starts at 6:30 till 19:00 with the last ferry to leave Valletta at 19:15 in winter. In summer it operates extended hours. With the last departure from Cospicua being 23:30 and from Valletta 00:00.
An adult single journey day ticket is €1.50 with return €2.80. Children, adults over 60 years and people with a disability have reduced rates. The night service commences at 19:30 and an adult single ticket costs €1.75 with return €3.30. The company offers several passes for frequent travellers. You can buy a weekly pass for €10.00 with unlimited number of trips on one of the two routes. Other alternatives are a 3 month, 6 month or 12 month card which have unlimited number of trips on one of the two routes.
A ferry service also connects Malta to Sicily. A private company operates ferry services between the two islands. The ferry terminal departs from the Grand Harbour. It boards both passengers and cars. There are two outgoing and incoming trips daily.
Take a Water Taxi
Water taxis operate around Malta’s two busiest harbours. With embarkation points at Senglea, Gżira, Sliema, Valletta, Mġarr (Gozo). This is a faster way of travel around harbour towns.
The ticket indicates the point of departure and destination of each journey. The cost of a journey landing within the same port is €5.00 up to 2 persons. Trips within the same zone cost €10.00 for 2 passengers. A trip between neighbouring zones costs €15.00 for up to 2 passengers. Trips between other zones cost €40.00 up to 2 passengers.
Another option to cross the Grand Harbour is by taking a gondola-styled boat. This is a tourist favourite as the ride is fun. Besides, you get to admire Malta’s historical harbour.
Ride a Taxi
If you do not wish to wait at bus stops or do not own a private vehicle you can take a taxi. Either take one of Malta’s famed ‘white’ taxis or one from a private company. In Malta there is a selection of private companies who operate a taxi service. Though the service is efficient it comes at a high cost. All companies have a range of vehicles available. From standard vehicles up to 4 passengers to mini vans for larger groups. There are cabs which cater for passengers with reduced mobility. Others which are pet-friendly. You can take a ride in a comfortable car with professional drivers.
‘White’ taxi stands are situated at the Malta International Airport and tourist hotspots. These include Valletta, Sliema, St. Julians, Buġibba, outside the cruise liner terminal and popular hotels.
You can catch a taxi from any of the taxi stands or you can call or use an app to book a private cab for fast pickup. Private operators can be reached by phone or app. Booking by app is very popular. It is also the fastest and convenient travel option if you plan on taking a taxi. You input your location and destination. Choose the type of vehicle you want and you are given the price before booking. The pick-up time takes place a couple of minutes after booking.
‘White’ taxi drivers will give you a flat rate according to the destination. Make sure to agree on the rate before the ride. Private operators have different rates. The cheapest taxi rides are those booked with private taxis through an app. But bear in mind that the rate varies according to the time of the day and traffic flow. A ride from Sliema to the airport costs around €13.00 during off-peak hours.
Rent a Car
This is the best choice for tourists to travel around the island and find its hidden gems. It provides freedom and flexibility. Driving in Malta is on the left hand side of the road. It is of great help that the road signs are in Maltese and English. Keep in mind that it is a must to wear a seatbelt. The speed limit in urban areas is 50 km/h.
At the airport there are several car hire company representatives. You can either pre-book your car hire online or upon arrival. Renting a car costs anything around €70.00 to €150.00 per week.
Other means of Transport
This is a recent travel trend in Malta. Whereby a couple of passengers share the same taxi together with the driver. This price is around €5.00 per ride. This commuting solution is cheap. Pick-up time is around 10 minutes from time of booking. During your ride the driver may deviate from the main route to pick up other passengers along the way.
Cycling and e-bikes
Malta does not have proper bike lanes so cycling is not the ideal and safe means of transport available. Malta’s heat, traffic and uneven road surfaces pose a significant threat to cyclists.
A private company supplying e-bikes for rent has set up shop in Malta. You can rent a bike from one of the many docking stations located around the island. It is a cheap means of transport. With a pay-as-you rate of €1.50 for the first 30 minutes and €1.00 for each extra 30 minutes. To ride a bike, log into the app or website and scan the bicycle’s code. You will receive a 4 – digit code through sms, input the code into the app and you are all set.
This is the most recent preferred mode of travel. You will find a lot of e-scooters available for rent around Malta and Gozo. Especially in tourist hotspots. Renting an e-scooter is easy and has an added bonus of being eco-friendly since they are electric. Register on the providers app and upload a copy of your driving license. Within minutes you are given a list of available scooters in your area. Scooters are parked, through the app scan the scooter’s code and you are ready to go. The rent charge is reasonable.
The Maltese islands are small so getting around is easy. Find the best option for you taking into consideration your daily routine. Alternative green means of transport are always the best means to travel to safeguard the environment.