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The first time visitor’s idiot proof guide to getting around Malta

The small island nation of Malta is only 17 miles long and 9 miles wide and neighbouring Gozo is just 9 miles long and 4.5 miles wide. Despite the small size of the islands however, getting around Malta can be frustratingly painful. Traffic jams, road works, and trucks barring the way are just some of the things that will slow your journey. That aside, it pays to explore beyond Valletta and it’s surroundings. In Marsaxlokk, you will find a bustling seaside harbour crammed with traditional restaurants serving fresh catch at giveaway prices. In Bugibba and St Paul’s, the entire family can enjoy thrills in the water parks or on the lively seafront. Whilst, in Mdina, Rabat and the Three Cities, history lovers can indulge in a plethora of stunning sights. For such a small nation, Malta packs a punch!

So, if you plan to visit and explore beyond the nightlife and beaches, here is your idiot proof guide to getting around Malta.

The Three Cities of Malta
The Three Cities of Malta

Getting around Malta

Hop on hop off bus

If you simply want a whirlwind tour of the Island that takes in most of the major sights, then the Hop on Hop off bus may be your best option. The ticket includes;

  • The North Island tour which heads to Bugibba and Golden Bay
  • The South Island tour which visits Marsaxlokk, the Three Cities, and the Blue Grotto

Tickets for the hop on hop off bus

For a 24 hour ticket including a 24 hour hop on hop off boat tour, adults pay £21.45 and children pay £12.87. For a 24 hour ticket (excluding boat tour), adults pay £15.45 and children £8.58, whilst those under 4 travel for free. However, note it is impossible to fit all the trips into 24 hours so you should opt for the 48 hour option. The 48 hour option includes:

  • The North Island tour
  • The South Island tour
  • The Harbour boat tour which includes Sliema, Manuel Island and the Three Cities
  • A coastal Boat tour to Gozo and the Blue Lagoon
The beautiful coastline of Gozo
The beautiful coastline of Gozo near Xlendi

Tickets for the 48 hour option cost £30.03 for adults and £18.88 for children but even with 48 hours it is a stretch to fit everything in because the buses do not run as frequently as they ideally should. Furthermore, if they turn up full, you have to wait another hour until the next one turns up. Although the bus calls itself the hop on hop off, the routes are too long, and too infrequent to allow for much hopping on and off. If you wish to use the boats, you will need to check those timetables first and plan everything else around them as they run even less frequently.

Tour commentary

The tours are however good value if you choose to get up early and bag your spot and are happy to remain on the bus for the duration of the tour. If you truly want to jump on and off you may be better simply using public transport. There is very limited commentary on the Hop on Hop off bus so if you carry a guide such as the Rough Guide to Malta you will save tons of money and avoid some of the frustrations of the Hop on Hop off bus.

Timetables for the Hop on Hop Off Bus

These are the timetables at the time of writing (October 2022)

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

  • North Route departure times from Stop N1: 08:00, 09:00. 10:00. 11:00, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30.
  • South Route departure times from Stop S10: 09:05, 10:05, 11:05, 12:05, 13:05, 14:05

Hop-on Hop-off Coastal Route Boat Tour:

Departure/Arrival Point:

  • S1. Sliema Ferries – 10:00 (DEP), 18:15 (ARR)
  • S2. Bugibba Jetty – 10:40 (DEP), 17:40 (ARR)
  • S3. Mgarr Gozo – 11:20 (ARR), 14:00 (ARR/DEP), 17:00 (DEP)
  • S4. Comino Blue Lagoon – 11:40 (ARR), 13:40 (DEP), 14:20 (ARR), 16:45 (DEP)

Harbour Cruise:

  • Sliema Ferries Departures – 10:30, 12:30, 14:45
  • Esplora, Kalkara Departure/Arrivals – 11:40, 13:40, 15:55
  • Sliema Ferries Arrivals – 12:00, 14:00, 16:15
Hop on hop off bus near Valletta
Hop on hop off bus near Valletta

Malta buses

The best way to get around (and arguably the cheapest) is by bus. To get started, download the Tallinja app. This app allows you to find bus routes and timetables (although the timetables are not much use, as buses make absolutely nil attempt to adhere to them). Once on the bus you can connect to the free WIFI and track your journey to ensure you do not miss your stop. We did miss our stop on our first bus journey so here are my top tips for navigating the system;

  • Watch the neon sign on the bus for details of the next stop – the name rotates between English and Maltese.
  • Find the stop that you want on the map on the app. Then follow the blue blob as it gets closer to the target (that way you know when you approach your stop).
  • Avoid routes that have connections – the lack of timetable discipline means you will likely miss the connection and spend a frustrating amount of time hanging around.
  • Buy tickets in one of the main conurbations because you can buy cards that save you money. For instance, you can buy 12 tickets for €15. This saves you €9 and you can share the card with others. Just make sure you do not tap too many times (another mistake we made!)
  • If you are near the start of a route and there is a choice of stops, always opt for the start stop as there is less chance that the bus will be full and you will be denied entry (another rookie error we made!)
Tallinja card 12 single journeys
Tallinja card valid for 12 single journeys

Tallinja Explore Flex Pass

Although you can pay as you go on public transport, another money saving option is to purchase a Explore Flex Pass for €6. This card also allows you to travel on the buses for €1.85 and includes a range of other discounts as you can see below. The €6 credit is instantly available to use and the card is the only non personalised pay as you go card.

However it is only available at select locations including Malta Public Transport sales offices at Valletta bus terminus, Malta International Airport arrivals hall, and card-dispensing machines around the island. For a list of card-dispensing machine locations, click here. My advice would be to buy it in the airport when you arrive. You can then top up via the app.

The card entitles holders to all the following discounts.

Regular Price Explore Flex Price 
Day Bus Services €2.00 €1.85
Airport Bus Services €2.00 €1.85
Night Bus Services €3.00 €2.85
Tallinja Direct Bus Services €3.00 €2.85
Special Bus Services €3.00 €2.85
Tallinja On Demand Bus Service €2.50 €2.00
Valletta Ferry Services €1.50 €1.30

You can also purchase Explore Flex card bundles for 24-hours, 4-days or 7-day passes which offer unlimited Day and Night trips on all public transport. You can find more information and the latest prices here.

One of the forts around the island
The Three Cities fort

Bike

If you read my blog regularly, you will know that Jason and I love making use of bike schemes such as these in Helsinki and Vancouver. So, we were quite excited to discover that Malta has a similar offering however our excitement did not last for long. The stations are few and far between which means you will likely incur lots of extra charges. Normally we ensure we return the bikes within the 30 minute time period to avoid extra charges. Furthermore, most stations we came across had one or two bikes at best so if you are travelling in a group, you might find this mode of transport a challenge.

The final point to be aware of is that Malta is far from flat so if you like an easy ride it may be better to pick another option.

Next Bike

It would however be remiss of me not to share the details of Next Bike.

Next Bike membership plans allow unlimited rides for free. There are 60 stations around the island and as you can see these are concentrated in the conurbations around Sliema, St Julian’s and Valletta. For tourists wishing to cycle around the island, this scheme will not help you.

As you can see, if you opt for 24 hour hire and fail to deposit your bike at a station within 30 minutes, you will incur additional costs. It probably makes more sense to find a bike hire shop and hire for a day rather than have to worry about finding a station with available bikes.

Cycling around Malta
Just one of the many hills in Malta

How to rent a bike

I also did not find the user experience great for a tourist who might wish to avoid roaming charges. To use the bikes you need to:

  1. Download the Next Bike App and register
  2. Enter the bike number on the mobile app
  3. Scan the QR code using the app
  4. Then enter the 4 digit code from the app (which requires an internet connection) or your text messages (which requires roaming)
  5. Once you have unlocked the bike, do not forget to take the lock with you
  6. When you wish to return the bike you need to enter the return location

As a result of the inability to use the bikes without switching on roaming, we simply did not bother. But if anyone else has used them I would love to hear your experience. In Helsinki, I loved that you simply input a pin so there was no need to be online for every hire.

Valletta Ferry
Valletta Ferry service in the Three Cities

Ferry

Valletta Ferry Services offers two ferries between Valletta and the Three Cities and Valletta and Sliema. A bus route connects the two and each journey costs just €1.5 although if you opt for a Tallinja Explore Flex pass it costs €1.30.

If you prefer to walk from the Valletta Three Cities stop to the stop for Sliema, there is a free lift to whisk you from the dock to the old town on top of the hill. Simply keep your ferry ticket to show the operator and avoid the €1 fee per person.

Car

Car hire in Malta is great value but not a great option. For a small island, Malta has a ridiculous amount of traffic and even more road works than Britain! Furthermore, many hotels do not have parking facilities so you could spend a lot of time hunting for parking, much of which will not be free.

If you want to book a car for just a day, you can do so here for around €30.

Dingle cliffs
Dingle Cliffs Malta

Final thoughts

We loved exploring Malta during our stay, and once we got the hang of the buses, found them a great way to get around the country. You will see a glimpse of local life, probably experience a few adventures and save tons of cash (especially if you opt for one of the passes). In my opinion, this is the only way to travel in Malta.

About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips

6 comments

  1. Miles (my real name)

    A local told me that “all” the residents who can afford to, leave Malta in the summer, due to the intense heat.

  2. Rent a car, take the ferry to Gozo. It’s a spectacular island. Avoid it in the busy summer months though.

    • I totally agree. It is absolutely gorgeous. We started our trip on Gozo and loved the little bay of Xlendi and the capital of Vittoria. We did not however love getting lost on our Rat Race Adventure at 4am in the morning.

  3. Rodney Maraist

    This is an area you rarely read about on travel blogs. Thanks for the info

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