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What you Need to Know About Driving a car in Malta

by Silke Elzner

Malta is perfect to explore with a rental car. The little country has so much to offer, it would be shame to just spend time on the beach or at the hotel. During our recent 10-day stay in Malta we have seen ancient catacombs and dramatic cliffs, traditional villages and pre-historic temples, picture-perfect beaches and vast landscapes dotted with wildflowers. What a shame if we had missed it all!

In this article I would you like to share with you everything you need to know about driving in Malta and about booking a rental car, all based on my personal experiences and observations. It’s not difficult at all, so let’s go!

Malta: Rental car or Local bus?

Truth be told, there is no requirement to rent a car in Malta. You really have to weigh your options and think about how and to what extend you want to explore the islands. It is absolutely possible to see some of Malta’s most famous sights by bus. However, a rental car in most cases will be a more individual, faster and practical option. Also, a rental car allows you to visit sights that may be way off the beaten path. On the other hand, local buses are much cheaper than any rental car.

If you would like more information about using busses in Malta, check out Maltabybus.com.

In summary, if you have more money to spend and less free time, consider a rental car, at least for a couple of days of your stay, a viable option. It allows you maximum freedom in choosing your itinerary and is much easier to handle when travelling with kids.

Which Driver’s License is Mandatory in Malta?

EU citizens with an EU driver’s license will be pleased to know that they will need no additional documentation when renting a car in Malta. All other nationalities may require an additional International Driving Permit, in particular if your national license is not issued in English language and/or does not have a photo included. If that’s the case, make sure you carry both licenses with you when driving the car.

Note that some car rental companies may have their own rules such as driver’s age limits which may have an effect on your eligibility to hire a car in Malta.

Drinking and Driving in Malta

Malta has a very strict policy when it comes to drinking and driving. Driving under the influence in Malta is strictly forbidden! You may not even enjoy a single glass of Cisk beer or wine at lunch before returning to your car, so be careful and keep this in mind.

Some city streets in Malta and Gozo like this one in Mdina are so narrow that not even a normal sized horse carriage would fit. Driving in Malta therefore requires some negotiation skills.

Some city streets in Malta and Gozo like this one in Mdina are so narrow that not even a normal sized horse carriage would fit. Driving in Malta therefore requires some negotiation skills.

Google Maps and Malta

In my experience, Google Maps has a very different understanding to us when it comes to which routes are managable to drive on. In other words, just because Google Maps suggests a certain route it may not necessarily be the one you would choose to take. We learned this the hard way on our very first day on the island when we we drove from the airport to our hotel (late at night). Google Maps decided to send us on the shortest and quickest route, but this was by no means the easiest to drive!

If you are not so keen on narrow, winding roads in the middle of the country with poor visibility and questionable surfaces, stick to the big roads and look for alternative suggestions by Google Maps. Unfortunately, even the satellite view may not reveal the quality of the road. However, I think it’s safe to say that if you gravitate towards the populated north coast of Malta you may find the well laid-out motorway.

Tips for Renting a car at the Airport in Malta

If you arrive in Malta in the evening don’t be surprised if the rental company is charging you a late pick-up fee.

Most rental car companies have their offices right next to the customs exit, you really cannot miss them. The cars can be found outside at the far end of the public parking lot. It’s a bit of a walk which can become annoying if you opt for an insurance that does not cover every single scratch. Make sure you document any additional bumps and scratches with your phone camera when picking up your car and if they are not in the papers, walk back to the counter in the terminal to ensure that they are noted down in the documents.

Malta and Driving on the Left Side of the Road

If you are a UK national, congrats, you will have no issues finding your way around Maltese roads. Pretty much everybody else is screwed. No, I am just kidding. Driving on the left side of the road (and operating a car that was built the other way around) is a slight challenge in the beginning but can be mastered after a short while.

Any passengers in the car should make it a habit to remind the driver though that they are required to stay on the left side of the road. It is in situations where you start the car again, commonly on roads with little traffic, that drivers return to old habits and forget that they are in Malta.

Traffic Jams and Road Works

During our stay of 10 days (with most days spent exploring the island by car) we hardly encountered any serious traffic jams. If there was congestion it was mostly due to temporary road works and during rush hour and certain events like the end of the Easter processions in Mdina. Expect traffic to be a bit thick around built-up areas like the Three Cities and Valletta.

All in all, we had no issues with busy roads and we were not even forced to slow down significanly due to slower vehicles like trucks and tractors.

Parking in built-up areas in Malta (pictured: Valletta) can be a nightmare. It is wise to park the car well outside the city centre and walk into the historical heart of these cities or use public transport for the last couple of metres.

Parking in built-up areas in Malta (pictured: Valletta) can be a nightmare. It is wise to park the car well outside the city centre and walk into the historical heart of these cities or use public transport for the last couple of metres.

Parking in Malta

This is a very important tip: In towns and cities you will often see coloured markers on the side of the road. They indicate legal and illegal parking spots. For example, white lines indicate places where you are allowed to park the car. Yellow and blue show spots where parking is illegal.

Also, do not park on sidewalks, the wrong way around in one-way streets, too close to crossroads, in front of lowered kerbs and on parking for the disabled.

Road Conditions in Malta

If you think about keeping track of the number of potholes in Malta you will soon lose count! In particular in some residential areas and smaller towns the road surfaces were abysmal. Careful driving and a slower speed are essential in those situations. Trust me, it gives you a whole new perspective on roads in your home country!

Roundabouts

There are hardly any traffic lights in Malta since most crossroads are managed with roundabouts. Most of these roundabouts have one or two lanes which means it makes sense to pick the right lane on approach to avoid any confusion (left lane for turning left, right lane for going straight or turning right). Traffic in the roundabout is always given priority.

All of this may sound complicated when you are not used to roundabouts in your country but trust me it usually works out really well. Just make sure you keep your distance, take care and factor in any unexpected moves by the other drivers.

Driving in Rural Areas

Rural areas in Malta are mostly defined by straight one-lane country roads that are interrupted by roundabouts. From time to time you will pass through villages and smaller towns. Dont’t be surprised if roads take narrow turns and suddenly decide to climb up a couple of metres. Sometimes you need to negotiate with oncoming traffic for way of right. A lot of roads in Malta were established way before the invention of the modern car, so conditions in rural areas can be less than ideal.

I am so glad that we decided to rent a car in Malta for the duration of our stay. It gave us maximum flexibility and made it possible that we could visit such pretty places as Xlendi Bay on the island of Gozo.

I am so glad that we decided to rent a car in Malta for the duration of our stay. It gave us maximum flexibility and made it possible that we could visit such pretty places as Xlendi Bay on the island of Gozo.

Visiting Valletta or Victoria (Gozo) by car

Both cities, Valletta and Victoria, are busy and have narrow roads. It is a very sensible decision to conquer these cities on foot and leave the car behind at a convenient parking lot outside the city walls. It is almost impossible to find on-street parking in either of these cities.

In Valletta, you can make use of a big public parking lot just a couple of metres south of the City Gate. This suburb just outside the city centre is called Floriana. If you prefer, you can continue your journey on an air-conditioned bus. We found that walking from here to the historic city centre of Valletta was not a hassle at all, even with kids.

Looking for stuff to do in Valletta? Read my handy post on Valletta’s top attractions!

In Victoria on Gozo island, there is a public parking space just next to Villa Rundle Gardens. It is more compact and doesn’t offer a lot of spots, so if you are planning a daytrip from Malta to Gozo, you may want to rock up early to improve your chances of finding an available spot.

Taking the Gozo Ferry With a Rental car

It is incredibly easy to take the ferry to Gozo island when you are travelling with a rental car. Not just the many sights of Gozo island, but also the journey on the ferry is definitely worth the trip.

Coming from Malta, follow the road signs to Gozo (or the ferry symbol) and once in port, follow the handsignals of the staff. You will be asked to queue up in a big parking space to wait for the next available ferry. Of course, you will always find people who like to skip the line but in most cases we found that people behaved really well.

Only when you return from Gozo you will have to pay the fare for the ferry. Just stop at the toll booth before entering port and pay the required fare.  The overall cost depends on the kind of vehicle you drive plus the number of passengers.

Speed Cameras in Malta

There are not many speed cameras in Malta; most of them can be found along the motorway. They are well signposted and you would be very stupid to ignore the warning signs and still get caught.

Booking a Rental Car for Your Malta Holidays

It is highly recommended that you book your rental car for Malta in advance, in particular if you are travelling in the school holidays. You can check rates and find great deals via my partner company Rentalcars Connect (affiliate link).

Malta Sightseeing by Car: Suggestions

If you are not sure what you may be able to see in Malta when exploring the islands by car, here are some suggestions:

Summary: Driving a Car in Malta and Gozo

These are my top tips for driving a car in Malta. As said above, we did choose to rent a car and we didn’t regret it for a single second. Getting around was easy, it showed us so many different parts of the country, and we were in complete control of our itinerary.

Are there any tips that you missing in this article? Feel free to shoot me a message so that I can include it in this post!

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