Driving in Malta is seen as challenging at best by a lot of people, not least by the Maltese themselves. My aim with this article is to give you some insight to what you can expect to find if you choose to hire a car for your holiday.
These are the biggest challenges you can encounter on Maltese roads:
1. Traffic congestion – during rush hour mostly
2. Parking – Lots of cars, not enough spaces in busy areas
3. Hot-headed or ignorant drivers who are looking to cut off 1-2 minutes from their trip time, whatever the cost may be.
4. Narrow roads in old city centres. Not the type that will cost you a side mirror, but the type with semi-blind corners.
5. Unless you’re from the UK, left-hand driving (and a steering wheel on the right-hand side of the car) needs a little adjusting.
6. Rules and signs are sometimes seen as mere suggestions
Does that mean you should be discouraged from driving around in Malta?
My aim is to arm you with knowledge so that you’re prepared.
If you know what to expect and know how you can be smart about finding your way without any major hassles you’ll be happy you took the decision to hire a car.
Why you should consider driving in Malta
Let’s start with why you should seriously consider renting a car on your trip.
1. There’s a lot to see and discover within relatively short distances, and although hop on/hop off buses can be a good alternative, you’ll never have as much flexibility as you’d have driving yourself.
2. Although you’ll have easy access to public transport (a network of bus routes) wherever you stay in Malta, the way that some of the routes are laid out means that trips can take far longer than if you were to drive yourself.
3. Public transport is reasonably worry-free and generally punctual but can make for a hot ride in summer, when air conditioning doesn’t always work.
4. If you want to see the real Malta, the small quaint and relatively quiet villages and village life, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone and get away from the tourist hotspots. If you’re a curious traveller, it’ll be worth it.
How much does it cost to hire a car?
Rates can vary during the year, depending on the seasons. I always recommend using a rates comparison search, for two reasons:
You can get the best rates
You get reviews based on other traveller experiences.
I use Rentalcars.com for trips within Europe myself and highly recommend using their search engine below.
Still not sure? My advice is as follows:
If you’re a confident driver with at least a couple of years of solid experience on the road in your home country, you should be able to drive around by car in Malta pretty easily. Prepare yourself with the tips further down below.
I’ve driven on motorways in Italy, inside city centres like Napoli and in different parts of Sicily. Those experiences made driving in Malta look like a breeze. It’s predictable as long as you expect other drivers to misbehave and anticipate them doing so.
If you get worked up and stressed out easily behind the wheel, driving in Malta is probably not for you.
If you’re considering renting a car, I’m assuming you’re looking to do some exploring. If that’s the case, Sliema, St. Julian’s, Buġibba, Qawra and St. Paul’s Bay shouldn’t be on your list to consider staying at in the first place (have a look at my article Where to stay in Malta). If you are staying at one of these places, you’ll be making it difficult for yourself when it comes to driving in and out of these areas as well as to find parking (unless facilities are provided by the hotel or place you’re staying at).
If you plan to spend most or all of your time in Gozo, there’s no need to worry in the first place. Although rules are still not obeyed as closely as they might be at home, it’s a lot more peaceful driving around the island. Really and truly, you’d be missing out if you don’t rent a car in Gozo. It’s a great place to explore on four wheels. Or two, if you prefer.
What’s it like to drive in Malta?
Here’s a quick impression of what it looks like driving on the left-hand side. This person hired a car from the airport and drove to Valletta with a dash cam set up.
A few facts
There are no real motorways or highways in Malta. Main roads are usually a dual carriageway (two lanes in either direction)
Speed limits: The national extra-urban speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph), 50 km/h (31 mph) in built-up areas and sometimes 35 km/h (22 mph) within village centres (where you’ll rarely want to go faster anyway) unless otherwise specified. You will encounter lower speed limits like 60 and 70 km/h on main roads on particular stretches, out of safety considerations.
Although generally speaking the quality of the roads is decent, there are B roads and village roads which are in dire need of fresh tarmac. Don’t be surprised to encounter a bumpy ride from time to time, basically.
Traffic is monitored both by local wardens (dark green uniforms) as well as the police, for speed contraventions, illegal parking, entering one-way streets, using a mobile phone while driving, etc. Occasionally roadblocks are set up by the police for breathalyzer checks, especially around major events.
Rental cars can easily be recognised by other drivers, through visible car hire company branding and number plates containing a K or a Z, most of whom will be aware that you’re not experienced with driving on Maltese roads. Don’t expect everyone to be considerate and courteous, however.
Speed cameras around Malta
Speed control cameras are placed in a few places around main island Malta (no more than 10 in all), although none measure average speeds between checkpoints. Gozo has yet to be introduced to speed cameras.