Driving in Malta can be tricky in places.

Driving in Malta: Top tips, facts and FAQs

Driving in Malta: Top tips, facts and FAQs
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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.

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Driving in Malta can be tricky in places.

 

These are the biggest challenges you can encounter on Maltese roads:

  1. Traffic – 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?

Definitely not.

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 traveler, it’ll be worth it.

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, Bugibba, 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.

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.

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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.

Tips for safer and easier driving around Malta

Navigation

  • Plan your trip beforehand, and unless you really have to, avoid depending on your GPS. They usually work alright but with short turns and narrow streets they’re not always reliable and will just create insecurity. Having a good navigator in the passenger’s seat obviously helps, but may not always be available. (Or reliable. 🙂 )
  • Road direction signage is decent on main roads but sometimes it can be hard to find street name signs. Stop in a safe place and ask for directions if need be. Most Maltese people are friendly and happy to help out.
  • It’s always helpful to keep an eye on events being organised, so that you can avoid surprises in terms of traffic and parking difficulty.

Your own driving plays a role too

  • Think you got lost? Don’t panic and don’t hesitate or slow down to a crawl in the middle of the road. Keep driving until you can park by the side of the road safely to (re-)consult your GPS or map, or even better: Ask a local for directions.
  • Avoid creating frustration: Keep to the left unless you really need to go right. Indicate. Stick to the speed limits (and don’t drive too slowly yourself!).
  • Be cautious and don’t assume others will stick to the rules. Anticipate. Maltese drivers aren’t known for their adherence to the Highway code, nor are they known to be very courteous on the road (often in stark contrast to meeting them in person).
  • Do you see a fellow road user behaving like a complete <fill in favourite swear word here>? Let it slide and focus on your own driving. It’s not worth it.
  • Driving through a tunnel? Ignite your headlights – it’s the law and checks are performed once in awhile by wardens.

Traffic

  • Avoid busy times on the road if you can: Mondays-Fridays from 7am-9am and 5pm-6:30pm, Saturdays late morning/early afternoon.
  • Take B roads to reach your destination. You might take 5 or 10 minutes longer but you’ll avoid hassle.
  • A few handy tools are available to help you avoid traffic: Like Maltese Roads Traffic Updates during your trips so you can easily check in with the latest road updates before you set off. Alternatively you can download their iOs/Android app that goes by the name of MRTU and get notifications there.

Maltese drivers (well, a large number of them to be fair)

  • All cars in Malta are required to have functioning indicator lights, however, you rarely see indicators in action on the road, unfortunately. Don’t follow suit.
  • An unwritten rule that (sometimes) the bigger vehicle as the right of way. Be wary of company vans, large SUVs and buses – they tend to be most flexible when it comes to the rules of the road. Also, taxis and red minivans make up their own rule as they go. Just keep a distance, keep cool and you’ll be fine.
  • Roundabouts are a frequent sighting in Malta, and the rules here are more flexible than anywhere else. If a roundabout has two lanes, always expect another driver to ignore that and keep behind. Also don’t assume everyone adheres to give way signs. Indicate, drive slowly and anticipate.

Parking

  • Parking bays are usually clearly marked:
    • White paint: Anyone can park
    • Yellow paint: Do not park
    • Green paint: Reserved for residents all day (mostly applies to Valetta)
    • Blue paint: Reserved for residents between 7pm and 7am (mostly applies to Valetta)
  • If you park illegally on yellow lines and in no parking zones, you’ll be fined around €24. If you obstruct in a tow zone, your car may get clamped and/or towed (and you’ll be slapped with a €100 or so fine and another €70 for being clamped). Mind the signs and avoid the hassle altogether.

Filling up your tank at a petrol station

Petrol stations are available in most places around the island and with short distances it’s not easy to run a dry tank. During the day (usually from 7am until 6pm) pump assistants will be present, so all you need to do is pull up next to a pump, specify the amount you wish to fill up for and the type of fuel, and open up your tank. They’ll fill it up for you, after which you pay.

Most pumps will also offer 24h service through automated pumps. This is how they work:

  1. Choose your pump when you enter the petrol station, take note of the number you’ll be filling your tank from. Open your tank in advance.
  2. Get your cash out, walk over to the pay machine (usually a tall white box in between a set of pumps).
  3. Make sure your banknotes don’t have folded corners and enter one at a time. Usually, 5, 10, 20 and 50 euro notes are accepted. Older notes may be rejected a few times with fussy pay machines, but just smooth them out, check that all corners are unfolded and try a couple more times.
  4. Once you’ve entered the amount for which you’d like to refill, select the pump number. A receipt is usually produced, which you should collect and keep.
  5. Walk back to your car, choose your fuel and fill your tank. If you’re unsure of the type of fuel you need, you’ll usually find a sticker with the fuel type displayed on the inside of your tank lid. Each pump offers multiple fuels, with green usually being labelled as unleaded and black carrying the diesel label.

If, for whatever reason, fuel isn’t dispensed, you can return the following day to report this to the petrol station owner. It’s always good to have the receipt to indicate the exact time so they can check their systems to confirm fuel wasn’t dispensed. Usually they’d have been aware of an issue that may have occurred overnight and even though it’s rarely happened it never caused hassle other than having to return to the station.

FAQs

What are the driving rules in Malta?

Malta follows a Highway code which is similar to the UK’s, and which you can view here.

Do I need a car in Malta?

Strictly speaking, you can do with public transport, it’ll just take longer to get to see different places around the island.

Do the Maltese drive on the left or on the right?

One of the things that Malta inherited from British rule is driving on the left side of the road. Imported cars all of the steering wheel located on the right hand side.

You’ll also hear the Maltese saying “We drive on the shady side of the road”.

Whereas it might not be something you’re used to back home, with a little adjustment and cautious driving most people get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Are there any toll roads?

No, toll roads don’t exist in Malta

What is the legal minimum driving age?

The minimum age for driving is 18 years, although local car hire companies will require a driver to be at least 23 or 25 years old to be able to rent a car.

How much does fuel cost in Malta?

As of March 2017, unleaded petrol costs €1.31 per litre and diesel is priced at €1.18 per litre.

What should I do if I’m involved in an accident?

  1. Unless your car is positioned in a dangerous place on the road, don’t move your car.
  2. If it’s a simple front-to-rear type accident, you can call the local wardens on +356 2132 0202. Anything more serious than that, you’re better off calling the police on +356 21224001. If there accident is of a grave nature, emergency services can be reach on 112.
  3. Whatever you do, don’t accept liability for an accident on the spot, even if you’re asked by a warden or police officer. You simply don’t know and it’s not up to you to judge. Either one of them will help you take note of the scene of the accident and any paperwork that needs to be filled out, your car hire company and their insurers will sort out the rest.
  4. After you call the authorities, call your car hire company to let them know and to request assistance. They will guide you further vis-a-vis any insurance matters and a replacement vehicle.
  5. It’s always good to take pictures of the scene, including any skid marks and damage to your car and other car(s) involved.

 

5 Comments

  1. It happens that I just know Malta’s driving is on the left. I will have a rental car in Italy and booked a ferry to Malta which can carry my rental car there from Sicily. Do you think it’s allowed in Malta for my rental car with the driving wheel on the left but driving on the left? Do I need any approval from the police there? Look forward to hearing from you.

    Reply
    • Hi Hubert, as far as I’m aware it’s fine to drive a left-hand drive car in Malta for a short period of time and you won’t need police approval.

      Reply
  2. December 2016 experience:
    As made clear, driving in Malta is not for the faint-hearted. The initial drive from the airport to hotel in rush-hour darkness was a challenging experience. For a small island over-populated with cars, the road system is ingenious. Various ample freeways have been constructed, although nothing can be done to widen roads through ancient townships and villages. Even after several days achieving some familiarity with the layout, a real snag is eccentric road signage. Serious on the freeways is signage too small to read until manoeuvre to change lanes is late and potentially hazardous, aggravated by some pushy inhabitants giving ‘no quarter’, swerving between lanes and cutting-in – as little seen in UK for two decades. Make sure your rental car is insured against any possible eventuality – the bump maybe beyond your eyesight and agility to avoid.

    Reply
  3. I have plans to move to Malta for definite. The only thing that worries me is the traffic. I am driving a BMW X5 four-wheel drive SUV. I just wonder whether it would be advisable to import the car to Malta because it is so expensive and large. Thinking of the narrow streets and the enormous parking space to get it parked. Would a Fiat 500 be a better vehicle for Malta? On the other side, I love my present car and could sell it only at quite some loss. I am also afraid of driving on the left side and do not like the thought of buying a car in Malta with steering wheel on the right.
    Could you please advise me?

    Reply
    • Hi Anne, although SUVs are pretty common on Maltese roads they’re definitely not the most practical vehicles to park, particularly in the busier areas like Sliema, St. Julians, Valletta, etc. On top of that, imported vehicles are taxed quite heavily (both upon registration – check here: http://www.valuation.vehicleregistration.gov.mt/motorVehicle.aspx – as well as annual road license taxation), so financially it might also not make sense to bring your car along with you. As for driving on the left and having a steering wheel on the right – that’s obviously pretty personal but from my own experience, you get used to it pretty quickly. I hope that helps.

      Reply

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