Driving in Malta: The best way to see the island

Malta is full of surprises. Formed of three islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, it’s crammed with natural beauty spots, graceful architecture and layers of intriguing history, dating back thousands of years - and you can discover it all at your own pace in a car...

By Saga team

Published 3 May 2024

Even the main island is small enough to get across in an hour, but if you really want to discover all the nooks and crannies of this culture-rich country, hiring a car in Malta will give you the freedom to explore everything – if you can tear yourself away from the pool. Drive between famous attractions like the Hypogeum and the Palace of the Grand Master, and explore peaceful traditional villages, all at your own pace.

We’ve put together this guide covering all you need to know to start planning your own self-guided tour around Malta

The main island of Malta is just 27km by 14km, so it’s possible to base yourself in one place for your entire holiday and simply take day trips in the car. Alternatively, you could pick a route and focus on a more in-depth discovery.

Try exploring Valletta and the medieval cities around the centre of the island or tour the southern coastline for fishing villages and quiet spots to contemplate those impossibly blue seas. If you’re craving the sandy beaches from the postcards, head up north for a good balance of popular resorts and local haunts. Neighbouring islands Gozo and Comino are only a short ferry ride away from northern harbour, Ċirkewwa.

However you like to travel, here are a few points where you can stop along the way:

Malta’s capital is one place you must squeeze into your holiday to Malta itinerary.

Rightly a World Heritage Site, this ancient settlement was built by the Christian Knights of St John in the 16th century, and it retains an astonishing number of beautiful Baroque buildings.

Shop in the street markets or drop into a terraced cafe for refreshments, surrounded by ornate balconies and meandering alleyways.

The towers of St John’s Co-Cathedral look down on the scene below, and it’s all too easy to while away your days over a drink here.

When you do want a change of scenery, pop across the harbour to the picturesque ‘Three Cities’ of Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua, which line up along the waterside opposite Valletta.

Head south from the capital to the town of Paola, which is about a 15-minute drive away.

As well as being the home of arguably the finest pastizzi (the Maltese version of the British pasty) in the country, Paola is also famous for its subterranean attractions.

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a cavernous underground cemetery, dating all the way back to 4,000BC. It’s advisable to book tickets at least two months in advance if you want to visit, particularly during peak seasons.

Medieval jewel Mdina occupies a dramatic position on a hillside in central Malta – to reach this stop just follow road signs to Triq Mdina in the car. Once you’re inside its walls, the ‘Noble City’ treats you to palaces tucked away down leafy streets and a fusion of Spanish, Sicilian and Norman influences.

Travel even further back in time at nearby Rabat’s maze of spooky Roman catacombs, before emerging into the sunshine for a well-earned glass of wine at one of Mdina’s many al fresco restaurants.

Just south of the airport lies the small harbour of Wied iż-Żurrieq, best known for running boat trips to the Blue Grotto. This series of sea caves was named due to the astounding colour of the water here. While you’re on these roads, stop off for the views at nearby Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim, two 4,000-year-old prehistoric temples set on the clifftops.

Marsaxlokk is a traditional fishing village with a waterfront full of colourful boats and a quiet charm that’s irresistible after busier tourist spots like Valletta. Located on the south coast, it’s also within handy driving distance of the Dingli cliffs – the tallest point on the island, it’s covered with a carpet of flowers in the spring and summer months.

The best thing about seeing Malta by car is the freedom it gives you to divert from the tourist trail, and it doesn’t get much more authentic than this central town. One of the oldest in Malta, Haz-Zebbug is also home to some stunning artefacts, including St Philip’s Parish Church. Visit in June if you can, when the streets come alive with much feasting, music and dance in honour of St Philip himself. Haz-Zebbug lies just north of the airport.

Made for sunset snapshots, the beautiful northern coast around St Paul’s Bay is popular for beachside cocktails, superlative seafood and relaxed resort hotels. If you’re looking for a quieter spot, Paradise Bay is an aptly-named stretch of sand overlooking Comino Island – perfect for a picnic stop.

While you’re in the north of Malta, take a boat over to Gozo, for acres of prime cycling and rambling territory. You can bring your hire car with you on the ferry, so it’s just as easy to get around Malta’s ‘middle sister’ island. Said to be Calypso’s Isle from Homer’s Odyssey, it has plenty of ancient sites like the megalithic Ggantija Temples to add to the legends.

Fancy a break from driving? Adventure-seekers might want to make time for car-free Comino, whose waters are famed for diving and snorkelling. But if your idea of escape is simply floating in warm, clear waters rather than diving deep down into them, Comino has that too – the Blue Lagoon is a lovely place for a dip.

Because the island used to be part of the British Empire, driving in Malta has a lot in common with driving in the UK.

You can still drive on the left rather than the right, seatbelts are mandatory and mobile phone use is prohibited (even hands-free). Traffic signs are largely the same.

However, it’s important to be cautious, especially at traffic lights and junctions, as local drivers can overtake eagerly and don’t always wait for a green light to go.

Speed limits are generally 80km/hr (50mph) on main roads and 50km/hr (30mph) in built-up areas. Watch out for public transport and school buses – these have priority on the road.

To hire a car, you just need your passport and domestic driving licence. At Saga, we offer car hire services.

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