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Accommodation, Transport, Car Hire, Malta Tourist Information

Getting to Malta

Malta’s national airline is Air Malta. Other airlines serving Malta include Aeroflot, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Easyjet, Ryanair, Swiss, Emirates, Libyan Arab Airlines, Lufthansa and Transavia, but this is not a full list. Charter flights are also offered from many European destinations. Most of Europe is within 3 hours flying time, northernmost countries up to 4 hours.

Malta’s recently built air terminal offers all the facilities one would expect in a modern airport – well connected by public transport, duty free shops, car hire offices, banks and exchange bureaus, and a choice of catering outlets. Important to note that buses normally do not allow luggage to be carried.

The only other option to visit Malta is by sea – mainly from Sicily or Italy, with a high speed passenger and vehicle catamaran service from Sicily generally proving the most popular. Services operate to the Sicilian ports of Catania and Pozzallo. Travel time from Pozzallo is around 90 minutes. Visit http://www.virtuferries.com for information.

Importation of Restricted or Prohibited Items

Special arrangements to be made beforehand for the importation of sporting firearms and ammunition. Prohibited items include all forms of pornographic material, counterfeit items, and illicit substances. To note that Maltese law takes a harsh stance on the attempted importation of even small quantities of “soft” drugs such as marijuana, with prison terms prescribed, and customs employ advanced detection methods. Therefore the importation of such substances, even for personal use, is not to be contemplated.

Health and Medical

Visitors do not need to take any special health precautions. Tap water is also perfectly safe, although bottled water is cheap and better tasting. All locally produced dairy products are safe for consumption.  Milk is pasteurised and available daily in cartons.
Chemists are found throughout the Islands and are open during normal shopping hours, generally 9-12 and 4-7pm Mon-Fri and 9-12 Saturdays. On Sundays, chemists open on a roster, mornings only, which roster is published in Sunday newspapers. All common medications manufactured by the major international brands are commonly available, or their equivalent.

In case one needs to see a doctor, the standard of health care in Malta is very high, both in the public and private sector.

Child Care

All well-known brands of milk formulae, nappies, medicines and other baby products are readily available from chemists and supermarkets throughout Malta & Gozo.

Getting Around

Car hire is strongly recommended to get around the Maltese Islands. Malta and Gozo is possibly one of the cheapest places to hire a car, especially in the low season. Unless you are a regular visitor or do not expect to do much sightseeing, and ideally are also staying in a central location, you might find that buses are somewhat limiting.

Buses are quite cheap, but rather slow, and connections generally mean changing buses at Valletta to go pretty much anywhere, although some direct services do exist. The peripheries, if served by buses at all, could have an hourly service which means plenty of waiting time. If you plan on getting around a lot, buses should only be considered a viable option if you are staying in Valletta, the Sliema/St Julians area, and the St Paul’s Bay area – localities which are well served and have plenty of tourist facilities to hand, thus unnecessary travelling is avoided. Another thing to watch out for is that in many areas, the latest bus leaves Valletta as early as 10:30 or 11:00 pm, and catching a taxi home could cost as much as a day’s car rental charge.

To hire a car or motorcycle, your driving licence is required, and minimum/maximum age limits apply some of which can be satisfied by the payment of an insurance surcharge.

Driving around Malta and Gozo is not difficult. Apart from a short period of adjustment until one realises that most Maltese drivers think that rules are to be bent to accommodate requirements, and there are no major worries. Just watch out for the speed cameras installed in a few locations (speed limits are marked in Km not miles!), and careful where and how you park your car, both as regards to prohibited parking and to not leaving valuables in an “obvious” tourist hire car (anyone can tell from the number plate). See note about tipping, when using a public car park, too. Driving is on the left, UK style, and unless otherwise indicated speed limits are 50km/h / 30mph (Urban), and 80km/h / 50mph (Outside built up areas).

Taxis come in two varieties – White or Black, although the latter are also sometimes offered in other colours, except white. White taxis are “proper” taxis, generally with a “proper” non-functional meter, a “Taxi” sign on the roof and/or doors, and permission to pick up passengers from the street – although some of them (not all, mind) interpret “to pick up” as “to rip off”. On a good day they are more expensive than London black taxis, provided you agree the fare beforehand. Because of the way they work, often queued up at busy locations, where they might have waited in turn for hours, the minimum charge for a short distance is generally disproportionately high. So always without exception agree on the fare beforehand. “Black” taxis, officially know as “chauffeur driven” or “garage hire” cars, are the equivalent of British minicabs, with the difference that only licenced vehicles are used. These taxis can not be stopped on the street, but must be booked beforehand by calling up the garage. The charge is more honest, although the driver, being an employee, would much appreciate a tip especially if luggage has been handled. “Black” taxis are the preferred means of getting from the Airport to your hotel.

Bicycles – It is possible to hire a bicycle at low cost to get around. There are some things to watch out for however – You need to be fit, as Malta and Gozo especially are quite hilly. You will need to wear suitable clothing, and to bear in mind that in high summer the temperature can get uncomfortable for any form of exertion, and precautions against sunburn need to be taken. Also, drivers tend not to respect cyclists all that much, so you need to keep your wits about you and wear a cycling helmet at least. Bicycle hire is really an option for the fit, regular cyclist, if it is intended to use the bike as a serious means of transportation and not just for the occasional fun ride.

Getting to Gozo and Comino

A passenger car ferry operates several times daily between Cirkewwa in Malta and Mgarr Harbour in Gozo. The cost is reasonable. Crossing time is about 30 minutes. For further information and timetables, contact the Gozo Channel Company, http://www.gozochannel.com.

An option, is the seaplane service linking Valletta Grand Harbour with Mgarr Harbour, Gozo. Visit http://www.harbourairmalta.com.

Services to Comino by small ferry boats operate from around mid-March to mid-November, during the summer months the service is frequent, operating from Cirkewwa, Malta. A more worthwhile option for the visitor wishing to get to Comino is booking a day cruise, cruise boats generally depart from Sliema Ferries. This allows a scenic tour of Malta’s coastline, meals are normally included, and the cost is also quite reasonable for a day’s outing.

Currency - Making Payments

The Euro (Symbol - €) is necessary to pay for everyday items. Your currency can be exchanged for Euro 24/7 upon arrival at the airport or any bank branch (to note opening hours of banks).
In tourist areas, some foreign currency, especially the Pound Sterling (£), may be accepted, especially for larger purchases. All major credit cards are also accepted, and ATM’s are common.

Language - Communicating

English is very widely spoken, and is a very active second language. Italian is also generally well understood, and although not in common use, several Maltese have learnt French, and to a lesser extent, German or Spanish, at school or privately. Front office staff at hotels are generally proficient in a number of languages. Therefore most visitors to Malta and Gozo will not have any difficulties in making themselves understood.

What to Wear

In summer, especially July – September, shorts or only the lightest of trousers for the evenings, and short sleeved shirts/T-shirts for the men, jackets are completely redundant. Women should wear appropriately lightweight clothing. Dark colours are also to be avoided during the daytime.
During the shoulder months, the weather varies, and a second layer is advisable. November through February, bring some warm clothing with you.

Swimming & Sunbathing

The Maltese coastal waters are generally clean and safe for swimming. Occasional nuisances are jellyfish, which sometimes invade beaches with an onshore prevailing wind, and on rocky beaches one should take care not to trample on a sea urchin. The sea temperature goes up to a very comfortable 25 degrees centigrade in summer.

The one thing to watch out for and which could very easily cause serious distress in the short term, possibly worse in the long term, is the sun. Wear high protection sunscreen at all times, and re-apply regularly. The sun’s effects are not immediately obvious, indeed one feels no ill-effects or discomfort at all during exposure, thus one is often tricked into complacency, but come the evening the extremely painful consequences are felt. The skin becomes very painful to the touch, it becomes impossible to sleep on the affected area, or sleep at all, for some 2-3 days. Large water filled blisters appear, and after a couple of days more, the blisters split and skin starts peeling in unsightly patches – which is when the chronic itching sets in. In the best of cases, a good part of your holiday is made very uncomfortable; in bad cases hospitalisation is required. What is also little appreciated is just how short an exposure is necessary to cause sunburn, if unprotected. Between 11am and 2pm, just 20 minutes of exposure of fair skin will cause redness and burning. An hour will result in all the consequences outlined above, more will make matters serious. Since exposure time accumulates, even leaving the relative safety of your umbrella for a regular short dip can result in sunburn.

Topless or nude bathing is prohibited.

Food and Eating Out

Practically all tastes in international cuisine are catered for when dining out – from Italian, through Chinese, and everything else in between, including of course the ubiquitous fast food chains.

To note that most restaurants and pubs, except those that can offer a sealed, separate smoking area, are non-smoking.

If your holiday is on a self-catering basis, supermarkets are very well stocked in all leading brands.

Tipping

Tipping of service staff at catering establishments is not normally included in the bill, and is not obligatory – however a 10 per cent gratuity is normal. Generally speaking, the only other occasions where tipping is expected, is with service staff at hotels, such as porters, etc, and “free” public car parks. Here, one often finds a self-appointed parking attendant who may or may not offer any assistance at all, but generally still expects a gratuity. To note that there is no obligation to tip these attendants, even less is there a minimum or fixed charge, contrary to what they may tell you in their common attempts to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. However, in order to keep the peace, a tip of 50 cents is very reasonable and is more than what most Maltese would offer.

Souvenirs

Weaving, pottery, blown glass, copper or brass objects are all popular with tourists.  Malta is famous for its gold and silver filigree work, as well as for its handmade lace.  There is a craft centre at Ta’ Qali in Malta and another at Ta’ Dbiegi in Gozo.  To avoid imported “Malta” souvenirs, look out for the Malta Crafts Council logo to assure yourself of a genuine item. Good buys are gold and silver jewellery.

Shop and Museum Opening Hours

Shops

Commercial centres and shops are usually open between 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. and between 4.00 p.m. and 7 p.m., but a few shops, particularly supermarkets, are open all day. In tourist areas, many shops remain open till 10.00 p.m.  Shops are normally closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.

Museums

State museums generally have the following opening hours. We advise you to check before visiting any particular museum to confirm. Museums are normally closed on Public Holidays.

Opening Hours:

October - 15th June

Mondays - Saturdays : 08.15 - 17.00
Sundays : 08.15 - 16.15

16th June to 30th September

Mondays - Sundays : 07.45 - 14.00

Electricity

The electrical supply is 220 volts, 50 hertz. The UK style three-pin plug system is used.

Time

Malta is on Central European Time (CET), which is 1 hour ahead of GMT in winter and 2 hours ahead between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October.  Malta is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST) in winter and 7 hours ahead between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October.

Keeping Updated

Most hotels, and some apartments offer a television service with at least one international news channel, some offer channels in languages other than English.

Local newspapers are published in English and Maltese, and foreign newspapers, both in English and other languages (commonly Italian, German, French) are to be found at the better newsagents, particularly those in larger towns and tourist areas.

 

   
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