Malta is a tiny country, made smaller by the fact that it’s divided into two main islands. The roads are okay and most Maltese get around by car, but as a traveler THE way to get around is by bus.
Malta’s buses are a tourist attraction in themselves. Most were brought over from the UK in the sixties, so there’s a pleasantly retro feeling about each vehicle. As more buses were needed, more were brought in, obviously not from the same era, so Malta’s bus fleet is extremely pick-and-mix in terms of size and shape. They’re all painted the same, though – dark yellow with an orange stripe. The sister fleet on the second main island, Gozo, sports the same style as the buses on Malta, but are painted grey with a red stripe.
Most buses are owned by their drivers, who personalize them with pictures of saints, rosary beads, and flags. Many are also named after or dedicated to a saint of the driver’s choice – it can be fun to hunt out a bus with the same name as you, if you’ve got a Roman Catholic type of name (Mary’s a good one).
Although the buses are owned by the drivers, they run to a centralized timetable. Most routes run to and from Valletta (the capital, located in the central north-east of the island), although some routes are “direct” and cost more than your standard fare, probably because they take you where you want to go without having to go into Valletta. For example, if you were in party-central Paceville and wanted to get to the western end of the island to catch a ferry to Gozo, you’d hop on direct bus 645. This bus starts in Sliema and doesn’t go near Valletta.
You can get passes which allow unlimited travel for a day, several days or a week, and will be worth your while if you’re catching a lot of direct buses. The seven-day ticket is particularly good value at €14; you can buy these tickets from the driver, at the terminus in Valletta, or from ticket machines and booths. Generally it’s easiest to buy your ticket from the driver, but make sure you have change – the bus drivers are notoriously grumpy and don’t take well to having to sort out change. They may even not let you on the bus if you try to pay with a large note.
The networks on Malta and Gozo are different entities, you can’t use a ticket from one island on the other. Tickets are cheaper on Gozo than on Malta, and buses from the ferry terminal to the capital Victoria/Rabat are conveniently scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the ferries. Apart from this detail, bus schedules are a bit hit-and-miss, although on popular routes on Malta you can expect a bus every ten minutes or so.
Bus travel in Malta is a fun, if sometimes bumpy, experience. You can get almost anywhere you want to using the network, though it might take a little longer than you’d expect – it’s definitely cheap, though!