Local Ferries and Barrakka Lift


There are two local ferry services in the Valletta area, one to Sliema and one to the Three Cities. As well as providing useful transport links, they afford some great views en route. The Three Cities ferry can usefully be reached by means of the recently rebuilt Barrakka lift, so I have included some information on that too.


Sliema Ferry

Valletta to Sliema Ferry

This long established ferry service, sometimes known as the Marsamxetto Ferry, runs from the harbour front at Sliema (known as Sliema Ferries or Sliema Strand) to the Marsamxett terminal in Valletta. It is operated by Valletta Ferry Services, whose splendid official title is The Marsamxetto Steamferry Services Ltd. Sadly the days of steam have long gone but it does offer an interesting alternative to the bus service. The crossing takes about 10 to 12 minutes.

In Summer (June 1st to October 31st) departures are as follows:

  • From Sliema: every 30 minutes 0645 to 2015 then 2115, 2300, 2345. On Sundays and public holidays the service starts two hours later at 0845.
  • From Valletta: every 30 minutes 0700 to 2030, then 2200, 2330, 0000. On Sundays and public holidays the service starts two hours later at 0900.

In Winter (November 1st to May 31st) departures are as follows:

  • From Sliema: every 30 minutes 0645 to 1915 (0845 to 1815 on Sundays and public holidays).
  • From Valletta: every 30 minutes 0700 to 1930 (0900 to 1830 on Sundays and public holidays).

The fare is €1.50 single or €2.80 return (children €0.50 or €0.90). From 1930 hrs night service fares apply which are €1.75 single or €3.30 return. A weekly pass valid for seven days costs €10. There are special fares for residents and frequent travellers. Pay at the little ticket kiosk, or if it's unmanned pay on board the boat.

The Sliema terminal is easy to find right next to the main bus stops (the stop named Ferries 3 is adjacent to it) and it's also where the various harbour cruises leave from. The Valletta terminal is located less conveniently near the water polo pitch, at the foot of the Salvatore Bastion. From the ferry it is a steep climb up steps or along the road into the city, so it's not recommended if you are infirm.

The photo shows the ferry arriving at Valletta with Manoel Island behind and Sliema in the distance on the right. It has since been replaced by a modern catamaran.


Three Cities Ferry

Valletta to Three Cities Ferry

For years there was no scheduled ferry service from Valletta to the Three Cities, although water taxis did ply the route. Since 2011 this has been put right with a half-hourly service operated by Valletta Ferry Services, who also run the Sliema - Valletta service described above.

The Valletta terminal (known as the Lascaris ferry landing) is located adjacent to the Baroque Customs House, completed in 1775 and still apparently in use as a Customs House. More importantly, the ferry terminal is directly opposite the foot of the Barrakka Lift, giving easy access from the city. See the next section for more about the lift.

In Summer (June 1st to October 31st) departures are as follows:

  • From Cospicua: every 30 minutes 0630 to 1900 then 1945, 2035, 2120, 2300, 2330. On Sundays and public holidays the service starts later at 0900.
  • From Valletta: every 30 minutes 0645 to 1915, then 2000, 2050, 2200, 2315, 0000. On Sundays and public holidays the service starts later at 0915.

In Winter (November 1st to May 31st) departures are as follows:

  • From Cospicua: every 30 minutes 0630 to 1900 (0900 to 1800 on Sundays and public holidays).
  • From Valletta: every 30 minutes 0645 to 1915 (0915 to 1815 on Sundays and public holidays).

The fare is €1.50 single or €2.80 return (children €0.50 or €0.90). From 1930 hrs night service fares apply which are €1.75 single or €3.30 return. A weekly pass valid for seven days costs €10. There are special fares for residents and frequent travellers.

In Bormla (also known as Cospicua, although that term can also refer to the whole Three Cities area) there was nothing to suggest a ferry terminal on my 2014 visit, other than a board placed each day alongside the berth, which is numbered 55. It is just beyond the marina, shortly before it narrows into the old Number One Dock, and roughly half-way between the bus stops named Bormla and Zejt. As well as being close to Bormla Square it's only a few minutes walk to Birgu (also known as Vittoriosa).

After leaving Bormla the ferry calls at Isla (also known as Senglea) on its way back to Valletta (at least I assume it still does - to be confirmed). The Isla stop is pretty much on the opposite side of the water from the Bormla stop, but just a little further up towards the marina. The nearest bus stop is Bieb, the one outside the Isla city gates.

The vessel in my photo has since been replaced by a smart looking catamaran.


Barrakka Lift

The Barrakka Lift

From 1905 until 1973 a lift took people from the Customs House and Marina up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens in the city of Valletta. It was dismantled in 1983. A brand new lift in the same spot opened in 2012, as shown in the centre of the photograph. The lift is 58 metres high and takes just 25 seconds. The photo also shows the Customs House (right) and the Upper Barrakka Gardens (top right), whilst the Lascaris ferry landing, served by the ferry over to the Three Cities (see above) is in the centre of the photo.

The Upper Barrakka Gardens are only a short walk from Valletta bus station, and practically adjacent to Kastilja (Castille), so the easiest way to reach the ferry is by way of the Gardens and the lift. It's free to go down the lift (at least it was when I visited), but to go up it costs €1, and tickets are available from machines. I think if you have come over on the ferry the lift is included in the fare.

The archway or tunnel leading from the bottom of the lift to the street comes out right opposite the ferry landing. In the tunnel look out for the old restored sign which says "Barrakka Lifts - the quickest way to the City", which survived the demolition of the original lift. You will sometimes see the alternative spelling Barracca.

The Upper Barrakka Gardens, by the way, are a delight in themselves, popular with tourists and locals alike, and with wonderful views of the Three Cities. They were built in 1661 as private gardens for the Italian Knights of the Order of St John and opened to the public in 1824. They are a must-see for any visitor to Valletta, even if you don't plan to use the lift. A long standing tradition is the firing of the Noon Day Gun, nowadays undertaken by members of the Malta Heritage Society.