Grand Harbour, Malta

When traveling by ferry from Malta to Sicily and beyond, there are two companies from which to choose. And the one you end up selecting will likely have a lot to do with your budget and why you’re taking the ferry in the first place. It’ll also depend on how much inconvenience you’re willing to put up with.

This blog describes the benefits and drawbacks of the two ferry options available to you: Virtu Ferries and Grimaldi Lines.

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If you’re thinking of going by ferry from Valletta all the way to Salerno (Italy) jump to the end of this article to see why that’s a very bad idea.

Malta to Sicily Ferry Comparison

Malta to Sicily ferries comparison

Malta to Sicily Ferry Departure Locations

Virtu Ferries and Grimaldi Lines ferries heading to Sicily DO NOT depart from the same location.

Virtu Ferries

Virtu ferries depart from the Virtu Ferries Passenger Terminal, which is in the Marsa neighborhood on the north side of the Grand Harbour. If you’re staying in Valletta, the terminal is about a 5 minute taxi ride from the Triton Fountain. Most taxi drivers will know where it is, but just in case, the address is Xatt L-Ghassara Ta’ L-Gheneb. Marsa.

Virtu Ferries Passenger Terminal

Map courtesy of Google Maps, 2019

Grimaldi Lines ferries depart from Laboratory Wharf in the Paola neighborhood on the south side of the Grand Harbour. The wharf is more or less directly across the water from the Virtu Ferries Passenger Terminal. To get to it, you drive around the harbour and take Telgha Ta Ras Hanzir road until it dead ends at the docks. The trip takes about 10 minutes from the Triton Fountain, assuming your taxi driver knows where to go. The road leading to the terminal is dark and spooky and looks like a perfect place to be murdered, but trust that your driver’s GPS is leading you to the correct location.

Grimaldi Lines Ferry Terminal

Map courtesy of Google Maps, 2019

Option 1: Virtu Ferries from Valletta to Pozzallo/Catania

Virtu Ferries has a much more frequent sailing schedule throughout the year compared to its competitor Grimaldi Lines. Virtu Ferries operates a high-speed catamaran that crosses to and from Pozzallo, Sicily in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Once in Pozzallo, passengers wanting to go on to Catania must board coach buses for the 2 1/4 hour journey north.

Travel Season

Winter: From October 1 to April 30. Sailings from Valletta to Sicily most Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Same-day returns are possible. Check the Virtu Ferries website to confirm the day and time of departure for your trip.

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Summer: From May 1 to September 30. Sailings daily. The specific hours and number of ferries per day varies by month and by day of the week. Consult the Virtu Ferries website for details.

Passenger (No Vehicle) Cost

  • One-way ticket: 62 euros (Pozzallo) and 76 euros (Catania)
  • Return ticket: 102 euros (Pozzallo) and 132 euros (Catania)

Benefits

  • Much faster than Grimaldi Lines
  • Much more modern ship
  • Same-day returns are possible
  • A later departure time, so more daylight during the voyage
  • More convenient departure location (Valletta side of the Grand Harbour)
  • More ferry departure times and dates available year round
  • Family- and tourist-oriented ferry service, versus the commercially-oriented Grimaldi ferry
  • Much of the journey is done during daylight hours, so plenty of opportunities to take photos

Drawbacks

  • Significantly more expensive
  • The Pozzallo – Catania leg of the journey is done by coach bus, not by ferry

Option 2: Grimaldi Lines from Valletta to Catania

Grimaldi Lines is, to be honest, a commercial ferry operation that happens to also take passengers. As such, it’s much cheaper than Virtu Ferries, but it’s not at all luxurious and kind of inconvenient.

Travel Season

Winter/Summer: Year-round, weekly sailings on Mondays from Valletta to Catania, Sicily. Check the Grimaldi Lines website to confirm the day and time of departure for your trip.

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Passenger (No Vehicle) Cost

  • One-way ticket: 28.50 euros
  • Return ticket: 52 euros

Benefits

  • Significantly cheaper than Virtu Ferries
  • Ferry travels directly to Catania. No coach bus travel is required.

Drawbacks

  • Much slower than Virtu Ferries
  • Older, far less luxurious ships
  • Not possible to do a same-day return
  • Very early departure time, so few opportunities to take photos
  • Inconvenient departure location (across the Grand Harbour from Valletta)
  • Time and location of departure mean that you’ll have to take a taxi to get there, adding 10-15 euros onto the cost of your trip
  • One ferry departure each week, year-round
  • Commercially-oriented operation, so not intended to be family-friendly

Valletta to Salerno by ferry: A bad idea

If you’re planning to take the Grimaldi ferry from Valletta all the way to Salerno, Italy, I’d strongly recommend that you rethink that idea.

The ferry leaves Valletta at 4 a.m. and arrives seven hours later in Catania, Sicily at around 11 a.m. There is, however, a huge issue that Grimaldi doesn’t tell you when you book your ticket. And they don’t to tell you when you board, either. Or anywhere on the company’s website. Or anywhere on your ticket. What they fail to inform you is that if you are a through passenger to Salerno, you cannot disembark in Catania. In effect, during the ELEVEN HOUR LAYOVER in Catania, you’re confined to the ship.

Aside from a bar/lounge area that blasts Italian language chat shows all day long, there is nothing to do and nothing to see. During winter sailings, the onboard shop is also closed, so you won’t be able to buy reading materials, playing cards, or anything. The onboard bar sells alcohol, coffee, ice cream bars, a limited range of prepackaged food, and bottled drinks. And the ship’s galley serves a modestly priced lunch and dinner. So don’t worry, you won’t starve. But take it from someone who’s experienced it, it’s not an enjoyable way to spend a day.

Valletta to Salerno Workaround

If you’re determined to go by ferry from Malta to Salerno, I’d recommend the following simple workaround. It’ll cost more to travel this way, but it’ll save you the mind-numbing all-day wait onboard.

  1. Take the Virtu Ferry service from Valletta to Catania.
    That will get you to Catania at 10:45 a.m., about 45 minutes before the Grimaldi ferry even arrives.
  2. Spend the day looking around Catania, checking out Mt Etna, or just relaxing in one of the town’s plazas.
  3. Around 8 p.m., head to Catania’s port and board the Grimaldi ferry for the 10 p.m. departure to Salerno.

Valletta to Mainland Italy Workaround

If you want to take a ferry from Valletta and still end up on mainland Italy, there’s a second workaround you can resort to. Note that it’s not exactly a fast or cheap option, but it certainly is unique. And it gives you the option to travel anywhere in Italy, not just Salerno.

  1. Take the Virtu Ferry service from Valletta to Pozzallo.
  2. In Pozzallo, walk or cab it 1 1/4 miles from the ferry terminal to the train station.
  3. Catch the train from Pozzallo north to the town of Messina. The journey takes about 4 1/2 hours. Although Sicily is an island, Messina is connected to the Italian train network through the use of special ferries that the train cars are rolled onto and off of. Passengers stay on the train during the brief crossing of the Straits of Messina and arrive on mainland Italy in the town of Villa San Giovanni.
  4. Once the crossing is completed, the train is on its way again. High speed trains will get you from Villa San Giovanni to Rome in just over 4 1/2 hours. Regular trains take just over 10 hours to cover the same distance.

For a terrific description and pictures of this unusual rail option, check out the following blog post on the Eurail website: To Sicily By A Train On A Ferry.

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Destinations, Malta, Travel Tips