Before I went to bed, I set my alarm for 7:30AM so we could get up bright and early and head to the Hop On/Hop Off bus at the Sliema Ferry port. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but perhaps subconsciously I shut off the alarm before we went to bed to catch a few more zzzs. Needless to say, it didn’t go off as scheduled. I woke up at 9:30AM and quickly woke up my cousin so we could get going. We ran down to the front desk and scheduled a Malta Sightseeing tour for 10:30AM, and jumped on at a pick-up point right outside of our hotel to begin our journey.
Malta Sightseeing North Tour
Malta Sightseeing runs a North Tour, a South Tour and a Gozo Tour at €15 per person per tour. If you book the North and South tour together you can purchase both for €26. Though it would have saved us a few euros, we opted for the North tour only to save some money and enjoy the tour a bit more leisurely (we’re planning on doing the South tour on Wednesday morning before we leave Malta).
We headed to the town of Sliema to connect with the other tour and begin the official route. The blistering heat was a bit worrisome but the open-air bus was actually cooling with the breeze. While we got a bit crispy (in my cousin’s words “I feel like I’m a brownie; like I’m literally baking in an oven”), the heat ended up being bearable for the most part. When people warned of the summer heat in Malta, they weren’t kidding. In mid-July, we experienced some intense heat – the skin sizzling kind – so it’s worth noting that you should be prepared with lots of water to stay hydrated. Sunscreen and a hat would be a wise addition to your tote as well!
The tour was scheduled to pass by a number of Maltese sights but we decided to pick the few we found most enticing to prioritize. With Hop On/Hop Off Tours generally, there are so many stop options that it’s worth selecting a few key points at the start instead of attempting to visit everything listed. After passing Ta’Xbiex Harbour and Msida Yacht Marina, we jumped off at Valletta, Malta’s capital city. I had been to Valletta before with the family in December and remembered the gorgeous views from the waterfront and the historic nature of the city. It was just as I remembered it, albeit much more crowded and 35 degrees hotter.
We grabbed lunch at Kantina Café in the city to charge our batteries for the day. A couple of sandwiches and caffeinated beverages later, we hit the streets of the capital city to explore. Our first stop was at the nearby St. John’s Co-Cathedral, built by the Knights of Malta in the 16th century. The history, architecture and art make it a great stop for most visitors to the area.
Afterwards, we meandered the streets of Valetta to take it all in. The city is quintessentially Mediterranean with the limestone buildings, balconies, and and rugged facades. Despite its age, it manages to have a manicured feel about it. Malta’s Mediterranean location near North Africa brings some interesting Arab influences as well but island embodies the Mediterranean culture with its climate and joie de vivre.
With the buses coming around every 30 minutes, we tried to plan our time strategically so we a) wouldn’t waste valuable in-city time, and b) wouldn’t have to burn to a crisp in the sweltering heat. We arrived at the bus stop just in time and continued our route.
The bus passed by Hamrun, San Anton Garden, Ta’ Qali Crafts Village and Mdina Glass before hitting Mosta. Mosta was on our ‘hop-off’ list because of the history of the city. Our grandfather is from Mosta, so the city held special value to both of us. Unfortunately, the city’s main site, the church, was closed so we hopped off for but a moment to snap some shots of the façade before getting back on the bus. Fortunately I had visited Mosta during my last trip which allowed me to see the interiors, but even a glimpse of the exterior showcases the beginning of its beauty. The church, with its huge iconic dome, is famous for surviving a bomb that was dropped in WWII that never exploded.
With our quick passing through Mosta, we jumped off at the next city, Mdina. I was excited for Mdina before we even stopped off. I remembered the city from my last visit to Malta and recalled it being quaint and charming. Indeed, it was all of those things and the characteristic red doors and clean buildings made it a great stop for a half hour.
Back on the bus we went, heading back to our drop-off point at Bugibba Square, a cute little touristy spot near our hotel in St. Paul’s Bay. After a few hours of down time, we got ready to head out and explore the Malta Arts Festival in Floriana where my cousin was performing with his band. En route, we stopped off at a little pub to grab a pint of Maltese beer, Cisk, while we waited. From about an hour an a half that evening we caught a cool and very interactive performance near Valletta. Even though the entire performance was in Maltese, it was an interesting cultural experience getting to be part of something unique while we were in town.
Now, we’re mentally prepping for a fairly early morning and a trip to Gozo (called ‘Ghawdex’ in Maltese). We’re taking the ferry to the neighboring island and scoping out the hotspots there: the Azure Window, Ta’ Pinu, Calypso’s Cave and some other quintessentially Gozitan sights before we grab dinner with the family.
Stay tuned for recaps from our adventure on the Isle of Calypso!