After breakfast in our room at the Pebbles Boutique Aparthotel in Sliema, we then walked along the coast to the nearby ferry departure point, where also the Hop On Hop Off-Bus departs. There are a lot of booths at the promenade (and some intrusive sellers), selling tickets for a variety of day tours. We bought a ticket for the tourist bus at one of the booths, which looked like the most official. We wanted to take the North/Blue Tour with stops at many sightseeing attractions, which seemed difficult to reach by public buses when combined in one day.
We got a seat on the upper deck with an older, mainly loud and talkative, woman in front of me. Fortunately, they offer an audio guide in several languages, which nearly neutralized her. We first exited the bus at the San Anton Gardens. It was just a few steps from the bus stop to the entrance. We walked through the gardens, and it was nice but nothing that special. I am probably spoiled by gardens and parks we visited before, like the Arctic-alpine Botanical Garden in Norway or the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. In search of a toilet, we came to a cafe and sat down for a coffee break. But when no waiter appeared, we just used their bathroom and walked back into the park.
Back at the bus stop, we waited quite some time for the next Hop On Hop Off Bus to appear. And when it did, it was the wrong one, as there are two different companies – “Citysightseeing” and “Maltasightseeing.” Ours was the latter and – like the public buses in Malta – didn’t seem to be especially strict about the timetables. When the bus finally appeared, it was just a short ride to Ta Qali Crafts Village. Honestly, we weren’t that impressed. It wasn’t that charming, and they mostly sell expensive stuff you don’t need. We just had a coffee and ice cream and left with the next Hop On Hop Off Bus.
The next stop of the bus was the Aviation Museum, which is quite impressive. Inside some hangars, they present several airplanes and helicopters, including historical models. I’ve never been to a museum like that, so it was exciting, and you can even enter a small plane and sit in the pilot seat!
We took one of the next Hop On Hop Off Buses to something very different, the Mosta Dome (Rotunda of Mosta), the third largest unsupported dome in the world. It is special to the Maltese people, as a massive bomb fell into it during World War II when people inside took shelter. The bomb miraculously didn’t explode. It’s also an impressive building, but unfortunately, was closed. We found consolation in having lunch in a restaurant next to the dome and enjoyed pasta and pizza.
We hopped onto the next bus and exited in Mgarr. It is a small rural village but offers three major attractions. The first we visited right at the bus stop was the Egg Church, which lives up to its name due to the egg-like dome. It is also said, that it was built by “egg-money,” when the locals sold eggs to raise the funding for the church. The inside didn’t keep up with the extravagant outside, but it was a nice stop.
Just a few meters away is another attraction. The monolithic temple Ta Hagrat, a World Heritage Site that was built about 3.000 BC. We read online before that only 15 visitors are allowed to visit it at a time and didn’t know if we could even enter it. But then we were the only visitors. It seems to be off the touristic radar, maybe because Mgarr is too far away from other places of interest. We liked it very much. It’s much smaller than the busy Tarxien Temples, we visited before, but not less impressive. Due to the time constraints and because it’s a bit of a walk, we skipped the third attraction of Mgarr, Skorba, yet another World Heritage Site and walked back to the bus stop at the Egg Church.
Actually, I liked very much about the Hop On Hop Off Bus, that you can see so many, very different attractions. Something completely different was our next stop, the Malta National Aquarium. Coming from the Philippines, I love the water and everything connected. The new aquarium, which opened in 2013, is beautifully located at the waterfront and was included in our Malta Heritage Pass. It offers 26 display tanks, showcasing Mediterranean fish found in Maltese waters. It also has a water tunnel, where you can see the fishes swimming above your head. We liked it very much, as the aquarium also offers a lot of information and tries to raise awareness for marine conservation.
We walked back to where we had exited the Hop On Hop Off Bus but then saw the next bus driving past us despite our waving. When it stopped some distance away from the aquarium’s entrance, we actually had to run to reach it to get back to Sliema.
On the way back we passed Spinola Bay, which looked nice but not that different from Sliema. All said the Hop On Hop Us Bus was a pleasant if somewhat expensive experience. In general, you can reach all the attractions by the much cheaper public transportation. But if you want to combine several of the sights on one day, the Hop On Hop Off is really useful.
Back in Sliema we just walked along the promenade to a shopping center and then back along the beautiful coast for a while.