Staying in the tourist town of Bugibba on Malta you cant help but notice so many tour operators and shops promoting day trips of all varieties. Mind you, this is the off-season, I dare to think what it’s like in summer 🙂
The best way to see Gozo
Anyway, after gathering some information we knew that a visit to the Maltese island of Gozo is a must. Especially if you want to see the Azure Window. The question was how we should go about it.
First we looked at taking a tour with one of the boats that go over three times a week in winter. Yes it’s winter here but you wouldn’t believe it by from looking at the photos we took today.
In summer this place is very busy and with that a lot more tours and trips become available, not to forget the weather is a lot hotter. Malta has annually 300+ days of sunshine. Remember the sunscreen and a hat, plus carry some water with you.
The boat trips sounded great for a quick glimpse, but after reading a few reviews I was put off. I concluded that we’d have very little time on the island, more of a booze trip, with extra charges here & there. You can’t believe everything you read, but it was enough to sway our minds. The advantage of these boat trips was that they included a brief stop at Comino, the island that separates Malta from Gozo.
The next best option for a day trip was the hop on hop off bus. These buses are in so many cities around the world and we have experienced a few of them, some were really good and others pretty average.
If you wanted, you could always take a local bus and make your own way around.
How to get to Gozo from Malta
Having made our decision I checked the bus times and planned the day ahead.
To get to Gozo island you take the ferry from Cirkewwa at the north-eastern part of Malta. Buses go there from all over the island via Valletta. We had a 35 minute ride from Bugibba directly to the ships terminal.
Where to buy Gozo Hop on Hop off bus tickets
Outside of the ferry terminal was a man waiting, as we approached he asked us if we are going to go on the hop on hop off bus. At first we were like, er… yeah, why?
Then I noticed he was wearing a hop on hop off bus logo jumper. He was also holding some flyers. Asking us if we had tickets, which we didn’t, and so he offered us a reduction. Instead of the €18 we paid €15 per person and he handed us a receipt which we later exchanged with the bus driver.
We later saw the same man at the hop on hop off bus booth onboard the ferry. I’m not sure if someone else would be waiting outside again for the next ferry & passengers. Just keep you eyes out just incase, 3 euros off pays for a couple of coffees.
The ferry runs every 45 minutes throughout the day so no chance of getting stuck, even some services through the night which is ideal for the locals. Having lived on the Isle of Wight for many years I know how much of a burden it is to not have very late ferries connecting to the mainland. Check out the Gozo ferry timetable to plan your trip.
Don’t go looking for the ticket office here at the Cirkewwa terminal as you won’t find one. You actually don’t need a ticket to board the ferry here and travel across, however you do need to buy a ticket back to mainland Malta which costs €4.65. The ticket office is directly in front of you when walking into the terminal at Mgarr, just slightly to the right. (photo below)
The terminal on this day was full, standing room only, (nobody bothered to sit). There was a huge group of at least three coach loads of people all queuing up to catch the ferry. There is a cafe here, not that we could get to it, but I did see it as we walked past making our way to the ferry.
The ferry crossing Gozo to Malta to Gozo
I guess on a not so busy crossing you’d be able to relax or grab something to go before boarding. But don’t let that worry you as there is a pretty decent cafe on board.
The crossing takes 25 minutes and you have plenty of seating especially with good weather on the open decks. And you pass right by the island of Comino, this is the photo I took on the afternoon return crossing to Malta.
Mgarr Harbour awaits
Arriving at the Mgarr harbour and once outside the terminal building you’ll probably be greeted by a swarm of taxi drivers, tour guides etc.
Avoiding all of them if you look to the right it would be hard not to see the big red double decker bus, along with other buses and coaches going on tours of Gozo.
The Hop on Hop of bus tour begins at Mgarr
The hop on hop off tour round trip lasts 2 hours 30 minutes that’s without getting off of course. There are 14 stops in total covered by a red & blue route. With a bus coming by each stop roughly every 45 minutes. You can make best use of your time and plan your Hop on Hop off bus trip on Gozo by using this guide.
The first bus from the harbour starts on the red route at 9.45am, the following buses do one then the other (see timetable below).
How much of Gozo can you see in one day?
The island of Gozo is 8.7 miles by 4.5 miles so it’s not that big which makes it ideal to get a good island experience in a day. Obviously the whole idea of these tour buses is that you can get off at any of the stops, have a look around and then catch the next bus to continue along the route.
Xewkija on Gozo
The first stop of the day was at Xewkija. Here you can see the Rotunda of Xewkija, which is a large church and home to the third largest unsupported dome in the world, similar to the Pantheon in Rome. We didn’t get off here instead carried on until Victoria.
You must visit the Citadel in Victoria/Rabat
Our stop where we got off was in Victoria also known as Rabat and is the capital of Gozo. Here you must see the Citadel which stands above on the hill at the center of the island.
If it’s a fine day then the 360 degree views over the island will be amazing, but the Citadel is not just about the views, there is a fine cathedral of the assumption and the entire area has been restored over many years and was re-inaugurated in 2016.
Views over Gozo island from the Citadella
The town of Victoria is also nice to explore. The market square has cafe’s and restaurants around and the roads that lead off are also full of small shops and more bars & restaurants.
It is the hub of the island and the bus passes through here a few times.
We enjoyed coffee and wonderful cakes at Capitan Spriss which is right on the corner just up from where the bus stops when heading into Victoria. We can certainly recommend this tiny little cafe.
Malta’s Azure Window
From Victoria we continued on the red route passed another stop at Ta’Dbiegi crafts village for local arts and gifts, on our way towards Dwejra to see the Azure Window. ***Unfortunately some sad news*** In the past week here on Malta we’ve had some very strong winds which have made the seas very rough. As a result of this, the Azure Window has succumbed to these elements and was destroyed. The Azure Window no longer exists on Gozo.
The good news is, you get to see our images from the week before it collapsed into the sea. This area was listed to possibly join Unesco, so we will have to wait now to see what happens.
This area was a huge tourist attraction for Gozo and it will be interesting to see how the loss of the Azure Window will affect the islands tourism. Even though the area boasts the Blue Hole, inland sea & Fungus Rock, I’m sure that it was the Azure Window that brought the crowds.
To see how it looks now check out this post from the BBC News.
After 45 minutes here we caught the next bus heading to Xlendi where we had lunch. On the way we passed a couple of stops.
Hop on Hop off views from the bus tour
Ta’Pinu Shrine on Gozo
One of the stops #9 is Ta’Pinu which is the place of the Ta’Pinu shrine.
Once again we didn’t get off the bus.
Continuing along the red route we pass the ancient Aqueduct seen from the bus in the distance.
Not only do you have great views from the top deck of the bus, you also get quite close to the architecture as you pass by on some narrow streets. One thing you will notice is the typical Maltese balconies on many of the buildings. You can see them in all shades of colours and quality, some looking sparkling clean and renovated others as if they’d crumble to bits if you even looked at them.
They are quite stunning and very photogenic to say the least, and can be found all over Gozo & Malta. This blog post from fellow blogger Sherry delves deeper into the history of the Wooden Maltese Balcony.
The bus view over the main square in Victoria as we drive by for a second time.
Xlendi a turquoise little fishing village
Arriving in Xlendi at 1.30 we decided to find a place for lunch. This is the road leading down to the village.
The Xlendi bay is calm and well protected making it ideal for a paddle or swim in the turquoise waters. The beach is tiny and covered in pebbles. Apparently it’s a great place to dive.
At the bay you’ll find plenty of restaurants lining the water’s edge as well as couple in the very small town. To the right there is a hill with some steps which you can walk up and get a view of the bay from above, where you really see the true turquoise colours of the water (on a nice day of course).
If you continue along the way you eventually come down on the other side at a small grotto or inlet but that’s it.
We had lunch in a restaurant (Kuchen Bar) away from the bay where we enjoyed mashed potato, german bratwurst and a beer all at a good value price. The waterfront restaurants were a bit pricey even though the dishes looked and smelt divine as we walked past. Priced for the tourist I expect.
Changing from the red to blue route
Next we wanted to change from the red to the blue route. The good news here is that you don’t have to change bus as after arriving here the driver then changes from red to blue. This saves having to change a bus in Victoria.
Marsalforn on Gozo
Heading towards Marsalforn in the north of the island which was once an old fishing community is now the major summer beach destination with cafés and restaurants.
You can see a Christ the Redeemer statue on the hill in the distance before coming into Marsalforn. It was designed according to the one on the Corcovado but it’s certainly not the attraction that the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio is.
Gozo Hop on Hop off bus schedule
We didn’t get off here as we planned on catching the 4,30pm ferry back to Malta. You certainly can make another stop off the bus as there are two more buses that return to Mgarr harbour with the last one arriving there at 5.40pm. One late bus runs between April 1st to 30th October and it stops at Mgarr at 6.25pm
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One thing to be to pack for the Hop on Hop off bus tour is some warm clothing especially in the cooler months.
From here we follow the road heading south-east with a few more stops on the way. Gozo has a few hills but would be an ideal place to explore by bicycle or even by foot. I could imagine hiking all over the island like doing a Gozo Camino.
The next stop would be Ramla which is another beach except this one has golden-reddish sand. The bus stops along the road and you then walk the rest of the way. From here we continued towards Mgarr harbour.
Mgarr Harbour on Gozo
The views towards the bay are great as the bus winds its way down. You can clearly see Malta in the distance and Comino between.
The bus drops you off in front of the entrance to the ferry terminal. Don’t forget to buy your ferry tickets here. There is a small cafe if you fancy a beverage to warm up from the bus or grab a cold drink during the summer months.
Leaving Mgarr Harbour with blue skies after spending a great day on Gozo. We didn’t see everything and certainly could have hopped off the bus at a few more stops, but we did get a great sightseeing trip around the island.
The Hop on Hop off sightseeing bus tour of Gozo is great value especially at the discount rate and is ideal to see plenty of the island. Next for us is probably a Hop on Hop off tour of Malta.