Excursions, Tours and Attractions
If you are staying in or visiting the Bugibba and Qawra area, I would recommend that your first port of call should be to see friendly British couple Kath and Steve at their conveniently located agency called Malta TravelNet. It's easy to find - right next to the Classic Car Museum (also recommended by the way), just a couple of minutes walk from Bugibba bus station (see the map below). They have several years experience in Malta and can guide you through the range of tours, excursions and visitor attractions, including coach tours, open top bus tours, vintage bus tours, harbour tours, Comino and Blue Lagoon cruises, the lot. For Gozo they can arrange tours by boat, coach, jeep and even quad bike (which I must admit does look rather fun). They are also agents for the excursions to Sicily to see Mount Etna - something I did recently, and you can find more about that below. MaltaTravelNet are also experienced at putting together customised tours to suit your own requirements.
Although I haven't had time to try it yet, Kath and Steve also have something rather special up their sleeve - the Segway Fun Tour, which operates hourly during the afternoons for small groups on a set route. Check it out on maltatravelnet.com. If you're not sure what a Segway is, it's one of those two-wheeled motorised affairs that you stand on. You can try it out for free, and apparently it only takes a few minutes to master the art. If you have any questions about this or anything else you can contact Kath directly at email@example.com, or telephone (+356) 21 650 486.
The map shows the location of Malta TravelNet. You can find the full version of the map showing bus routes in the Bugibba, Qawra and St Paul's Bay area (in pdf format) on the Timetables and Maps page.
If you pop in to see Kath and Steve, do mention my name!
Vintage Bus Tour
I went on plenty of these old buses when they were in everyday service on regular bus routes in Malta and Gozo. That all finished in July 2011. It's still possible to ride one on a special Vintage Bus Tour, or a private hire if there's a big group of you. The bus in the photo is available for private hire and is operated by Cancu Supreme. Like many old Maltese buses it has a chassis originating from Great Britain. In this case it's officially a Leyland Royal Tiger dating from 1953, although it's likely that the chassis has been somewhat modified over the years. The fine bodywork is Maltese, some 20 years newer than the chassis, built by a company called Schembri, and it's seen here at Marsaxlokk.
I'm not sure if tours run on a regular basis. I do know that Thomas Cook advertises a tour for its package holiday customers, in conjunction with SMS Tourism. That paticular tour includes Siggiewi, Dingli Cliffs, lunch at Gharghur, bread making in Qormi, and finishing at the Classic Car Museum in Bugibba.
Three Cities Vintage Bus Tour
This long-established tour to Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea starts from the seafront at Sliema, where it's not difficult to spot the vintage bus. On Mondays to Fridays it leaves twice daily at 1100 and 1430, with one departure on Saturdays at 1100. It does not run on Sundays or public holidays.
It's worth booking in advance (for example from Malta TravelNet, see above) as the price includes a free transfer from your hotel, and also back to your hotel from Sliema at 1600 if you require. It's advertised as a two hour tour, although it was a bit less when I did it, and it includes a 20 minute stop in the Square at Vittoriosa, where the photo was taken. The price is €15 for adults, €9 for children aged 5 to 15.
The vintage bus will be one of three owned by Cancu Supreme Travel. The regular performers are two small vehicles with bodywork built in the style of 1920s buses used in the area. One is a Bedford WLB registered LCY 002 where the chassis dates from 1932, and the other is a 1939 Morris registered LCY 004. The old style bodywork, by Brincat, actually dates from 1991. The third bus, pictured here, is a 1949 Austin CXB, still with its original Plaxton bodywork, registered LCY 003.
The driver gives informed commentary en route, which I found interesting. If you haven't already visited the Three Cities you might find this to be a worthwhile trip, although personally I found the tour didn't penetrate into areas that I hadn't already visited.
Mount Etna Excursion
If you are visiting Malta for the first time, there will no doubt be more than enough in Malta and Gozo to keep you occupied. However, if you are on a longer visit, or have already explored much of what Malta has to offer, then a sightseeing excursion to Sicily using the Virtu Ferries catamaran service from Valletta is certainly an experience I would recommend. There is more about the catamaran service itself on the Ferry page.
One of the things that attracted me to this was the substantial discount for the over 60s, and having recently turned 60 I thought I would treat myself! Admittedly it's not cheap, but I had no regrets. You need to book in advance (for example through Malta TravelNet, see above), but you can leave it until you get to Malta - booking a few days ahead should be fine. For a small extra charge you get the essential transfer from your hotel and back. The catamaran leaves Valletta at 0630 so if your hotel is in Bugibba or Qawra then the transfer is likely to pick you up around 0500. It's a long day, but I didn't find it tiring as I had expected. By the way, the Valletta catamaran terminal is actually in the back streets of Marsa so even if you are staying in Valletta you will still need the transfer to and from the hotel.
In Winter (October to April) the principal excursion on offer runs on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and is called Mt Etna and Modica. Having taken the impressive 800-passenger catamaran (one of the largest in Europe) from Valletta to Pozzallo in Sicily, we were taken by tour coach to Refugio Sapienze in the foothills of Mt Etna, close to the Sylvestri Craters. En route there was a stop at the village of Nicolosi to sample local wines, and a further photo stop nearer to the volcano. A tour guide accompanies the coach. On the way back a visit is made to the ancient city of Modica before boarding the catamaran in Pozzallo at 1930 for the two hour crossing. In my case I was back in the hotel in Qawra by 2245 after a very interesting day.
The drive up to Refugio Sapienze is in itself interesting, but once there you are at just above 1900 meters so don't expect to be able to reach the summit at over 3300 meters! Having got so far though, it's worth in my opinion spending €30 extra to ride the cable car, the Telecabina Rifugio Sapienza-Montagnola which climbs from 1924m to 2505m. This view is taken following a short walk (in very cold and icy conditions) from the top of the cable car. Don't forget your coat and some gloves!
For those with more time (and money) to spend in the area, there are tours in special off-road "Jeep Buses" from the top of the cable car further up the mountain. You won't have time for that on this day excursion though.
An alternative to taking the cable car would be walking along to the nearby Sylvestri Craters. Make sure you allow enough time to get back to the coach on time though. A third option would be to visit one of the restaurants at Refugio Sapienze, and there are plentiful souvenir shops to visit before the coach leaves.
Due to the different catamaran schedule, in Summer (May to September) the tour is longer and takes in Taormina and Mt Etna. It runs on four days per week, the additional day being Mondays. The catamaran still leaves Valletta at 0630 but the return trip doesn't leave Pozzallo until 2130 so arrival back at your hotel is going to be well after midnight.