Hello all. I previously asked here about using buses to go around Malta and Gozo for a 3 day trip. We have just returned, and I thought it'd be nice to post some details about how our trip went for anyone planning a similar short visit. I'll add our restaurant recommendations (separate reviews to come) and some other comments at the end.
We are independent travellers, and we based ourselves at the Intercontinental in St. Julians. Our days went like this:
Day 1: Arrive airport at 11am, buy weekly bus pass and take X2 to St. Julians. The journey takes 45 minutes. There is no clear sign posting of where you should get off, so you have to ask the driver every now and then if you're there yet.
St. Julians --> Valletta by Bus 12. This was quite easy as the 12 and 13 both do this route and they are relatively frequent. The ride however took almost an hour because the road in Sliema was heavily congested.
We did sightseeing in Valletta for a few hours then dined at Rampila, which I'd heartily recommend. I saw it recommended in a travel article and I think it's the best food at best value we had during our trip. Returned to St. Julians by 12, which went very smoothly and only took 30 mins because the traffic eased (it was 9pm then).
Day 2: This was a tricky day as we wanted to get to the south to see the blue grotto and the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples, but there are no direct buses from St. Julians. The hotel told us we could either do X2 to airport then change to the 201 (I think), or take a bus to Mdina and then change. In the end, neither bus showed up after waiting for half an hour, and getting annoyed, we jumped in a taxi instead. It was 25 euros well spent, as we got to the grotto in just 15 minutes, saving at least an hour of waiting around and bus transfers.
From the temples you can take the 201 to Mdina. The 201 was a minivan and we barely managed to squeeze in. TIP: Check the bus timetable before you enter the temples to time your exit with the bus arrival. If you miss one you'll have to wait half an hour. In our case, the van came almost exactly on time.
We had a late lunch in Mdina at the Palace de Giro's Xpresso Bistro Cafe. Try to get a table on the rooftop, the views are fantastic.
Then Mdina --> St. Julians by 202/203. Journey takes 50-70 mins (I dozed most of the way ;p)
Dinner at Lulu near the Hilton, which was perfect.
Day 3: Trip to Gozo. To make the most of a day trip you MUST get up early. The 222 to Cirkewwa ferry terminal takes an hour as it winds its way into all the resorts to pick up people. We got there
at 9am, and missed the ferry by a few minutes. We took the 9:45 ferry, got to the island at 1015, and got on the 1030 Hoho bus. We chose the green bus as a sales rep at the ferry terminal gave us a good discount offer. We were generally happy with the green bus; the only problem was that the driver failed to announce that we skipped a stop, so we missed getting off at Xaghra and had to walk back at the next stop. Since the last bus is at about 1650, my advice is that you have to time your day very carefully and prioritize what you want to see. We ended up stopping at Ramla Bay, Xaghra and Victoria for 45 minutes each, and had 1.5 hours at the Azure Window area. It's pretty rushed if you do it our way! In hindsight, we could have skipped Ramla Bay.
We got back to the hotel at 8pm (we had to wait 30 mins for the 222) and had dinner at San Giuliano in Spinola Bay. Food was excellent, but overall not as good as the other 2 we dined at.
We thought our trip was great, except for the frustration with the unreliable bus services. Sometimes they are exactly on time, but other times they are late or early, don't show up, or simply pass by without stopping. We saw a group of kids planning to go to Gozo but the 222 passed right by them (presume it was full) and it looked like their day was ruined. Our X2 back to the airport was late by 20 minutes when we left.
On top of this the traffic can be very congested, and you have to factor in far more time than you'd expect to get from A to B. So time management is key!
That was long.. thanks for reading! Hope this is useful for some of you! I'd be happy to answer any questions about our trip.