This is my quick guide to Mdina, The Silent City in Malta. Everything you need to know before visiting Mdina whether for a day trip or a few days stay.
Mdina is a city like no other. There is no doubt about that. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a city at all, it feels more like a place you’d like to find yourself in if you could travel in time. It feels like a film set for a historical adventure or a costume movie, except it’s real.
Visiting Mdina is a one-of-a-kind experience. Mdina will capture your imagination and never let you go.
Mdina is small and easily walkable. You can walk around it in just a couple of hours, yet I was able to come back over and over again and I have never felt like I had enough. Every time I had friends or family visiting me in Malta, I took them there; it was always magical.
Mdina, the former capital of Malta, is situated on top of the highest hill in the country and has a history dating back to 4,000 years ago. It remained the capital of Malta throughout the Middle Ages until 1530 when the Order of St John arrived and moved the administrative centre of the island to Birgu.
It boasts a mix of mediaeval and baroque architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with many other places and landmarks in Malta.
The streets were purposely built narrow and curved so that the tall stone buildings cast cooling shadows and the cooling draft and air would circulate, bringing much-needed relief in hot summers. This is still the case today but also adds to the incredible beauty of the place.
This charming city with only just under 300 inhabitants was also the filming location for Game of Thrones. So what are you waiting for? Let’s visit Mdina, the silent city!
Table of Contents
Why is Mdina Worth Visiting
If you asked me what are the top 2 places you must see in Malta, I would say Valletta and Mdina. Malta has somehow done capital cities remarkably well.
Mdina is not only very much worth visiting. It’s also a must-see when you are in Malta. This city is a feast for your eyes and food for your mind. With its cobbled streets, limestone buildings, colourful doors and many picturesque courtyards, it’s a beautiful place to lose yourself in.
But Mdina is also a captivating, magical city of turbulent and fascinating history. This walled city was home to many of Malta’s past rulers, from the Phoenicians and the Romans to the Arabs and the Knights of St John. Each ruling nation left its mark and remarkable architectural gems behind.
Why is Mdina called a Silent City
After the capital was moved to Birgu in the 16th century, Mdina experienced a decline and many inhabitants left its walls. As people were leaving Mdina behind, the city became almost a ghost town. Therefore, over time, it was called the “Silent City”.
Today, this name has taken on an additional meaning, at least in my eyes. Although Mdina is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malta, it somehow managed to retain its silent status. Today, Mdina has only a little under 300 inhabitants and the city feels like an open-air museum. Everywhere you go in Mdina, you’ll find signs asking tourists and businesses to adhere to noise restrictions and respect the residents. Strangely enough, this compliance somehow comes naturally.
In addition, cars are also not allowed within the city and are strictly limited to residents, limousines for newlyweds, and cars for emergency services or funerals.
Mdina does get busy during the day so if you want to experience the true silent city, visit early in the morning or in the evenings, when the tourists have already left the city. During the evening hours, Mdina is even more magical and very soothing.
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How to get to Mdina
Visiting Mdina on a day trip or even just for a couple of hours is very easy.
The best and cheapest way of getting to Mdina is by taking a bus from Valletta. Catch bus numbers 51, 52 or 53 from the Valletta bus terminal, and it will take you straight to Mdina in 30 minutes for an absolute bargain of $2.
You can also opt for a guided tour to Mdina which will take care of your transportation. This guided tour will cover Mdina but also Rabat and San Anton Gardens.
If you prefer to travel in comfort, a Bolt shared cab will not cost you more than €15 one way. You can, of course, rent a car as well but you will have to find a car park near Rabat. If you decide to rent a car I recommend combining a visit to Mdina with Dingli Cliffs, Buskett or even a Popeye Village.
Finally, you can also use a Hop on Hop Off bus for a day and stop at a few additional spots around the island.
Things to do in Mdina
To be frank you dont even need to read the below list to enjoy Mdina. The city is small and very walkable and as you walk around you will inevitably come across all its landmarks and interesting sights and buildings.
One of the best things to do in Mdina is just to let your feet and heart guide you and you will have an amazing trip nevertheless. But just in case you were still wondering, here is the list of the best things to see and do in Mdina
Walk down the King's Landing gate... sorry Mdina City Gate
Mdina is a fully fortified city and can be entered through one of the two gates.
If you are a fan of Game of Thrones like me (minus the final season), you will get goosebumps entering the city of Mdina through the main gate. This gate was used in the first season as one of the gates of King’s Landing.
A stone bridge leads to the City Gate. The structure itself was only erected only at the beginning of the 18th century and consists of an ornate portal and guardrooms above. Above the entrance is the coat of arms of Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena.
Wander around its cobbled streets (and take photos of colourful doors)
Mdina is extremely photogenic and wonderful to walk around. When I first visited Mdina, I did not follow a sightseeing agenda, but simply got lost in the cobbled streets and took pictures aimlessly. I then had a coffee at a random cafe and lunch with a view at Adelina restaurant.
As you walk around you’ll notice many colorful doors, ornate windows and walls, and quaint courtyards. If you notice interesting doors, look closer and you will also discover unusual door knockers. There are so many little things to discover in the city. Take the time to discover them.
Stroll through Howard's Gardens
Howard’s Gardens was created in a dry moat lying between Mdina and Rabat and is one of the largest gardens in Malta. Here you can relax or take a walk and have a closer look at the walls and bastions.
Check out The Mdina Experience
If you want to learn about the history of Mdina in 30 minutes, then Mdina Experience might be a good choice. This is a multimedia show that takes you through Mdina’s fascinating journey through time. I especially recommend it if you are travelling with family. If you choose to do so, I recommend starting your visit here as it will give you a good overview of the city’s history.
Enjoy the spectacular view from the city walls of Mdina
The city’s fortifications and bastions offer the opportunity to enjoy incredible views. Both Saint John’s Bastion and Saint Martin’s Bastion provide outstanding panoramic viewpoints of the countryside surrounding Mdina. From Bastion Square, located near Palazzo Falson, you can even see the famous Mosta Dome.
Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and cathedral Museum
The original St. Paul’s Cathedral, built in the 12th century, was destroyed in 1693 during an earthquake of Sicily. After this tragic event, the cathedral was rebuilt in just 10 years. The building was designed in a baroque style by local architect Lorenzo Gafà.
The cathedral building is very impressive both from the inside and outside. Be sure to go inside and admire the rich baroque decoration.
The Cathedral Museum is housed in the former seminary and is located across the street from the cathedral. It houses a collection of sacred art, famous Italian and Maltese paintings, coin collections, Roman antiques and original documents from the time of the Inquisition, and much more.
Explore Vilhena Palace and Mdina's Dungeons
This 18th-century palace was designed by Paris-born Charles François de Mondion and features a beautiful Baroque facade and an impressive entrance courtyard. It also houses the Maltese National Museum of Natural History, which is definitely worth visiting.
The Mdina Dungeons are located under the Vilhena Palace and are worth a visit if you want to see the former instruments of torture and wander through a series of secret underground passages, chambers and cells. The entrance is located next to Mdina’s Main Gate.
Discover Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum
Discover Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum
Palazzo Falson is the second oldest medieval building in Malta, dating back to the 13th century. It was originally built as a family residence, and its name comes from the former owners – the Falson family. Today it is open to the public as a house museum. Inside you will find an impressive collection of fine art and antiques, a huge library, an armoury and so much more!
Do not miss the extraordinary 18th-century clock with a 10-hour day, with 100 minutes per hour and 100 seconds per minute!
Visit Mdina at night
If you only have the opportunity, visit Mdina at night or stay for the evening. After dark, the city becomes even more mysterious. As you walk along the streets, you will find many colourfully lit souvenir stores and Mdina glass shops, the streets are dimly lit, and if you choose to dine at one of the restaurants on Telgha Tas Saqqajja Street just outside the walls of Mdina, you will be rewarded with the best evening views.
Beyond Mdina - places to see around Mdina
Discover the Town Of Rabat
Just outside Mdina is the city of Rabat, which is equally worth visiting. Although a bit more occupied and feels more like an actual town, Rabat has a very special feel about it too.
Rabat is located just a 5-minute walk away from Mdina, so there’s no excuse, and there are a few sights really worth checking out. One of them is the St. Paul Catacombs, the largest underground complex of Roman cemeteries in Malta, covering over 2,000 square meters.
Also, be sure to visit St. Paul’s Church and Grotto. It is believed that this is where St. Paul and his missionaries found refuge after being shipwrecked on their way from Crete to Rome.
Rabat is also home to some famous cafes and restaurants. Be sure to try what is said to be Malta’s best pastizzi at Cristal Palace Bakery, and then have a good cup of coffee or a glass of wine at Ta’ Doni cafe. They also have great Maltese sharing platters if you are hungry after a day of exploring. Enjoy!
Have a picnic in Buskett Gardens
If you start your day early and have enough energy for a good walk, I recommend a visit to Buskett Woodlands, known to be the greenest area in Malta.
It is located in the fertile valley of Wied il-Luq in Siġġiewi and is the only semi-natural woodland in the country, covering an area of 47 hectares. It is a wonderful lush space perfect for a picnic or just if you are looking to relax surrounded by the greenery. During the summer months, Chateau Buskett hosts great events, and one of my favourite ones must be Open Cinema Night.
Take a hike (walk) to Dingli Cliffs
It’s totally doable if you like walking and I did it myself. Allow yourself a whole day for this but visiting Mdina in the morning and watching a sunset at Dingli will make for a spectacular day! trust me!
Dingli is one of the most beautiful spots in Malta for sunset. It is only a little over an hour’s walk from Mdina and it’s a very pleasant walk too. I managed to walk from Rabat to Dingli with a little stop at Buskett and it was one of the best walks I have done in Malta.
Once at Dingli Cliffs, you can catch the bus or a Bolt back to Valletta or grab a Bolt for less than €20. It will make a memorable day!
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How long do you need to visit Mdina
You can visit Mdina in 2 hours if you are planning just walk around and not visit museums. However, I recommend spending half a day there and also visiting Rabat.
To fully experience and appreciate Mdina, I recommend reserving at least 4 hours.
Pop into the cathedral and a museum, stop for a coffee or lunch and take on the views from the bastion. Relax in the garden and go to Rabat for the best pastizzi. This city deserves a bit more than a couple of hours.
You can also stay a little longer and see what this part of Malta has to offer, especially if you want to experience Mdina at night. Stay for a couple of nights and take a scenic hike the next day, and relax away from the crowds of Valletta or St. Julians. Because why not!
Where to stay in Mdina and Rabat
Mdina is a small and very protected city, so you will find only 2 extraordinary but also expensive hotels within the city walls. Both the Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux and the Palazzo Bifora are incredibly beautiful and very highly rated, so if you want to treat yourself, you will not regret it.
But for the rest of us, the regular folks, Rabat is where you’ll find great and more affordable accommodation. In fact, if you dont like to stay in bustling resorts or busy cities, Rabat might be the best choice with many great walk around and good transport links.
Best restaurants and cafes in Mdina and Rabat
Probably the most famous cafe in Mdina is the Fontanella Cafe. All the guidebooks rave about its cakes, the food, the coffee and of course the view. I can not comment on that, as I have never eaten there. That’s partly due to my irrational resistance towards overly hyped and extortiously priced restaurants. But definitely give it a try and let me know!
I really enjoyed the dinner at Step 15, and the view from the terrace is fantastic. On the same street, you will find the fine-dining Fork and Cork restaurant, which has incredible reviews. I also ate at Adelina, which is less upscale, but the food is delicious and the service excellent.
Within the walls of Mdina, Palazzo de Pirro has an excellent restaurant with great views, and of course, The Medina Restaurant is a gem of a place, flooded with natural charm. Don Mesquita Restaurant is located in the middle of Mdina and is a great place for lunch and a glass of wine.
Moving to Rabat this is where you will find great cafes and wine bars, but also some excellent restaurants. Of course, there is the famous Crystal Palace bakery but also Chalk, an excellent café and wine bar, as well as TownhouseNo3 restaurant.
Mdina is a magical city and you simply can’t miss it if you are visiting Malta. Maybe there aren’t too many things to do in Mdina but it is one of those places where you don’t go to find attractions and sights to visit. You visit Mdina for Mdina itself.
I hope you agree!
I hope you found this guide to visiting Mdina useful and as always let me know if you think I have missed something important or if you have any questions.
Until then, happy travels my friends!
Looking for more things to do in Malta?
You will find it all in this post detailing all the best things you can do during your trip to Malta!
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