The charming walled city of Mdina, perched high on a hilltop, at the highest point of Malta was the island’s first capital city. Its history dates back more than 4000 years, so it’s considerably older than Valletta, the current capital. This gorgeous medieval town showcases a mix of Norman and Baroque architecture and is a must-visit on any trip to Malta.
What’s In A Name?
Mdina has had different names and titles over the centuries, depending on its rulers and its role, but its medieval name describes the city best – ‘Citta’ Notabile’: the noble city.
A Brief History of Mdina
Mdina was first inhabited and fortified around 700 BC by the Phoenicians and was known then as Maleth. Under the Roman Empire, when the city was known as Melite, the Roman governor built his palace here, and tradition says that the Apostle St. Paul stayed there after he was shipwrecked in Malta.
However, it was the Normans who built the thick defensive fortifications around the city and widened the moat around Mdina. After an earthquake in 1693, there was a need to redesign parts of the city. The Knights of Malta introduced Baroque architecture to the city and rebuilt the cathedral as well as the Palazzo Falzon and the Magisterial Palace.
The gate that stands at the entrance today is not the original entrance; this bridge was built later on to allow cars and people to enter Mdina. The original entrance gate stands approximately 100 metres to the left.
Mdina today is still confined within its walls, and the latest figures show a population of just under 250. Somewhat less, than in its heyday!
Mdina, The Silent City
Mdina, Malta is known as the Silent City because except for the few that still live in the city, there are no cars allowed. Although, if you arrive in the middle of the day when one of the large cruise ships are in town, you may not find it that silent – just saying.
Anyway, with no cars, this makes for a more relaxing atmosphere for visitors to explore Mdina’s narrow streets and alleyways.
Best Time To Visit Mdina, Malta
The best time to visit is out of season or in the early morning or late afternoons when the day tours have left. Then it’s just wonderful to lose yourself in the streets. Bring your camera; the narrow streets are very photogenic.
If you have the opportunity to visit Mdina during the evening, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous ambient glow from the gas-lit lamps that line the streets.
Be sure to visit the massive Baroque St Paul’s Cathedral in St Paul’s Square. Like all Maltese cathedrals, the clock on the left shows the wrong time to confuse the devil.
Also, we aren’t churchy people, but do pop inside a church or two as they are rather pretty. We particularly liked the Carmelite Priory Church.
Don’t forget to peek over the bastion walls, for views of the countryside and the sea beyond.
Feeling Peckish? What to Eat in Mdina
There are a few restaurants tucked away in courtyards and alleyways. But if you are just looking for a cool place to enjoy a drink, a coffee and a cake, then head to Fontanella Tea Garden. The top terrace boasts great countryside views over the bastions, and you will be able to see the Mediterranean Sea in the distance and the famous dome of the Mosta Church.
What Else, Apart From Wander The Streets of Mdina Is There To Do?
Well, there’s the following, but we haven’t seen these for ourselves as they were closed when we visited. Thanks, Covid-19!
Lots of torture and grisly deeds. I love this sort of thing, Jonathan hates it. The reviews online are somewhat mixed.
Visit the Knights of Malta Experience and the Mdina Experience
Both seem to be quite well-reviewed.
St Paul’s Catacombs
Just outside Mdina in Rabat are meant to be quite interesting, if you’re into catacombs!
If you have been to any of the above, do let us know if they are worth doing.
Mdina Ditch Garden
If, like us, you prefer just to wander and see what you come across -well, there’s the Mdina Ditch Garden – craft markets and the annual medieval fair take place here. The medieval fair usually takes place in early May. Otherwise, it’s quite a pleasant place for a stroll.
Provide a natural border between Mdina and neighbouring Rabat. There are a few kiosks around serving drinks and light refreshments with tables and chairs. Also, lots of trees here, so a lovely spot to find a shady place to relax.
Explore the streets of Rabat. Many visitors to Mdina completely bypass Rabat, and it’s a lovely town to explore. The dining options are less expensive here as not just catering to tourists. If you are craving pastizzi, well who wouldn’t be, head to Crystal Palace. Supposedly the best pastizzi in Malta and it’s pretty good, I have to say, as does my stomach!
Game Of Throne Fans, Did You Know?
Admittedly, Jonathan and I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. Shocking, eh? But Mdina was the filming location for the series’ fictional capital city of King’s Landing in the series’ first season.
How To Get To Mdina
There are advantages and disadvantages to having a car in Malta. Finding parking can be a right pain. There is parking near Mdina, but it is somewhat limited, especially in the busy months, although if you visit midweek early morning or late afternoon, you should be ok.
The bus stops are in Rabat, but they are just a very short walk from the entrance to Mdina.
From Valletta – take buses 51,52, 53. The journey takes around 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
From Sliema and St Julian’s- Bus 202 takes around an hour.
From Bugibba/ Qawra/ St Paul’s Bay – take bus 186 or X3.
Google Maps is great at telling you which bus to take, and when it should depart not when it leaves.
Have you been to Mdina? Tell us about your experience in the comments below; we’d love to hear.