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Day trip to Mdina, Malta: the silent city

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Our day trip to Mdina, Malta was a highlight of our time there. A tiny walled city and former capital, Mdina is often known as ‘the silent city’. It really lives up to this name if you return to it at night when it’s eerily quiet and the streetlamps are your only company in the deserted streets.

Mdina is pronounced ‘m-dee-na’ and lies on a hilltop in the centre of Malta. To get there, we got the number 51 bus from Valletta for an absolute bargain of €1.50. It takes about half an hour. We actually went to the nearby Dingli Cliffs in the morning (blog on that coming soon) and then got back onto the same bus route after lunch there. Then, we got off in Rabat, which is the ‘suburb’ of Mdina – or the parts that aren’t inside the city walls – and walked round to the city.

If you read our Valletta post, you’ll know that we weren’t in love with it. We thought Mdina was interesting, but still had a similar feeling about it. It did make for some amazing photographs though…

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Outside the city walls

If you like being assaulted by gale-force wind, there’s a good view of the countryside from the hilltop to the left before you go into the city. You can also walk round what was the city’s moat but is now a little strip of garden.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Wandering the walled streets

So the main point of Mdina is to just walk around the enchanting streets – it’s not a ‘do this, see that’ kind of gaff. There are no normal shops, only tourist gift shops, and tourist-oriented restaurants and cafes. It’s all about the streets.

Honey-coloured walls offer some much-needed shelter from the pervading wind (we had non-stop windy weather all week, did I mention?!). It’s such a small city that you won’t get lost for more than a minute, so you can wander down whichever pretty streets take your fancy.

You can also get higher up on the walls in Bastion Square – the main (very attractive) square in the city full of gorgeous Baroque buildings. You’ll also notice that the street signs are all on ceramic plaques, which is rather nice.

Apparently, people do still live in the city. But like many places we wandered in Malta, there were no signs of local life. It’s almost a museum in itself. Like we experienced in Valletta, there seemed to be gaggles of tourists or absolutely no one about and no in between.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

The most Instagrammable spot in Mdina

Need I say more?!

If you search for Mdina on Instagram, you’ll get reams and reams of variations on this facade. And it’s all over that ever-popular #ihavethisthingwithdoors.

If you don’t have Instagram, you will have no idea what I’m on about. Keep scrolling.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Pretty doors, knockers and street lamps of Mdina

More for the good old #ihavethisthingwithdoors, Mdina is an actual haven of pretty doors. There’s a lovely one round every corner.

But it also specialises in unusual door-knockers. My favourite was the little dolphin below. Lions are probably the most popular animal of choice.

Ornate street lamps also line all the alleyways and illuminate Mdina as the light fades.

Basically, all the street furniture is beautiful and incredibly photogenic.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

St Paul’s Cathedral

This is one of the main ‘sights’ in Mdina, if you don’t count the actual walls and streets themselves. It’s got two clocks – a normal one on the right and one that tells the month and year on the left (apparently to confuse the devil or something equally believable).

Unsurprisingly, it’s super swank inside. All tiled and ornate. We weren’t sure about the photo situation so didn’t take any.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

History of the city: The Mdina Experience

Mdina has a very long and bloody history being constantly invaded and fought over by Romans, Arabs, Spanish, French, British (we have to go and invade everywhere don’t we? Cringe) and all sorts – with an earthquake to top it all off. Like all of Malta, knights feature heavily in the city’s history. I won’t drone on about that too much though. If you want a full overview of its history, there’s The Mdina Experience.

It’s one of those historical films made by tourist boards – we’ve seen very similar ones in Madeira and Gran Canaria. They’re always mildly clunky but feature loads of nice horses even if you’re not that into history. Being horsey myself, I love playing ‘spot the modern bridle’ in the Roman empire scenes. Anyway, we went and watched this – it took about half an hour.

Chris slept through the entire thing, which was a great use of €6.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

And on the subject of horses…

I’m cracking this picture of a horse and carriage ride in because I’ve just mentioned horses above.

I try very hard not to turn this blog (and every holiday we ever go on) into revolving around horses, but I just wanted to mention them here. Mdina had carriage rides on offer. The few horses I saw were all in decent condition apart from some overgrown hooves.

But my hard and fast rule is to never do tourist carriage rides anywhere abroad. There are usually neglected, lame or overbent horses working – even in otherwise civilised cities – and unhorsey tourists blindly paying for it anyway. It seems to be an issue in Malta too, according to their Times. Anyway, my point is: even if they seem in okay condition, you never know whether the way they’re kept at home aligns with the standards you’d keep your own horse.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Outside the city walls: exploring Rabat

Once we’d walked down every street in Mdina (easily done as it’s only a little’un), we ventured out into the ‘suburb’ of Rabat. Like we said in our Valletta blog, we were a bit confused by where all the locals go, because every town or city we went to in Malta was very much either heaving with tourists or completely deserted.

Obviously Mdina is a huge tourist attraction and doesn’t have many locals actually living in it, but Rabat seemed a bit more ‘real’. It was still incredibly quiet, but we saw a few dog walkers and went into a newsagents to get a drink and there were people there. It had equally pretty streets as Mdina and an impressive church (St Paul’s, again). There are also catacombs, but they were closed.

We had a pot of tea and a beer (standard!) at Wignacourt Cafe, which had a really good courtyard garden – the photo below doesn’t do it justice. We were the only people there – a running theme on this holiday.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Mdina in the evening: ghosts and 100% earning its ‘silent city’ name

After a mooch round Rabat, we went back into Mdina as the streetlamps lit up. We’d read that you have to see it at dusk or night to appreciate its eerie silence. We probably didn’t wait until it was late enough to appreciate the street lighting at night, but we definitely got the emptiness. We were the only people there, apart from one other couple we passed.

I don’t believe in ghosts but still get freaked out by the thought of them (logical, I know) and you can DEFFO imagine bumping into one in Mdina. I had to Google whether or not it’s allegedly haunted and of course it is.

One of Malta’s most popular ghost stories is apparently that a woman stands silently at the end of the dark streets in Mdina, urging people to follow her, before walking straight through a wall (presumably to Malta’s version of platform 9 3/4?). There’s another one about a woman who killed a knight and was sentenced to death. Before being beheaded, they let her get married. Apparently she now pops up in the background of tourist photos as a headless bride. Check your selfies.

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Mdina, Malta: useful information

How to get there (and away)

To get to Mdina, we got a number 51 bus from Valletta that took about half an hour and cost 1.50€.

Where to stay

I don’t think it would be practical to stay in Mdina for a holiday in Malta. We stayed in Sliema, but wouldn’t go back there. If you could stay in Valletta, you’re near the bus station for day trips.

How to get around

Everything is very walkable but if you do need public transport, buses and water taxis are nice and cheap.

When to go

We went in April, when it was unseasonably cold, but apparently isn’t as busy as the summer months. Avoid in high season, though.

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18 thoughts on “Day trip to Mdina, Malta: the silent city”

  1. Mdina looks lovely. Very atmospheric with all that history. No doubt now that summer is here the walls offer welcome shade. Rare to find any tourist destination that you can have to yourself.

  2. Mdina looks so lovely! I have been eyeing Malta recently, but need to see if it’s feasible for me at the moment. I love your shoes too—so cute!

  3. Thank you for sharing! Love the pics. I’m a sucker for colorful doors so Malta would be right my alley 😀 Mdina looks lovely too! Love historic towns.

  4. Mdina looks so charming! It kind of reminds me of the “El Centro” neighborhood of Cartagena, though, in the sense that it really caters to tourists and that no locals actually live there. It’s kind of a strange feeling, to feel like you’re in a “tourist town”. Not necessarily something that I seek out when traveling. Anyway, thanks for sharing this post! Your photos are lovely 🙂

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I felt the same as you about Malta – somewhere that looks great in photos but I didn’t connect with it at all. Spending the first day of our trip throwing up wasn’t the best start though to be fair! Maybe it’s the Game of Thrones connection but it really reminded me of Dubrovnik but whereas I really loved Dubrovnik I couldn’t get the same feeling about Malta. I’m glad we went to Mdina but I wouldn’t rush to go back.

    I’ve also just had great fun suggesting to my partner that we should go back through our pictures to check for ghosts!

    1. What a relief someone else felt the same. I just felt like it was rather soulless, which I feel bad saying – it’s tricky to blog about somewhere you don’t like. But it looks SO pretty in photos that I’m sure nothing I say will put anyone off going haha. I’m keen for Dubrovnik!

  6. Wow you spent way more time in Mdina than us! We didn’t really like it there at all. Took forever to get there and then millions of tourists. We did like Valletta though 🙂

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