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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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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