They call it the Silent City.
After reading about this ancient fortified city, Kasha and I knew we couldn’t miss out on the chance to see it on our trip to Malta, courtesy of lowcostholidays.
This captivating city which once served as the country’s capital is located a short bus journey from the new capital, Valletta. For thousands of years people have called the cobbled stone streets of Mdina home, and now its quiet passageways tell a story of their own. The timeless beauty of this city sparked my imagination and won my affection.
Unfortunately, we weren’t the only admirers of this charming city. Plenty of tourists arrive in Mdina and Rabat to ride horse and carriages around the city and buy expensive polished glass. But don’t let that put you off, it’s still one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and when the sun sets and the city is cloaked in darkness; you will learn how it acquired its nickname.
If you’re suitably intrigued, read on to hear my favourite things to do in Mdina, the silent city that stole my heart.
Never explore on an empty stomach I say, or even on a slightly empty one! Considering this statement it won’t surprise many of you then that our first stop was to grab a little grub. By this point in the trip (day two I think?) Kasha and I were already addicted to the Maltese delicacy called pastizzi. This flaky pastry wrapped around a creamy ricotta filling – or lightly spiced mushy peas – is the perfect snack on the move and usually costs around 30 cents.
The best place that sells them in neighbouring Rabat (and arguably the best spot in the whole country) is an unassuming café called Crystal Palace near the Mdina main gate, which you can spot because of the large Kinnie sign above it. Ignore the taxi drivers and old chaps hanging around and head straight in to get the most delicious pastry you’ve eaten in Malta, you have my word.
Game of Thrones Bridge
The eagle-eyed or just GOT mad among you may well have realised that Mdina’s Baroque style entranceway once served as the main gateway to King’s Landing in the first series of Game of Thrones. If this isn’t reason enough to actually book a trip in the first place then either you’re mad, or you don’t own a TV… Either way, the impressive stone bridge is guarded by ornate lions bearing the coat of arms and makes for a suitably atmospheric welcome to the city.
There are no cars allowed in the cobbled stone inner city – bar residents – so other than a horse and carriage ride, you are free to roam the picturesque alleyways in peace. My best advice is to get lost and wander the entirety of the fortified city, you won’t regret it.
Stuff Yourself Silly
Yes it’s a little touristy but the unique vantage point of the Fontanella café gives it some of the most breathtaking views of Malta, and I mean seriously breathtaking. The charming yellow brick café has a large outdoor area where patrons enjoy a wide array of indulgent cakes, coffees and teas. In the cooler months the indoor seating area is the perfect place to hide out.
Visit Incredible Churches
In neighbouring Rabat, the historic catacombs under the Parish Church are a huge draw to the city. The warren of underground tunnels that make up the 2000 square metre St Paul’s Catacombs were used as shelters in the World War II but date back all the way to the 4th century.
They can get a little creepy at points, and this is definitely not the place for anyone with claustrophobia, but they are fascinating none the less. Make sure to also visit the Grotto of Saint Paul where a small subterranean shrine depicts the saint.
Another top place to visit, for its ceiling frescoes alone, is St Paul’s Cathedral (above). This embellished church holds dozens of Mattia Preti paintings, exquisite flooring and an outstanding dome. Make sure to seek out the church’s prize possession, a 12th century icon of Madonna, not the singer obviously. Though rumour has it she was born around the same time…
Kasha and I stumbled upon the Medina Restaurant while the exploring the city’s quiet backstreets. Upon glancing at the menu we found the pasta dishes extremely reasonable, and headed in. Once inside you step into an open courtyard surrounded by vines and hanging lanterns, while further in there is a labyrinth of candlelit tables.
This restaurant encapsulates what all Mediterranean restaurants should be, effortlessly elegant, charming and romantic. Their pasta dishes (each under 10 Euro) were divine.
See Roman Mosaics
A few seconds from the main gates of Mdina is the grand looking museum that houses the remnants of a Roman villa. This interesting museum does a great job presenting information in a way that captures the imagination, even if you’re not that interested in history. The masterpiece is, of course, the incredibly well preserved mosaic floors which tell a rich story of what the inhabitants of the villa must have been like.
This is quite self-explanatory, there are many cats around. Stroke them if you please.
Wait Till Dark
Whatever you do, make sure you stay until the sun sets. When the tourists disappear, and the light is extinguished the city seems to fall into a deep slumber. The darkness that envelopes Mdina gives it an indescribable atmosphere. Take a walk in the moonlight or bring some food or find a spot o the fortifications to gaze out at the views of Malta at night below.
Have you visited a walled city as hauntingly beautiful as this? If so please comment below and share your story!
If this has inspired a visit to Malta, why not check out my guide to the best beaches on the island.