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Secrets of the Silent City: Our top things to do in Mdina

Attractions | 0 min read |

Mdina is Malta’s old capital city and was the home of the island’s nobility long before Valletta was built by the Knights in the 16th century. This small citadel has withstood centuries of change and turmoil, surviving new conquerors, horrific sieges, a devastating earthquake, and—some might argue—even the hand of time. In fact, walking into Mdina feels like entering a portal into the past, with much of the city’s buildings and architecture remaining relatively untouched for hundreds of years.

Despite its small size, Mdina is packed with wonders and fascinating attractions. So, plan your day out to the Silent City with our top things to do in Mdina.

A brief history of Mdina, the Silent City

The land that forms present-day Mdina and its neighbouring town of Rabat has been home to settlers in Malta since the Bronze Age. Its strategic hilltop location provided a natural defence against coastal raiders. The Phoenicians were the first to fortify the settlement, which later became the city of Melita under Roman rule in 218 BC. Historians estimate the city was once three times its current size. However, during the Arab-Tunisian Aghlabid rule, the city was made more compact to be easier to defend.

Mdina has been linked to the arrival of Saint Paul in Malta, and its charm has seemingly captivated everyone from the Knights to the French and the British, making it a natural home for nobility and distinguished visitors. Today, Mdina retains its refined air, attracting visitors from all over the world and becoming a highly sought-after location for films and TV shows, including the hit fantasy series Game of Thrones where it doubled up as the backdrop for the fictitious city of King’s Landing.

Must-see sites for your visit to Mdina

Enjoy a fun and insightful trip to Mdina with our must-see highlights that will help you experience the best this ancient city has to offer.

Karozzin Ride in Mdina.
blankMdina Cathedral.

Get whisked away on a Karozzin Ride

When visiting Mdina, consider taking a ride in a karozzin, a traditional Maltese horse-drawn carriage which have roots dating back to the mid-19th century. These carriages are popular with tourists wanting to explore Mdina’s highlights in a unique way. You’ll find plenty of karozzini waiting by Mdina gate, who will take you over the moated bridge and into the old city. Many of the coachmen come from families who have lived in the area for generations and while you journey along they’ll happily share any tales about local culture and history.

Enter the magnificence of Mdina Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral, which lies right in the heart of Mdina, is one of Malta’s most beautiful churches. Legend has it that St. Paul, who was shipwrecked on the island, met the Roman governor Publius on the site the cathedral was built. After Paul miraculously healed the governor’s father, Publius converted to Christianity and became Malta’s first bishop. Today, the cathedral remains an important venue for many religious celebrations. The floor of the Cathedral is laid with lavish marble, which form a series of tombstones for prominent clergymen, grandmasters, knights, and other nobility. The Cathedral also houses a series of masterpiece artworks in the tradition of Caravaggio, painted by Baroque artist Mattia Preti, a Calabrese maestro who was appointed as a Knight of the Order of Saint John.

Next to the cathedral is the Mdina Cathedral Museum, housed in a former Jesuit seminary. The museum features a diverse collection of artworks, archaeological finds, and an important selection of Italian Baroque music.

Explore the natural wonders at Palazzo Vilhena

Right after entering Mdina’s gate, you’ll see the impressive 18th-century Palazzo Vilhena on your right. This building, with its elegant u-shaped forecourt and balconied loggias, is a prime example of French Baroque architecture in Malta. It once served as a hospital and sanatorium. Today, it is home to the National Museum of Natural History, which features extensive collections of geological and paleontological exhibits.

Traditional Maltese BalconiesTraditional Maltese Balconies.

Venture below to Mdina Dungeons

For a glimpse into Malta’s darker past, visit the Mdina Dungeons located next to Palazzo Vilhena, right at the entrance of Mdina Gate. A narrow staircase takes you down to these dimly lit, underground passageways, offering a journey through the history of torture and punishment in Malta. The exhibits cover eras from the Byzantine period to the Knights, the French, and British rule in 1800. The attraction, which features tableaus of costumed mannequins and replicas of torture devices, is marketed as family-friendly, so you shouldn’t encounter anything too frightening down there.

Bask in Baroque beauty at the Carmelite Priory

The Carmelite Church is a stunning example of Baroque architecture in all its glory. Built to an elliptical plan, this late 17th-century church boasts intricate baroque sculptures and paintings. Inside, visitors can admire masterpieces by renowned artists like Mattia Preti, Stefano Erardi, Michele Bellanti, and Giuseppe Calì. The interior fresco of the Virgin Mary on the oval dome is particularly striking.

Discover antique curiosities at Palazzo Falson

Palazzo Falson is a medieval townhouse that was once home to Maltese nobility. Today, it houses around 45 collections of antiquities, including jewelry, paintings, arms, and Oriental rugs. The exhibits are fascinating, offering a glimpse into the past. However, the real highlight is the chance to explore an Mdina townhouse, an experience that is rare even for many locals.

Palazzo Falson, Mdina MaltaPalazzo Falson, Mdina Malta.
Mdina MaltaMdina Malta

Take in the panoramic views from Bastion Square

Bastion Square is a little piazza towards the back of Mdina, where you’ll find yourself treated to expansive panoramas spanning across Malta. It’s a quiet spot where locals and tourists often enjoy a quiet moment taking in the breathtaking scenery. Just a stone’s throw away lies Fontanella Tea Gardens, offering a perfect setting to enjoy scrumptious cakes and snacks while soaking in the vistas from tables set right against the bastioned walls.

Stroll through Mdina at night

For all its honey-hued splendour during the day, Mdina is just as enchanting by night. Affectionately dubbed the Silent City, the little citadel enjoys a hushed, quiet atmosphere once the sun sets, where lamplight casts a magical spell over the stone-slabbed streets, making it a charming place for an evening walk as you make your way towards one of Mdina’s restaurants or bars.

Make your Mdina experience truly unforgettable with AX Hotels

AX Hotels guests are invited to reach out to our dedicated team for expert guidance and tailored recommendations to make the most of your time in this historic city. We can even organise curated private experiences on your behalf through our trusted partners, ensuring you are treated to the very best that Rabat and Mdina have to offer.

5-star AX The Palace Hotel, Sliema Malta; Lobby5-star AX The Palace Hotel, Sliema Malta; Lobby. Image credits go to Visit Malta.

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