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Malta: a day trip to Mdina, the Silent City

A view of Mdina the Silent City on a hill in Malta

For the fifth smallest country in Europe, there is a remarkably large number of things to do in Malta. 

It is an island rich in culture and history, a place with endless opportunities for sightseeing, and where you can explore beautiful beaches, go island hopping and sample some excellent food.

It’s a perfect choice for a short break. My post on Malta’s capital, Valletta, outlines 20 things to do here.

One of the top things is a trip out to Mdina, also known as the “Silent City”. It is a unique place, quite unlike any other place you’ll visit on the island.

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The history of Malta’s capital

Mdina (or Citta Notabile) is the oldest city in Malta. It served as the island’s capital until the 16th century, its fortified walls and position on a hill providing protection for the local population.

A view of Mdina the Silent City on a hill in Malta
Mdina the Silent City

Valletta was then established as the island’s new capital a year after the Great Siege of Malta in 1565.

The Knights of Saint John (also known as the Knights Hospitaller), a Catholic military order, had successfully defended the island against an Ottoman attack. The city was named after the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de la Valette.

The French briefly occupied the island in the very late 18th century before it became a British Crown colony in 1813.

Malta later served as a British naval station throughout World War II, before gaining independence from Britain in 1964, and becoming a republic 10 years later.

You can see the influence of the different periods of its history as you wander through Valletta, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My post outlines 20 things to do in Valletta.

Why is it called Mdina the Silent City?

The shift of the capital to Valletta after the Great Siege of Malta in the 16th century left Mdina virtually deserted.

There are now only a few hundred people that live here. Cars are also not permitted to enter, except for those owned by residents.

For these reasons, Mdina is also known as the “Silent City”. Some have even likened it to a “ghost town”.

If you visit on a windy, rainy day (as we did), it can feel a little eerie. However, whatever the weather, the peace and tranquillity of Mdina makes it a fascinating and unique experience.

A visit here is a must for any visitor to the island.

A day trip to Mdina, the Silent City

The island’s diminutive size (it covers only 121 square miles) means it’s easy to take a day trip out from the capital.

Malta has many beaches, and there is the opportunity to hop across to its two neighbouring islands, Gozo and Comino. 

However, one of the top places you should put on your list for a day out is Mdina, a small place less than 40 minutes away that is also known as the “Silent City”.

It is a beautiful city, and one of the highlights of any trip to Malta.

How to get to Mdina from Valletta

Mdina is around less than 45 minutes from Valletta.

There are regular buses that run from Valletta (as well as from other towns on the island). You can take a taxi, but this will be more expensive.

You can also drive to Mdina from Valletta and other towns on the island. However, as a tourist, you cannot drive into Mdina itself, and parking spaces are limited in the area.

Another option is to catch the hop-on/ hop-off bus. This will take you to a number of different places, as well as Mdina.

You can also book a tour that will take you to Mdina. This will allow you to learn more about Mdina’s history and see some of the sights you might miss if you were exploring on your own.

Some tours take you to the city at night. This is another great way to appreciate the silence and atmosphere that Mdina is so famous for.

Once you reach Mdina, you can explore the city on foot. Alternatively, you may be able to pick up a horse-drawn carriage and sit back and relax while being taken through the sights of the city.

Horse drawn carriages in Mdina
Horse drawn carriages in Mdina

Things to do in Mdina

This small medieval walled city has a lot to offer, from its museums and historical buildings to its beautiful gardens. With its lack of cars and peaceful atmosphere, Mdina is a great place to visit if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Read on to learn more about the things to do on a day trip here.

Walk the walls and explore the streets

The best way to experience Mdina is simply to explore its narrow streets. You can either do this independently or book a guided tour.

When walking around the city, you can see the three city gates, one of which has statues of three of Malta’s saints.

The main gate in Mdina, Malta
The main gate in Mdina, Malta

There are small and winding streets and squares with beautiful baroque buildings flanking them. Within these, there are restaurants and cafes, small museums and souvenir shops.

Mdina might be small, but it’s atmospheric, with plenty of nooks and crannies to discover. You may also spot the places where some of the scenes in Games of Thrones was filmed!

It’s also possible to walk around the city walls and see the incredible views across the island. You also get a great vantage point of Mdina from up here, which will give you a real sense of the layout of this small city.

So even if you don’t have time to visit any of the museums or public buildings, it’s worth a visit just to see Mdina and experience the silence.

If nothing else, you’ll come away with some picture-perfect images of the place.

Learn about Maltese history in the Knights of Malta Experience

The Knights of Malta Experience in Mdina will teach you about the history of the Knights of St. John who successfully defended Malta against Ottoman attack in the 16th-century. It’s an excellent place to learn more about this fascinating order and its role in Maltese history.

The information is presented in an interesting and captivating way that provides the visitor with a more immersive – and memorable – experience. You can work your way through recreated scenes (complete with authentic sounds and smells). There are also audio-visual presentations that you can watch and listen to.

The street outside is also one of the places where scenes in Games of Thrones were filmed.

Visit a museum

Mdina has several other museums that you might be interested in visiting.

The National Museum of Natural History can be found in Mdina’s Magisterial Palace of Justice. This contains a number of collections, including fossils, rocks and minerals, shells, and the remains of thousands of creatures.

The Mdina Dungeons is underneath the Magisterial Vilhena Palace. Its focus is the city’s dark history and the dungeons’ role as a prison. There are various instruments of torture on display.

Vilhena Palace in Mdina
Vilhena Palace in Mdina

You can also see Roman artefacts in the Domus Villa (Roman Villa). This was excavated in the late 19-century and features a mosaic-decorated atrium.

Pop into St Paul’s Cathedral

The 12th-century Mdina Cathedral is worth stopping off at, if you have time. It is located in the heart of the city in Pjazza San Pawl. The current baroque cathedral came about after an earthquake hit the area in the late 17th century and it needed to be rebuilt.

St. Paul's Cathedral in Mdina
St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina

It is a beautiful building, both inside and out. The interior is adorned with colourful frescoes and stained glass windows. Make sure you go inside if you can.

There is also a Cathedral Museum across from the cathedral itself, which houses a range of works of art.

Appreciate the Palazzo Falson

The Palazzo Falson is a beautiful medieval house and one of the most well-preserved historical buildings in Mdina.

It is the residence of a 19th/20th-century artist and philanthropist, and a visit here gives you the chance to see his house and its items. Amongst these are collections of jewellery and silver, antique furniture, and artwork. There is also an armoury and over 4,000 books.

How long should you spend in Mdina the Silent City?

I personally think it’s worth spending at least half a day in Mdina. This will allow you to wander around the city, pop into some beautiful buildings, walk around the walls, and soak up the unique atmosphere.

However, if you are pressed for time – even if you are just jumping off the hop-on/ hop-off bus for a short period – it’s still worth a quick visit. You could always go back if you really like it!

Other ideas for short breaks in Europe

If you are considering a day trip to Mdina, you should also check out my post on 20 things to do in Valletta.

I have also written about other places in Europe for short breaks. Among these are short trips to the third and fourth smallest countries in Europe, San Marino and Liechtenstein.

You may also be interested in other ideas that include:

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