There is no shortage of historical cities to explore and discover in Malta. In fact, the country has well preserved sites when entering their confines you effectively feel transported back in time.
One such example is the walled city of Mdina. Its narrow cobbled streets, butter-colored stone buildings and rich history will keep an enthusiast gushing for days. After basking in the glory of ancient past, there is the town of Rabat just outside the ancient walls where a mix of antiquity and modernity are just right to keep any visitor happily occupied.
The best way to experience Mdina is just by walking through it. Start at the imposing gate (which features in Game of Thrones) and just go for a wander. Only residents are allowed to drive so traffic is not an issue.
To better appreciate the historical offerings of Mdina, it is best to have a working knowledge of what it is all about. So, before you explore the maze-like alleyways of the ancient capital, you might want to visit Mesquita Square first to catch a showing of the Mdina Experience. This audio visual presentation gives an insightful glimpse into the site’s history from its beginning through its rise as Malta’s former capital.
However, if you are not able to catch the Mdina Experience show – because it is scheduled only twice daily, except weekends, at 10:30 am and 4 pm – then you should proceed directly to Vilhena Palace where you can ask for an audio guide and a map of the area. This self-guided tour is called Discover Mdina and allows you to visit 18 significant sites with a very informative narrator guiding you along the way through your hand-held audio device.
Some of the most popular attractions in Mdina include the Cathedral – its structure dates to the 17th century but its history stretches back to the 11th century. Those who are interested in ancient religious icons should check the cathedral’s interior and enjoy a nice collection of paintings and sculptures as well as elaborate gilded carvings and lovely chapels.
St Paul’s Cathedral, Mdina
Continue your tour at the Archbishop Square, home of the Cathedral Museum, to experience the treasures that survived the earthquake which brought the original 11th-century cathedral into ruins. Be sure not to miss the Museum of Natural History housed in Palazzo Vilhena in St. Publius Square. You can finish your historical tour at the palazzo – especially for those who obtained the Discover Mdina guide – to take a look at the region’s ancient flora and fauna. If you are not easily frightened or upset, you might also want to check out the palazzo’s eerie dungeons and its medieval torture instruments.
Of course, the bastion at Triq is-Sur is a must-visit before you leave Mdina because the breathtaking panorama it affords is absolutely one for your camera.
What was once the suburb of the old capital is now the modernized town of Rabat. Although there are plenty of bars, shops and restaurants in the area, the town has managed to retain its old-world charm in the traditional buildings that houses them.
Rabat is also known for one of the few forested areas the country knows, at Buskett, the entrance to which can be found on the outskirts of the village. Neither of the villages are popular places to actually stay, although a few boutique hotels can be found.
St. Paul’s Church is the most prominent building here because Rabat is believed to have been where the saint lived at one point of his life. Those who are interested in Roman relics should drop by the Roman Villa to explore the remnants; while those who love good architecture cannot afford to miss the 16th-century Verdala Palace.
From the palace, you can just relax at the nearby Buskett Gardens – a lovely park with plenty of trees. But, if you are more of an ambler, then head out west of town to Dingli Cliffs where you can take easy strolls and enjoy the breathtaking views of Malta spread out before you.