While it can be easy to spend your entire Malta itinerary soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine on the coast, the inland towns of Mdina and Rabat are fantastic places to visit as well. Mdina is a popular day-trip destination, and it isn’t difficult to see why. With a fascinating history as the original capital of Malta and its beautiful walled setting, there are some great things to do in Mdina.
Mdina also has a claim to fame as being the filming location for King’s Landing in the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Luckily, however, it hasn’t seemed to have attracted near the number of tourists that Dubrovnik has but it can make you long for the days when Jaime Lannister still had two hands and Ned Stark still had his head.
The adjacent town of Rabat — which quite literally translates to “suburb” — is often overlooked by tourists. However, it is also a wonderful place to visit with some intriguing points of interest. Both towns can also offer a calming refuge from the busyness of Sliema and the touristy streets of Valletta. In fact, Rabat has arguably more places of interest than the far more popular tourist attraction of Mdina and there are many things to do in Rabat that make it worth visiting.
If you’re wondering what to do in Mdina and Rabat and plan to visit these cities while on a trip to Malta, then this is the guide for you.
Getting to Mdina and Rabat
Arguably the best way to get around Malta for tourists is by bus. The local bus system is extensive, with multiple reliable connections throughout the island per day. If you are travelling from Valletta, getting to Rabat is incredibly straightforward, as multiple direct buses depart from the main terminal every hour. Depending on the traffic and the time of day you are travelling, the journey should take somewhere from 30 to 40 minutes.
Even if you’re only intending on visiting Mdina, you still need to take the bus to Rabat. There is no bus station within the walled city of Mdina as they only allow a very limited number of registered cars in. The centre of Rabat, however, is only located about a five-minute walk away from the main gates of Mdina so this is not an inconvenience in the slightest.
If you are arriving from the north of the island, there are also a number of direct buses that will get you there. As Rabat is a main residential area of Malta, it is well-served by public transport so it is, therefore, quite easy to access no matter where you happen to be on the island.
If you don’t want to rely on the bus, you can opt to drive to Mdina and Rabat, as well. Many people find that renting a car in Malta gives them a bit more flexibility and can be a good option if you’re short on time and you don’t mind dealing with the crazy Maltese traffic.
If you want to hire a car, we recommend using RentalCars.com in order to find the best deals available across all available companies. We also suggest taking out a third-party excess insurance policy with iCarHireInsurance in order to save money and give you peace of mind should anything happen to your vehicle.
Mdina and Rabat are located close to the centre of the island, so it shouldn’t take more than about 30-40 minutes to drive to the cities from anywhere on Malta.
Things To Do In Rabat
While the main attraction in this area of Malta is medieval Mdina, the larger town of Rabat is also quite worth exploring in its own right. With a number of interesting attractions, lovely architecture, and a wonderful cafe culture, one can easily spend a leisurely day exploring this wonderful place.
St. Paul’s Catacombs
Nothing provokes the imagination more than a creepy jaunt into the bowels of a church to find out where and how (important) people in Ancient Rome were buried, right?
While the Catacombs of St. Paul are arguably the biggest point of interest for visitors to Rabat, they are still not all that busy, which makes it all the more interesting to enjoy. As the largest underground Roman cemetery in Malta (is it just me, or does that seem like very specific criteria?), these catacombs span over 2,000 square metres in area. Believed to be in use up until the 4th Century, CE and originally excavated in 1894, they are also the earliest evidence of Christianity in Malta.
Admission into the catacombs is €5 for adults and €3.50 for concessions (students and seniors) and are well worth exploring if only to get away for some sweet relief from the Maltese sun.
St. Paul’s Church and Grotto
Malta is a very Catholic country and that means that almost every town has at least one church or cathedral that is a major point of interest. Rabat is no different.
St. Paul’s Church and Grotto (not to be confused with St. Paul’s catacombs, which are located a little ways down the road and are completely detached from the church) has quite a bit of historical significance when it comes to Catholicism in Malta. It is believed to be the place where St. Paul himself sought refuge after being shipwrecked with his missionary party on the island.
It is believed, however, that St. Paul chose to live and pray in the subterranean grotto beneath the church instead of the building itself.
St. Paul’s Church is a known place of pilgrimage for many practising Catholics, most notably Pope John Paul II, who visited the premises in 1990.
The Roman Villa
Located between Rabat and Mdina is museum housing the ruins of a traditional Roman villa. While little remains of the villa itself, there is an impressive collection of excellently preserved mosaics and other Roman antiquities that have been found by archaeologists throughout Malta. It also gives an interesting understanding of what life was like in Roman times.
Admission into the Villa Museum costs €6 for adults and €4.50 for concessions.
Restaurants And Cafes In Rabat
One of the things that we were incredibly impressed by in Malta was the quality (and value for money!) of the food. The local cuisine is delicious and there are myriad fantastic restaurants where you can sample it. There is also a great cafe culture in Rabat that is worth trying out. Here are some of our favourite Rabat restaurants and cafes:
One could easily walk by this local, hole-in-the-wall bakery without a second glance, but that would be a grave mistake. This is because Crystal Palace, located across the street from the Roman Villa, makes what numerous sources agree to be the best pastizzi in Malta. And this is no joke.
Pastizzi are small, savoury pastries traditionally filled with cheese, meat, or mushy peas (why this is the only culinary takeaway from British Colonialism is beyond me) surround by a flaky, filo-like dough. Crystal Palace serves fresh-from-the-wood-fired-oven pastizzi 24 hours per day, all at incredibly low prices. This is an excellent option for an affordable breakfast, lunch, or midnight snack and you should definitely take the time to enjoy these delicious little pies.
Ta’ Doni Cafe
If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, chilled-out wine bar, or a local craft beer along with good, affordable food and a great atmosphere then look no further than Ta’ Doni cafe. Located just a stone’s throw down the road from Crystal Palace, this small cafe has an excellent wine list and local craft beer selection along with great sandwiches and fantastic local sharing platters. They also have a lovely outdoor terrace making it a perfect place to sit down, have a cold beverage, and people watch for an hour or two.
Things To Do In Mdina
Mdina, or The Silent City, is one of the most popular day trip spots in Malta and it’s easy to see why. This majestic walled city was the capital of Malta for thousands of years until the Order of the Knights of St. John took up residence and moved it, first to Birgu (one of the three cities) and finally to Valletta.
Because of its small size, there aren’t a lot of things to do in Mdina and it can easily be combined with its neighbouring town of Rabat. For visitors that want to learn more about the history of Mdina, it’s possible to book a walking tour in advance.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Like I’ve mentioned earlier, no town in Malta is in want of churches and the same can be said for Mdina. The imposing structure of St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in 1693, after a destructive earthquake destroyed the original, believed to have been constructed sometime in the 12th Century CE.
Inside, there are impressive and intricate artwork and facades, reminiscent of that from St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. There is also a massive mural depicting the shipwreck of St. Paul and his missionary party on the island of Malta, believed to have happened some 1,900 years ago.
The cathedral museum is also worth visiting, as it houses a number of interesting and intriguing artefacts from Malta through its history.
The City Walls
Mdina is a completely walled city situated high on a hill, so it is only logical that there would be spectacular views of the small island nation from the walls. And that is just so. One of the best things to do in Mdina is to watch the sunset over the Mediterranean from the city walls, where you can see the beautiful panorama that is Malta.
Mdina By Night
While Mdina is a very popular spot to visit in Malta, most tourists only come for a day trip before heading back to their accommodation come nightfall. This leaves the beautiful city almost deserted once the sun sets and makes it one of the best times to wander around.
The high marble buildings and low light feel majestic as you can hear your steps echo down the back streets. While walking around Mdina at night, one can truly understand why this town is referred to as “The Silent City.”
Restaurants And Cafes In Mdina
Despite its diminutive size, there are a number of very nice restaurants and cafes in Mdina, though some come with very hefty price tags. While some of the best restaurants in Malta are located in Mdina, the prices are much higher than similar restaurants elsewhere on Malta and Gozo, so I would recommend eating more at the mid-range restaurants while in Mdina.
Fior di Latte
There is nothing better than enjoying a lovely scoop of gelato on a hot day, and Fior di Latte has some of the best! This little shop located close to the city walls viewpoint has a large selection of both sweet and fruity flavours and is well worth a stop.
Fontanella Wine Bar
A wonderful wine bar and cafe, this place has a great roof terrace providing spectacular views over Malta and an excellent wine list where most wines are available by the glass! They also serve fantastic traditional sharing platters and also have a full dinner menu. Also, in traditional Maltese fashion, the portion sizes are huge! This place can get popular in the evening, so it is advisable to book in advance.
Where to Stay in Mdina and Rabat
If you’re interested in staying the night around Mdina and Rabat, your best bet is to look for accommodation in Rabat rather than in Mdina. However, there are a couple of hotels within the walls of Mdina itself that can be appealing for those looking to add some luxury to their trip to Malta. If you’re wondering where to stay, check out our top recommendations:
Quaint Hotel Rabat — Located in the centre of Rabat and only a five-minute walk from the walled city of Mdina, this small hotel is a great place to stay. They have a few clean and comfortable rooms available and a free breakfast included. Click here to see their latest prices
Point de Vue — If you want to stay in the charming walled city of Mdina, you can’t go wrong with this hotel. Ideal for those with a higher budget looking for a bit of luxury, this hotel has a number of clean, spacious, and air-conditioned rooms available, a full hotel bar, and an excellent free breakfast each morning. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Rabat!
Mdina and Rabat are two of the best places to visit in Malta. Though both quite small, I would recommend taking your time to wander around and explore both towns. There are a number of things to do and interesting sites to see and both are well worth adding to any Malta itinerary!
When travelling in Malta, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We recommend WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you wondering what to see in Mdina and Rabat? Have you been? Let us know in the comments!