What to do in Mdina and Rabat in a day
Mdina, the old capital city of Malta, is one of the most beautiful and well preserved European medieval towns, selected as a setting for movies like Game of Thrones, Troy, and Gladiator. The structure and plan of the city streets are practically the same today as they were a thousand years ago. It was home then and still is up to this day to Malta’s noble families who made Mdina their home from the 12th century onwards. Impressive palaces line its narrow, shady streets. Mdina is now known as the ‘Silent City’ probably due to emptiness in Mdina after moving the capital to Valletta in the late 16th century. There are less than 250 inhabitants in Mdina these days. Right next to the walled city of Mdina, there is Rabat, a charming village full of houses with colourful doors and balconies and quaint streets. It grew around Mdina, built by those who couldn’t afford a palace inside the walls but wanted to be close by in the case of an attack. My ideal plan for the day in Mdina and Rabat would be like stated below, but in real life, you should adjust it according to the time when the guided walking tour is offered. So here you go!
Take a walking tour of Mdina and Rabat
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
I was lucky to have my walking tour with Christian Galea, who offered his services through the Airbnb platform. Christian has been a professional guide for more than 15 years, and it is a passion for him more than only a job. He loves showing his beautiful country to visitors. The tour highlights were Mdina Main Gate and Walls, the Main Street and side streets walk, St Paul’s Cathedral and Ramparts Viewpoint, Rabat old streets walk, visiting St Paul’s Grotto and Catacombs Area.
Have lunch at Chalk cafe bar
1 p.m. to 1.45. p.m.
The Chalk cafe bar is a small cosy coffee shop situated in the heart of Rabat, Malta. It offers excellent coffee, delicious Maltese dish ftira, and homemade sweets. The cafe has a cool first floor and the cutest balcony for two. Their mouth watering goat’s cheese is from Gozo. I enjoyed ftira and tea in a lovely atmosphere, and the service was excellent.Address: 36 St Paul’s Street, Rabat
Visit Casa Bernard
2. p.m. to 2.45 p.m.
Located in the city of Rabat next to Mdina, Casa Bernard is a 16th-century private family home and a delightful place to visit, with its beautiful architectural features combined with a rich and interesting history. The name of the house, “Casa Bernard”, was chosen by its owner, a French doctor named Dr. Salvatore Bernard, who was the personal physician to the Grand Master of Malta in the early 18th century. This Palazzo was recently restored by Georges and Josette Magri, both teachers by profession, who have made it their home and dedicated their retirement to recreating the interior of this wonderful townhouse. Thus, it is not a museum, but the building enjoys the warmth and dedication of a lived-in place. Explore the interior with a guided tour that takes you around the richness of this palace, completed with charming antique furniture, paintings, and objects of art. I was lucky to have a tour with the owner Mrs. Josette Magri.
Open daily except Sundays and public holidays, with tours on the hour-mark, from 10.00 to 16.00hrs, or by appointment.
Address: 43-46 St. Paul Street, Rabat
Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina
3 p.m.-3.30. p.m.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a dominant structure in Mdina. Designed by architect Lorenzo Gafa at the end of the 17th century, the cathedral is a fine building whose façade impresses visitors. The cathedral’s magnificent dome painted in a traditional deep red colour dominates the skyline. The construction works took just five years to complete. The baroque palaces surrounding it are the old seminary and the episcopal residence, with the former accommodating the Cathedral Museum. The cathedral is the metaphoric mother of all Maltese churches, and it is also the seat of the Maltese Archbishop.
Open for tourists: Monday to Saturday from 9.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. Sunday from 3.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.
Address: 2 Triq San Pawl, L-Imdina
Have the afternoon tea with a view
3.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.
Fontanella Tea Garden is just a few minutes’ walk from the St. Paul’s Cathedral, situated at the end of the wall. Fontanella Tea Garden offers traditional homemade cakes and food and breathtaking views from the bastions overlooking the beautiful island of Malta.Address: 1, Triq is-Sur, Mdina
Explore the streets of both cities
4.30. p.m. – 6 p.m.
When strolling around, pay attention to details of their building’s architecture. You will notice house names, Maltese balconies, low gates in front of the entrance doors, and door knockers, and “pregnant” windows.
Most houses or apartment blocks in Malta and Gozo come with their own name. The house names can have their origin in religious topics, history, nature, cities names, be celebrity inspired, inviting, or totally random.
The famous Maltese balconies are the most prominent characteristic of the houses on the island, having turned into a national symbol, though they are an evolution of the Arabic “mushrabiya”. The ancient mashrabiya merges cultural, visual and technical aspects. The window screen is often located towards the street to enable discretion and allow cool air to pass through the façade. The screen offers the chance to see the environment but also allows to stay unseen thanks to the outside light and darkness inside.
Not all visitors notice the small, metallic gates that adorn the entrances of many houses. Traditionally, Maltese houses would have gates to their front doors. The gates add character to the entrance, often matched by a decoration on top of the door. In the past, they were used to keep the goats out of the houses. In those days, a milkman with a herd of goats went from door-to-door, milked the goats on the spot and sold milk.
The traditional door knocker, found in many old houses, often is a bronze fish, sometimes looking like a dolphin. Most likely, this echoes Arab tradition: the hanging of a fish outside the house as a good-luck symbol. Door knockers can also have numerous other motifs, shapes and sizes. Other designs include animals, heads and the popular Maltese Cross. Together with other house features, a door knocker symbolised the status and wealth of the family living in the house. Aristocrats and upper class families had massive baroque style knockers installed on the doors of their imposing palazzos.
Wrought iron “pregnant” windows are also common in the old cities, like Mdina. In times past, invaders of the island would wait beneath the windows and, when locals would lean forward to look into the street, they would grab them and drag them off as slaves. “Pregnant” window bars gave the locals opportunity to check the streets safely without risk of being dragged out of their houses.
Have dinner at Fork and Cork restaurant
From 6.30 p.m.
Fork and Cork was recognised as a Michelin plate restaurant in 2021. Behind the stone walls of a historic building sits this charming restaurant. The restaurant’s name originates from the two greatest passions of the owner-chef Carl Zahra: food and wine. Enjoy!Address: 20 Saqqajja Hill, Rabat, MDN 1400, Malta
I gave my ideal plan for the day; still, you have to adjust it according to the time when the walking tour is provided. Also, check the days of the week when walking tours of Mdina and Rabat are taking place. At least in the winter months, they are not offered every day. Then make your plan accordingly. You can also visit Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum in Mdina, which I did not. It displays permanent collections which originally belonged to its last owner Gollcher, and occasionally other temporary exhibits from private collections.
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Disclaimer. I paid in full for all services and food described in this article.
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Author: Anita Sāne