A narrow street in the city of Mdina, Malta
Photo by Reuben Farrugia  –  Link

Mdina

Malta

If Malta's capital, Valletta, can be known simply as "the city," then historical Mdina, just 30 minutes away, truly deserves to bring back its equally illustrious medieval moniker: "the noble city." A shining example of an ancient walled citadel, Mdina has been home to this small country's noble families since the 12th century, and its lofty heritage is visible in every corner, from the elaborate religious buildings to the spacious palaces that line its narrow streets. After dark Mdina takes on a mysterious new edge, as the lamps that illuminate the city at night are lit and it falls quiet, living up to the most prevalent of its current nicknames: "the silent city."

Don't miss

As cities go, Mdina is a joy to get lost in. A maze of narrow streets plied by horse and cart drivers, it transports you way back in time and contains fascinating historical sites at every turn, intercepted by cafes and gelatarias that are perfect for a rest stop.

  • Mdina Cathedral - A beautiful building in itself, what really sets this cathedral apart are the artistic (and sometimes dark) marble funerary slabs that cover the floor, each marking the tomb and memorialising the life of one of the city's former nobles, bishops or archbishops.
  • Mdina Dungeons - With life-size statues of the trials, tribulations and tortures of medieval Mdina, this museum is admittedly a little bit gory and a little bit tacky, but does provide an entertaining, if gruesome, visual history of the city.

Rabat

The fortified city of Mdina was first separated from the rest of the town, which became Rabat - literally meaning 'the subur' - by the Romans. Today a delightful village in its own right, it features a number of historical sites that illuminate the early history of this area. Among them is St Paul's Grotto, where St Paul reputedly lived for three months after being shipwrecked on Malta; it's considered so important in Christianity that various popes have paid pilgrimage to the site.

Game of Thrones

While Iceland and Dubrovnik have now come to be the most recognisable backdrops of this hit TV show, if you're a true Game of Thrones fan you'll already know that Malta is really where it all began. Much of the first season was filmed on the island, and Mdina was one of the most frequently used locations, with Vilhena Gate (the city's main entryway), St Dominic's Convent and the Mesquita Square all featuring. The St Dominic's Convent, actually in Rabat, is one of the city's more off-the-beaten-track attractions anyway, so you may well get to stand all alone in the very Red Keep Garden where Ned Stark confronts Cersei about her brother being the father of her children.

While organised tours are available, there's no reason that you can't take a self-guided tour - sounds like the perfect excuse for a pre-trip GoT marathon, just to 'refresh your memory' of course.