Rabat and Mdina are very close neighbours – so close, in fact, that if it wasn’t for Mdina’s tall walls you wouldn’t know where one ends and the other begins. With Rabat’s more rural feel and natural beauty, and Mdina’s strong medieval atmosphere, both are beautiful in very different ways.
Rabat is a treat. You can spend a couple of hours walking around and exploring its narrow cobbled streets, stopping by cafés and having the most relaxing time. There’s a few monuments to explore and we got a multi pass to visit Domus Romana, St Paul’s Catacombs and the Natural History Museum in Mdina, plus a train tour. I have to say, I never do those tourist train or bus tours but since we had a ticket we thought we might as well and guess what? I didn’t hate it. In fact, it was a surprisingly fun experience. The fake train takes you through Rabat to the neighbouring villages and right outside where you get a lovely view of Mosta.
The ride starts and ends right by Domus Romana and though it won’t take you longer than an hour to walk around, it’s an interesting little place to visit. Built around the remains of a rich, aristocratic roman town house, the building contains some intricate mosaics which survived for centuries. The idea is to give you a glimpse of life in a Roman household, so there’s a display of items in themes ranging from the division of roles in a Roman family, education, food, fashion, to entertainment.
But perhaps one of the most curious places to visit in Rabat are St Paul’s Catacombs. Those underground Roman cemeteries were in use up to the seventh or even eight century. There’s 24 of them, most of which are open to public. Only one of those contains human remains (and it was closed when I visited) so it’s not a disturbing experience. Still, walking through narrow corridors of what used to be a graveyard is on the eerie side.
Once you’ve had enough of walking, exploring and visiting, buy a homemade pastry from a street vendor and enjoy it on a bench watching Rabat go about its day.
Here’s a tip from a local: visit Mdina in the afternoon as the “Silent City” looks best at dusk.
Due to its strategic military location, Mdina is surrounded by tall bastion fortifications. Filled with centuries-old buildings, it’s straight out of a fairytale; a truly one-of-a-kind place. It’s immaculately preserved, which has given the town a few claims to fame – it’s currently on the tentative list to become a UNESCO heritage site and it was chosen as the backdrop for a few Games of Thrones scenes.
What to do in Mdina? Just walk. Soak it up. And when you need energy boost, go for a cake. As recommended a local, you need to try Fontanella Tea Garden. And here’s why:
Rabat and Mdina are small enough to squeeze both in a day trip. If I had more time in Malta, I’d have definitely returned to visit them again, though.