For me, the ideal ingredients for a good outing with under 5’s (and even older kids, come to think of it) are:
- space to run around
- not too much to see or do – avoid over-tiredness at all costs!
- toilets – preferably clean and with loo paper
- snacks/drinks/food for sale – preferably some healthy options
- easy parking or transport options.
- something to keep the adult/s amused – including decent coffee
One place that fits the bill right now in winter, and for that matter is pleasantly cool enough to still enjoy in peak summer, is the medieval walled city, Mdina. In winter, it’s far less crowded so kids can run around that bit more without getting lost in passing tourist groups! In summer, it provides welcome relief from the beach, a good dose of history, fantasy and culture. Mdina, at any time of year, has something age-appropriate to offer most kids 0-15. And adults can relax knowing that attractions are all a few steps away from each other – the whole outing is in a contained, historic, pedestrianised space.
The walled city is virtually car-free (but do watch out for the odd car or horse-drawn carriage careering round a corner), so is ideal to explore with kids and pretend you are stepping back in time.
The Mdina Cathedral Museum
Well worth a visit, or three. The exhibits are eclectic, there’s not much in reach that is breakable, and all of it in a large building which is fairly sound-proof. In common with all Maltese museums, there isn’t much “Hands on” or “Interactivity”, so you have to ad-lib a bit “Wow look at that carriage – you remember when the Emperor went out with no clothes on? Well he would have been in a carriage like that”. You get the gist. The tickets to the museum also give entrance to the Cathedral, where the biggest attraction for kids are the multi-coloured inlaid tombstones in the floor – many of which include comic-looking skeletons leaning against trees. You will need to keep the volume down a bit inside the Cathedral though.
Mdina Cathedral Museum
Archbishop Square, Mdina
Tel: ( 356) 21454697
Open: 09:00-16:30 Mon – Fri. Closed: Sundays and Public Holidays
Tickets: adults €2.33
The Natural History Museum
This vast building has idiosyncratic displays, including those of some 3,500 birds, and is usually devoid of visitors. So between the ‘Ooooh! Look at that stuffed albino hedgehog’ the kids can roam around and make lots of noise. One of the best sections is the mock-up of various local habitats of Maltese bird and small mammals; they show how common birds nest in walls, farmer’s outhouses and so on. Outside, in the large courtyard there is a little gift shop and a stuffed cow – not any old cow, but the last pure-blood of the now extinct Maltese breed. No cafe here or at the Cathedral Museum, so wander off to the Trattoria at the Xara Palace Hotel round the corner – great ice creams, good menu (massive servings), tolerant staff and if you sit outside the kids can roam around the courtyard. But accompany them to the loo – there is an open trap door en-route…
National Museum of Natural History
Vilhena Palace, St Publius Square, Mdina
Tel: (356) 21455951
Adults (18 – 59 years):€6
Students (12 – 17 years), Senior Citizens (60 years and over), ISIC Card Holders, EURO<26 Card Holders, ISE Card Holders and ICOM Card Holders: €4.50 Children (6 -11 years): €3.00 Infants (1 -5 years): Free
Open: Monday to Sunday: 9.00-17.00. Last admission: 16.30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January, Good Friday
The Carmelite Priory
Relatively newly-opened as an attraction, the priory has a good, but pricey, coffee shop, treat them to the excellent hot chocolate and then herd the progeny into the courtyard where they can jump up and down. If you want to pay the entrance fee, the rooms inside are worth seeing, and will hold the interest of most kids for half an hour or so. The priory had its first taste of kids big time when it offered an activity programme at half term.
Elsewhere in Mdina
There are several audio-visual displays and walk-through tableaux attractions, such as the Mdina Experience, or the Mdina Dungeons, but my kids tend to get scared just looking at the door, so I am waiting a few years before paying for entrance.
Just outside the main entrance is an old but fit-for-purpose playground. Beautiful views, bad coffee and OK snacks at the kiosk at one end, better food and even better views from the cafe at the other end.
When the kids have had enough of the swings, cross the road to Howard Gardens just outside Mdina’s walls. If it’s not raining, consider a ‘Horsey Carriage Ride‘(Karrozin), a bit pricey as it can cost around €30 for an hour, but is fun as a one off. Alternatively, keep walking through Howard Gardens (clean toilets on your left, but watch out for climbable railings and a vertical drop on your right) towards the Roman Villa. There you will find Peprina, the trackless ‘train’, replete with clear blinds if it’s raining, which winds around Rabat and Mtarfa (adjacent towns to Mdina), leaving on the hour (10.00-16.00 in winter; and 10.00-20.00 in summer).
Photo: Amanda Holmes