A regular ferry service from Mgarr to Malta was first recorded in 1241. At that time Mgarr was a shallow harbour affording anchorage to small craft and quite exposed from the south west to the south east. It did not have a breakwater but only a small jetty used by passengers to board and descend from the boats and by the fishermen to unload their catches. The jetty is still there just below the Gleneagles bar where I had a beer and took this picture whilst waiting for my ferry to arrive. This bar, once a landmark of the harbour recognisable with its unique sloping roof, was originally the harbour's barrakka, a cabin for the shelter of passengers waiting for the passage boats. It was raised next to a still standing osteria, a tavern, by Grandmaster Antonio Manuel de Vilhena in 1732.
The problem of a more sheltered port was first taken under serious consideration in 1841. In April of that year, the Government began the construction of a small breakwater some hundred meters to the west of the existing jetty. During the following decades it was lengthened several times and it was last extended in 1906 although it still offered little shelter and could not be used by steamers.
The problem was finally tackled in the late 1920's and on the 23rd June 1929, the official launching of the first caisson for a proper breakwater took place. Construction went until 1935 although steamers were in 1932 able to berth alongside for the first time and to discharge passengers and cargo directly onto the quay that extended 137m into the sea.
In 1969, the Government authorised the extension of the existing 137m breakwater and the building of two modern breakwaters. The new facilities also included a ro-ro berth. The main south breakwater extends about 490m into the sea and from the north it extends 175m. This project enlarged the Mgarr Harbour to an area of over 121,400 square metres (30 acres).
In the early 1990's a small yacht marina was established .
The harbour has seen its share of tragedies. During the second World War, German planes destroyed the bar known as 'Il-Barraka'. The 'Royal Lady' ferry was also sunk in the harbour.
One of the worst tragedies occurred on 30th October 1948 when 23 men lost their lives in the channel between the two islands when the vessel they were travelling gave way to the turbulent sea and was overturned.
In 1957 one of the heaviest storms to hit the island resulted in the shipwreck of the Ferry 'Bancinu' which broke off from its moorings and was wrecked. The night-watchman trapped on the ship sadly drowned when caught below deck,
Mgarr now has a new Harbour Terminal which includes underground parking and new berthing facilities and there are also plans to offer berthing facility for Cruise Liners near the south breakwater. The number of passengers passing through Mgarr has increased from a few thousands a year in mid-1950s to over three million during the beginning of the twenty first century.