From swanky sunset cocktails to world-class golf courses and Gaudi Gothic architecture; it’s no wonder the Spanish royal family have spent many a summer in Palma de Mallorca.
Arranged around a vast Gothic cathedral and the glinting Mediterranean sea, few cities can boast as attractive a setting as Palma de Mallorca. But the Balearics’ largest city is far more than just a looker. This is a vibrant, stylish, sophisticated city that bursts with life. Oh, and the weather’s not bad here either, with average temperatures in August hitting 31ºC! Get stuck in with our guide to the best of Palma.
1. Stir up controversy at Palma Cathedral
Gothic on the outside, modernist on the inside, Palma’s Sa Seu cathedral is a mash-up of architectural styles – and a real talking point. Antoni Gaudí was commissioned to improve the 14th-century cathedral’s interior in the early 20th century, adding a canopy inspired by the crown of thorns above the altar. Love it or hate it, it is a focal point amid the stained glass windows and typically Gothic vaulted nave. Approach from the waterfront esplanade to feel the full force of this lofty building’s impressive stature.
2. Tower above it all at Castell de Bellver
Miles of fragrant pine forest surround the circular Castell de Bellver, intoxicatingly leading down to the waters of Palma Bay. Bellver means “lovely view” in Catalan. In other words, a climb onto the roof here is rewarded with 360 degree panoramas over the foothills and forests to the sea and city beyond, as well as across the tower’s elegant round courtyard. Also, don’t miss the museum (closed on Sundays) for its Roman, Arab and Spanish artefacts.
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3. Taste haute Balearic cuisine
The Majorcan capital is home to the best food in the Balearics, with innovative dishes served with aplomb at restaurants around the city. Although quality is generally high, there are rip-off joints serving substandard fare to be avoided. Dodge them with a visit to Michelin-starred Simply Fosh for British chef Marc Fosh’s seasonal, clean flavours. Hake fillet stuffed with local crab perhaps? Give Aromata a try for a pared down menu of traditional Majorcan dishes from local chef Andreu Genestra. Their group menus start at €38 a head.
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4. Find something Moor at the Arab Baths
Although the Moors transformed Palma around the 10th century, almost all of their work was destroyed during the subsequent invasion by King James I of Aragon and his armies in the 13th century. However, King James must have overlooked the Arab Baths, which still stand as a visual reminder of Palma’s rich past.
Don’t make the same mistake. Take the time to wind through the medieval streets and enter the cooling gardens and the Caldarium (main steam chamber) beyond. Here you’ll find elegant horseshoe arches standing atop a double marble floor – an early form of underfloor heating. The baths are open from 10am until 7pm.
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5. Get a cultural hit at Es Baluard
Love art? La Palma is home to an impressive modern art collection at the Baluard Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani. See Picasso’s unusual ceramics, other works by Balearic artists, such as Joan Miro and Miguel Barcelo, as well as a selection of masterpieces from more than 500 contemporary artists. Situated on the Plaça Porta de Santa Catalina, in the heart of the city centre, you’ll find most buses stop nearby (including the number 50 tourist bus). The gallery is open Tue-Satu-, 10am-pm (Sunday until 3pm) and regular adult tickets cost €6. It’s small price to pay for an afternoon discovering the brilliance of some of the art world’s biggest stars.
6. Royal Palace of La Almudaina
Founded by Arabic governors, and a later a symbol of the independent Mallorca, this citadel still hosts the King of Spain during the occasional summer event. It is suitably grand, though, like much of Mallorca’s architecture, eclectic in style. A medieval courtyard and richly embroidered tapestries lie within. Outside, however, Moorish arches face the sea – and a surprising Modernist touch, in the form of Joan Miro’s Egg sculpture, sits in the adjacent S’Hort del Rei gardens.
7. Cuevas del Drach
Don’t miss the chance to take a day trip to Porto Cristo, on the east coast of the island, to see one of Mallorca’s best attractions – translated evocatively as the ‘Dragon Caves’. In fact, it’s at least several sights in one. Alien-like stalactites and stalagmites to explore, a boat ride on an underground lake and a violin concert beneath the stony ground to cap it all off.
8. Set sail for Cabrera
Many Spanish islands have an idyllic, uninhabited islet on which to conjure your most vivid romantic fantasies about lost treasure and/or mermaids. Cabrera is Mallorca’s answer to this. Cabrera National Park actually forms several islands off the coast of Mallorca. Shimmering depths of blue ocean surround deserted white shores that feel a million miles from the resorts of the south coast. But it’s only around 17 km from La Colonia de Sant Jordi, where you’ll board the boat.
There’s an activity to suit every taste here, from bird-watching to plunging into deep pool of the Blue Grotto. Most boat tours will include at least one beach stop and you can rent snorkel gear to make the most of those crystal clear waters. Finally, it’s a good idea to take food or order a packed lunch from the boat crew, as facilities on shore are limited.
9. Chill on Palma Beach
A city break destination with a beach holiday thrown in, Palma de Mallorca ticks all the boxes you could wish for. Ca’n Pere Antoni is but a few strides away from the cathedral, making for a spectacular and unusual seaside backdrop and the Blue Flag-awarded sands are perfect for a cooling dip after a day’s sightseeing around Palma. Willing to stray further afield? Try Puerto Pollensa for a day out on the north-east coast; this beach is considered one of the island’s best and is also a good pick if you like your beach days more energetic, with windsurfing, boating and even scuba diving on offer here.null
10. Discover Miro’s workshop
The Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Mallorca is a collection of three buildings set in peaceful landscaped grounds, as much works of art as the paintings and sculpture they contain. Son Boter was an eighteenth century country farmhouse belonging to local artist Joan Miro. It is now adjoined by two much more modern buildings. One of them is the airy studio designed by the artist’s friend Josep Lluís Sert. All three now form part of a museum showing a brilliant insight into Miro’s life and work, with collections of drawings, prints, sculptures and canvases comprising his legacy to Mallorca, and to the art world at large.
11. Casal Solleric
A Baroque palace converted into an art museum thanks to a bequeath from its former owners, Casal Solleric houses the island’s premier collection of contemporary art and photography. The building itself is another gem worth a few hours of wandering. It’s adorned with frescoes on the exterior and contains wrought iron staircases, marble columns and a gorgeous mezzanine within. It’s perfect for displaying temporary exhibits by Spanish artists like Tàpies, Pérez-Villalta and Plessi, as well as international names like Frida Kahlo.Find cheap flights to Mallorca Hotels in Palma de Mallorca
For more stunning spots in the Balearics, check out our guide to 17 of the most beautiful Spanish islands.
*Updated January 2019. Information correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.