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The Spanish island of Mallorca (aka Majorca) is one of the nicest Mediterranean destinations I’ve visited. Although parts of the island have been blighted by mass tourism, the rest of the island has developed more sustainably.
Palma de Mallorca (aka Palma) is the island’s capital city and is a fantastic choice for a weekend break. Alternatively, a beach holiday on the island can be bookended by a short stay in Palma, which is what I did.
This post outlines the things to do in Palma plus gives an overview of Palma travel essentials.
For my Spain country guide, check out my Spain Travel Tips post.
PALMA: THINGS TO DO
STROLL AND SIGHTSEE:
Palma’s Old Town lends itself to strolling and sightseeing. Churches and small squares (placa) are too numerous to mention.
Palma was founded by the Roman Empire but experienced the Arab and Christian conquests and re-conquests up to the Middle Ages. There is a significant Catalan influence in the city which is why Palma feels like a mini Barcelona.
The main site in the city is the Cathedral of Santa Maria down by the waterfront. The Gothic structure of this catholic cathedral towers over neighbouring buildings. Despite being completed in 1601, this cathedral is in excellent condition.
Antoni Gaudi of La Sagrada Familia fame in Barcelona added to the internal structure in the 20th century. The cathedral is also known as La Seu.
The other main site is the Almudaina Palace (Palau de ‘Almudaina). Built on the site of an Arab fortress next to the cathedral, this royal palace dates back to King James II (Jaume II) in the late 13th– early 14th century.
The Old Town also has a plethora of boutiques and specialists shops located in main streets, squares and narrow lanes. International high street brands can be found on Passeig d’es Born and Avinguda Jaume II.
Mallorcan specialities worth buying are pottery, hand-blown glass and various liqueurs such as mesclat and hierbas.
If art galleries are an activity that interests you, then Palma won’t disappoint. Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani displays works by a number of 20th century Spanish artists including Picasso, Dali and Miro.
Es Baluard is a funky modern building concealed within the environs of the city’s old ramparts. It houses modern works by artists associated with Mallorca.
Museu Diocesa houses works of Christian art associated with the island.
Museu Fundacion Juan March is a family-run cultural institution with outlets elsewhere in Spain (Madrid is the foundation’s HQ). The Palma branch has a collection of modern Spanish art and sculptures.
For spectacular views of Palma and much of the south Mallorca coast, take public bus number 4 to Bellver Castle. Constructed for Jaume II in the 14th century, this circular fortress is supported by three towers and is set among a forest of pine trees. It houses a museum but the thrill at this site is the vista.
GO TO THE BEACH:
Mallorca is renowned for sun and sand holidays, so a trip to the beach has to be mentioned as one of the things to do in Palma. The closest beach to Palma city centre is Ca’n Pere Antoni, approximately 1km east of the cathedral.
I took bus 25 from the bus station at Placa d’Espanya to s’Arenal area east of the city – Bus 23 also serves the route. Plane watchers will love this expansive beach as it is located right beside the airport. There are beaches to the west of the city (Ses Illetes, Cala Major) but I didn’t have time to visit them.
EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY:
As a lover of Spanish food, my opinion here will be slightly biased. Palma Old Town has a great selection of independent cafes, bars and restaurants.
Ensaimada is Mallorca’s signature pastry. Pa amb oli is local bread rubbed with a clove of garlic and tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil. The liqueurs I mentioned are great digestifs. In comparison to coastal Spain, Mallorca has a surprising number of traditional meat dishes.
Such a gorgeous coastline can be explored by the multiple boat trips one can choose from in Palma. Check out this Get Your Guide list for further information.
TRAIN TO SOLLER:
Take a step back in time to the pre-WWI vintage train that plies a narrow-gauge route from Palma’s Estacio Intermodal to the town of Soller in the Sierra de Alfabia Mountains. The journey from Palma to Soller takes up to 1.5 hours.
From Soller, it’s possible to take a vintage tram to the coastal resort of Port de Soller. The journey is under 30 minutes.
DRIVE TO CAP DE FORMENTOR:
Fortune favours the brave. The fortune in this case is the scenery on the spectacular Formentor Cape at the north of the island. The drive from Palma to Port de Pollenca is stress-free. The journey from Port de Pollenca to the end of the Formentor headland is on one of the most dizzying roads I’ve ever driven on.
I’ve outlined my experience in my Cap de Formentor Drive post. Give yourself a whole day to do this. Give yourself a stiff drink on return to Palma!
IS PALMA WORTH VISITING?
Absolutely. It has a perfect balance of culture and beach.
If you want to include all of the above activities you would need to give yourself four days for a stay.
PALMA TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Palma Airport (PMI) is one of Spain’s busiest airports, particularly during Mediterranean high season (June to September). Public Bus A1 serves the Palma city centre route. Taxis and car rental are also available at the airport.
The island uses two languages: Castilian Spanish (Mallorca) and the Mallorquin dialect of Catalan (Majorca). Both Mallorca and Majorca are pronounced Ma-yorka.
Palma has many beautiful squares. The Mallorquin Catalan for square is Placa whereas the Castilian version is Plaza.
I travelled to Mallorca solo and found the whole island to be very safe. Although I didn’t visit Magaluf and Santa Ponsa, both resorts are infamous for alcohol-fuelled rowdy behaviour.