Palma de Mallorca is the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands, located in the Mediterranean Sea not far from the coast of Catalonia. While the island itself is renowned as a hotspot for German and English holidaymakers, I hadn’t really heard much about its capital city, and didn’t have any idea what to expect. After spending three months docking weekly in Palma de Mallorca’s port, I can quite honestly say: I LOVE THIS PLACE. I’d had no idea that the city centre would be quite so beautiful– quiet alleyways twisting this way and that, a magnificent gothic cathedral, and the odd horse and trap clip-clopping around. There are some amazingly pretty beaches nearby and even in the winter when I was there, there was no shortage of sunshine and blue skies. (Although, I’m not gonna lie- I probs wouldn’t recommend any sea-swimming around the winter months. That might be taking it a tad too far.) So, here you have it pals- my guide to Palma de Mallorca. In all it’s lovely jubbly glory.
La Seu- Palma Cathedral
The first time I entered the city from its cruise terminal Porto Pi, this building took my breath away, simply because it was so unexpected. The Catedral de Santa María de Palma de Mallorca, or La Seu as it’s more commonly known, is a striking gothic cathedral which is in prime position looking out across a lake and further out towards the Mediterranean Sea. Once upon a time Palma and the island of Mallorca were owned by the Muslim Moors, but in 1229 when a Christian King conquered the island he ordered the destruction of all Moorish buildings; hence the big old cathedral that stands on what was once the site of a mosque. Somehow this building always seems to be spotlit by the sun- get there at golden hour, just before the sun starts to set, and I guarantee you’ll be blown away.
Considering the island of Mallorca is, well, just an island, I was blown away by the size of La Seu. The central nave is 44metres tall; taller even than Notre-Dame de Paris. Back in the early 1900s, Gaudí was given the job of helping make some changes to the building, and although he eventually fell out with the contractor and abandoned the project, there are still pieces of his work inside, like the crown of thorns canopy which hangs over the altar.
Catedral de Mallorca, open 10am-4pm Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm Saturdays, entry €8 per person.
Old Town Palma de Mallorca
Just behind the cathedral are the winding alleys of the old town of Palma, and one of my favourite things to do here was literally just wander around and see what I stumbled across. Several bigger streets criss-cross their way through the Old Town, lined with designer and high street shops, as well as tiny boutiques on the quieter roads. It’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported back in time around here, especially in the winter months when the city is quieter and it’s not unlikely that you’ll be the sole wanderer if you take a good turning. Tiny garden squares, the odd coffee or ice cream shop with chairs and tables spilling on to the streets, and mysterious enclosed courtyards are what you’ll find around these parts. Top tip from yours truly: don’t take a map, and definitely don’t follow the blue dot on your phone. Just get wandering and you’ll be sure to find some interesting things.
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Palma isn’t just home to medieval alleyways and gothic structures; it’s also the location for many a modernist architectural gem built around the early 1900s onwards. The modernist movement was the Catalan answer to Art Nouveau, all about flowing lines and motifs inspired by nature, and although it all kicked off in the city of Barcelona (a short ferry ride away on the mainland), the popularity of modernism quickly spread to Palma. The beaut thing about Palma in comparison to Barcelona is that it’s all a bit more relaxed around here, allowing you to follow the treasure hunt of beautiful buildings at your own pace.
The most well-known and prominent of Palma’s palaces and stately homes is undoubtedly the Palau de l’Almudeina, the neighbouring building to the city’s cathedral. Once upon a time this was a Moorish building, and elements of its Arabic past do remain although it was converted into as gothic a style as possible when the Crown of Aragon (you know, those Christian folk from Spain), conquered the area.
Palau de l’Almudeina, open 10am-6pm from October to March, 10am-8pm April to September. Closed on Mondays. Entry price €7
I had been walking straight past the Palau March for months before I saw the sign advertising Mallorcan cartography (it’s very geeky but I’m a real fan of an old map, and had been googling ‘where to see Mallorcan cartography’ for months to no avail), and decided to have a peek inside- and I was so glad that I did. The March family were phenomenally wealthy and this palace- which was once their home- now houses a collection of art and books from across the world, as well as the stunning collection of maps from when the world was still being discovered bit by bit. Even aside from the sculptures and paintings inside (and ginormous Nativity scene), the palace itself is just downright stunning. I was the only person wandering the silent rooms of the building, which made the experience all the more awesome.
Palau March Musuem, open 10am-6.30pm April to October, 10am-5pm November to March. Closed on Sundays. Entry €4.50.
For a bigger list of Palma’s palaces, museums and galleries go to the SeeMallorca website; there’s a fair few, folks.
What should you eat in Palma de Mallorca?
The traditional pastries of Mallorca are ensaimadas– sweet rolled dough which is filled with angels’ hair (the stringy inside of pumpkins which is sweetened and cooked). You’ll see these in bakeries across the whole island, and they’re typically served up in a flat cardboard octagon which doesn’t look too dissimilar from a pizza box.
As an island surrounded by the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean, it goes without saying that fish is kind of a big deal around here, in fact this is where I tucked into the best fish that I’ve ever eaten in my ENTIRE LIFE- up a mountain in the town of Andratx, about half an hour’s drive from Palma. Dishes involving pork are also all the rage, and you’ll find many a charcuterie throughout the streets of the Old Town, selling all manner of cured meats in little cones to take away.
The best beaches in Palma de Mallorca
Within walking distance of Palma port is the beautiful sandy beach of Cala Major and its amazingly clear water. I’m sure in the Summer it would get pretty packed as it’s surrounded by holiday apartments and little restaurants and bars, but in the winter season the beach tended to have barely anyone on it. It’s also possible to walk further past the beach and onto the rocks leading around the seafront past hotel swimming pools and gardens; great for just perching on and appreciating the sunshine and the sound of the sea!
At the opposite end of the city is the suburb of Portixol, which was once a little fishing village. These days the old fishermen’s houses have been transformed into expensive slick properties, and bars and restaurants sit prettily along the seafront facing out onto the beautiful sandy beach, with views back towards the rest of the city.
Outside the city centre
In between Porto Pi (Palma de Mallorca’s cruise port), and the Old City, is more of the kind of buildings, bars and hotels that I’d originally expected to find in Palma. High-rise apartment blocks filled with tourist apartments and holiday homes, bars, pubs and clubs by the marina which fill up in the evenings, and touristy souvenir shops, all stand side-by-side with the odd church or windmill scattered around in between. Although nowhere near as beautiful as the historic city centre (in my opinion), the more modern areas are still worth a visit to experience a completely different side to Palma. There’s definitely more of a package holiday vibe about the place, but for the nightlife alone it’s probs worth a look-in, know what I’m saying?
And finally…be sure to stick around for a sunset
The best things in life are free, pals! Palma de Mallorca is located on the SouthWest coast of the island, which makes it a great spot to watch a sunset over the sea; without a shadow of a doubt this is something that you should be sure not to miss while you’re here.
What to Know Before You Visit Palma de Mallorca
- There are actually two cruise terminals at Palma de Mallorca; the main one is Estacio Maritima, and the second which is slightly further away, is Porto Pi. A shuttle bus from Porto Pi to the city centre (opposite La Seu), takes around ten to fifteen minutes depending on the traffic sitch.
- The journey time from Palma de Mallorca airport to the city is around 15 minutes, again depending on traffic.
- Currency is euros.
- Tourism is the main industry around here, so within the city English is widely spoken; though obviously the actual official language is Spanish.
- Ferries operate between the island of Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands (The most well-known of island options being Ibiza and Menorca), as well as back to mainland Spain.