Palma de Mallorca: Spain’s Best Island City Break?
The grandeur of a Gothic Cathedral towering above the city, a labyrinth of brightly coloured walls enclosing tiny streets, shaded squares sound-tracked by birdsong and free-flowing fountains, and a plethora of delicious restaurants and nightlife lie waiting for you along the oceanside in Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the Balearics.
The first time I visited the island, my only plan was to avoid Magaluf and explore some of the other things to do in Mallorca— sadly, while doing so, I ended up avoiding Palma also. Having recently returned to spend a week in the city itself for the Traverse21 conference, I can see why that was such a big mistake.
In fact, I ‘d go as far as saying that Palma is an ideal city-break, which is quite surprising for an island destination– yet, it ticks all the boxes; gastronomy, history, culture, and more than enough places to eat and drink in style. Here’s a quick guide to Palma de Mallorca and what to expect from a long weekend in the city.
When to visit and how long to spend in Palma de Mallorca?
Depending on how you wish to spend your time on the island of Mallorca, you could make Palma a two-day visit or a two-week holiday.
Thanks to the very regular flight schedules, even in the winter months, coming for a weekend or a long weekend will give you the chance to explore the highlights of Palma and get a flavour of the island’s capital city. If you opt to use Palma as a base for longer, then it’s an ideal base (especially with a car) to take day trips out to other parts of the island– whether the story-book style inland villages or the breathtaking cove beaches of crystal clear waters.
Deciding when to visit is also fairly easy, as the weather is pretty kind all year round. Unfortunately, I experienced the rainiest week the island had seen in twenty years, yet we still had a great time. Of course, if you are looking to visit the island more for sunbathing and beaches, then the summer (albeit with much higher prices and crowds) might seem attractive. However, the shoulder seasons in Spring and Autumn are always the best, in my opinion, for visiting Europe’s popular coastal destinations.
Where to stay in Palma de Mallorca?
Palma is a much bigger city than most people realised before arriving, which means there is an array of accommodation options for all budgets and group sizes.
For many, an island getaway means booking a white-washed Casa or luxury villa, especially if you are travelling with a big group of friends or family members. Mallorca certainly has plenty of delightful options to choose from, although many are more concentrated around the smaller coastal resorts. There are, however, some good villa options very close to Mallorca hosted by Vida Villas, certainly close enough to take a bus or taxi in and out of the city, or, you could opt to stay closer to a beach resort and drive into Palma for day-trips.
On my recent visit, as I was travelling solo, I found the accommodation options to be pretty affordable in late November. I secured private rooms at both the New Art Hostel and Hostal Pinnar for under EUR30 a night and would happily recommend both. For sea-views and a bit more luxury, the larger resorts like Melia or charming El Llorenç Parc de la Mar might be better picks for a romantic city break.
How to get to Palma de Mallorca?
Palma de Mallorca is the main gateway to the Balearic Islands, and I was pretty shocked at just how large the airport is. It is well served by budget and flag-carrying airlines from Europe and will soon start hosting direct flights from the USA. It’s a short drive from the city centre (expect to pay around EUR20 for a taxi) and connected by the airport bus.
An alternative, especially if you are coming from another island like Menorca or Ibiza, Barcelona or Valencia, is to do like me and take the ferry. The island hopping routes are shorter, but to and from the mainland, you can choose from various operators, some with day and some with night sailings. I paid EUR19 for an overnight sailing with GNV from Valencia and ended up napping on a couch with my sleeping bag. Waking up to the views of Palma Cathedral through the window at blue hour was particularly nice.
What to see in Palma de Mallorca?
One of the biggest joys for me about Spanish cities is just slowly taking in the colourful and historic buildings, the tile work, the plazas, and stopping here and there for a vinho or tapa. There are, however, some impressive attractions in Palma, and it’s well worth adding one or two to your city break agenda.
If there is one attraction that stands above the rest, both literally and figuratively, in Palma, it’s the Cathedral. This Gothic Roman architectural feat looks good from all angles, whether admiring it from the outside across the still waters or seeing the stain-glass windows bouncing light around the imposing pillars inside.
Royal Palace of La Almudaina
Just next door to the Cathedral is the Royal Palace, also well worth visiting inside for the elaborately decorated carpeted rooms and idyllic setting in the courtyard. Dating back to the 14th century, there is plenty of history to discover within the Palace’s walls.
Castell de Bellver
A short walk from the city centre and promising fantastic views across Palma and the Marina, the uniquely shaped Bellver Castle is a bargain to enter for just a few euros. The rounded interior is rather impressive, and the views from the rooftop are especially special at sunset.
Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum
With mainly modern art collections from artists of the Balearic islands and international artists, this modern museum is ideal for a rainy day visit.
Fundació Miró Mallorca
Housing an extensive collection of paintings by the artist Joan Miró, who, while born in Barcelona, made his home later in Palma, the vast display includes sculptures, gardens and some of his most famous works.
It wouldn’t be an island city-break without a little beach time, and the Platja de Can Pere Antoni is right on the doorstep of the city. While there are certainly much more tranquil bays further along the coast, you don’t need to go far to have your fit in the sand and a dip in the Med.
Where to eat in Palma de Mallorca?
The food scene in Palma is impressive, but then again, where isn’t in Spain? From two Michelin Star restaurants down to tiny tapas houses, you are very much spoilt for choice. I did seem to find myself drinking more than eating during my last visit, but there were a couple of spots that I really would recommend.
A fantastic concept for some food and drinks, Mercat 1930 is essentially a big vintage bar area with tiled floors and an occasional DJ, where food stalls surround the tables in the middle with both traditional Spanish and international cuisine. Find a seat, grab a drink from the bar, and then hit up the stands for as many small or large plates as you can manage. The owner and staff will go out of their way to ensure you have a good night that goes far beyond just grabbing a bite to eat in this very social atmosphere.
De Tokio a Lima
By far, the best meal I ate during my time in Palma was at De Tokio a Lima. With soothing music, dipped lighting, and impressive art, this swanky joint serves up a fusion menu of Peruvian and Japanese dishes with a Mediterranean twist.
The ceviche was perfectly acidic and spicy, the Tuna Tartar delightfully dressed with Guava, and the meat was perfectly tender. Couple this with great cocktails, wine pairings and professional but not overbearing service, and you’ve got a fantastic lunch or dinner option as a treat.
Tapalma Tapas Event
If you find yourself in Palma during late November, then be sure to grab yourself some coupons for the Tapalma festival. These little coins can be exchanged for a small tasting dish at plenty of restaurants around the city, each highlighting their signature tapas dishes. One of my favourite little spots we ended up going to as part of Tapalma was La Trastienda Mallorca off the main boulevard, great food, service and a nice shady location under a tree.
Where to drink and party in Palma de Mallorca?
While a lot of the ‘party’ attention in Mallorca, especially in the UK, is focused around Magaluf, you’ll be pleased to hear the nightlife in the capital city is much more enjoyable and, dare I say it, sophisticated. There are terrace cafes and bars on squares and boulevards, late-night cocktail venues with moody lighting, and plenty of trendy and hip spots to sup a craft brew.