About Palma de Mallorca
Palma de Mallorca comes as a surprise to many people - it is stylish, sophisticated, intimate, yet bursting with life. Located on the southern shores of Mallorca, the island's capital city looks out over the sparkling blue seas of the Mediterranean (take a look at our webcam image).
Half of Mallorca's population live here, enjoying the island's best restaurants, shops and nightlife as well as a thriving arts scene and a lively cafe society. It is often compared to Barcelona for its architecture and we think it's an equally desirable destination for a city break. The main attractions and shops are situated around the massive Gothic cathedral down by the sea front. Here is where you will find the old quarter, with it's tiny lanes, quirky cafes and shops, and characterful buildings, all packed within a square kilometre. It's very easy to explore and walk around this area, with no shortage of sights and refreshment stops. Most tourists will stay in this part of Palma, and there is a great selection of small hotels for all budgets. Look out for the districts of La Llonja, Born, Jaume III, Sant Nicolau, La Calatrava - all of these are located within the old town. Also worth a look is Santa Catalina, just to the west of the iconic Es Baluard museum. This is a thriving night time spot, with plenty of bars, clubs and restaurants to enjoy al fresco dining.
Down by the sea front is a large marina, and a promenade for both cyclists and pedestrians. The ferry port and cruise terminal is about 3.5 km from the old town. There is an urban beach just beyond the cathedral to the east, about a 10 minute walk. Much further to the east is the Playa de Palma. This should not be confused with the city of Palma de Mallorca! Playa de Palma is a purpose built beach resort about 10 km away. It has an amazing long beach and is great for package holidays, but it does not have the style or sophistication of Palma itself. Of course, there are regular buses between the two, so it is easy to explore one whilst staying in the other.
If you are planning on doing some sightseeing, look into buying a 'Palma Pass'. This is a smart card that you can purchase that allows entrance into museums & tourist attractions, free public transport and discounts on selected activities, restaurants and shops. You can buy cards of various durations and a special family pass; ask for them at the tourist offices in Palma.
Beaches in Palma de Mallorca
Palma has an urban beach just beyond the cathedral to the east. It's a reasonable size and easily within walking distance from the old quarter. A cycle path and promenade lie directly behind the beach but note that there is a busy main road just beyond that. Those looking for a quieter beach will be rewarded by heading further east towards Portixol & Ciudad Jardin, where you'll also find a couple of decent beach clubs. Beyond Ciudad Jardin is the monumental Playa de Palma beach, kilometres of golden sand backed by the resorts of Can Pastilla and S'Arenal.
Events in Palma de Mallorca
A different kind of culture can be enjoyed when Palma hosts one of it's Fiestas. The two main festivals are held in January (Sant Sebastian) and June (Sant Joan). Sant Sebastian is Palma's patron saint and the city comes out in force to celebrate. The main events - parades, music concerts & fireworks - occur on the evening of the 19th January, with the more formal proceedings taking place on the actual saints day of the 20th January. Sant Joan is celebrated on the 24th June as part of the summer solstice. But again, it is the evening before that sees the biggest party. The infamous ‘Nit de Foc', or Night of Fire is held on the night of the 23rd June and sees bonfires lit throughout the city and the crazy ‘fire run' where locals dress as demons & devils and run through the streets bearing torches. Everyone eventually gathers in the Parc de la Mer for rock concerts, more bonfires, fire crackers and an impressive fireworks display. It's a crazy night!
Other, slightly more gentile events include Nit de l'Art (third week of September), where the art galleries are open to the public, with canapes and wine to sip whilst perusing the exhibitions. Gastronomic events are held throughout the year, TaPalma (tapas routes at the end of October) is one of our favourites. It encourages you to explore the more hidden bars of Palma, and serve both unusual and excellent quality tapas and wines.
Palma has it's fair share of sporting events, with a marathon (October), numerous sailing events, and its International Boat Show (May).
Read about our experiences of Events in Palma in our Event Reviews in Palma.
Sights & Attractions in Palma de Mallorca
Palma's multicultural history is reflected in the wonderful variety of architecture visible throughout the city. Palma's masterpiece is its Gothic cathedral La Seu (built on the site of a mosque which in turn was once a Roman temple) - it rises out of the city walls which once marked the edge of the sea.
Next to La Seu is the Almudaina Palace, a 13th century palace with charming gardens. Close to here is the old Arab quarter, with its maze of narrow streets hiding museums, palaces and exquisite courtyards. Behind the Arab Quarter is the fine gothic building of Palma Town Hall.
There is some lovely modernist architecture in Palma, thanks to Gaudi's influence when he was on the island to oversee restoration works to the cathedral. The best known is the Fundacio La Caixa, now an art gallery. But there are plenty of other examples in the old town, so remember to keep looking upwards! The Can Forteza Rey Modernist building is at the end of Carrer de Colom, just before you get to Placa Major.
If it's arts and culture that you're interested in, then Palma will not disappoint. The excellent Es Baluard Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in the old fortress and is well worth a visit - the restaurant on the terrace is critically acclaimed too. The Spanish artist Joan Miro spent the best part of 30 years living on Majorca, and there is a foundation devoted to his works just to the west of Palma. There are several other art galleries featuring Spanish artists and contemporary art. An excellent evening devoted to the private art galleries of Palma is held annually - it's called the Nit de l'Art and is held in the third week of September.
There are museums dedicated to the history of Mallorca, religious artefacts and antique dolls, and plenty of impressive churches to admire. A 'Spanish Village' - the Poble Espanyol - is a show village featuring the best of Spanish architecture, all beautifully recreated.
To the west of the city on top of a hill sits Bellvar Castle, a unique round castle from the 14th century. It has the best views of the city.
Read about our first hand experiences of the Sights of Palma.
Things to Do in Palma de Mallorca
Visitors to Palma de Mallorca will no doubt spend most of their time within the inner ring road (Las Avingudas) in the old town. Most of this part of Palma is traffic-free and it's a joy to wander through the streets admiring architecture and browsing the plentiful shops. The tourist office arranges guided tours of the city throughout the year (in several languages); they are most prevalent during the summer, and cost approx. €10 per person. Check out our Tours & Guides page for a range of tours on offer.
The tree lined promenades of La Rambla and Passeig des Born, home to florists and newspaper sellers, were built in the 19th century on a dried-up river bed. The defensive city walls which once surrounded the city were pulled down to create the ring road Las Avingudas, and the waterfront highway and promenade Passeig Maritim was only reclaimed from the sea in the 1950s.
Along the seafront is the fabulous marina and palm-lined promenade. Dominating the skyline by the sea is the enormous cathedral (called La Seu), and the Parc de la Mer which hosts concerts, fiestas and open-air cinema throughout the year.
To the west of the cathedral is the characterful district of La Llonja, which is home to quirky boutiques & art galleries. The tiny (pedestrianised) medieval streets used to be somewhat down-at-heel, but the area has been significantly smartened in recent years. Beyond La Llonja lies Santa Catalina which used to house fishermen and craftsmen in days gone by, and has now resurrected itself as the hip & trendy area for all the cool kids. You'll find plenty of bars, cafes & restaurants here, and the vibe is pretty arty/studenty. As you delve further into the city away from the sea, you'll come across grand avenues with designer shops, and mazes of pretty streets offering gift shops, fashion boutiques and cafes. The area to the east of Passeig Born is particularly recommended for browsing. If walking is not your thing, you can hire bicycles. scooters and segways in Palma.
Placa Major holds markets featuring arts and crafts and other touristy trinkets, and Olivar Market is where to head from fresh produce. During the summer there is a night market in La Llonja and there is a flea market in the Avenidas on Sundays.
With it's large marina, Palma is the starting point for boat trips and yacht charters. Half day and full day trips around the Bay of Palma are popular. There are several golf courses within a 10 minute drive of Palma, and there are tennis courts in the district of Santa Catalina. Mallorca has a football team that (normally!) plays in Spains top division. Their stadium is on the outskirts of Palma and tickets are relatively easy to come by.
To the east of the city is the most excellent Palma Aquarium. Highly recommended!
For more ideas, take a look at our reviews of Activities in Palma
Restaurants in Palma de Mallorca
Palma has a superb choice of restaurants, encompassing a vast range of cuisines for all budgets. Within the historic centre, you'll find plenty of eateries in La Llonja and Santa Catalina, both of which are close to the sea front and are at the heart of the nightlife of Palma.
But there are places dotted throughout the centre and it is worth exploring back streets and taking a took at the menus posted outside the restaurant. Another good way of finding places to eat is to look out for gastronomic events, such as TaPalma where selected bars, cafes & restaurants offer bite sized snacks at reduced prices - participating establishments are marked on a handy map of the area (pick them up in bars and cafes).
We have personally eaten at many of the restaurants in Palma - take a look at our Restaurant Reviews in Palma.
Nightlife in Palma de Mallorca
Palma is fulls of bars and cafes, but the area of most interest to the visitor will be within the inner ring road around the old pedestrianised old town. La Lonja may be the most popular area for nightlife. You'll find a great selection of bars, restaurants and jazz clubs, it's one of Palma's hotspots during the evenings. It is also where many of the sailing crews hang out, especially in the bars around Placa de la Drassana and Carrer de Sant Joan.
Santa Catalina is also a top spot for an evening out. The main street, Carrer de la Fabrica is pedestrianised and has cafes and restaurants a plenty. In the back streets you'll find more bars and tapas bars, many of which are open late.
Along the front by the marina are more bars and a mixture of nightclubs. At the far western end there is a small marina called Can Barbara, which is home to some late bars and a couple of nightclubs, including Pacha. More sophisticated nightlife can be found around the Club de Mar just opposite.
For a more local experience, try the area to the east of Placa Major, you'll find a host of quirky, independent cafes and bars full of young Palmarites. All very Barcelona.
There are a couple of grand theatres in the city which host annual opera and ballet festivals, and their programmes are speckled with musicals, concerts and other ‘spectacles'! Our Events Calendar will hold all the details. There are also several jazz clubs in La Llonja, and other live music venues (bars) can be found throughout Palma.
Have a look at our own experiences of Nights Out in Palma.
Hotels in Palma de Mallorca
Palma has seen an explosion of fabulous boutique hotels in recent years. Old historical palaces have been restored with upmost care, retaining original features and introducing all the modern technology we nowadays expect. The resulting hotels are simply the epitome of what a boutique hotel should be. Most of these hotels can be found in the tiny streets around the cathedral area of Palma, so whilst not car friendly (the hotel will help you with luggage and parking if required), you are perfectly situated for exploring Palma.
Larger and more corporate hotels are found along the front; what you lose in character, you gain with sea views.
History & Culture in Palma de Mallorca
As an island, Majorca has been subject to numerous invasions, conquests & sea-trading throughout its history. Palma was known to the Arabs as Medina Mayurqa (902 to 1229) and to Mallorcans thereafter simply as Ciutat (City) - Palma was in fact named after the Roman city of Palmaria (founded around 120 BC). The Roman city still exists, a metre or two beneath the ground; inhabitants of houses near the cathedral are still discovering Roman remains. The Moors were finally overthrown by the Spanish in the 13th century, and Palma became an important port & commercial centre in the Mediterranean.
Location: Palma de Mallorca