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Palma de Mallorca City Guide

Discover the city of Palma de Mallorca

About Palma de Mallorca

Palma is Mallorca's vibrant capital, stylish and intimate, yet bursting with life. Half of the island's population lives in this city, lively all year round with trendy restaurants, cafes, shops and nightlife as well as a thriving art scene. It's often compared to Barcelona and, being within a 15-minute taxi ride from the airport, it makes for the perfect city break.

Located in the south of the island, Palma looks out over the shimmering Mediterranean sea (take a look at our webcam to see it in real time). Whilst there are many enchanting parts of the city, the main attractions and shops are situated around the massive Gothic cathedral down by the sea front. This area, known as Palma’s old town, is full of ancient passages, historic monuments and magnificent architecture. Here you will find no shortage of sights or refreshment stops within its many pedestrianised lanes, quirky cafes, galleries, and boutique shops. Thanks to them all being packed within a square kilometre, the old town is easy to explore and walk around.

The city boasts an enormous harbour lined which begins in front of the cathedral and borders the west. The cyclist and pedestrian-friendly promenade stretches all the way to the ferry port and cruise terminal (which is located about 3.5km from the old town), making it perfect for a stroll.

Discovering the different areas of Palma

The first thing you will notice when you arrive in Palma from the airport is the fabulous marina and sea front, perfectly accompanied with a palm tree-lined promenade. Dominating the skyline by the sea is the enormous cathedral (called La Seu) and the Parc de la Mar, a large park in front of it which hosts many concerts, fiestas and open-air cinema throughout the year.

After arriving in Palma, the old town is probably the best place to start as a visitor. You can start at the cathedral and along Passeig des Born as they're easy to find and navigate, at this point you can’t help but be impressed with the city has to offer. Along this grand avenue, you'll find high-street and designer shops, before gaining the confidence to stray off into the maze of pretty streets. If you are patient, follow the road around to the right onto the tree lined promenade of La Rambla, home to florists and newspaper sellers, or onto Avinguda Avinguda Jaume III for further shops and stunning architecture.

Once you have your bearings and are keen to explore the ancient passages, head slightly to the west of Passeig des Born. Here you will find the quaint, ancient district of Sa Llotja (or La Lonja), which is home to some of Palma’s finest boutiques, art galleries and Spanish restaurants. If you decide to venture east of Passeig des Born, you'll find gift shops, fashion boutiques, shoe shops and cafes. On this side also lies Plaça Major, which holds markets featuring arts and crafts and other touristy trinkets. This area also encompasses Plaça Cort where the handsome Mallorcan Town Hall resides, and another popular shopping street called Sant Miquel. You will also likely stumble upon the Olivar Market, a traditional Spanish undercover market selling all sorts of fresh produce.

Santa Catalina, which used to house fishermen and craftsmen in days gone by, has now resurrected itself as the hip and trendy area for all the cool kids. In the daytime, it's home to eclectic shops and boutiques, from interior design to dresses. Here you'll find yet another undercover food market called ‘Mercat de Santa Catalina’ which is also worth a little peep inside if you are in the area. However, it's highly recommended you make a visit to Santa Catalina once the sun has gone down since it has become known in recent years for its thriving nightlife due to the number of trendy bars, clubs and contemporary restaurants popping up. If you aim to start at Carrer de Argentina, which is easy to find from the sea front, and stroll around the roads between Carrer de San Magí and Carrer de la Fàbrica, you'll cover a large proportion of the area. This is the place to go for modern, yet relaxed, delicious food and cocktails.

Beaches in Palma de Mallorca

Palma boasts its own urban beach, just follow the cycle path and promenade from the city's port eastbound, once you pass the front of the cathedral, it’s a further 15-minute walk on foot.

Those seeking more tranquil beaches, there are a few to name in the surrounding areas of the city. There is a cute little beach in Portixol which is about 3km east of the city centre and can be reached by car, bike or even foot. This area is a great lunch spot for those seeking a little bit of quiet away from the city centre too. On the other side of the city, the neighbouring Cala Major and Illetas boast some of the most beautiful beaches on the south-west coast of Mallorca. Although there is limited parking in these areas, the beaches are accessible with the bus number 3 from Plaça d’Espanya or a small taxi ride (10 minutes), well worth a trip in the summer months.

Much further to the east, you’ll find Playa de Palma. This should not be confused with the city of Palma! Playa de Palma is a purpose built beach resort about 10km away. It has an amazing long beach and is a popular resort for package holidays and kite surfers. Of course, there are regular buses between the beach and Palma, so it's easy to explore one whilst staying in the other.

Also see: Beaches in Palma de Mallorca

Events in Palma de Mallorca

Palma is certainly a city packed full of fun events whatever the time of year. Let’s kick off with the fiestas and fairs because they are some of the most spectacular events you could attend. Palma knows how to celebrate and bring people together, and boy do you get to know the real city when it hosts one of its fiestas!

Apart from the usual traditional festivals celebrated in Spain, you really should try to get involved in the two main fiestas that are held in January (Sant Sebastiá) and June (Sant Joan). Others to watch are the Three Kings Parade on the eve of the Epiphany - 5th of January - and Mallorca’s very own carnival (Sa Rua) in February.

Sant Sebastian is Palma's patron saint and the city comes out in force to celebrate. You can expect street parties with BBQs and music concerts, followed by parades, fireworks and a Correfoc (devil fire running) in the lead up to the more formal proceedings taking place on the actual Saints day of the 20th January, which is a public holiday in Palma.

Sant Joan is celebrated on the 24th June as part of the summer solstice but, again, it's 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 and devils and run through the streets bearing torches. Everyone eventually gathers in the Parc de la Mar for concerts, more bonfires, firecrackers and an impressive fireworks display.

Art lovers you should attend Nit de l'Art in September, when the art galleries and restaurants display art to the public with canapes and wine. For the foodies, the Spanish love of food is reflected in gastronomic events throughout the year. TaPalma (tapas routes at the end of October) is one of our top picks because it’s great for encouraging people to explore the more hidden bars and restaurants of Palma, each establishment serving unique quality tapas and wines for a reduced fee. Participating bars and restaurants are marked on a handy map of the area (you can pick them up in bars and cafes).

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'! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for details on the Bellver Castle Music Festival, a popular occasion in the summer months. There are also several jazz clubs in La Llonja, and other live music venues (bars) can be found throughout Palma.

Much like the rest of the island, Palma has its fair share of sporting events. The city has its own marathon in October, as well as a range of cycling events, and is a renowned hub for numerous sailing regattas in the Mediterranean, not to mention it has its own International Boat Show (held on the first May bank holiday weekend).

You can read about our experiences of events in Palma in our Event Reviews.

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Sights & Attractions in Palma de Mallorca

Palma's multicultural history is reflected in the variety of architecture on display in the city. Visitors to the city tend to spend most of their time in the old town, just wandering through the streets and absorbing the architecture whilst browsing the plentiful shops. For those who prefer a little more structure to their visit, the tourist office arranges guided tours of the city throughout the year (in several languages), most prevalent during the summer. Check out our selection of Tours & Guides for a range of tours on offer, or use one of our City Walks as a guide.

Palma's most iconic building 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 used to mark the edge of the sea. Next to the cathedral is L'Almudaina, a 13th-century palace with splendid gardens. It’s worth a little walk behind these magnificent buildings, as here you will find the old Arab quarter, with its labyrinth of narrow streets (be careful not to get lost!).

This Arab quarter contains many of Palma’s hidden treasures, including little museums, charming courtyards and unique architecture. There are numerous exhibitions dedicated to the history of Mallorca, religious artefacts, or antique toys,. Behind the Arab quarter is the renowned Plaça Cort which embodies Palma Town Hall and the legendary old olive tree. This ancient tree is a masterpiece in itself, it’s believed to be about 800 years old and is one of the city's most admired landmarks.

You can’t help but notice the modernist architecture in Palma, this is all thanks to Gaudi's influence when he was on the island to oversee restoration works to the cathedral. The best known is the Fundació La Caixa, designed by the Catalan architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner, it was the building that began the craze for modernist (Art Nouveau) architecture in the city. But there are plenty of other examples in the old town, just take a stroll around, look upwards and absorb the sights. Don’t forget to admire the abundance of impressive looking churches too.

A little further away from the city centre, you can visit the 'Spanish Village' - the Pueblo Español - a show village featuring the best of Spanish architecture, all beautifully recreated. To the west of the city on top of a hill sits Bellver Castle, a unique round castle from the 14th century with some of the best views of the city.

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 Miró spent the best part of 30 years living on Mallorca and there is a foundation devoted to his works just to the west of Palma. There are also several other art galleries featuring Spanish artists and contemporary art. One event to look out for is ‘Nit de l'Art’, this excellent evening devoted to the private art galleries of Palma is held annually – usually in the third week of September.

A little tip: if you are planning on doing quite a bit of sightseeing, then it is worth buying a 'Palma Pass'. This is a smart card that you can pre-purchase at the tourist offices enables you to access museums and tourist attractions, permits free public transport and even gives you a discount on selected activities, restaurants and shops. You can buy cards for various durations and special family passes are also available.

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Things to Do in Palma de Mallorca

Other than the historical sights and attractions, there are plenty of activities to do in the city.

Palma’s shopping is a must! Top areas include Passeig des Born, Avinguda Jaume III and the pedestrianised streets surrounding Plaça Major. Here you'll find Spanish high-street favourites Zara, Massimo Dutti and Uterqüe alongside international designer labels Hugo Boss, Luis Vuitton and even Mulberry. But the boutique shopping (particularly the shoe shops) are what makes Palma stand out. Make sure you sample a couple of interior design shops dotted around the city too, they are inspiring to say the very least. And, as far as department stores go, El Corte Inglés will provide you with everything you could ever need!

With its large marina, Palma is the starting point for a large number of boat trips and yacht charters around the island. They are great for large groups or families who want to explore the beautiful beaches and bays of their own accord. The slightly cheaper option is a half day or full day trip around the Bay of Palma, which are extremely popular for visitors who want to take to the water in the summer months. Try to book in advance rather than just turning up on the day to avoid disappointment!

If sport is your passion, there are several golf courses within a 10-minute drive of Palma and fantastic clay tennis courts in the district of Santa Catalina. If you are more of a spectator, then Mallorca also has its own 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. For the football fanatics out there, a Spanish football game atmosphere is worth sampling... there isn’t anything quite like it!

If you are keen to explore Palma but walking isn’t your thing, you can hire bicycles, scooters and segways to get around the city. Fancy getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre for the day? Then hiring bikes and taking a jaunt along the cycle path from Palma all the way to S’Arenal is an absolute must. This cycle route is doable for even the most novice cyclists, but prepare yourself for it to be busy in peak season. There are numerous cycle hire shops to be found in Palma city centre and along the Paseo Marítimo for a reasonable price. It’s a great way to see the coastline of Palma and there is plenty of opportunity to stop off at some of its seaside restaurants, cafes and even a beach club or two on the way. Portixol and Molinar are great areas for a spot of lunch, so be sure to schedule lunch into your day.

If for the unlikely reason it's raining when you visit this beautiful island, have no fear there are things to do in and around Palma. If museums and art galleries aren’t your thing, then there are also indoor shopping centres within the vicinity of the city centre. Alternatively, head to the east of Palma for the Aquarium. Highly recommended!

For more ideas, take a look at our Activity Reviews in Palma

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Restaurants in Palma de Mallorca

Palma has an infinite choice of restaurants, you can expect a range of international cuisines for all budgets. So, literally, something for everyone. 

Within the old town, you'll find a sufficient number of traditional Spanish and Mallorcan eateries, particularly in the area of La Llonja. However, there are places dotted all throughout the centre and it's worth exploring back streets and taking a look at the menus posted outside the restaurants.

If you want to veer away from the beaten track, there are many top class restaurants located around Plaça d’Espanya. Eating with the locals means you'll find fantastic food at some remarkably reasonable prices. For tapas or a heartier Spanish inspired meal, head to streets like Carrer del 31 de Diciembre and Carrer de Blanquerna, each featuring some top restaurants. 

Alternatively, if you're hungry for some international yet innovative cuisine, then the trendy area of Santa Catalina will certainly hit the spot. Here you'll find anything from modern tapas and homemade Italian to South American and Asian fusion. Due to the number of restaurants popping up in this area, there's a high level of competition which makes both the quality and prices equally good.

If you are after more traditional seafood and a traditional Spanish paella, make your way towards the seafront. If you're able to venture towards Portixol and Molinar (3km from the cathedral), these traditional fishing ports offer up some of the best paellas on the island.

Take a look at our Restaurant Reviews for more ideas on where to eat in the city.

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Nightlife in Palma de Mallorca

Palma plays host to the widest range of bars and nightclubs on the island. The beauty of this city is that you'll see visitors and locals partying alongside one another until the early hours of the morning. If you are in search of some lively nightlife, the areas of La Lonja, Santa Catalina and el Paseo Marítimo are the main places to rendezvous.

First things first, La Lonja being the heart of the city is one of Palma's hotspots during the evenings. Whether it’s late night restaurants, pubs, cocktail bars or jazz clubs you're after, you'll something to tickle your taste buds. Be sure to try some of the hotel bars and sky bars too, as they offer some of the best cocktails in the city centre!

Santa Catalina tends to be swarming with people on an evening whatever the time of the year. Here you'll find endless watering holes in the form of late night bars that locals, expats and tourists like to frequent. This is also where you'll find the yacht crews hanging out, especially along Carrer de San Magí.

The Paseo Marítimo (the front by the marina) is absolutely buzzing when the warm nights set in from June until September. This area makes for the perfect night out on the tiles thanks to its restaurants, late-night bars and a couple of large-scale nightclubs. For those who like to party until 05:00, the two main clubs to call on are Pacha and Tito's. You won’t miss them!

An insider tip for those who will venture a little further: at the far western end (towards the cruise ships port) there is a small marina called Can Barbara, which encompasses some late night bars popular amongst the locals. Speaking of local experiences, try the area to the east of Plaça Major for a host of quirky, independent late-night cafes and bars full of local youngsters. All very Barcelona!

Have a look at our own experiences of nights out in Palma.

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Where to Stay in Palma de Mallorca

For those who like to be in the hustle and bustle of the city centre and want shops, restaurants and nightlife on your doorstep, stay in the old town of Palma. Here you will find a great selection of hotels for a wide range of budgets. Keep your eyes peeled for those in the districts of La Llonja, Passeig des Born, Avinguda Jaume III, Sant Nicolau, La Calatrava, around which the city's fabulous boutique hotels concentrate.

A large proportion of people visiting the city centre tend to stay in hotels. Palma has seen an explosion of boutique hotels in recent years which attract visitors all year round. Old historical palaces have been restored with the upmost care, retaining original features and introducing all the modern technology we expect nowadays. Most of these hotels can be found in the tiny streets around the cathedral area.

In the hotels along the Paseo Marítimo, what you lose in character, you gain with sea views. This area is perfect for those who might feel a bit claustrophobic staying in the city centre, but still want to be within easy walking distance of all the attractions on offer. This stretch offers hotels with larger, more corporate accommodation and modern comfortable hotels for those simply craving a room with a balcony and a sea view. These establishments will certainly quench your thirst for some sunshine and water! Alike to the city centre, here you are perfectly situated for exploring Palma without the need for travelling by transport.

There is also plenty of opportunities to stay on the outskirts of Palma. With numerous hotels dotted around with outstanding spa facilities, swimming pools, tennis courts, gyms and even golf courses. These are the perfect compromise for those who like to experience the best of both worlds: they can be within close proximity of the city but have access to all the facilities they could ever want for. Many of these hotels also offer a free shuttle service between the hotel and the city centre.

In these same suburbs, you will find a number of holiday rentals or villas which are more appropriate for those looking for a home away from home style of accommodation. These are great for large groups in need of numerous bedrooms and perhaps those who fancy the luxury of their own swimming pool?

Whilst the villas tend to be located around the outskirts of the city, there are more and more holiday apartment rentals popping up in the city centre for smaller groups. Due to the variety of sizes and being slightly less expensive than hotels, these are becoming a favourite choice for a wide range of people from couples to small families and groups.

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Also see: Where to Stay in Palma de Mallorca

History & Culture in Palma de Mallorca

As an island, Mallorca has been subject to numerous invasions and conquests throughout its history. Palma was known to the Arabs as Medina Mayurqa (902 to 1229), and to Mallorcans thereafter simply as Ciutat (City). But the city was in fact named after the Roman city of Palmaria (founded around 120 BC), which still exists a metre or two beneath the ground; inhabitants of houses near the cathedral are still discovering Roman remains every once in a while! 

However, Palma's current image owes much to the last two hundred years. The two iconic roads of Passeig des Born and Las Ramblas 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 of Las Avingudas, and the waterfront highway and promenade Passeig Maritim were only reclaimed from the sea in the 1950s.

Also see: History of Mallorca

Location: Palma de Mallorca

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