If you thought Majorca was just a place for sun, sea and sand, think again, because Palma, this Balearic island’s capital city, packs a big cultural punch and has an attractive harbour-front setting, with ancient buildings, tree-lined boulevards and leafy squares.
A hotbed of art and history, Palma has a surprising mix of Roman, Arabian and Berber influences, all overlooked by the huge iconic Gothic cathedral. While the city’s shopping, nightlife and restaurants are not quite at Barcelona or Madrid levels, they are exciting and varied none the less.
Getting there/getting around Palma
You will likely arrive about five miles from Palma at Son Sant Joan Airport. Hop on a shuttle bus, or pick up one of the numerous taxis outside arrivals and a 10-15 minute ride will get you into the city.
Getting around compact Palma is easy via affordable taxis, but it’s got an efficient public transport system too – look for the EMT symbol – if you’re more adventurous.
Millions of people come to the island for the beaches every year and there are many good ones near Palma. El Arenal, seven miles away, is lovely but popular, especially with Germans. The beaches of Palma Nova and Illetas are also just a few miles away.
Stroll along the waterfront ogling the yachts of the millionaires and celebrities who flock to Palma, which has found a place as a centre for cruises round the Med.
Be awestruck by the sheer scale of the city’s cathedral, which took 300 years to complete (from 1230). It had a modern makeover by Barcelona’s architect Antoni Gaudi in 1904, so look out for his eccentric touches.
This is definitely not some sleepy Spanish backwater, with many distractions for art lovers, including the excellent Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Joan Miro’s sculptures can be seen dotted all over the city, and the Pilar and Joan Miro Foundation should be on the hit list for modern art fans too.
Palma family attractions
Nearby Marineland offers dolphin, sea lion and parrot shows, while El Arenal boasts Aqualand if kids love slides and rides. Summertime glass-bottom boat trips are a good idea for the kids who will also love messing about at the multi-turreted Bellver Castle. Everyone will love the city’s Parc de la Mar.
Good family days out can revolve around the sightseeing double-decker bus tour, with 16 hop-on, hop-off stops and commentary via headsets.
Palma day trips
Catch the quaint narrow-gauge Orange Blossom train up to Soller on a lazy climb through the Tramuntana mountains.
Nearby Deia is a lovely village – wander through its winding hilly streets, stop for an al fresco lunch, or visit the new Robert Graves Museum, a tribute to the British writer who lived in Deia. Who knows, you might even see Pierce Brosnan, who is said to own a house nearby.
Palma’s streets hide many fantastic restaurants where you can try traditional Majorcan cuisine, which tends to be based on pork, fish and vegetables with a liberal injection of garlic and olive oil.
Local highlights include many varieties of spicy sausages, arros brat (saffron rice cooked with chicken, pork and vegetables), tumbet (ratatouille of aubergines, potatoes and peppers in olive oil), llom amb col (pork wrapped in cabbage with pine nuts and raisins) and lechona asada (roast suckling pig). Ensaimadas (pastries) are a bit of a local sugar fix.
There’ll be no problem finding more familiar Spanish staples of tapas and paella, or restaurants serving international cuisine.
Palma’s nightlife is lively – the bars of the Sa Llotja area are a good start for after-dinner drinks. After midnight, head to superclubs Tito’s, a Palma legend, or Abraxas, formerly Pacha.
The main shopping areas are Avinguda Jaume III and the Passeig d’es Born for upmarket boutiques – pedestrian streets around Placa Major are good for small specialist shops. Trendy Camper shoes are made on the island.
Most markets pack away before the searing afternoon heat, and remember that siestas rule in Spain. Shops are likely to be closed for a couple of hours at some point between 2pm and 5pm but open well into the evening.