Mallorca wasn’t on my travel list until it went on the 2021 green list. But having been starved of overseas travel for almost 18 months, I decided to book a last minute trip starting in the island’s capital Palma.
With a rich history, a gorgeous setting on the coast and a fantastic array of great places to eat and drink, Palma is perfect for a long weekend. Or the ideal place to kick off a visit to a Spanish island that is regularly bathed in sunshine and surrounded by the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
The jewel in Palma’s crown is undoubtedly its stunning Gothic cathedral which dominates the skyline. La Seu is built on the site of Medina Mayurka, the city’s central mosque and capital of Muslim Mallorca for three centuries. After the Christian reconquest in 1229 the mosque served as a church until the vast new cathedral was built.
The interior is as striking as the exterior with soaring narrow pillars encircled by wrought iron candelabras and a wide nave lined with chapels on both sides. At the end hovering over the altar is the strange looking baldachin, a contribution from Antoni Gaudi when he renovated the cathedral in the early 1900s. To its left is a fabulously elaborate golden depiction of the last supper.
The right apse is where agnostic Mallorcan artist Miquel Barcelo remade the Capella de Santissim i Sant Pere. Like the Gaudi baldachin this is an equally strange ceramic dreamscape featuring loaves, fishes, skulls and fruit, but I found it quite magnetic.
Gaudi was also responsible for adding some new lighting, but the cathedral’s natural light comes from dozens of stained glass windows, including eight gorgeous rose windows. The biggest is the occulus maior or ‘great eye’ which features the Star of David and is made up of over 1,000 panes of ruby, gold and sapphire coloured glass.
It’s the largest Gothic rose window in the world and in the morning its colours are reflected on the opposite wall. This is at its best twice a year, at 8.30am on 2 February and 11 November, when the full rose window appears superimposed below the rose window on the West Wall. I didn’t visit then, but by a strange coincidence just after I came home, a film called Off The Rails was released which is about four women interrailing across Europe from London to reach Palma for this very spectacle.
Next to the cathedral is the Palau de l’Almudaina, originally an Islamic fort but now home to the King of Spain, albeit he’s rarely in residence so it’s open to visitors most days. Opposite that is Palau March, one of several homes of the hugely wealthy March family. It’s now a museum packed with artistic treasures including paintings by Salvador Dali and sculptures by Henry Moore, Rodin and Barbara Hepworth. Unfortunately it hadn’t yet reopened following the pandemic but looked well worth a visit.
Also worth a look here are the S’Hort del Rei or Kings Gardens with their pretty fountains, while just behind the cathedral is the Museu Diocesa which exhibits Mallorca’s Christian history. We just popped into the courtyard where there’s an unusual and rather lovely memorial to the island’s saints. Each one is represented by a wooden circle with their name, while around them are ‘tears’ symbolising Mallorca’s 53 municipal districts.
This area is the heart of Palma’s old town which is perfect for meandering around and getting lost in narrow back streets. We followed a walking tour in the Mallorca Lonely Planet book that helped us uncover lots of historic Palma including medieval streets and gateways. It also led us to some of Palma’s gorgeous hidden patios. It would be easy to pass by the wrought iron gates that protect the mansions and palaces tucked into the maze of streets. But peer through them and you’ll be rewarded. Ca’n Oms in the first photo below is one of the most beautiful.
You can also find a couple of pretty gardens squeezed into the old town which are perfect for a respite from the summer heat. Jardi del Bisbe is a tranquil botanic garden with palms, pomegranates and water lilies but it only opens until 1.30pm each day.
The Banos Arabes opens all day and also has a lovely garden where you can sit and relax after a visit to the Arab baths which date from the 10th to 12th centuries. They are the most important remaining Muslim monument with two chambers that would have been the hot and warm baths. There would have been a third cold one originally and it’s likely that they weren’t public, but attached to a private mansion.
From here you can walk down and through the Sa Portella gateway to Palma’s Renaissance sea wall, the Dalt Murada. Most of Palma’s walls were destroyed to enable expansion of what was becoming an overcrowded city, so this is the only remaining section. A walk along here offers great views of the port and out to the sea.
Adjoining the Dalt Murada is the Parc de la Mar which has a large artificial lake and is a good place to stop for a rest and a drink while taking photos of the cathedral opposite.
The Port de Palma is also worth a wander around, particularly if you like looking at very fancy yachts, there is plenty of money moored here. I’d also recommend a meal at Ca’n Eduardo, which is right above the fish market. It was a hot day so we had lunch in the cool interior which overlooks the port and cathedral and then headed out for a cocktail on the terrace on the other side of the building.
After lunch we crossed over Passeig Maritim which runs along the waterfront and found market stalls and an outdoor exhibition which led us along to the very pretty Placa de la Llotja which has a row of restaurants with alfresco seating.
Opposite is the gorgeous Sa Llotja, built in the 15th century as a merchant’s stock exchange and now used for temporary exhibitions. It was empty when we visited so we could fully appreciate the slim twisting columns. Very similar to the columns in La Llonja in Valencia which are said to be based on skeins of silk.
As well as Placa de la Llotja there are plenty of other lovely squares and streets to explore in Palma. The central square Placa Major is typically Spanish, lined with arcades, cafes and shops. There are also quite a few market stalls while Carrer de Sant is a main shopping street that leads off the square.
Passeig del Borne is a wide boulevard lined with fairly upmarket shops and a branch of Cappuccino which is a good spot for breakfast. And Palma also has its own Rambla. It isn’t as long or busy as the famous Barcelona version, but has a nice wide and shady middle section to walk down.
La Rambla leads into Placa de Weyler where there are a few nice cafes opposite the CaxiaForum cultural centre. But the next square along is Placa del Mercat which we rather liked hanging out in. We had lunch at Santina Brunch and More and then ambled across the square for a mid-afternoon cocktail at Gibson. It’s an excellent bar that services up a mean Manhattan and Martini, plus we sampled the local ensaimades pastry.
Next door is another great bar, Nicolas which I’d also recommend for good quality classic cocktails. Of course you can get cocktails at most bars in Palma but its more Margaritas and Mojitos than Manhattans and Martinis. Saying that I did have a great Cosmo at Gaudi which has a restaurant and cocktail bar opposite each other in Placa de la Quartera. It has an excellent large terrace, so on our first night in Palma it was a great place to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather with very good tapas, wine and cocktails.
After Gaudi we had a drink at the nearby and quirky Sa Jugueteria cafe and bar which is attached to a toy museum of the same name. Bar Flexas is next door and also looked good but was too busy to get a table. I’d also really recommend La Bodeguilla in Carrer de Sant Jaume where we went on our last night in Palma. It’s definitely a foodie’s restaurant which serves up some interesting dishes from across Spain in a cool space lined with wine bottles.
The middle evening we were in Palma was the world cup final. So we changed our dinner booking at Ca’n Eduardo to lunch and before the kick off we went in search of a bar to watch the football. They were few and far between, but we found a good perch on high seats outside Bar Maritimo in Passeig Maritim. It was ideal in a pandemic world as we were outside but could see the TV screen inside. And while it wasn’t the fanciest of menus the staff were great, the food and drinks were good and it was all very cheap!
They also have a large terrace overlooking the waterfront and some nearby windmills. Seemed a bit random to see windmills in Mallorca, but there are lots and they are so much part of the island’s history that the Government has initiated a restoration and preservation project.
Needless to say the penalties were the undoing of the England team, but it didn’t dampen our spirits for long and we enjoyed the walk back to the hotel alongside Parc de Sa Feixina and through more of Palma’s pretty streets.
We were staying a short walk north of the old town, but I can’t recommend our hotel for reasons not worth spending time writing about. However, being in that part of town was very handy for the bus station in Placa d’Espanya. So the morning we left Palma we were able to wheel our cases a short distance to hop on the bus to Port d’Alcudia in the north of the island.
That part of the trip will be the subject of another post, so I’ll just wrap up this one by reiterating what I said at the start. While Palma wasn’t on my travel list before the coronavirus pandemic curtailed my usual adventures, it was a really great addition that I’d definitely recommend.
To see more photos click on an image below. You can also find more ideas for weekend breaks in the Europe section of my blog as well as a few staycation ideas from the past year or so in the UK section.