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Mallorca is the largest of the sun-soaked Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. The capital, Palma de Mallorca, is a lovely place to pass the time, with activities ranging from old city exploration to hiking to great restaurants and nightlife.
I spent about 9 days on Mallorca in December. It was the off-season, so it was quiet. Aside from the locals, I only saw a few tourists around. The weather was nice. It did rain a little bit on the last couple of days, but nothing too bad. Other than that, the sun was out & it was relatively warm considering the time of year. I was able to rent a nice AirBnb apartment in the center of old Palma for around $50 per night (see it here). Given the general state of the Spanish economy & its oversupply of housing in scenic areas, there are some real deals to be found on accommodations, especially in the off-season. If you sign up for AirBnb through this link, you’ll get $25 in credit for your first stay.
Here are the top 10 places I visited in Palma de Mallorca, Spain:
1) Palma Cathedral
You can’t miss Catedral de Mallorca (Palma Cathedral), especially from the harbor. It casts an imposing presence over Palma, shining brightly in the sunlight. Construction on La Seu began in 1229, but was not completed until 1601. Despite walking past it at least a couple of times every day while I was in Mallorca, I didn’t actually go inside until my final day there. I had tried to go on the day after Christmas, only to find that it was closed. When I did make it inside, I found one of the most impressive cathedrals I have ever been in.
As large as Palma Cathedral is from the outside, it towers above you even more when you are inside. In fact, it has one of the tallest naves in the world, despite having a smaller footprint than cathedrals with similar heights. Unfortunately, there’s no way to climb to the top. I bet the view would have been amazing.
Instead, I settled for the towering views above. Despite it being a rainy day, the cathedral’s windows looked like kaleidoscopes.
There was also this sculpture, which may or may not be titled “Jesus Frozen in Carbonite”.
2) Bellver Castle
Just west of Palma de Mallorca’s city center & harbor sits Castell de Bellver (Bellver Castle). The circular castle was built high on a hill above the city, giving 360 degree panoramas over much of the island. The view is magnificent. Built in the 14th century, the castle was also used as a prison. In fact, a series of informative exhibits details the lives of some of the people who were incarcerated, including Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a travel writer & philosopher who spent seven years imprisoned in the castle. While I am sure it wasn’t a pleasant experience, there are certainly worse prison views.
In addition to the exhibit about Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, Bellver Castle is home to the Museum of the History of the City of Palma. The museum went into great detail about the history of the city and island as a whole. If my first rule of travel is to climb to the highest point, my second rule is to always go to local city museums. Rarely have I ever been disappointed in one of them, as they tend to be well-loved and are a great way to get an overview of the place you are spending some time in. Between the museum and the views, Bellver Castle satisfies both of these rules.
The walk to the area is nice if you follow along the harbor, though you eventually start to pass some dated condo towers and night clubs in the neighborhood just below the Bellver Castle hill. When I had booked my accommodations, I’d had the option of staying in this area. I was glad I had opted for the quaint old town rather than an off-season touristy area. The walk up the hill itself is not too bad, and there are plenty of places to stop and admire the views from the park surrounding the castle.
I had expected to find the area near Bellver Castle empty due to the weather, which was chilly & windy, but I arrived only to find that there was a running event going on. Many of the runners were wearing costumes, so it was a bit like San Francisco’s famous Bay to Breakers, except nobody was vomiting anywhere. As a result of the race, admission to the castle was free that day. As a trade-off I had to listen to crappy Europop music from the DJs playing at the event, which took a bit away from the mood. Otherwise, the castle itself was fairly quiet. The weather made for one of my favorite photo shooting conditions, that time when the crisp, clear air moves clouds around constantly for an ever-changing background.
3) Mercat del Olivar Market
Spain is home to one of the world’s greatest cuisines. From seafood to cheeses to cured meats to wines to olives to fruit, the country is a gastronomic delight. Palma de Mallorca has a great local market in its city center called Mercat De L’olivar. Mercat del Olivar has all of the above foods, plus more, including sushi & baked goods.
If you’ve rented an apartment, this is the place to come to get food for all of your cooking needs. While the market is on the pricier side for Spain, the quality is top-notch, with many of the foods coming from nearby. Even if you’re not planning on cooking, this is a great place for wandering & sampling tapas. Mercat del Olivar is located near the train & bus station, making for an easy stop on the way out of Palma to other destinations in Mallorca.
4) Seafront & harbor
As one would expect, the island of Mallorca has some scenic coastlines. Palma sits on a curved bay, resulting in great city views looking across the water. One could easily spend several hours walking or riding a bike along the coast. Tired of moving? There are plenty of cafes to sit at and eat tapas, seafood, and paella. One tip: while paella is generally offered for tables of two or more, solo travelers can get around this if paella is part of the Menú del Día (menu of the day). Even if you’re not looking for paella, a Menú del Día can be a great way to sample Spanish delicacies for a reasonable price.
Want to explore the other islands off the coast of Spain? There are ferries departing to both Ibiza & Menorca from Palma de Mallorca.
5) Arab Baths
The Banys Àrabs (Arab Baths) sit in the old city center of Palma, not far from Palma Cathedral. The old city has narrow winding streets that have been unchanged for hundreds of years, much like other medieval towns such as Sevilla, York, or Bruges. The Moors ruled the Balearic Islands for hundreds of years, but almost all of their architecture was destroyed when they were defeated by James I of Aragon in 1229. The Arab Baths is one of a handful of remnants of this period.
Despite sitting in a crowded area of the city, the building & gardens are a quiet place to relax for a bit. There is a short video about the baths. Many of the visitors were distracted by trying to pet the cat that clearly rules over the grounds.
One note of warning about the Arab Baths as well as the Old City of Palma – the stone paths & streets have been in place for hundreds of years, and thus have been worn down over the centuries. Add some rain to these, and it’s very easy to lose your footing. Be careful so you don’t fall on the slippery stones. Despite having all the grace of a drunken newborn giraffe, I did not fall (but I came close).
6) Juan March Foundation Museum (Fundación Juan March)
I nearly missed visiting the Juan March Museum, but I’m glad I managed to check it out. After checking out of my AirBnb on my final day, I had about an hour to kill before my lunch reservation (more on that below – see #9). The Juan March Museum was right next to the apartment I had rented near Plaça Major, and in fact I had walked past it at least 30 times while I was there.
The museum features art from Spanish modern artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Juan Gris and Salvador Dalí. In addition to the paintings and sculptures exhibited, the staircase leading to the galleries is a work of art itself. Plus, the security guard was nice enough to let me leave my suitcase at his desk while I explored. Admission is free, so there’s no excuse for skipping the Museo Juan March.
7) Palacio Real (Royal Palace of La Almudaina)
The Royal Palace of La Almudaina sits right across from Palma Cathedral. The building pairs well with the cathedral as an unmissable backdrop from the harbor. The building was originally built as an Arabian fort (Alcázar), and is now used by the Spanish royal family. Unfortunately, the outside of the Royal Palace of La Almudaina is far more impressive than the inside. Admission is 7 euros, and it only took me about a half an hour to walk through. Definitely go check the palace out, especially at night, but as far as I’m concerned you can skip going inside.
8) Craft Beer in Mallorca – Lórien & more
Palma de Mallorca has a rich craft beer tradition. The most famous craft beer bar is Lórien, named for the forest realm of the elves in Lord of the Rings. Lórien has been in operation since 1990, and is thus celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. The bar features local beers from Mallorca, other Spanish microbrews, UK craft beer, and even some from the United States. It’s a laid back bar with a neighborhood sort of feel to it. I had great conversations with several friendly locals during my visits here. One conversation was particularly spirited, as the guy really wanted to practice his English. He insisted on telling me that “Tuesday is a motherf*cker!” Normally I would say this is the case for Mondays, but he insisted, and who am I to argue?
All of Spain is taking part in the current craft beer revolution, and Mallorca’s craft breweries are using some local ingredients to create unique brews. I had good beers from several Mallorcan breweries including Salvatge Cervesa Evolutiva, Cas Cerveser, and Sullerica Cervesa Artesana. Particularly of note was Salvatge Cervesa Evolutiva’s Salvatge “Edició Boscana”, which was made from figs. While I’ve had imperial stouts that had fig notes, I’d never had a true fig beer before.
If you’re looking for Spanish craft beer to take back home or to drink in your hotel, El Corte Inglés and Son Vivot are your two best options. While you might not expect to find a great beer selection in a department store, El Corte Inglés actually has lots to choose from. For a more local experience, Son Vivot is the place to go for local souvenirs for the foodie in your life. Here you can find packaged beers, wines, chocolates, and much more, all ready to be packed into your suitcase so you can impress friends & family with your excellent taste.
9) Simply Fosh
As I mentioned before, Mallorca has amazing food. Beyond the foods you can buy in the local markets, the island also has several world-class restaurants. As of the most recent edition, there are four restaurants in Mallorca that have earned Michelin stars. One of these restaurants, Simply Fosh, is in the heart of Palma, housed in a boutique hotel.
Simply Fosh uses local & seasonal ingredients to create unique Mediterranean dishes. While dinner at Simply Fosh is priced as you’d expect from such a highly-rated place, the restaurant offers a lunch menu that is a spectacular deal. The menu changes weekly, offering 2 different options for each course. Here is what I had when I visited in December.
Carrot and ginger cream soup, coriander and Soller prawns
Cod with Boullabaisse rice
Chocolate cremoso, almond cream and orange
Best of all, this entire meal cost only 23.50 euros +IVA. The service was stellar, and the chef even stopped by my table to make sure everything was to my liking. Even if you’re on a tight budget, Simply Fosh is one meal worth splurging a bit on in Palma without it breaking your wallet.
10) Day trips to Sóller & Valldemossa
While there is plenty to do in Palma, the rest of Mallorca is ripe for day trips or even other destinations for longer stays. During my time in Mallorca, I took two day trips outside of Palma. The first was to Sóller, which is on the island’s northwest coast. The second was to Valldemossa, a village in the mountains north of Palma. You can read about each of my day trips in separate posts linked below.
Traveler. Writer. Photographer. Terrible dancer. 40+ countries & major territories so far, slowly working his way through the rest. Related interests: craft beer, street food, cocktails, culture, sporting events, history, value travel, credit card bonuses, hiking, visiting non-touristy places, bacon, seafood, & cheese