Exploring Palma, with its heady mix of Moorish, Medieval and Gothic landmarks, and historic galleries, museums and churches, is always a pleasure, whether for a weekend break or a longer stay. But there’s so much more to experience in this compact and beautiful coastal city. In the maze of cobbled streets of the old town are old palaces, convents, gardens and artisans’ workshops full of charm and authenticity. There are vibrant and colorful markets, cultural events and annual parties galore, while vibrant boutiques, from glitzy and designer to vintage and boho chic, can be enjoyed throughout the city.
Marvel at the Gothic splendor of the city’s cathedral
Towering above the tranquil lake of Parc de la Mar and visible from land and sea, is the pride and joy of the capital, La Seu Cathedral. Bearing the weight of eight centuries of history, this magnificent sandstone building also showcases the craftsmanship of modernist architect Antoni Gaudí and, more recently, contemporary artist Miguel Barceló.
Inside tip: The cathedral has one of the largest rose windows in the world, known as ‘The Gothic eye’. Visit early in the morning to see sunlight flooding all seven rose windows. Twice a year, on November 11th and February 2nd, if the sky is clear and the sun is bright, a fabulous reflection of light is cast from the main rose window – the result of mathematical design that relates to the Winter Solstice.
Stroll through the picturesque old town
Lose yourself in the winding cobbled streets of the city’s historic quarter, divided between the neighborhoods of La Lonja and Calatrava. Prepare to be amazed by unexpected views from artisans’ ateliers and galleries to ancient palaces and courtyards. Visit the charming Arab baths and the spectacular Gothic Basilica of Sant Francesc to see its cloisters and the tomb of the mystic and philosopher Ramon Llull.
Inside tip: Stop by the chapel of the Convento de Santa Clara to hear the choir at noon or to buy its delicious cookies. As you won’t see these cloistered sisters, just ring the bell and place your order through a turnstile placed in a window.
Try a traditional Mallorcan pastry
Steeped in history with its 18th century credentials, Ca’n Joan de s’Aigo is the oldest and most beloved café in town. A chocoholic’s dream, it serves thick, flavorful Mallorcan-style hot chocolate and all sorts of fresh, delicious cakes. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste the famous light and crispy ensaïmada from Mallorca or the delicious homemade ice cream on offer.
Inside tip: Although the café has opened two more outlets in Palma, nothing can beat the ambience of the original on Carrer de Can Sant. It’s like stepping back in time and stepping into a traditional family room with historical artifacts to match.
Contact: canjoandesaigo. with
Relax by the lake in the city’s iconic fortress
Adjacent to La Seu Cathedral is the graceful Almudaina Palace, and while the original 10th-century Alcázar was nearly demolished, this building is a Gothic architectural masterpiece in its own right. Venture upstairs beyond the sumptuously dressed historic rooms on the ground level to see the marble gateway to the Pyrenees in the Chapel of Santa Ana, a rare example of Romanesque-style art in Majorca.
Inside tip: Be sure to visit the exceptionally beautiful palace courtyard with its palm trees and elegant colonnades overlooking the cathedral. Later, head to the small, green, walled garden, where the swans make a serene circuit across the lake.
Discover the Capital’s modernist masterpiece
Dating back to 1903, the imposing and modernist Gran Hotel on Plaça Weyler was the capital’s first luxury hotel. With polychrome ceramics, ornate tiles and impressive wrought iron work, it is one of the most emblematic buildings in the city. Now the cultural center of the La Caixa Foundation, it includes permanent and temporary art collections. The most significant is that of the Catalan modernist painter Hermen Anglada-Camarasa.
Inside tip: For another dose of impressive Art Nouveau architecture, visit the Forn des Teatre bakery with its colorful decorative facade just a few minutes’ walk away on Carrer de la Unió. Tasting the ice cream cookies is a must.
Bring your own ingredients to a restaurant
The iconic Olivar market on Plaça Mercat, conveniently close to the main bus station, was built in 1951. With its stubby twin towers, it’s a must see and offers a fun morning of browsing the numerous fish, vegetable and meat stalls and good value ceramics. Head to the cafeteria for lunchtime treats of fresh seafood, cold cuts and cheeses.
Inside tip: Go native and buy your favorite seafood, fish or meats and eat them grilled at the Cerveceria Anfos restaurant for a small cost. Please note that it is closed on Sundays and Mondays; reservations on 00 34 971 72 91 20. Be sensitive when taking pictures of shopkeepers as some are expecting a purchase.
Contact: market with
Explore the square that houses the city hall
The city’s elegant and picturesque three-story medieval town hall, with its vast carved wooden canopy and glittering flags, dominates the bustling and lively Plaça de Cort. It’s worth venturing inland to see the pair of impressive giant figures in traditional peasant garb that are taken to most major annual festivals.
Inside tip: Another key attraction in the lively square is Olivera de Cort, an olive tree of enormous circumference that is said to have witnessed six centuries of history. Claims that it is 1,000 years old are far from the mark, but it makes for a good yarn.
See modern art at a medieval fortification
Once a medieval seaside fort, Es Baluard was transformed in 2004 into an elegant, contemporary architectural den of modern art. Made up of concrete, glass and steel, it includes walkways and metal walls that give it a peculiar look. Spanning the neoclassical, abstract and modernist periods, the collection includes beautiful works by Picasso, Joan Miró, Antoni Tapies and Salvador Dali.
Inside tip: Pass through the museum’s beautiful rear courtyard to peruse the sculptures and enjoy a coffee while admiring the craftsmanship of the city’s colossal medieval walls. This is the perfect spot to take a picture of the Paseo Maritimo with palm trees below.
Stroll through Spain’s unique circular castle
Crowning a wooded hill just beyond the city is Bellver Castle. With breathtaking views of the Bay of Palma and surrounded by lush pine forests, this perfectly preserved and rounded Gothic gem served as a royal fortress as well as a prison. A highlight is the central courtyard overlooking the sky, as well as the moat and drawbridge.
Inside tip: In summer, there is a classical music festival held in the central courtyard under a starry sky. Regular performances by the Balearic Symphony Orchestra begin at 9:30 pm.
Price: £ (Sunday free)
Enter the studio and home of prolific artist Joan Miró
The Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation is just a five-minute drive from Palma and offers a fascinating insight into the work and life of the revered Catalan artist. In addition to the 6,000 paintings, sculptures and ceramics on display, the center also includes the artist’s original studio and Son Boter, his 18th-century finca, whose walls feature charcoal graffiti by the artist.
Inside tip: For die-hard Miró fans, consider taking a private tour outside public hours with a member of the artist’s family. Available for individuals and groups of up to 10 people, it doesn’t come cheap – but it would certainly be an unforgettable experience.
Contact: Miromallorca. with
Price: £ (Discounts are available for students and pensioners; under 16s free)