Palma de Mallorca comes as a surprise to many people - it is stylish, sophisticated, intimate, yet bursting with life. Located on the southern shores of Mallorca, the island's capital city looks out over the sparkling blue seas of the Mediterranean.
Half of Mallorca's population live here, enjoying the island's best restaurants, shops and nightlife as well as a thriving arts scene and a lively cafe society. It is often compared to Barcelona for its architecture and we think it's an equally desirable destination for a city break.
History & Culture
As an island, Majorca has been subject to numerous invasions, conquests & sea-trading throughout its history. Palma was known to the Arabs as Medina Mayurqa (902 to 1229) and to Mallorcans thereafter simply as Ciutat (City) - Palma was in fact named after the Roman city of Palmaria (founded around 120 BC). The Roman city still exists, a metre or two beneath the ground; inhabitants of houses near the cathedral are still discovering Roman remains. The Moors were finally overthrown by the Spanish in the 13th century, and Palma became an important port & commercial centre in the Mediterranean.
This multicultural history is reflected in the wonderful variety of architecture visible throughout the city. Palma's masterpiece is its Gothic cathedral (built on the site of a mosque which in turn was once a Roman temple) - it rises out of the city walls which once marked the edge of the sea. Close to here is the old Arab quarter , with its maze of narrow streets hiding museums, palaces and exquisite courtyards.
Other parts of city that you see today, however, are relatively recent creations. The tree lined promenades of La Rambla and Passeig des Born, home to florists and newspaper sellers, 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 Las Avingudas, and the waterfront highway and promenade Passeig Maritim was only reclaimed from the sea in the 1950s.
Visitors to Palma de Mallorca will no doubt spend most of their time within the inner ring road (Las Avingudas) in the old town. Most of this part of Palma is traffic-free and it's a joy to wander through the streets admiring architecture and browsing the plentiful shops. The tourist office arranges guided tours of the city throughout the year (in several languages); they are most prevalent during the summer, and cost approx. €10 per person. Check out the Events Calendar to see if any are on during your stay.
Along the seafront is the fabulous marina and palm-lined promenade. Those looking for a beach will be rewarded by heading east towards Portixol & Ciudad Jardin (where you'll also find a couple of decent beach clubs). Dominating the skyline by the sea is the enormous cathedral (called La Seu), and the Parc de la Mer which hosts concerts, fiestas and open-air cinema throughout the year.
To the west of the cathedral is the characterful district of La Llonja, which is home to quirky boutiques & art galleries. The tiny (pedestrianised) medieval streets used to be somewhat down-at-heel, but the area has been significantly smartened in recent years. This is where you'll find a great selection of bars, restaurants and jazz clubs as it's one of Palma's hotspots for nightlife. Have a look at our own experiences of a Night Out in Palma.
Beyond La Llonja lies Santa Catalina which used to house fishermen and craftsmen in days gone by, and has now resurrected itself as the hip & trendy area for all the cool kids. You'll find plenty of bars, cafes & restaurants here, and the vibe is pretty arty/studenty. The nightlife is certainly vibrant here - a Night Out in Santa Catalina has many possibilities!
As you delve further into the city away from the sea, you'll come across grand avenues with designer shops, and mazes of pretty streets offering gift shops, fashion boutiques and cafes. The area to the east of Passeig Born is particularly recommended for browsing.
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 Miro spent the best part of 30 years living on Majorca, and there is a foundation devoted to his works just to the west of Palma. An excellent evening devoted to the art galleries of Palma is held annually - it's called the Nit de l'Art and is held on the third Thursday of September. There are a couple of grand theatres in the city too, which host annual opera and ballet festivals, and their programmes are speckled with musicals, concerts and other ‘spectacles'!
A different kind of culture can be enjoyed when Palma hosts one of it's Fiestas. The two main festivals are held in January (Sant Sebastian) and June (Sant Joan). Sant Sebastian is Palma's patron saint and the city comes out in force to celebrate. The main events - parades, music concerts & fireworks - occur on the evening of the 19th January, with the more formal proceedings taking place on the actual saints day of the 20th January. Sant Joan is celebrated on the 24th June as part of the summer solstice. But again, it is 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 & devils and run through the streets bearing torches. Everyone eventually gathers in the Parc de la Mer for rock concerts, more bonfires, fire crackers and an impressive fireworks display. It's a crazy night!
Palma has a superb choice of restaurants, encompassing a vast range of cuisines for all budgets. Within the historic centre, you'll find plenty of eateries in La Llonja and Santa Catalina, both of which are close to the sea front and are the heart of the nightlife of Palma.
But there are places dotted throughout the centre and it is worth exploring back streets and taking a took at the menus posted outside the restaurant. Another good way of finding places to eat is to look out for gastronomic events, such as TaPalma where selected bars, cafes & restaurants offer bite sized snacks at reduced prices - all on a handy map of the area.
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