A tangle of cobbled streets, Palma’s medieval Old Town is home to an abundance of beautiful churches and grand palaces left over from when the quarter housed the island’s ruling elite. Dominating the Old Town as well as the city’s skyline, La Seu Cathedral is the main attraction - a magnificent 13th century gothic building of epic proportions. Having taken almost four centuries to build, today the cathedral is a treasure trove of artworks home to one of the world’s largest stained glass windows (made from 1236 pieces of glass and measuring 12m across), to the ornate metal canopy suspended by Gaudi above the altar. Don’t miss Miquel Barceló’s masterpiece in the Capella del Santíssim, which in 2008 he transformed to look like an underwater scene, complete with fish heads.
Perhaps not as striking in proportion, yet just as important historically are the Arabic Baths, the only remaining Moorish-built structures in Palma which date all the way back to the 10th century. Today they are accessed via a domed passageway in amongst the lush palms of a secluded walled garden – a perfect place to sit and relax.
Adults and children alike will love a trip on the Soller Railway, the rickety wooden train which trundles from the centre of Palma through the countryside to the quaint seaside village of Sóller. Taking you through 13 tunnels and over the five point Sóller Viaduct, this turn-of-the-century train winds its way through the mountainous Tramuntana region and into fragrant orange groves, giving passengers a snapshot of some of Majorca’s prettiest scenery. At the end of the line, scenic Sóller will reward you with plenty of charm, including a picturesque square, stunning church and plenty of cute cafes serving Majorcan tapas.
Art aficionados won’t want to miss a visit to the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, the house where Joan Miró lived and worked in Palma. Preserved by Miró’s widow, the studio remains exactly how the artist left it – complete with half painted easels – so you feel like you’re walking into a time warp where the artist himself could reappear at any moment. Together with a fascinating insight into the way Miró worked, the Fundació also displays a permanent collection of his many works.
Attracting visitors as much for its architecture as for the art it contains, Es Baluard (or ‘the bastion’ in English) is a contemporary art museum set within an impressive medieval fortress. Inside, you’ll find works by Picasso, Miró, Magritte, Calder and Klee, as well as a modern glass-encased restaurant leading out onto a sunny, panoramic terrace that’s great for enjoying a glass of wine after a hard day soaking up the culture.
Don’t worry if you’re not quite flush enough to shop in the numerous haute couture boutiques on upmarket Passeig del Born – there are plenty more wallet-friendly ways to shop in Palma. For an authentic experience, head to one of the city’s markets where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the locals. Food market Mercat de L’Olivar is a feast for the eyes and the stomach, providing a sensory spectacle for visitors who can peruse the island’s freshest produce before sampling it at the various stands.
Meanwhile the Rastro flea market, which takes place on Saturdays on the Avenida de Gabriela Alomer, sells everything from leather goods to artisan speciality food products, making it a great place to pick up bargain souvenirs. Be prepared to haggle – vendors here expect you to drive a hard bargain.
With Palma sat slap-bang on the seafront, the city’s menus are dominated by the freshest seafood. For a classic fish restaurant, the cool and contemporary Ca’n Eduardo is unbeatable thanks to its position above the fish market on the promenade overlooking the harbour. For the best fish on a budget, try La Parada del Mar where guests queue up, choose their fish and then watch in wonder as it’s cooked on the spot for you. What could possibly be fresher than that?
Not a fan of fish? Try something sweeter at Palma’s oldest ice-cream parlour and coffee house, Ca’n Joan de S’aigo. Serving the likes of champagne sorbet and horchata – a creamy beverage made from tiger nuts – Ca’n Joan de S’aigo has been tickling taste buds since 1700 so you know it’s going to be good. Find it on Carrer de C'an Sanç 10, a tiny street near the Plaça Santa Eulalia that’s perfectly located for a pitstop during an afternoon’s sightseeing.
While Palma has its sophisticated side, there’s still plenty to keep the little ones happy. Head to the watery world of Palma Aquarium to see the glow-in-the-dark jellyfish and go diving with the rays. Look out for the monthly Shark Sleepovers, where children aged six and over spend the night camping out in front of the big blue shark tank as the ocean’s deadliest predators drift past, giving parents a well-deserved night off.
For those looking for a more active adventure, try turning your family trip to the beach into a cycling excursion. Hire your wheels from Palma on Bike and try the easy route from the city to the beach resort area of Playa de Palma, a 5km ride towards S'Arenal. The journey runs along one of the well-maintained cycle paths, with views of the brilliantly blue sea on one side and Palma’s imposing gothic cathedral on the other. Along the way, you’ll pass plenty of enticing beaches if you can’t wait for a dip, as well as cool, shady cafes to stop for a drink. At a leisurely pace, expect the ride to take around 45 minutes each way – perfect for an afternoon in the sunshine.
Author: Georgie Lane-Godfrey
What to ecplore the city for yourself?
Take a look at our holidays to Palma here.
The Hotel Gran Meliá Victoria on Palma’s harbour front provides guests with a dose of old-school glamour, as well as beautiful views of the city.
Combining a peaceful location with easy access to Palma’s bars and restaurants, features two lagoon-style pools nestled within perfectly manicured gardens.
A five-minute walk from three miles of golden sands, the RIU Festival Hotel is the perfect compromise for beach lovers who still want to be within a short taxi ride distance of Palma.
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