Top things to see and do in Palma, Spain
November 24, 2018
by Zoila Checa
Ah, Palma! Despite being a widely famous city (particularly for its spectacular beaches), the capital of Mallorca, in Spain, is still truly unknown by most.
Truth is, it’s a small city, add extremely coquette and energetic to that, but you’d be gladly surprised to see how many different things await you: the beautiful sights, local markets, charming cafés and activities. You simply have to uncover them. So, let’s discover the top things to see and do in Palma together. Read on!
Don’t be fooled. The fact that it’s smaller than most metropolises like Berlin or Big Ben’s city doesn’t mean there are fewer things to see and do. Actually, here are a few interesting facts that’ll open your eyes:
- It was named “The best city to live in the world” by The Sunday Times.
- Palma hosts the immense Cathedral of Santa María, one of the world’s most famous Gothic monuments.
- In recent years, there’s been an upsurge of trendy locales to indulge in healthy or vegan foods, as well as cosy cafés to read, work and fuel up.
- There are great gastronomic traditions, like the: “Ruta Martiana” (tapas route), “Vermutear” (Spanish vermouth + nibbles), or going to the “Mercat de l’Olivar”, a traditional local market where you can buy local produce and fresh fish, as well as lunching right there with residents.
- Art is a big thing! There’s the incredible “Es Baluard” Museum, the “Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró”, numerous art galleries and furniture design stores, and original street art, whether painted or using recycled cans, all across the city.
- It’s extremely accessible and distances are short. It’s only 15mins away from the airport.
- Perk: you get the city and the Mediterranean Sea all in one.
Still, it’s sometimes tricky to know what the best things to do are, or basically where to start. “Where should we eat?” “What do you want to do?” “Is there a cosy café around?” With time, I got used to these questions being regurgitated over and over again while wandering the quaint streets of my hometown. Until one day, I thought, “why not make a local guide that’ll help visitors, and me, discover the ins and outs of it?” So, here it is. From me, a proud local, to travellers that like feeling like a local.
Cathedral of Santa Maria
Popularly known as “La Seu”, the enormous Gothic-style monument is one of the World’s most famous. Its construction began in the 1300’s, and it still dominates the entire bay of Palma. Right by it, there’s the Royal Palace of “La Almudaina” (closed on Mondays), the official residence of the Spanish monarchs (though they usually stay in Marivent Palace). In front of both of these, you’ll find the artificial salt-water lake (which reflects the Cathedral) and the “Parc de la Mar”, the beautiful seaside park that stretches along most of the “Paseo Marítimo” promenade.
- Tip: pack a flavoursome picnic basket of Mallorcan delicacies (or order a takeaway box at Mymuybueno Deli nearby), and enjoy a light lunch at the park.
To the West of the city, on a hilltop, sits the beautiful Gothic-style “Castell de Bellver”. The medieval royal fortress, built in the 14th Century, stands out for its unique circular shape and its breath-taking views to Palma bay. Note that this is one of the few entirely round castles in Europe!
Inside, you’ll find Palma’s history museum, filled with ancient pieces that tell the stories of its past periods: Talaiotic, Roman, Arab and Spanish. Outside, vast pinewoods protect the place, which for centuries was also a prison. Locals and visitors alike enjoy going out for an excursion through these woods all year round.
The “vermouth hour” has always been a common practice in most Spanish cities. Although it never truly left, nowadays it’s made a comeback at full force, especially among the youth.
Residents love meeting up and chatting over vermouth, fresh olives and canned cockles with a drizzle of lemon juice. But really, you can order whatever tickles your fancy, since these popular bars offer a whole lot more in a retro-style fashion. Our top choice for this plan is La Rosa Vermutería & Colmado, in Carrer de la Rosa 5.
Portixol beachside stroll
The area of Es Portixol, an old fishing village, offers numerous trendy bars and restaurants, sports activities, beaches, and picturesque areas. You can easily get there by bike or taxi from Palma centre. I don’t recommend going by car since it’s slightly hard to park and you don’t want to waste time.
Go for a bike ride, put on some roller skates, rent a Segway, hit the beach, or simply walk along the promenade, taking in the views. When you’re hungry, be sure to drop by Cocco Portixol or the Portixol Hotel & Restaurant for delicious fish dishes and local cuisine.
Palma’s old town
Wake up early and head to Palma’s old town in Santa Catalina, where you’ll find the old flour mills that still stand. You can then go to Es Baluard museum, nearby and within walking distance. This is a must see!
After that, go for a morning shopping spree around Jaime III, es Born, and San Miguel and Sindicato streets. To fuel up, you’ll want to go to the renowned Ca’n Joan de S’aigo café (founded in the 1700’s) and order a hot chocolate or ice cream, and a “Quart” or “Ensaïmada”.
Hit the beach
Get your swimsuit on, soak up some sun and dive into the Mediterranean to combat the heat at Palma’s urban beach: Can Pere Antoni. If you’re going in June, try to be there for the night of the 23rd to experience the magical “Nit de Foc”, one of the biggest parties to celebrate Saint John.
Bar Cuba rooftop
One of my absolute favourite plans! Book a table at Bar Cuba’s incredible rooftop bar and indulge in a fresh Hugo or Mojito while admiring the Cathedral and Palma Bay from afar.
- Note: it’s also a hotel/hostel, a perfect luxurious blend! So if you’re looking to stay in the bustling neighbourhood of Santa Catalina, this is your best choice.
Up high in Blue Jazz Club Saratoga
If you like jazz, rock and live music at its best from worldwide bands, jot this place down. The Blue Jazz Club (also a restaurant) at Hotel Saratoga, in Paseo Mallorca, holds weekly live concerts from 11 pm until late. Dine and wine to the best rhythms and voices from Chicago, New York, Paris or Copenhagen.
- Tip: book a table near the stage, I suggest going for 8:30 pm just to have enough time to eat and chat before the music begins. Check out their online calendar to see all the events, though I recommend going on Friday or Saturday. Just before 11 pm, order a gin & tonic or strawberry daiquiri.
Markets & Lunch
This is a relaxing and fulfilling day out. Head out for a stroll to the local markets and find all kinds of artisanal products to take with you. From décor to jewellery and edible delicacies. Afterwards, hit the popular Mercat de l’Olivar and have the freshest local lunch at “Bar d’es Peix”.
- Plaza Mayor market: on Mondays and Fridays.
- Santa Catalina market: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
If you’re visiting during the festive season, make sure you include a magical stroll around Palma centre. Take in the beautiful lights that adorn the walkways and buildings from Jaime III to “Passeig d’es Born” (and everything in-between). Stop by one of the many traditional street stalls and buy yourself a cone of warm, roasted chestnuts or a bag of sweet churros.
- Tip: on January 5th, don’t miss the traditional “Cabalgata de Reyes” – the Three Kings parade -.
By now, you’ll be more than ready to start exploring the heart of this beautiful city like a local, without leaving out the best sights and plans. The island’s capital and its rich culture and history will captivate you whichever the season, I’m sure of it!