There are many reasons why Palma proves such a tempting proposition as the departure point for Mediterranean itineraries. The sun warms the sandstone of its historic old town almost
year-round and the harbour is never empty of boats, both owned by fishermen and chartered by those seeking solace on the bluest of blues that lap at Mallorca’s coast. The port sits at the heart of the city, encouraging idle mornings watching the sun come up over La Seu and balmy evening walks along the waterfront without a destination in mind.
Here’s how we’d our guide to Palma when you’ve got 36 hours to spend in the city.
What to see in Palma
You can’t miss the monumental La Seu, the Gothic cathedral which dominates Palma’s waterfront and overlooks the city. Some of Spain’s most artistic men played a part in its landmark design, from a High Altar by Antoni Gaudí to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament by Mallorca’s own Miquel Barceló. La Seu is imposing from street level but it looks positively regal viewed from the Parc de la Mar below. While you’re in the vicinity, don’t forget to visit the Royal Palace of La Almudaina next door to the cathedral; its seafront arches and walkway lined with arcing palms are typically Moorish.
Parc de la Mar
Parc de la Mar tapers to a point and merges with the wide seafront promenade that runs from beyond the port, right through to charming Portixol. The suburb, a 15-minute walk from Palma’s Old Town, has been gentrified in recent years to become one of the most sought-after spots in town for locals and holiday home owners. Walk on the beach and take your pick of harbourside restaurants for lunch. Alternatively, carry on along the promenade to Molinar, an up-and-coming area famous for its seafood suppers.
Those Balearic blues that edge the island of Mallorca have inspired many an artist of old and none more so than Catalan creative, Joan Miró. As well as appreciating his art at La Seu, enthusiasts can visit his final residence, workshop and studio at Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró a Mallorca. From some of his best pieces on display in The Moneo Building (there are over 6000 works exhibited at the museum in total) to unfinished canvases on easels in the still paint-stained Sert Studio – left untouched since the artist’s death – the attraction promises an intriguing insight into Miró’s creative mind.
While Palma is a real beauty in its own right, it’s a shame not to explore more of Mallorca if time allows. From sea-lapped inlets to sky-reaching mountain ranges, there are options for day trips out of the city that can show you both, with a smattering of golden stone Spanish villages thrown in.
A dragon-shaped uninhabited island known for its endemic subspecies of lizard might sound more at home in the Galapagos archipelago, but Sa Dragonera sits just off the western tip of Mallorca. The island is entirely unspoilt, thanks to a recent fight by ecologists to halt hotel development and protect its pristine natural park. You’ll need to set aside a full day to get to Sant Elm from Palma and take the ferry over to Sa Dragonera, but the prehistoric paradise and its inhabitants are worth the trip. Be warned though, that the island’s endemic lizards are everywhere and they aren’t scared to scuttle across a pair of shoes if you cross paths; this isn’t the place for anyone with a phobia!
Finally, paired often with the pretty gold town of Valldemossa on excursions and nestling between the sea and the Serra de Tramunta mountain range is Deiá, a honey-hued village with a star quality borne from bohemian roots. Poet and novelist Robert Graves lived in Majorca for more than 50 years until his death in 1985 and it was his famous friends, from Ava Gardner to Sir Alec Guinness, who first turned the paparazzi lens towards Deiá.
Once just an artist’s commune hidden in the hills, the arrival of the A-list for Graves’s parties, followed by the purchase of its impossibly luxurious Hotel La Residencia by Richard Branson, drew eyes to this idyllic hideaway. That said, there’s an idle kind of glamour in the air here, as opposed to an overt or ostentatious appeal; you can’t hurry lazy, hazy summer days in Deiá, only embrace them. Buy ice lollies from shops marked with bulbous lemons in crates outside and dip into olive green wooden doors that open into art galleries and ateliers. Bike or hike, either to the serene shingle cove of Cala Deiá at the foot of the hills (more on that later…) or, more strenuously, to the neighbouring town of Port de Sollér. And don’t forget to visit La Casa de Robert Graves. After all, without him, would we ever know about this hidden oasis overlooking the Mediterranean? A garden of olive and almond trees, tangerine groves and bitter oranges from the same trees which once served as the source of his breakfast marmalade is a highlight.
If a day trip or excursion sees you spending the day in Deià (as it should), there is only one place to do lunch with those hypnotic Balearic blues swirling beneath your feet. Ca’s Patro March is idyllic during the day and knock-your-socks-off beautiful when the sun starts to set. Book ahead to secure your seat on the periphery of the cliff-top restaurant perched on the rocks above Cala de Deià; the food is delicious but the views are unforgettable.
Where to eat in Palma
Rarely is there a finer line than the one walked between top TripAdvisor tip and tourist trap. Every now and again though, there’s an exception to the rule and one such case is Bar Dia. This unassuming spot carved into an old town corner ranks high on everyone’s favourite review site, yet somehow manages to feel like a secret. The steel-topped bar and handful of tables see a steady stream of locals and visitors alike, attracted by authentic, reasonably-priced tapas and decent house wine for a few euros. Plenty of restaurants sit in the shadow of La Seu, but this one is worth the few extra footsteps.
If tapas is your thing and you happen to be in town on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, walk Palma’s ‘Ruta Martiana’ tapas trail. Taking place in the Old Town’s Gerreria neighbourhood, it’s a great way to sample the bars en route with beer or wine and a tapas dish like pintxos for a couple of euros all-in. Take a look at the Ruta Martiana website for a list of participating venues.
Mallorca’s oldest and Palma’s most infamous nightclub doesn’t make it onto our list of must-sees in the city, but the far less obnoxious food market next door does. Weekend evenings see locals pair up outside Tito’s to ballroom dance to a live jazz band, a scene best appreciated from the tables outside Mercat 1930. This gastronomic market on Paseo Maritimo de Palma dishes up everything from tapas to steak and sushi. It’s close to both the port and the Porto Pi shopping centre, making it a great option if you’re reluctant to venture far from the ship after a busy day exploring the city.
Places to drink in Palma
You can’t speak about long, hot evenings in Palma without mentioning cocktails at the theatrical Bar Abaco in La Llonja. Flamboyant and unapologetically fabulous, this bar set inside a 17th century mansion takes descending a sweeping staircase to reach and has plenty to feast your eyes upon when you get down there. Antiques, gothic candelabras and fruit and flower arrangements compete to detract your attention from the cocktail list but stay focused, because the drinks are as dramatic as the backdrop.
For sundowners by the bay, pull up a whitewashed stool in The Boat House, a sweet nautical-inspired spot that makes for the perfect detour on the way back to the ship after a day in the city. A new sundeck sits atop the main bar and there’s a tasty bottomless brunch with a view if you happen to be around on a Sunday.