Mallorca is one of the great European playgrounds. Over 6 million tourists visit this Balearic Island in the Mediterranean about 200 km (125 miles) from Barcelona off the coast of Spain. On a busy summer day, over 700 flights land at the Palma airport, and the harbor is packed with cruise ships. About 40% of the tourists are German, 30% British, and 10% Spanish, with the rest mostly consisting of northern Europeans. The traditional spelling of the island is Mallorca, but sometimes it is spelled Majorca. Either way, it is pronounced My-YOR-ka. Traditionally, the island was best known for its sunny beaches and hot discos, but there is much more to Mallorca that sand, sea and sun.
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, the others being Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera, and Cabrera. In summer, Mallorca is overrun with hordes of tourists, but spring and fall are both great times to visit. The weather is moderate, and fairly dry. Most cruise ships spend just one day in Mallorca, and passengers go ashore to explore Palma or tour the island. With only a day, you might choose to do a shore excursion, but if you decide to do some independent exploring of Palma, here are some ideas.
Palma is named for the Roman city of Palmeria, but it has both Moorish and European flavors. The city is dominated by its wonderful Gothic cathedral, La Seu, and most of the main sights are located within the area bounded by the old city walls, especially to the north and east of the cathedral. A half-day walk around the old city can start and end at the Plaça d'Espanya. It is a popular gathering point, and is the terminating point for many buses and the train to Sóller. Grab your map of the city, and amble back towards the harbor from the Plaça d'Espanya, taking time to have a coffee in one of the outdoor cafes. Both the cathedral La Seu and the Palau de l'Almudaina (Royal Palace) are on the harbor and worth a visit, as are the nearby ancient Moorish baths (Banys Arabs). As you stroll away from the palace area back towards Plaça d'Espanya, you might want to take the Passeig des Born, a tree-lined boulevard that many see as the heart of city life. Another must-see site on this walking tour is the old Gran Hotel, Palma's first luxury hotel, now a museum of modern art called the Fundació la Caixa. Its trendy cafe-bar is a good choice for lunch or a snack. Turn right off the Passeig des Born onto Carrer Unió. The Fundació la Caixa is on Carrer Unió near the Teatre Principal and the Plaça Weyler.
Other Palma sites worth a visit include:
- Basilica de Sant Francesc, a massive sandstone church built in the 13th century
- Castell de Bellver, a well-preserved 14th century royal fortress
- La Lloyjs, a 15th century seafront building that was once Palma's merchant's exchange
- Mercat Olivar, a covered market full of flowers, fruit, fish, and lots of local color
- Parc de la Mar, a popular park near the cathedral
- Poble Espanyol, a Spanish Village theme park that serves as a microcosm of Spanish architecture, similar to the Spanish Village in Barcelona.
Most shops in Mallorca are open from 10 to 1:30 and 5 to 8:00 on Monday through Friday, and on Saturday mornings. Souvenir shops in the large resort areas stay open all day. The unit of currency is the Euro, but most major stores accept credit cards. The main shopping areas in Palma are along the Passeig des Born, Avinguda Jaume III, and Calle San Miguel. The district around the cathedral contains many interesting shops and boutiques. Linens, perfumes, and glassware are popular, and the Spanish leather goods are high quality. Lladro porcelain (and other porcelains) are often a good buy. Mallorca pearls are far less expensive but just as lustrous as those from the South Pacific. If you are shopping for Mallocan pearls, be sure to inquire on your ship about reputable dealers. If you are souvenir shopping, you might look for a siurell, which is a clay whistle made in Mallorca since Arab times. The siurells are usually brightly painted white with red and green trim. Children love them,and they are cheap.
Outside of Palma are wonderful villages and great hiking and photo options. One of the most popular day trips is to Valldemossa, where some say Frederic Chopin and George Sand were the first Mallorcan tourists. Page 2 of this article covers a visit to Valldemossa, and page 3 features the train ride from Soller back to Palma de Mallorca.
Page 2 > > A Day in Valldemossa > >