City of Palma de Mallorca
With a population of over 300,000, Palma is the only real city of the Balearics yet its slow pace of life is quite distinct from the Spanish city’s of the mainland. The centrepiece of its beautiful historic quarter with grand Renaissance mansions and Baroque churches is its Gothic cathedral which took over 500 years to build and as an attraction compares favourably with the better known cathedrals of Spain.
Most of the main sights of Palma are contained within the city walls and it’s easy to explore on foot. If you can be there after nightfall it is a spectacular sight to see the floodlit Cathedral and the Almudaina Palace from the waterfront. As well as the historical interest of Old Palma there is also good shopping for the day visitor and a pleasant café culture to enjoy.
Cathedral of Palma
As is the case all over Spain, Palma’s Cathedral, Sa Seu, was constructed on the site of a former Arab mosque. According to legend, whilst sailing to Majorca in 1230 to recapture it from the Moors, Jaime I’s fleet was hit by a major storm. He prayed to the Virgin Mary and vowed that if he survived the storm he would build a church in her honour. Work on it began in 1306 and has continued to this day with controversial touches added in the 20th century by Gaudi.
Bellver (meaning “beautiful view”) Castle dates from the 14th century and is unique amongst Spanish castles thanks to its circular design. Built originally as a royal fortress located above the city, it attracts many visitors these days thanks to its magnificent views across the Bay of Palma towards the airport and beyond. The easiest way there is to take a taxi or to walk up through the woods behind the El Terreno part of town.
The island of Mallorca has outstanding beaches along all of its coastline. And with over 300 days of sunshine a year you can’t go far wrong in choosing this island paradise for your beach holiday destination. Here we’ve added a list of Mallorca beaches. The larger beach resorts with excellent sand include Magaluf and Palma Nova to the west of Palma and Puerto Pollenca and Alcudia on the north coast.
Sierra de Tramuntana
Standing at 1445 metres above sea level, Puig Mayor is the highest point in Mallorca. Relatively few visitors leave their beach resorts so don’t appreciate what a mountainous island they are on. A day spent driving down the northwest coast from Pollenca to Andratx is simply stunning with notable stops at Sa Calobra where you should follow a coastal path through tunnels in the cliffs to the amazing limestone gorge at Torrente de Pareis.
You should also visit the village of Deia which has long been known as an artist’s hang out where the likes of the poet Robert Graves and the artist Joan Miró resided. The monastery at Lluc is another important stop and you’ll love all the villlages you pass through en route notably Banyalbufar and the quaint beach resort of Sant Elm with the island of Dragonera just off it.
Train from Palma to Soller
A great day out from Palma is to take the vintage train to Soller. This narrow gauge train has covered this route through the Serra de Tramuntana mountains since 1912. The train leaves Palma from the rail station in Cala Eusebi Estada near the Plaça de Espanya and slowly winds its way through 28km of beautiful countryside to the town of Soller. The journey is particularly beautiful in the spring when the orange, lemon and almond trees are in blossom. The journey time is about one hour to the town of Soller where you can board Mallorca’s first electric tram which transports you at a snail’s pace to the Port of Soller 5km away. There are taxis at the tram stop in Soller if you’d rather get down to the port quickly and avoid the sometimes overcrowded trams. Different summer and winter timetables are in operation for this service so check the Soller Train Website for details.
If you’ve hired a car and want to visit Soller by road you can get there from Palma in about 30 minutes nowadays thanks to the tunnel through the mountains that surround Soller.
Caves of Drach
Mallorca has some spectacular caves at various locations around the island. Probably the most spectacular are the Caves of Drach (Coves del Drach) at Porto Cristo. Today they represent one of the island’s top attractions in which four spectacular chambers with thousands of stalactites are made even more impressive by the top quality lighting arrangements. A mini concert takes place on one of the underground lakes and visitors can take a boat ride steered by a gondolier at the end of the visit. Two other impressive cave are the Caves of Hams and the Caves of Arta.
In 1838 Frederic Chopin and George Sand arrived in Mallorca to continue their love affair in this idyllic town in the Tramuntana mountains just 18km from Palma. Today in Valdemossa you can still buy the book “Winter in Mallorca” which George Sand wrote there in spite of the fact that it has little to say of a positive nature about their stay on the island. Apart from the natural beauty of the town, the principal architectural attraction is the Royal Carthusian Monastery which contains a selection of interesting museums dedicated to a variety of themes as well as the monk’s cell where Chopin and Sand spent their brief time here.