La Seu, Palma de Mallorca
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Palma de Mallorca Overview
Palma de Mallorca, a major port city on the island of Mallorca and the capital of Spain's Balearic Islands, is a delightful cross between the Arabian Nights and the Renaissance, reflecting its checkered past of African and European control. It is the largest city on Mallorca -- a big, bustling place, with most of the tourist action in the old part of town around the landmark cathedral that dominates the oceanfront.
The architecture of this ancient Mediterranean port blends Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance styles. Palma's winding streets make way to grand churches, yacht harbors, beaches, fountains and old castles. Because there is so much history so close together, it's a perfect port to explore on foot. The snaking, narrow streets hold many surprises -- including the occasional dead end. Beware of the passages around the cathedral. (You truly cannot get from there to here!)
This sun-kissed port is also an outdoors city in-season, with much pedestrian traffic and the opportunity to eat or relax outside in myriad settings -- some free (parks and boulevards), and some in conjunction with visits to museums and historical sites (always look for interior courtyards, extra features of older buildings, and the high door knockers that used to save horseback callers the trouble of dismounting to announce their arrival in years gone by). For sun worshippers, the beaches are close by and the water is wonderfully clear.
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Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence (Livorno) • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malta (Valletta) • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Positano (Amalfi) • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Saint-Tropez • Sardinia • Sete • Seville (Cadiz) • Sorrento • Taormina (Messina) • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
You'd do well with any locally made handicraft from the wood of the olive tree -- these are unusual and unique to the area. Also, look for leather goods -- particularly shoes -- hand-blown glass and Majorica pearls, which are man-made to very exacting standards and are renowned for their quality, luster and durability.
The local languages are Catalan and Spanish, but most shopkeepers, restaurant staff and museum attendants speak excellent English.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro is the local currency. For updated currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. ATM's are plentiful, particularly in the shopping areas in and around the main thoroughfare, Passeig des Born.
Where You're Docked
The port of Palma de Mallorca is on the south coast of the island on the Bay of Palma, and there are two cruise ship terminals on the western side of the city. Most cruise ships berth at the Estacion Maritima pier, which has a modern terminal, some four miles from the city center. At busy times, ships also dock in the adjoining commercial pier and naval zone at Porto Pi, which adds about another mile to the journey into town.
There is little to do around the cruise terminals. Take a cab or shuttle to the cathedral and start from there. This magnificent church is the center of the oldest and most historic part of town and overlooks the Parc de la Mar, a picturesque seaside park with a small lake and panoramic views of the Mediterranean. The park contains many shade trees and benches for those inclined to sit a while to watch the world go by. Nearby is the Avinguda d'Antoni Maura, lined with sidewalk cafes and snack shops, and the adjacent Passeig des Born for serious shopping. The major museums and architectural highlights are close by, too.
Cabs are plentiful at the cruise terminal, take four or more people and may be shared with other cruise ship passengers. The cost for a trip into town is about 10 euros. Also, most cruise lines offer a shuttle from the port to a central point in town near the cathedral; check your ship's shore excursions desk for availability and pricing.
The energetic can walk into town along the curved harbor promenade overlooking the yacht harbor, stopping off for a drink at one of the many cafes along the way. But be warned, while the cathedral looks deceptively close, it will take at least an hour to get there, and in summer, the weather is very hot.
After arriving in the old part of the town, everything is within easy walking distance, and it's fun to wander on foot. Alternatively, the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus is a good way to get an overview of Palma. Many horse-drawn carriages, or galeras, catering to tourists, can be found by the cathedral. Agree on the price with the driver first, and expect to pay around 50 euros for a one-hour ride around the center.
Watch Out For
As in other parts of southern Europe, the siesta is alive and well in Palma. Many shops, churches and museums close in mid-afternoon for several hours, so check before you go. Also, beware of cabbies who insist the only fare they offer is a "city tour." Taxis are legally required to pick up all passengers and drop them off where they request. Anyone encountering a problem (passengers who disembark first sometimes get the tour pitch) should report it to personnel in the cruise terminal or onboard the ship.
Sa Seu, Palma's cathedral is a breathtaking Gothic structure, finished in 1587, that combines vastness and elegance. Viewed from below from the Parc de la Mar, the cathedral appears to rise mountain-like from its surroundings. Even the entryways are magnificent, including the Portal del Mirador with its seaward wall of buttresses and elaborate door, and the Portal Major, with its Renaissance design and colorful ceiling. The interior, partly redesigned by the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, features his ornate main altarpiece that attracted criticism from purists at the time. Gaudi worked in the cathedral for a decade, adding stained glass windows, a lectern and other ornamental features. In 2007, another famous Spanish architect, Miquel Barcelo, left his mark on the cathedral when he transformed one of the 20 small chapels into a cave filled with skulls, monsters, shoals of fish and rolling waves. Don't miss the cathedral's stained glass rose window, the largest window of its type in the world. (Carrer Palau Reial; open weekdays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
Palau de l'Almudaina, across the square from the cathedral, was once the royal Moorish palace and then a summer palace for the Spanish monarchy. Much of the building's interiors are intact, highlighting unique architecture and art. Some interesting areas include the Hall of the Fireplaces; the terrace, with its clean lines and panoramic view; the Queen's and King's rooms with their tapestries and period furniture (down to the inkwells on the desks); and the Chapel of St. Anne and its Romanesque portal and delicate interior. The museum is large, not often crowded, and allows visitors time to explore and linger. The excellent audio guide, in English, is a must. (Carrer Palau Reial; open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Museu de Mallorca is the archaeological museum of the island, also near the cathedral, down several small, winding streets. Its basement rooms are filled with relics from the different eras of the island, with each exhibit clearly identified and detailed. The second floor is devoted to art, mixing works of Spanish artists from the current era and old altarpieces. The building is unusual, with a large open center courtyard that provides a quiet place to relax between sights. Note: At the time of writing, the museum was closed for extensive renovations, so check for updates from your cruise director. In the meantime, a small selection of exhibits from the museum were on temporary display at the Centre de Cultura Sa Nostra at Calle Concepcion 12. (Palau Reial; open Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Banys Arabs contains a variety of architectural styles inside, including parts of a 10th-century bath, columns from the ruins of Roman buildings and features that speak of Palma's Moorish past. The baths served as a gathering place in their time, and visitors can see the various rooms that comprised such an establishment, including the tepidarium (the lukewarm room). Visitors should be sure to visit the courtyard. (Carrer Serra 7; open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Basilica de Sant Francesc is a 13th-century Gothic church with a baroque facade built in the imposing island style of overpowering sandstone walls and an offset rose window. The facade was remodeled after the church was struck by lightning in the 17th century. The statuary in and outside the church is noteworthy. (Placa Sant Francesc; open daily 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., closed Sunday afternoon)
Shopping: Almost every main street and side street in the old town area contains shops; many are grouped in and around Passeig des Born and Avinguda Jaume III. The latter is a chic street filled with designer brand shops; it's also home to one of Palma's two El Corte Ingles department stores. Unique boutiques include Antiguedades (Placa de la Almoina 4) for locally crafted jewelry and Arte-Facto (Cerrer Sant Pere 8) for regional handicrafts, including unusual umbrellas. Diego Villamediana maintains a workshop and gallery at Carrer Guatemala 2 and offers his original oil paintings and sculptures for sale. Be warned: He doesn't accept credit cards. La Gerraria neighborhood used to be an important center for traditional handicrafts, and this tradition has been revived in Passeig de l'Artesania, a great place to buy authentic and locally made souvenirs.
Placa Major, Palma's largest square, is a short walk from the center of town; it leads to an unusual underground shopping mall, and the stores do not usually observe siesta. The main square hosts an interesting outdoor craft market, which is held on Monday, Friday and Saturday mornings.
Been There, Done That
Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro is a short cab ride from the downtown area. The painter and sculptor Joan Miro spent most of his life in Barcelona, but both his wife and mother were Mallorcan, and he always longed to return to the scene of his childhood holidays. The museum, which is built around four of Miro's workshops from his years living on the island, holds pieces from those workshops that were donated by Miro and includes documents, drawings and sculptures. Special exhibits complement the central theme. It is a simple yet elegant grouping of buildings that provides interesting insights to this popular artist. (Joan de Saridakis 29; open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Palma Aquarium is one of Palma's newest attractions. Situated a short cab ride out of town near the airport, the aquarium is much more than a showcase for fish. It includes wonderful displays where fish and sea creatures share center stage with beautiful and endangered coral. Experienced divers can take the plunge with sharks, or visitors can simply sit on giant cushions in front of the awe-inspiring Big Blue tank. Outside attractions include a marine park and the "jungle," Spain's largest rooftop garden. Admission is on the pricey side. (Manuela de los Herreros 21; open weekdays 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekends and holidays 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Valldemossa is the island's most beautiful town. It is set in the hills, a short 30-minute cab ride from Palma (about 50 euros roundtrip). A lovely place to stroll, it's not crowded and is filled with attractive small shops and cafes. The monastery complex is the main feature of the town and incorporates a palace, the municipal museum (Museu Municipal de Valldemossa) and a neoclassical church. The complex also contains cloisters with several cells (rooms) used for displays, one of which contains Chopin and George Sand memorabilia. (They stayed here together in 1838.) The old town is worthy of a look, surrounded by thousand-year-old walls and farming terraces.
The small streets radiating from Passeig des Born are filled with restaurants and sidewalk cafes of all types and price ranges. Look for local dishes like sopas mallorquinas, a bread-and-vegetable-based soup, and pa amb oli, hearty bread spread with Spanish olive oil. Paella, though not traditionally Mallorcan, can be found on many menus. Seafood in other preparations and roasted meats are also mainstays.
On a Budget: For inexpensive tapas, head to Gaudeix, which is just off El Born in the center of town. (Calle Can Sales 2; open daily 1 p.m. to midnight for drinks, with food served from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight)
Local Eats: La Boveda (Calle Boteria 3), near the cathedral, is well known in Palma for its tapas and entrees of veal, pork, chicken and fish. The restaurant is open for lunch every day except Sunday. Also nearby, down a short flight of steps, is Cellar Pages (Carrer Felipe Bauza 2); the hot ticket on the a la carte menu is the fish of the day (have it grilled). It's likewise open for lunch every day except Sunday; reservations are recommended -- it's a small space and popular with locals, not just tourists. For a quick snack or coffee, drop by at Ca'n Joan de S'aigo, Mallorca's oldest ice cream parlor. Founded in 1700, it also serves delicious pastries and, for those with more time on their hands, full meals. (Calle Can Sanc 10; 971-710-759)
Gourmet Lunching: For a real splurge, wander down to the harbor area to La Lubina, snag an outside table and enjoy the sights and sounds of the pier while enjoying fresh seafood. The staff is friendly and stands ready to assist diners with the comprehensive menu. Lunch starts at 1 p.m., and reservations are a good idea. (Muelle Viejo)
Casual Dining: Craving fish and chips? You can get out of the sun and sip a cold beer at MacGowan's Irish Pub (Calle del Mar 18). Other items on the menu include various savory pies and chicken curry. The pub doubles as a sports bar, with soccer often on the TV's. Open daily 10 a.m. until "late." And if you've had your fill of tapas, seek out Hotel Tres (Calle Apuntadores 3; 971-717-333), just off Placa de la Rena, close to the cathedral. It's a hotel that combines a 16th-century palace with modern design. Non-residents can sit beneath the shady palm tree in the courtyard and enjoy excellent local wines and an imaginative menu of light dishes, many with an Asian theme.
Staying in Touch
An Internet cafe is located in Porto Pi Centre. It is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily. Many restaurants and cafes offer free Wi-Fi, such as the Cappuccino chain, which has several outlets around the city.
Best Choice for Active Travelers: Take the bike tour of Palma and get beyond the old town area of the city to the beaches, harbor and maritime promenade.
Best Choice for the Gastronome: Skip breakfast and venture on the "Tapas in Palma" tour, which features stops at three of the city's best tapas bars.
Best Choice for Wine Lovers: Book a wine tour and you'll be treated to tastings in one of several wineries, enjoying rides through Mallorca's countryside to and from the vineyard.
For More Information
On the Web: Official Tourism Portal of the Balearic Islands and
Official Tourist Information Web Site of Mallorca
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Spain Ports
IndependentTraveler.com: Europe Travel Guide
--Updated by Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor
--Images of La Seu and Palma de Mallorca buildings appear courtesy of Melissa Baldwin.
--Images of Bellver Castle and Valldemossa Church appear courtesy of Carolyn Spencer Brown.