Palma de Mallorca, a major port city on the island of Mallorca and the capital of Spain's Balearic Islands, has a delightful cross of influences, 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, especially passages around the cathedral.
This sun-kissed port is also an outdoors city, 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). For sun worshippers, the beaches are close by and the water is wonderfully clear.
The main ferry and cruise terminals are served by the Estacion Maritima, which offersa bank, ATM, toilet facilities and taxi and bus links to the city center.
Yachts and ships moor up in the port, and plenty of bars and restaurants are located in the vicinity. Compared with eateries in the city center, though, they really aren't very appealing. It's definitely worth the journey into town.
Sa Seu: This is a vast, gothic cathedral in Placa de l'Almudaina. The cathedral dominates the skyline of the city. Whether lit up at night or standing in the sun during the day, it is an imposing building well worth a look around. Inside, the building is an amalgam of influences. Famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi partly redesigned the cathedral's interior, and in 2007, Spanish architect, Miquel Barcelo transformed one of the 20 small chapels in the building into a gothic cave, complete with skulls, monsters, fish and crashing waves. Entry costs about six euros, but visitors can enjoy walking around the outside and exploring the various gardens, courtyards and ponds around the outside for free. (Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday)
La Rambla: Like its Catalan namesake in Barcelona, Palma's La Rambla (officially Rambla de los Duques de Palma de Mallorca) is a great place for shopping, dining and soaking up the general atmosphere. One of the most beautiful parts of the city, La Rambla is home to an unofficial flower market open from Monday to Saturday. You'll also see a number of interesting shops and restaurants in the vicinity.
Plaza de Cort: Visit Plaza de Cort outside the Town Hall, where you can savor a drink at a street cafe and enjoy the mix of modernist and classic architecture above the shop fronts. The small square is also home to one of the symbols of Mallorca: a giant olive tree, reputed to be 600 years old and representing peace. The tree grows in the center of the square. This particular specimen was dug up and transported to its spot in 1999. The tree still produces fruit every year.
Palau de l'Almudaina: Across the square from the cathedral, this was once the royal Moorish palace and a summer palace for the Spanish monarchy. Much of the building's interior is intact, highlighting unique architecture and art. Interesting areas include the Hall of the Fireplaces; the terrace, which has clean lines and a 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 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday)
Bellver Castle: It sits atop a hill on the outskirts of the city. Built in 1309 by King James II of Mallorca, the castle is one of the island's major tourist attractions. Its distinctive round shape and castellated battlements provided refuge for the king and noblemen escaping the plague in 1395 and, after 1717, was used as a military prison. Today, the castle is open to the public. It also houses Palma's municipal museum and the Despuig collection of classical sculpture. (Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday from November to February, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in March, April, September and October and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from May to August)
Shopping: Almost every main street and side street in the old town area contains wonderful shopping. Many shops 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 locally made souvenirs.
Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro: It's a short taxi ride from the downtown area. The famous surrealist abstract 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 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 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday)
Fundacion Juan March: Mallorca's landscapes have inspired artists who have gone on to become some of the best-known names in contemporary art. Juan Miro spent his childhood holidays there, and Catalan painter Antoni Tapies had an enduring connection with the island, as did the famous surrealist Salvador Dali. The Fundacion Juan March is a great place to see a good selection of these works, all inside an 18th-century modernist palace. (Open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday)
Valldemossa: Set in the hills a short 30-minute cab ride from Palma (excursions are also available), this is the island's most beautiful town. A lovely place to stroll, the village is 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 memorabilia from musician Frederic Chopin and writer George Sand. (They stayed there together in 1838.) The old town is surrounded by thousand-year-old walls and farming terraces.
On Foot: It takes around 40 minutes to an hour to walk from the cruise ship terminals into the old town and city center, depending on how quickly you're going. It's a pleasant walk along the glamorous waterfront, giving visitors the chance to see a bit more of the city, including the old seaside windmills that stand on the hillside by the shore. You'll see palm trees along the way, but these offer limited shade and, on very hot days, it can be sweaty going. Make sure to wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen. Once in town, there's plenty to see on foot. It's by far the best way to get around.
By Bus: Buses operate all around Palma, and visitors can get around the city, as well as to nearby places inland or along the coast, relatively quickly and cheaply. A bus is the most sensible way of getting into town, and many cruise operators offer free shuttle services.
By Taxi: Taxis run regularly all over Palma and can be a good way of getting to and from the port. They can be an expensive option, but if a group is using the vehicle, it can be cost effective. Taxis can be quicker than catching the bus, which can certainly help take the stress off when on a tight schedule.
By Car: If you're staying in Palma for a longer period of time, it may be beneficial to rent a car. This would allow you to explore more out-of-the-way places. Cars can be obtained from Hertz (+34 971 789670) or Sixt (+34 902 491616). Both companies have offices in the city center. Renting a car is not recommended on a short cruise call because roads can be winding, mountainous and slow to negotiate.
Closest to City Center: Ca'n Pere Antoni is a small sandy beach just beyond the city's cathedral. The beach has won a blue flag award for cleanliness, making it a safe and convenient place. It's a popular haunt of residents and visitors alike.
Best for Water Sports: Playa de Palma is a long, sandy beach east of Palma. The beach is a friendly place for children and families. It's also a good spot for water sports, with jet skiers and water skiers heading to the area to enjoy the clear water.
Palma offers dozens of seafront bars and city center restaurants. The best restaurants are located along the Passeig des Born and the picturesque La Rambla. Paella, while not a traditional Mallorcan dish, can be found, complete with fresh seafood, almost anywhere. Look for local dishes like sopas mallorquinas, a bread-and-vegetable-based soup, and pa amb oli, hearty bread spread with Spanish olive oil.
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 1 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 also open for lunch every day except Sunday; reservations are recommended -- it's a small space and popular with locals. 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 full meals. (Calle Can Sanc 10; +34 971 710759)
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; open 10 a.m. until late daily). Other items on the menu include savory pies and chicken curry. The pub doubles as a sports bar, with soccer often on the TVs. If you've had your fill of tapas, seek out Hotel Tres (Calle Apuntadores 3; +34 971 717333), just off Placa de la Reina, 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. Hogan's Burger Bar, an Irish bar, is a favorite with visiting Brits. The eatery features burgers and snacks, as well as regular live music in the evenings. (Carrer Monsenyor Palmer 2)
A number of cruise terminals serve Palma. Ships visiting the city usually dock at the Poniente and Paraires quays at the Estacion Maritima. The Poniente quay is about a mile and a half southwest of Palma's center. Some cruise lines dock at piers on the Estacion Maritima's Dique Del Oeste (the western sea wall).
Keep an eye out for traffic along the busy stretch of road between the port and the city center. Vehicles move quickly along this highway, and it can be awkward finding a place to cross. It's also easy to catch too much sun while exploring some of the city's sights. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen when necessary. Some shops and restaurants, particularly those catering for tourists and visitors, remain open all day, but the majority observe a traditional siesta between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The euro is the main currency. Check www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for currency conversion rates. Money can be withdrawn or converted at any of several major banks in the city center.
The official languages of Palma are Spanish and Catalan. Though a lot of places cater to English-speaking visitors, visitors will find it useful to have a few Spanish phrases under their belts to get them through situations like buying food and drinks or souvenirs.
A lot of small antiques boutiques are located in the old town, where visitors can pick up interesting artifacts and bargain items. Mallorcan pearls have been prized by the rich and powerful for centuries, and many shops sell these valuable items. There's also a strong tradition of Spanish art in the city (and on the island of Majorca as a whole). Visit one of Palma's many galleries and pick up a memento of your visit, such as a Joan Miro-inspired fan or mobile.