Off the east coast of Spain sits the small archipelago of islands known as the Balearics. On hearing the names Mallorca (the largest), Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, you might not expect much from the Balearic Islands. Their reputation is harshly doused in 'Brits Abroad' stereotypes and heavy partying (that's on you, Ibiza). But truth be told, if you do not to visit the Balearic Islands because of these pre-conceived ideas, you miss out entirely on four accessible islands with beautiful coastlines, dazzling beaches, a strong dose of culture and historical towns.
Whether you're into your diving, want to explore on foot or simply want to flop on pristine beaches, there's an island for you. These are the best Balearic Islands to visit for every type of traveller.
For nature-lovers and laid-back travellers: Formentera
This small place is one of the best Balearic Islands for peace and quiet. It's far less frequented or developed than its big sister, Ibiza, despite being only a 30-minute boat ride away. Formentera has managed to keep a laid-back atmosphere, perfect for those looking for a more chilled vibe. Nature lovers also need to put this island on the top of their list. The small island offers miles of rugged coastline dotted with white sand beaches, crystal clear blue sea ideal for swimming, snorkelling or diving, and salt flats that flamingos call home.
Slow is Formentera's default setting, so travellers who don't want the hectic, pulsing pace of Ibiza will feel right at home here - there's even a ban on new beachfront properties. In the sixties and seventies, the island became a bit of a draw for hippies, and the free-spirited feeling certainly lives on. There are plenty of markets full of local crafts, including the lantern-lit market of El Pilar de la Mola, coincidentally also the highest village on the island, so a trip here guarantees great views over the island.
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For families and beach bums: Menorca
While all the Balearics have great beaches, the ones on Menorca really stand out as the easy option for reaching Caribbean-level quality sands. You'll easily find little coves and secret hideaways of white, squeaky sand with rippling turquoise waves lapping onto shore, shimmering in the sun. So where to go? Check out Cala Mitjana, Cala Trebalúger, Calas Coves, Cala Macaralleta... we could go on, but you get the idea.
Most beaches in Menorca have shallow waters. This makes Menorca the best Balearic Islands for families, especially with young children. It may spoil them for life, but some things are worth the risk! For families a little older and more daring, Menorca is also the perfect place to get into diving, with its impressive water clarity and amazing marine life. If you're on a budget or don't fancy the commitment to diving, the snorkelling is still fantastic.
For the nightlife and culture: Ibiza
Predictable? Yes, perhaps. But Ibiza and nightlife truly do go together like a good gin and tonic. With its season of clubbing at renowned places like Pacha (and plenty more), stylish open-air bars with A-list DJ sets, there's enough options in Ibiza to keep you going into the early hours of every day of the week.
Ibiza as the best Balearic island for culture might come as a bit more of a surprise, however. Exploring the island's UNESCO-listed Old Town is enough to make you change your mind, with its majestic Dalt Vita Fortress and other snippets of history right in front of your feet. Another great spot to explore is the Es Cana market, where you'll find all sorts of trinkets and local crafts on offer.
For those who want it all: Mallorca
The largest island, Mallorca, offers so much that it can't be placed under any one category. This is the best Balearic Island for a bit of everything: the beaches are jaw-droppingly beautiful and the nightlife here can suit all styles. With its 2,500 restaurants and 41 marinas, you won't be at a loss for any type of cuisine or a pleasing view while you dine.
Mallorca is also a great place to take your family, particularly teenagers, who will be kept adequately entertained without too much pouting. Palma offers attractive promenades and trendy boutiques as well as plenty of culture with the Santa María Gothic cathedral overlooking the bay and the Moorish-style Arab fortress, Almundaina. If outdoor thrills are more their thing, you can take your pick of cycling and hiking trails around the island, and Alcudia and Pollensa are great bases for adventures. For slowing things down, make a pit stop at the local wineries.
Ready for a trip to the Balearic Islands in Spain? Check out the snapshot Rough Guide to the Balearic Islands or the Rough Guides to Mallorca & Menorca. If you travel further in Spain, read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in Spain. For inspiration use the Spain itineraries from The Rough Guide to Spain and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there. And if you prefer to plan and book your trip to Spain without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.