Forget package holidays: Palma is far more than just the gateway to Mallorca’s beach resorts. The Balearic capital is a dynamic city of stylish restaurants, chic bars and a unique architecture that mixes the Gothic with the Moorish.
Don’t just fly in and head out, stay awhile in this lively Spanish city and you’ll soon see why it’s one of our top 10 cities to visit in 2017.
You’ll find it impossible not to start at La Seu, the city’s enormous, attention-grabbing sandstone cathedral, perpetually bathed in golden sunshine and dominating the centre of town.
All flying buttresses and spiky columns, it is a Gothic masterpiece – and best seen from the outside. Its exterior, rising up from the water and announcing this as a Christian-conquered city, is its most striking feature and the stone seats along the old city wall at its base are the perfect place to soak up the sun and plan your assault on the city.
You’re in the heart of the Old Town here, its narrow pedestrianized streets tangling back from the water and begging you to get out there and explore.
Next head to the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, just next door – a great example of Gothic meets Moorish architecture. See the Arab baths and the state apartments, still used by the king on occasion, before retreating to the Italianate courtyard of the Palau March, home to modern sculptures and cracking views over Palma.
Then it’s time to dive in to the city’s street life, following whichever diminutive artery takes your fancy northwards towards the pavement cafés of Plaça Major.
East of here is Sa Gerrería, save this laidback neighbourhood for some bar-hopping later on.
The architecture here hasn’t changed in centuries, but the way you can see it certainly has. La Seu started offering visitors the chance to walk on the roof in late 2016 and if you’re visiting in summer there’s no better way to see the city.
This is not one for the faint-hearted or weary though – there are more than 200 steps involved in the ascent and you’ll be on your feet for almost an hour as you’re guided past the rose window and around the bell tower.
Foodies should sign up for the new food tour from Mercat de l’Olivar, a walking food safari through the Old Town which focuses on the markets. You’ll finish – where else – back at Mercat de l’Olivar, which dates from 1951 and is home to over a hundred stalls, for tastings of everything from fresh bread to sobrassada (cured sausage).
If walking isn’t your style, new bike store Urban Drivestyle Mallorca has vintage bikes and nippy scooters for hire, as well as daily city tours which promise to take you to the coolest spots.
Palma is a city that is more about enjoying the good life than ticking off the sights, so make time to relax. Platja de Palma is the best of the beaches, its 4km strand stretching around the Badia de Palma. Stroll along the palm-lined walkway behind the sands and pick your spot for some sunbathing.
If you’d rather soak up some culture, head to the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, the home and workplace of artist Joan Miró from 1956 to his death in 1983.
It’s a vast site, with several studios including an engraving workshop and print workshop that are still in use and a sculpture garden where you can admire Miró’s work amid Mediterranean plant life.
The top pick for dinner is Fosh Lab, which opened in 2016, where British expat chef Marc Fosh experiments with a daily changing menu. Expect an interactive experience here, with plenty of food-focused chat – and to be a guinea pig for test dishes that may or may not make it onto the menu at Fosh Kitchen or Michelin-starred Marc Fosh.
Also worth a dinner booking is Hotel Cort, where simple dishes such as jamón ibérico, grilled octopus and lamb terrine are washed down with Mallorcan wine in the tree-shaded square.
If you’d rather hit the tapas trail make a start at Plaça Rei Joan Carlos I, calling in at Bar Bosch and La Bodeguilla. On a Tuesday or Wednesday, head to Sa Gerrería for the Ruta Martiana: what was once a way of encouraging people out on a quiet Tuesday night has become an event in itself, with dozens of tapas places offering a drink and a tapa for around €2–3.
Trendy, minimalist The Lemon Tree on Carrer Pes de la Farina and perpetually packed Ca La Seu on Corderia are both worth seeking out, but this is a time to head where the mood – and perhaps your nose – takes you.
Helen Ochyra is a Scotland-obsessed freelance travel writer and author of the critically acclaimed Scottish travel book "Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes", a Times Travel “book of the week” and one of Wanderlust’s “best travel books of 2020”. Helen specialises in British travel and is currently studying towards a Masters in British Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Helen's work has recently appeared in the Times, the Telegraph and Grazia among many others. She lives in London with her husband and two young daughters.