Palma, Mallorca – A Unique City Guide : Hidden Gems And Best Bits

La Seu, in the top 10 things to see and do in Palma - a beautiful piece of architecture by Gaudi. One of the highlights of a trip to PalmaThe first thing you notice when you arrive in Palma is La Seu, the city’s gigantic cathedral. It’s boxy contours and generous proportions have me thinking of Noah’s ark, just waiting by the edge of the ocean for a tsunami style flood, hoping to float away. But as Gaudi’s gothic masterpiece gazes out to sea, daydreaming of an escape to the mainland, I am glad to be here; cocooned by the ocean in one of my favourite European cities : Palma.

Palma is much greater than the sum of it’s parts, for definite, since no one would book a city mini-break just to see a cathedral. You see, on paper it’s scoresheet is pretty poor but once you’re inside it’s walls you’re ticking boxes left right and centre.

Palma Old Town

Just beyond Gaudi’s ark (La Seu) are a tangle of cobbled streets no heels should tackle, since once you start exploring you won’t be able to resist a maze-walk of curiosity around an area that began it’s current life in the fourteenth century. Romans, Arabs, Greeks and Phoenicians left their mark over the centuries in one way or another, particularly in the food and heritage, but the old town is predominantly gothic in architecture and as preserved as a good jar of pickle – very few ugly modern buildings have wormed their way in, unlike in some less fortunate cities. The streets are narrow and the walls are high but catch a glimpse through the archways or open doors and you’ll see an abundance of pretty courtyards and ornately glamourous staircases crying out for a Chanel photo-shoot. There are a couple of hidden gems too, worth getting your map out for, like the Jardí del Bisbe (or Bishops Garden) a few streets behind La Seu – a quiet little garden haven, charmingly rustic and maybe in need of a jet-wash but nevertheless a sanctum of tranquility only streets away from the selfie-sticks and cruise-ship cronies. Or the Arab Baths, one of the only traces of 10th century Islamic roots left in the city, and an excellent €2.50’s-worth of a glimpse into old high-society, once the privately owned baths of a rich merchant, and much of it still in tact.

It's amazing what you find when you go off the beaten track in Palma, hidden gems and unique spots where only locals would know about. Palma Guide

roof top views over the old town of Palma. One of the highlights of a city break to Palma is visiting the many rooftop bars in the city for a glass of wine and a view.

TIPS : There are several boutique style hotels in this area with amazing courtyards and private roof terraces. Here are some of my favourite…

Palacio Ca Sa Galesa – set in a 16th century palace which you would be forgiven for thinking was just a garage door. But, like I said – the good bits are all hidden around here. There’s a roof terrace and luxury spa in a vaulted cellar.

Santa Clara Urban Hotel & Spa – a little more affordable, jacuzzi’s in the living room and a rooftop terrace. I said Jacuzzi’s in the living room!

Hotel Cort – Enough reason to go out and buy a drone. From above the hotel rooms are staggered on a giant staircase, all with their own beautifully tiled terraces. And as if that wasn’t enough, this has to be one of the prettiest squares in Palma : a gnarled old olive tree sits on it’s 7 metre spread in the middle of the Town Hall Square and commands the attention of camera wielding tourists all day and into the evening. It lived the first quiet 600 years of it’s life up near Pollensa (North Mallorca) but has spent the last 18 with a side show of  Castellers, Flamenco and the occasional hand-cuffed drunkard doing his night in the town hall cells for starting a bar fight. Definitely a Square worth savouring over a cold beer and plate of pinchos.

The old town in Palma is brimming with hidden gems like the prettiest courtyards and staircases. This is a courtyard from one of the best Beautique hotels in Palma Old town

Sant Nicolau & Sindicat

Leaving the tranquility of La Seu and the old town behind you, as you carry on into the bowels of Palma you hit the streets of Sant Nicolau and Sindicat. The architecture changes and the buzz is palpable. It’s not from tourists though, Palma is a city of Spaniards and it’s refreshing to be amongst the locals. Some of the streets are steep, especially on the way up to Placa Major but then the world opens up into this grand square and all of a sudden you realise how claustrophobic narrow cobbled streets can become.  Placa Major is your usual humdrum of fake Gucci handbags on the arms of middle-easterners and generic restaurants pushing photographic menu’s on bilboards. Have a twirl in the heart of the city then get your balance, leave through one of the many exits and get back to the narrow streets where the real hearts beat.

Gaudí is the bomb in this town and these are the areas that most resonate the Mallorcan love for this bearded architect fellow. The intricate innards of La Seu cathedral are replicated on the house-fronts of the 19th century buildings you walk by – rainbow mosaics decorate the streets (think Parque Güell in Barcelona) and ornate ironwork is everywhere. If you can find a seat then be sure to take breakfast at Cappuccino Colon in the Can Forteza Rey building – it’s a beautiful place to drink your coffee and nibble on a pastry. Alternatively, there are plenty of more humble authentic Spanish cafes nearby, not as beautiful but great for watching the locals buy their morning croissants and bread for the day.

Cappuccino Colon is the best place to go for breakfast in Palma - a beautiful ornate building with amazing pastries
Cappuccino Colon
Take coffee with the locals in the streets of Sant Nicolau, an area of beautiful Gaudi architecture, just wander and find all of Palma's hidden gems
Coffee with the locals

 

Placa Major is Palma's biggest square, a must see but maybe not the place to eat.
Placa Major
you must wander and see the fine architecture in Palma, perfect for a city weekend break
The architecture of the city is definitely a highlight of Palma

La Rambla means ‘the river’ and to the north-west of Sant Nicolau you find yourself at the bottom of the old tributary that was carving a groove towards the sea. Nowadays it’s a tree-lined avenue of flower stalls and old coin markets, a bit random but oh so pretty and worthy of a picture.

TIPS : 

ZARA’ s flagship store on Passeig Del Born cannot be missed. I mean, it’s set in an old theatre but this is one occasion where I’ll be salivating at the clothes rails rather than at the historical architecture. I’m in my happy place, Mr MLLH will be found in a local bar somewhere.

Hotel Almudaina on Av. de Jaume III has a rooftop bar with some of the best views of Palma. We ate 2 generous sized tapas, 2 large glasses of red wine and sat with the prettiest view ever for an hour and it only set us back €14 – worth every cent!

What to see in Palma? Take a stroll up La Rambla for all the flower markets
The flower markets of La Rambla

La Lonja & Puig De Sant Pere

One of my favourite area’s of Palma, where artists find their vibe and the cool youth come out to party. The combo shouldn’t work – yacht folk and their entitled offspring rub shoulders communally with artists and thespians as if the two breeds have never disagreed. However, it’s easy to tell them apart if you’re looking for your crowd – the artists won’t be wearing YSL. During the day the narrow streets are home to studios and galleries, all a stones-throw from their heritage at the Museum of Modern Art. But, when the lights go down, other craftsmen go to work in their kitchens and cocktail bars, enticing the appreciative crowds to some of the best restaurants and bars in Mallorca. Painters and shipmates alike all need their pinchos!

A fascinating little Hall right on the seafront, the area’s namesake – La Lonja, was the original Maritime Trade Exchange, the gateway of wealth for the rest of Mallorca. It’s a grand hall of stone and carved twisted pillars that sends echoes of your impressed expressions circling around the room for all to hear, you can only imagine the noise levels when this place was filled with traders from every one of earths corners. Outside is a walled garden where I’m sure many a merchant went to when deafness had set in. Free entry and well worth a little look.

La lonja - the merchants hall in Palma is one of the must see tourist attractions in the city.
La Lonja – Merchants Hall

TIPS :

Abaco Cocktail Bar is one of the most instagrammable spots in Palma, a bar resembling more of a flower shop than a drinking establishment and so polinated you need to take a Piriton pre-drink. However, every friday night, along with your €15 cocktail, you can enjoy a flower petal display as bucket-loads are showered from the balconies and cover the floor and guests in a blanket of sweet smelling blossom. A bit gimmicky but probably worth doing once.

Alternatively, another great hotel bar with a roof terrace and amazing view of the sea and Spanish rooftops is the PURO Hotel, there aren’t that many beds but if you can get in early and snatch one, you’re set up for the evening in one of the comfiest real life screen savers known to the western world. Don’t forget your camera.

Palma is the perfect location for a city break - relaxed, good food and plenty to see and do.

Some of the best views of Palma are the rooftop views of the cathedral La Seu seen from some of the rooftop bars in the city. Enjoy a drink with a view
A glass of wine with a view from the PURO Hotel

Santa Catalina

So I’m just going to put it out there and say that Mallorcan cuisine is possibly my favourite type of food there is. And why is it so different to just plain old Spanish!? It just is. It’s Catalan, Arabic, eastern and modern all rolled into one. Mallorcan’s take their food so seriously that even regular chains like Es Rebost claim to do fast food slowly in order to get it right. So when you hear that Santa Catalina is the food district that locals choose to eat at, you’ve got to pay it a visit right?

The whole area is awash with restaurants offering great food at extremely reasonable prices. In fact, there are many little bars where your drink will automatically come with a free plate of pinchos, or tapas ; now you’re talking! But if you want to know where the locals go to eat then you need to head on over to Carrer de la Fabrica. Most restaurants spill out onto a neatly groomed, pedestrianised avenue packed with cafe tables and chairs and the air is filled with families enjoying their evenings together. It really is nothing to look at when you consider how beautiful and old the rest of Palma is, but if you want great food then you will need to take a walk just beyond the ancient city and believe me – that 5 minute stroll will be well worth it!

TIP :

Patron Lunares, Carrer de la Fabrica, is on the Bib Gourmand list (ViaMichelin), award winning food for approximately €25-35 per person for 2 courses. Special food in a trendy restaurant with a relaxed setting. Check it out!

Patron Lunares in Santa Catalina is a bib gourmand restaurant in Palma. Some of the best food and a great twist on Mallorcan cuisine - my favourite place to eat in Palma, a definite highlight.
Patron Lunares
Amazing food at Lunares in Palma
My Squid dish at Patron Lunares
Carrer de la Fabrica - where the locals eat in Palma
Carrer de la Fabrica – where the locals eat

Highlights Of Palma

See, if I wanted history and passion (and pizza), I’d choose Rome. If I wanted excitement and fun I’d book London. Romance? It’s Venice for me. But what if I just wanted a chilled-out weekend break with good food and wine, a relaxed vibe, great shopping and a walk along the beach thrown in for good measure – well, Palma for me is all of that and more. The people are friendly, the sun warms your cockles 330 days of the year, the history is fascinating and there are always more hidden gems to discover every time we visit. Palma will always be one of the best Spanish cities in my books and when that plane touches down on island soil, I get a shiver up my spine at what the weekend has in store!

For the best deals on hotels in Palma, click here

Pin For Later…

Palma is one of the best cities in Europe for a relaxed vibe with plenty of culture, shopping and beauty thrown in. With some of the best restaurants in Spain, excellent shopping opportunities and a chance to sit back and take in the views, Palma is an obvious choice for the perfect weekend city break. Read my Palma guide on what you can expect from your weekend break, the highlights, where to go, what to see and where to eat in Palma.

Have you been? What are your thoughts? Do you know of any more hidden gems or highlights you can share with me? Be sure to leave me a comment or drop me a line below…


Looking for where to stay with the family in Mallorca :

Family Friendly Mallorca – Choosing The Right Resort

 

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Jurga says:

    Never been to Palma, nor to Mallorca for that matter. I always used to think people just go there for the beaches, but this proves me wrong. What an extraordinary architecture of the Cathedral! 330 days of sunshine is another great reason to put Mallorca on my list, Belgian weather is just about the opposite 🙂

  2. Theresa says:

    What an absolutely delightful and thorough picture you’ve painted! You really have a way with descriptions and placing the reader right on those narrow cobblestone streets. Thank you!

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks Theresa.

  3. Bread says:

    It’s gorgeous. I love hidden gems, getting off the beaten path you know. #kcacols

  4. I wish i could fit a weekend visiting Palma into my remaining few weeks in Europe! I love Mallorca and next visit I will definitely spend more time in the city! So much to see and do!

  5. Tammymum says:

    Oh it does look gorgeous. I love anywhere that is steeped in so much history. I love European cities because of this. It looks like there is just so much to do and see. We are hoping to get to Majorca either this year or next and Palma will definitely be on my list of places to go, as will the Zara haha. #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Oo good – hope you have a fab time!

  6. I’ve never been to Palma, but it sounds great and somewhere I’d definitely consider for the future. Great tips! Thanks for linking up with #KCACOLS, hope to see you again next time. x

  7. Liza says:

    Never been there before, but now I really want to go to Palma! Alwesome photos, Alex!

  8. Mel Butler says:

    I stayed in Palma a couple of summers ago and it was such a pleasant surprise. I was unaware about the history or the amazing restaurants there. Loved your tips and recommendations, I will definitely use them when I take my husband back.

  9. Arianne says:

    This place looks amazing! Also I am not one for shopping much while on holiday but that flagship store couldn’t be missed! Great article

    1. Alex says:

      Me neither but I LOVE Zara!

  10. Oh wow, you make it sound absolutely amazing! I’ve never been before, and love how much I know feel like I know about the place having read this. Love all the insider tips about where to go and where to eat! x #KCACOLS

    1. Alex says:

      Aw thanks – it’s such a great city though

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