Palma de Mallorca

Introduction

 

Palma de Mallorca, or Palma, as it is officially known among the local population, is a tourist friendly mixture of rich history, fascinating architecture and cosmopolitan savvy sure to delight.  The best way to fully absorb the atmosphere of this capital city of the Balearic Islands is on foot, after a ride in one of the plentiful taxis or buses to

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Fabulous views from the Castell de Bellve

reach the heart of old town Palma.  While exploring this charming city you will find fantastic shopping, delectable food and drink, ancient architecture and modern art.  Palma is also known for its magnificent, sunny beaches and crystal clear waters, which can be enjoyed year round in the island’s temperate climate.  The cultural influences of many centuries come together as one in Palma de Mallorca.

Practicalities

Palma is host to two cruise ship berths, both located in the inner harbour.  Most cruise ships are berthed at the Estació Maritima pier.  Estació Maritima is the older of the two piers and is situated near the yacht basin, and just a 40 minute walk to the centre of the city.  Porto Pi is further from the metropolitan areas and main tourist attractions, but closer to Palma’s famous sunny beaches.  From either of these locations, you will find ample taxi service and bus service at 15 minute intervals, to take you into the heart of Palma and any major visitor attractions you would like to see; from that point, it is best to tour the city as a pedestrian.  The streets of Palma are very friendly to foot traffic, and this is the best way to really experience the unique ambience that the island city has to offer.

Palma de Mallorca has two official languages: Spanish and Catalan (a Spanish-based local dialect which is also spoken in some areas of main land Spain.)   However, English is largely spoken, as well, or at least understood.  Locals always appreciate an effort to speak their native language, though, so if you’d like to try to communicate in one of Palma’s languages, here are a few words and phrases you may find useful:

English/Spanish/Catalan

Hello/Hóla/Hóla

Good Morning/Buenos Dias/Bon Dia

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The rose windows create beautiful colour effects inside the cathedral

Good Evening/Buenas Noches/Bona Nit

Please/Por favor/Si us plau

Thank You/Gracias/Moltes Grácies

Where is…?/¿Donde esta…?/¿On aquesta…?

How much…?/¿Cuanto cuesta…?/¿Quant…?

Gratuity (tip)/Propina/Propina

Most shops in Palma open around 10:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday.  While some of the major souvenir shops will remain open all day, it is good to be aware of the time, as the majority of shops and cafés in Palma de Mallorca are closed for the customarily observed siesta from approximately 2-5 p.m.  Outdoor markets typically operate just in the morning to avoid the heat of a Mediterranean afternoon, and the vast majority of businesses are closed on Sunday. The local time is GMT +1, and the official currency is the Euro.  Should you choose to indulge one of the many unique and pleasurable dining experiences in Palma, the courtesy of a 10 percent gratuity for service, while not mandatory, is appreciated.  A gratuity is also customary for taxi service in and around Palma.  While the tap water in Palma is safe to drink, bottled water is usually preferred due to the consideration of taste.

If you should unfortunately experience an emergency situation on your visit to Palma, the emergency number to call is 112.  Here are a few more translations for words and phrases you may find useful in an emergency situation:

English/Spanish/Catalan

Help!/¡Ayuda!/¡Ajuda!

Can you help me?/¿Me puedes ayudar?/¿Em pots ajudar?

Emergency/Emergencia/Emergéncia

Doctor/Médico/Metge

Ambulance/Ambulancia/Ambuláncia

Hospital/Hospital/Hospital

Police/Policía/Policia

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One of the old olive trees that you’ll find in the squares

With more than 15 million visitors to the island of Mallorca each year, you will find the local population of Palma to be quite friendly to tourists.  Even amidst the rich culture and history of Palma de Mallorca, the atmosphere tends to be very relaxed.

You will find plenty of shopping along Passeig des Born, Avinguda Jaume III and Calle San Miguel.  While these are the main shopping areas, venturing down some of the lesser side streets can reveal many smaller, unique shopping opportunities, as well.  Palma de Mallorca is particularly known for high quality leather goods and Mediterranean pearls.  You may also find good deals on porcelain.  And be sure to pick up at least one Siurell; a traditional clay whistle made in Mallorca for many centuries—dating all the way back to the days of Mallorca’s occupation by the Moors.  They are typically painted white with a trim of red and green, are inexpensive, and make great souvenirs, especially for children.

While touring the ancient streets of this primary shopping district of Palma, you may choose to relax outdoors with a glass of wine from one of Mallorca’s relatively new and distinctive wineries.  And, while you are here, be sure to enjoy an Ensaimada; a favourite traditional Mallorcan sweet pastry.

If a walking tour of Palma doesn’t appeal to you, you can still soak up the rich ambience of this one-of-a-kind city in grand style via horse drawn buggy.  Horse drawn buggy tours are available right next to the Cathedral La Seu; one of Palma de Mallorca’s primary visitor attractions.  This is a great alternative to the walking tour of Palma, and is its own unique experience, besides.

Context

Palma de Mallorca has a long and fascinating history, if somewhat tumultuous.  Although there are traces of evidence that the area was in inhabited all the way back to 6000 BC, the majority of recorded history began with the Romans.  Palma’s name today is derived from its Roman origins dating back to 123 BC, when the newly founded city was called Palmeria.  Palma remained a part of the Roman Empire until the arrival of nomadic Moors from northern Africa around 902 AD.  The Moors would go on to build palaces, and the original city walls were constructed during this period.  The tradition of Mallorca’s clay whistles, known as Siurells, began with the settlement of the Moors.  Palma de Mallorca reverted back to Christian influence with the arrival of James I of Aragon in the 13th century.  Prior to the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 1700’s, Palma was known as Ciutat de Mallorca, or Ciutat, and you may still hear the people of Mallorca refer to it as such.  While the Gothic influence is dominant throughout much of Palma’s architecture and traditions today, you will find that traces of the earlier presence of the Romans and the Moors are interwoven, as well, depicting a rich history of intermingled, multicultural design.

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The central courtyard in Castell de Bellve

Besides being the largest, most populous, and capital city of the autonomous collection of Balearic Islands, Palma is also widely known throughout Europe as a playground for the privileged.  A walk along the Harbour Waterfront will reveal one of the cleanest and most affluent harbours in the world, along with additional shopping and dining opportunities for your enjoyment.

Members of the royal family of Spain are known to spend a good portion of their summer holidays on the island of Mallorca in the nearby Marivent Palace.  The Marivent Palace was a gift from Palma to Juan Carlos I; then Prince, now King of Spain.

While maintaining a strong, primarily Catholic influence, Palma’s culture is visibly influenced by the effects of the past few decades of increasingly heavy tourism.  However, these expanded influences add to Palma’s uniqueness and charm, rather than detract.

Many aspects of Palma’s distinctive history can be seen in the unique mix of architectural design throughout the city, such as:

Cathedral Sa Seu: As the 2nd largest Gothic cathedral in all of Spain, you can’t miss the Cathedral Sa Seu.  As further evidence of Palma’s historical cultural mix, the Cathedral Sa Seu was actually built atop the ruins of a mosque.  Although construction of this magnificent cathedral began in the early 1200’s, it wasn’t actually finished until 1601.  The cathedral you see today is the result of a remodel performed in the early 1900’s.

Being the primary visitor attraction in Palma de Mallorca, the Cathedral Sa Seu is a great starting place for your tour of this delightful city.  Most of the popular tourist sights are within the old city walls, particularly to the North and East of the cathedral.  This, of course, is also where you can acquire the tour services of a horse drawn buggy.

Banys Arabs: Another fascinating bit of Palma’s history is highlighted by the nearby Banys Arabs; ancient, preserved Moorish baths.

La Lloyjs: Palma de Mallorca’s history also includes its development as a bustling hub of commerce.  At the sea front, La Lloyjs was Palma’s centre for merchant exchange, beginning in the 15th century.

Castell De Bellver: If you would like to experience a bit of the fairytale side of Palma’s history, be sure to visit Bellver Castle.  While it is a walk-able distance from the port, you may consider hiring a taxi to deliver you to this attraction.  With stunning views of the city and the island beyond, Bellver Castle was built about 600 years ago, complete with a moat and drawbridge! There is a museum that displays Roman, Arab and Spanish artefacts – this is closed on Sundays, although the castle itself is open every day

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Castell de Bellver

Art: After absorbing centuries upon centuries of Palma’s historical attractions, you may wish to experiences a taste of Palma’s present day culture with a visit to the Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani ( Museum of Modern Art).  Just a short walk down Carrier Unió, just off of the lush, tree lined Passieg des Born, you will find this museum located in the Gran Hotel building, which was once Palma de Mallorca’s very first luxury hotel.

Considering the multiple historical influences directly involved in the evolution of present day Palma de Mallorca, it may initially seem impossible to absorb them to their fullest extent in a brief tour.  But you will find all of these influences, from Roman to Moorish to Gothic to present, modern day intertwined seamlessly throughout the city, and exhibited in the charming people of Palma, as well.

General interest

Mallorca is known for its pristine, white sand beaches and year round agreeable temperatures for a day spent seaside, but also for its spectacular night life.  A fun and fascinating array of pubs, bars and nightclubs speckle the streets of Palma de Mallorca, and the evening entertainment scene typically begins to spark to life somewhere near the midnight hour.  But you can enjoy the music of Mallorca during the day, as well.  Depending on the timing of your visit, you may be fortunate to stumble upon one of the many music festivals held in Palma each year, especially during the summer months.  Parc de Mar is a popular park where outdoor musical events are sometimes held.  Or you might venture into a pub to enjoy some local folk music, or simply be serenaded by a lone musician along the street or from your sidewalk table at a quaint café while enjoying a cappuccino or a glass of Mallorcan wine.

Palma is well known for its wide, eclectic variety of fine restaurants and cafés, and you will find the majority of them, along with boutiques and shops, on and around Passeig des Born.  There are many different and delicious choices, so sample a bit from here and a bit from there if you can.  And don’t end your tour without sampling an Ensaimada—as this is one of the few places you can find them!

Football is the most popular spectator sport in Palma de Mallorca, but there are plenty of other activities as well, to entertain sports enthusiasts touring the area.  You can spend the day on one of Palma’s many golf courses, or take in the sights of the city and nature on a rented bicycle.  As a seaside city, water sports are plentiful, and a great way to soak up some of that famous Mediterranean sunshine!  Sailing, wind surfing and scuba diving are just a few of the water sports options available to visitors wishing to enjoy a day on the water.

To experience some of the local colour of Palma de Mallorca, a visit to Mercal Olivar is in order.  At this covered, outdoor market, you will find local vendors pedalling everything from fish to fruit to flowers, and be privileged to indulge in some authentic, present day Mallorcan culture, as well.

The unique culture and atmosphere of Palma de Mallorca promises to pique and delight all the senses…regardless of the particular activities you choose during your stay.

Key attractions

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Sa Seu: Palma Cathedral

The Plaça d Espanya is the ideal location to begin your walking tour of Palma.  The Plaça d´Espanya is a popular gathering place and transportation terminal, which is then an easy walk to your first recommended destination; Cathedral Sa Seu.  From the ship berth area, you can easily take a taxi or bus to Plaça d´ Espanya and begin your approximately half-day walk around the old city, ending again at Plaa d´ Espanya to acquire transportation back to the harbour.

As the most visited tourist attraction in Palma de Mallorca, Sa Seu is a must see, and a great beginning point, as previously mentioned, for your walking tour of historic, old town Palma. The cathedral has a fascinating history, including some modifications made by Gaudi. There are 7 rose windows (although not all can be viewed) which bring amazing light affects into the building.

Continue from here to experience the great food, drink, shopping and ambience of Passeig des Born. Just wander the streets & stop at the cafes in the little squares along the way.  In addition to these, there are many other attractions highly recommended to see during your visit to Palma:

Palau de l´Almudaina; Royal palace on the harbour

La Lloyjs; 15th century seafront merchant exchange

Castell de Bellver; 14th century fortress with authentic drawbridge and moat

Basilica de Sant Francesc; 13th century sandstone church

From perfectly groomed expanses of pristine white sand to quaint coves off the beaten path, Palma de Mallorca boasts some of the finest, most beautiful beaches in all the Mediterranean, so be sure to devote a little time to some fun in the sun, as well!

To get a true taste of the local culture in Palma, visit the Mercal Oliver for some fresh fruit or flowers.  Parc de la Mar, situated near the cathedral, is a great place to pull up a seat, relax, and simply take in your surroundings.  If you’re in the mood for a more adventurous afternoon, spend some time at the Poble Espanyol; a Spanish Village theme park.  And be sure to refresh yourself with a stop at a Palma café or two along your tour!

Quirky facts

“The Balanguera spins, spins…the Balanguera will spin.”  The lyrics to Mallorca’s national anthem are based on an ancient children’s song about a spider.  The Balanguera “weaves a flag for the youth” from traditions of the past and hopes for the future.

The massive wrought-iron piece, symbolizing the crown of thorns, which hangs in the Sa Seu, was created by Antoni Gaudi, who was also responsible for first introducing electricity to the cathedral.

While certain municipalities attempt to enforce bans against it, there is no law against public nudity in Mallorca, or any of Spain.

Author: Jennifer Finnell