Palma de Mallorca, the capital city of Spain’s Balearic Islands and home to more than half of Mallorca’s population, is a stunner.
Rich in history and brimming with beauty, its labyrinth of honey-coloured stone buildings wraps itself around an awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral. Whilst you could easily spend a week exploring its treasures, one day in Palma de Mallorca will give you ample opportunity to get a feel for this enchanting Mediterranean city.
If you are visiting Mallorca on a cruise, or are simply time-starved, here are the very best things to do in Palma de Mallorca in a day.
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A Short History of Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Palma de Mallorca has changed hands a number of times from its origin as a Bronze Age (Talaiotic) settlement.
The Romans founded the city in 120 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Palma was conquered by the Byzantines.
Palma was under Islamic control from the turn of the 10th Century until 1229 when it was taken by James I of Aragon.
Best Things to Do in Palma de Mallorca in 1 Day
To make the most of your day in Palma de Mallorca, concentrate your sightseeing in the city’s compact and picturesque Old Town. Also known as El Casco Antiguo, this is where the majority of Palma’s must-see tourist attractions are located.
Be awestruck at Catedral de Mallorca
Palma’s stunning 13th Century cathedral, commonly referred to as La Seu (its Catalan name), is the city’s geographic and historical beating heart.
Occupying the site of what was the central mosque of Medina Mayurqa, the capital of Moorish Mallorca, this Gothic cathedral has interior features designed by Antoni Gaudí and the contemporary artist Miquel Barceló.
There are two things that strike you on entering the cathedral: its size and the light.
To describe its nave as soaring is to almost do it a disservice. At a height of 44 metres, La Seu is one of the tallest cathedrals in the world.
In the morning, the cathedral’s majestic rose window throws shafts of coloured light across its vast exterior. Visitors cast their shows across its floor and its stone pillars are transformed into multi-coloured spectacles.
The appeal of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is more open to debate.
Miquel Barceló created a clay cave with a polychrome mural, inspired by the miracle of the loaves and fishes. It’s artistic Marmite; you’ll either love it or hate it.
At the invitation of the bishop, Gaudí worked on the restoration of the cathedral between 1904-1914. Although many of his changes were abandoned following a difference of opinion between the artist and the contractor, he inspired the dramatic crown-of-thorns illuminated canopy that hangs over the altar.
Relax in the S’Hort del Rei garden
The S’Hort del Rei garden (The King’s Orchard) is a three-minute walk from the cathedral.
This oasis of cypress trees, trickling fountains, ponds and pergolas is medieval in origin. Formally part of the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, this would have been planted with fruit trees, vegetables, medicinal and ornamental plants.
Today, the S’Hort del Rei is the perfect place for a short break from your sightseeing in Palma de Mallorca and a respite from the sun.
Visit the Arab Baths
Don’t miss visiting these baths, the last vestige of Medina Mayurqa. Formally part of a nobleman’s manor house, they are thought to date back to the 10th Century (although the jury is still out on that).
Built from recycled capitals from Roman and Byzantine periods, in addition to ‘new’ Muslim columns, the Arab Baths are Palma’s history in a microcosm. No two of the dozen columns supporting the half-orange-shaped dome of the tepidarium are alike.
One of the doors of the tepidarium leads to a courtyard, shaded with palm and orange trees. The perfect place to cool off after a hot bath.
Snack on an ensaïmada at C’an Joan de S’Aigo
One of the things that Spain is best known for is its fabulous food. Trying an ensaïmada, the island’s tasty pastry, is an unmissable thing to do if you have just a day in Palma de Mallorca.
Traditionally made with sweet yeast dough and saïm, a kind of reduced pork lard, this snail-shaped morsel can be sweet or savoury, plain or filled.
The best place to take time out with an ensaïmada is at Ca’n Joan de S’Aigo, Palma’s most cherished café. Established over 300 years ago, it is also the city’s oldest café and is decorated in typical Mallorcan style.
Ca’n Joan de S’Aigo is on Carrer de Can Sanç 10.
Visit Plaça de la Cort
Plaça de la Cort is home to an ancient olive tree and Palma’s medieval town hall
The 600-year-old olive tree, Olivera de Cort, was moved from Pollensa, in the north of the island, to Palma in 1989. It is considered to be a symbol of peace.
The ornate Baroque façade of the 17th Century town hall hides an earlier Gothic hospital.
Stop by Plaça Major
Plaça Major is Palma de Mallorca’s grandiose central square. Lined with arcaded ochre-coloured shops, cafes and restaurants, it is the focal point for local festivals.
For 300 years, Plaça Major was the seat of the Spanish inquisition.
Pay your respects at Santa Eulàlia Church
One of the oldest and most important Catholic churches in Palma de Mallorca, Santa Eulàlia Church is dedicated to a 13-year-old girl who was martyred in the 3rd Century for professing Christianity.
Although work on the church was started in 1236, it was not completed until 1570. Inside, it is noted for its splendid Baroque altar and 15th Century paintings.
Visit Basilica de Sant Francesc
If you haven’t had your fill of churches, stop by the Gothic-style church that is dedicated to St. Francis.
Founded as a monastery in the 13th Century, it is resolutely Mallorcan on the outside, with a sturdy sandstone wall and an intricately carved doorway. Venture inside and you’ll come across peaceful cloisters with orange and lemon trees and a well.
Visiting Palma de Mallorca on a Cruise
Palma de Mallorca is a hugely popular port of call for cruises around the Mediterranean Sea. If, like me, you are visiting Palma on a cruise, here are your options for travelling between the cruise terminal and Palma’s Old Town.
Where do cruise ships dock in Palma de Mallorca?
Most cruise ships park up at Estacio Maritima. Some ships dock at Porto Pí on the western edge of Palma.
Getting from the cruise terminal to the Old Town of Palma de Mallorca
From Estacio Maritima, it’s a 45-minute walk to Palma Cathedral. If you are unlucky enough to dock at Porto Pí, you’re looking at a 75 to 90-minute walk to the main tourist sights.
There is a bus that runs from Estacio Maritima.
Bus No. 1 takes ten minutes to make the journey to Plaça d’Espanya at the northern edge of the Old Town. From here, it’s a 15-minute walk to Palma Cathedral.
Buses run every 15 minutes and the one-way fare in 2021 is € 2.50
If you are docked at Porto Pi, you can pick up bus no. 1 from the Dic de l’Oest bus stop opposite the fort.
Most cruise operators will also run shuttle buses from the terminal to the old town. However, depending on how long you have in port, a hop-on-hop-off bus may be a more cost-effective option.
Taxis are also available.
If You Have More Than One Day in Palma de Mallorca?
If you more than a day in Palma, extend your sightseeing to beyond the Old Town.
Make your first stop Bellever Castle. Sitting on the crest of a wooded hill halfway between the cruise terminal and the Old Town, this is one of few circular castles in Europe (and the only one in Spain).
From here, it’s a 20-minute walk to the Fundació Miró Mallorca in Cala Major.
This museum is dedicated to the work of the prolific artist Joan Miró. 6000 works of his works are exhibited, including paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
But whatever you choose to do in Palma de Mallorca if you stay for a day or a week, enjoy this Mediterranean jewel.
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