Although I’ve lived in Barcelona off-and-on for the last 4 years, I never made it to any of the islands nearby (Canary and Balearic Islands). It’s a crime, I know. The thing is, I never really stayed in the summers, which is the most popular time to go. More than once, I saw cheap flight deals in the autumn or early Spring months, but my local friends would tell me that it wasn’t worth it, and that I should wait for beach weather (looking back, I wish I would’ve ignored them and gone anyways).
So I never made it there, until just recently. Since it was August, prices weren’t cheap like those I had seen before, and because we planned a bit last minute, not many inexpensive accommodations were left. We wanted a relatively budget-friendly vacation, so our first step was choosing which island.
After comparing tons of flight deals, we ended up choosing to go to Mallorca (Ibiza was slightly more expensive, and Menorca significantly more). I really had no idea what to expect, and my Catalan husband neither (he had been a couple times as a child, but didn’t remember much).
So, we booked our flights and I spent the next couple days preparing and doing my research. Below, you can find descriptions of the towns, must-sees, recommendable restaurants along with our personal experience there along with tons of photos 🙂 Since there is a lot of information, I’m splitting this post into a day by day recounting of our trip. However, this first post (including information on our 1st day there) also contains the full list of things to see and do.
Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
- Where is it located? Mallorca is one of the Balearic Islands, located to the east of Spain (almost directly east of Valencia).
- What language do they speak? They speak both Castilian Spanish (the official language of Spain) and Mallorquí, which is a variant of Catalan (spoken in nearby Catalonia). If you’re looking to improve your language skills, check out my 13 Tricks for Learning a Language. If you don’t know Spanish, it is still quite easy to get around using English because there is a lot of tourism to the area. However, it is always nice to try and speak the language – the locals appreciate it! Click here for some basic survival phrases in Spanish.
- What currency do they use? They use the euro, like the rest of Spain.
- Interesting Facts about Mallorca:
- The name of this island originated in Latin, and comes from the fact that it is the biggest of the Balearic Islands.
- The reason the sea is so incredibly clear and instagrammable is due to a specific alga in the water and seabed.
- Antoni Gaudi, well-known for his masterpiece Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, helped in the restoration of the cathedral in Palma.
- Some of the first evidence of using flour in a sweet pastry recipe is in Mallorca and dates back to the 17th-century with mention of the typical “ensaïmada” (see below for more).
Since Mallorca is an island, it isn’t as easy to get to as some of the other locations in Spain. The most common ways to get there are by plane or ferry. My husband and I researched both methods, and coming from Barcelona it turned out to be cheaper to take a plane there and rent a car once we arrived. However, depending on the time of year, that could change. I would recommend checking both options for your trip depending on where you’re originating from. For routes and timetables on the ferry, go to the Balearia website.
Transportation from Airport to Palma City
Unlike many of my other guides, this one is about the region in general, and not on a particular city. Depending on where you’re staying the night, one of the options below might be better for you than the others. My husband and I wanted to visit as much as possible on our short trip, so the rental car option was the best for us.
- Cheapest: By Bus
- Depending on where you’re staying, Bus line 1 or 21 might work best for you. Check the official website for specific information and timetables. Price is 5 euros per person, and it takes about 30 minutes to get to the city center. Some people complain that these airport buses are often overcrowded with long wait times and not much luggage space. If you’re not staying in Palma, there are also other buses that go all across the island.
- By Taxi
- Taxis are always more expensive than other options, but are also the most convenient, especially if you’re traveling with a group or lots of luggage. Taxi services here also offer various tour routes for those who won’t have access to a car during their trip. Check out fares and more information here. To get from the airport to the city center, it generally costs upwards of 25-30 euros.
- By Car
- If you come by ferry, consider paying a little extra to bring your car with you. If you come by plane, it is easy to rent a car directly from the airport. For more information and reservations, go to the official airport site.
During our planning stages of the trip, we had seen many relatively cheap options available to the west of Palma, near the region of Magaluf. We didn’t end up making it to that area, but it is infamous for tourists and partying. Also, the majority of the accommodations we saw didn’t include air conditioning, which was a priority for us, especially during the hot August months. If you’re into partying and nightlife, this could be a good area for you. If not, I’d recommend staying away.
There are many hotel, hostel and Airbnb options all across the island. I recommend first planning what you’d like to see most on your trip, and then find accommodations afterwards. Although it is an island, it still takes awhile to get from one side to the other. For advice on what type of accommodation to choose, read my article on How to NOT Spend Your Life Savings on Travel Accommodations.
Depending on your interests, different areas of the island might be better for you. My husband and I were looking based on price because we knew we would be visiting all parts of the island. We stayed at the Hotel Segles in Campos, a small village in the southeast of the island, about 20-30 minutes away from the coast. A nice breakfast was included, and the building is renovated and decorated with unique antiques. They also had an indoor pool and air conditioning.
Things to See
Unlike many other popular destinations in Europe, Mallorca is known mostly for its incredible natural beauty. As such, I don’t have as many buildings or historical points of interest listed here as I do in my other guides. Rather, it’ll mostly be a list of some of the best beaches and views.
Also, since this guide is based on the entire island versus just a city, I will separate these lists into regions. Here is an interactive Google map that you can use on your trip, separated into things to see/beaches and restaurants!
Palma City & Southern Coast
- Catedral de Mallorca: A grand cathedral that can be seen from all across the city. I’m not impressed by many cathedrals, but I thought this one was magnificent. It began construction in the 13th-century, and in the 20th-century the renowned Antoni Gaudi made some changes to the cathedral as well. We didn’t enter due to the price tag and waiting time, but if you’re interested in architecture and history, it is supposed to be a good visit.
- Mallorca Delicatessen – Mateu Pons: A traditional deli in the heart of Palma, with aromatic cold meats and other specialties hanging from the walls and ceilings. Go in to try a sample of some of their products, and don’t forget to leave without taking some sobrasada home with you!
- Platja es Carbó: Lovely beach to the southeast of Palma City (about an hour by car) with a long, white sand beach and crystal clear waters. Expect to walk about 15 minutes from parking to arrive there.
Serra de Tramuntana (West Coast)
- Torre del Verger (Banyalbufar): A tower on the cliffside with gorgeous views of the coast. This is a fantastic place to watch the sunset! Bring a little picnic with you and come early because parking is limited (also, don’t leave any valuables in your car). The tower itself is nothing special, but the views definitely are.
- Valldemossa: A lovely and quaint little town (with limited parking) to explore as you drive along the Serra de Tramuntana.
- Deià: A picturesque town in the middle of the Tramuntana mountains. As you enter the town from the south, try to stop for parking on the side (there’s some spots along the left) to grab a picture of the town from afar. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the town itself, but it comes highly recommended.
- Cala de Deyá: Do NOT miss this incredible little cove! It has been named one of Mallorca’s best more than once, and it definitely lives up to the title. It is a rocky beach, but the views are breathtaking. There are little areas to explore along the rocky shore, and a big boulder to jump off of (if that’s what you’re into). There’s also a bar and restaurant. Be sure to come early, because this place gets packed! It’s a bit of a walk from the parking (metered), but totally worth it. Also good to know – the road to get to this cove is quite narrow and curvy, so be careful and drive slowly!
- Port de Sóller: This little town has its own port and tons of shore-side restaurants and bars. It has lovely views and even a little wooden train that you can take around. We stopped here for lunch, but found this area to be a little too touristy for our tastes. However, they do have a nice, long stretch of beach!
- Cala Tuent: If you’ve done your research on Mallorca, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned Sa Calobra yet. Infamous for the mountainous and narrow road that leads to it (do NOT attempt this if you’re not 100% comfortable with heights and hairpin turns), I found Sa Calobra to be a bit too touristy for my taste. However, if you turn off the road right before you hit Sa Calobra, you’ll see a small sign off to the left saying Cala Tuent – follow it! You’ll have a longer drive through the mountains, but when you finally arrive to the beach, it’ll be worth it. It is rocky, but offers great views. We enjoyed watching the sunset here!
- Cala Torta: This was my personal favorite cove on our trip to Mallorca! You have to go down a long, winding road to arrive to the parking lot (the last 3-5 minutes of the drive is a dirt road, so you have to go slowly and carefully). I highly recommend arriving before 10am if possible because parking becomes almost impossible by 12pm! From the parking lot, it is an easy 5-7 minute walk to the beach. The sand is lovely, and the water is incredibly beautiful – it almost doesn’t look real!
- Sa Canova Playa Virgen: In general, this beach tends to have less people than other nearby beaches. However, the waves are also generally bigger, so it is a common stop for surfers. Try not to go on a windy day!
- Necròpoli de Son Real: If you’re interested in archeology, check out these ruins right on the coastline in the center of Alcúdia Bay! Even if you’re not super interested in ancient history, you’ll be impressed by the views.
- Cala Sant Vicenç: This quaint little town boasts 4 different coves to explore! We had a short time here, so we only saw two of them – Cala Molins and Cala Carbó. The former was absolutely packed with tourists, so we went up the small hill to the other cove and felt ourselves right at home. Cala Carbó seems to be the more local side, although there are rocks instead of sand. Still an incredible place to enjoy the water and views!
- Cala Bóquer: A gorgeous and peaceful beach with less tourists. You’ll have to hike a bit to get there (about 2 miles each way) on rocky terrain, but as long as you come prepared, the visit will be worth it! Many people say the last stretch of the path until you arrive to the beach can be a bit tricky and steep, so definitely bring proper footwear.
- Mirador Es Colomer: If you’re not afraid of heights nor driving on steep and curvy mountain roads, check out this viewpoint that’s on the same road that leads to the Cap de Formentor Lighthouse (see below) and beach. This is a super popular place to visit, so be prepared to fight for parking. But the views are other-worldly! There’s also a little cafe there where you can grab a snack or refreshment. It’s also an incredible stop to enjoy the sunset if you don’t want to continue on the mountain roads.
- Cap de Formentor Lighthouse: This is a super popular place to watch the sunset, but that also means that it is super crowded. You could also come for sunrise, but I expect you’d have the same problem. The road to arrive to the lighthouse is closed until 7pm due to high traffic, so if you go before, you’ll have to go by bus. We came here soon after 7pm by car, but there was a huge line of cars waiting to get to the top. We decided to turn around and found another viewpoint nearby to admire the sunset.
- Es Pontàs: Gorgeous natural rock formation just off the coast. From the viewpoint, you can walk to other coves. For information on our experience there, see below.
- Caló des Moro: Incredible clear waters at this little, picturesque cove! This place is no secret, though – go early to reserve your spot! Parking is a decent walk from the beach itself, so bring good shoes and don’t be afraid to ask others for directions.
- Cala s’Almunia: Beautiful and quaint rocky cove. I’d recommend bringing water shoes, or at least appropriate shoes (not flip flops) to walk over the rocks. There’s not really any sand, but the views are worth it. Expect to walk 15-20 minutes from parking to arrive there.
- Playa S’Amarador: Set in the center of Mondragó Natural Park, this cove has a lot of sand to relax on and gorgeous, natural surroundings. You can also take one of the many walkways around the natural park. The one downside is that you have to pay for parking, but if you spend the day there it is worth it.
- Puente Natural: Along the coastline, the rocks form a natural bridge of sorts that you can cross – if you’re brave enough! It’s a bit of a hike to arrive, along with a couple walls you have to climb over, so bring plenty of water and appropriate shoes (along with a camera, of course). Long pants are also a good idea for the walk there to protect your legs from the wild plants. The waters around here are an incredible shade of turquoise!
- Cala Varques: It’s a bit of an adventure to arrive here, and the entrance to the path can be a little difficult to find – don’t be afraid to ask others for directions! The parking on the main road costs a couple euros. It’s a bit of a hike to arrive (2.5 km approx), so dress appropriately and bring water. You will be rewarded with a gorgeous and clean beach!
- Drach Caves: There are quite a few different caves around the island, but this is by far the most famous. Visits cost about 15 euros, and you should reserve your tickets ahead of time so that you don’t have to wait in line. Visits are about an hour, and also include a short boat ride and concert.
- Cala Murta: A short walk from the Drach Caves, this is a great little cove to spend some time if you have to wait for your visit or want to wander around afterwards. It is completely rocky, but there are ways to jump into the crystal clear waters. This was one of my husband’s favorite locations on our trip!
- Far de Capdepera: Up at the very northeastern tip of the island you will find this lighthouse on the cliff. You can’t actually enter the lighthouse, but you can find a spot to sit on the mountainside and watch the sun set over the mountains to the west. Parking can be a bit tricky, so arrive with plenty of time. For brownie points, bring a picnic with you and a blanket!
Top Rated Restaurants, Cafes & Bars
Palma City (South Coast)
- Palacio Ca Sa Galesa: A 5-star hotel with a 5-star price tag. If you can’t afford to stay here, don’t fret – check out their rooftop terrace and bar, also available to non-guests and boasting a gorgeous view!
- Ca’n Joan De S’aigo: An authentic cafe that serves the traditional Mallorcan ensaïmada pastry, along with other typical breakfast offerings. People also rave about their ice cream!
- Restaurante La Bóveda: A cozy, traditionally-styled restaurant with a wide variety of delicious and fresh tapas.
- Forn de Bonaire: A simple and small bakery offering high-quality Mallorcan pastries. Many people come here to buy the typical ensaïmada to-go.
- Restaurante Wineing: If you’re a wine lover like us, don’t miss out on this little gem! It is a modern restaurant with a large variety of wines to try either by the glass or by the taste. Serve yourself with measured pouring machines!
- Mercat de Santa Catalina: If you want to check out some local products and try some authentic pinchos or tapas, head to the market in the Santa Catalina neighborhood. There are many little bars offering various bites and drinks. Many places are standing-room only, but it’s worth it for the experience! Try to come early (around 12pm) so that the shops are open, too.
- Hotel Almudaina Rooftop Bar: After exploring the city for hours, take a rest at the lovely rooftop bar at the Hotel Almudaina. They serve up great cocktails, and have an incredible view of the city!
- Restaurante El Pescador: Charming little restaurant with simple but high-quality food at a good price.
- Restaurante S´alqueria Turó: This is a rustic little restaurant with a lovely courtyard. Although it is away from the coastline, you won’t be sorry you stopped here! They offer traditional and authentic Mallorcan and Spanish cuisine.
- Can Gavella: If you want a view to go along with your meal, look no further than this lovely restaurant. Dine with your toes in the sand, and satisfy your appetite with an incredible and fresh paella!
- Royal Beach: We stopped at this beachside bar for some appetizers before heading to Cap de Formentor for the evening. The area itself isn’t my favorite (very touristy) but we were hungry, so beggars can’t be choosers, eh? This bar and restaurant has fantastic views, and we really enjoyed the nachos and croquetas that we ordered!
- Bar Lovento: If you’re looking for a delicious paella right across from the beach, check out this bar – and come hungry! The family that runs this restaurant has their own boat where they catch fresh fish daily. You really can’t find better seafood anywhere else!
- Restaurant Voramar: A lovely restaurant on a hill that specializes in various paellas. Go here for dinner after you watch the sunset at Es Pontàs.
- Restaurant La Petite Iglesia: This family-run restaurant is in the building of an old, renovated church. It is quite cute and well-decorated. It offers high-quality French cuisine and friendly service.
- Euforia Tapas: I found this using a quick Google search while we were wandering around Cala Ratjada, and we absolutely loved it! They have many tables right on the coastline which you can reserve ahead of time. Their menu consists of a large variety of artistic and gourmet tapas. We thoroughly enjoyed our food, and the waiters were very friendly as well.
Must-Try Mallorcan Specialties
- Ensaïmada: A delicious and simple spiral-shaped pastry that is topped with powdered sugar. It dates all the way back to the 17th-century! Sometimes you’ll find them plain, and others are with a sweet cream filling. It is super common for people to take packages of these back home as gifts for friends and family.
- Sobrasada: One of the most iconic products from Mallorca, this is a type of cured, spiced red sausage that is commonly spread on toast in the mornings for breakfast. Ingredients include pork and a local paprika. There are both sweet and spicy varieties.
- Frit Mallorqui: This is a dish somewhat like a stirfry that includes potatoes, various vegetables, garlic, and spices. It is all fried together with various meat products (if you want to know more details or about the history of the dish, go here).
- Arròs Brut: This dish literally translates to “dirty rice,” but don’t let that deter you from trying this Mallorcan variant of paella. This rice dish is more soupy, and includes various meats and vegetables.
- Trempó: A simple Mallorcan salad that consists of tomato, onion, green pepper, and olive oil. It is a great and healthy dish to keep you cool in the summertime. It is also sometimes served as an accompaniment to other dishes (for example, we found a place that served it on top of nachos). Click here for a recipe and more information.
- Porcella Rostida: This translates simply to “roasted pork,” which doesn’t sound all too exciting, does it? What makes this dish so special is its preparation. When done well, there is a crispy skin on top that is perfectly marinated with ingredients such as lemon, s&p, and a liqueur. This dish is especially traditional for locals at Christmastime.
- Panades: This is a traditional savory pastry often served around Easter. It is similar to an empanada, and stuffed with any combination of meat, sobrasada, and sometimes vegetables. For a recipe and personal notes on the tradition, check out this post.
Our Experience – Day 1
I’d been dying to visit the Balearic Islands ever since I moved to Spain, but the opportunity just never arose. This summer, while trying to plan our budget-friendly vacation, I introduced the idea of going camping in the Costa Brava (which we had already visited many times, although it is beautiful and impossible to get bored of). My husband knew that I had been wanting to visit the islands, so he suggested we finally go for a visit, despite a higher price tag. We spent a few days researching hotel prices and transportation, and finally decided to take the plunge and visit Mallorca – and I’m so glad we did!
Since we planned the trip a bit last minute, I didn’t have as much time as usual to thoroughly research everything about the island. As such, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew there’d be lovely beaches, but I was not prepared for just how breathtaking it’d really be.
Our first day, we arrived to Palma de Mallorca Airport early in the morning. We scurried over to the rental car company (I highly recommend renting a car – although many places are accessible by bus, it just isn’t the same if you truly want to explore the island), got the keys, and headed straight over to Palma city.
The one bad thing about renting a car is that you have to find parking, which can be quite tricky in the city. We circled around for awhile before we realized that free parking just wasn’t available, and that we’d have to either go into a parking garage or the blue zone on the streets. We opted for the latter because it is generally cheaper overall, but unfortunately it also has a time limit – you can only pay for a max of about 2 hours (excluding midday lunch times). So if you plan on staying longer for that, you have to plan carefully and know exactly when to return to insert more money (this ended up turning out to be a major pain for us).
After we parked, we headed towards the center of the city and stumbled upon Forn de Bonaire, a local bakery. We were in dire need of some caffeine, and the pastries showcased in the window looked tasty, so we decided to go in. Another bonus was they had air conditioning – I definitely wasn’t prepared for the intense heat and humidity on the island, so a place to cool off was definitely welcome.
I ordered a Mallorcan coca, which was a little spicy and stuffed with various vegetables and raisins. I went a little out of my comfort zone with this one, and it wasn’t my favorite, but it was my fault for ordering it. My husband had a croissant, which was good. While we were eating, a ton of people came in to buy the typical Mallorcan ensaïmada to take away… I’m still kicking myself for not trying it here! If you’re able to visit, definitely go for that.
We were then off again and headed towards the port. Parallel to the port, there is a lovely promenade lined with Palm trees and, towards the west, an Instagrammable sign to let everyone know you’re in Palma.
From there, you can see the Catedral de Mallorca looming in the distance. I’m not really one for cathedrals, but something about this one caught my attention. If you’re near the coastline, the cathedral itself looks massive, especially because it is sitting on a bit of a hill. When you cross the main street, there’s a small river and a nice promenade where you can really appreciate the architecture and beautiful weather. On this particular day, however, we were dying of heat – so we took our pictures and quickly set off for some shade.
We wandered towards the cathedral, and there were a ton of vendors selling their wares. To the left of the cathedral, there’s also a nice garden area that provides a good amount of shade and some nice photo opportunities. We stopped to rest in a bar to the side of the cathedral in lieu of actually entering the cathedral itself because there was a long line in full sun and the entrance fee was a bit steep.
After that, we had to hurry back to our car to refresh the parking meter (if I had to do it again, I would’ve just bit the bullet and gone into a parking garage). It was lunchtime, so we went and stopped for a quick bite to eat and then started heading towards the Plaça Major. The square itself isn’t super interesting (in fact, it is a bit rundown), but some of the streets to the south of it are quite charming, with lots of local shops and unique architecture.
In fact, just before you enter the square from the south, you will see a cute little local deli on your right side called Mallorca Delicatessen. It was incredibly packed the day we went, and full of people taking photos. They offer a lot of different samples inside of local fuet, longaniza and of course, the local specialty – sobrasada. Take advantage and get a sample! They also had local wines and other treats on sale. We didn’t end up buying anything here, but that was only because it was so crowded.
From there, we decided it was about time to head towards the hotel. We were staying in Campos, about a 45 minute drive from Palma city through tons of country roads and roundabouts (you really start to get tired of them quickly if you’re not used to them).
After getting settled in, we headed quickly to the coast to catch the sunset. We decided to visit Es Pontàs, a naturally formed bridge made of rock. Parking was pretty easy to find nearby, and it was only a short 5-7 minute walk on a dirt path to get to the cliffside where you can get a glimpse of the rock formation. There was only one other family there when we arrived, so it was nice and calm. We continued a bit further down the path to find somewhere to sit and enjoy our time as the sun set, where we were able to catch this awesome time lapse:
If you plan to do something similar, I’d recommend bringing a little picnic with you.
After it began to get dark, we walked towards the main part of Cala Santanyi to see if we could find a place to eat. We only got a glimpse of the beach area, but the water looked gorgeous and clear! If we had had more time, I would’ve loved to have returned there. Since the lighting wasn’t in our favor, we decided to stay on the hilltop and found a little paella restaurant called Voramar. Since we were on a budget, we opted out of the paella (which looked delicious – don’t hesitate to order it!) and just got some tapas to satisfy our hunger.
And that was the end of day 1! We were exhausted after sleeping so little and having a full day of sights, so we made sure to go to sleep at a decent hour to be able to wake up early the next day.
If you’d like to follow along on our journey, here is a basic list of our Day 1 itinerary:
- Palma de Mallorca Airport
- Palma City
- Cala Santanyi
- Es Pontàs
- Restaurant Voramar
**Stay tuned for my next posts on the rest of our trip in Mallorca!**
Have you visited before? What was your experience? What would you be most interested in seeing? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you! Happy travels! 🙂
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