Beyond Barcelona: This Spring’s Unmissable Spanish City

You won’t find this center of history, seaside cuisine, and design on the Iberian Peninsula.

Landscape with Cathedral La Seu at sunset in Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Cathedral La Seu stands as a symbol of the many cultures that have left their mark on Palma de Mallorca.

Photo by Balate Dorin/Shutterstock

During the spring, more than 4 million almond trees burst into bloom across the Spanish island of Mallorca, turning the largest of the Balearic Islands into a white sea of flowers. The season also beckons travelers for its 20-plus golf courses and its dozen or so designated bike routes. (Cycling is serious here, with professional teams from around the world coming to train at numerous track cycling arenas.) However, the island’s capital, Palma, is especially alluring for a getaway this season.

Palma de Mallorca is full of sights. You’ll find landmarks like Spain’s only round castle, a nearly 800-year-old sandstone cathedral, and seafood shops selling the distinct bounty of the island. In this Spanish city, 17th- and 18th-century homes mix with swanky designer boutiques, Gothic churches, and restaurants into one cohesive landscape worth a weekend—or weeklong—trip.

With plenty to do in Palma and the surrounding area, here’s how to spend your time in Mallorca’s capital this spring.

Explore Palma’s Old Town

Palma de Mallorca’s Old Town is filled with landmarks left from conquests by the Romans, Moors, and Christians. The most famous of the Christian landmarks is La Seu, a sandstone cathedral in Old Town that took nearly 400 years to build. The cathedral was started in the 13th century and is one of Europe’s tallest Gothic structures, dominating the skyline with its massive rose windows—some of the largest in the world. The intricate details, including the crown-of-thorns canopy, are worth admiring, especially since many of the 20th-century renovations were designed by legendary architect Antoni Gaudí.

The Passeig del Born, called the Golden Mile, is a leafy street for pedestrians offering shaded serenity and much shopping and eating. It spills onto trendy avenues like Avenida de Jaime III with yet more luxury shops, bars offering tapas, and cafés serving pastries (try the sugar-topped sweet bread known as ensaimada). Walk a few minutes from the street toward the water and you’ll stumble upon the La Longja neighborhood, where you can have your pick of alfresco nightlife opportunities.

A 10-minute walk from La Seu brings you to Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum, an architectural feat housed in a former military fortress. The museum displays over 800 works by artists dating back to the 19th century.

Bellver Castle is a 14th-century castle about a 10-minute drive west of Palma, atop a pine-forested hill with panoramic views of the Bay of Palma, the Tramuntana Mountains, and more. This round castle is a Catalan Gothic masterpiece, noted for its moat, drawbridge, three towers, and museum with ceramics and sculptures from Roman, Arab, and Spanish periods.

Arranged selection of fresh fish and seafood in the Market Olivar in Palma de Mallorca

Built in the 1950s, Mercat de l’Olivar hosts hundreds of food stands.

Photo by Yevhenii Kravchuk/Shutterstock

Feast on local seafood

After all that exploring, stop at a tapas spot like Colmado Hispania in Old Town for such regional dishes as grilled octopus with creamy chickpea puree and spicy tartare, Iberian pig cheeks with sweet potatoes, and Andalusian squid with citrus aioli. Other dishes, like bunyols (Mallorcan doughnuts) and arroz brut (rice stew) are worth indulging in along Palma’s roughly 2.5-mile seafront promenade.

For another food experience, head to Mercat de l’Olivar, Palma’s largest covered market hall. Palma is big on seafood—take your pick from an array of fish species displayed on ice, including the llampuga (also known as mahi mahi). Rows of veggies, meats, cheeses, spices, teas, and coffees are also available as you meander through the stalls. Stand and get a bite, or sit with a glass of wine and have a meal.

Enjoy festival season

Spring offers several festivals. Consider a visit in May for the Mallorca Live Festival, the island’s biggest music festival that features pop, rock, dance, and indie national and international music artists. In 2023, expect a lineup that includes the Kooks, Berlin-based DJ Peggy Gou, and Spanish rapper Quevedo.

On the second or third weekend of May, drive 30 minutes north of the capital to celebrate Es Firó in Port de Sóller. The four-day event celebrates the region’s defense against Moorish invaders in 1561. Thousands of people gather in costume to reenact the beach battle and celebrate the Moors’ unsuccessful attempt, with song, dance, wine, and fireworks.

Hit the trails

If you decide to take some excursions out of Palma, spring weather is conducive to enjoying a number of hiking trails. Drive about 45 minutes from Palma to get to Puig Major, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s the island’s highest mountain peak at 1,445 meters. Nearby, there’s also the Torrent de Pareis, a scenic day walk of about two miles that follows a deep canyon to the sea, opening onto a beach on the bay of Sa Calobra.

Where to stay: Iberostar Grand Portal Nous

Book now: Iberostar Grand Portal Nous

For a private accommodation option by the shores of the Mediterranean, check into luxury hotel Iberostar Grand Portal Nous. The 66-room seafront hotel is a 20-minute drive from the historic center of Palma and features its own art gallery. The bonus is the intimate cove beach it sits on, Cala Bendinat.

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a writer based in New York.
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