Are you thinking of visiting Mallorca?
Many travel articles lament that some resort areas of Mallorca (namely Magaluf on the southwest coast) are overbuilt and popular with hordes of sunburned British and German tourists on cheap package holidays – who are interested only in party beaches, booze and wild nightclubs.
We never saw that side of Mallorca.
On the contrary, we discovered there are many wonderful things to do in Mallorca.
We were completely taken by the island – from hiking the oh-so-picturesque countryside to swimming at ravishing beach coves to touring manor houses oozing with history.
Best things to do in Mallorca
We started our visit in Palma de Mallorca, the island’s cosmopolitan capital city.
Then we set off to explore Mallorca’s scenically dramatic northern region. Here you find the non-touristy side of Mallorca, including several idyllic towns like Deia.
Map of Majorca
First, before we cover the things to do and places to see in Mallorca, let’s clear up any confusion over the island’s spelling. You might have seen the word “Mallorca” (Spanish spelling) spelled “Majorca” (English spelling). We mix it up and use both spellings here.
You may also want to know where Mallorca is located. The largest of Spain’s Balearic islands, Mallorca is set in the Mediterranean, almost due south of Barcelona. (The other Balearic Islands are Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera.)
Okay, ready now to discover what to do in Mallorca for yourself?
1) Ogle the Palma de Mallorca cathedral
You’ll likely fly into Palma de Mallorca – and you’ll want to spend at least a couple of days here.
The historic old town is an enchanting rabbit warren of cobbled streets, lined with shops (ah, the shoe stores!), cafes and bistros.
Apart from shopping and eating, one of the best things to do in Palma de Mallorca is to visit its fabled Gothic cathedral.
The Palma cathedral (known as La Seu) is the most-visited of all Palma de Mallorca attractions.
Perched overlooking the seaside, it’s truly a stunning landmark. (Unlike most other Catholic churches, there’s a fee to enter and see it – get your skip-the-line tickets here.)
We’re struck by the enormity of the pillars holding up its vaulted ceilings and the beauty of a large rose window (one of the world’s largest stained glass windows).
The cathedral isn’t all medieval though.
A huge, quirky crown of thorns above the altar, sculpted by the quixotic architect Antoni Gaudi, has you scratching your head over whether its eclectic style (frankly, it looks a bit like papier mache) clashes with or enhances the traditional cathedral design elements. Knowing Gaudi, that’s probably what he intended.
2) Admire the Royal Palace of La Almudaina
While sightseeing in Palma de Mallorca, the Royal Palace of La Almudaina is very much worth visiting too. It’s opposite the cathedral, so it’s easy to do.
While the site dates back to Roman days, the current palace was rebuilt in the 14th century. (Almudaina means “fortress” or “citadel” in Arabic.) The Spanish royal family still celebrates official functions in the palace when they visit.
Inside, many original 16th century Flemish tapestries hang on the walls, and some ceilings are ornately painted in traditional Mallorcan black-and-red colours. While you can soak up its history, be aware that many of its vast rooms aren’t decorated with furniture.
Equally impressive as the architecture, however, are the gorgeous views you get over the bay of Palma, dotted with luxury ships and yachts.
3) Escape to SaTorre
Close to the Palma de Mallorca airport, you can escape to SaTorre, a 15th century rural estate that’s been turned into a luxury resort.
4) Take the train to Soller
From the capital of Palma de Mallorca, there’s a wonderful narrow-gauge train that goes to the town of Soller. It’s been trundling through the craggy Tramuntana mountains since 1912, bringing in both day-trippers and visitors (like us, who stayed a while in Soller).
The vintage wooden carriages are a trip back in time, with brass ceiling lamps, burnished wood panelling and wood benches.
The Soller train trip takes about an hour – squeezing through 13 tunnels. The time passes all too quickly because the scenery is just so darn scenic!
5) Stroll the streets of Soller
Now that you’re in Soller, spend some time just enjoying being in this lovely small village in the countryside.
There’s really only one main street and a lovely square – the Plaza de la Constitucion – lined with bars and cafés. For the fine art of whiling away time and people-watching, plonk yourself down at one of the outdoor cafés, order a cappuccino and cake or pastry, and soak up the atmosphere.
Also visit the Can Prunera Museum.
In a beautifully restored Art Nouveau mansion, this art gallery showcases modernist art, featuring the works of Miro, Klee and Leger. (And on a hot day, its air conditioning is a welcome reprieve.)
Oh, and don’t forget to try some freshly-squeezed orange juice! Soller is famous for its delicious oranges.
6) Jump on the Port Soller tram
From Soller, you can hop aboard an open-air streetcar that rumbles the few miles out to the fishing village of Port Soller – a great place for strolling its waterfront promenade and enjoying a seafood lunch or dinner.
7) See Es Pontas
Es Pontas is a 65-foot natural rock arch in the sea off the coastline in the southeastern part of the island, near Cala Santanyi. We confess we actually didn’t see it for ourselves, but it gets good TripAdvisor reviews!
8) Hike the GR221 “Dry Stone Route”
Mallorca is laced with many fine walking trails. Naturally, walking in Mallorca is a hit, and outdoor enthusiasts love walking and hiking holidays on the island.
The most popular trail is the GR221 “Dry Stone Route.”
An ancient 90-mile trail of stepping stones, the path was used by locals to walk Mallorca across the mountains from village to village before roads were built on the island.
Today, the well-maintained GR221 trail runs from Port D’Andratx in the southwest of Mallorca to Pollenca in the northwest, and the full trek takes about eight days. At the end of each section, you can can find a hostel (“refugio” in Spanish), intended for hikers to stay the night.
9) Walk from Soller to Fornalutx (Spain’s prettiest town)
Or, do as we did, and walk just a part of the Dry Stone Route.
We walked the section from Soller to the town of Fornalutx, then looped back to Soller.
Set against a backdrop of imposing mountains, Fornalutx has been dubbed “Spain’s prettiest town.”
Whether that’s true is debatable; Deia (covered next) could claim that title too. But the walk (okay, let’s be honest, “hike”) to Fornalutx is certainly a thoroughly enjoyable one.
The gradual climb takes you through bucolic countryside, past farmhouses and orange and olive groves, to Fornalutx’s leafy town square. At an outdoor café, we refueled on cappuccinos and crusty ham baguettes, before returning to Soller.
10) Visit Deia
Imagine a place where you’re buried standing up. That’s Deia, a UNESCO World Heritage village.
Home to artists, poets (Robert Graves lived here for the last 50 years of his life) and those wealthy enough to afford its pricey real estate, the tiny village clinging to the mountainside is so perpendicular, there’s no flat ground to be buried lying down.
It’s charming to stroll the streets of Deia.
Neon pink bougainvillea grows wild everywhere. Artists’ studios abound. Windowsills of old stone houses sport jars of paint brushes.
And the views of the turquoise Mediterranean far below are mind-blowing.
Celebrities love Deia too. Who knows, you might bump into Beyonce or Kate Moss? (Both have spent time in Deia.)
11) Swim at Cala Deia
If you continue on down the donkey track through the pine forest beyond Deia, you come to one of the best beaches in Mallorca – Cala Deia (our favorite beach). This hidden pebble cove at the bottom of the village is where you can swim in still limpid waters and eat fresh fish at a simple seafront restaurant.
Of course, retracing your steps is another matter.
Our thighs burned big time on the hike back up the 1,000 vertical feet Deia. But such are the delights – and challenges – of the sun-splashed Spanish island of Mallorca.
12) Tour Mallorca manor houses
Another pleasant pastime? Touring the island’s elegant palatial manor houses.
We visited Son Marroig, a mansion built in 1276 on top of a steep hillside. Later in the 19th century, it was acquired by Archduke Ludwig Salvatore of Austria.
From the white neoclassic marble temple at one end of the garden, there are magnificent views of the ocean below and surrounding terraced hillsides, studded with almond and olive trees.
We also enjoyed peering through glass showcases at old Ludwig’s red-leather bound books – he loved the island so much that he wrote a nine-volume set detailing its botany and natural history.
13) Stay in a finca
Mallorca is blessed with many rural fincas – farm estates converted into delightful escapist accommodations, typically including organic country-style breakfasts in their rates.
They offer a different type of stay than a conventional hotel, and you shouldn’t leave Mallorca without bedding down in at least one finca.
14) Climb the steps in Pollensa Old Town
Pollenca (also spelled Pollensa) is another scenic town on the north coast of Mallorca.
Like Deia, it oozes charm. And a popular activity in Pollenca is to climb the 365 Calvari steps from Pollensa Old Town to the 18th century chapel, Oratori del Calvari.
At the church, you’ll be rewarded with great views!
Also spend some time leisurely exploring Pollenca’s cobblestone streets; you’ll enjoy checking out the town’s shops and restaurants too.
15) Hang out in Platja des Coll Baix
Some say Platja des Coll Baix is the best beach in Mallorca.
Near Alcudia on the northern coast, it’s certainly one of the islands’ most remote and beautiful; you can only reach it on foot or by boat.
If hiking there, be prepared for a medium-difficulty trek about four miles each way. But it’s very picturesque. You pass through pine forests and then have to do some rock climbing, navigating massive boulders.
The quiet beach itself is a mix of pebbles and coarse sand, lapped by the clearest turquoise water – and you may be visited by wild goats.
Holiday in Mallorca? Go for it!
No doubt about it.
Mallorca is a magical Mediterranean island.
If you seek culture, history (and yes, shopping) – along with elegant hotels and quaint country inns, tranquil beach coves, scenic hiking trails and off-the-beaten-path explorations – pack your bags for a Mallorca vacation combining old Palma with Mallorca’s less-travelled northern countryside.
Mallorca travel guides
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Photos 4, 5, 7 to 9, 11 to 15, 18 to 20, and 22 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Photo 25 courtesy Olef Tausch