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. As for places to stay in Mallorca, we found the fincas especially enchanting.
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.
Spelling and map of Majorca
First, before we cover what 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) Get lost in the streets of Palma
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!), cafés and bistros.
Soak up the atmosphere as you wander the streets. You may get lost, but that’s part of the fun of exploring, right? And you can always ask a store owner or other local for help to orient yourself if you’re hopelessly confused.
2) Ogle the Palma de Mallorca cathedral
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.
3) 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.
4) Stroll the Jardines de S’Hort del Rei
Another of the most popular places to see in Palma de Mallorca is the Garden of the Royal Palace in Palma (Hort del Rei Park).
Found in the historic center of the city (near the cathedral), the gardens were originally part of the Almudaina Palace. Today they’re a small public green space, with lovely fountains and shady trees.
5) Shop at the Mercat de Santa Catalina
Established in 1920, the Mercat de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Market) is Palma’s oldest food market. Dozens of artisan food producers sell fruit, veggies, meat, cheese, seafood, flowers and pastries.
Staying on a super yacht? (Of course!) Have your chef pop in to pick up food supplies. Or just browse, and maybe sit down at a little café in the market for a tapa with a glass of wine.
6) 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!
7) 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 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.
Oh, and don’t forget to try some freshly-squeezed orange juice! Soller is famous for its delicious oranges.
8) Enjoy the art at the Can Prunera Museum
In Soller, be sure to visit the Can Prunera Museum.
In a beautifully restored Art Nouveau mansion, this art gallery showcases modernist art, featuring the works of Joan Miro, Paul Klee and Fernand Leger. (And on a hot day, its air conditioning is a welcome reprieve.)
9) 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.
10) 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!
11) 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.
Hiking the GR221 “Dry Stone Route” is popular.
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.
12) Walk from Soller to Fornalutx (Spain’s prettiest town)
Or, do as we did, and walk just a short 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. It’s about a 4.5-mile hike there and back (2 to 3 hours of walking time).
There’s some great hiking in the Canary Islands too: Check out the awesome Caldera De Taburiente volcano hike on La Palma island
13) 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.)
14) 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 calm 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 to Deia. But such are the delights – and challenges – of the sun-splashed Spanish island of Mallorca.
15) Walk to the Capdepera lighthouse
From the port town of Cala Ratjada on the northeast coast of Mallorca, it’s an easy 30-minute walk through pine forests to the Capdepera lighthouse. Try not to envy the beautiful villas along the way too much!
At the lighthouse, perched high on rocky cliffs, the sea views are simply gob-smacking. On a good day, you can see the island of Menorca. Marked walks take you around the clifftop to view the lighthouse from different angles too.
16) Go wine tasting in Mallorca
We love wine tasting. At home, we’re fans of the boutique Okanagan wineries in BC (Canada). Mallorca produces some great wines too. That’s not surprising, given its climate, and the island is home to more than 70 vineyards (by last count).
The oldest winery on the island is the family-owned Bodega Ribas in Consell, established in 1711. You can take a historical tour of the winery, then seated in a lovely courtyard, sample some of their wines along with tapas. Other recommended Mallorca wineries include Bodegas Macia Batle and the boutique Bodega Ramanya.
17) Check out some cool caves
We didn’t do this, but you can take a cool tour to walk through the fishhook-shaped Caves of Hams, one of the main tourist attractions in Mallorca. There are three key caves, and you can learn about the history of Mallorca and how these amazing caves were shaped. One of the caves has an underground lake called the “Sea of Venice,” where Mozart music concerts are sometimes held.
18) Tour Mallorca manor houses
Another pleasant activity in Mallorca? Touring the island’s elegant palatial manor houses.
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 Mallorca’s botany and natural history.
19) 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.
20) 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.
21) Drink in the view at Cap de Formentor
Located on the northernmost point of Mallorca is Cap de Formentor.
It’s an understatement to say this stretch of coastline is dramatic. Think soaring limestone peaks buffeted by winds. And the views? Just the sky and the sea. The lighthouse at Cap de Formentor stands at an elevation 1,260 feet above the sea.
You get there by driving a windy 8-mile road from the town of Pollenca.
22) 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.
23) Drive the “snake” road to Sa Calobra
Antonio Parietti, the same Italian engineer who built the road to Cap de Formentor, also constructed the “snake” road to Sa Calobra. Because the mountain slope is so steep, the road had to be designed as a switchback – making the pattern of a snake.
And it’s one of the most epic drives in the world!
Starting from the town of Escorca at the foot of Puig Major (the highest peak on the island), the 8-mile stretch of road is very narrow with few guardrails and no central divider or marking. And there are 12 hairpin curves of 180 degrees or more on the Sa Calobra road. The most famous curve is the legendary Nus de Sa Corbata (Knot of the Tie), where the road passes under itself in a 360 degree curve. Gulp!
24) 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.
25) Tour the Santuari de Lluc
Founded in the 13th century, the Santuari de Lluc is a monastery and important pilgrimage site, surrounded by high mountains in northwest Mallorca. The main attraction is the beautiful Basilica, with its gold ornamental motifs. Also try to catch a performance by the Lluc Choir (Els Blauets) – their singing is beautiful!
There’s a small museum attached to the monastery site and you can wander through tranquil botanical gardens. For a unique overnight experience, you can even stay in one of the former monks’ cells.
26) Go horseback riding in Mallorca
If you or your children would like to go horseback riding, check out Hipica Formentor. Several riding tours are offered, from 45-minute rides for kids under 6 and one-hour rides for beginners to 4- to 5-hour tapas rides and multi-day riding holidays.
Hipica Formentor follows a natural horse care philosophy. All horses are bare-hoofed and ridden in bitless bridles.
27) Slow down in Cala Figuero
Cala Figuero is the quintessential fishing village, with a laid-back charm. White-painted houses cling to hills lining the narrow harbor. Get here early in the morning, and you might see the fishermen returning with their daily catch. Later in the day, they can be seen mending their nets on the dock.
Of course, the seafood is totally fresh. One of the most pleasant things to do in Mallorca is to drop by Cala Figuero for a long lazy fish lunch – and watch the world go slowly by.
28) Visit Valldemossa and Chopin’s love nest
Pretty as a picture, Valldemossa is a small village set high in the Tramuntana mountains, about a 20-minute drive from Palma de Mallorca. It’s probably most famous as the place where Polish composer Frederic Chopin spent a winter with his love, the French writer George Sand. They stayed at the Royal Charterhouse, a palace-cum-convent.
Today, you can tour the Charterhouse and see the cell where Chopin and Sand lived.
It was hot when we visited Valldemossa, so we tried to cool off in the village with ice-cream. We also sampled coca de potatas – Valldemossa’s famous pastry – which is a sweet bun made from potatoes, sugar and lard.
29) Chill at Calo des Moro
Okay, we know you want to know about more of Majorca’s beautiful beaches. And those beaches really are some of the best Majorca attractions when it’s hot and sunny outside!
On the southeast coast, Calo des Moro is not exactly a secret. But it’s worth going for a swim in its impossibly turquoise waters. The beach itself is a tiny stretch of white sand bordered by steep cliffs (and you lose the sand at high tide, when you’ll be sitting on boulders by the water instead). It’s a bit tricky to reach though, as you have to walk down a very steep path.
Note that this is a natural beach – there are no restaurants or facilities. So bring water and whatever you need to be comfortable.
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.
Where to stay in Mallorca? Read our reviews of 5 enchanting places to stay in Mallorca!
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Photo credits: 6, 11, 13 to 15, 21 to 26, 29 to 31, 33 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 35 Caves of Hams | 37, 38 Fincahotel CanColl | 45 Olef Tausch