Central Palma has everything you could wish for in a Mediterranean city - beautiful historical architecture, narrow cobbled lanes just waiting to be explored, tree-lined boulevards with an extensive selection of places to eat, drink, or just sit and watch the world go by. Are you interested in theatre, music, history, art, cycling, or sailing? You will find it here! How about shopping? Renowned as a shopper’s paradise, central Palma has everything from excellent food markets and department stores to chic boutiques.
The historical centre of Palma is encompassed by the sea to the south and the semi-circle of the Avingudas (Avenues) which zig-zag around the central area. Why the zig-zags? Well, they follow the route of the original old renaissance city walls which encircled Palma until 1902 when they were demolished in order to allow the town to expand. Fortunately most of the walls facing the sea were preserved and the sight of Palma’s majestic cathedral rising above them as you approach the city centre along the coast road is quite awe-inspiring.
Points of interest
Old Town Centre #
This area from the Cathedral to Plaça Major, and including the Passeig des Born is the location of a great many of the historical icons of Palma and consequently has the most visitors. The Town Hall, Parliament building and other local government offices are also in this area, as well as many cafes, bars and restaurants and of course shops of all descriptions.
Plaça Major is a traditional arcaded square where street artists and entertainers amuse the tourists. People live around here too, and despite the throngs of people there are still some quiet little residential back streets. It is an attractive and bustling neighbourhood, with the fashionable Passeig des Born still, as in historic times, the place to promenade, to see and be seen! In the area below the city walls and the cathedral is the Parc de la Mar with its green spaces, and attractive lake and fountain.
Sa Calatrava and Sa Gerreria #
Sa Calatrava is located to the east of the Cathedral and is the neighbourhood where many of Palma’s traditional mansion houses with beautiful patios or courtyards are to be found - some dating back as far as the 14th century. There are several magnificent old churches in the area. It is a fairly quiet residential neighbourhood which reputedly has some of the most expensive homes in Spain! However, there are still some run down buildings in the area which are gradually being restored.
Adjoining Sa Calatrava to the north east, Sa Gerreria used to be the red light area of Palma until about twenty years ago. It has undergone a transformation, new homes and shops have been built and work is still ongoing in places. Many interesting and quirky cafes and restaurants have opened up particularly in the area just east of the Plaça Major. This is an up and coming area with a bohemian vibe. The ‘red light’ business however still maintains a small and seemingly non-threatening presence in the area of Carrer de la Justicia near the end of Carrer del Sindicat where prostitutes may be seen waiting for customers even during the day. We did not check to see how affordable they are! This small area is full of ordinary passers-by in the day time, but I would feel reluctant to go there at night.
Puig de Sant Pere and Sa Llotja #
This atmospheric neighbourhood borders the seafront and is home to two of Palma’s most emblematic buildings, Sa Llotja and the Consolat del Mar. Parts of the old city wall have survived here including the Bastió de Sant Pere now home to Es Baluard contemporary art museum. In and around Carrer dels Apuntadors there is a large selection of restaurants and tapas bars which attract a lot of locals and tourists and therefore this area can be quite crowded and noisy. However, there are still some quiet back streets, and also some good shops and art galleries.
Carrer Bonaire and Sant Jaume #
Carrer Bonaire lies north of the elegant shopping street Avinguda Jaume III with its arcaded sidewalks. In and around Carrer Bonaire there are many small specialist shops and a good selection of places to eat and drink, many of which are located along the Passeig Mallorca overlooking the tree lined banks of the Riera, Palma’s torrent or watercourse. Sant Jaume lies north of Carrer La Unió and is much more traditional with narrow shady cobbled streets and historical mansion houses. Here there are boutique hotels, art galleries and just a few shops and restaurants although you are only a few minutes walk from many more. Ancient convents and churches give this neighbourhood a quiet and peaceful atmosphere
Mercat de L’Olivar, Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Patins #
Palma’s largest covered market L’Olivar is located close to the Plaça d’Espanya which in turn is just across the road from the main transport hub for Palma - the railway and bus stations which are located underground below a park known as Parc de ses Estacions. The park is well equipped with benches, green areas and children’s playgrounds. There is also at ground level to the west of the entrance to the underground stations, the historical Soller Railway Station. This is where you can board the 100 year old train to Soller - one of the top tourist attractions on the island. Further to the west lies the Plaça dels Patins (officially named Plaça del Bisbe Berenguer de Palou) which is close to La Rambla, a smaller version of Barcelona’s Ramblas and lined with plane trees, flower stalls and a few cafes. This is a fairly commercial area with the Palma tax office and social security office as well as many shops and restaurants
Palma was founded by the Romans in 123 BC. Remains of a Roman wall and arch may still be seen today in Carrer de l’Almudaina. In 902 the Islamic rulers of Andalucia annexed Mallorca to the Emirate of Córdoba and the island was under Islamic rule for over 300 years. During this time the city grew and flourished and by the end of the 12th century it had become one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities with a population of 35,000. The Palau de l’Almudaina was built over a Roman fort and a mosque was built where Palma Cathedral now stands. It all changed in 1229 when Mallorca was conquered by King Jaume I of Aragon. The origins of the current customs, religion, culture and language of Mallorca date back to this time. In more recent years the historical centre of Palma has greatly benefited from the increase in local wealth generated by the tourism industry and has been gradually undergoing sympathetic restoration and conservation, resulting in the delightful city centre that it is today.
Local Sights #
The sight which is on almost every visitor’s must-see list is the magnificent Gothic Cathedral also known as La Seu, with its baldachin or canopy over the altar by Gaudí, and an unusual chapel representing the miracle of the loaves and fishes designed by contemporary Mallorcan artist Miquel Barceló.
Other important sights are the Palau de la Almudaina, which is a royal residence dating back to the time of the Islamic occupation, the Palau March museum, the baroque Town Hall and Plaça Cort with its 1000 year old olive tree.
Close to the southern entrance to the Plaça Major are two interesting buildings, Can Forteza Rey and El Águila, built in the early 20th century Modernista style. There are many other examples of this architectural style including the Grand Hotel, Palma’s first luxury hotel which opened in 1903, and which is now the CaixaForum cultural centre and art gallery.
Overlooking the sea Sa Llotja is a beautiful turreted 15th century building built as a commercial exchange for the Guild of Merchants, and the Consolat de Mar is a 17th century building which is now the headquarters of the Balearic government. The Museu d’es Baluard is a contemporary art gallery which has been cleverly incorporated into the old city walls, and Casal Solleric is another art gallery in a beautiful 18th century mansion house. The Banys Àrabs are Arabian baths - one of the few remaining examples of Islamic architecture to have survived in Palma.
For visitors there are the tours by open top bus, with The City Sightseeing Tour, or the possibility of hiring a horse and carriage with driver to take you sightseeing. In recent years there has been some concern over the welfare of these horses, although most of them appear to be well treated and not overworked. It is up to the individual to decide whether they do or don’t want to support this type of exploitation.
Food and Drink #
You will be spoilt for choice when trying to decide where to eat in Palma. There are many types of cuisine from traditionally Spanish to the latest fusion food, and the prices range from very affordable to well over the top! Here is a selection of a few of our favourite cafes and restaurants:
Can Joan de S’Aigo
This bakery and cafe was founded in 1700 which must make it the oldest in town! Furnished with chandeliers, antiques and marble topped tables, the cafe is a delight and is popular with locals and tourists alike. Their delicious cakes and pastries and even their ice creams are all homemade and very well priced.
Contact: +34 971 71 07 59 Carrer de Can Sanç 10, Palma
They also have two more branches at Carrer del Baró de Santa Maria del Sepulcre 5, and at Carrer del Sindicat 74.
Located at the top of the Born this is probably the best spot in Palma for people-watching. The terrace is so popular there is often a queue for tables. They do excellent tapas and sandwiches, and there is now a restaurant on the first floor.
Contact: +34 971 71 22 28 Plaça del Rei Joan Carles I,6
Celler Sa Premsa
Located in a vast high-ceilinged room decorated with wine barrels, an olive press and ancient bullfighting posters, this restaurant looks pretty much as it must have done when it opened in 1958 and somehow that is rather charming! Don’t come here for a romantic dinner - it is noisy and boisterous, with people enjoying traditional Mallorcan and Spanish dishes on offer at very reasonable prices. The ‘menú del día’ is very good value.
Contact: +34 971 72 35 29 Plaça del Bisbe Berenguer Palou 8 (Plaça dels Patins)
Restaurant Marc Fosh
Marc Fosh is the first and only British chef to have been awarded a Michelin Star in Spain.
His cuisine is modern Mediterranean and as you would expect his stylish restaurant is not the most affordable in town, but for the surprisingly low cost of €29.50 they offer a 3 course ‘menú del dia’ (not including drinks). The location is pretty stunning too, in an old convent converted into hotel Convent de la Missió. Probably best to book in advance.
Contact: +34 971 72 01 14 Carrer de la Missió 7
Pay a visit to this very popular tapas bar and restaurant - famous for its quirky decoration, lively atmosphere, friendly service, and inventive Mediterranean fusion cuisine - all at affordable prices.
Contact: +34 971 71 17 72 Carrer de la Corderia 24
This restaurant is located in a typical Palma old town patio with old stone walls and arches - the perfect setting for the creations of yet another Michelin starred chef, Mallorcan Andreu Genestra. From Tuesday to Friday their lunch menu is an absolute bargain at €15.50 including a drink, and the menu includes some interesting vegetarian options. Best to book in advance.
Contact: +34 971 49 58 33 Carrer de la Concepció 12
This well-established fish and seafood restaurant is located right above the wholesale fish market, Sa Llotja de Peix, in the port area across the Paseo Maritimo from Es Baluard.
Can Eduardo has amazing views of the Cathedral to the east and the Paseo Maritimo with the Castle of Bellver in the distance to the west. The fish, as you would expect, is excellent and there are also a few meat dishes on the menu. Locally caught fish is fairly pricey but this restaurant provides good value for money if you want to experience the best the Mediterranean sea has to offer.
Contact: +34 971 72 11 82 Contramuelle Mollet 3
This is a Palma institution - an amazing cocktail bar which opened in 1981 in an old Palma mansion house. Decorated in baroque style it is filled with fresh flowers, fruit cascading across the floor, artwork and sculptures, classical music in the background, a courtyard with a fountain, and upstairs the sitting rooms and kitchen of the old mansion are decorated as they would have been in the 17th century. It is beautiful and unique - worth popping in for a drink (from about €16) or a dessert. It is expensive but you are paying for the ambience - and all of those flowers and fruit cost money! Go soon because the bar apparently will be closing at the end of 2019 due to expiry of the lease.
Contact: +34 971 71 49 39 Carrer de Sant Joan 1. (open evenings only from 20.00
Shopping and Markets #
Central Palma has shops galore! In most areas there is a good selection of shops of all kinds from small specialist shops and delis to department stores and exclusive designer boutiques.
Supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies are to be found in every area. The Corte Inglés department stores have their own supermarkets with high quality products. Look out for the Forn des Teatre - a fabulous bakery opposite the Grand Hotel with its traditional modernist exterior and a great range of breads and sweet or savoury pastries.
Two of the best affordable shopping streets in Palma Centre are the pedestrianised Carrer del Sindicat and Carrer Sant Miquel.
One store you shouldn’t miss is Rialto Living - it occupies an impressive building, the former Rialto Cinema at Carrer de Sant Feliu 3 - just off the Born, and sells a stylish range of homewares, fashion, art and gifts, and also has a very good cafe. Not the most affordable of shops, it is nevertheless a wonderful place for browsing, and making a small purchase or two!
AM Tip: Please note that small shops may close over lunch and siesta time, but the larger shops usually stay open all day until about 8.30pm. Many shops are closed on Sundays.
Mercat de L’Olivar is the main covered market in central Palma and has a marvellous selection of local produce, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish - it is all here, fresh and colourful, and beautifully displayed. There are also bars and stalls in the market where you can have a drink or a meal - anything from oysters or sushi to the typically Mallorcan tapas. There is also a small market in the Plaça del Patins on Tuesday and Saturday mornings selling locally produced organic fruit, vegetables and other organic products.
Along the Passeig de Sagrera, the palm lined boulevard on the seafront near Sa Llotja there is often a handicraft market in the evenings during the summer months.
Sports and Recreation #
With Palma's seafront on your doorstep there are plenty of sports opportunities such as running, cycling or rollerblading along the shoreline track, and if you are interested in watersports there are various possibilities around the bay to go sailing, jet skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing or scuba diving.
Palma city beach, Can Pere Antoni
For an all year round option, swim in the indoor pool at the Poliesportiu S’Estel at Carrer de l’Hostal de L’Estel 4 in the Sa Gerreria neighbourhood. This municipal sports centre also offers classes in yoga, pilates and tai chi. There are also several private fitness studios in the central area of Palma. The Parc de Estacions hosts the Ice Park, an ice-skating rink from late November for about 2 months over the Christmas season.
Classic car enthusiasts can enjoy many events in Mallorca with car shows and rallies. For more information see the Classic Car Club Mallorca.
If spectator sport is your thing you will be spoilt for choice with the yacht regattas - hardly a month goes by without some major event on the yachting calendar. The annual boat show takes place at the end of April, and then there are the regattas:
- Princess Sophia Trophy in April
- Palma Vela in May
- Superyacht Cup Palma in June
- Copa del Rey in July/August
- Illes Balears Clàssics - Vela Clásica Mallorca in August
- Trofeo Ciutat de Palma in December
Art and Culture
The Centre de Cultura de Palma at Carrer de la Concepció 12 and CaixaForum located in the old Grand Hotel both offer art exhibitions, lectures, films and concerts. Es Baluard has exhibitions of contemporary art and workshops on various themes.
The traditional and beautifully restored Teatro Principal presents a full programme of drama, music, opera and ballet, and the modern Teatre Xesc Forteza hosts smaller scale productions - mainly concerts.
The Cinema a la Fresca shows films for free on a big screen in Parc de la Mar regularly during the summer months - occasionally these are in English.
Palma celebrates its Night of Art (La Nit de L’Art) every year in September with art exhibitions and concerts all over the town centre and free entry to the major art galleries.
Carnival is celebrated before the start of Lent with Sa Rua and Sa Rueta - exuberant parades of floats with music and groups of participants in fabulous costumes - Adults take part in Sa Rua and children in Sa Ruet
At Easter there are many solemn religious processions that take place during Holy Week
Other major fiestas celebrated in Palma are as follows:
- 5th January The Cavalcade of the Three Kings
- 20th January San Sebastian - Patron Saint of Palma
- 1st March The day of the Balearic Islands
- 23rd June The Night of Sant Joan (Saint John)
- 31 December The Fiesta of the Estendard (Festival of the Banner)
Living In Palma Centre (Old town) #
Living in these neighbourhoods is great for people who like to be kept busy and entertained. Those who love art and history will find plenty to do and see, and those with families will find the infrastructure they need - plenty of children’s playgrounds, a good choice of schools in Palma overall, and good medical attention nearby at all times. The downside is that the town can become overcrowded with both locals and visitors, and therefore noisy and disruptive, and during very hot summer weather quite uncomfortable, but on the other hand it is quick and easy to escape to the beach or the countryside.
AM Tip: This is a safe place to live - crime is usually restricted to petty theft; pickpockets or bag snatchers often operate in crowded places such as markets or in bus queues. Scammers sometimes work in pairs - one will engage you in conversation or try to sell you a flower for example, while their accomplice empties your pockets! It is also a good idea to not leave any valuables on show in your parked car. Just be aware and take care as you would in any other city.
Much of the old town is pedestrianised, and there are some areas where traffic access is restricted, but with priority given to residents. There are also parking permits for residents. BiciPalma is a public bicycle lending initiative aimed at helping residents make short journeys around town
AM Tip: Telpark is a parking app you can download onto your smartphone for free. It makes paying fees a lot easier (if not finding a spot).
Most residential properties in this part of Palma tend to be apartments of all sizes some of which are new and purpose built, while others are in older buildings. Some of the older homes have wonderful architectural features such as stonework, mouldings, arches or interesting roof terraces.
In general the prices are high because of the location, but bargains can still be found!
Read about AM Writer John's personal experience of buying property in Palma See More>>
Charm Factor #
Palma Centre really does have it all - the historical areas are well preserved and undoubtedly charming and full of character, and yet there are also sophisticated shops and restaurants, an interesting art and music scene, plus the pleasures of the beach and the mountains are never far away.
By Cas Dollamore
26 March, 2019