Palma is a stunner. Rising in honey-coloured stone from the broad waters of the Badia de Palma, this enduring city dates back to the 13th-century Christian reconquest of the island, and to the Moors, Romans and Talayotic people before that. A richly studded diadem of historical sites, Palma also shelters a seemingly endless array of galleries, restaurants, craft studios and bars – it’s without doubt Mallorca’s greatest treasure. Wander in any direction from the awe-inspiring Gothic Catedral at its geographic and historical heart and you’ll find bent medieval streets lined with aristocratic townhouses, looming baroque churches, teeming public squares, vibrant bohemian neighbourhoods and markets overflowing with all the bounty of the island. You could spend weeks in this city alone, and still uncover fresh joys every day.
1. Palau de l’Almudaina
Originally an Islamic fort, this mighty construction opposite the cathedral was converted into a residence for the Mallorcan monarchs at the end of the 13th century. The King of Spain resides here still, at least symbolically. The royal family is rarely in residence, except for the occasional ceremony, as they prefer to spend summer in the Palau Marivent (in Cala Major). At other times you can wander through a series of cavernous stone-walled rooms that have been lavishly decorated.
2. Palau March
This house, palatial by any definition, was one of several residences of the phenomenally wealthy March family. Sculptures by 20th-century greats including Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Chillida grace the outdoor terrace. Within lie many more artistic treasures from such luminaries of Spanish art as Salvador Dalí and Barcelona’s Josep Maria Sert and Xavier Corberó. Not to be missed are the meticulously crafted figures of an 18th-century Neapolitan belén (nativity scene)
3. Catedral de Mallorca
Palma’s vast cathedral (‘La Seu’ in Catalan) is the city’s major architectural landmark. Aside from its sheer scale and undoubted beauty, its stunning interior features, designed by Antoni Gaudí and renowned contemporary artist Miquel Barceló, make this unlike any cathedral elsewhere in the world. The awesome structure is predominantly Gothic, apart from the main facade, which is startling, quite beautiful and completely mongrel.
4. Es Baluard
Built with flair and innovation into the shell of the Renaissance-era seaward walls, this contemporary art gallery is one of the finest on the island. Its temporary exhibitions are worth viewing, but the permanent collection – works by Miró, Barceló and Picasso – give the gallery its cachet. Entry on Fridays is by donation, and anyone turning up on a bike, on any day, is charged just €2.
5. Museu Fundación Juan March
The 17th-century Can Gallard del Canya, a 17th-century mansion overlaid with minor Modernist touches, now houses a small but significant collection of painting and sculpture. The permanent exhibits – some 80 pieces held by the Fundación Juan March – constitute a veritable who’s who of contemporary Spanish art, including Miró, Picasso, fellow cubist Juan Gris, Dalí, and the sculptors Eduardo Chillida and Julio González.
6. Castell de Bellver
Straddling a wooded hillside, the Castell de Bellver is a 14th-century circular castle (with a unique round tower), the only one of its kind in Spain. Jaume II ordered it built atop a hill known as Puig de Sa Mesquida in 1300 and it was largely completed within 10 years. Perhaps the highlight of any visit is the spectacular views over the woods to Palma, the Badia de Palma and out to sea.
7. Basílica de Sant Francesc
One of Palma’s oldest churches, the Franciscan Basílica de Sant Francesc was begun in 1281 in Gothic style, while the baroque facade, with its carved postal and rose window, was completed in 1700. In the splendid Gothic cloister – a two-tiered, trapezoid affair – the elegant columns indicate it was some time in the making. Inside, the high vaulted roof is classic Gothic, while the glittering high altar is a baroque lollipop, albeit in need of a polish.
8. Museu de sa Jugueta
The 3000 cars, planes, dolls, robots and other toys on display here represent the tip of a collection of more than 7000 pieces, acquired steadily by a passionate collector from Barcelona. Adjoining is a smart little bar-restaurant (three courses for €13) that not only caters to kids, but turns into a creative play space between 5pm and 8pm in the evening.