Palma de Mallorca comes as a surprise to many people - it is stylish, sophisticated, intimate, yet bursting with life. Located on the southern shores of Mallorca, the island`s capital city looks out over the sparkling blue seas of the Mediterranean. Half of Mallorca`s population lives here, enjoying the island`s best restaurants, shops and nightlife as well as a thriving arts scene and a lively cafe society. It is often compared to Barcelona for its architecture.
As an island, Mallorca has been subject to numerous invasions, conquests & sea-trading throughout its history. Palma was known to the Arabs as Medina Mayurqa (902 to 1229) and to Mallorcans thereafter simply as Ciutat (City) - Palma was in fact named after the Roman city of Palmaria (founded around 120 BC). The Roman city still exists, a meter or two beneath the ground; inhabitants of houses near the cathedral are still discovering Roman remains. The Moors were finally overthrown by the Spanish in the 13th century, and Palma became an important port & commercial center in the Mediterranean.
This multicultural history is reflected in the wonderful variety of architecture visible throughout the city. Palma`s masterpiece is its Gothic cathedral (built on the site of a mosque which in turn was once a Roman temple) - it rises out of the city walls which once marked the edge of the sea. Close to here is the old Arab quarter, with its maze of narrow streets hiding museums, palaces and exquisite courtyards.
Other parts of city that you see today, however, are relatively recent creations. The tree lined promenades of La Rambla and Passeig des Born, home to florists and newspaper sellers were built in the 19th century on a dried-up river bed. The defensive city walls which once surrounded the city were pulled down to create the ring road Las Avingudas, and the waterfront highway and promenade Passeig Maritim was only reclaimed from the sea in the 1950s.
Visitors to Palma de Mallorca will no doubt spend most of their time within the inner ring road (Las Avingudas) in the old town. Most of this part of Palma is traffic-free and it`s a joy to wander through the streets admiring architecture and browsing the plentiful shops. Along the seafront is the fabulous marina and palm-lined promenade. Those looking for a beach will be rewarded by heading east towards Portixol & Ciudad Jardin (where you`ll also find a couple of decent beach clubs). Dominating the skyline by the sea is the enormous cathedral (called La Seu), and the Parc de la Mer which hosts concerts, fiestas and open-air cinema throughout the year.
To the west of the cathedral is the charming district of La Llonja, which is home to quirky boutiques & art galleries. The tiny pedestrian medieval offer a great selection of bars, restaurants and jazz clubs as it`s one of Palma`s hotspots for nightlife. Beyond La Llonja lies Santa Catalina which used to house fishermen and craftsmen in days gone by, and has now resurrected itself as the hip & trendy area for all the cool kids. You`ll find plenty of bars, cafes & restaurants here, and the vibe is pretty artsy. The nightlife is certainly vibrant here - a Night Out in Santa Catalina has many possibilities!
As you delve further into the city away from the sea, you`ll come across grand avenues with designer shops, and mazes of pretty streets offering gift shops, fashion boutiques and cafes. The area to the east of Passeig Born is particularly recommended for browsing.
The excellent Es Baluard Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in the old fortress and is well worth a visit - the restaurant on the terrace is critically acclaimed too. The Spanish artist Joan Miro spent the best part of 30 years living on Mallorca, and there is a foundation devoted to his works just to the west of Palma.