It’s understandable if the only reason you’ve heard of Mallorca — aka Majorca — is because of ESPN and Rafael Nadal. Sure, the sun-kissed Mediterranean island is home to the tennis superstar, but it’s also been welcoming visitors to its golden shores and olive tree-dotted mountains since the days of ancient Rome. (Most notably, the scandalous couple of writer George Sand and composer Frédéric Chopin sojourned here in 1838.) The picturesque isle, which is a member of Spain’s Balearic archipelago, blends fun-in-the-sun activities, a plethora of historic sites, celebrated cuisine, and late-night parties. Ships dock in Palma de Mallorca, the island’s capital and port city.
Breakfast: Forn Fondo – Like their neighbors on the Iberian peninsula, Mallorcans keep breakfast a light affair of coffee and pastry. Here, that sweet treat is most often an ensaïmade — a round, doughy, powder-sugared bread, sometimes stuffed or topped with pumpkin seeds. Veggies, take note: The traditional recipe calls for lard. Locals line up at this family-run bakery, a central Palma institution since 1911.
Lunch: Casa Fernando – Forget the concept of grab and go, Spain’s midday meal is the largest — and longest — traditionally stretching from 2-4 pm, when families and friends savor a combination of tapas (small plates), shared main dishes, and loud conversation. This seafood eatery, on the outskirts of Palma in a fishermen’s neighborhood, invites patrons to linger over a plucked-from-the-Mediterranean bounty paired with local wines.
Since there’s no menu, guests choose dishes from the selection of fresh seafood located at the entrance. Prices are by the pound, and preparations are up to the chef. Don’t worry about staying too long. Spaniards relish sobremesa — the time after dessert spent enjoying anis, sparkling cider, cigars, and petit fours.
Dinner: Santi Taura – For the ultimate celebration of local cuisine, reserve a table at this Mallorcan jewel of gastronomy in the untouristed town of Lloseta. All dinners and lunches are six-course tasting menus. Confections are a blend of traditional tastes — cod, pork, rabbit — prepared with a modern flair. The less-formal wine cellar offers a four-course experience. Tip: Pick up some branded olive oil before leaving.
Dessert: Mallorca Shop – This local chainlet has a dizzying selection of all things dulce, from handcrafted chocolates and hard candies to sweet breads, croissants, and fruit-topped cakes. Pair your choice with a fresh glass of orange juice for a true island taste.
Tip: For an interactive visit of Palma, hop on a walking tapas tour. The four-hour excursion winds through the cobblestone streets of old town with stops at the must-see landmarks and popular cafés.
For Everyone: Old town – Palma de Mallorca’s old town is a fascinating blend of architectural styles that reflect the island’s storied past. Standouts include the Banys Árabs, ancient Arab baths believed to have been carved from Roman ruins in the 12th century. The hammam — traditional bath — is the only remaining structure from the island’s long Moorish rule. The imposing La Seu cathedral, with its enormous stone supports and gargantuan rose window, is perhaps the city’s most photographed sight. And for good reason — it took nearly 400 years to complete. Inside is a small collection of oil paintings and silver religious heirlooms. Stroll down the leafy Passeig des Born, a shop- and café-lined boulevard that’s served as a gathering place for more than a century.
For Couples: Hit the beach – Discover the hidden calas — coves — of the island. Although just a little more than 1,400 square miles, Mallorca boasts hundreds of beaches, many of which are intimate coves of golden sands. Rent a car and maneuver over the hairpin turns and scenic switchbacks past the island’s innumerable fruit and olive trees toward the hidden shores. A particularly pretty route is the one to Sa Calobra and its two separate strands. Reserve an automatic transmission before your cruise, and you won’t have to worry about stalling in first gear on the skinny mountainous roads. For a truly romantic experience, rent a sailboat with skipper from Tramuntana Tours. The local sailor will take beach hop with you, and perhaps follow a pod or two of dolphins.
For Families: Marineland – While the beach is the marquee family attraction, don’t miss a chance to interact with marine life at this aquarium located about 15 minutes from Palma. The enormous wildlife outpost has an aviary, reptile house, penguin nests, and shark tanks, in addition to the usual fish exhibits. But the biggest draws are the dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows.
For the Adventurous: Alcúdia – Good things come to those who climb. For the arguably best views on the island, make your way to the town of Alcúdia on the northeast side. There, a series of well-marked trails crisscross a peninsula-like landmass set between two sparkling bays. The trek known as the Three Crosses culminates 490 feet above sea level at a 12th-century fortress. Closer to port, you’ll find the Puig trail, a moderate, 2 ½-hour loop through woodlands, over stone tracks, and up a steady climb to panoramic views of the capital and Mallorca’s meandering coastline.
Mallorca pearls — man-made glass balls treated with an iridescent sheen — are a popular souvenir. The Majorica brand has been creating baubles since 1890. Look for a consistent size and color when choosing your jewelry. And note: True Majorica pearls come with a 10-year guarantee.