Few castles in Europe – and none in Spain -- can lay claim to the distinctive circular shape of Mallorca’s Bellver Castle. Bordered by four towers, the fortress is enclosed by a moat and sits atop a forest-covered hill. From there, it overlooks the island’s capital city of Palma, which sits under two miles away.
The 14th-century Gothic-style castle was originally constructed over the course of about a decade under the orders of King Juame II of Mallorca. Since then, it has served as a residence for the Kings of Mallorca, a military prison, a mint and now as home to the city’s history museum. Within its round confines, find the equally circular courtyard (which sits atop a dungeon and cistern), learn more about the island’s distant past and take in spectacular views of the landscape and sea beyond.
The Plaza Mayor is Palma’s true epicenter. Others might claim the geographic center of the city to be located elsewhere, but it is from this large plaza that all the excitement of old-town Palma generates. There’s a saying in Palma that “all roads lead to Plaza Mayor” and if you’re taking a stroll through old town, you’ll sure find this to be true.
Enter the plaza and the first thing you’ll notice is its imposing size. The enormous square is surrounded by old Spanish buildings of the 14th century and once housed the offices of the Spanish inquisition. Today, this area is known as the artist’s quarter, so you’re bound to spot a few galleries highlighting some of the local talent. In addition, a weekly market is held in the square, and a variety of notable goods can be purchased from colorful vendors here.
Also known as the Palau de l’Almudaina, this ancient palace was originally built as a citadel on the hill by the Romans sometime around 123 BC in Palma, the capital city of the island of Majorca, Spain. Later conquered by the Moors, and then again by the Catalans in 1229, the citadel began to fade as a mere fortress, but transformed into a palace and residence for Majorcan Kings. Today, it stands as a great example of rustic architecture that has survived the ages and overlooks beautiful Palma Bay.
International visitors and residents alike routinely flock to the Almudaina Palace in order to see how antiquity lived throughout the centuries and to catch a glimpse of this venerated architecture. Muslim kings living in Roman-built archways lead to a unique blend of culture which has infused the palace, as told by the magnificent tapestries on the wall telling stories long lost to time.
The largest aquarium in Mallorca with over 55 tanks and more than 700 different marine species, Palma Aquarium is a sight to behold. Ocean habitats and ecosystems from around the world have been recreated from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans as well as the local Mediterranean Sea. Promoting eco-friendly practices and respect for marine life, the aquarium was built as a tribute to nature and remains unparalleled in many respects.
Visitors have the chance to see the largest shark tank in Europe (at 28 feet deep) as well as the largest live coral collection on the continent. The jellyfish and black-tip reef shark exhibits are remarkable. Some of the aquariums most magnificent marine species include octopuses, sea horses, grouper fish, wrasses, crabs, rays, and eels. Other exhibits include an interactive touch pool, an outside play area for children, a Mediterranean garden, and a tropical jungle, the largest of its kind in Spain.
Located on the south-west side of the island, es Vedranell and the western inlets are a cluster of protected areas featuring sandy beaches, azure waters, varied terrain (including the infamous and iconic Es Vedra mountain that has become synonymous with images of Ibiza) and wildlife.
The western inlets include: Cala d´Hort, Cap Llentrisca i Sa Talaia Natural Park and the Es Vedrà, Es Vedranell and Els Illots de Ponent Nature Reserves. Spend time here exploring the 10 islets in the area, which are packed with birds – including the Audoin gull and Elearnor falcon, lizards and more. Or, grab a seat on the beach and keep a look out for dolphins frolicking off the coast. To get in touch with the past, the area also features the remnants of a Punic-Roman settlement and La Torres des Savinar, an old lighthouse.
The unique cultural landscape of Serra de Tramontana landed it a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The craggy mountain range covers the northwest side of the island of Mallorca. Standing tall at 1,445 meters, the range’s principle peak Puig Major is the tallest in the Balearic Islands. The limestone mountains receive a higher amount of rainfall than the rest of the island, and often receive snowfall in the winter.
Due to the biodiversity of plant and animal species - and to protect against urbanization - the area has been protected as a natural reserve. Historic villages with structures such as water mills, farms, agricultural and irrigation systems remain in place. Some methods have been in use since the Middle Ages, and demonstrate both Christian and Muslim cultural influence in this area.
With ocean views of turquoise waters and pine-forested hillsides, it is a popular place to enjoy scenic hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities.
The classic tourist attraction Caves of Drach - or Coves del Drac - is a crowd pleaser for many reasons, not least of which is that these 4 fantastic caves form a truly remarkable hydrogeological formation. An enormous underground expanse of undulating sandstone and semiprecious agates creates an imaginarium of weird formations, against which delicate bouquets of stalactites and stalamites glisten. This exquisite ornamentation frames Europe's largest underground sea, 177m(581 feet)-long Lake Martel.
As if all this weren't enough to tempt the tour buses, expert illuminator Carlos Buigas mounted a multicolored light show spectacular that puts Ibiza's wildest clubs to shame, while boats filled with classical musicians perform Chopin, Martini, and more in an acoustic shell unlike any other in the world. One can only hope that they will not wake the Drac de Mallorca, the Dragon of Majorica, who disappeared sometime during the Dark Ages, though no one is quite sure to where.
Located on the west coast of Ibiza, Cala Compte is one of the must-visit beaches on this Spanish island. It’s perfect for both family beach-goers and those looking to be a little more exhibitionist. For those who prefer to keep their suits on, stick to the west side. Over on the east side, the beach tends to skew a little more nudist thanks to the coves and little enclaves.
During the summer months, visitors flock to this gorgeous beach with crystal clear water. It’s the perfect spot to chill out and get a little exercise – off shore are tiny bits of land jutting from the Mediterranean, a moderate swim for those looking to get their heart rate up. Be sure to stop at one of the few restaurants in town for glass of wine to enjoy as the sun sinks below the horizon, complete with a DJ creating a live soundtrack. Cala Compte is quite possibly the best spot on the island to catch the spectacular and colorful sunsets.r
On Mallorca’s northwest coast, the Torrent de Pareis River wriggles its way through the Tramuntana Mountain Range, leaving massive limestone-carved canyons in its path. At the river’s end, it breaks through a rugged coastline that is home to the neighboring village of Sa Calobra, as well as a slew of small beaches.
It’s the hidden beach at the mouth of the Torrent de Pareis that most come for, though. Not accessible by car, the pebbly shoreline can only be reached via boat or by foot from the port of Sa Calobra after walking along the cliffs and through a set of tunnels.
The journey to the village and canyon of Sa Calobra is quite possibly as impressive as the destination itself; reaching the village by car requires traversing a switchback- and vista-filled road. Meanwhile, arrival by boat allows for unparalleled views of the steep cliffs as they plunge into the sea.
The lovely old town clustered around Sa Seu, the 13th century Cathedral, is a delight to wander through, exploring narrow winding streets, sitting in outdoor cafes and discovering the history of this diverse city poised between Europe and Africa, with traces remaining of its Roman, Christian and Muslim periods of rule. And of course there are the beaches and yacht harbors and lovely clear water for swimming.
Cruise ships dock in the commercial port some way from town and it is not a pleasant walk. Most lines will provide a shuttle service, otherwise taxis are easily found – head to the Cathedral and begin exploring the town from there. Within the town center everything you will want to see is within walking distance.
Get off the beach and explore the history of Ibiza for a day. Old Ibiza Town or D’Alt Vila (meaning High Town) is the perfect place to get lost on quaint cobble stone streets winding up, up, up and resulting in dramatic views of town and the island.
Begin your visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site through the main entrance, complete with a drawbridge and statues, through to the vibrant main square, Plaza de Vila. In town you will find a well-preserved fortified acropolis that sheds light on the early Phoenician settlers. There are also remnants of Arab, Catalan and Renaissance periods. To experience the gastronomy in town, stick to the main square for some of the best dining on the island. At night, the town becomes even livelier with plenty of bars and hip spots to enjoy a drink or two. Not to be outdone by the food and nightlife, there are also plenty of shopping options.
With its beautiful white-sand beaches framed in picturesque rocky points, Puerto Pollensa (Pollença) has become a magnet for holiday-goers with a taste for the finer things in life. Art museums, galleries, and fine restaurants all offer their pleasures, or simply enjoy the scenery from the seaside pedestrian path, called the "Pine Walk" for the shady evergreens above. Of course the carved sapphire inlets, revealed with a trip in a glass-bottomed boat, and soft sands offer all sorts of maritime fun.
For instance, book a boat or bus to majestic Cap de Formentor, a long and narrow point topped with a truly spectacular rocky peak. Fringed in forest and fine white beaches, it is one of the most impressive sites in the Mediterranean. Adventurous types can climb to the top, or just enjoy the splendid views from the fine bay.