Palma de Mallorca, at the heart of the Western Mediterranean, is a convenient embarkation point or port of call for many a cruise. Better still, with its vibrant waterfront and charming Old Town to discover, the capital of the Balearic Islands is one of Europe's most thrilling city-break destinations, enticing many cruise passengers to arrive a few days early.
Cruise port location
Cruise lines and regional ferries both dock at Estació Marítima, which lies to the west of town around the sweeping Bay of Palma. At particularly busy times with several ships in port at once, some lines may also use Porto Pi, the commercial and naval port slightly further beyond.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
Estació Maritima is 30-40 minutes on foot (or ten minutes by bus) from the Old Town. Santa Catalina, a lively district of bars and restaurants, lies en route and overlooks the marina. Once there, the Old Town's major landmarks rise above the waterfront, and its winding streets are very pedestrian-friendly.
Many cruise lines offer shuttle services to central Palma, but passengers can also easily explore via punctual, reliable and surprisingly affordable public transport. The airport bus (Linea 1) departs every 15 minutes or so from Estació Marítima, with one-way journeys to the centre costing €1.50 (£1.30).
The route goes via Plaça d'Espanya's Estació Intermodal, which has bus and train connections to pretty much anywhere on the island. Plan your journey on public transport, but don't be too ambitious if time in port is tight: Mallorca is a big island, so travelling further afield may take longer than you'd think.
Best beaches for cruise-ship visitors
A popular spot, which is a short taxi ride from the port, is Camp de Mar. The Playa del Palma area, a long stretch of sandy beach, is also close by.
If you have a full day or longer at port, Es Trenc, down in the south, is known for bone-white sands framed by forested dunes and a limpid, turquoise sea. Or, if sand isn't your thing, head north to Cala Deià, a wild and rocky cove overlooked by wonderful cliff-top restaurants.
What to see and do
Palma's historic centre is conveniently compact, so whether you take a shore excursion or discover it on your own, there's no need to miss any of the highlights. Beyond sightseeing, there's excellent shopping in the Old Town's winding streets, plus plenty of bakeries, cafés and bars to fuel your explorations.
What can I do in four hours or less?
Even a very short time ashore is enough to dash round the key sights. Palma's must-see landmarks are the cathedral, royal palace and ancient city walls, all three of which are clustered together, crowning the waterfront. Independent-minded passengers can easily tick them off in this time frame, but those preferring peace of mind and the insight gained from a group tour will find plenty of choice in terms of shore excursions.
For active types, some cruise lines (such as Azamara Club Cruises and Marella Cruises) offer tours along the waterfront and into the Old Town by bike. Be sure to take in the view from atop the 450-year-old city walls, from where you'll be looking across the bay towards your waiting ship.
A hassle-free (and economical) way of seeing all the sights is to take the hop-on/hop-off bus, whose 18 designated stops include one right opposite the cruise port. Buses (with commentary via headsets) run every half hour and the entire loop takes 80 minutes, leaving plenty of time to investigate the attractions that catch your eye en route. Particular highlights include the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró (which occupies the famed artist's home) and hilltop Castell Bellver, whose history spans over 700 years.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
A longer stay in port provides a chance to see more of the island. Popular destinations for cruise excursions include Valldemossa, a lovely village in the hills made famous by Frederic Chopin, who composed some of his signature works here (some tours include a performance). The Drach Caves are another frequent stop for their subterranean scenery enhanced with classical music, and boat trips on the lake. There's even more music – plus dance and acrobatics – at Son Amar, an evening extravaganza offered as an excursion by MSC Cruises.
But perhaps the classic Palma day-trip is the journey by historic train to Sóller, a charming town beyond the mountains that form the city's backdrop. Costa Cruises' tour, for example, takes around four hours and pairs a one-way trip by train with return transfers by coach. However, savvy passengers can do the same trip independently, returning by public bus at leisure, for less than half the price.
Or for something off the beaten track, take the train from Plaça d'Espanya to the rural town of Santa Maria. Its station is a five-minute walk to Bodegas Macià Batle winery for sampling vintages made from island-grown manto negro and prensal grape varietals.
Eat and drink
Santa Catalina and the area around La Lonja are particularly good for tapas restaurants. For something uniquely Mallorcan, try an ensaimada (coiled, sweet pastries) or gató (fluffy almond sponge cakes), ideally from Ca'n Joan de S'aigo, the city's oldest bakery, which has been in business since the 17th Century.
Don’t leave the island without...
Island-made ceramics. Browse Sóller's main shopping street, Carrer de sa Lluna, for delightfully simple earthenware goods made at the local pottery. Otherwise back in Palma Old Town, try the shops on Carrer Feliu for bright and cheerful kitchenware decorated in the island's signature "tela de llengua" (tongues of flame) design.
Need to know
Non-stop flights to Palma are available from across the UK with British Airways, Jet2, Norwegian, easyJet and Thomas Cook Airlines; flight time is two to three hours.
Palma is very safe to visit, but like any big city you should keep your wits about you. Pickpockets are a potential hazard.
Those wishing to sightsee independently can save money with a Palma Pass Express (€16/£14, available from any tourist office), which covers admission to three attractions from a list that includes the cathedral, Miró Museum and Almudaina Royal Palace.
Best time to go
Summer is peak time for Mediterranean cruises. Bear in mind that things can really heat up in July and August, making city sightseeing more comfortable early or late in the season. Many museums and shops close on Sundays, though some (such as Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum) are closed on Mondays.