Top Things to Do in Mallorca Using Public Transport
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain. It took me a while to get around to visiting because in my mind it was firmly linked to drunken debauchery, which couldn't be further away from where my interests lie. But as it turns out, if you avoid the party hotspots of Magaluf and Arenal, Mallorca has so much to offer! Read on for my top things to do in Mallorca and where to find hiking opportunities, the sea so blue it's surreal, mountains and beaches, charming villages and awesome food. Even better, Mallorca public transport is well-developed, so it is possible to ditch the rental car and do your sightseeing in Mallorca by bus and train - I tried it and will share all you need to know below.
Where to stay in Mallorca
I don't think there's a single best area to stay in Mallorca - it all depends on the goals for your holiday.
If you want to spend a lot of time travelling around the island and little time hanging out at the beach, then go for Palma de Mallorca. Palma's central bus station is the hub for all the major routes, so staying here will make it super easy for you and save lots of time. Otherwise, you will have to first take a bus to Palma and then change there, with connections not always working out as expected, which is my personal learning from the last trip.
I would also recommend picking Palma de Mallorca if you are primarily after a city rather than a beach vibe. Palma old town is stunning, with magnificent architecture and lots of options for shopping and eating out, so you will be spoilt for choice. Do keep in mind though that this is where cruise ships dock and in peak season it can get pretty busy.
I haven't made Palma my Mallorcan base yet, but I do have two hotels on my shortlist for when I do in case you're interested. Posada Terra Santa is a small boutique hotel located in a restored manor house in the quieter area of the old town and yet still close enough to all the action that you can easily reach the shops and restaurants on foot. It has glowing reviews on Tripadvisor too! (click here to check prices). The other option is Nakar hotel, which has a restaurant with fantastic views over the city and a rooftop sunbathing area with an infinity pool (click here to check prices).
If you are after a beach holiday, then forget Palma and pick one of the many seaside villages/towns in Mallorca. Here you have to keep in mind that there are many 'calas', or coves, which are rocky and often have little to no sand in the beach area. If that's your thing, great, but for me, that's pretty much a no go as I love wide sandy beaches. So google the town/village you're considering and check out photos of the beach. Magaluf and Arenal have lovely sandy beaches, but I would say avoid like the plague unless you enjoy the company of wasted Brits and Germans respectively. I stayed in Portals Nous (meh, not my favourite) and Peguera, which I actually really liked for its beaches and the wide choice of restaurants. In terms of entertainment factor, it's a quiet-ish town frequented predominantly by older German tourists, which may or may not be your thing.
Can I recommend any hotels there? Well, I haven't been all that lucky, to be honest with you. The first hotel I stayed at in Peguera was so not my cup of tea that we considered moving somewhere else after the very first breakfast. There were many things there that didn't work for us, but suffice to say, the stay there culminated in vomiting and diarrhea - not what you want the night before flying home (or on any other night of your holiday really). The second time we stayed in Hapimag, which is holiday apartments rather than your typical hotel. That was a great stay, but I believe this company works on a principle similar to a timeshare, so I am not sure what the availability is like for non-members.
Other towns with large sandy beaches you might want to check out are Port d'Alcudia and Port de Pollenca.
Getting Around without a Rental Car - Mallorca Public Transport
When I researched information on the top things to do in Mallorca, most of the guides suggested renting a car and then proceeded to talk about super-narrow nausea-inducing mountain roads. No thanks, I thought, those are not the kind of roads I want to be driving on. If I end up on the said mountain roads, it better be with someone else sweating behind the wheel.
So the way we approached it is by a) prebooking a private transfer from the airport (we could have got there by bus too as there is an Aerotib line covering routes to different parts of the island, but decided that we would be too tired to drag our suitcases around) and b) researching the bus routes we would need to get to our desired sightseeing destinations. I had the timetables all saved on my phone as .pdf files just in case of connectivity issues with internet.
You can get all the bus timetables from the TIB bus association website. Apart from the timetables, they also have an amazing section for tourism by public transport that I relied on when planning my stay and can highly recommend to get some ideas for the area you'll be staying at.
Ticket prices vary depending on the route you take, but as a guideline, this is what we paid in June 2019 (all prices are one way):
Palma - Pollenca €5.40
Palma - Peguera €3.80
Palma - Valldemossa €1.90
Andratx - Sant Elm €2.15
Peguera - Port d'Andratx €1.70
Did it work out? Mostly, yes. As long as you take into account that, stereotypically, punctuality is not the strongest trait of the Spanish. One of the issues causing delays is that tickets are always bought from the driver paying cash when you get on the bus (speaking of which, you don't need exact change, but they won't take notes over €20). When you board you tell the driver where you are going and how many tickets you want and he gives you a price. You can't buy tickets in advance. So on busy routes there are large queues of people waiting to pay for their tickets, which of course has a knock-on effect on when the bus can leave the station and arrive at the next one.
The route between Port d'Andratx and Palma, which we used a lot, was one of those busy routes and, with our stop in the middle of the route and constant delays, we gave up on the timetable pretty quickly and just went to the bus stop when we were ready. That does mean that if you have connecting routes on other buses, you have to leave a generous gap in-between for possible delays. However, I do have to say that the departures from Palma central bus station (which is the main hub you will use to get around the island) were pretty punctual as the buses usually arrived at the platform a bit earlier to give people time to buy the tickets and get on.
The Palma central station is large, so to find your bus you will need to know what platform to go to. There are monitors on the station with departing bus numbers and destinations, which will guide you to the correct platform.
The only serious issue we experienced that made me rather angry was when we were sitting at a bus stop in Sant Elm and the bus just drove past and didn't stop. I don't know if the driver was expecting us to wave or what, but given it's the only bus line in the area and we were sitting on the bench under the sign and the timetable, I would think it was pretty obvious that we were indeed wanting to get on that bus. We had a long and tiring day behind us and the next bus wasn't for an hour and a half, so we ended up taking a taxi home. Paid about 20-something Euros to get from Sant Elm to Peguera.
If you are planning dinner or late-night activities, check when your last bus is in advance. The last bus that would get us to our hotel left from Palma at 22:45, so after a particularly long dinner we again had to rely on a taxi (cost of ~30 Euros from central Palma to Peguera).
There are also two metro lines from Palma central station, but they weren't going anywhere I wanted to be, so I can't comment on those.
Finally, there is an awesome old train line between Palma and Soller, departing from a small station right next to Palma central station. That I did use for a day trip to Soller (keep reading to find out more about that). This is the train station and you can see the train as well:
Top Things to Do in Mallorca
(click on the place name below to view if you don't want to scroll through all)
Palma de Mallorca
Palma de Mallorca is the main city of Mallorca and an absolute must-see. We never really set ourselves any checkpoints in terms of sights apart from the La Seu cathedral (on the photo above) and just wandered around everywhere. One of the coolest places we found is the Es Baluard modern art museum - first of all, the views over Palma are fantastic and second of all, it has a lovely outdoor restaurant/lounge, which is brilliant for a break from all the walking. Palma is also known for its courtyards, some of which you are able to take a peek into. The old town is full of beautiful buildings and has a wide selection of shops, cafes and restaurants for all budgets.
Speaking of eating in Palma, I have a few recommendations. For the budget-conscious, McDonalds on Placa Rei Joan Carlos I is an excellent choice. Ok, I know what you're thinking, who recommends McDonalds, but hear me out! With outdoor seating on an upmarket shopping street and next to more expensive options, it also has a McCafe section that sells affordable and yet still delicious macarons and does a bonbon coffee (with condenced milk). How posh is that for a Macky D's???
If you want to splurge for a special experience, there are two Michelin-star restaurants in Palma, offering tasting menus. We went for dinner in one of them, Adrian Quetglas. At €55 per person for the set menu (June 2019 pricing), I thought it was surprisingly affordable for a Michelin-star restaurant. The food was great and had some interesting flavour/texture combinations. Booking in advance is recommended - if you leave it until you arrive in Mallorca, you might not be able to get a table for the same week. Also, if you are reliant on public transportation, be aware of the fact that dinner is a lengthy affair. We booked the earliest slot, at 8 pm and finished at 10:45 pm, which meant that we missed the last bus from Palma station to our village and had to get a taxi. If that is a concern, Adrian Quetglas also do lunch!
Soller and Puerto de Soller
A fantastic idea for a day trip from Palma de Mallorca is a trip to Soller and Puerto de Soller. Though it's possible to get here by bus (from Palma, you can use bus lines 210 and 211), this is a day trip that I recommend doing differently.
The towns can be reached by train, but the special thing about it is that it's not your bog standard modern train you'll be using but a vintage narrow-gauge one, going through the Sierra de Alfabia mountain range in 13 tunnels! This railway line was created at the beginning of the 20th century, so it's a real piece of history and an enjoyable ride. The train gets you to Soller where you can potter about for a bit or straight away change for a tram that will take you a couple of kilometres further to Puerto de Soller, a quaint seaside town with a beach and beautiful views.
The area around Soller is known for growing citrus fruits and wherever you are in Mallorca, when you are checking out oranges in the local shops, you may see signs for 'Soller oranges' - this is where they come from. So if you are visiting Soller, do try the freshly squeezed orange juice - it literally couldn't be fresher.
In Palma, the train to Soller leaves from a little station that's right next to the main bus station. Check the Tren de Soller website for timetables and ticket prices.
Port d'Andratx is a picturesque seaside town on the southwestern coast of Mallorca, not to be confused with the town of Andratx, which is located more inland and does not have access to the sea. It's not a beach destination as the coast is rocky here, but it does have a marina, stunning views both over the coast and inland and lots of little boutique shops and restaurants. The vibe in Port d'Andratx is certainly that of an upmarket town, with luxury villas apparently inhabited by celebs (though I have to admit I didn't spot a single celebrity on my day trip, but then again, I am hopeless as noticing and recognising people).
The road by the marina is chock-full of restaurants, pretty much all of which have outdoor seating right by the water's edge. We picked one and had some tapas with one of the best views I've had at a restaurant. Prices generally reflect the upmarket vibe of Port d'Andratx, but it's possible to find some cheaper options.
My tip for your visit is not to stop once you reach the end of the marina promenade, but instead to continue up the hill following the signs to Liedtke Museum. You will be rewarded with some more fantastic views and the option to relax and have a drink at the museum's cafe/restaurant. We didn't actually go into the museum itself, so can't comment on that, but we sure took our sweet time sitting on the terrace and watching boats on the water that from this height looked teeny tiny.
In theory, there is also a hike you can do from Port d'Andratx to Sant Elm, which should take about 2.5 hours one way. However, we met some seriously exhausted people in Sant Elm who attempted the hike, but got hopelessly lost due to insufficient signage and spent 4.5 hours walking. So I can't really recommend attempting that unless you are absolutely sure of the route.
To get to Port d'Andratx from Palma, hop on the bus no 102, which will get you there in about an hour and a half.
Pollenca is a pretty town nestled in-between mountains in the northern part of Mallorca. It takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour to get here from Palma by bus 340 (depending on the time you choose to go, the bus can have more stops between Palma and Pollenca, hence the different possible timings).
Pollenca does get its fair share of tourists and you can find most of them climbing the scenic staircase up towards the El Calvari chapel. The views that open up as you get higher and higher are amazing. Once you get to the top, turn right to get to another viewpoint with far-reaching views (as seen in the photo above).
On our visit, I also wanted to take a stroll to the Puig de Maria sanctuary. What I failed to appreciate when looking at the map in advance was how much of a climb that would be. When the bus was driving into Pollenca, I saw this gigantic-looking mountain with a tower on top and thought - oops, I think this is where I wanted to go... It looked like most of the visitors were put off by the imposing looks of the mountain (or didn't know about this walk), so we didn't see many people along the way.
The climb isn't actually that bad. If I remember correctly, it's listed as a 45-minute walk one way and it's impossible to get lost as there is only one road going up. Towards the top of the hill is the more difficult part as that chunk of the road is paved with cobblestones, which have become very slippery over the years - I saw people doing the walk in flip flops, but I would certainly recommend shoes with good grip.
You will get some stunning views on this walk, both from the sanctuary and along the way. Make sure you stock up on water and snacks (if needed) in town before you start your hike as there are no shops or cafes along the route or in the sanctuary. There are, however, some picnic tables in the grounds of the sanctuary in case you want to bring a packed lunch.
For those who prefer to get their lunch at a restaurant or a cafe, my tip for a snack in Pollenca is La Mar Dolca, which is a great small bakery and coffee shop not far from where the bus stops.
Valldemossa is a stunning rural village in the Tramuntana mountains. Getting here takes 30-35 minutes from Palma by bus 210, so it's perfect for a day trip.
The village is known because the composer Frederic Chopin and writer Georges Sand spent some time living here in a monk's cell, which you can still visit today. The name of the monastery where they stayed is Real Cartuja de Valldemossa.
The Tramuntana mountains offer not only a magnificent backdrop for photos but also opportunities for hiking. What I really wanted to do on my visit to Valldemossa is to go up into the mountains towards the viewing point called Mirador de ses Basses and admire the views over the village from above. Unfortunately, we arrived quite late, so it didn't work out timewise - oh well, maybe next time.
If you want to do a hike in the area, research your route in advance - a part of the hiking trails in the area is restricted and requires a permit. Check out which trails this applies to and apply for permits here.
Dragonera Island and Sant Elm
Dragonera island is something rather unique - a part of Sa Dragonera Natural Park, it is a small uninhabited island whose only residents are birds and curious cheeky lizards. It's got four different hiking routes that you can choose from, of varying levels of difficulty and length (check out the photos below to see the routes mapped out). We opted for the second shortest, which was supposed to take an hour, but in fact took us more than double that because we kept stopping to play with the lizards and take photos.
It is very important to remember that there are no shops or cafes or anything really on Dragonera island apart from a small museum, so all edible supplies, including water must be bought in advance. If you have left it too late and didn't get to the supermarket on Mallorca, at least buy a bottle of water on the boat that ferries you across to Dragonera - otherwise, you are a bit stuffed if you get thirsty or hungry. There are however tables and benches, so bringing a picnic is an awesome idea.
If you are coming from Palma, get the bus 102 and change at Andratx for the bus 100 to Sant Elm. The bus stop where you change at Andratx is called Carrer Son Campol, located here. You know it's time to get off when you can see the beautiful building of the town hall and its gardens. The Sant Elm bus doesn't run very often, so make sure you plan well so you don't end up waiting at the bus stop in Andratx for an hour.
In Sant Elm, we got off at the very first bus stop (which is by the Sant Elm beach) because we weren't sure where the boat departed from. That is fine, as it's not a very long walk and the town is pretty, but the second bus stop is closer to the pier where the boat departs from. When we got off, it wasn't immediately obvious where to go, so for your reference, the boat boarding point is here.
You buy the tickets on the boat and pay in cash. When you get your ticket, you have to tell the staff what time you are planning to take the boat back, so they can manage the numbers. They then make a note on your ticket, which you must present when boarding for the return journey, so don't lose it. Check the ferry company's website for the timetable and prices (we paid €14 per person in June 2019). Please note there are no boats to Dragonera between November and January.
Instead of taking the bus from Andratx, you could also get a boat from Puerto Andratx to Sant Elm before heading to Dragonera. The boats are run by the same ferry company. Given my rocky relationship with seafaring transport, I wanted to spend as little time as possible on a boat, which is why I opted to take the bus.
Do leave some time to spend in Sant Elm - it is a gorgeous little place with vibrant water colour and fantastic views towards Dragonera. Whether you spend you time at the sandy beach, eating ice cream in one of the cafes or trying the local cuisine in one of the restaurants, I am sure you will love it here! We had delicious seafood at the Caragola restaurant - it wasn't cheap, but it was certainly worth it! I was also hoping to do this hike starting from Sant Elm, but it was too much after visiting Dragonera and we ran out of time and didn't get a chance to come back again.
Your final option for visiting Dragonera is to take a boat tour that makes a stop there, for example this cruise with pickups from Paguera's Toro beach or Santa Ponca beach - it gives you an hour to spend on Dragonera and bypasses Sant Elm completely. This is an option for people who like a day out at sea.
Dragon Caves (Cuevas del Drach)
Dragon caves (Cuevas del Drach) are located in Porto Cristo on the eastern coast of Mallorca. They are a popular tourist attraction, with the visit consisting of a walk through the caves admiring the spectacular rock formations, followed by a classical music concert on the underground lake. The music is played live from a boat that sails around the lake. The seating area is completely dark, with the only source of light coming from the boat - this of course caused some of the little kids to start crying, which somewhat ruined the special moment, but what can you do... After the concert you can choose to start walking to the exit or queue up for a short boat trip across the lake and then walk. The boat trip is really very short - after queuing up for ages, it was all over in less than a minute, but for me it was worth it anyway - when are you going to be able to catch a boat across an underground lake otherwise?
The popularity of Cuevas del Drach means that you are likely to be faced with crowds during your visit. Our very first impression of the caves was the massive queue at the entrance (check it out in the photo gallery below). People only get admitted at specific timeslots, so if you arrive in-between those, you will have to stand around and wait for the next available timeslot to get in. Luckily, once they started letting everyone in, the queue moved quickly and we were inside before we knew it.
To get to Porto Cristo and the caves by bus, you need the 412 bus from Palma and there is a special bus stop for Cuevas del Drach. Because we were coming from Peguera rather than Palma, the schedules didn't align very well, especially on Sunday, so we decided to book a guided tour instead. When I say guided tour, in this case, this basically means you get some information whilst on the bus, but you are on your own for the cave visit. The tour also included a visit to Majorica imitation pearl factory, which we didn't really care about, so instead we walked down to Porto Cristo harbour and had a croissant and some orange juice there whilst admiring the view.
If you like caves, you will be pleased to know there are other caves in the same region of Mallorca - Cuevas dels Hams (also in Porto Cristo) and Cuevas de Arta (in Cap Vermell). Whether you want to visit them all or pick and choose, just make sure you end up where you planned to go - I've seen comments from people who wanted to go to Cuevas del Drach, but ended up at Cuevas del Hams due to confusing signage (and were very disappointed as a result).
I hope you have managed to find some useful information in this post and that your trip to Mallorca goes well!
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