Barcelona vs Mallorca for travel
Should you go to Barcelona or Mallorca?
Are you coming to Spain and are considering Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca, but can’t visit both? Ruling out one of them is a tricky decision. Both are such great destinations! But it all comes down to considering your goals for this vacation, your needs and interests.
These are our tips to decide between Mallorca or Barcelona:
Highlights they have in common
A quick review of the top things to visit in each city will make you realize that Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona share some points in common. Both feature a castle on top of the hill. The Castell de Bellver in Palma is definitely older (1300’s), its architecture is also prettier, and it follows a quite unique round plan. However, it’s just about half as high up as the Castell de Montjuic, in Barcelona. This last one has an irregular pentagonal shape, its architecture is less impressive and dates only from the 1600’s with many modifications.
Both cities have a very cool aquarium, with sharks taking the spotlight. The Barcelona Aquarium is famous for its underwater glass tunnel. The Palma Aquarium has an outdoors area with an impressive garden and waterfall. But in both kids and adults as well will have a great time.
And both Barcelona and Mallorca have a wonderful gothic Cathedral and a lovely old town – the Barri Gotic in Barcelona, the Centre Històric in Palma. Of course, Barcelona also has the mouth-opening Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi, but… did you know Gaudi worked in the restoration of the Cathedral of Mallorca when he was young and he designed the baldachin for it that later on was taken as a model for the Sagrada Familia one?
Finally, there’s one more great artist: the painter Joan Miro. He was from Barcelona, and there he created his Fundació Miró – one of the top museums in Barcelona. But his wife Pilar Juncosa was from Palma, and the couple spent long periods of time in the island. It was her who promoted the creation of a Pilar and Joan Miro Foundation in Mallorca, taking care of the paperwork, reuniting its initial art collection and eventually facilitating the purchase of the foundation headquarters after her husband passed away. Both museums are must-sees for any art lover.
What makes both destinations different
The architecture is what makes Palma and Barcelona different. Barcelona stands out for its modernist architecture, the local Art Nouveau, and specially for the works of Antoni Gaudi. There’s nothing that outstanding in Mallorca. However, if you don’t like stridencies and the excess of decoration that was so characteristic of Modernism, you’ll be delighted by the clean and elegant lines of the Gothic architecture in Palma.
Both Mallorca and Barcelona are located by the Mediterranean sea. Both have very busy cruise piers, 10 in Barcelona (the largest cruiseship port in Europe!) and 7 in Palma. Both cities have lovely marinas: in Palma de Mallorca you’ll want to walk along the Passeig Marítim and the Santa Catalina fishermen district, in Barcelona there’s the Port Vell and the Barceloneta fishermen district.
Both cities have a handful of lovely urban beaches: the Barcelona ones accessible on foot or by subway, the Palma ones on foot or by bus.
Going out of town
If you are staying long enough in one of both cities, you might want to consider going out of town. Renting a car in Mallorca is a quite popular option. The island isn’t too big, so in not much more than one hour drive you can get to other end of it. Beaches (many of them calanques known as “cala”) are of course a top destination.
Another popular destination is the scenic village of Valldemossa, surrounded by mountains, where the musician Chopin spent a winter with his French lover George Sand. The spectacular stalactites cave Cova del Drach is another must-see in Mallorca. And the Formentor cape and the Mondrago Natural Park are wonderful destination for natural landscapes.
As for Barcelona, beaches are also an option – the Costa Brava is quite similar to many of the Majorcan calas. And in Costa Daurada you’ll find fine sand beaches that compare to Es Trenc in Mallorca. But there’s other destinations that are even more popular: the rocky mountain of Montserrat with its monastery offers views even more spectacular than those of the mountains around Valldemossa.
The medieval town of Girona is as pretty as many little villages in Mallorca, but at a more monumental scale. And it has a Jewish history as interesting as the Jewish Quarter of Palma. Finally, the Dali Museum in Figueres is so unique there’s no other art museum that can compare to it. Driving a rental car to visit these sites is also a possibility, but it can be more daunting than driving around the peaceful Mallorca. In most cases you’ll be better off booking a tour.
BTW, ambitious travelers might want to consider taking a plane for a day trip. The flight between Barcelona and Palma is a mere half an hour! Way faster than the ferries from Palma to Ibiza or Menorca, that take 5 to 6 hours!
If there’s one famous specialty of Mallorca, that’s ensaimada – a sweet roll made with pork lard. While it’s easy to find it in bakeries around Spain in its plain version or with pumpkin “angel hair” filling, the variety of fillings you find in Mallorca is extraordinarily tempting. Don’t miss the one with sobrassada. Sobrassada is a pork and paprika savory spread typical from Mallorca, that with the sweetness of ensaimada creates an explosive sweet-and-sour combination.
Also, although you can find paella in Mallorca, that’s not what you should order. If you want some local rice, order “arròs brut”. The name translates as “dirty rice”, because the original recipe incorporates chicken liver, that confers it a brown “dirt” color. In reality it’s a tasty soupy rice with chicken, vegetables, sobrassada and sometimes rabbit.
Barcelona is a quite decent place to try paella, even if it’s not original from there but from Valencia. But if you want to try something different, go for fideuà (a sort of noodle paella) or arros negre (black rice made with squid ink). For a Catalan bakery, try a “xuxo”: it’s like a deep fried croissant filled with creme brulee. And to go with your Spanish ham or cheese platter, or with your Spanish potato omelet, learn how to prepare “pa amb tomaquet”, the Catalan bruschetta.
And finally some logistics points that might help you deciding between Mallorca vs Barcelona for your next trip:
Points to consider
Palma is smaller and less crowded: 400,000 inhabitants versus the 1,600,000 of Barcelona! And that even though Palma surface is roughly twice the one of Barcelona, with 208 km2 (80 sq mi) vs the 101 km2 (39 sq mi) of Barcelona. So if you don’t like crowds… Palma is the place to go!
But even if Palma is larger, both cities are quite walkeable when it comes to sightseeing. The longest walks in both cities will take about one hour, but using public transportation you’ll half the travel time. That’d be the case of getting from Port Vell to Park Guell in Barcelona, or from the Cathedral of Mallorca to the Bellver Castle or the Pilar i Joan Miro Foundation. Palma doesn’t have a subway system, though: you’ll be taking buses. And that sometimes is more challenging than hoping on the metro.
Finally, in both places people speaks both Spanish and Catalan. The Majorcan variety of Catalan has a stronger and more closed accent than the one spoken in Barcelona. Also, some areas in the island have a large German population (think of it like Florida for retirement!). So you are likely to see there more signs in German than you’d think!
So what's your choice? Barcelona or Mallorca?
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