How to Travel to the Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands, a sun-kissed archipelago of islands and islets east of the Spanish mainland, are dominated by four stunning sisters—Majorca, Ibiza, Menorca, and Formentera. Ibiza, the party-loving wild child of the bunch, has a shy side too, by way of hillside hamlets and a storied old town. Majorca, the largest, offers contrasting pleasures; both all-inclusive resorts and laidback, nature-oriented getaways. Menorca, a haven for the low-key traveler, entices with its archeological wonders and a bevy of postcard-perfect beaches. And then there’s Formentera, the tiniest sister, whose ethereal beauty attracts the boho-chic crowd that prefers lazy lounging by gentle turquoise waters over glitzy soirees. Whatever your sensibility, here’s how to make the most of your visit to the Balearics.
When to Go
The Balearic Islands’ prime location at the center of the Mediterranean Sea means a climate characterized by dry, humid summers and mild winters. To avoid the throngs of sun-worshipping crowds but still enjoy some outdoor activities, the best months to visit are May, June, and September when temperatures fluctuate between 60 and 80 degrees. In July and August temperatures can soar up to 90 degrees with 10 to 11 hours of uninterrupted daylight.
As it starts to cool down in October, many seaside businesses shorten their opening hours or close their doors for the winter months. The weather remains mild until springtime, with an average of high of 55 degrees and rainfall increases, albeit slightly, from almost never to up to 10 days in December.
Balearic Islands Travel Tips
- If you plan on exploring each individual island, rent a car in Majorca to take in the scenic coastal routes. During the high season in Ibiza and Menorca, avoid the parking space dilemma by opting to rent a scooter for easy beach access. When in Formentera, Autocares Payas makes stops at several beaches, starting and ending at the main port, La Savina. Prices start at 1.80€ for a single ride and up to 30€ for a pack of 20 trips. Otherwise, do as the locals do and explore by bicycle or on foot.
- El Corte Ingles, Spain’s main department store, has two Palma de Majorca locations, one of which is closed on Sundays. Ibiza and Menorca offer a selection of outlets and high-end boutique shops while Formentera is known for bohemian clothing, accessories, and decorative items. Overall, commercial stores open late Monday-Saturday, while independent shops routinely take siesta breaks any time between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., then re-open until 8 or 9 p.m. Outdoor market openings vary between once a week to daily.
- Restaurant opening times vary by season and location. During the summer season, most Majorca and Ibiza restaurants open daily while Menorca and Formentera tend to close for lunch on Sundays and Mondays. Regardless, reservations are a must this time of the year. Off-season, restaurants adopt a more laidback schedule; some decrease their hours while others close their doors until the spring. Best to call ahead to avoid disappointment.
- Contrary to popular belief, all of Spain’s beaches are public. That being said, resort properties pay hefty sums for the privilege to charge visitors for amenities such as sun beds and umbrellas. Expect to pay between 4-10€ per item, depending on location.
- As of July 2016, an additional tourist tax will be added to all island stays. Fees range from .50€ per person per day for hostels to 2€ for 5-star accommodations, with discounts offered for extended stays. Cruise ship passengers are not immune; charges are incurred at each port of call.
- Travelers planning an extended stay in Palma de Majorca can get complimentary access to the city’s main attractions, 10 free bus trips, and discounts on food and shopping with the Palma Pass (16€ for an express pass; 33€ for a 72-hour pass and 92€ for a family pass).
Getting to the Balearic Islands
American Airlines offers direct flights from both Miami (MIA) and New York (JFK) to Barcelona. A number of other major carriers including United, Delta, and British Airlines offer direct flights from JFK and several connecting options nationwide. From Barcelona, local carriers offer short daily flights to Ibiza, Menorca, and Palma de Majorca Airport, the third largest airport in Spain. Formentera is only accessible by boat from Ibiza.
Major ferry carriers Balearia and Trasmediterránea operate daily overnight ferries from Barcelona, Valencia and Dénia to Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza. Formentera can be reached from Ibiza via Balearia and Transmapi.
Island-hopping is a fairly simple affair with ferries running daily between all the main islands. If you plan on visiting all four, start with Menorca, followed by Majorca, then Ibiza, and finally Formentera. This sequence offers direct travel and features the shortest routes between the islands. Balearia ferry prices start at approximately 20€ for basic seating and up to several hundred for a cabin. In general, rental cars are not permitted on ferries between islands. For seasonal jaunts between Ibiza and Formentera ports, Aquabus offers a no-frills ride starting at 9.50€ each way.
A charming way to see the breathtaking landscape between Palma de Majorca and the photo-perfect town of Sóller is to take the vintage tourist train Ferrocarril de Sóller and/or tram. Prices are 22€ for the train and up to 6€ for the tram, each way. Ibiza has a similar service; a mini locomotive, TrenTuristico Ibiza, (16€) that offers 2 or 3 hour tours around the island’s loveliest towns including Santa Eulalia and Es Cana. The cheery red Mao Express train is easy to spot around Menorca’s capital. It costs 5€ for a tour around town with commentary.
What to Do in Majorca
- Take a scenic drive up the west coast and experience the island’s spellbinding natural attributes. Start at Valldemossa, an ancient village revered for its rustic beauty and for Real Cartuja, the monastery hideaway for 19th-century lovers George Sand and Chopin. Then drive down winding roads of striking limestone formations, pine forests, hidden hamlets, and teal-hued waters surrounded by the dramatic Tramuntana Mountains through Sóller, a majestic hillside town known for its fragrant citrus trees and Art Nouveau architecture, until you reach Cap de Formentor, the northeastern tip of the island, featuring wondrous clifftop views.
- Visit the studio of a surrealist master. Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró (6€ entry fee) is a Palma-based museum dedicated to the works of Catalan surrealist painter Joan Miró. One of the top exhibits is the Sert Studio, Miro’s final workspace filled with dozens of unfinished works.
- Take a tour and taste local wine at select wineries. Inaugurated in 1711, family-owned Bodegues Ribas is the oldest estate on the island, offering visitors a sampling of indigenous varietals such as Prensal and Manto Negro. In contrast, Macia Batle, a modern, more commercial winery, blends local grapes with well-known varieties such as Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot.
Where to Eat & Drink in Majorca
In Majorca, the cultural mores dictate that cocktail rendezvous routinely turn into late-night dinner plans and beyond. So naturally, many bars are strategically placed in hotels or within a restaurant space. A few of the more outstanding venues include the urban-cool Puro Hotel’s Opio Bar, a fashionable spot with tasty cocktails and outdoor DJ beats on weekends. Sky Bar at Hostal Cuba has creative concoctions and arguably the most magnificent views over Palma, and Portals Hills Boutique Hotel’s ultra-chic La Cabana Pool Bar and Lounge is a sleek poolside duplex with floor-to-ceiling windows, daybeds overlooking the sea and more than 2000 wines and champagnes. Honorable mention goes to quirky Abaco, a retro-fab venue set in a 17th-century estate serving excellent cocktails.
- Located in the 27-room Convent de la Missió, a 17th-century former monastery, Marc Fosh’s namesake Michelin-starred restaurant is one of the British-born chef’s three contemporary restaurants in Palma. With a focus on clean Mediterranean flavors, this modern and minimalist restaurant has eye-catching modern art gracing its walls, andis a favorite among the capital’s well-heeled residents.
- The style-centric Zaranda restaurant, decorated in an inviting palette of neutrals accentuated with gold and dark woods, distinguishes itself as the only two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Majorca. It is housed in Castell Son Claret, a renovated 15th-century castle turned luxury hotel in 2013. Chef Fernando Pérez Arellano’s culinary wizardry shines through via his fusion tasting menu with fresh regional meats, fish, cheeses, and spices paired with an extensive list of local and international wines.
- In Port de Alcudia, Jardin chef Macarena de Castro elevates traditional Mediterranean recipes with inventive modern twists. The one-Michelin-starred restaurant is located in a swanky Majorcan-style estate complete with a posh, art-filed dining room, as well as a more relaxed al fresco space with well-tended gardens.
Where to Stay in Majorca
What to Do in Menorca
- Explore the treasure trove of tranquil turquoise coves surrounded by weathered cliffs and pines. Cala Turqueta, boasting sparkling shallow waters encircled by a thick, wild forest; and Cala Pregonda, featuring distinctive reddish-gold sands and micro islets controlling the waves, are among the most memorable.
- Sample the island’s famous cheese, Queso Mahón, made with hand-pressed, unpasteurized milk and aged for one to six months. Visit top producer Subaida, a Georgian-style estate and dairy farm for a tour around the green grounds, a visit to the animal compound, and a tasting of their best products.
- Some the Balearics’ best surviving examples of prehistoric artifacts are found on this island. Visit Trepucó (free) and Talatí de Dalt (4€), both just miles from capital city Maó, and view the relic remains of ancient Talaiotic settlements.
Where to Eat & Drink in Menorca
- Inaugurated in 1979, Bodegas Binifadet remains one of the island’s top authorities when it comes to quality regional wines. Visit the cavernous cellars during a tour of the vineyards, which includes a tasting of three of their best-selling vintages such as the White Merluzo—a fruity combo of four varieties including the local grape, Malvasia—paired with homemade organic products including goat cheese and wine-based jams. Sa Cova is a family-run beach bar and restaurant wedged between rocks on the shore of the postcard-perfect Cala Torret in San Lluis. Stop by for a cocktail or linger for the fresh salads and seafood. At the cliff side Cova d’en Xoroi beach club, 15€ includes a mixed drink, live music, and the best sunset views over striking Cala’n Porter.
- In a spacious setting that combines industrial elements with natural wood furnishings, Smoix is the culmination of chef Miquel Sanchez’s long-standing desire to see people enjoying the simple pleasures of eating well. The retro-rustic eatery’s hearty yet visually appeasing dishes feature a medley of Menorcan staples expertly paired with Mexican influences, a nod to the chef’s partner’s (in life and business) heritage.
- Pan y Vino is a French restaurant with a Catalan soul. Situated in an atmospheric 200-year-old whitewashed farmhouse, the seasonal menu is an inspired mash-up of international concepts. Currently on offer is a spinach crême brulée with duck ham and hazelnuts paired with French or local wine.
Where to Stay in Menorca
- Hotel Tres Sants: For a decidedly cozier but equally charming stay, this 8-room boutique hotel packs a wealth of style and character into an 18th-century mansion. The arched public areas have touches of subdued colors and the Turkish bath spa and a rooftop terrace offer a birds-eye view of historic Cituadella.
- Torralbenc: On a hill overlooking wild flower fields, vineyards, and the Mediterranean, this former turn-of-the-century farmhouse has exteriors that pay tribute to the area’s traditional rural heritage. Inside, however, is a different story. Here, the spacious interiors have been remodeled in hues of taupe and bone with few furnishings or little décor in order to highlight the natural surroundings. Twenty-seven rooms and cottages are available, varying in size and with fantastic views of the enchanting gardens and sea. The restaurant, Sa Taula, set in the one-time wine barrel storage room, is one of the island’s best; utilizing the freshest local products to create its high-quality meals.
- Other country-style hotels of note include Ca na Xini, whose unexpected white on white urban-centric interiors makes it a standout among other country stays, and Alcaufar Vell, a 20th-century manor hotel enjoying a renaissance of sorts by way of culinary accolades bestowed upon the property’s traditional kitchen.
What to Do in Ibiza
- Experience the island’s lesser-known Northern coast on horseback. Located at the 173-acre nature park Es Murta, Ibiza Horse Valley is a unique rehabilitation center for mistreated and abandoned horses offering bareback treks through lush forests, sandy shores, and panoramic mountain trails.
- Shop the original hippy market Punta Arabi, which has 500 stalls of handicraft knick-knackery, craft edibles, and boho décor and clothing. In homage to the hippies that first settled here in the sixties, the 42-year-old seasonal (April-October) Wednesday-only market features an eclectic lineup of live music to serenade visiting crowds.
- Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Dalt Vila, the island’s fortified Phoenician old town on a temperate hill, high above the rowdy revelers below. Climb the narrow cobblestone walkways via the main entrance Portal de Ses Taules to the historic treasures at the summit; the Cathedral de Santa Maria, the Bishop’s Palace, the 16th-century Ibiza Castle and spectacular panoramic views over the city.
Related: The Best Beaches in Ibiza
Where to Eat & Drink in Ibiza
- Located a short distance from the scenic port in Ibiza Town the Cotton Beach Club Lounge serves Asian-inspired bites, international wines, and cocktails in a relaxed setting. At the seasonal Experimental Beach Club, the stylish wood lounges accentuated with cornflower blue cushions on the sparkling shores of Las Salinas play second fiddle to a lineup of creative cocktails. A popular choice is the spicy Sangre del Mar, an inspired mix of vodka, Pedro Ximenez, Ibiza salt, pepper, watermelon, tomato, and lemon juice. Bar 1805, an eclectic French-themed bar and restaurant on a tiny unassuming street in Ibiza Town, serves a quirky menu of retro cocktails.
- For an exceptional dining experience, Es Tragón, with its eight-man culinary team led by reputable chef Alvaro Sanz, offers three visually-stimulating tasting menus—the most economical, a steal at 45€, features street food from around the world—paired with fine wines in posh surroundings. The haute cuisine kitchen caters to guests in two distinctive settings. There’s a gastro bar for dynamic drinks and inventive bites while the airy dining area is where the magic really happens.
- Located in the sleepy village of Sant Rafael, Le Belle Ibiza pairs typical white-washed exteriors with a decidedly warmer indoor setting of exposed stone walls, plank wood tables, and patterns on seat covers and cushions. The upscale French-Asian fusion cuisine takes a backseat on weekends when a more casual BBQ brunch is offered on plush daybeds.
- The seasonal Amante restaurant takes full advantage of its enviable location on a jagged cliff overlooking the Sol Den Serra Bay. Serving a healthy, contemporary twist on Spanish and Italian classics, the multi-tiered minimalist design restaurant and bar is an all-day luxe alternative to sun-worshipping on the beach.
Where to Stay in Ibiza
- Aquas de Ibiza: Overlooking the peaceful marina in Santa Eulalia, this 112-room spa hotel offers high-end services for the eco-conscious traveler. All the understated design rooms come with private terraces and to ensure maximum comfort, but it’s the Cloud Nine Corner Suites that have exceptional sea views and unlimited access to the deluxe Clarins and Revival Spa, the real star of the property.
- The Giri Residence: For a more intimate experience in the boho-centric town of San Juan, book a suite (only five in total) at this oasis of calm. The Bougainville Suite is the most stunning with a neutral palette of furnishings and artwork, an en-suite bathroom with contrasting stone tub, plenty of natural light, and arguably the most sought-after island amenity: a second-floor private terrace complete with a wood deck dining area and sun loungers. Organically sourced bites are available on the premises. During the high season, walk a short distance to the property's peaceful garden bar and restaurant, the Giri Café.
- Gran Hotel Montesol: For an entirely different look and flavor, book a boutique stay at this dapper neo-colonial classic. Completely refurbished in 2016, the 33-room hotel’s history has garnered attention from UNESCO and is evident throughout its retro-style interiors. The King One Suite features city and marina views, a marble bath with hydro-massage showerhead, private concierge, and as the name suggests, a king-size bed with regal 300-count sheets.
What to Do in Formentera
- Spend a day or several at one of many stunning beaches, each with its own set of amenities; Migjorn, a snorkel-friendly beach, has the longest stretch of white sand, offering the best opportunity to snag a sunbathing spot during the busy summer months. Calo Saona is a quaint bay surrounded by forests, red-hued cliffs, and an upscale hotel. Ses Illetes, arguably the fairest of them all, offers shimmering waters, grass-patched sand dunes, and an exceptional selection of eateries.
- Steal away to neighboring Espalmador, a private islet featuring crescent-shaped coves, Platja S’Alga, a pristine beach with gentle cascading waters, and natural mud baths. Accessible by a short ferry ride from La Savina, this lovely oasis is a total escape from civilization; there are no restaurants or hotels, just a dutiful watchtower, a few seasonal digs, and the peaceful sounds of nature.
- At only 12 miles from entry to end, designated green bike routes make for a smooth ride around the island. In 2015, official routes swelled from 19 to 32; with starting points in La Savina, Sant Francesc and Es Pujols, among others. One of the longest routes takes cyclists on a relaxed ride from the Faro de La Mola lighthouse through a changing landscape of livestock and fig trees, the Can Blai Roman ruins, and Es Caló, a tiny fishing village offering excellent seafood.
Where to Eat & Drink in Formentera
- Es Moli de Sal: Just minutes from Illetes beach, this renovated salt mill, located in the natural reserve Ses Salines and specializing in seafood, oozes casual elegance with its earth-toned palette of wood, stones, and silver accents.
- Juan y Andrea: This is a favored pit stop for visiting bon vivants eager to indulge in the island’s tastiest seafood paella and fideua (a noodle version of paella), so book in advance for the best tables on the grassy sands of Playa des Illetes.
- Aigua: For enchanting views of La Savina marina, reserve an early rooftop table for sushi bites and cocktails while sunset glazing. If you’re craving authentic Italian cuisine, head to Can Carlos for tasty dishes on a terrace with twinkling lights.