Located off Spain’s east coast, in the glistening blue Mediterranean Sea, the Balearic Islands have been welcoming visitors for over 100 years.
An archipelago of four enchanting islands, it was in the package holiday brochures of the 1950s/60s that Mallorca (Majorca), Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera began to entice British and European travellers into taking their first foreign holiday.
Today, with over 13 million international visitors a year, the four main Balearic Islands continue attracting travellers from across Europe and beyond, choosing many different holiday options.
On each island, you can enjoy hours of warm Mediterranean sunshine, pristine white sand beaches, luxurious villas, 5-star hotels, budget hotels, backpacking hostels and rural guest houses.
So what is it that makes one particular island that little bit more attractive for your type of perfect holiday?
In this blog, I highlight many of the things to see and do on each of the four Balearic Islands, to help you choose the island that will deliver your personal holiday preferences.
Where to stay in the Balearic Islands? Which island is best for you
1. Mallorca, a good choice for first-time visitors to the Balearic Islands
At over 3600 square kilometres in area, Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands. As a destination offering a little of everything, it is an excellent choice for those feeling a bit apprehensive about visiting the archipelago for the first time.
For sun lovers, you will find it all around the coast. There are miles of sun-kissed beaches with all the facilities for those lazy-hazy, full-on beach days. Or little picturesque hidden coves, only reachable by boat and still blooming as nature intended.
With hundreds of pristine beaches (more than 260 beaches) to enjoy, many visitors hire a car for the duration and spend their days visiting Mallorca’s different beaches and coastal areas.
Spend some time visiting Palma, the island’s capital, with its cobbled streets, intriguing alleys, chic boutiques, trendy rooftop cocktail bars, international restaurants and local eateries.
Stroll its buzzing promenades and visit the Gothic Santa Maria Cathedral with stunning views over the bay, the Royal Palace of La Almudaina close by, and the busy, bustling towns of Manacor and Inca.
Around a 50-minute drive from Palma, you will find the resort town of Colonia Sant Jordi and its breath-taking Es Trenc coastline, considered by locals and many return visitors to be the most impressive beach in Mallorca.
Its long front is of white powdery sand and crystal-clear water sparkling in the sunshine. To the rear, the dunes and wetlands of Ses Salines and Sa Rapita natural park offer plenty of exploring opportunities for the whole family.
It is an area delightfully un-commercialised save for a limited number of fixed sunbeds, shades, and one bar. So be sure to pack a bag with snacks and liquids if you don’t want to spend all your time queueing for a drink or ice cream.
Another excellent day trip from Palma is a visit to Soller. Head to the railway siding in Palma and let the train take the strain. An old, renovated vintage train is waiting to carry you through the beautiful Mallorca countryside to the tiny market town of Soller.
Stroll the pleasantly quiet streets and do a little souvenir hunting. Rest in one of the squares for brunch or lunch – before extending your trip with a vintage tram ride through to the pretty coastal village of Port de Soller.
Around the island, you will find every type of water sport, from sedate kayaks for hire, to roaring jet skis and paragliding from a fast launch speeding across the water a few hundred metres off the beach.
With forty-one marinas dotted around the coast, you’re never that far from a cooling beer or seafood restaurant to enjoy lunch, while looking out for those elusive A-listers.
For those who prefer to explore the countryside and culture of their chosen island, Mallorca has that covered as well. It is a top-rated destination with cycling clubs from around Europe due to its (relatively) flat terrain.
All over the island, you will find hiking paths, cycling and pony trails. Or you can get around by public transport, taxis, organised trips or hire car.
Seek out the quaint hillside villages of Valldemossa, Deià and Pollensa, which have inspired numerous writers and poets through the centuries and are now popular getaways for the well-heeled.
Cycle or trek along coastal paths, through countryside vineyards (where many offer guided vineyard tours and tasting sessions), olive and almond groves, or make your way to the Roman ruins of Pollentia.
From north to south and east to west, Mallorca is said to have thousands of estaurants and café/bars dotted around the island, as well as numerous fast-food joints around the big resort areas, so lunch or dinner should never be a problem.
If self-catering is your passion, head for the Mercat de l’Olivar in Palma for the freshest of fresh ingredients. Check out traditional chiringuito beach bars in the fishing villages for the freshest seafood, or the markets of San Joan to sample the best tapas and local wines.
The island also boasts nine Michelin restaurants for that special evening out.
Whether looking for full-on party bars or something more laid back in the evenings, you will find them around Mallorca in the bigger towns, beaches, marinas and purpose-built resort areas.
To begin your evening in Palma, head to Passeig des Born, La Llonja and Santa Catalina for local bars, cocktail bars and chic wine bars. From there, as the evening warms up, head toward the marina if you want busy music bars.
Paseo Maritimo is a mile-long stretch of bars blasting the latest hits from their sound systems and filling to overflowing with party people.
Other popular party areas in Mallorca are Magaluf and Playa de Palma at S’Arenal.
Throughout high season, resorts such as Puerto Alcudia, Cala Ratjada Port d’Andratx, and Cala d’Or all open lively bars that party into the early hours.
Those who prefer more laid-back evenings will find quieter, more social bars within a short walk of the big front-line venues. You can soak up the culture in the main town areas or around village squares while enjoying your favourite pint, often considerably cheaper than in big tourist bars.
Holiday accommodation in Mallorca is plentiful and varied and, depending on where you choose to stay, ranges from self-catering apartments in resort areas to luxurious old historical hotels, budget hotels, boutique hotels, adult-only hotels, rural hotels, traditional farmhouses, fincas and luxury villas.
If you choose to fly to Mallorca you will land at Son Sant Joan Airport (Palma Airport) eight kilometres outside Palma town.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN THE BALEARIC ISLANDS IN MALLORCA
- ($$$) CAP VERMELL GRAND HOTEL
- ($$) Hotel Astoria Playa Adults Only 4* Sup
- ($) El Josemari Youth Hostel – Albergue Juvenil
2. Menorca, for those seeking a more relaxing holiday experience
Although less than one-fifth the size of Mallorca, Menorca is still the second largest of the Balearic Islands group.
At just 700 square kilometres in area, this stunning little isle packs in more than its fair share of natural attractions. In 1993, it was made a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its efforts in maintaining the environment while embracing low-key tourism. And it continues in that vein to this day.
Menorca was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2023. The island’s prehistoric culture, the Talayotic Culture, is an exceptional example of cyclopean architecture and its evolution.
Menorca offers a high density of prehistoric sites with an unusual level of conservation. Visit the unique constructions of Menorca – the funerary navetas, circular houses, and taulas, together with the talayots and other structures.
You can enjoy stunning, powder sand beaches, alluring pine-fringed coves, caves, valleys, ancient Talayotic sites, historic architecture, many nature reserves and the best of international, Balearic and Spanish cuisine – all with a welcoming, family-friendly ambience.
Although Menorca offers everything and more that you can find on its larger sister island, it does so in a different, more relaxing and lighter way. Nothing on this fabulous little island, even during the height of the season, is in your face. For me, that’s a big plus.
Beaches are a big draw, and you can enjoy the white sand beaches of the south or the gold sand beaches of the more rugged north.
Kayak hire is available around the island on the beaches, in harbours, or from tour operators, and an excellent half or full day can be spent seeking out those isolated coves only accessible by boat.
In fact, you will find guided tours available for virtually everything you want to see and everywhere you might want to go, and they are well worth considering, especially if time is of the essence. From cruisers to sailboats to kayaks to 4×4 cross-country trips, and hiking and biking, they’re all available.
A visit to the historical cities of Ciutadella and Mahon should be on your holiday itinerary.
Laying on the west coast and original capital of Menorca, the history of Ciutadella goes back to 1287, when the island’s conqueror, King Alfonso III of Aragon, ordered the building of the Cathedral Basilica at Placa des Born on what was the site of an old mosque.
Built overlooking its natural harbour, the city attracts many short-stay visitors, and coaches and ferries full of day-trippers.
Stroll the narrow cobbled streets in the Es Born area of the old town, explore the mysterious alleyways, and do a little people-watching in the bustling main square of Plaça des Born.
You will find plenty of small retailers and artisan businesses where you can buy genuine Menorca goods such as Menorcan sandals, shoes, shoulder bags, handbags, wallets and purses.
With its many shops, historical buildings, coffee bars and restaurants, a pleasant few hours can be spent exploring, before heading to the harbour.
The natural harbour of Ciutadella was the reason the city was built, and remains as essential to the economy today as it was when the Moors ruled the area.
The port caters for ferries arriving from the islands and mainland Spain, for its local fishing fleet, and the many private yachts and cruisers that are berthed alongside.
While Ciutadella sits on the top of the west coast of Menorca, Mahon sits at the bottom of the east coast.
Made the island’s new capital in 1722, its natural harbour, at 900 metres wide and five kilometres in length, is one of the deepest and longest in the world.
It has a bustling port area catering to ferries, freight, fishing boats, cruise ships, and leisure craft.
The long promenade is full of touristy shops, artisan businesses, all kinds of bars, and some of the best restaurants you will find on the island. Here, you can dine al fresco alongside the water as the sun goes down and the harbour lights up.
Around the town area, you can wander sheltered streets and beguiling alleys, check out old churches, monasteries and government buildings while enjoying regular stops at the many bars, coffee shops and cake shops to sample the mouth-watering local products.
All around town and down in the port area, you will find architectural examples of the old English colonial era with its many Georgian-style properties.
Before choosing one of the many bars or restaurants along the promenade to sample Mahon’s Xoriguer Gin or enjoy an early meal, book a boat trip around the harbour and learn the fascinating history of Isla del Rey and the islet of Lazareto.
Away from the busy town and resort areas, there is plenty to keep nature lovers, walkers, hikers and cyclists satisfied in Menorca.
The famous 185 km Camí de Cavalls trail dates back to the 14th century, when it was constructed to allow the Knights of Menorca to patrol the island’s coastal areas. It was also used for the same purpose during the periods of occupation by French and English troops.
Today, the route is divided into 20 sections ranging from 5km to 13km each. Depending on where you join the trail, you can hike or cycle through woods, valleys, forests, fields, nature reserves and along cliff-tops.
It’s a great way to get to know Menorca and its attractions. En route, you can visit some Talaiotic prehistoric sites, look-out towers, and old lighthouses. Take in some of the S’Albufera des Grau Natural Park, and visit fabulous coves and beaches where you can stop off for a swim or paddle.
For lovers of the great outdoors, nature lovers and bird watchers, the S’Albufera des Grau Natural Park covers 5,000 hectares in the north of the island and has walking and cycling tracks and bird hides. All the nature parks are open year-round, and be sure to carry snacks and liquids.
Nightlife, as one might expect, is low-key, although in high season, there are a few bars where you can let your hair down. Most purpose-built resorts have a few late bars that party until the early hours, as do the harbours of Ciutadella and Mahon.
One must-visit, is the cave bar Cova d’en Xoroi, at Cala en Porter. It has two bars and a dance area, with viewing areas cut through the rock to view the sunsets and sunrises. Daytime admission of €6 includes a drink, while evening disco sessions cost between €15 and €20 entrance, with the bar shutting at 6.00am.
Accommodation around the island is varied and plentiful, with a good selection of rustic boutique hotels, converted farmhouses and villas in the countryside. With apartments, economy to high-end hotels and villas in the towns and resort areas.
If you choose Menorca for your break you will land at the island’s only airport just 5 km outside Mahon city.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN THE BALEARIC ISLANDS IN MENORCA
- ($$$) Villa Le Blanc, a Gran Meliá Hotel – The Leading Hotels of The World
- ($$) Gran Sagitario
- ($) Hostel Menorca
3. Ibiza – still the Mediterranean’s party capital, but in a better way
With its two mountain ranges, stunning beaches and coves, and azure blue waters, Ibiza is one of the prettiest of the Balearic Islands – yet almost from the birth of package tourism, Ibiza seemed to attract a certain kind of non-conformist visitor.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s it was the new hippies, setting up communes around the coast and countryside and introducing their own brand of music and lifestyle to the island.
In the late 1970s, a new music scene was gathering pace on the island, with large bars, discos and late-night and all-night clubs mushrooming around the coast.
By the early 1990s, most hippy communities had moved on, and many tourists looking for a ‘normal’ sun and sand holiday were looking elsewhere. Ibiza was developing a reputation as an anything-goes party island.
By the turn of the millennium, the island authorities had had enough. New tough laws on sound insulation were bought in. New builds were limited. A higher police presence was seen around the clubbing areas, and higher fines and even jail time were introduced for those found to be drunk and disorderly or drug-dealing on the streets and beaches.
Twenty years on, Ibiza is undoubtedly still the Med’s party capital – but in a much better way. Young music lovers still flock to the island to listen to Europe’s top DJs pounding out their sets – but young families and older couples are also returning, to enjoy their idea of the perfect holiday away from the music scene.
If you’re planning your first holiday to Ibiza for its music scene, maybe following in Mum and Dad’s footsteps, some of the original bars and clubs are still banging out the hits to this day. Consider looking in areas such as:
- Ibiza Town: – island capital and pretty much the centre of the music scene with plenty of nearby bars and clubs for all genres of music.
- Playa d’en Bossa: – one of the longest beaches on the island and lined by some of the biggest clubs.
- San Antonio: – nestling on the island’s west coast, San Antonio is home to some of the oldest and best-known clubs.
You will also find several hotels catering for musically minded guests, with international DJs honing their sets during afternoon pool parties.
For those who prefer quieter venues away from the loud party clubs and bars, consider the following.
- Cala Llonga, Portinax and Puerto San Miguel – all are close to fabulous beaches with plenty of water sports and cafes, bars and eateries. You can also explore the weekly hippie market.
- Es Canar: – another weekly hippie market to explore. Relaxing and laid-back with all the facilities of shops, bars and restaurants; and close to a couple of attractive beaches.
- Cala Vadella: – located on the west coast, it is an ideal area for those wanting a genuine relaxing sand and sun holiday.
- Cala San Vicente: – a beautiful area on the north coast of the island with charming hidden coves and clear waters. A real ‘get away from it all’ holiday destination.
- Santa Eulalia: – sitting on the east coast, San Eulalia is a great area for families and older couples.
For those who don’t want to spend their days tapping their feet or propping a bar up, there are some excellent places to explore in Ibiza.
Consider the old town area of Dalt Vila, old cobbled streets and squares, a cathedral dating back to the 14th century, castles, statues, shops, bars and restaurants for a pleasant few hours of exploration.
Blow the cobwebs away with a hike over Ibiza’s highest mountain. Sa Talaiassa is 475m (1558ft) high and provides fabulous photo opportunities of the surrounding countryside.
If you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of the ferret-like Genet, a secretive tree-climbing animal originally from Africa.
Enjoy a little (cheap) retail therapy. Ibiza is famous for its many markets of all types. You will find fresh produce markets, general markets, flea markets, and hippie markets with everything from Boho chic apparel to hand-crafted jewellery.
Es Cana holds the Punta Arabi Market, one of the island’s largest markets. In Sant Carles de Peralta, the Las Dalias Market is famous for its antique and vintage items, while the Sunday Sant Jordi Flea Market sells a vast range of second-hand goods.
Finally, when it comes to recharging the batteries, you will find cafes, bars and restaurants all over the island.
While fresh lobster or a succulent steak might be what springs to mind when you think of food, give a thought to the humble paella. Ibiza is said to offer some of the best paella in Europe, and there are numerous restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious al fresco paella lunch by the beach, or a family-size paella for your evening meal.
Ibiza has a wide range of accommodations in all areas, from economic hostels and self-catering apartments to hotels and villas from budget to luxurious. Many hotels also offer kids clubs and other entertainment for the little ones.
You will land at Ibiza International Airport, located 7km outside Ibiza Town.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN THE BALEARIC ISLANDS IN IBIZA
4. Formentera, a tiny, affluent island of incredible beauty
Since the early Sixties, Formentera has been the favoured Balearic Island of designer-clad, affluent and nouveau riche Italians, A-listers, musicians, and professional footballers wishing to relax and enjoy the benefits of the hippy style, laid-back lifestyle.
If your perfect holiday is one of active, outdoor days and laid-back, chilled evenings, take a closer look at Formentera.
Lying 6km off Ibiza’s south coast, the tiny island of Formentera is the fourth smallest of the Balearic Islands. It is just 20 km long and less than 2km across at its narrowest point. It is also relatively flat, just 193 m above sea level at its highest point.
There is no airport in Formentera, and most visitors fly into Ibiza then catch a fast ferry from Ibiza Town to the port of La Savina.
Journey time is between 35 and 45 minutes, and costs vary from around €30 upwards, depending on which ferry company you use. Routes are also available from some mainland Spanish ports.
The island boasts exotic white and gold sand beaches, charming little coves surrounded by pine and juniper forests, and an interior of fields holding sheep and goats, and bordered by low drystone walls, shrubs, bougainvillaea, sabinas and higueras.
When you dock at La Savina, you’ll be confronted by numerous hire companies offering cars, scooters, e-bikes and cycles. The most popular options are scooters or cycles.
There is also a very efficient public bus service which covers most parts of the island.
One main tarmacadam road runs the length of the island, with basic dirt roads sliding off left and right to beaches, hippie hotels, beach clubs, restaurants, small towns and villages.
For such a small island, it is awash with things to do and new experiences to enjoy. Places to visit include:
- The La Mola and Cap de Barbaria lighthouses for fabulous cliff-top views and fantastic sunsets.
- The Museu Etnològic (ethnological museum) in San Francisco. A small, free-to-enter museum full of artefacts and information on how the old populations used to live, work and socialise. You can also view implements and tools used for farming, fishing, salt production and salt harvesting back in the day.
- The Ca Na Costa megalithic graves. The oldest tombs in the Balearic Islands with a circular chamber dating back to 2000 BC.
- For nature lovers and bird watchers. The no longer operating Ses Salines salt flats just outside La Savina have turned into wetlands, supporting many species of native and migratory birds.
- Greenway walking and cycling paths. The 32 marked trails covering over 100km are a great way to explore the island, taking you through forests, countryside, and along cliff-tops. Maps can be downloaded or obtained from hotels or tourist offices.
- Water sports. As you would expect from an island, there is plenty to do both on and under the water. You can hire all sorts of watercraft, from surfboards and kayaks to jet skis, yachts and cruisers. Snorkelling and scuba diving equipment and diving lessons are available. Most from companies in La Savina, Es Pujols and Playa Illetes.
Like most Balearic Islands, Formentera has a good selection of markets. Choose from:
- La Mola. Running from May through September, Wednesday and Sunday 16.30 – 22.00
- Arty San Fernando (Sant Ferran) artisan market. June through September, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening. Primarily artisans and local artists displaying their works.
- San Francesco ( the island’s capital, Sant Francesc Xavier) morning market from May through September. Open seven days a week, 10.00 to 14.00. Also, there is a used goods market on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 11.00 to 14.00 all year round.
- La Savina Port Market. Open June through September every day from mid-morning to midnight.
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Formentera has a large selection of eateries, including numerous Italian, Japanese, and Indian restaurants and local restaurants serving fish, shellfish, and traditional Mediterranean cuisine.
Look out for dried fish salad (ensalada payesa), regularly on the menu in many eateries. For a good selection of restaurants, head to the capital, San Francisco or the resort area of Es Pujols.
If you want to push the boat out for a special occasion, head to the more expensive restaurants of Playa Migjorn or Playa Illetes.
Even the nightlife on Formentera is chilled and laid back, and some of the original hippie bars of the sixties and seventies are still going strong. Albeit, with a new crowd of hippies sporting Rolex watches and wearing designer label tee-shirts and shorts.
Although the film stars and pro footballers have moved on, various areas of Formentera are still the summer playground of the wealthy, and you will see numerous private yachts and cruisers anchored in the bays around the island.
Es Pujols is the only real resort area and a popular night-time venue with numerous late-night bars and restaurants open to the early hours.
Due to the size of the island and the strict environmental rules, accommodation on Formentera is limited and tends to fill very quickly. Choose from boutique village hotels, 3, 4 and 5-star hotels, some with spa and yoga facilities, private villas and farmhouses.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN THE BALEARIC ISLANDS IN FORMENTERA
- ($$$) Five Flowers Hotel & Spa Formentera
- ($$) Hotel Club Sunway Punta Prima
- ($) Apartamentos Costamar II
READ MORE FORMENTERA TRAVEL TIPS
Finally, the Balearic Islands are loosely classified as summer destinations, with the season running from early May to mid-October. However, the island councils have been working hard in recent years to encourage more out-of-season visitors.
Increasing numbers of nature and culture lovers, cyclists and hikers, are arriving for short countryside or city breaks during the off-season, where hot summer sunshine is not the main draw.
Although many purpose-built resorts and tourist facilities (bars and restaurants) close through the winter period, this is compensated for by fewer crowded areas, often reduced lodging and entertainment costs, and a more satisfying visitor experience.
For those considering an out-of-season visit, my choices for a winter break in the Balearic Islands, in order of preference, would be Menorca, Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera.