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How to spend a perfect day in Mahón, Menorca

How to spend the perfect day in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Menorca is the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a haven for lovers of understated luxury. It’s a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. If you’re flying in to Menorca, or visiting on a cruise, why not take a day or so to explore Mahón, the elegant capital of the island. For those who enjoy mellow old buildings, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port, here are the ingredients for your perfect day in Mahón.

How to spend the perfect day in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

A boat tour around the harbour

Start your day in Mahón with a relaxing 1 hour boat tour around the harbour, to dip into the naval history of the area. Because of the city’s deep harbour and strategic position in the Mediterranean, the British dominated the island for much of the 18th century and have especially left their stamp on Mahón. Buy your ticket at the kiosk at the bottom of the steps close to the cruise terminal and take your seat on the top deck for the best view, although you can retreat downstairs if it’s a bit too windy. As you pass the main sites of interest, there’s a commentary in several different languages including English.

Boat trip around Mahon harbour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Boat trip around Mahon harbour

Now if you ask me for every detail of the harbour history it’s a bit hazy as I was taking too many photos, but to start with we passed by some of the swanky villas where the wealthy folk of Mahón live. We passed the English Arsenal, painted red as was the custom for military buildings, and further on Quarantine Island with a hospital where those with infectious diseases were treated. I imagine that those who went in wondered whether they would ever emerge alive. Near the harbour entrance, the water got quite choppy as we passed  briefly to the open sea. As soon as we turned around the water calmed again, and we returned past Cales Font, the pretty harbour of Es Castell which was the 18th century British garrison town.

The harbour boat tour is run by 2 main operators, the Yellow Catamaran and the Don Juan Catamaran which cost around €12 per adult (cheaper if you book online). Between them they run every half an hour throughout the day, selling drinks and snacks on board.

Mahon Harbour tour Photo- Heatheronhertravels.com

Boat tour of Mahon harbour

Elegant buildings overlook the harbour

Back on dry land, let’s climb up those white flights of steps to start to explore Mahón properly. As you near the top, look up to your right to see the elegant Art Nouveau facade of Casa Mercadel and up on your left there are plenty of viewpoints where you can have a drink with a view over the port. To your immediate left are two huge trees with roots like an elephant foot which are a well known landmark.

View of Mahon in menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Mahon in Menorca

The elegant Casa Mercadel was one of the homes owned by a noble Menorcan family and was built in on the site of an ancient castle that overlooked the harbour, now housing a cultural centre.

Casa Mercadel in Mahon, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Casa Mercadel in Mahon, Menorca

A mid-morning snack at the fish market?

In Placa d’Espanya at the top of the steps, you’ll find the Mercat del Peix or fish market with all the lovely fresh fish on sale until 2pm (closed Sunday and Monday).

Fish Market in Mahon, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The bright red prawns and spiny lobster are used to make the lobster caldereta and other seafood dishes that you can order at restaurants along the seafront. Despite all the groups of tourists trooping through to take photos, the stall holders were very good humoured and relaxed.

In the fishmarket at Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

In the fishmarket at Mahon

Tapas with a glass of wine

Walking past the fish you’ll come around to the other side of the market with stalls selling tapas, snacks and drinks. If you’re ready for a mid-morning break, this is the place to grab a drink and a snack, sitting at one of the stools inside or tables outside in the courtyard. On a Saturday lunchtime the place was buzzing with locals meeting their friends for a glass of wine and a chat.

Tapas in the fishmarket Photo- Heatheronhertravels.com

Tapas in the fishmarket of Mahon

The tapas typically cost between €1 and €3 and you can just point at whatever takes your fancy. I loved all the glistening olives and the appetising slices of bread topped with onions, peppers and anchovies. There was also a stall selling tasty seafood croquettes so I had to try a few of those as well, including one that was black with squid ink.

Tapas in the fish market of Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Tapas in the fish market of Mahon

A little further up the square next to the fish market is the Carmelite cloisters which has been converted to a covered market selling everything from fruit and veg to shoes and local food specialities. Worth knowing that there’s a public WC here as I didn’t find one anywhere else in the old town.

The cloisters in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The cloisters in Mahon

Dip into the history of Mahon at Ca n’Oliver

If you’d enjoy visiting historic houses, pay a visit to Centre d’Art I d’Historia Hernandez Sanz at Ca n’Oliver, a mansion which belonged to one of the most powerful families of Mahon in the 18th and 19th centuries. This gorgeous house now houses the Hernandez Sanz collection of artworks which are on display over several floors around the ornate wrought iron staircase with a painted fresco to impress you in the lobby.

Staircase at Ca n'Oliver in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Staircase at Ca n’Oliver in Mahon

The paintings, maps and displays give insights into the British legacy on Menorca as well as the Oliver family who made their money as merchants in the Mediterranean and supplied the military in Mahón. I especially enjoyed the painted ceilings with religious and classical scenes in many of the rooms, designed to show the wealth and taste of the family who lived here.

Centre d’Art I d’Historia Hernandez Sanz at Ca n’Oliver, Anuncivay Street 2. Open daily except Monday 10-1.30pm and on Thursday, Friday, Saturday also 6-8pm.

Ca n' Oliver in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Ca n’ Oliver in Mahon

The Museum of Menorca in Mahon

Another fascinating place to visit is the Museum of Menorca in the old Franciscan monastery which was built in the baroque style at the end of the 17th century but confiscated in 1835. The Museum was closed for renovation when I visited but I was still able to see the beautifully preserved cloisters and visit an interesting exhibition about the Talayotic culture on Menorca explaining the background of some of the stone burial chambers and settlements I’d seen in different parts of the island.

Museum of Menorca in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Museum of Menorca in Mahon

Normally you can also see rooms which cover the history of Menorca from the earliest times, through the 18th century when the island was occupied variously by the English, French and Spanish, to the 20th century when the industries of shoe and jewellery making replaced shipbuilding.

Museum of Menorca, Avinguda Doctor Guardia, Open daily 10am – 2pm and some evenings. Closed Mondays. Normally €2.40 but free during renovation.

Cloisters in the Museum of Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cloisters in the Museum of Menorca

A leisurely lunch by the Port

By around 1.30 the shops and museums will be starting to close so it’s time to find somewhere to have a leisurely lunch. Of course there are plenty of bars and cafes in the old town but a great alternative is to walk back down to the main port area where you’ll find a string of bars and restaurants overlooking the marina.

The Port of Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Port of Mahon

Settle in to a table with a view of the harbour, so you can people-watch from behind your designer sunglasses and oggle a few of those expensive boats. Most restaurants have a well-priced set menu at lunchtime that includes 3 courses, wine and bread with both seafood and meat options. We really enjoyed La Minerva (Carrer Moll de Llevant, 87) which has a nice terrace and tried their Arroz, a cross between soup and risotto with rice and seafood in a rich sauce, which is what Menorcan families like to eat on a Sunday.

Seafood in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Seafood in Mahon

A wander around the old town streets

After lunch most of the shops will be shut until around 4.30pm, so it’s a good time to wander around the streets of the old town while they are less crowded and admire the mellow stone buildings. Turn your back on the fish market and walk up towards Placa de la Constitucia to see the Town Hall of Mahón with the clock presented by the English Governor, Richard Kane.

The old town hall of Mahon Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

The old town hall of Mahon

In the square is a bar called Boinder, named after the Menorcan term for the overhanging bay windows which you’ll see in many of the older houses around town. They are a legacy of the English, along with sash windows, door latches and highly polished brass door knockers. I have quite a collection of door-knocker photos!

Old door knocker in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Old door knocker in Mahon

From here follow Carrer Isabel II which runs parallel to the port and look out for the narrow passages between the houses that lead to viewpoints over the port. There are three that I found, the final one being at the end of the street where you’ll reach the Museum of Menorca.

View over the port of Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View over the port of Mahon

The influence of the British on Mahon

On the right hand side as you walk up Carrer Isabel II is the impressive Governor’s Residence, which was adopted by British Governor Richard Kane in 1722 when he moved the island’s capital from Cuitadella to Mahón. Although Cuitadella had been the ancient capital of the island, he found it too inconvenient to travel back and forth from one end of the island to the other, since the English fleet was based in Mahon.

The Governor's Residence in Mahon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Governor’s Residence in Mahon

From the town hall, another interesting street to explore is Carrer de Sant Roc with some of the oldest houses owned by the noble families of Menorca leading to the gateway of Sant Roc which was once part of the city wall. The metal bands on the ground near the tower mark the line of where the city wall once stood. The gate overlooks a pleasant square, Plaça Bastio with café terraces and a children’s playground in the centre, so if you have children you’ll be able to sit with a drink and watch them play happily (at least that’s the theory).

Arc de Sant Roc in Mahon Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Arc de Sant Roc in Mahon

A girl can never have too many shoes

Once the shops open later in the afternoon, it could be time do some souvenir shopping along the main shopping street of Carrer Hannover. Menorca has become a centre of quality shoe production and as we know a girl can never have too many shoes! The Avarca sandals that you’ll see in almost every shop were originally made with soles of old tyres but are now a high fashion item with many sparkly and colourful variations. Also look out for Pretty Ballerinas, a high fashion brand that is based on the island – their main shop is in the port area.

Sandals in Mahon, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sandals in Mahon, Menorca

Don’t go home until you’ve tried the cheese!

You can’t go home without trying the traditional Mahón-Menorca cheese which has a protected designation so it can only be made with milk from the island. The taste varies depending on how long the cheese has been matured and you’ll tell the artizan cheeses by the wrinkles made by the cloths in which they are wrapped. Around town there are quite a few shops that will let you have a taste before you buy and one of the best is Autentic, a deli shop on Plaça de s’Esplanada which has a good range of cheese, sausages and other produce of Menorca such as honey and flavoured liqueurs.

Mahon cheese in Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mahon cheese in Menorca

Is it time for a drink yet?

At some point in the day you will want to taste some of the local gin which was another happy British introduction. In the past there were many distilleries on Menorca to keep the sailors satisfied, but now only Xoriguer remains. They have several shops around town but a good place to try their gin is in the main distillery on the harbourfront near the cruise terminal. Through the glass windows you can see the stills in operation and you are free to taste a range of the different gins and flavoured liqueurs that they produce and sell here.

Tasting the Xoriguer gin distillery Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Tasting the Xoriguer gin distillery

The local way with gin is to mix it with fizzy lemonade to make a Pomada, deceptively refreshing in the summer and served in vaste quantities at all the fiestas on Menorca. You might want to try it as an aperitif in one of the bars once you’ve finished your shopping.

Pomada, the gin and lemon drink aperitif on Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Pomada, the gin and lemon drink aperitif on Menorca

Dinner at Es Castells

Of course there are plenty of places to eat in Mahón, but for a change of scene why not take a 10 minute taxi ride to Es Castell where there are lots of restaurants around the pretty harbour of Cales Fonts. Take some time to look aound the town square which was once a parade ground, with the red painted military buildings, before settling into a table at whichever restaurant takes your fancy.

Boats in the harbour at Cales Fonts Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Boats in the harbour at Cales Fonts

Time for bed at Hotel Artiem Capri

Having enjoyed the sunset and fresh seafood for dinner, a taxi will return you to your hotel in Mahón. I stayed at the very pleasant Hotel Capri close to Plaça de s’Esplanada and a 15 minute walk from the port. My room was spacious and modern and there is a lovely rooftop pool (which sadly I was too busy sightseeing to try out). The hotel is part of the Artiem Hotel group which has many excellent hotels around the island including the Hotel Artiem Audax in Cala Galdana where I also enjoyed staying.

Wherever you stay I hope you have a perfectly restful end to your perfect day in Mahón!

Hotel Artiem Capri in Mahon, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Artiem Capri in Mahon, Menorca

Hotel Artiem Capri, Caller San Esteban, 8, Mahón, Menorca.

Compare prices and book hotels in Mahón on my Hotels Booking page powered by Hotels Combined.

Hotel artiem Capri in Mahon, Menorca Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hotel Artiem Capri in Mahon, Menorca

Have you visited Mahón or Menorca? What were your favourite Menorcan moments?

Visitor Information for Menorca and Mahon

To plan your holiday in Menorca and Mahón visit the Menorca Tourism website or follow them on social media: Twitter @Turismhttp://www.menorca.esoMenorca | Facebook | Instagram

For holidays in other parts of Spain you can find more information at www.Spain.inf0 or follow them on social media: Twitter @Spain_inUK | Facebook | Instagram

If you need a guide to show you the sites of Mahon and Menorca, I can highly recommend Luis Amella of Menorca Guides

Thanks to Menorca Tourism for hosting my stay in Menorca, in a project in partnership with Spain Tourism, Menorca Tourism and Travelator Media

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Zoe Dawes
    May 20, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    What a brilliant summary of things to see and do in Mahon. You’ve covered everything from history, culture, food, drink, shopping and sight-seeing. it’s a lovely little city with plenty of variety; you’vemade me want to return and explore even more!
    Zoe Dawes´s last blog post ..Quirky Travel Photo: the ‘Great Men’ of Milan at Casa degli Omenoni

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      May 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      @Zoe There’s plenty to see and all in a small area

  • Reply
    Gary Bembridge
    May 20, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Great article. I had no idea was so beautiful and so much to do there. I had always just thought beach when thinking of Menorca!!
    Gary Bembridge´s last blog post ..Got a question about exploring Florida on an escorted tour?

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      May 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      @Gary Mahon is beautiful but I think often overlooked by those who head straight to Cuitadella

  • Reply
    Larry
    May 22, 2016 at 1:30 am

    What an action-packed day in Menorca … When I get there, I hope I get to do half the stuff that you got to do!

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      May 22, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      @Larry There’s plenty of other fun things to do around the island too

  • Reply
    Iain S Mallory
    May 31, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for the trip down memory lanes of Mahon Heather. It’s amazing how quickly these things fade until a photograph or narrative bribgs it flooding back.

    Great tips and insight into a lovely city.

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      June 6, 2016 at 10:21 pm

      @Iain I had a bit more time to explore Mahon on my last day there

  • Reply
    pauline case
    July 8, 2017 at 11:58 am

    We are going in October for our first visit, and your article has helped enormously, thank you. Although being a Vegetarian I may have a problem with food.

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      July 12, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      @Pauline There are a lot of vegetable dishes but you may need to tell the restaurants your requirements – they are usually very accommodating. Also I’m sure there are some good Vegetarian restaurants if you do a bit of advance research.

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