The ancient capital of Menorca and island’s second city of Ciutadella lives up to its nickname of Vella i Bella, the old and beautiful, with layers of history steeped into the honey stone buildings. The narrow streets of the old town are pedestrianised and lined with charming shops, bars and restaurants making this an easy place to wander and fall in love with.
I’d visited Menorca before and was so captured by the island that I returned with a friend for a few days of walking, using Ciutadella de Menorca as our base to hike the Cami de Cavalls, the coastal path that meanders past rocky coves and sheltered sandy beaches. Ciutadella is the ideal place to stay if you’re looking for more than a beach holiday, a perfect weekend break destination and deserves at least a day’s visit if you are holidaying on Menorca.
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Here are my tips for things to do in Ciutadella, the places we enjoyed over the couple of days we stayed there, soaking up the sunshine, meandering through the old town and taking a look behind the inscrutable golden stone facades.
Port de Ciutadella – the old harbour lined with restaurants
The sheltered inlet of Ciutadella’s port is the reason that the city was for centuries the capital of Menorca, watched over by the fortress perched on the rock above, from where trade could be controlled and the town protected. In the shadow of the cliff, the broad quayside is lined with buildings carved into the rock, former boat houses that are now bars and restaurants. The old hub of commerce has become a marina lined with swanky motor yachts, coming alive in the evening as a place to promenade and dine in one of the many seafood restaurants. From the square above, a couple of sloping roads lead down to the harbour, lined with craft markets on summer evenings when the town hall and fortress are floodlit, creating a holiday atmosphere.
Plaça d’es Born – the main square of Ciutadella
The heart of the town is the main square of Placa d’es Born, surrounded by honey stone mansions that glow in the late afternoon sunshine. The square is set above the stone cliff that overlooks the port, with narrow streets radiating off through the oldest parts of Ciutadella. You’ll probably notice the imposing Ajuntament or Town Hall which now houses the Tourist office and is a good place to stop and pick up any information you need or relax under the shady arcades of the building.
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Although the decorative facade was added in the 20th century, this building sits on the site of the old Muslim fortress and was the palace of the Arab governor and later of the British until they moved Menorca’s capital to Mahon in 1722. If you walk up the steps behind the building, you’ll get a stunning view over the port from the Bastió des Governador. On the battlements with a flag flying, you get a better sense of how the castle dating back to the 14th century could dominate the port and the trade coming in and out of Ciutadella.
In the middle of the square sits the Born obelisk, which was built in the 19th century to commemorate the heroic but unsuccessful resistance of the people of Ciutadella against the Turks who attacked and captured it in 1558. There’s a regular street market on Friday and Saturday mornings, selling clothes and general goods as well as an evening craft market in summer. Crossing the square brings you to the beautiful twin mansions on either side of the pedestrianised Carrer Major de Born, which leads you shortly to the Cathedral square.
Palacio Salort – a gracious 19th century mansion
One of the two lovely 19th century Palazzos you pass as you leave the square is Palau Salort or Palacio Salort, which was built in 1813 and is well worth a visit. (May-Oct Mon-Sat 10am – 2pm) It’s slightly incongruous to walk through the Moriarty bar, which is set in the lobby of the palace, and busy in the evening serving tapas and drinks, especially cocktails made with the local Xoriguer gin.
There’s a small charge to visit the palace, heading up the imposing staircase with its delicate wrought iron balustrades until you reach the light and airy landing, from which the main rooms lead off. The red salon is hung with family portraits from this leading family on Menorca, such as the owner Don Carlos de Salort y Olives, who is dressed in costume for the feast of Saint Joan – St John the Baptist, the patron saint of Ciutadella. The reception rooms overlooking the square are elegantly furnished for the noble family who lived here and the spacious kitchen uses the colourful local tiles and is laid out as if for a meal for the servants.
The Cathedral of Ciutadella de Menorca
A little further on this pedestrian street, the vista opens up again as you reach Plaça la Catedral around the cathedral, which was built in the 14th century on the site of an earlier mosque, with a 19th century baroque facade. Inside the cathedral we admired the delicate vaulted stonework of the ceiling and the ornate and colourful side chapels, with their doll-like statues of the Madonna, dressed in fine clothes of brocade and gold lace. If you go into the area behind the altar, there’s a small museum showing the cathedral’s beautiful vestments and other religious artefacts.
Top Tip: When you’ve finished your visit to the cathedral, why not enjoy an ice cream at the Sa Gelateria shop right opposite? Here they serve endless flavours of artisan ice cream and have a few seats outside to sit and watch the world go by, with other shops around town.
Also opposite the cathedral is the impressive building of the Consell Insular de Menorca, used by the members of parliament for the different constituencies of Menorca, part of the self-governing Balearic Islands region within Spain.
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The Bishop’s Palace courtyard in Ciutadella
Don’t leave the cathedral square without popping into the peaceful Bishop’s Palace courtyard next to the cathedral building. Work on the Bishop’s residence was started in 1795 when the church of Our Lady was promoted to become a cathedral and an existing church building was expanded to make something more grand. You can walk into the pretty courtyard of the palace and climb part of the way up the open staircase that leads into the upper floors of the Bishop’s Palace.
Casa Olivar – a noble house in Ciutadella
Also in the Plaça la Catedral is Casa Olivar, which if anything is even more grand than Palacio Salort and was built and enlarged between the 16th and 18th centuries. The noble Olivar family that lived here had an enviable view over the cathedral and square from the window seats in their salons, filled with gilded mirrors and family portraits. The table in the dining room is set with the finest cut glass and silver and the romantic bedroom hung with yellow silk damask curtains, has a bow window or Boínder, a common feature of Menorcan town houses, allowing a good view over what was happening in the street.
The biggest occasion in Ciutadella is the festival of Sant Joan (St John the Baptist), when cavallers ride the black horses of Menorca through the streets and make them rear on their hind legs, with each noble family holding parties during the festivities. You’ll see in one of the final rooms the rider’s costume and intricately tooled saddle and embroidered hangings, used during the festival together with family photos from past fiestas.
The ground floor lobby of the house was traditionally more of a public area and leading off this you can see some small stables and storerooms, as well as an underground cistern used to store rainwater to supply the house. The house has English information boards for each room and a guide book to borrow, tickets cost €4.
The cloisters of the Convent de Sant Agustí and Església dels Socors
If you visit Ciutadella in summer, you’ll find the whitewashed cloisters of the Convent de Sant Agustí a cool respite from the heat of the sun. The central courtyard is planted with a fresh green garden around the central well that must have been used by the nuns, and while the ground floor rooms and adjoining church can be visited at any time, the convent’s upper rooms can only be seen in a guided tour at noon daily.
The rooms off the cloister display archaeological finds from around the island and one of them houses a small natural history collection of stuffed animals. Also on display is the striking artworks of two of Ciutadella best known artists, Pere Daura i Garcia who was inspired by Cezanne and José Roberto Torrent with many colourful, abstract paintings of Menorca. Also off the cloisters is the baroque style church of Església dels Socors which was built in the 17th century, with a richly coloured tiled floor and painted walls. The cloisters and church are open May – Oct, Mon-Sat 10am – 3.30pm and a joint ticket may be purchased together with the cathedral.
Ses Voltes – the arcades of the old town in Ciutadella
If you continue a little further beyond the cathedral you’ll reach the heart of medieval Ciutadella, where the streets narrow and each side is bordered by arcades with interesting shops, bars and restaurants. The streets of Ses Voltes (the arches) make a pleasant place to walk to stay cool and avoid the sun, or even to shelter from the rain in spring and autumn.
In this area look out for the pole topped with a sculpture by Matias Quetglas, of a ram holding the flag of John the Baptist, locally known as Sant Joan, who is the patron saint of Ciutadella. The festival of St John the Baptist on 24 June is a big celebration in the town and the lamb, signifying Christ the Lamb of God, plays a part in the festivities when a carefully washed and groomed ram is carried through the streets in the parade. Nearby we saw a similarly themed sheep mural on one of the pillars in the arches of Sas Voltes.
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Wander the old streets of Ciutadella
Although I’ve picked out quite a few of the notable buildings within the old town of Ciutadella, it’s a joy to just explore and wander the pedestrianised area, enjoying the gorgeous honey stone buildings and perhaps peep through a door or window to glimpse hidden courtyards beyond. There are plenty of payment cafes and upscale boutiques, so stop for a drink, browse for locally made souvenirs and take your time to soak up the atmosphere of Ciutadella’s ancient streets.
The Mercat de Peix fish market in Ciutadella
Just around the corner from The Cloisters on Plaça de la Llibertat you’ll find the fishmarket of Ciutadella, which sells fresh fish on Tuesday-Saturday from 7am to around 1pm, so you need to come in the morning to see it at its best. The market hall of wrought iron with green and white tiles is a good place to see the local fresh fish and there are additional stalls across the road that are only open in the morning.
As with all good food markets, you’ll find a cluster of restaurants around the market hall, taking advantage of easy access to the freshest of produce. Following the queues for tables which are normally a good sign, we settled in for lunch at the busy C’An Rafa, a no-frills kind of place where they serve tapas and seafood, which was good value for money. We also had our eye on the more stylish and equally popular Bar Ulisses on the other side of the market, also serving tapas, where the menu was smaller and a bit more gourmet in flavour.
Ciutadella Markets – craft and street markets
While we’re on the subject of markets, Ciutadella hosts quite a few different street markets, especially in the summer season from May to September. They typically take place in the mornings and pack up by lunchtime or appear in the evenings when people are out and about for drinks and dinner.
I’ve already mentioned the market that we saw in Placa d’es Born which is a general market of clothing, footwear and other goods held on Fridays and Saturdays from 8am – 2.30pm. There’s also a smaller evening market in the square at weekends in summer which sells crafts, gifts and jewellery from local artisans.
In summer there are craft stalls in the evening down Carer de Pere Capllonch, the shallow steps that lead down to the harbour and also an evening flea market on Carrer Portal de la Mar, another pedestrian street behind the Town Hall, that also leads down to the harbour.
We also heard that there’s a craft market held in the square around the cathedral, every Monday evening in August and September, if you’d like to see some of the local artisan crafts.
Castell de Sant Nicolau in Ciutadella
If you fancy a little wander from the old centre of Ciutadella, follow the street that runs parallel to the old port away from the centre, until a 10 minute walk brings you to the mouth of the harbour and the picturesque Castell de Sant Nicolau. The octagonal tower was built at the end of the 18th century by the Spaniards as a defence against attacks from the sea, and was used as a watch tower over the mouth of the port. From this rocky piece of shore you can watch the ships entering the harbour and it makes a very pleasant walk along the harbourside in the evening.
Naveta d’es Tudons – the ancient Talayotic site
A little further from Ciutadella, but only 15 minute by car lies the Naveta d’es Tudons, Menorca’s best known Talayotic sites. It’s a burial chamber that dates back to around 1000 years BC, built by the people we know as the Talayotic culture. Named after the upturned boat that it resembles, excavations in the 1960s found the remains of hundreds of men, women and children who were laid to rest here at different times in a mass tomb, some with personal possessions such as hair ornaments or spear heads.
You can’t go inside the Naveta d’es Tudons, although there are other similar tombs around Menorca that are empty and left open to walk inside. Unfortunately the bus to Mahon does not stop here so your best bet is to get there by hire car or taxi. The monument is set in a stone wall enclosure in the middle of a field and there’s a small charge to visit.
Beaches near Ciutadella
Some of the most beautiful beaches on Menorca are on the south coast of the island and can be easily reached by bus from Ciutadella, with easy walking on the Cami de Cavalls coastal path to get from one beach to another. The closest beach is probably to Cala n’Blanes, to the north of Ciutadella, which you can walk to in around 40 minutes or take bus 61, although we didn’t visit this one.
There’s a whole string of idyllic beaches that are accessible by bus if you take the No 52 to Cala Galdana via Ferreries. Walking east from Cala Galdana you reach Cala Mitjana, or walking west on the Cami de Cavalls you can reach Cala Macarella (beach bar and toilets), Cala Macarelleta and Cala Turqueta. They are all lovely sandy beaches in rocky coves for swimming and snorkelling, with no development or facilities, except for the beach bar at Cala Macarella.
You can get information on bus routes and timetables of the buses from Ciutadella here and here. The bus station in Ciutadella at Plaça dels Pins is quite small with no ticket office, so you pay on the bus. Change is given but you need to have notes or coins smaller than €20 and the fares are normally €2-4 depending on the length of the journey. Be careful to check the bus timetable as there are often long gaps between buses and you don’t want to miss the last one back.
If you enjoy walking, you can do as we did and start at Cala Galdana, then have a full day’s walking along the Cami de Cavalls stopping at all the beaches, until reaching Cala en Bosc, where we rang for a taxi back to Ciutadella. On another day we walked in the other direction, heading east past several lovely beaches until we arrived at Santo Tomas where we caught a bus back. We found the buses reliable and efficient although they are not always frequent, and you can combine these with taxis (there is one central number to ring) to get around the island.
If you prefer to visit the beaches by boat you can take this half day boat tour from Cala Galdana to visit many of the beaches mentioned.
Food and drink in Ciutadella
Although tourism is an important part of the economy in Menorca, there’s also a strong farming tradition in the centre of the island, with specialties like the famous Menorca cheese which is made from local cow’s milk and matured on the island of Menorca. You’ll see it on sale in many artisan produce shops in Ciutadella, along with dried pork sausages like the sobrasada that contain paprika, giving them a red colour.
The cocktail of choice in Menorca is called Pomada, a mixture of gin and lemonade, which I found myself ordering at every opportunity. The gin is a legacy of the British Naval presence on Menorca in the 18th century, when they used its deepwater ports to maintain their interests in the Mediterranean, and the local brand is Xoriguer which you’ll see in every bar. In summer it’s sometimes served with so much crushed ice that it becomes like an alcoholic slush puppie.
On one of the evenings we dined at the lovely Fuego restaurant in the courtyard of boutique hotel Can Faustino, a restored 16th century Palazzo that’s down a side street close to the cathedral in Ciutadella. We treated ourselves to a meal there after passing the hotel and deciding that we deserved it after a day’s walking. We shared a starter of beef carpaccio with Menorcan cheese and truffle €22, then for my main course I ordered fish of the day with cauliflower cream and sabayon €29 all of which was lovely and even better for sitting drinking pomada among the olive trees on the elegant restaurant terrace.
S’Amarador – seafood in Ciutadella
On another evening in Ciutadella, we dined in the old port area where there are numerous restaurants to choose from overlooking the marina. S’Amarador is one of the nicest, with a prime position at the end of the harbour and a busy outdoor terrace. I’d eaten here before on a previous visit and knew that the seafood is exceptional, although this is restaurant where the prices especially for fish dishes are high and we were probably paying a premium for the view of the port.
The dishes we ordered were simply presented but very good, although I thought that my dish of monkfish with clams and potatoes was quite expensive at €32 even though it was delicious. Still I’d recommend eating in the port area if the weather’s warm and you’re not on too tight a budget, as the atmosphere is such fun, and there are lots of restaurants to try by the water.
Where to stay in Ciutadella
Luxury hotel in Ciutadella – Can Faustino
If I was looking for a super deluxe stay in Ciutadella I’d loved to have stayed at Can Faustino, which had boutique style and an intimate feel, with the lovely hidden courtyard at the back where they’ve even managed to squeeze in a swimming pool. I didn’t stay here so can’t speak from experience, but we loved the style of the place when we went there for dinner. Book Hotel Can Faustino| More hotels in Ciutadella here
Mid range hotel in Ciutadella – Hotel Menorca Patricia
As I was in Ciutadella for a walking holiday with a friend, we were looking for accommodation that was convenient, comfortable and modern and were very happy with our choice of 3 star Hotel Menorca Patricia. The hotel is in a great location close to the port, but just outside the old town in a neighbourhood with more modern buildings.
Being 5 minutes walk to the port and 10 minutes to Placa d’en Born, we could easily walk everywhere but had the benefit of a quiet location away from all the bars and restaurants. My bedroom was fresh and contemporary in style with a lovely modern shower room, perfect for a short stay where you plan to be out for most of the day.
There was no restaurant in the hotel but the breakfast buffet on the lower ground floor was exceptional in the quality and variety of options. There was a pool which we didn’t use, but it wasn’t a large one, so if you’re looking for more of a resort experience, this hotel probably wouldn’t be right for you. The reception team were very friendly and helpful and we very much enjoyed our stay here so would recommend it if you need a hotel that’s a base for sightseeing and getting out and about on the island. Book Hotel Menorca Patricia | More hotels in Ciutadella here
Visitor information for Menorca
Looking for a guidebook for Menorca? We recommend the Rough Guide to Mallorca and Menorca to help you plan your trip.
If you need a guide to take you out and about in Menorca for group or individual tours, we can recommend Luis Amella of Menorca Guides who accompanied us on a previous trip.
Looking for boat trips and activities on Menorca? Check out these guided tours and excursions.
Map of Menorca
You can find all the places we visited on the map below
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Disclosure: My trip to Menorca was self funded and I paid for all the meals, hotel stays and experiences mentioned. However, this article is sponsored* by the Balearic and Canary Islands, as part of their #SpanishIslands Campaign.
* More info on my policies page
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