Things to see and do in MenorcaThere are plenty of things to see & do in Menorca - we've chosen our top 10 Menorca tips:
|1. Old town of Ciutadella
2. Port of Maó
3. Bay of Fornells
4. Megalithic monuments
5. Favàritx lighthouse
|6. Fortresses of Marlborough and La Mola
7. Views from Monte Toro
9. Quarries (Líthica, Santa Ponça...)
10. Northern and Southern beaches
The old town of Ciutadella, wrapped around a wide square beside the pretty small port is a labyrinth of passages, archways and sudden unexpected views. On the western end of the island, with the hills of neighbouring Mallorca clearly visible on the horizon the city was founded by the Carthaginians more than two thousand years ago, and in the 9th century under Arab rule was called Medina Minurqa. It was the island’s capital until the 18th century, when the first British governor Richard Kane, transferred the island’s seat of power to Maó at the other end of the island.
Today, Ciutadella with a population of 28,000 is widely regarded as the most beautiful of Menorca’s towns, with a far more Spanish feel than the distinctly Anglo-Saxon Maó. The main square, Plaça des Born is lined with aristocratic palaces of the 18th century and beyond, around the 14th century cathedral (built on the site of the former mosque) narrow arched passageways and courtyards lead into an area which feels more African than Mediterranean.
Close by in the small port lined with fishing boats the ferry leaves each day for Mallorca, and just beyond, a long sandy strip lies between with walled gardens.
Here, on the Dia de Sant Joan– the 23rd June – the most important fiesta of the island takes place each year, with the beautiful black Menorcan horses rearing high amongst the packed crowds beneath the ancient city walls in what is regarded as one of Spain’s most vivid festivals.
2 Port of Maó
The Port of Maó, a glittering inlet of water extending some 5 kilometres into the heart of Menorca’s capital, is one of the world’s largest natural harbours. With deep sheltered water and a narrow entry from the sea defended by fortresses, in its heyday the docks and wharves were some of the busiest in the Mediterranean, with ships from many countries unloading cargoes beneath the old city walls.
Today, as the island’s capital, Maó has many traces of the British rule on the island during the 18th century, from the Georgian town houses with sash windows and lace curtains to the neo-classical Town.
The old dock area is now a wide corniche by the sea, with restaurants and cafes plying a busy trade when visiting cruise ships dock beneath the high walls of the city. With many charming back streets and squares, Maó retains the relaxed easy going atmosphere of a large friendly country town where everybody seems to know each other.
3. Bay of Fornells
A spectacular and beautiful inlet on the northern coast, the Bay of Fornells is more than five kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide, with shallow sheltered water providing an ideal location for all kinds of water sports from kayaking to dinghy sailing and windsurfing.
Once frequently raided by Barbary pirates, an 18th century British built watchtower looks down across the narrow entrance, where any ships entering would have been within an easy cannon shot. Today as a safe anchorage from the northerly tramuntana winds, the bay is popular with visiting yachtsmen cruising around the island.
The old fishing village tucked below the headland is tranquil place with excellent restaurants – be sure to try the “caldereta de llagosta”, a delicious succulent lobster stew and one of Menorca’s most famous dishes. With Menorca’s largest marine reserve just off shore the Bay of Fornells is also a Mecca for scuba enthusiasts who come to dive in the clear waters which teem with fish.
4. Megalithic monuments
Menorca is said to be an open air museum, with one of the largest collection of megalithic monuments in the entire Mediterranean spread throughout the island. These extraordinary standing stones and ancient settlements of the Talaiotic culture, which flourished in the Bronze age are vivid evidence of a sophisticated and well organised society which existed here some 2,000 years BC. There are several distinct forms of the megalithic monuments, from the Taula – ( table in Catalan) – two massive pieces of stone in the form of a high freestanding table or altar, to the Naveta – large burial chambers made of blocks of stone which resemble the hulls of large upturned ships.
There are more than two thousand megalithic monuments on Menorca, with some of the earliest, in the form of burial caves and niches, thought to date back to 2,500 BC.
Find out more about the Megalithic monuments
5. Favàritx lighthouse
The Favàritx lighthouse stands high above the rocky cliffs of the east coast. Set within the boundaries of the Natural Park of S’Albufera des Grau it is a spectacular headland overlooking the clear seas and inlets of this rugged and beautiful shoreline.
The beaches and small coves here are ideal places to swim and snorkel, and in winter the fierce storms whip up huge swells which break high over the rocks. As one of the eastern most parts of the island, this area is popular with bird watchers, especially during the migration seasons of spring and autumn.
6. Fortresses of Marlborough and La Mola
These two fortresses standing on either side of the mouth of the Port de Maó were of vital strategic importance as defence for the best deep water anchorage of the western Mediterranean. Fort Marlborough, built by Sir John Churchill between 1710 and 1726 is set deep into the rock on the top of high cliffs and can barely be seen from the sea. It withstood two long sieges by the French and the Spanish manned only by a small garrison but surrendered on both occasions finally when the island was overrun. Today the fort is a museum with excellent and realistic recreations of the battles which took place here.
On the northern side of the harbour mouth the massive La Mola – Isabel II fortress was built over 25 years under the Spanish rule of Queen Isabella and was completed in 1875, by which time technological advances in weapon design rendered the defences of the fortress obsolete.
Today it is an extraordinary and unique massive structure, with bastions, underground passages and storage areas beautifully made out of local yellow sandstone by the skilled masons of the island. From its ramparts there are wonderful views of the harbour and Maó itself. In more recent times the fortress saw fighting during the Civil War, when Republican soldiers rebelled against their pro-Franco officers.
7. Views from Monte Toro
Monte Toro, the highest hill, or as locals call it, the only mountain in Menorca stands at 358 metres above sea level and from its summit there are spectacular views around the entire island. According to local legend the hill was named for a bull which discovered a statue of the Virgin hidden in a rocky ravine but it is more likely to be derived from the Arabic ‘Al Tor’ meaning the mountain. Rising steeply above the central town of Es Mercadal, the hill is capped by a church and convent and a large statue to the Virgin Mary. The Franciscan nuns here open their doors to the public from the first Sunday in May until October, and the summit is a popular place of pilgrimage for devout islanders.
It is also the finish for the 210 kilometre gruelling round island cycle race, which takes place every year in spring. On clear days, the hills of Mallorca can be clearly seen on the distant western horizon.
Menorca has many festivals with the majority taking place between June and September, when every town and village has its own celebrations. The best known is the Fiesta de Sant Joan in Ciutadella on the 23rd June when the narrow streets by the harbour are packed with spectators watching the beautiful black horses and their riders of the island, displaying their extraordinary and unique equestrian skills. But it’s not only horses that draw the crowds – the International Jazz festival and the opera season at the Principal Theatre in Maó are always a powerful draw for both Menorcans and visitors from mainland Spain and Europe.
Other festivals take place throughout the summer, plus gastronomic festivals in the inland towns ensure that there is always a wide variety of choice for the most ardent of fiesta fans.
Find out more about Menorca culture
The lovely russet sandstone of Menorca is a prized building material and has been quarried on the island for hundreds of years. The best known quarry, Líthica, close to Ciutadella, spans more than two hundred years of excavation, with sheer steep walls more than 30 metres high still bearing the marks of the saw cuts of masons who laboured here in the 18th century. Now transformed into delightful hidden gardens, with their own microclimates sheltered from the fierce winds which sweep the island, orange and lemon trees, fig and wild grapes grow in abundance in carefully tended themed areas, forming a perfect combination of both man made and the natural.
The larger quarries are used in summer as unique performance places, with orchestras and pop groups playing beneath the stars.
10. The northern and southern beaches
Menorca has more than eighty beaches and each it seems has its own distinct character. With most of the island undeveloped, many of the wilder beaches are absolutely pristine and untouched by man. On the southern coast there are long beaches of white fine sand which, at the larger resorts, are easily accessed by car and which have accommodation and restaurants close by. Yet never far away on foot the more adventurous walker can be sure to find a small secluded bay which even in the summer months is never too crowded. Some of these smaller secluded beaches are popular with nudists and nature lovers.
On the northern coast, with higher rocky cliffs interspersed with hidden rocky coves the beaches tend to be smaller and to have red sand. Even in the height of the summer season, beach lovers here will be able to find empty and deserted stretches of sand to swim and snorkel.