We all know that good things come in small packages. Smaller than its neighbour, Majorca, many travel aficionados consider Menorca to be the jewel of the Balearic Islands, if you like your fun in the sun a little more low-key than the experience offered up on Majorca or Ibiza. Holidays on this little island are perfect for those who’re on the hunt for more authentic travel experiences, looking to immerse themselves in cultural things to do in Menorca.
But why is spending time in Menorca such a rewarding travel experience for those in search of a quiet break? Well, this natural gem of an island is reaping the benefits of its stubborn refusal to allow anything like the levels of large-scale and high-rise building work that means that much of Majorca and Ibiza are unrecognisable.
Menorca was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993. Since then, it’s continued to be passionately committed to conservation and the protection of all aspects of the environment for the sakes of both the local population and its flora and fauna. And that has become a major selling point.
Its picturesque towns and rural areas retain their traditional charm, while top restaurants and the best hotels in Menorca exude a unique blend of Menorcan warmth and hospitality, as well as delighting guests with innovative experiences and modern creature comforts.
While most UK travellers tend to think that the attractions of Menorca are limited to it being a safe bet for a traditional ‘bucket-and-spade’ style family break, this belies the myriad cultural attractions Menorca offers beyond its golden sands.
Beautiful beaches are guaranteed, but you might be surprised by Menorca’s culture, and just how much there is to explore here.
One of Menorca’s attractions is the Ciutadella Old Town
Get ready to take a trip back in time. Ciutadella is Menorca’s ‘Old Town’ and it was formerly the capital of the island.
Anyone with a passion for history will fall in love with its stunning architecture and its labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets. Located on the western tip of Menorca, Ciutadella is a picture-perfect haven and an escape from modern life.
Wander around and you’ll discover pretty sun-splashed plazas surrounded by elegant townhouses and Mediterranean-style architecture that all centres around a small harbour.
The must-see highlights? One of the places to visit in Menorca that you can’t miss whilst in Ciutadella is the impressive Santa Maria Cathedral. Built in the 13th century on the site of an old mosque, it conserves part of the minaret, making for an intriguing blend of cultures and designs. The interior features an arresting marble altar and intricately carved columns.
The main town square, Placa d’es Born, is not only the island’s most beautiful square, it’s also considered to be one of the loveliest in the whole of Spain. Once a parade ground for troops when the town was occupied by the Moors, it was rebuilt in a flamboyant Renaissance style.
The square itself is also home to several beautiful buildings and landmark attractions, including the Gothic-style Town Hall and no less than three palaces, including the very grand 19th-century Palau de Torre, the Palace Vivo and the Palau Salort.
Ready for a little elegant retail therapy? Close to the cathedral you’ll come across the avenue Ses Voltes, where you’ll find beautiful little shops tucked inside a maze of whitewashed arches, along with a charming selection of patisseries, cafes and restaurants for when you’re ready to stop and refuel. This is also a lovely spot to enjoy an aperitif and then tuck into dinner when the sun goes down.
And when it comes to people watching, the best place to take a seat is Placa Nova, a tiny square that’s home to Ciutadella’s most delightful cafes with terraces.
If you want to see this historic gem at its most colourful, then time your visit to coincide with the wonders of the Festa de Sant Joan, held every year on 24th June. You’ll particularly enjoy it if you’re a lover all things equestrian.
In addition to dancing in the streets, fuelled by bars serving plentiful glasses of ‘pomada’, (the local Menorcan gin mixed with fresh lemon juice), the beautiful black Menorquina horses are the stars of the show.
What to do in Menorca: don’t miss the Ses Pedreres de s’Hostal
Less than a mile from the old town you’ll encounter the sandstone quarry of Ses Pedreres de s’Hostal, an Instagram moment if ever there was one.
Believed to be more than 200 years’ old, this was the excavation site for the sandstone used to create the island’s traditional houses and buildings up until the 1990s.
What was left behind was an intriguing mix of geometric shapes carved out of the earth. True to the island’s form, the site has been protected and repurposed. Spotting its inherent beauty, Laetitia Sauleau, an Italian sculptor, set up Líthica, a non-profit cultural association which has not only preserved the site but also created a stone labyrinth and added botanical gardens and orchards.
This amazing effort has turned the quarry into a unique cultural venue that now hosts concerts and exhibitions.
Things to do in Menorca on a rainy day: Museum of Menorca
If you’re having lunch at one of the restaurants along the harbourside in Mahón, one of the best places to eat in Menorca, you can also feed your appetite for history.
Tucked away above the harbour in a baroque convent building, you’ll find the Museo de Menorca, a free museum open to all.
It’s a great museum spread over several floors with exhibits that tell the stories of Menorca’s colourful past, including ancient maps, sculptures and artefacts, as well as an interesting collection of art from the 18th-20th centuries. It’s a great option if you’re stuck for things to do in Menorca on a rainy day.
Enjoy a Menorcan gin and lemon at the Xoriguer Gin Distillery
Who fancies a G&T with ice and a slice? The British occupation of the island led to the swift foundation of gin distilleries. It didn’t take long for the locals to get a taste for it too and it remains one of the most popular spirits on the island.
Of all the local brands, Xoriguer is the most popular and the tours of its distillery on the Mahón waterfront are delightful. One of the best things to do in Menorca is to come and sniff the botanicals here but don’t ask for the recipe, as it’s a fiercely guarded family secret.
Menorca excursions: visit the Museo Etnológico Molí de Dalt
Are you ready to learn about traditional village life? Molí de Dalt is the island’s ethnological museum, housed in an ancient windmill in the little town of Sant Lluís, one of the most charming Menorca destinations.
Built during the French occupation, the lovingly restored Molí de Dalt is the town’s only surviving windmill. Its quaint interior is used to tell the story of its importance for the town’s agriculture, display traditional farming tools and crafts, and give insights into the life of the villagers.
Discover Menorca’s historical sites: Torralba d’en Salort
Are you fascinated by prehistoric sites? One of the most fascinating things to do in Menorca is to beat a path back to the Bronze Age. Come and marvel at the mighty boulders and megaliths still standing at Torralba d’en Salort, a Talaiotic village that’s Menorca’s answer to Stonehenge.
In addition to a circle of standing stones used as a religious ceremony space, you’ll find the actual village where the original architects lived still perfectly preserved. Historians believe that this site was first founded around 1000 BC and was a thriving settlement right up until the Roman occupation.
Walking in Menorca: discover the Cap de Favàritx
Beach walks are even better when you can discover secret little coves and lighthouses. The Cap de Favàritx lighthouse, located on the north-east tip of the island, is still fully operational.
Built back in 1922, its majestic tower stands 47 metres tall. It won’t take you long to walk out to the lighthouse, but you’ll be rewarded not just by fabulous views over the ocean but also by the discovery of one of the island’s prettiest beaches – Cala Presili.
Pack a blanket, a picnic and a bottle of wine – this is a gorgeous spot to watch the sun sink into the sea.
The best Menorca day trips: Isla del Rey
Hop on a boat – a yellow catamaran to be precise – in Mahón and it’s a short journey across the water to the teeny tiny island of Isla del Rey, located right in the middle of the harbour.
The island was the former home of the old British Military Hospital, with many much older buildings also still standing. Today, it’s a protected site of natural as well as historical importance, home to lots of local flora and fauna. Treat yourself to a sightseeing cruise to the island and around the whole bay.