Menorca: island of culture

Ross Clarke

Ross Clarke

You might think that the Balearic Islands are all about sun, sand and sea, and you'd be right. There are swathes of golden sands, secluded bays and enough azure seawater to please even the most ardent watersports fan.

Cathedral in the old city of Ciutadella
Cathedral in the old city of Ciutadella © Massimo Pizzotti - Adobe Stock Image

But the islands also have intriguing histories, cultural attractions and thriving gastronomic scenes to entice travellers of all kinds throughout the year.

Menorca* is perhaps the most culturally intriguing of this Mediterranean archipelago. Here, Spain expert Ross Clarke rounds up a few of the island's most spectacular cultural offerings.

Getting to Menorca: browse the latest offers on holidays to Menorca with TUI*, which departs from airports across the UK.

Step back into prehistoric times

Menorca has been inhabited for thousands of years and there's evidence all over the island of the peoples who came long before the Romans reached these tranquil shores.

The Talayotic period here started in approximately 2100 BCE, as evidenced by the limestone structures you'll find across the island, from the Naveta des Tudons (an impressive dry-stone, mortarless tomb) to Torre d'en Galmés, the largest Talayotic settlement in Menorca, consisting of stone foundations and structures including rooms, water tanks, storehouses and tombs.

The pre-historic site of Torralba d'en Salort
The pre-historic site of Torralba d'en Salort © Q - Adobe Stock Image

Near Ciutadella*, you'll find the cove of Cala Morell, where caves have been carved out of the cliffs to create a resting place or necropolis.

Check opening hours before you go, as some sites open seasonally. Tickets cost no more than a few euros, and some offer free entry.

Put your best foot forward

Whether you're in the main towns and resorts or in villages across the island, you'll find artisanal crafts and traditional products. One of the biggest and most typical industries is shoemaking, particularly a type of sandal called avarcas.

These handcrafted leather slingback shoes have been made on the island for generations and many producers are still family-run operations. Come the warm weather, you'll see nearly all ages wearing a pair.

Colourful avarca sandals
Colourful avarca sandals © Paolo Gallo - Adobe Stock Image

If you're interested in other local crafts, from pottery to jewellery, head to Centre Artisanal de Menorca, where you'll find exhibits, activities such as classes, and plenty of souvenirs to take home. As for avarcas, you'll find them sold in shops across the island.

Find a fiesta

The Menorcan cultural calendar is jam-packed with festivals, concerts and local celebrations, but it is in summer that the main action really happens.

One of the biggest and most iconic festivities is Sant Joan. Celebrated at the end of June, the fiesta draws crowds to Ciutadella where spectators and participants enjoy rhymical music and street food

Witness the caixers (horse riders) dressed in their traditional finery masterfully ride their purebred Menorquina black horses, which rear up on their hind legs and parade to the music.

Movie aficionados should visit the island during the popular Festival Internacional de Cine de Menorca (Menorca International Film Festival) in September.

Meanwhile, music lovers should descend on the island in spring for the Menorca Jazz Festival or the Maó (Mahon*) opera season that takes place each May.

Savour a leftover from the British

If you are planning on heading to any fiesta, or even just enjoying a relaxing moment by the beach on holiday, you should try a pomada.

The British had possession of Menorca between 1708 and 1802, where it become a strategic port and base. Sadly for the British sailors, the island didn't have their favourite tipple of gin, so they brought it with them. It's been a mainstay of the island's spirit (pun intended) ever since.

Be sure to try British tipple pomada
Be sure to try British tipple pomada © PaulSat - Adobe Stock Image

So much so, that in 1784 the Pons family started to distil gin on the island. They are still doing it under their now famous brand of Xoriguer. And what do you get if you mix Menorcan gin with lemonade? A potently refreshing pomada, ideal for sultry summer nights.

Conduct an autopsy (almost)

The tiny island in Mahon harbour has quite the back story. Its name, Illa del Rei (Island of the King), comes from Spanish King Alfonso III, who first docked here in 1287 hoping to conquer Menorca.

In 1711, when the British took over, they decided to construct a hospital on the island for sick and injured navy personnel. It's these buildings that you will still see today, and in fact, they were used as a hospital right up until the 1960s.

Mercifully, a foundation was set up to protect and preserve the island and architecture and today, the sandy-coloured stone buildings contain museums and art galleries.

The most curious is probably the Hospital Illa del Rei Medical and Biological Collection, which includes an autopsy room dedicated to Scottish surgeon George Gleghorn, an electro-medicine room and a biology room containing 5000 shells and molluscs.

Boats over to the island take about 15 minutes from Mahon. While you're there, don't miss the Hauser and Wirth art gallery, which opened in 2021.

Look to the sky

Did you know that the entire island of Menorca is a dedicated starlight reserve? Thanks to the island's relatively undeveloped nature and how the natural landscape has been preserved, there is very little light pollution, ideal for gazing upwards.

In fact, it's the only island in the Mediterranean to be certified as both a Starlight Reserve and Starlight Destination.

The Milky Way over Son Bou Beach
The Milky Way over Son Bou Beach © Matteo - Adobe Stock Image

That means that the quality of the night sky is maintained and protected from light and other pollution, offering you the optimum celestial viewing experience.

You will get great views of the stars on most of the island, but if you want the best experience and to learn about the sky in the process, book a tour with Polaris Menorca, who'll take you to the best spots for stargazing, bring specialist telescopes and point out the constellations above.

Weather in Menorca

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows the weather in Mahon. Find out more about the weather across the island in our complete guide to the weather in Menorca and the weather in the wider Balearic Islands.

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Ross Clarke

Ross Clarke

Ross Clarke is a Welsh travel, food and wine writer, specialising in his homeland, the Canary Islands and mainland Spain. As well as writing regularly for The Times, BBC Travel and National Geographic Traveller, Ross is a lecturer in journalism at Cardiff University and publishes a regular newsletter, "The Welsh Kitchen".

Posted on Friday 31st March 2023 in: Culture Europe Summer

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