Hola! Everyone needs a little bit of Ibiza in life.” I saw this quote in one of the tiny souvenir shops in Dalt Vila, the Old Town in Ibiza, or Eivissa as it was called, and I could not agree more. The vibe is special. Perhaps it is the Mediterranean magic. There is a certain allure around this island that forms a part of the archipelago of the Balearic Islands in Spain which also include Mallorca, Menorca, Formentera, and Cabrera. The azure blues of oceans set against the pearl white facades of medieval churches, quaint little towns with cobbled streets with plenty of olives and tomatoes, sunsets, and sangria makes it even more magical. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind of a trip to Ibiza, but it’s left me wanting only more as I realized that there are many things to do in Ibiza. In three days we crisscrossed from North to South of the island stopping by remote beaches, charming towns and villages, markets, and wineries, and other top sights in Ibiza. We were swept away by the warmth of the people, as we laughed with them and said Salud over sangrias and wines.
Ibiza is often referred to as the party capital of Spain as music has always been a part of its cultural ethos. But there is more to it than just rock and roll. The hedonistic destination has a lot more to offer than pulsating nightlife, concerts and clubs, discotheques, and boat parties. We were at the fag end of the partying season but we realized that there are many things to do in Ibiza town besides heading to the nightclubs. From cultural immersions, wine tasting, cave exploration, and village visits, there are many top sights in Ibiza like formidable castles, white churches, and even an ancient gravesite. Ibiza’s chequered history has cultural influences from different civilizations and dynasties – from Phoenicians to Romans, Byzantines to Moors resulting in a rich tapestry and a treasure trove of tales. Here is an eclectic list of things to do in Ibiza
1. Sa Caleta Phoenician Settlement.
The Phoenician settlement located in Sant Josep on the southern coast makes you a bit of a time traveller as you are lost somewhere between the 8th-6th centuries BC when a tiny trading port was established here. The Phoenicians founded the settlement around 654-650 BC, located about 10 kms from Ibiza town and they used this port, which is still being used by the locals. The last vestiges of the Phoenician settlement can be seen in the archaeological remains of homes huddled together in narrow lanes. These simple stone buildings, located on the rocky headland are probably ancient dwellings, consisting of living spaces and courtyards with a square. While some of these original sites are lost to erosion and civil wars, the archaeologists believe that the Phonecians may have abandoned the settlement, moving towards Ibiza bay and the city as we know it today. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the top sights in Ibiza.
The Phoenicians believed that Ibiza was a magical haven as it was bereft of any poisonous snakes (they were later imported) that could harm the inhabitants. They claimed that the rich red volcanic soil had magical properties and they even stashed a bit of it in their amulets to protect them. They named the island Bes after the Egyptian deity who they believed had blessed the land. Bes, a guardian deity also heralded as the God of Good Spirits is also associated with Bacchus the Roman God of wine. “Perhaps that’s why Ibiza is now the “Party Capital of Spain,” says my guide Carlos with a laugh as we drive around the salt marshes in the Ses Salines National Park. Salt was then referred to as “white gold” and it is believed that the Phonecians have been harvesting and trading in salt since 2500 years ago when they first settled here.
2. Ses Salines National Park
Salt is the main identity of the island and even today, it is used not just as a gastronomic seasoning but is also exported to Northern European countries, largely to preserve fish. Ibizan salt is bereft of any chemical process and it is considered a natural product as it is pure sea salt, which is formed through the natural evaporation of seawater. The Phoenicians used to harvest salt but it became an important trading community during the era of the Moors when it was called Yebisah. A statue of a salt worker stands as a tribute here amidst breathtaking scenery.
A drive around the salt pans and ponds of the Ses Salines Natural Park takes you back into the era when salt was synonymous with the Mediterranean island. Spread over 3000 hectares of land, the National Park is one of the historic and biodiversity hotspots in Ibiza and a great habitat for birds, especially flamingos. Birdwatching here is one of the best things to do in Ibiza. Some of the places you can visit here are beaches, coves, churches, defense towers, and bird-watching hotspots besides restaurants, and cafes set amidst stunning landscapes.
While you visit the salt ponds, head to La Salinas Beach, located in the national park, and lose yourself in the turquoise waters. The beach is named after the salt lakes and you can also see the railway tracks of the old trains which had salt as their cargo years ago. You also get a peek into the early manual processes of harvesting before the era of mechanization. Even today, an old mill stands on the island taking you back to the bygone era. Exploring these little vestiges of the past is definitely one of the best things to do in Ibiza.
3. Dalt Vila, the Old Town
Perched atop a hillock and overlooking Ibiza town is this imposing acropolis, a time capsule that takes you back to the era of the Phoenicians via a medieval portal with a drawbridge. Dalt Vila literally means The High or Upper Town and as you stagger through the fortified settlement to the top of the summit, you wander through labyrinthine lanes, dark turrets and tunnels, castles and cathedrals, which are some of the best things to do in Ibiza town. The main portal referred to as Portal de Ses Taules takes you into a medieval courtyard and therein the path leads to the main square called Plaza de Vila. There is history in every corner. Formidable bastions like the Bastion of Santa Lucia tower over you. And the panoramic views of the azure waters of the Mediterranean give you company as you trudge along. The town is so atmospheric as you are lost in a melange of little cafes, charming restaurants, chapels and churches, medieval monuments, quaint mansions, craft stores, and souvenir shops.
The UNESCO Heritage Site was originally founded by the Phoenicians but it reflects the very history of Ibiza and the melting pot of cultural influences. Renaissance walls and Roman statues add to the charm. There is a small chapel dedicated to San Ciriaco, the Patron Saint of Ibiza and there is a legend around a secret tunnel that opens into a lane that leads to a cathedral. According to the legend, the Catalans defeated the Moors by befriending the Emir’s brother who betrayed them. It is believed that he told them about the secret tunnel and they attacked the Moors and took over Ibiza.
The Ibiza Cathedral or the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves or the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows built in the Catalan Gothic style treats you to some wonderful views of the city and the harbour, and on a clear day, you can even spot the island of Formentera. There is also an Archaeological Museum in front of the cathedral with some rare artifacts from the Phoenician era displayed.
4. Puig des Molins, the Necropolis
Ibiza has both an acropolis and a necropolis. While the Upper Town gives you a glimpse into the lives of the Phonecians and the Romans, the Necropolis is more like a nether land that gives you a peek into their afterlife and beliefs regarding the same.
Descending deep into the recesses of the earth and peering through the dark caverns is one of the fascinating things to do in Ibiza but you can see tombs with skeletal remains and burial items scattered amidst some of them. The Puig des Molins, or the City of Dead is a UNESCO Heritage Site as well and the burial caverns still have the remnants of the gravesite and the city’s ancient cemetery. Surrounded by olive trees. this rocky shrubland was chosen by the Phonecians, the original founders of Ibiza as their ancient burial ground and it houses over 3000 tombs, with the oldest dating back to the 7th century and is one of the top sights of Ibiza.
It was not just the Phonecians, but also the Punics and Romans who used this as a burial ground. Excavated remains have shown how every civlisation buried, cremated, and even celebrated their dead. Some tombs contained material possessions as the Phonecians believed that their kin would need them in their afterlife. You can go underground to see the warren of caves with stone coffins with burial items and skeletal remains.
There is also an Archaeological Museum here, which showcases the items like amulets to vases, figurines to weapons, and coins to jewellery that has been excavated. Each room gives you a glimpse of their burial rites and their beliefs, be it about life, death, and the afterlife.
5. Es Vedra, the mystical island
Magical and mystical, Es Vedra is a rocky island with monolithic limestone outcrops that rise majestically from the sea, creating a dramatic setting. Silhouetted against the hazy afternoon sun, the rugged rocky outcrop standing tall at 400 metres is shrouded in mysteries, secrets, and intriguing stories.
Some believe that the island has a magnetic pull that apparently even brought the hippies to the island in the 60s and 70s. But there seems to be more than just flower power here. Apparently, magnetic energy has so many healing properties that it can even help align “chakras” in the body. According to the legends, this was the home of Goddess Tanit, the patron deity of the Phoenicians who offered sacrifices on full moon nights to appease them.
It is also believed that the island is also haunted by sirens, who are mythical human-like beautiful women with alluring voices that lure men. Legends say that when they tried to seduce the legendary Odysseus,, he chained himself to the ship to protect himself from their bewitching charms. Local fishermen claimed to have seen magical rings of light, all leading to the theory that Es Vedrä is the haunt of aliens as UFO sightings have been reported. No doubt, the island viewed from the cliffs towering above Cala d’Hort Beach does have a breathtaking effect on me, Personally for me this was the best experience and one of the top sights of Ibiza.
6. Santa Eularia and the fameliars
One of the largest resort towns in Ibiza, Santa Eulalia is a cocktail of culture and traditions, churches and beaches, marinas, and promenades. Walking towards the 16th-century fortified Santa Eulalia Church called Puig de Missa we learn about the Riu or the River that once flowed along the town. The old Roman bridge is a landmark by itself but what makes it fascinating are the legends of elves and goblins called the fameliars and one of the quirky things to do in Ibiza is to try and catch them.
Walk or rent an e-bike and explore the town or follow the course of the river and listen to these tales. These impish elves look like gnomes with big heads and they can apparently be caught and you can make them into your farmhand. But you have to find them first. According to the legend, they emerge just once a year, from a magical flower of a mysterious herb that grows from below the bridge. The elf can ransack and destroy everything around you if you don’t give it any work warns Carlos my guide as we walk around the River Route. And we find them right in the heart of Santa Eularia, along the boulevard called Passeig de s’ Alamera, They stand there with a cynical impish look – although they are mere metallic versions but are definitely one of the top sights in Ibiza.
7. San Miguel with its beaches, caves, and pirates
“If you have a church, a school, and a grocery shop- voila, you are in a village. The heart of Ibiza actually lies in the countryside – filled with olive trees and lush fields and traditional houses with medieval architecture. And there are quaint churches adding to the scenic landscape. Sometimes you stumble upon remnants of medieval Ibiza with mills and wells, most of them even in ruins.
The village of San Miguel with its fortified medieval church, rustic landscapes, and sandy beach with a warren of caves with dramatic stalactites and stalagmites is a destination by itself. A far cry from the parties of Ibiza, this is the portal to the raw and rugged countryside. Surrounded by craggy cliffs, the beach at San Miguel called Port de Sant Miguel was once a fishing port but is now a tourist resort. Descend down through the steps carved on the rocks to explore the caves called Cova de can Marca where pirates and smugglers hid their contraband. If you like a dash of adventure, then this is one of the most fascinating things to do in Ibiza.
8. Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera, a charming village
Nestled right in the centre of the island and a far cry from the club culture is a quaint village called Santa Gertrudis located barely 10 km from San Miguel. The pedestrian square is straight out of a picture postcard, with a handful of restaurants, cafes, and craft shops lined up along the cobbled streets. Painted in shades of white and yellow, the medieval church is designed like a fortress and is a showstopper by itself. An old store that sells everything from tobacco to stamps is the local grocery store. And the school is in among the charming homes that are huddled together in this hamlet. The entire village, surrounded by orchards, exudes a bohemian vibe as tourists throng here, and is one of the top tourist sights of Ibiza.
9. Es Canar True Hippie Market
Colourful and artisanal, the Hippe Market at Es Canar is where you will get a glimpse of the Ibiza of the 70s when flower power was the rage. This is one of the oldest and largest hippe markets and is synonymous with Ibiza’s cultural landscape. An eclectic mix of musicians, designers, artists and artisans gather there once a week to showcase their handmade creations and you can see inspirations from all over the world. Food trucks , live performances, and craft workshops add a dash of colour to the carnival. As you wander around the 450 stalls , you can lose your way and find yourself in a different world. Its more than just a market, its a vibe, a carnival and its open only on Wednesdays. There are other hippe markets in other parts of the island but this is the most popular and top tourist sights of Ibiza.
10. Cam Rich Winery
You can’t leave Ibiza without saying Salut to its spirits. Head to Can Rich Winery near San Antoni and go for a winery tour along the 21 hectares of vineyards and ancient olive trees. The winery tour also includes wine tastings as you learn all about organic farming and traditional production techniques. But its not just the wine.
Ibiza has its own infused spirit – Hierbas Ibicencas or hierbas which adds to the party vibe of the island.This magical liqueur has been used as a digestif for over two hundred years and you can take it as a shot in the bars, popularly referred to as chupitos . Traditionally, the aniseed flavoured drink is infused with local herbs and mixed with alcohol to give you a sense of high and has been consumed by even monks who used to live on the island centuries ago.
Wild aniseed is the main ingredient here it is infused with local wild herbs growing around the island, sometimes as many as 30 of them, and that makes it the signature spirit of Ibiza. All the natural, wild fragrances and flavours of Ibiza are contained in that liqueur and give it a unique taste of the island.
There are many more beaches, resort towns, party hubs, fortified churches, medieval monuments, and mystical tales around some of the top tourist sights of Ibiza . What are the places and things to do in Ibiza that you would recommend? You can also read more about Ibiza in my free newsletter on Substack – Journeys and Jottings.