Menorca is wholly different from the other islands of the Balearics, not just in the type of holidaymakers it attracts, but also in its culture and political history. It is sometimes touted as an open-air museum, with many ancient monuments, and offers a rich selection of festivals.
Evidence of past peoples can be seen around Menorca in the form of ancient towers and prehistoric villages. The Romans were here—naming it ‘little one’ and Mallorca the ‘big one’—as were the Moors, while tourists have been coming en masse since the 1980’s.
Much of the history of Menorca is holed up in the main centers of Mahon, the current capital, and Ciutadella, the former capital. Both harbor towns have old quarters, with Mahon still retaining part of its former city walls, including the Arch de San Roque. The Town Hall and Church of Santa Maria are also notable historic places.
Ciutadella is equally impressive and has the ancient (1,500 BC) Naveta dels Tudons burial chamber nearby. In between these towns are the old villages of Aiaior, Es Mercadel, and Ferreres. All have museums where you can learn more about the island, including the Menorca Museum in Mahon.
The Carthaginians, Greeks, French, British, and of course, Spanish have all played a part in shaping the island’s culture. The British took control near the beginning of the 18th century during the War of the Spanish Succession, transferring capital status from Ciutadella to Mahon due to its more impressive harbor. The Treaty of Amiens saw Menorca back in Spanish hands for good in 1802.
The Spanish Civil War in the late 1930’s pit Menorca against the Nationalists. It was bombed by Italian forces at this time though the British Navy helped to restore peace in 1939. Tourism eventually became one of the main industries throughout the Balearic Islands, and the arrival of the jet age saw sun-seekers coming from all over Europe. While Ibiza and Mallorca are more popular with couples and singles, Menorca attracts the families.
The various ethnic groups who settled and/or conquered Menorca played a major part in the rich heritage of the island today. Its people are religious, as with the rest of Spain, though Menorca is also relaxed and forward-thinking.
Menorca is nothing like party-town Ibiza, and the locals are well dressed and polite. Avoid wearing swimwear away from the beach—ambling underdressed about Ciutadella’s old town is not the thing to do—and also avoid being overly loud as it’s considered rude.
Menorcans are as creative as mainland Spaniards, churning out an array of local crafts for the tourist industry. A standout product is Xoriguer gin at the historic distillery, which is different in taste than British gin. Abarcas sandals are another top item found at the vibrant markets.
There is a rich line up of festivals—many religious and colorful—along with musical events. Menorca is very Spanish in this sense. The Principal Theater (Teatro Principal) in Mahon puts on regular concerts and opera.