In February, 2018, I visited Palma de Mallorca, Spain during a 10-night cruise on NCL’s Norwegian Spirit. We were not originally supposed to visit Palma, but several of the cruise’s original ports of call were cancelled because of bad weather. Since we had been to Palma once before and done the whole “hop on hop off” bus thing, we decided to try something different and take the historic wooden train to Soller.
The Ferrocarril de Sóller is a narrow-gauge railway that links the cities of Palma and Soller on the island of Mallorca. It traverses the Sierra de Alfàbia mountain range via 13 tunnels and an impressive viaduct. The train completed its inaugural trip in 1912 and was converted from steam (coal) to electric power in 1929. Remarkably, the journey and wooden cars are much the same today as it was almost a century ago!
Getting to the Train Station Downtown
The first step, of course, is getting to the train station in Plaza de España. Your cruise ship will most likely dock at the Poniente / Peraries / Estacio Maritima pier which is fairly close (about 3 miles) to the city center, but too far to walk. Fortunately, there is the Line 1 bus which has a stop literally directly outside the cruise terminal building. The timetable can be viewed here but basically, there is a bus about every 16 minutes in the direction “Aeropuerto”. The Line 1 bus is a great resource even if you’re not taking the Soller train and just want to reach downtown quickly, easily, and inexpensively.
Once onboard, the trip itself takes about 15 minutes and the stop you want is “Placa d’Espanya”. The cost is supposed to be €3 for one ticket (per person, one way). So we were prepared with that amount in coins but were given a puzzled look by the driver and only charged €1.50 per person. I have no idea why but I’m certainly not complaining!
After disembarking the bus at Placa d’Espanya, you will be able to see the Ferrocarril de Soller station across the busy road Avenida de Joan March. Make sure to enter the building shown in photos at street level. Located underground is the modern Intermodal Station which you don’t want.
Buying Tickets for the Train to Soller
I read online that it’s wise to arrive about 45-60 minutes ahead of your desired departure time to purchase tickets and indeed, we arrived about an hour early. I was a bit concerned that our train might be really full because the cruise line also offered this excursion and had almost 300 participants. But it turns out that the railroad runs a special train just for the ship’s excursion.
Tickets cannot be purchased online, but the current schedule and pricing structure can be viewed here. We paid €25 each for a round-trip ticket. The cruise line was charging $119 for this excursion, by the way.
Once you’ve purchased tickets, you can leave the station area but are advised to return 30 minutes before departure. In reality, returning 15 minutes prior to departure is fine unless you’re hoping to sit in the very front car, in which case you should queue up on the platform as early as possible. We used our bit of free time to wander around downtown and take some photos. We also purchased a bocadillo and some bottled water to have onboard.
Riding The Train to Soller
The train is operated from the frontmost car, which used to be the “first class” car. The seating configuration is different than the other passenger cars with a collection of chairs and sofas instead of the standard bench seating. Although there is no additional charge for sitting in the first class car, it’s first-come-first-serve. We personally couldn’t be bothered to compete and sat in the second or third car from the front. In my opinion, the views are similar from both sides and there is no advantage to left versus right side. Luckily our car was only perhaps 30% full so we had room to spread out.
To be honest, the scenery at the onset of the journey isn’t that great. First moving through some industrial parts of Palma and then through fields filled with gnarly olive and fruit trees, with the occasional horse and sheep sighting. Once the train leaves the Bunyola station, things get more interesting, with towns and villages visible in the valleys far below. For the hardcore photographer, there are small platforms with unobstructed views outside the front and rear of each car.
Our trained stopped for a 5 minute photo opportunity at the Pujol d’en Banya viewpoint. But it was difficult to actually get good photos because a) Everyone was crowded at the railing for selfies and b) You really need a telephoto lens and I only had a cheap 18-55mm zoom. Still, it was pleasant enough to stretch my legs and get some fresh mountain air.
Arriving in Soller
Once you arrive at Soller, you can either wander Soller’s narrow, pretty street and perhaps have lunch at a sidewalk cafe or you can take a tram to Port Soller, a beach village. The tram departs from the Soller railway station and tickets for the short 5k ride are €7 each way or can be bundled more economically into a package with the train tickets.
Since our ship was only in port at Palma for a relatively short period and we still wanted to see the Catedral de Mallorca before taking the bus back to the dock, we stayed in Soller and did not venture to Port Soller. Soller itself was very cute and photogenic. I’ll spare you looking at all of my photos but here are a few to get the idea.
If you purchased a round-trip ticket, you will have selected a return time in advance. I do recommend getting to the station a bit early because there are two (free of charge) art exhibits contained within the station itself. One of the rooms has ceramics by Picasso.
Getting Back To The Ship
Once you arrive back at the Palma station, the bus stop for taking Line 1 back to the cruise port will now be on the same side of the Avenida de Joan March as the train stations. This is a big pickup point for buses and there are four bus stop shelters in a row. The shelter that serves Line 1 is the furthest when walking from the train station. Make sure that the bus is headed in the direction “Port” (duh!) and you can get off at either the Club de Mar stop or the Port de Palma (Estació Marítima) stop. It really doesn’t matter which. Both stops are equally close to the cruise terminal, a <5 minute walk.
Returning to Palma by Bus Instead of Train
Okay, so let me complicate things for you! It is also possible to take the train to Soller and take one of two buses for the return journey instead of traveling roundtrip by train.
The Line 211 bus is an express service which goes through a long tunnel back to Palma and takes about 40 minutes total. There isn’t much cost savings because the €18 one-way train + €2.35 one-way bus = €20.35 versus €25 for the round-trip train. However, the bus runs far more frequently than the train and might better fit your schedule.
A second bus option would be take the Line 210, which runs along the coastline for a while, then goes inland through the small towns of Deia and Valldemossa. The Line 210 costs €3.90 and takes about 90 minutes to reach Palma but is supposedly incredibly scenic.
Both buses leave Soller from the C/Cetre Soller bus station which about a 8-9 minute walk from the train station in Soller. You can also begin either bus journey in Port Soller. In Port Soller, buses depart from the same location where the tram operates. So if you’re already in Port Soller and wish to return to Palma by bus, there is no need to first return to Palma by tram.
As always, I recommend downloading a google map of the area to your smartphone before leaving on vacation. That way, you can use the map to find your way without internet or cell service. Both Line 210 and Line 211 return to the Intermodal Station in Palma, underground from where you first started out on the train to Soller.
I hope this information helps and let me know if you have any additions or questions in the comments section!