It’s easy to see why hippies who came to Ibiza in the 1960s and fell in love with the island have never returned home. An enchanting island where almost anything goes, La Isla Blanca (The White Isle) ushers you away from banality like a daring cousin eager to show you a good time.
While a hippy vibe still exists, this Mediterranean jewel is increasingly being colonised by the mega rich, who mix daytime sojourns on their super yachts in blissful bays with partying well into the early hours in chic nightclubs. But bar a handful of ostentatious establishments, there is little pretension here – it’s become an earthier alternative to France’s lavish St Tropez, and everyone wants a bit of it.
Renowned for its clubbing scene, Ibiza’s population swells in the summer months as revellers head to some of the world’s most famous dance floors. But in between the most hedonistic of closing and opening parties, the island rests as if recovering from a heavy night of its own. Far from suffering a hangover, however, the Ibicencan culture takes over with festivities and a social scene centred on animated cafés providing a fascinating insight into day-to-day life that’s more laissez-faire in attitude than mainland Spain.
The first port of call for most is the island’s largest city, Ibiza Town (Eivissa to the locals). Its Old Town, known as Dalt Vila, dominates the skyline. On a hill looming over the marina, this maze of winding cobbled streets flanked by quirky boutiques and fabulous eateries mesmerizes those ambitious enough to climb the steep, meandering routes to the top.
Others will stay in San Antonio on the west coast where the focus is more on cerveza (beer) than culture, while the resort of Santa Eulalia del Rio, in the southeast, is a family-oriented affair with all-inclusives, a welcoming beach and a low-key local feel.
But there’s far more to the Balearics’ third largest island than its urban tapestry. The island’s north is wild and rugged; its craggy coastline peppered with sandy coves. In the interior, dusty tracks dissect fields of rust-red soils that are pockmarked with watermelons, almond trees and whitewashed fincas (traditional farmhouses). The small village of Santa Gertrudis at the heart of the island oozes charm, while the peak of Sa Talaia affords views as far as Majorca.
While Ibiza’s appeal lies mainly in its natural landscapes, beaches and glut of places to eat, drink and party, there are some key attractions – but don’t expect as flourishing arts or cultural scene as nearby Valencia and Barcelona.
The main attractions centre on Ibiza Town, and in particular the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Dalt Vila (Old Town), which is confined within fortified walls. Plaza de la Cathedral (Cathedral Square) is home to the imposing Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snow (free admission) and the Archaeological Museum of Ibiza – the latter is currently closed for renovations, but its sister site of Puig des Molins (admission: adults €2.40; children: free) houses many fascinating artefacts.
See ancient ruins at the Phoenician site of Sa Caleta (free admission). Here, remnants of the 600BC settlement can be seen, with ironworks, mills and potteries giving an insight into early industry. The Ibiza Museum of Contemporary Art (free admission) in Ibiza Town also features Phoenician relics, but it’s more renowned for its collection of local and international artwork.
Over in Santa Eulalia del Rio, hike up to the 16th-century Puig de Missa (free admission), a gleaming white church that stands proudly on a hill. It comes alive during local festivities, especially during Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Kids have a number of activities to enjoy in San Antonio, from zorbing at the Air Zone to go-karting at Ibiza Karting. If that’s not energetic enough, let them loose in the Sirenis Aquagames water park (admission: adults from €16, children from €12). A more leisurely activity is to hop on the tourist train from San Antonio, Portinatx or Santa Eulalia del Rio for trips around the local areas.
The secluded bays and translucent waters are perfect for snorkelling, but if you’re looking to go deeper, there are a number of operators offering diving trips for all abilities. Water sports are also available, with kayaking, jet-skiing, banana boat rides, waterskiing and parasailing all on offer.
If the flotillas of luxury yachts have you craving some time aboard, charter a boat (it can be surprisingly affordable when in a group) to explore places only accessible from the sea. A good value alternative is to board the local ferries that connect Ibiza Town to Santa Eulalia, Cala Llonga, Es Canar and Formentera.
Ibiza does beach dining like nowhere else. The previously humble chiringuito (beach restaurant) has been taken to a new level in recent years, with trendy eateries replacing simple shacks. Splash out at El Chiringuito on Es Cavallet Beach, with its decked area welcoming linen-clad ladies and their Rolex-wearing Romeos. Here, have an oyster shucked in front of your eyes by a roving waiter or try delicious sardines ‘a la plancha’ (grilled).
Luckily, for those who prefer rustic dining, many chiringuitos have stuck to simple and affordable fare. One such place is The Fish Shack, a jumble of portacabins and tables on the rocks at Talamanca. Don’t be put off by the portaloos – world-renowned DJs aren’t – as the food here is fresh, tasty and cheap enough to allow for a post-dinner café Caleta (liquor-infused coffee).
Affordable, family-friendly dining is available in many of the island’s restaurants, where the lunchtime menu del día option includes three courses for a reasonable price (usually €10-15). Alternatively, grab some jamón ibérico ham and manchego cheese at one of the bustling eateries clustered around Santa Gertrudis’ charming square.
For a special occasion, eat at a rural agroturismo (agrotourism hotel). Among the most romantic is Can Curreu, which has a 1,000-year-old olive tree (some claim it to be older) in its garden and serves the likes of sticky suckling pig and refreshing gazpacho. Alternatively, head into Dalt Vila where atmospheric eateries such as La Torreta and El Olivo hug the slender Plaza de Vila.
Self-caterers will find supermarkets in the major towns and farm shops selling local produce on the roadside. You’ll pay around €6 for a mid-range bottle of wine; just under €1 for 0.5L of beer; and around 50 cents for 1L of water (5L bottles are more popular here and cost less than €2). Milk is generally sold as long-life, and will set you back around €1.30 per litre. There is a great range of cheeses on offer, including manchego, which sells for around €10 per kilogram; while a 500g loaf of bread can be picked up for around €3.
Ibiza is known the world over for its nightlife, and rightly so. Superclubs such as Space line the district of Playa d’en Bossa near Ibiza Town, while other heavyweights Amnesia and Privilege can be found near San Rafael. San Antonio also has its fair share of more affordable bars and clubs, mainly concentrated in the West End. Along the waterfront are two of its biggest venues, Es Paradis and Eden; while Café del Mar continues to combine chill-out sounds with stunning views on the ‘sunset strip’.
In recent years, there’s been a move towards cabaret-style entertainment, with the likes of Lio in Botafoch, Ushüaia in Playa d’en Bossa and Nikki Beach in S’Argamassa each offering their own unique style, from Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats to dancers clad in 1950s attire.
For a relaxed night out, look for guitar-plucking maestro Paco Fernández, who regularly tours the island’s agroturismos (agrotourism hotels) and trendy beachside venues.
Trendy threads can be tracked down at the famous Las Dalias hippy market in San Carlos and in upscale boutiques hidden away in Ibiza Town’s narrow streets, such as Beautiful Creatures in Calle de la Virgen and reVOLVER in Calle Bisbe Azara.
Bars and clubs are also adding fashion to their repertoires – the exclusive KM5 between San Juan and Ibiza Town, for example, sells kaftans, tops and dresses from local designers Kurru Kurru and Charo Ruiz.
Hardcore clubbers can purchase clothing from their favourite hangout, whether bags featuring the iconic Pacha cherries or T-shirts emblazoned by the brazen F***k Me I’m Famous slogan. San Antonio has a good selection of these merchandise stores.
For unique gifts, the hippy market at Punta Arabi is the place to head on Wednesdays, while San Jordi’s sprawling flea market has all sorts of nick-nacks to wade through on Saturdays. For something a little different, Sluiz near Santa Gertrudis heightens the senses with its colourful furniture and original homeware.
The peak season is June to September when the mercury regularly hovers above 30°C, the Mediterranean Sea is bath-like, and the clubbing scene is in full swing.
If you’re not going for the clubbing – and many don’t – May and October are perfect months to explore Ibiza. Flights and accommodation are cheaper, the temperature is a pleasurable 25-30°C and the beaches are less crowded.
Winter temperatures settle at around 15°C, but it’s not uncommon to be in beachwear well into November or early in March.
If culture is your thing, visit at Easter when processions take place during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Or, for a perfect picture opportunity, head to Sant Agnes in February when the stunning white almond blossom is in full bloom against the red soil and the air is filled with a heady scent.
Close to the Ses Salines salt flats to the southwest of Ibiza Town, Ibiza Airport is the only commercial airport on the island. Direct flights from London Gatwick take 2 hours 25 minutes, while from Manchester the journey time is 2 hours 45 minutes.
Buses are available to Ibiza Town (bus L10), San Antonio (bus L9; June to September only) and Santa Eulalia del Rio (bus L24; June to September only) with fares ranging from €4 to €4.30, depending on the destination. The 15-minute metered taxi ride from the airport to Ibiza Town will set you back around €18; those travelling to San Antonio will pay approximately €30 for the 30-minute journey; while visitors to Santa Eulalia del Rio, 25 minutes away, can expect to pay about €33.