The Ferrocarril de Sóller - often referred to in travel guides as the “Red Lightning” - is one of Mallorca’s most popular attractions. The historic narrow-gauge train - which was originally used for the transportation of citrus fruits - connects the island’s capital, Palma de Mallorca, with the cosy and idyllic town of Sóller in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. From there, travellers can continue their journey to Port de Sóller using the historic tram.
The fact that the train is referred to in Mallorca travel guides as “the Red Lightning” is curious in more ways than one: its carriages are not red, and the speed at which the narrow-gauge locomotive travels is also far short of anything that could be described as “lightning-quick”. Nevertheless, the approximately one-hour trip with the dapper old wooden train promises to be a nostalgic travel experience. Besides, it’s actually a good thing that the locomotive travels at more of a leisurely pace, as it allows you to enjoy the 28-kilometre journey through Mallorca’s picturesque countryside to the fullest.
The train runs from Palma to Sóller. There are two stops along the way: one in Bunyola, where the Red Lightning pauses after around 25 minutes to allow passengers to get on and off, and a little later at the Mirador Pujol d'en Banya viewing platform, where travellers can take in a fantastic view of the valley that is home to their destination.
Early arrivals at the covered train platform in Palma de Mallorca will have the opportunity to witness a routine that has been repeated daily for more than a century: the coupling of the engine to the rest of the train, accompanied by bugle blasts from the guards and whistles from the old locomotive. This ostensibly unspectactular procedure is a wonderful mood-setter for your journey with the historic train which has been maintained so attentively over the decades that it still looks the same today as it did when embarking on its maiden voyage.
To steps will lead you up into your carriage, where the walls and ceiling are clad in varnished mahogany. Gold-plated Art Deco lamps and the pictures by Spanish-Catalan painter Joan Miró that hang at either end of the carriage only serve to emphasise the artistic, nostalgic ambience that permeates the entire train. From there, all that’s left for you to do is to sit yourself on a brown leather chair or bench and look forward to the spectacular views that await you through the lattice windows over the course of the next 60 minutes.
Over the course of its journey, the train - which was electrified in 1929 - will climb around 200 metres and cross several bridges, pass through 13 tunnels, traverse a viaduct and conquer many a tight bend. The Red Lightning stays on the Mallorcan flatlands until Bunyola, when it begins to ascend and cross the majestic mountains that lead to its destination. The journey offers a perfect demonstration of the diversity of the island’s landscape. One of the highlights is the ten-minute stop on the side of the Pujol d'en Banya mountain. Here, travellers can step out of the train for a moment and marvel at the open landscape in all its splendour - as well as taking pictures, of course.
With one final whistle, the train announces its arrival at Sóller’s fascinating Art Deco station. But what to do next? There are plenty of options! You could stay a while in Sóller and explore its attractive streets before taking the narrow-gauge train back to Palma de Mallorca later in the day. Alternatively, you could change to the historic tram in the station square and continue your journey to the harbour town of Port de Sóller. The tram runs either once an hour or every 30 minutes, depending on the season. Tickets are available on board the tram itself. A one-way ticket costs 7 euros.
The Red Lightning runs between Palma de Mallorca and Sóller. You can get on and off at both stations, as well as at Bunyola, about midway between the two. Depending on how many tourists are around, there are usually between between four and six departures per day each from Palma and Sóller.
These are the current prices (as of April 2022) for a trip on the train:
Palma - Sóller
Palma - Bunyola
Combi-ticket including tram ride to Port de Sóller (return)
Our tip: If you want a return for both the main stretch and to the harbour town of Port de Sóller and back, a combi-ticket will save you a few euros.
The Tren de Sóller embarked on its maiden voyage in 1912 (the tram to Port de Sóller was built just one year later, in 1913). The train was drawn by a steam engine until 1929, when electricity took over. While it is now one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions, it was originally built to make the transportation of goods from Sóller to Palma de Mallorca easier and faster. Prior to the construction of the railway, traders had to rely on slow donkey carts and boats for their deliveries. The train, which trundles through the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, made the journey shorter and saved a lot of time. Since it was mainly used to transport oranges, the Red Lightning is also known affectionately as the Orange Express.
Incidentally, the fertile soils of the Sóller valley are still dominated to this day by lush orange plantations.
The historical railway experience offered by the Red Lightning is more than worth it for any visitor to Mallorca. Take a seat on a leather chair or bench, soak in the old-time ambience, and watch the fields, mountains and beaches of the diverse Mallorcan countryside trundle past your window.