1. Scuba in Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria boasts incredible biodiversity, both above and below sea level, so take the plunge with a scuba dive to see an impressive variety of marine life. Get up close and personal with a manta ray or sea turtle, or lose yourself just gazing at the remarkable colours of fish and crustaceans found in abundance at sites like the El Cabrón Marine Reserve. If you’re feeling adventurous, tackle a submerged wreck at Puerto Mogan or the dramatic La Catedral cave dive at Las Palmas. You’ll be in good hands with experienced dive centres such as Davy Jones Diving or the Gran Canaria Dive Academy. What’s more, the island’s turquoise-hued waters couldn’t be more inviting, with a year-round temperature of 23 degrees C.
2. Ride sand dunes on camelback
Make like Lawrence of Arabia in Maspalomas, a glorious 8km-long white beach featuring colossal dunes that span half its length and extend a further 3.5km inland. Sure you can walk, horse ride or even quad bike these 404 hectares of rolling sand hills, but for something out of the ordinary, take a camel ride. The camels’ long legs mean there’s a different rhythm – it’s a slower pace than on horseback and strangely calming. Playing safari in this mini Sahara is hot work, so cool down with a sorbet in the shadow of the magnificent 56-feet-tall Maspalomas lighthouse. The promenade is the place to people watch at sunset, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch the beach’s resident sand artist hard at work crafting his next sculpture.
Opening Hours: Daily tours – organise directly with Camel Safari
Tickets: €35 per adult, €19 per child
Address: GC-60, Km. 14, 35108 Fataga, Las Palmas
3. Hike Caldera de Bandama
This Jurassic bowl-shaped crater evokes prehistoric times. At 1000 metres in diameter and 200 metres deep, this awesome crater was formed by an extremely powerful volcanic eruption an estimated 1,970 years ago. It looks formidable, but you can hike down into the crater comfortably in 30 minutes; allow double the time to get back up though. It goes without saying that you should wear sturdy boots and carry plenty of water. Walking the cinder path you’ll see lizards, cacti, eucalyptus and orange trees, while the view from the platform atop the crater extends over the entire north-east and central mountainous belt of the island. You can get food and drink at the nearby golf club, but as this is vineyard territory, you may want to enjoy the harvest of the Vino Del Monte with a well-earned glass of Rioja.
Opening Hours: 24 hours
Address: Santa Brigida, 35300 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria, Spain
4. Moonwalk at Roque Nublo
Bang in the centre of the island, this little and large rock pairing is well worth a visit. The relatively short hike up to this unmistakable landmark is hot work, so get hydrated with a fresh juice from the van in the car park. Standing 80 metres tall and 1,813 meters above sea level, the Roque Nublo isn’t actually the highest point on the island (that accolade goes to Pico de la Nieves), although with its exposed position rising out of the Caldera de Tejeda, it is certainly the most prominent. You can enjoy panoramic 360-degree views of the island from on top of the peak, but the quasi-lunar landscape itself is the real draw: it’s quite uncanny.
Opening Hours: 24 hours
Address: GC150, 35368, Gran Canaria
5. Go stargazing
Is there life on Mars? Thanks to the island’s position on the equator, low-level cloud phenomena that filter out light pollution and a law that regulates air traffic, Gran Canaria is one of the best places in Europe from which to see the stars. The unusually clear and bright skies allow for cracking views of constellations found in both northern and southern hemispheres. Vantage points such as Temisas Astronomic Observatory and Roque Saucillo Astronomy Centre offer informative night walks along with top-flight views of the stars. If you’re holidaying with your partner, a night spent staring at the heavens makes for a perfect romantic evening.
6. Surf like a Big Kahuna
The coastline of Pozo Izquierdo plays host to some seriously impressive surf. Sit on the sand and watch as the boards and sails cut and glide through the water, or if you want to have a go yourself, check in with the friendly staff of one many local surfing schools, who will make getting started a breeze. With a little practice you’ll be upright and cruising in no time. Be warned though, once you’ve successfully surfed your first swell, you’ll find the experience is addictive – so be sure to pack a few pairs of board shorts. As they say in surf speak, totally excellent, dude.
Address: Av. las Bajas, 73, 35119 Pozo Izquierdo, Las Palmas
7. Study ancient cave paintings
The Cueva Pintida Museum is built around an archeological excavation site that dates back to pre-Hispanic times. There’s an elevated walkway that allows you to look down into the extraordinary site, and effectively back in time, as far as the Paleolithic era. The cave paintings are also worth a look, as they provide a fascinating insight into the types of symbolism and iconography used by the indigenous aboriginal people long before European colonization. All visits to the museum are guided, so to avoid disappointment book an appointment in advance.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm daily, 11am-6pm Sundays, closed on Mondays
Tickets: €6 per adult, €4 per child
Address: Calle Audiencia, 2, 35460 Gáldar, Las Palmas
8. Follow in Christopher Columbus’s footsteps at Casa-Museo de Colón
Did Christopher Columbus stay here in 1492? Even if he didn’t, many of the first governors of the island did, and this impressive palace, a prime example of Canarian architecture, is a must-see. Intricate Gothic metalwork and ornate fountains set the scene outside, and inside the wow factor continues: explore the 13 exhibition rooms, library and study centre. Chart the epic voyages of the famous navigator, trace journeys across large nautical maps and step into a replica of the cabin of La Nina, one of the ships Columbus used in his voyage across to the West Indies.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm daily, 10am-3pm Sundays
Tickets: €4 per adult, €2 per child
Address: Calle Colón, 1, 35001 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas
9. Sup Arucas rum
Five centuries of sugar cane cultivation has given the Canaries a sweet tooth. It wasn’t long before this tendency led to the creation of rum, first sweetened with sugar cane honey and then bee’s honey. Nowadays, in Gran Canaria, Arucas rum is ubiquitous and is exported worldwide. A visit to the distillery, 15 minutes journey from the capital Las Palmas, is a very merry way to spend an afternoon. Every year, more than 3.5 million litres of rum are produced here; see the rum production process before sampling one of the many flavours, from banana and coffee to honey and toffee. And don’t miss the celebrity autographs on the casks.
Opening Hours: 9am-1pm, closed on the weekends
Tickets: €6 per person
Address: Lugar Era de San Pedro, 2, 35400 Arucas, Las Palmas
10. Experience the Gran Canaria Carnival
As you may have guessed from all that rum, the Gran Canarians love to party, and aren’t shy of a festival or two. By far the biggest event of the calendar year is the Carnival, an explosively colourful street parade held every February, in the spirit of the Rio Carnival or Sydney’s Mardi Gras. There is a whole week of events, including the Queen Gala and Drag Queen Gala, and of course the annual closing ritual, which involves the elaborate burying of a sardine. Grieving ‘widows’ dressed in black hoist a giant effigy of a sardine in a procession down to the shore, then load it onto a boat and burn it at sea. As you do.
Opening Hours: Usually the last week of February
Address: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
11. Have a grand day out in Palmitos Park
Palmitos is the biggest zoological park in the Canary Islands, with hundreds of ocean dwellers like dolphins, turtles, seals, reptiles, lories, toucans and pelicans calling it home. There’s a schedule of feeding times, shows and demonstrations every day, and for just €60, you can spend time with one of the dolphins in a hands on lesson about the species in the water. Aqualand is also 10 minutes away, if you’d prefer slides to seals.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm daily
Tickets: £26 per adult online, £19 per child
Address: Barranco de los Palmitos, s/n, 35109 Maspalomas, Las Palmas, Spain
12. Sip a cocktail on Playa de Las Canteras
If you came away for a beach holiday, plant yourself onto Playa de Las Canteras. This is where the crowds come to sunbathe, people watch and bodyboard to their hearts content. You’ll usually find sand sculptures hiding between the deckchairs, and there’s no better way to spend an evening that nursing a mojito on the promenade, watching the surfers come in.
Address: Paseo de las Canteras, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria
13. Get artsy at Museo Néstor
Néstor’s museum and art gallery makes a cool change to the hot weather and beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria. Marvel at Nestor’s earliest work, 1900’s Marina, which he finished when he was just 13 years old. The Canarian artist used to live in the San Francisco district of Teide, however, he passed away before he was able to catalogue his work properly. His brother went onto build Museo Néstor – a gem of a museum in Las Palmas.
Opening Hours: 10am-7pm daily, Sundays 10.30am-2.30pm
Tickets: 0.50 cents per person
Address: Calle Francisco González Díaz, s/n, 35005 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas
14. Relax in the Viera y Clavijo Botanical Garden
This garden was named after the scholar Jose Viera y Clavijo after he attempted to found the Canary’s first botanical garden in the eighteenth century, but failed. It was Erik Ragnar Svensson who found this spot, which is able to hold all of the Canary Islands different plant species. There are 600 unique plants in this garden – try to spot them all.
Opening Hours: 9am-6pm
Address: Ctra. del Centro, Km 7, 35017 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain
15. Chill out at Arguineguín
Stand-up paddle, surf or scuba in Arguineguín – this is the seaside town of the wave riders in Gran Canaria. Their local market takes place on a Tuesday, where you can buy local crafts, trinkets and snacks from the island. Learn how to do stand-up paddle boarding with Patalasup, and spend the rest of the afternoon in one of the bars or one of Canaria’s hookah lounges.
Address: Arguineguín, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
How to get to Gran Canaria
Fly direct to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria from Bristol, Bournemouth, Aberdeen, London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Exeter, Newcastle, Birmingham and Nottingham. Las Palmas is a large airport with connections to Maspalomas, Telde, and the largest city Las Palmas.
Where to stay on a city break in Gran Canaria
If you’re looking for a hostel:
Alcaravaneras is a hostel in the centre of Las Palmas, close to the bars and the beach.
If you’re looking for a hotel:
Want an affordable escape that feels first class? Roca Negra is in the hills, 30km from Las Palmas. The beach is only 5 minutes away on foot and you can easily reach Las Nieves from here too.
If you’re looking for luxury:
Playa del Inglés is a popular coastal resort on the south coast, with safe swimming beaches and plenty of hotels. Bohemia Suites is one of the few 5-star ones on Gran Canaria’s coast, and it’s adults only.
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