Gran Canaria Holiday Planning Guide
Often described as a "continent in miniature" because of its wildly varied landscapes and climates, Grand Canaria remains best known for its long coastline where tourism thrives at modern resorts. The island is also ideal for sightseeing by bike or on foot. A wide range of trails, from easy to challenging, link the island’s picturesque coastline and the quieter inland areas, dotted by green ravines and sleepy villages. Savvy travelers spend part of their Gran Canaria holiday exploring the island’s ancient but well-preserved cave dwellings, many of which now serve as small, cozy restaurants offering a variety of local delicacies unlikely to be found on the menu of any big-city eatery.
Places to Visit on Gran CanariaLas Palmas de Gran Canaria
: The largest city of the Canary Islands, this popular vacation destination once served as one of Christopher Columbus' resting points and today draws visitors by combining traditional island culture with all the modern amenities of a major metropolis.Maspalomas
: Affectionately called "El Sur" by the local population, this hub of entertainment and beach activity remains one of the most popular places to visit on Gran Canaria, featuring a town center filled with designer stores and trendy eateries.Playa del Ingles
: Spain's largest vacation complex, Playa del Ingles boasts what many returning tourists consider one of Europe's finest beaches, ideal for swimming or basking on the warm sand just minutes from a wide selection of modern cafes, bars, and restaurants.Puerto Rico
: A specially constructed vacation resort situated on Gran Canaria's southwestern coastline, Puerto Rico lures pleasure seekers with its sandy beach and two protected harbors.Agaete
: This leafy town on the island's northwestern coastline provides an ideal spot for leisurely Gran Canaria sightseeing, featuring a picturesque main street lined by typical island architecture and dotted by green areas sheltering both native and exotic plants.San Agustin
: The location of one of the island's quieter beaches, this vacation resort remains best known for its scenic hiking trails, ranging from easy to challenging and providing access to the island's national parks and nature reserves.Tejeda
: Nestled in the mountainous central part of Gran Canaria, this small village sits just 23 km (14 mi) from the island capital and 6 km (4 mi) from Pico de las Nieves, the island's tallest peak.Telde
: The island's second-largest city, Telde boasts a rich history spanning over seven centuries and serves as an ideal base for day trips to nearby archeological sites, counted among the most popular Gran Canaria tourist attractions.
Things to Do on Gran Canaria
Popular Gran Canaria Tourist AttractionsPalmitos Park
: A favorite with both locals and visitors, this Gran Canaria attraction shelters over 160 different cactus types, nearly 1,000 palm trees, and approximately 1,500 exotic birds--plus Europe's largest butterfly house.Playa de Maspalomas
: A great spot for water sports or relaxing with a cold drink, this beach serves as one of the island's well-known nudist destinations, as well a place where you can enjoy a camel ride over the sand dunes.Playa de Las Canteras
: Warm sands and extremely calm waters broken up by a nearby reef make this popular beach a favorite destination for inexperienced swimmers and families with small children.Aqualand Maspalomas
: One of a chain of popular water parks, this kid-friendly destination offers wave pools and water slides as well as a chance to swim with sea lions.Yumbo Centrum
: Shopaholics will want to include Yumbo Centrum in their Gran Canaria itinerary; the lively shopping center includes souvenir stores and restaurants serving food from all over the globe, and frequently hosts events and festivities.Playa de Amadores
: This horseshoe-shaped beach represents one of the island's calmest swimming spots, located in an area loaded with bars, restaurants, and beach-gear shops.El Faro de Maspalomas
: Built in the final decade of the 19th century, this historical lighthouse once guided ships from Africa and the Americas and today serves as one of the island's iconic structures.
Aqualand: Rapids, whirlpools, lazy rivers, and a range of water slides suitable for all ages make this water park a hugely popular stop on Gran Canaria holidays.Holiday World Maspalomas
: The hub of family entertainment on Gran Canaria, this center boasts a 16-lane bowling alley, 4D movie theater, dozens of carnival rides, and a 26 m (85 ft) Ferris wheel with views of the coastline.Sioux City Park
: One of the island's surprising attractions, this Wild West-themed amusement park once served as a film set and now hosts regular interactive shows, like cattle parades and cowboy stunts.
Planning a Gran Canaria Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on Gran Canaria with Kids
Though it features more than its fair share of purpose-built holiday resorts offering practically every modern amenity under the sun, Gran Canaria also boasts picturesque natural areas ideal for hiking, cycling, and water sports at a more leisurely and kid-friendly pace. Perhaps the best starting point for your family's Gran Canaria vacation is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
, the island's cosmopolitan capital city. While there, you can split your time between the city's fine beaches and outstanding museums, great places for learning about the island's culture and artistic heritage. You'll find one of the island's longest beaches in Playa del Ingles
, but if you wish to enjoy oceanside activities in a less hectic setting, head to Mogan
, a quieter version of Gran Canaria's most popular destinations. Puerto Rico
offers plenty of opportunities for dolphin-spotting adventures, while San Agustin
provides easy access to the island's natural reserves, ideal for walking and bird watching.
Things to Do on Gran Canaria with Kids
A paradise for cyclists and hikers, Gran Canaria draws active vacationers from around the world. The island is also a kid-friendly wonderland filled with entertaining attractions guaranteed to keep your family entertained for the duration of your trip. For classic amusement park fun, head to Holiday World Maspalomas
, one of the most popular family-oriented places to visit in Gran Canaria. A compelling stop for both toddlers and teens, Casa de Colón
documents the voyages of Christopher Columbus and features a model galleon on the ground floor. If you prefer more hands-on museum experiences, visit Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia
, filled with interactive science exhibits and featuring a greenhouse, planetarium, and 3D movie theater. Families visiting Gran Canaria purely for the pleasure of the island's famed beaches can choose from dozens of sandy seaside spots suitable for young or inexperienced swimmers. Some of the island's best beaches for kids include Playa de Las Canteras
and Anfi Beach
Tips for a Family Vacation on Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria boasts plenty of modern resorts offering outstanding accommodations, which means that you'll have little trouble locating comfortable lodgings perfectly suited to your family's needs. If you wish to escape big, noisy crowds thronging the island's popular southern coastline, think about staying farther away from the area. The island's smaller towns and quaint villages on the less-spoiled eastern coast provide a good base for day trips your family can enjoy on foot or by bicycle. Keep the kids amused by adding both outdoor activities and indoor attractions to your Gran Canaria itinerary. Museums not only provide some much-needed shade from the hot Canarian sun, but also offer your family an ideal chance to discover the island's rich history and culture. Don't miss the opportunity to explore idyllic natural areas, and ready your family for a memorable outdoor adventure by bringing suitable protection from the sun, including hats and plenty of sunscreen.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on Gran Canaria
Cuisine of Gran Canaria
Traditional Gran Canarian cuisine blends elements of Spanish with both African and Latin-American gastronomic influences. Most popular local dishes include vegetables and fish, with fresh meat usually featured in preparation of hearty stews. You don't have to go farther than Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
for outstanding seafood restaurants, though many smaller towns also offer excellent dining options. Look for "papas arrugadas" (wrinkly potatoes), one of the most popular specialties on this and other Canary islands. Mojo sauce, made with peppers and various spices, accompanies a range of dishes, with many locals also using it as a simple and delicious bread dip. Perhaps the best place to learn about Canarian cuisine is at one of the island's many markets, offering fresh and inexpensive produce, local cheeses, and honey. To try some tasty tapas during your Gran Canaria trip, drop by Mercado del Puerto
, in operation since the 1890s. Don't forget to taste some local wines, or visit Arehucas Rum Distillery
to sample and purchase some honey rum, an intense spirit usually drunk with a little ice.
Shopping on Gran Canaria
Few visitors to Gran Canaria miss stopping at Yumbo Centrum
, a huge shopping mall selling everything from clothing and perfumes to electronics and books. If you prefer to combine window-shopping with cultural sightseeing in Gran Canaria, head to the capital city's Calle Triana
, a pedestrian-only street filled with high-end shops situated inside Colonial and Modernist buildings. Street markets provide tourists with a chance to look for authentic local souvenirs while soaking up some island atmosphere. You'll find one of the island's largest markets in Arguineguin
, a small town miraculously managing to escape the worst aspects of mass tourism. Local Malvasia wines make outstanding souvenirs and gifts for folks back home. To pick up a bottle or two and learn about traditional winemaking methods, include places like Bodega Las Tirajanas
on your Gran Canaria itinerary.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Gran Canaria
History of Gran Canaria
Though modern historians know virtually nothing about Gran Canaria's earliest period, most experts now agree the island's original inhabitants were the Canarii (a.k.a. Guanches), primitive cave dwellers who probably migrated from North Africa. These people arrived in the 5th century BCE and named the island Tamaran, the Land of the Brave. One of the best places to learn about Gran Canaria's pre-Hispanic past is Museo y Parque Arqueológico Cueva Pintada
, featuring six caves once inhabited by the island's original residents.
Practically no written record remains about the island from the arrival of the Canarii until the 14th century. Like its neighbor Tenerife, Gran Canaria apparently remained largely isolated from the outside world for nearly a millennium. Early attempts at conquest came in the 15th century, when both the French and Portuguese tried to take over the island. Gran Canaria finally fell to the Spanish in 1483, after a five-year campaign supported by Queen Isabella I. The island then became a key player in Spain's territorial expansion across the Atlantic Ocean, with Christopher Columbus famously anchoring at Las Palmas in 1492. The explorer used this port to repair his ship before continuing onward on his first journey to the Americas. Add Casa de Colón
to your Gran Canaria itinerary to discover the details behind Columbus' brief stay on the island.
From the 16th century on both Tenerife and Gran Canaria attracted a growing number of settlers from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France. The port of Las Palmas grew in importance during this time, with sugar cane eventually becoming the archipelago's main export.
A deep rivalry developed between Tenerife and Gran Canaria over the next two centuries, with both islands attempting to establish supremacy over the rest of the archipelago. In 1821, the Canaries became a province of Spain, and Santa Cruz de Tenerife its new capital. Outraged, Gran Canarians demanded the creation of two separate provinces, a wish the Spanish administrators did not grant until 1927. Today, Las Palmas serves as one of the archipelago's two capitals, its tourist attractions ranked among the most popular places to see on Gran Canaria. Be sure to visit a few of the capital's major landmarks, including Teatro Perez Galdos
and Catedral de Santa Ana
Landscape of Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria's diverse geography draws over two million annual visitors, with many coming expressly for the island's hiking trails. In addition to lengthy beaches and white-sand dunes, the island also features green ravines, gentle hills, and rugged mountains. Nearly a third of the island's territory remains protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Out of 33 outstanding natural areas on Gran Canaria, one of the most stunning is Pinar de Tamadaba
, a dense pine forest sheltering a range of endemic bird and mammal species. To experience some of the best an active Gran Canaria vacation has to offer, put on your hiking boots and head to Roque Nublo
, a massive monolith created by a volcanic eruption eons ago. Hikers shouldn't miss Caldera de Taburiente National Park
either--over a dozen trails crisscross this natural area, which resembles a huge meteor crater and features pine forests and the endangered local juniper.
Holidays & Festivals on Gran Canaria
In addition to the public holidays it shares with the rest of Spain, Gran Canaria also celebrates its own local festivals. Plan your trip with these regional events in mind for an ideal opportunity to meet the locals and learn about their cuisine and religious traditions. One of Gran Canaria's major annual celebrations is the colorful Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
. Though it takes place in February, the island's pleasant climate at this time of the year makes participating in the fiesta one of the most popular things to do on Gran Canaria. Semana Santa (the week before Easter) brings solemn religious processions to most of the island's towns and villages. In July, cities like Puerto de Mogan
celebrate the feast of Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of the island's fishermen. In August, Agaete
hosts a traditional festival evolved from the native Guanche tribe's rain dances. September draws visitors to Teror
, a small town holding one of the island's biggest religious holidays, a weeklong celebration in honor of Virgen del Pino, the patron saint of Gran Canaria.
Gran Canaria Travel Tips
Climate of Gran Canaria
Despite its variety of slightly different microclimates, Gran Canaria as a whole enjoys pleasant subtropical weather for most of the year. Average daytime temperatures range from approximately 20 C (68 F) in the winter to 26 C (79 F) in the summertime. As expected, coastal areas feature warmer and sunnier weather, while inland regions occasionally experience frost or snow during the colder months. If you time your Gran Canaria vacation for July, August, or September, anticipate lots of sunshine and practically no rain. This is, however, the busiest season for tourism, with crowds arriving from both the Spanish mainland and colder northern European countries. Plan your trip for spring if want to avoid the throngs of tourists: the weather is pleasantly warm in these months and the island's plant life bursts into bloom.
Transportation on Gran Canaria
Featuring a network of well-maintained roads encircling the entire island and even extending into the rugged mountain areas, Gran Canaria remains an easy-to-explore destination suitable for both backpackers and families with young children. You can get practically anywhere on the island using the reliable and economical public buses, with Las Palmas and Maspalomas serving as main hubs. While many tourists choose to enjoy their Gran Canaria tour on bicycle, you can also journey by private car. Look for car rental agencies at the airport and throughout the island's capital city. If you want to spend part of your vacation visiting other islands in the archipelago, take advantage of the inter-island ferries operating out of two passenger ports on Gran Canaria. In Las Palmas you can catch a boat to Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and La Palma. Regular ferries from Puerto de Las Nieves provide another option for traveling to the neighboring Tenerife.