The third largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Gran Canaria offers a stunning patchwork of sweeping sand dunes, volcanic hills and lush plantations, dotted with a mix of pretty, traditional villages and lively, modern resorts.
Situated between Tenerife and Fuerteventura in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa, there’s no doubt the island’s beaches are the main reasons that visitors flock here – and the climate makes it a year-round favourite.
Families are kept busy with an array of theme and water parks, but there’s plenty for those who want to get away from it all too, whether it’s on a jeep safari through the pine forests or riding horses or camels across the dunes. Hotel accommodation suits all budgets; plenty of tour operators offer low-cost packages but there’s a good choice of upmarket properties too if you want to splash out.
Getting there/getting around Gran Canaria
There are dozens of charter flights to Gran Canaria from the UK. Most visitors come on package holidays, which include flights. There are scheduled flight connections with the other Canary Islands and ferries or hydrofoils to Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.
Once there, you can explore by taking day trips from your resort (they’re easily arranged through hotels or local operators). If you want to see a bit more, hiring a car’s a great option – the landscape is varied and there’s a lot to see which is easiest if you have your own transport.
Gran Canaria beaches
Gran Canaria has no shortage of fantastic beaches. Playa del Ingles is one of the best known and most crowded; it’s a lively three kilometre-long beach with lots of water sports hotels, plenty of bars and restaurants.
Next door is Maspalomas, perhaps the most beautiful of all. Backed by Sahara-like sand dunes, the fine white sand stretches for around six kilometres. For something quieter try San Agustin.
In the north, Playa de las Canteras has a bustling promenade and a natural reef shelters the bay, while to the south conditions are perfect for surfers. Playa de las Alcaravaneras in the north-east is a one kilometre stretch of golden sand, where you’ll spot plenty of glamorous yachts, while Puerto Rico, a crescent-shaped beach, with everything from marina to water park, is a family favourite.
Gran Canaria sightseeing
For sightseeing, the capital Las Palmas is the place to go. The Cathedral de Santa Ana dominates Santa Ana square, while the Barrio de la Vegueta is a fascinating old quarter of town, with colonial style buildings and the excellent Modern Art Centre.
The Canarian Museum is a must, detailing the history of the island. Other highlights include the Museum of Arts and the Museum Perez Galdos. Outside of town the Canarian Garden is a wonderful place to relax, with a huge variety of plants.
Family attractions in Gran Canaria
Besides the beaches, Gran Canaria has a multitude of attractions for children. A family favourite is Aquasur near Maspalomas, a massive water park with over 33 slides. Then there’s Ocean Park, a smaller version nearby, as well as Puerto Rico’s Aqua Park.
More fun awaits at the Holiday World leisure and amusement park in Maspalomas, with its funfair, complete with giant Ferris wheel, spa and bowling alley.
A variety of theme parks promise hours of fun, from Sioux City, based on the Wild West, to Mundo Aborigen, a recreation of an ancient Canary village. For something different again, Palmitos Park is an exotic, verdant paradise, with 200 species of birds. There are birds of prey and parrot shows and the biggest butterfly house in Europe.
Day trips around Gran Canaria
There’s so much to explore in Gran Canaria. A boat trip around the coast makes a great day out, stopping to swim at secluded spots on the way. On a jeep safari you’ll discover the varied landscape with lush valleys and soaring mountain peaks.
Away from the tourist crowds there are tiny, unspoilt villages to explore like Fataga and Aguimes or San Bartolome de Tirajana, hidden away inside a volcanic crater.
Around Tejeda the landscape is stunning, with the mountains Roque Nublo and Bentayga soaring into the sky. Or check out Teror, a village nearly 600 metres above sea level, surrounded by wonderful mountain ranges. At Agaete, on the coast, plantations of exotic fruits fill a deep canyon and you can bathe weary limbs at the thermal springs nearby.
Eating out in Gran Canaria
You can feast on fantastic Spanish cuisine in Gran Canaria – there’s fresh seafood and fish on every menu, and delicious tapas snacks like Serrano ham and local cheese. Fried fish with potatoes cooked in their skins is a local specialty, along with rice fried with vegetables – all washed down with Sangria.
If, however, you want to dine on more familiar fare, you’ll find everything from pizza to burgers and British fry-ups at restaurants and cafes in the resorts.
Nightlife in Gran Canaria
If you’re looking to party, you won’t be disappointed on Gran Canaria. One of the liveliest places after dark is Playa del Ingles with a nightlife that will keep you up all night. There’s something for all tastes, whether it’s a glitzy club or a full-on rave.
Playa de las Canteras and Puerto Rico are other hotspots for party animals too. For something more relaxed head to Playa Meloneras or Puerto de Mogan, and chill out at a waterfront restaurant.
Shopping in Gran Canaria
In all the major resorts you’ll find plenty of shops selling tourist souvenirs, from local pottery to jewellery, along with beach clothes and sunhats. Playa del Ingles has some big shops too, but for serious shopping nowhere beats Las Palmas. You can snap up High Street brands like Mango and Zara for a fraction of the price back home, and there’s everything from designer boutiques to vast department stores.
You’ll also find markets selling handmade ceramic, lace and local confectionary – great gifts to take back home. Take time to visit some villages and check out the traditional shops for a real taste of Gran Canaria.