Gran Canaria is famous for its long sandy beaches in the south of the island, and most people never get far from their all-inclusive resort. Yet in the north, Las Palmas, is well worth a day trip, or a few night’s stay, and it has its own beaches right in the centre of the city.
The charming cobbled streets of the historical quarter of Vegueta are lined with traditional Spanish architecture, ranging from late Gothic to Renaissance. At its heart is the Cathedral of Santa Ana, the first church in the Canaries, dating from 1500. Climb to the top of the tower for an extensive view over the city.
Just around the corner is the Ermita de San Antonio Abad, where Christopher Columbus prayed before he set off to discover America
Behind the cathedral is the Casa de Colón, where Columbus was received by the governor when he arrived here in 1492 on his way to America. It’s now a museum dedicated to his life and travels and contains models of his fleet. Nearby is the Museo Canario, dedicated to pre-colonial history featuring the Guanches, the indigenous people of Gran Canaria.
Vegueta is the place where locals go to eat tapas, particularly at the many bars and restaurants around Mendizábal Street. Stroll through the area, taking a glass of wine and a tapas or two, at different locations.
In the north of the City, the Mercado del Puerto, by the beach, has an excellent mix of tapas bars and stalls all in one place.
There’s not just one but five beaches in the city so you can take your pick. Las Canteras has over three miles of golden sand on the western side of the city. El Confital, to the north, is wilder and rugged, famous for surfing.
On the other side is Las Alcaravaneras, in front of the port, ideal for sunbathing and sports. To the south are La Laja and San Cristobal, both much quieter.
Walk from La Puntilla, in the north of Las Canteras, to La Isleta Peninsula, now a protected wild landscape, with most of it still occupied by the military.
After a dip in the sea at El Confital, take a trail upwards to the tiny village of Las Colorados, nestling below the highest mountain in Las Palmas. A couple of restaurants here offer good local food and great views of the city.
Triana is the city’s main pedestrianised shopping area, part of the historic centre, home to exclusive boutiques. Around Avenida José Mesa y López you’ll find the El Corte Inglés department store and other large stores. At the southern end of Las Canteras Beach is a Las Arenas, a large shopping mall. For outlets go to the Las Terrazas shopping centre, on the outskirts.
Take a bus to the Jardín Botánico Viera y Clavijo on the outskirts of the city. This is Spain’s largest botanical garden, covering 27 acres, and protects the 500 unique plants that make the Canary Islands one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. See their collection of exotic palms, over 2000 cactus and many dragon trees.
Caldera de Bandama
Just twenty minutes’ drive from the city is an extinct volcanic crater, the Caldera de Bandama, the site of the last eruption on the island over 2000 years ago. It’s 200m deep and 1000m wide. Visit at dawn when the caldera is full of mist and lava is glowing. The steep caldera walls lead down to a concave floor of multi-coloured volcanic ash, overgrown with palms, orange and fig tree.
North of the city, in Arucas, rum has been produced from locally grown sugar cane for over a hundred years. Guided tours of the Arehucas Distillery last 45 minutes and include a visit to the mill, fermentation and distillation rooms, the ageing cellar and of course a tasting of rums and liqueurs.
The island is home to nearly forty different grape varieties, with 24 of them only found here. The Gran Canaria Wine Route features ten wineries as well as restaurants and hotels. Within reach of the city are Hoyas de Bandama, near the crater, and the smaller Señorío de Cabrera in Barranco de García Ruíz. Both offer tastings with a selection of local tapas.
The Stansted Express is the fastest way to the airport from central London.
STAY: The Lumm Hotel is near Alcaravaneras Beach, rooms from £85.
Occidental Las Palmas is handy for the historical quarter, rooms from £83.
Hotel Santa Catalina built in 1890, oozes class from, rooms from £166.
EAT: Piscos & Buches offers gourmet tapas in Mercado del Puerto.
INFO: GranCanaria has tourist information.