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July 23, 2019
By Katie McGonagle
Gran Canaria is a small island with big ambitions. It’s often called a mini-continent thanks to its weather – with five micro-climates, it’s almost guaranteed that if it’s raining in one area, the rest of the island will be basking in blue skies – but it has more than just sun and sand going for it.
This is the island that launched Christopher Columbus on his voyage to the Americas, and it’s also home to one of the biggest cities in Spain. Its hotels cater equally to families, couples and the LGBT market, with options to suit all budgets.
If you’re stuck for ideas on what to do once you’ve had your fill of kicking back on the beach, here are ten ways to liven up a trip to Gran Canaria.
Las Palmas is the capital of Gran Canaria and one of the largest cities in Spain – mainland or islands – so no visit would be complete without exploring it in depth.
Skip the less attractive sides of this port city with a Segway tour along the marina, where you can look out across yachts in the harbour and dodge locals out for a seaside stroll as you master the art of not falling off. Segway LPA is one of the companies offering such tours, starting at €45 for an hour.
Set in the south of the island, within easy reach of many hotel hotspots, the Maspalomas dunes feel more like the middle of the Arabian desert – though since Morocco lies less than 400 miles away, that’s not surprising.
These natural dunes have been a protected nature reserve for more than a century, with migratory birds often spotted, and you’ll find a pretty seafront walking route towards the famous Maspalomas lighthouse.
If you fancy giving your thighs more of a workout, try racing up the softer sand dunes and setting up for a picnic. There’s a nudist beach nearby, however, so families should check with hotel staff or local tourist offices to make sure they don’t stray too far!
Like its fellow Canary Islands, Gran Canaria owes its dramatic landscapes to volcanic activity, and nowhere is that clearer than the Caldera de Bandama. This volcanic crater is about 3,300 feet wide and more than 650 feet deep, reaching highs of nearly 1,900 feet above sea level at the highest point along its rim, the Pico de Bandama.
The easiest way to reach it is by renting a car and driving about 20 minutes inland from Las Palmas, stopping at a viewpoint or parking up to tackle the walking route to the base. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes, though, as it’s steep and there are areas of loose gravel.
If you order a drink at Atelier Lounge & Cocktails, get ready to face a dilemma. When it arrives, looking more like a work of art than a simple booze-and-fruit juice combo, you’ll have to fight the urge to get stuck in at least long enough to take the obligatory Instagram photo.
The artful options range from an Asian Mary – a wasabi-infused take on the classic tomato cocktail – to elegant and aromatic Martinis and fruity rum-based concoctions.
Sip them while enjoying views across the neon-lit resort of Playa del Ingles – the bar is on the eighth floor of the super-chic hotel Bohemia Suites & Spa, so it has the best vantage point – and see if you can get a peek at the 360-degree views from the hotel restaurant on the same floor.
Las Palmas is home to many a pretty plaza, where outdoor cafes and bars buzz from mid-morning until late at night as diners take their time over a late lunch or an early evening glass of vino.
The Old Town, Vegueta, is the most rewarding spot for a stroll with its pretty streets and historic buildings, but it’s also home to eight bronze statues of dogs guarding the Catedral de Santa Ana, a reference to the island’s name which is derived from the Latin word for ‘dog’.
Just a few minutes away is another much-photographed animal icon: the Plaza de las Ranas, which earned its nickname from the two frog-shaped water fountains which sit facing each other in the heart of square.
Gran Canaria was the launching post for Christopher Columbus’s eventful voyage to the Americas in 1492, and the Casa de Colón – which means ‘House of Columbus’, though it was actually the governor’s residence and just a temporary home for the explorer before his journey – pays homage to that expedition.
The museum is pretty, set around a courtyard and with a model ship, antique globes and even two resident parrots to entertain kids, but enthusiasts will find the historic maps charting the progress of transatlantic travel most engaging. Entry is €4 or €2 for concessions.
A town called Teror might not sound like a tourist magnet, but this inland spot is just about the prettiest place on the island. Best reached by hire car from Las Palmas – about a half-hour drive inland – it’s a popular pilgrimage spot for islanders thanks to its basilica, but it has plenty to offer tourists too.
The wooden balconies adorning almost every one of its pastel-hued buildings are charming enough, but the Sunday market also boasts stalls selling food and souvenirs, plus live music that the locals love dancing along to.
If all those moves make you peckish, El Encuentro restaurant does Canarian cuisine for a very reasonable price.
Most visitors to Gran Canaria stay somewhere on the south coast, home to most of the island’s hotels and its best beaches. But to get a new perspective on this hotspot, take a helicopter ride with iHoppers. They offer a host of flights starting at just 10 minutes (from €98 per person).
It’s not just about spotting your hotel and favourite beach bar from the air; the real joy is in watching the landscape transform from golden sand to rugged valleys and dry, sweeping scenes which feel a world away from the coast.
No visit to Spain would be complete without at least one tapas lunch along the way, and the best place to tick that box is Mercado del Puerto in Las Palmas.
This historic building dates from 1891 and is famed for its ironwork, but these days it’s just as well known for its array of stalls selling strong Canarian cheeses, cured meats of every kind, and other light bites, all nicely washed down with a cold beer.
The nightlife in Gran Canaria is famous, but it’s not just confined to bars and clubs; with their dark, clear skies, the Canary Islands are known as a haven for stargazing.
The best views of the night sky can be found away from well-lit tourist spots at the island’s highest points, such as the San Antonio volcano or the observatory at Roque Saucillo. Astroeduca offers educational tours to guide visitors through the constellations, with options for family tours and discounts for under-12s.
All flights go into Las Palmas, the capital city on the northeast of the island, and there are direct services from Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Doncaster, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Newcastle, with a host of low-cost, charter and scheduled airlines.
Buses are known as ‘guaguas’ in Gran Canaria, and are fairly regular and reliable for straightforward trips from the airport to the tourist resorts. They don’t run overnight, however, so if you’re arriving or departing between about midnight and 7am, you’ll need to make other arrangements.
If you’re planning to venture inland, it’s easier to hire a car, as bus services are less frequent once you get off the beaten track.
Try tapas and the local speciality of papas arrugadas, or ‘wrinkly potatoes’, as well as some of the local Canarian wines.
Local beer: €1.25
Three-course meal for two: €35
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