Gran Canaria holidays

Experience Gran Canaria

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

For a relatively small island, Gran Canaria has an impressive list of things to do while on holiday, provided visitors can tear themselves away from the stunning beaches and their water sports. The buzzing tourist resorts all have charms of their own and the natural beauty of the island and its unique ecosystems have led to much of the land being designated as a protected bio-reserve by UNESCO. The island has a high biological diversity and over half of the animal species found on Gran Canaria are native to the Canary Islands, making the island an important site for conservation and a brilliant destination for fans of nature. The Botanical Garden Viera y Clavijo is around 7km south-west of Las Palmas and is home to approximately 500 of plant species that are endemic to the Canary Islands. Amongst the plants and flora found in the garden's vast 27 acres, visitors can explore the ornamental gardens, waterfall, pine forest, cactus garden and herbarium.

Given its long history, it's no surprise that Las Palmas, the island's capital, has some impressive landmarks, interesting museums, a stunning cathedral and picturesque old quarter. There's also Playa de las Canteras, the 2.5-mile beach that is the city's symbol. Everything from surfing to sunbathing keeps visitors busy during the day, and the nightlife around Parque Santa Catalina keeps going until late.

Aguimes Old Town is a picturesque reminder of earlier times on the island, with pretty painted houses set in well-preserved medieval streets and a fine neoclassical basilica in the main square. The town is famous for its International Theatre Festival du Sur, which attracts companies from Europe, Africa and the Americas.

For a day out having fun, Gran Canaria offers a selection of theme parks and water parks which are perfect for family visits. Maspalomas holds most of the attractions, including Aqualand, Holiday World, Aqua Sur, Sioux City and Palmitos Park, and San Nicolas de Tolentino is home to Cactualdea Park. Crocodile Park in Aguimes is an all-time favourite.

Playa des Ingles is another popular visitor destination, with July and August given over to the 18-30s set arriving for the vibrant nightlife. The huge resort boasts a casino complete with Las Vegas-style entertainment as well as a great choice of dance clubs, pubs, bars and eateries. For upscale delights, Meloneras district is the place to go.

Top Landmarks

One of the most visited natural wonders on the island is the nature reserve of the Dunes of Maspalomas, raised over hundreds of years with sand blown from the Sahara Desert. This mini-desert is fronted by the ocean and its peaks and troughs change daily with the wind.

Gran Canaria's volcanic scenery tells of the island's fiery formation, with remnants in the form of the vast calderas of Tirajana and Tejeda, Bandama's crater and volcanic cones, and other hot spots scattered across the landscape.

The incredible geological diversity of Gran Canaria is now preserved and protected as a UNESCO bio reserve covering over 40 per cent of the island and is its most famous feature. Six traditional rural communities live within its borders, and the reserve extends far out into the ocean, protecting the delicate marine life.

El Museo Canaria is the island's fascinating museum, displaying a fine collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts dating between 500 BC and the 16th century. Set in an attractive old building, the museum was founded in 1879 to preserve the indigenous culture of the island. Highlights include images of pagan gods, jewellery, tools, pottery, skulls and skeletons, and mummies related to the Guanche peoples, the aboriginal occupants of the island before the Spanish arrived.

The Casa de Colon in Vegueta is the most famous historical building on Gran Canaria for its links with Christopher Columbus, who visited the island in 1492. Once part of the original Spanish Governor's residence, the mansion is set in a tiny square and surrounded by charming smaller homes.

Entertainment

The many years as a popular holiday destination have developed Gran Canaria into a multi-choice visitor hub, with entertainment to suit all tastes set in the main southern tourist resort towns. The most popular choice for young visitors looking for lively nightlife is Playa des Ingles, with its 50 discos and dance clubs, as well as a great selection of bars and pubs. The fun goes on all year round here, with Playa des Ingles famous as a winter playground for Europe's gay community.

Las Palmas beats its own nightlife drum, with its centre packed with a good choice of bars, pubs, discos, hot floor shows and other entertainment options. The hottest night spots are near Plaza de Espana, set in Mesa y Lopez district.

The smaller beach resort of Puerto Rico is no less lively after dark than its larger rivals, with the clubs here opening around midnight and the bars open all day until late. For a quieter evening, the bars around the old harbour are good for local wines, beers, conversation and people-watching.

For upscale, sophisticated nightlife in luxury resorts and hotels, Maspalomas is the place. Dressing to the nines for the see and be seen culture is the norm in this tourist town set adjacent to riotous Playa des Ingles. If you're allergic to all-night noise, Arguineguin is a rurally-located, small resort with harbourside bars and eateries offering lots of choice of food and drink.

Dining Out

Canarian cuisine reflects both its ancient Guanche origins and the influence of Spain, with a touch of South America for good measure. Fresh, locally-grown vegetables, meats and seafood, and the staple, gofio, a finely stone-ground mix of barley, wheat and maize, form the basis of most local dishes, with meats usually served in stews.

Local restaurants often own their own fishing boats, which go out early each morning for the day's catch of lobsters, crab and various fish, thus making sure their offerings are as fresh and as delicious as possible. Olive oil is as important here as in Mediterranean resorts, and many dishes are served with piquant sauces that are rich in flavour. Recipes using sardines are a speciality along the northern coast.

Gran Canaria's many resort towns offer a wide selection of international foods including British and Scandinavian favourites. Asian restaurants serving Indian, Thai, Japanese and Chinese food are easily found, and fast food outlets are common.

As with all tourist destinations, the culinary gems may well be located outside the main tourism areas and away from the picturesque harbours, but are well-worth the search. Tapas and Spanish food in general are served all across the island.

Beach

Beaches are Gran Canaria's best selling point as a holiday destination, and there are plenty of types to choose from. Topless sunbathing and nude bathing are almost the norm here, with locals as well as tourists taking advantage of the sunshine to get an all-over tan. Maspalomas, Amadores, Puerto Rico, Mogan, Taorito and Playa del Ingles have the largest, most commercial and most popular beaches, but there are plenty of quieter strands and pretty bays to choose from if crowds aren't your thing.

Romance

The noisy nightlife-oriented tourism hubs on Gran Canaria aren't the most romantic settings on earth, but there are plenty of places in the less-visited northern region which fit the bill exactly. A get-away-from-it-all option is to book a villa with a pool in a rural area, hire a car and drive to the beach. In the south, Puerto Mogan is a picturesque fishing village surrounded by mountains and with a marina, a cute harbour and streets with traditional cottages.

Family

Most Gran Canaria hotels and resorts welcome children and go to great lengths to make sure they enjoy their stay. Many beachside properties have dedicated facilities for kids, from supervised play areas and children's pools to organised activities, kids' entertainment and special menus. Given the number of theme parks, water parks and other family-friendly attractions in Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles, these resorts are the best bets for a family break.  

Adventure

Gran Canaria is the perfect destination for an outdoor activity holiday, whether the activity is in the water or on land. It's known for its year-round surfing, while Playa de El Cabron Marine Reserve has the best dive spots on the island. Mountain and road biking, horseback riding in the interior, sport fishing in the rivers or deep sea fishing in the ocean, as well as hiking or trekking through the biosphere reserve and protected parks are all guaranteed to please.

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Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

Gran Canaria's official language is Spanish, although most inhabitants speak Canario, a local Spanish dialect. In the main tourist zone of Maspalomas, English and German visitors make up the majority of the foreign visitors, so these languages are commonly spoken by those working in the tourist industry. English or German-speaking visitors shouldn't have a problem with ordering food or drinks, or speaking to hotel staff in the main tourist areas.

Currency

Since 2002, the currency on the island has been the Euro, and banks are easily found in the tourist zone, as are ATMs. Euros are easy to obtain in the UK before a trip to Gran Canaria, but for those travelling without any change, credit and debit cards are accepted in the cities. Currency exchange is also available via banks, licensed tourist offices, currency exchange booths and hotels, although the latter offer the most expensive rates.

Visas

Citizens of European Union countries, including the UK, can enter visa-free by presenting a passport, or in some cases just an ID card. Nationals of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are also allowed visa-free entry for stays of up to 90 days. Citizens of other countries should check visa requirements with their nearest Spanish embassy before travel.

Climate

Gran Canaria is known for its variety of micro-climates but is famous for its hot summers and warm winters. The Canary Islands benefit from moderately mild temperatures year-round, making them an ideal destination for out-of-season breaks as well as the popular summer peak times. Early breaks in spring and late breaks in autumn are often a lot cheaper and quieter. Overall, average daytime summer highs around Gran Canaria's coastline hover around 26'C and drop to a pleasant 20'C in winter, a boon for visitors from colder northern climes. In the interior, temperatures are still mind, although, in the mountainous region, occasional snow or frost occurs. It's quite possible to walk in the snow in the morning and bake on the beach in the hot sun in the afternoon.

Main Airports

Gran Canaria has one airport, 19km away from Las Palmas. Known as Gran Canaria Airport or Las Palmas Airport. Air links are offered to major European cities by a raft of low-cost and charter airlines.

Flight Options

The main carrier for flights from the UK is Ryanair, offering routes from London-Luton and London-Stansted, Edinburgh, East Midlands, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow-Prestwick. Monarch flies from Birmingham and Manchester, and easyJet offers a flight from London-Gatwick. Full-service carrier Aer Lingus flies from Dublin and Jet2 covers Leeds-Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle. Thomas Cook and Thomson Airways offer holiday charter flights from most UK destinations including Exeter, Cardiff and Bournemouth. Flight times from the UK to the island average at just over 4 hours.

Travel Advice

Flight and accommodation charges are at their highest in July and August, coincidental with UK school summer holidays. Transportation from the airport to places all over the island is straightforward via bus, taxi or self-drive.

Other Transport Options

Travelling overland from London to Gran Canaria is more expensive than flying, but gives the bonus of endless miles of French and Spanish countryside, ending in a ferry trip. The first leg is by Eurostar to Paris, picking up the sleeper train to Madrid at Paris d'Austerlitz Station. From Madrid's Atocha Station, it's a four-hour journey to Cadiz in Andalusia. Ferries leave from here for Las Palmas at frequent intervals during summer but less frequently in winter, with the total trip taking two days.

Getting Around

Travel around the island is by hire car on good roads, well-organised and cheap buses or by taxi. As yet, the island has no train services, although plans for a rail line have been in the pipeline for several years. The island has a number of motorways, while smaller roads extend to most areas.

Car

Car hire companies, both local and international, are found in all the tourist destinations and the island has a network of fast roads branching out from the main GC1 motorway around Las Palmas. The GC2 and GC31 roads are of motorway standard, and the GC4 and GC5 are dual carriageways. Other roads are generally single carriageway, but are well-maintained, although the mountain roads require careful driving.

Bus

Two bus companies operate on the island, with one, Guaguas Municipales, providing routes around Las Palmas and its suburbs, and the other, Global SU, offering comprehensive connecting routes across the rest of the island. Fares are cheap and the buses, known as guaguas, are modern and comfortable, if occasionally infrequent. Global SU also offers an open-top city tour of Las Palmas for visitors.

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FACTS

  1. Towering above the central mountainous region of Gran Canaria at a height of 1949m above sea level, the rocky Pico de las Nieves is the highest peak on the island and boasts views as far as Tenerife.
  2. Evidence of the Canary Islands' volcanic history can be found in Gran Canaria's Agaete Valley, which is the site of both the island's most recent lava and its oldest rocks, which are up to 14 million years old.
  3. The Agaete shoe factory was the island's go-to manufacturer of premium leather shoes in the mid-20th century. Film stars Silvana Pampanini and Marcelo Mastroianni proudly wore Agaete shoes throughout the 1954 filming of The Island Princess.

FACTS

  1. Towering above the central mountainous region of Gran Canaria at a height of 1949m above sea level, the rocky Pico de las Nieves is the highest peak on the island and boasts views as far as Tenerife.
  2. Evidence of the Canary Islands' volcanic history can be found in Gran Canaria's Agaete Valley, which is the site of both the island's most recent lava and its oldest rocks, which are up to 14 million years old.
  3. The Agaete shoe factory was the island's go-to manufacturer of premium leather shoes in the mid-20th century. Film stars Silvana Pampanini and Marcelo Mastroianni proudly wore Agaete shoes throughout the 1954 filming of The Island Princess.

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