You can have a wonderful discussion about which of the Canary Islands is the most beautiful or the most diverse. My favourite is Gran Canaria, the third largest of the Canary Islands: whether sunbathing on the most beautiful beaches, hiking in the green and flowery nature or admiring the impressive architecture in the charming small towns, there is something for everyone here. Here are my top 10 things to do in Gran Canaria.
Getting around: Do I need a car in Gran Canaria?
If you want to explore Gran Canaria as independently as possible, you should rent a car. However, most destinations can also be reached relatively easily with the very well-developed bus network. Only the punctuality is sometimes a bit difficult. There are also many tourist bus tours for small and large groups, where you can see the most popular destinations of the different regions in one day. We opted for a mixture of both, renting a car for a few days and otherwise using the public buses and a walking guide. The following applies to driving: The roads can quickly become very narrow and serpentine, especially in the mountains. On the other hand, you can always stop at beautiful viewpoints hundreds of metres above sea level that are not accessible by bus.
Walking over the dunes of Maspalomas
One of the most famous things to do in Gran Canaria are the dunes of Maspalomas, in Spanish “Dunas de Maspalomas”, which stretch over a length of 6 km in the south of the island. They have often been the setting for films or commercials and are declared a nature reserve. Some areas of the dunes are closed for nature conservation reasons.
Not only does the miniature desert invite you to sunbathe directly on the water, there are also several small hiking trails through the area of sand, which offers, among other things, a small inland lake, a wide variety of birds, camel rides and palm trees. Tip: Don’t do your walks in this area at lunchtime, take plenty of water and head protection – there’s no shade to retreat to, the sandy area means you’ll move more slowly than usual and it’s easy to underestimate the sun. If you walk from Playa del Ingles towards Maspalomas, the impressive Faro de Maspalomas lighthouse awaits and nearby you can treat yourself to an ice cream as a refreshing treat at Pingüino Sol.
If you prefer to enjoy a leisurely day on the beach, you will quickly find a secluded spot and swimming is of course also possible – always keep an eye on the flags for safety! Also beware of nudists: the beach has an extensive nudist area and unfortunately hardly any toilets, so you may see things you would have liked to avoid …
The dunes can be reached perfectly by bus, the large bus station Estación Faro De Maspalomas is only a few hundred metres away.
Learn more about the best beaches in Gran Canaria in this beach guide.
Tasting almond pastries in Tejeda
The mountain village of Tejeda is one of the absolute highlights of any Gran Canaria holiday. And not only because the drive to the village at an altitude of over 1,000 metres offers wonderful views over the island to the mountain peaks Roque Nublo and Pico de las Nieves (which unfortunately were denied to us thanks to the rain). Tejeda is worth a visit, especially from a culinary point of view: in addition to delicious wines and cheese, you should definitely not miss the many almond delicacies!
The almond blossom is important on Gran Canaria and is celebrated accordingly to a large extent, especially in Tejeda. If you travel to Gran Canaria in January, you can enjoy the beautiful white and pink blossoms that turn the island with its thousands of almond trees into a sea of flowers.
In Tejeda there are several shops and cafés where you can enjoy the pastries and organise all kinds of souvenirs for your loved ones back home. In addition to various biscuit and cake varieties, I recommend the delicious Bienmesabe almond cream, which is especially good with ice cream, pudding, on waffles or just to eat. Yummy!
If you’re already in Tejeda and want to work off the calories you’ve burnt off, a trip to the Cruz de Tejeda is a good idea; from here you can do some nice short and long hikes with impressive panoramas. A win-win situation!
Culture and shopping in the capital Las Palmas
Opinions differ as to whether you should visit the capital of Gran Canaria in the north-east of the island. In my opinion, if you have enough time on your trip, it is definitely worth a half or full day for an excursion. But don’t go into town by car, take the bus; the city traffic is no fun and parking spaces are rare or expensive. My colleague Miri has written a detailed report on what you can do in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in one day.
A must-see in Las Palmas is definitely the large Playa de Las Canteras beach in the middle of the city, which stretches over three kilometres. If you don’t feel like sunbathing or swimming, you can walk along the promenade, find a cosy café and watch the surfers riding the waves.
You should definitely visit the historic old town of Vegueta and admire the Santa Ana Cathedral from inside and outside. For more culture and tradition, visit the Museo Canario and the Christopher Columbus House.
For shopping queens, kings and non-binarys, there are numerous shopping streets; it’s up to each individual to decide whether they are worth a visit. In our experience, the shops are only marginally different from ours, and the tourist shops in smaller towns have the identical range at lower prices. More exciting is the Mercado Central de Las Palmas, which offers a colourful range of fish and meat, fruit and vegetables, as well as numerous sweet treats and coffee.
The fishing village of Puerto de Mogán
In the south of Gran Canaria lies the small fishing village of Puerto de Mogán, a charming town which is also known as the little Venice of the island and is one of Gran Canaria’s top things to do. The narrow streets with the pretty colourful little houses, framed by flowers in all colours and shapes, invite you to stroll, a small canal flows into the village from the sea and there is also its own little harbour and a bay with a golden beach. The beach is usually quite crowded, but offers opportunities for sunbathing, swimming, you can also rent kayaks or even jet skis.
There is also a viewpoint above the village, which can be reached after climbing exactly 257 steps through the housing estate. From there you have a fantastic view of the bay and the sea, and the way up is also worthwhile, because the houses and courtyards of the residents are lovingly designed and decorated.
The village is worth a visit, especially on Fridays, when the weekly market takes place. However, it is then also correspondingly crowded. Even without the weekly market, it’s worth stopping by the small shops or enjoying a coffee or delicious tapas with a view of the sea.
Puerto de Mogán is easy to get to by bus, and since it is a popular destination, I would recommend this way of getting there to avoid the hassle of looking for a parking space. Depending on what you want to do on site, you can plan half a day to a whole day for the visit.
For a dreamlike view of Puerto de Mogán, the TUI BLUE Suite Princess, located on the Playa Taurito bay, is a good choice. The Adults-only hotel is built directly on the hillside, every room has a sea view and the quiet location allows couples to spend a romantic and relaxed holiday here.
The Botanical Garden Jardín Canario
Not far from the island’s capital, the Botanical Garden Jardín Canario Viera y Clavijo in Tarifa will make the hearts of all plant and flower lovers beat faster. Located directly on the edge of the steep Guiniguada gorge, a visit to the garden is also a short hiking tour; on 27 hectares, you can discover not only trees, plants and flowers of the Canary Islands, but also the flora of other islands such as the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands or Madeira.
The largest botanical garden in Spain is conceptually divided into different ecosystems, and in addition to a huge cactus and succulent garden, there is a palm grove, a small laurel forest, a pine grove and an ornamental plant garden, as well as, of course, the famous dragon trees.
The botanical garden can be reached by bus and has an entrance at the lower end as well as at the upper end. Admission is free, and you can easily plan half a day for the visit if you want to explore all the nooks and crannies of the garden and spend a little time in the greenery in between. One of the best things to do in Gran Canaria! There is also a small restaurant.
Looking at cacti in Cactualdea Park
If you still can’t get enough of the Canary Islands’ green flora after the Botanical Gardens, you should visit Cactualdea Park in the west of the island. In addition to more than 1,000 different species of cacti and succulents, Europe’s largest cactus park includes a 15,000 m² tribute to the Guanches, the indigenous people of Gran Canaria, with an amphitheatre for Canarian wrestling and an artificial small volcano.
You should plan about two hours for a leisurely tour of the Cactualdea Park. Admission costs €8.50 for adults, €4 for children aged 10 to 16, and under-10s get in free. The Caribbean Bar provides food and drink. The park is accessible by bus, but its location makes it easier to reach by rental car.
If you go there in your own car, you should definitely stop at the Fuente de los Azulejos on the way and admire these unusual colourful rock formations in a rainbow look. The colour shades of the stones are caused by hydrothermal alteration and oxidation.
Enjoying the sunset in Agaete
If you spend most of your holidays in the south of the island, a visit to Agaete and its surroundings will give you the feeling of having suddenly landed in another world: huge, green mountains and valleys with orange trees bear witness to a completely different climate in the north of Gran Canaria.
Agaete itself shines out from afar amidst the green surroundings with its many white houses. The pretty little town centre invites you to take a stroll and you should definitely admire the church Iglesia de la Concepción, but also visit the flower garden Huerto de las Flores. It is worth staying until sunset, which bathes the white houses in a magical orange light. Right by the water, the sight of the illuminated mountains is also an absolute highlight.
Before sunset, however, we recommend a detour to Finca los Castaños, one of the few coffee plantations on the island and one of Gran Canaria’s must-see tourist attractions. There you can take a guided tour and learn all about the cultivation, harvesting and processing of the valuable beans. Of course, the delicious coffee is also tasted afterwards and can be purchased – albeit at premium prices (250 g beans for just under 25 €) – along with other delicacies such as coffee jam and various wines. I recommend this detour to everyone whose heart beats enormously for coffee, as mine does: I have rarely had such delicious coffee as I did there. The hype is real!
Sightseeing and rum tasting in Arucas
Only a few kilometres away from the capital lies the third largest city on the island, Arucas, at an altitude of almost 600 metres. A real feast for the eyes – inside and out – is the neo-Gothic style church of San Juan Bautista in the listed town centre, which can be seen from afar. Also worth a visit are the town’s botanical gardens and the House of Culture, a pretty 17th-century Canarian house with a dragon tree in its courtyard.
You should not miss the rum museum of the Arehucas distillery, because the town is internationally known for its rum production. During a one-hour guided tour, you will learn everything about the production of this delicious drink, and afterwards you can taste the quality of the products for yourself and, of course, buy something for your loved ones at home.
Half a day is enough to see the most important things to do in Aruca and to stroll through the old town.
Waterfall in Firgas
Firgas is a charming little town, not far from the island’s capital Las Palmas, at an altitude of over 450 metres. Here, too, the journey is definitely the destination, because to get to Firgas you have to travel along a serpentine road with many beautiful views of green gorges.
The little village is best known for the beautiful waterfall in the centre, lined with flowers on the small steps and ending at a monument at the bottom. If you climb up or down the steps, you can also see the coats of arms of all the municipalities of Gran Canaria in tile form on the stone wall at the side.
The centre of the village is quite small but contemplative: above the waterfall there are relief representations of all the Canary Islands with coats of arms and representative images. Also worth seeing is the church of Firgas, San Roque, dedicated to the eponymous protector against epidemics; from the church square you also have a magnificent view over the north of the island. Other highlights are the town hall, the House of Cultures and the renovated gofio mill from the 16th century.
Firgas is small but nice: at the end of the excursion, you should definitely look for a small taperia and enjoy the local delicacies. Half a day is definitely enough for an excursion.
Hiking in the Falcon Gorge
Gran Canaria is an absolute paradise for hiking fans, with diverse routes all over the island that highlight the different climates and leave you in awe. We were travelling with a small group and a hiking guide who – depending on the weather – decides spontaneously which route to take. And so, more by chance than anything else, we got to know the wonderful Falcon Gorge in Gran Canaria! If you’re not interested in classic things to do, Gran Canaria is still a great destination.
Located in the north-east of Gran Canaria, we were immediately impressed by how green the island is beyond Maspalomas. Shortly after starting the hike, we encountered a small watercourse that reminded us directly of the levadas on Madeira. Surrounded by white gorse, cacti, olive trees and metres high reeds, crossing the little river again and again, we finally arrive at our destination: a beautiful waterfall. After a short refreshment break, we walk back the same way. Meanwhile, the sun has dried the hiking trail, which is still wet from the rain, so that we can safely make our way back down.
The hike itself covers just under 8 km and is beginner-friendly, but there are some steep metres to climb and the path itself is not always clearly marked. You should definitely be free from vertigo, as it gets quite narrow, high and is not secured in some places. Sturdy shoes are a must, the path is partly muddy and very stony, and if you are walking in winter, you should pack something long-sleeved, because it can get very chilly in the shade and reeds.
We walked with our group for just under 3.5 hours, but took a few breaks during which our walking guide told us a lot about the vegetation of the beautiful island of Gran Canaria.
More Gran Canaria things to do:
Gran Canaria has many more things to do and see. If you have enough time, you should not miss these highlights:
- Gran Canaria is a paradise for hiking fans and I have only introduced you to the Falcon Gorge. But there are many other hiking trails, such as in the Tamabada National Park, the volcanic crater Caldera de Bandama with the viewpoint Pico de Bandama, the gorge Barranco de Guayadeque or, of course, to the volcanic rock Roque Nublo, the landmark of Gran Canaria. A guided walk by a guide is recommended if you also want to learn a lot about Gran Canaria’s history and nature.
- The culinary delights of the country are always at the top of my to-do list – and Spanish food even more so, of course: you should definitely go out for authentic tapas in a small village at least once and then enjoy a barraquito, objectively the best coffee drink in the world 😉. Pingüino Sol, a small café chain on Gran Canaria, also offers particularly delicious cakes and great ice cream specialities.
- I have already introduced you to some charming villages and coastal towns that are worth a visit. I also recommend a visit to Teror, which is a fantastic representation of the original Gran Canaria and has been declared a cultural monument. If you are travelling by car, you should visit many different small mountain villages (e.g. San Bartolomé de Tirajana), stop at miradoros (viewpoints) and enjoy the authentic local cuisine in small but fine restaurants.
- You can experience the culture of the indigenous people of the Canary Islands at first hand in the Cueva Pintada cave. Surrounding the painted cave is a reconstructed settlement that uses multimedia information to give you an impression of how the Guanches lived before the Spanish arrived. The caves are among the most interesting archaeological sites of Gran Canaria.
- The Canarios have erected a monument to Neptune, the god of the sea – directly in the water. In the municipality of Telde at Playa Melenara you will find the popular photo motif, a bronze figure of Neptune over 4 metres high with his spear, and washed around by the waves.
- Those who prefer to be out in the sea on a boat watching the marine life instead of swimming themselves can choose from a huge range of dolphin and/or whale watching. Snorkelling tours, scuba diving boat trips and other water sports activities are also available throughout the year.
Accommodation in Gran Canaria
Couples looking for tranquillity and romantic togetherness are well advised to stay at the TUI BLUE Suite Princess between Puerto de Mogan and Puerto Rico. Families with children can choose between the TUI BLUE Las Pitas, TUI BLUE Playa Feliz, TUI BLUE Orquidea and TUI BLUE Tres Vidas, all located right on the beach in Bahia Feliz and offering fantastic childcare and family-friendly activities.
Book your Gran Canaria holiday now!
FAQ about the things to do in Gran Canaria
What not to miss in Gran Canaria?
– Visit one of the countless beaches – find out which beach is right for you in Miri’s ultimate Gran Canaria beach guide!
– Don’t just stay in one place in Gran Canaria, explore every direction. The diversity of nature will amaze you!
– Eat tapas, enjoy almond pastries, try local rum and drink barraquito 😉
– If you are good on your feet, you should definitely do at least one hike in the island’s mountains. The views are indescribable!
– Enjoy nature – whether on a walk, in a botanical garden or park, or in the national park. Different plants bloom in every season, the island is always colourful.
– If you are travelling with children, you should pay a visit to the Palmitos Park. It is a mixture of zoo and botanical garden. One of the highlights is the bird of prey show. The Poema del Mar in Las Palmas is a big aquarium with all kind of marine life. For more action, visit the Angry Birds Activity Park in Puerto Rico or the Sioux City Western Park.
– Explore at least one small mountain village and mingle with the locals.
– See a sunset by the sea.
Which part of Gran Canaria is the most beautiful?
That depends on what you want to experience: for sun worshippers, water sports enthusiasts and beach lovers, the south around Maspalomas is the best destination. Those who like it a bit greener, more unspoilt and quieter are better off in the north. For those who come to Gran Canaria for hiking, the centre of the island is the place to go.
How much time should I plan for Gran Canaria?
To get to know the island and the things to do in their entirety, 10 to 14 days are perfect. However, you can also see and experience a lot in a week, the roads are well developed and many excursions can be combined.
Who is Gran Canaria suitable for?
I can say unconditionally: for everyone! Depending on your preferences, you choose the time of year – it’s warm all year round, of course, but in summer you really break out in a sweat! We were on the island in November and still had up to 25° and many sunny days – perfect to escape the British winter. Whether sunbathing, hiking, wellness, culture or all of the above: Gran Canaria is versatile and you won’t get bored. Bonus point: Gran Canaria is considered one of the safest and therefore most popular destinations for the LGBTQ+ community.
When is the best time to visit Gran Canaria?
The best time to visit Gran Canaria depends on what you want to experience. If you’re looking for nice, hot weather and lots of time on the beach, then the summer months from June to August are probably the best choice. For slightly cooler weather, but still with plenty of sunshine, spring and autumn are good choices. The winter months offer mild temperatures and clear skies and are perfect for walking tours.
What is the famous dish in Gran Canaria?
For foodies, Gran Canaria is a true paradise! The classic and essential dish in Gran Canaria is papas arrugadas con mojo – wrinkled potatoes with hot sauce. If you don’t mind a little spiciness, try the mojo picon – often served with potatoes, eggs and fish. Other traditional dishes you must try are sancocho de gofio (a kind of stew) and ropa vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce). A sweet sin is the almond pastry almendrados and frangollo, a creamy dessert made from maize flour.
What is better Tenerife or Gran Canaria?
When considering a trip to the Canary Islands, it can be difficult to decide between Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Both offer stunning landscapes and plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy, so it’s hard to pick just one. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which of these two beautiful islands would be better for your vacation.
Location: Tenerife is located in the northeastern part of the archipelago, while Gran Canaria is located in the southwest. This can make a difference in terms of access to other islands, as well as the climate.
Activities: Tenerife is better known for its adventurous activities, like hiking and scuba diving. Gran Canaria offers plenty of activities too, but it’s more focused on beach relaxation and leisure.
Scenery: Tenerife’s landscapes are dominated by its active volcano, Mount Teide. Gran Canaria, on the other hand, features lush vegetation and rugged mountains.
At the end of the day, both Tenerife and Gran Canaria offer something for everyone. While some visitors might prefer one over the other, it really comes down to personal preference.
What is the most popular part of Gran Canaria?
Overall, the south coast tends to be the most popular with tourists due to its warm weather and beaches including Maspalomas, Playa del Ingles and Puerto Rico.
What is the most important celebration in Gran Canaria?
The most important celebration in Gran Canaria is the Carnaval de Las Palmas. This week-long festival takes place every February and celebrates the island’s unique culture and history. You’ll find parades, concerts, shows, food fairs, art exhibitions, and much more over the course of the festivities. The main event of Carnaval de Las Palmas is the parade that takes place on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday.