The sunny island of Gran Canaria is so much more than just fly-and-flop holidays and happy hour deals at the beach bar. Considering its relatively small size this island packs an astonishing amount of diversity and offers endless possibilities when it comes to activities.
Whether you love strolling along a busy marina, shopping in the city, amazing hiking views or admiring colonial architecture – there’s guaranteed to be something for everybody.
Here’s a list of ten amazing things to do in Gran Canaria to help get you inspired!
Small in Size – Big in Diversity
Gran Canaria is often described as a miniature continent and it’s not hard to see why. From golden sandy dunes and sun-drenched beaches to rugged cliffs and lush green hills, it really does pack an astonishing amount of different landscapes and microclimates into one fairly small island.
But it’s not just the natural diversity that makes sure visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to activities. With the large city of Las Palmas in the north, plenty of picturesque mountain villages in the centre of the island and busy marinas along the coast – there’s an endless amount of options to chose from.
So here are ten things I highly recommend doing when you’re visiting Gran Canaria. If you want to make sure you see everything included in this post during one holiday, I definitely suggest renting a car.
When planning road trips keep in mind, that although some distances aren’t that long, many of the roads are so extremely winding it can take surprisingly long to drive from point A to B.
1. Discover Awe-Inspiring Tamadaba
Gran Canaria offers plenty of great trails for all fellow hiking enthusiasts out there. Tamadaba Natural Park, located in the northwest part of the island, is a green gem that you shouldn’t miss!
Tamadaba Natural Park covers 7.500 hectares, stretching from the mountains all the way to the coast. It offers fresh air, beautiful pine forests and some breathtakingly beautiful panoramic views over mountains, the sea and even Tenerife in the distance.
It’s quite a long drive from Las Palmas – around 1,5 hours, although only a little over 50 kilometres – and the roads aren’t comfortable for those prone to car sickness. But once you get there it’s completely worth it.
As there are good facilities at the Area recreativa de Tamadaba I recommend bringing a picnic.
To get to the area you’ll drive through the nearby village of Arteara. This cute village is worth stopping at. There’s an excellent restaurant called Biocrepería Risco Caido that has delicious organic, healthy and vegetarian food as well as nice mountain views from the rooftop terrace.
2. Fall in Love With Mountain Village Tejeda
I’d seen pictures of Tejeda beforehand, but reality exceeded my expectations. The adorable mountain village Tejeda is so incredibly charming, that if I ever return to Gran Canaria, Tejeda is where I’d book my accommodation.
Located in the centre of the island, at an altitude of around 1.000 metres above sea level, this small village offers some truly spectacular views that you could easily sit and stare at for hours on end.
Tejeda, with its white houses, is a lovely place to just aimless wander around. Walking in the maze of narrow alleys is fun and there seems to be something new to see behind every corner.
This village is also famous for its sweet, local delicacies. For example, you’ll find excellent artisanal ice cream as well as Bienmesabes and polvorones.
3. Marvel at Dunas de Máspalomas
Now this is a sight almost everyone going to Gran Canaria has heard of. You’ll find pictures of people walking on the sand dunes of Máspalomas on almost every Gran Canaria travel brochure.
It’s not hard to see why it remains so popular. It’s a very special place with its beautiful, golden hills as far as the eye can see.
The dunes are located at the southernmost tip of the island and to get to them you have to drive through Playa del Ingles (which let’s just say wasn’t exactly my cup of tea).
Make sure you check the weather forecast before going. If possible, avoid super windy days, as the wind sends the sand flying everywhere. Not only is having sand everywhere a bit uncomfortable. If it’s windy enough the sand getting whipped around can even be a bit painful.
But choose a nice sunny day without too much wind and enjoy the sensation of walking in the soft sand, marvelling at the beauty of the dunes.
4. Admire Bougainvilleas and Yachts in Puerto de Mogán
I almost left this one out, since Puerto de Mogán was quite a touristy place. But I just had to include it anyway, because of the beautiful flowers!
This picturesque portside village is incredibly pretty. The marina, the canals, the white villas and more bougainvilleas than I’ve ever seen in one place! Everywhere you look there are pretty, blossoming mats of apricot, fuchsia, magenta and red, decorating the entrances, walls and streets of this seaside village.
This place also has some really nice restaurants overlooking the marina with its yachts and sailing boats. It’s a bit pricier than many other areas of Gran Canaria, but if you head here to see the flowers it’s perfect to combine with a lunch at one of the marina’s restaurants. I loved dog-friendly restaurant Mi Vida, which not only had good food, but also the prettiest, most creative decorations.
The downside is that Puerto Mogan is super popular among tourists, making this feel far from a genuine, local experience.
But for fans of flowers – and bougainvillea in particular – this is still absolutely worth visiting. Keep in mind that on Fridays there’s a market that attracts a lot of visitors. In other words if you want to visit when there is slightly less people here, don’t visit on Fridays.
5. Hike to Roque Nublo
Perhaps Gran Canaria’s most famous hike. If you’ve ever been to the island, it’s highly probable that you’ve seen at least pictures of this gigantic rock (there’s even a huge poster of it at the airport).
Roque Nublo – one of Gran Canaria’s most famous sights – is a 90-metres high natural monument. It’s situated on top of one of Gran Canaria’s highest mountains, at around 1.800 metres above sea level.
The hike up to Roque Nublo is short – only around 1,5 kilometres – but it’s quite the climb. You should also make sure to reserve enough time to appreciate the views. For example for me the hike took 1,5 hours, but I could easily have spent even more time just marvelling at the views.
This is one of the most stunning places you can visit on Gran Canaria and the views are absolutely amazing. On a clear day you can see Tenerife and its highest peak Teide as well as most of Gran Canaria’s highest points.
Make sure you wear sensible shoes for this one. There are some pretty steep places here and loose rocks and let’s just say you really don’t want to accidentally fall here! If that makes you nervous you can also choose to leave the last part of the climb up to Roque Nublo out and just appreciate its beauty from a distance. The views are nice all the way from the start of this hike.
Given its beauty and how famous it is Roque Nublo can get pretty busy on weekends and holidays. Parking is limited. In other words, it might be a good idea to head here before noon.
The drive from Las Palmas is around 1,5 hours (depending of course on traffic and how skilled you’re at manoeuvring the car on these winding roads).
There’s no toilet nearby so make sure to stop for a bathroom break (for example at one of the villages you pass) on your way up here.
6. Explore Colonial Vegueta in Las Palmas
The large city of Las Palmas has a lot of nice neighbourhoods, but few can compete with the old town of Vegueta. This part of town, with its colourful, colonial houses and intricate details, is a must-see for anyone in Las Palmas. In particular history geeks like myself will enjoy this extra much.
Las Palmas was founded in 1478 and Vegueta is the oldest part of the city. It was an important supply port for ships on their way to and from America.
Perhaps the most famous explorer to stay in Las Palmas during the city’s early years is Christopher Columbus. He stayed in Las Palmas while his ship Pinta was being repaired before his very first trip to America.
One of Vegueta’s most famous buildings is called Casa de Colón, meaning Columbus’s house (although it wasn’t really Columbus’s house). It’s one of the most beautiful buildings to see in Vegueta.
Columbus’s house as well as many others in Vegueta, has some stunning balconies. The traditional, wooden Canarian balconies are really works of art and the details are just incredible.
And speaking of details – make sure you don’t miss the iron dog sculptures at Plaza de Santa Ana. The origin of these eight dogs remains a bit of a mystery, but they’ve been sat at their current spot guarding the cathedral for at least a hundred years.
7. See Gran Canaria’s Rainbow Mountain: Fuente de los Azulejos
The Rainbow Mountain in Peru is world-famous. But have you heard about Fuente de los Azulejos – Gran Canaria’s own Rainbow Mountain?
I hadn’t, so imagine my surprise when I just stumbled upon this colourful sight driving from Mogán towards San Aldea Nicolas.
The landscapes hadn’t been particularly beautiful: everything looked dry and grey for a long time. Then suddenly a mountain with green, red, orange, yellow and even purple hues all along the mountainside! I just had to stop to take a closer look at it.
There seem to be different theories about exactly how the colours were formed. Some believe it was because of volcanic ash reacting with oxygen. Others say the colours formed when steam and gas from the volcano reacted with iron in the rocks. Either way, millions of years of erosion slowly exposed the colours, thus turning the mountain into a beautiful work of art.
Locals named it Fuente de los Azulejos, which means Spring of Azulejo Tiles. Azulejo tiles are glazed colourful tiles, common in Portugal and Spain.
There are some other colourful patches along the road as well, but Fuente de los Azulejos is the most impressive one. It’s easy to pull over as there’s space to park along the road. There’s also a small stand selling refreshments.
You’ll find it along GC200 just after the tiny town of Veneguera. You might want to combine Fuente de los Azulejos with Mirador del Balcón (scroll down for this one) if you’re continuing along the west coast towards Las Palmas.
8. Shopping in Las Palmas
Sfera, Desigual, Zara, Bershka, Mango, Scalper’s, Calzedonia – and the list goes on! The neighbourhood of Triana in Las Palmas offers a practically unlimited amount of shops for those who enjoy some serious shopping time.
I’m not super keen on shopping myself, but when I do head out to buy something new Triana is exactly the kind of place I’d ideally go to. Everything is concentrated around a street called Calle Mayor de Triana, a lovely street with beautiful old and colourful building. Although you can probably tire out even the most hardcore shopping enthusiasts just walking along this single street some of the nearby smaller alleys are also worth exploring.
The best part about Triana is that most of it is pedestrian, so strolling along from store to store is a very enjoyable experience even if you’re not buying anything.
This neighbourhood also has lots of nice cafes and restaurants.
If pedestrian streets aren’t your cup of tea, you’ll find a huge Corte Ingles department store at Avenida José Mesa y Lopez. Around this neighbourhood there’s also several brand stores.
9. Appreciate the Fantastic Views at Mirador del Balcón
To get to this viewpoint on the westernmost part of the island you need to put in a bit of effort. The roads leading up to it are extremely curvy and as most of the landscape is pretty dry it does get a bit boring after the first 20 minutes. But it’s definitely worth the drive once you arrive!
Mirador del Balcon is – as the name implies – a balcony offering some spectacular views. Impressively enough, this glass balcony is built into the side of a cliff overlooking the sea. It’s a bit of a scary place if you’re scared of heights, but the views are incredible with the rugged coastline plunging into the sea (doesn’t it remind you of a dragon’s tail?).
The viewpoint is located between La Aldea de San Nicolas and Agaete along the GC200.
This is a fairly popular spot at least among motorcyclists (those super curvy roads) and parking is quite limited. This would probably be one of the best places to see the sunset on the whole island, but the problem is driving after sunset. The roads are dark and dangerous on this side of the island. So make sure you plan your visit so you have enough time to drive back before dark.
Pro tip: don’t wear a dress or a skirt for this one if it’s windy or you’ll face some Marilyn Monroe moments.
10. Enjoy the Seaside Promenade at Playa de Las Canteras in Las Palmas
Playa de las Canteras is Las Palmas most popular and most famous beach. This golden-coloured beach stretches on for three kilometres and is super popular amongst surfers (you can get surfing lessons here as well).
Of course surfers aren’t the only ones frequenting this place. The beach is filled with sunbathers, sup-boarders, snorkelers, beach volleyball players, fishermen, families on vacation and both tourists and locals alike.
This was the part of Las Palmas with most tourists thanks to most of the city’s hotels being located here, but still it felt like the vast majority were locals.
All along the side of the beach there’s a seaside promenade that’s lovely to stroll down along during sunset, which is when most of the surfers flock to catch the waves. The promenade is lined with hundreds of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops overlooking the beach and the sea.
At the northernmost point of the beach, if you walk past the end of the beach and the promenade and turn left you’ll find a couple of my favourite restaurants: Il Segreto di Pulcinella and Clipper la Puntilla.
Most people don’t find these as they’re kind of hidden from the promenade so it’s a bit quieter and calmer and since the beach doesn’t stretch this far the restaurants are just a few metres from the waves so you can listen to them whilst enjoying dinner.