A world favourite
As far as holiday destinations go, Gran Canaria is part of the world’s vintage collection. The third-largest Canary Island first appeared on the tourism radar as far back as the 19th century, and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since.
The beach scene
Gran Canaria’s enduring appeal begins with its beaches – and it’s not a case of one size fitting all. On one hand, you’ve got the larger-than-life coastal resorts of Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas, where sunbathing is serious business and nightlife is of the neon variety. On the other hand, you’ve got the sleepier towns of Puerto Mogan, Bahia Feliz and Puerto Rico, where the beaches come with more space and the evening entertainment is a little lower-key.
Meloneras and Playa Taurito
Recently, Gran Canaria has started a collection of more bijoux beach resorts, too. In Meloneras and Playa Taurito, everything comes with a touch of gloss. Shops go down the boutique route and hotels lean towards luxury.
Another reason Gran Canaria’s popularity has stood the test of time is its good-looking interior, where cliffs and gorges wax and wane. If you want to catch a glimpse of traditional island life, there are plenty of hamlets here, too. Just half-an-hour’s drive from Playa del Ingles, you’ll discover Fataga, where car-free cobbled streets are lined with whitewashed houses.
Things to See and Do in Gran Canaria
120 miles of coastline
When it comes to beaches, Gran Canaria has over and above the basic rations. More than 120 miles of coastline surrounds the island, and they’re broken up into everything from stretches of sand that seem endless to the eye to blink-and-you’ll-miss-them coves.
The big beach
In terms of size, nowhere comes close to Maspalomas Beach. This luge of golden sand is 6 kilometres long. Its impressive proportions continue with its height. The beach is topped with rolling sand dunes, some of which are 10 metres tall.
The secret beach
Just a 20-minute walk from Playa de Puerto Rico you’ll find Lovers Beach, which is a mile-long cove of golden sand. Ball games and radio playing aren’t allowed here, so it’s pretty peaceful. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes close by, too.
Close to the waterfront in Las Palmas, the Triana area of the city is boutique central. You’ll find shops full of Versace sunglasses and watches alongside stores selling bespoke jewellery and haute couture by up-and-coming designers. Meloneras pulls its weight as far as designer labels are concerned, too. Head to the beach promenade to find names like Roberto Cavalli and D&G.
Gran Canaria is a duty-free island, so many shoppers stockpile perfume, alcohol and electrical goods when they come here. The Centro Civico in Puerto Rico has more than its fair share of perfumeries and camera stores, as does the Yumbo Centre in Playa del Ingles. Just remember your duty free allowances while you’re going wild in the aisles.
As far as street markets go, the Sunday market in Teror takes some beating. Stalls are weighed down by baton-shaped chorizo sausages, pinwheel cheeses are stacked in tiers, and jars of home-made honey go for a song. Puerto Mogan’s Friday market, near the marina, is also worth a visit. The stalls here sell everything from fresh produce to handicrafts.
If you’re looking for a low-key evening, head to the harbour in Puerto Morgan or the beach promenade in Meloneras. Both of these spots are dotted with cafes and restaurants, where the menus tip the scales towards fresh fish and Gran Canarian cuisine. If theatre is your cup of tea, try Garbos in Bahia Feliz, where you can enjoy a decade-themed 3-course meal while watching cabaret from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.
Playa del Ingles is a bit of an insomniac. You can drink and dance your way to dawn here. Visitors converge at the Kasbah Centre where the clubs play everything from rock to hard house. Just outside the Kasbah, you’ll find a long line of music bars like Harley Rock, which serves Tex Mex and rock music in big portions. In Maspalomas, Plaza Maspalomas is a good bet for live music. In Puerto Rico, meanwhile, you’ll find enough bars for several nights’ worth of crawls in the Commercial Centre Puerto Rico and Calle Juan Diaz Rodriguez by the harbour.
Sancocho is Gran Canarian soul food, ladled out to big broods at the end of busy days. It’s a chunky broth made from salty fish and vegetables, and it’s usually served with a side of Canarian potatoes rather than bread. This dish is quite time consuming to make, so you’re more likely to find it on specials boards than main menus.
Flor de Guia cheese
Made in northern Gran Canaria, Flor de Guia is a thick, creamy, stick-to-your-teeth sort of cheese. It’s made from a mixture of sheep, cow and goat’s milk, which is curdled with the juice from cardoon flowers. Gran Canaria locals find any excuse to eat it, topping pizzas with it, shaving it over salads, or eating it on its own with a glass of red wine.
This one’s not for waist watchers. It’s a rich, gooey, cream dish that’s a bit like syllabub. Made from ground almonds, sugar syrup, cinnamon and eggs, it’s served after dinner with top button-popping consequences.
The world has been put to rights many times over a glass of honey rum on the rocks. Every cocktail bar worth its salt in Gran Canaria will have a bottle of this whiskey-coloured liquid in its back bar. For something special, order a swizzle, which mixes the liquor with lime juice and sugar.
Grown in the vineyards around Las Palmas, El Monte wine tends to be red and fruity. It’s not heady or smoky, but light and easy to drink, so it’s a great wine to serve with dinner. If you want to learn more about the local liquid, you can visit Casa Del Vino in El Galeon for wine-tasting.
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This modern, stylish town on Gran Canaria’s southern coast is petite enough that everything’s within easy strolling distance. There’s a pretty, pedestrianised village square lined with pavement cafés and restaurants, while parks and Moroccan-style buildings only add to the charm. From here it’s only a short hop to buzzy Playa del Ingles, 10 kilometres away.
Playa Taurito is a hush-hush resort on Gran Canaria’s southwest coast, squeezed between chic Playa Mogan and throbbing Puerto Rico. It just has a handful of elegant hotels stacked up the sides of its rugged volcanic cliffs, plus a quiet beach lapped by the Atlantic, so it feels like you’re at your own private party.
Playa del Ingles
Playa del Ingles is set on the southernmost tip of Gran Canaria. Sandwiched between the smaller resorts of Maspalomas and San Agustin, it’s brimming with purpose-built apartment complexes and hotels, big-name nightclubs, and a Saharan-sized beach. Come summer, it draws a young crowd looking to party, but with its long list of daytime activities, it’s a certified family favourite, too.