Things to do in Gran Canaria

Must-see Gran Canaria sights

Gran Canaria, the third-largest of the Canary Islands, is often called a “continent in miniature” – and that’s no exaggeration.

There are the epic sands of Maspalomas in the south, the interior’s mountains and subtropical forests and, in Las Palmas, the most beguiling of the island capitals with stylish bars and clubs that keep going till dawn. Let this list inspire you on your next Gran Canaria holiday.

  1. Hike the mountains
  2. Dive to the depths
  3. Hit the nightlife
  4. See mummies at the museum
  5. Visit one of Europe’s best aquariums
  6. Follow in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus

1. Hike the mountains

Strap on your walking boots: Gran Canaria is a big hiking destination, with a network of well-marked trails and even a walking festival. Plus, it’s one of the best things to do in Gran Canaria that’s completely free.

Footpaths weave around dense forests and deep ravines, up boulders and volcanic craters. Keep your eyes peeled for real-life ‘cave houses’ – homes that have been carved out of the earth.   

The best vantage point to walk up to is the Cruz de Tejeda, the sombre stone cross marking the top of a pass at 1,580m (5,184ft). The magnificent panorama includes two giant volcanic rock formations that were once worshipped by the Guanches (indigenous people of the Canaries).

Tip: The island produces the excellent Tropical lager – perfect to end a long hike.

2. Dive to the depths

Exploring the underwater world is one of the best things to do in Gran Canaria. From wrecks to reefs to wall dives, you won’t be able to stop chatting about your adventure beneath the waves over your calamari and wine later.

With great visibility year-round in its warm turquoise seas, this is a great place to learn. Lots of places offer trips and lessons with PADI-qualified divers; try Zeus Diving Centre on Playa del Inglés. 

Tip: Puerto Deportivo (or leisure harbour) is a place to go if you’re not sure what water activity to take on; you might find yourself in a sailing school, deep-sea fishing trip, or on a ‘dolphin search’ trip aboard a glass-bottomed catamaran.

3. Hit the nightlife

As serene as parts of this island are, it’s also a place to party – especially for those who havae signed up to Gran Canaria package holidays. You can find almost any kind of nightlife you want, from extravagant and formal dinner shows to cheap and rowdy karaoke bars, plus clubs and music bars of all kinds. 

Playa del Inglés and Maspalomas are Gran Canaria’s hotspots. For serious clubbing head to Kasbah’s The Garage or Pacha. The Yumbo Centre is known for its gay bars and clubs, while in Las Palmas, the Mesa y López district is usually the best bet for late-night bars.

Tip: Fancy something classy? Atelier Cocktail Bar, on the 8th floor of the boutique hotel Bohemia Suites & Spa, comes with sea views and drinks to write home about.

4. See mummies at the museum

Children aren’t always enthusiastic about museums, but these ones will appeal to every member of the family. Just mention the mummies! These macabre Guanche characters are on display at the Museo Canario in Las Palmas – which incidentally, boasts the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls.

The life-size reconstruction of a Guanche settlement at the Mundo Aborigen is fascinating, too. Over 100 figures help visitors get to know the lives of the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, 2,000 years ago. Spoiler alert: they’re not so into their clubbing as folks these days. 

TipStick around after the Mundo Aborigen to explore; it’s in a scenic spot overlooking the Barranco de Fataga, the island’s biggest gorge.

5. Visit one of Europe's best aquariums

Acuario Poema del Mar is a new, state-of-the art aquarium – one of the best in Europe, and a winner when you’re planning what to do in Gran Canaria with kids. 

Containing more than 8 million litres (1.76 million gallons) of water, it’s home to over 350 species of marine life from all over the world, including cuttlefish, rooster fish, black piranhas and loggerhead turtles.

Tip: Want a sneak preview of what you’ll meet on a real-life dive? The El Veril dome is filled with local species, including green gallito fish, colourful Viejas and 100 moray eels.

6. Follow in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus

When Christopher Columbus swung by the Canaries on the way to the Americas, he’s said to have stayed at Casa de Colón.

This beautiful, 15th-century mansion in Las Palmas is now an atmospheric museum with a pretty courtyard. It recreates the Age of Discovery with exhibits of navigational instruments, charts and weapons and a replica of the cabin of La Niña, one of Columbus’s ships. There are also pre-Columbian artefacts from Mexico and the Ecuadorian island of La Tolita. 

Tip:  Entry on Sundays is free (otherwise 4 euros).

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