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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.