Gran Canaria holidays: So much more than just a beach destination

The third largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Gran Canaria draws over three million visitors every year thanks to its volcanic landscapes, golden beaches and vibrant resort areas. While many holidaymakers come here to make the most of the island’s coastline, there is so much more to discover in Gran Canaria. Plus, with its extensive accommodation offering and well-developed tourist infrastructure available across the island, you’ll have everything you could possibly need during a Gran Canaria holiday

To make the most of your time in Gran Canaria, we recommend a multi-destination stay, combining time at a beach resort with an authentic back-to-nature escape to the island’s interior. And an extra bonus? Gran Canaria is nicknamed the ‘island of Eternal Spring’ thanks to its year-round mild temperatures, which means that a holiday here is never a bad idea.

Gran Canaria at a glance:

  • Largest city: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

  • Languages spoken: Spanish and English

  • Size: 600 sq mi

  • Flight time: 4.5 hours

  • Currency: Euro

  • Average temperature: 24 ℃ (all year round)

Getting to Gran Canaria

With a short flight time of just over four hours, getting to Gran Canaria is straightforward for UK holidaymakers. That’s because the island’s airport, Gran Canaria Airport, is connected with a whopping 27 UK destinations, including the likes of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and many more. The main flight carriers are Iberia, Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2 and TUI.

Getting around Gran Canaria

Hopping on one of Gran Canaria’s buses (or guaguas, as they’re referred to by locals) is a popular way to explore the island. The extensive bus network, which is operated by Global, serves most of the island; you can buy tickets on the bus or use a prepaid bus pass. Check out Global’s website for route information and timetables.

If you prefer travelling independently, you can find car rental companies scattered across the island, including at the airport and in all of Gran Canaria’s popular holiday destinations. This is an ideal way to explore the island at your own pace.

You’ll also find taxis in Gran Canaria or, for something a little different, you could hire a bike to do some exploring.

When is the best time to visit Gran Canaria?

Although Gran Canaria is part of Spain, this island is located off the northern coast of Africa, which means that you can expect warm and dry weather for most of the year. The average temperature is 24 ℃ throughout the year, with slightly warmer temperatures between July and September. Rainfall shouldn’t be too much of a concern, as the island enjoys an estimated 300 days of sunshine every single year. In short? There’s no such thing as a bad time to visit Gran Canaria.

In addition to the mild year-round temperatures, the water temperature is also very consistent, rarely dropping below 22 ℃.

A guide to hotels and accommodation in Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria’s current hotel and accommodation offering is extensive and impressive. You will find beautiful modern resorts with long ocean front promenades and golden sand beaches in the southern coast, such as Maspalomas, Meloneras, Amadores, Taurito, Anfi and Mogán. You can also stay in the capital city Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for a city break with a beach. Some of the names to look out for include Seaside Collection, Lopesan Hotels, Gloria Talasso and Hotels, BeCordial, Salobre, RIU, H10 and Barceló. Many of these top-end hotels offer additional experiences, such as yoga, guided hiking trips and personal trainer sessions.

While there are many four- and five-star hotels to choose from, Gran Canaria’s accommodation offering caters to all sorts of budgets. For something authentic, memorable and down to earth, check out the island interior’s hotels and guest houses.

The best holiday destinations in Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is known as a “Miniature Continent” due to the variety of landscapes, combining impressive volcanic interior and gorgeous golden sandy beaches. The island is home to unique flora and fauna; so much so, in fact, that many parts of the island now form a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Maspalomas Dunes, located in the southernmost point of the island, is a unique natural space with beach, lagoon, and palm grove.

While the island’s interior is renowned for its mountainous terrain and stunning views, Gran Canaria’s coastline features wide sandy beaches. Not sure where you’d like to visit first? Here are our top recommendations for a Gran Canaria holiday.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria’s capital city is a popular choice for a city break; this should come as no surprise, as there’s plenty to do and see in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. This city even has its own 2-mile-long beach - Las Canteras - which is backed by a busy promenade lined with restaurants, bars and cafes.

When you’re not soaking up the sunshine on Las Canteras’ golden sand, pay a visit to Vegueta, the city’s Old Town, which is full of historical buildings and attractions, including the likes of Casa de Colón (also known as Columbus’ House) and the Cathedral of Santa Ana.

There are a large number of hotels in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and you can find some of the best near Las Canteras. For something truly special, spoil yourself with a stay at the 5* Santa Catalina, A Royal Hideaway Hotel by Barceló.

Maspalomas and Meloneras

Located on the southern tip of Gran Canaria, Maspalomas is one of the island’s most popular destinations. Home to large and luxurious beach resorts, it is the go-to destination for all-inclusive and package holidays in Gran Canaria. Maspalomas’s biggest drawcard is its dunes. Covering an area of 400 hectares, Maspalomas’ dune system right by the beach is well worth exploring. You can explore by yourself (but follow the signposted trails), with a guided tour or, for something even more memorable, on camelback!

Our hotel recommendations include: 5* Seaside Grand Hotel Residencia, 5* Seaside Hotel Palm Beach and 4* Riu Palace Maspalomas Oasis.

Located on the Western side of the lighthouse, you'll find Meloneras, which is considered Gran Canaria's main tourist area. Meloneras has a wonderful ocean front with a 2 km-long promenade packed with bustling bars, restaurants, casinos and boutiques. There are a number of luxe 4* and 5* hotels to choose from, including 4* Riu Palace Meloneras Hotel, all-inclusive 4* ClubHotel Riu Gran Canaria, 4* Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort, Spa & Casino and H10 Playa Meloneras Palace. The 5* Salobre Hotel Resort & Serenity, next to two amazing golf courses, is just 10 min away from Meloneras.

Playa del Inglés and San Agustín

Located on the other side of Maspalomas dunes, you'll find Playa del Inglés. This district also has a beach of the same name that is especially great for families.

If you're looking for luxury, we recommend a stay at the 5* Bohemia Suites & Spa, a member of Design Hotels, located in Playa del Inglés, just minutes away from the Maspalomas Dunes.

Other recently revamped hotels in Playa del Inglés with excellent TripAdvisor ratings are Abora Catarina and IFA Buenaventura - both by Lopesan Group, THe Anamar Suites, Caserío Hotel, and Labranda Playa Bonita and Labranda Marieta. If you'd liketo stay in San Agustín, try Dunas Don Gregory.

Amadores, Taurito and Puerto Mogán

Also located in the south, Amadores, Taurito and Puerto Mogán are great resort areas for families, couples and groups.

Amadores features a fan-shaped white-sand beach, with plenty of shops and restaurants, and boasts a calm atmosphere that makes it a favourite of parents with small children. The beach has an inflatable fun park with slides and a minigolf. Of course, there's plenty of fun for adults there, as well. Stylish Amadores Beach Club will bring your holiday experience to the next level. In Amadores, you have the 4*Sup Gloria Palace Royal, 4* Gloria Palace Amadore and Riu Vistamar, to name a few.

Taurito is a self-contained resort with modern beach hotels, as well as water parks and an 18-hole golf course. Due to its wealth of family-friendly attractions, including aqua parks, theme parks and mini golf, this part of Gran Canaria is becoming increasingly popular for family holidays. The 4* Hotel THe Costa Taurito is a great all-inclusive option for families, as both kids and adults can enjoy the hotel's on-site waterpark. We've seen weekly packages from £384 per person.

Puerto Mogán, known as a “Little Venice”, features a marina with a golden sand beach that is dotted with bars and restaurants. Seafood lovers should stop at one of the many fish restaurants, and there is an open air market every Friday. The recently opened 5* Radisson Blu Gran Canaria Mogán is a fantastic new option for families and couples and has some truly great early-bird rates currently for Spring 2023. Other recommendations include, The Hotel Puerto Mogán and Apartments, located on the marina, as well as the 4* Sup Cordial Mogán Playa Hotel.

The best things to do in Gran Canaria

While many holidaymakers come to Gran Canaria to make the most of the resorts and beaches, there’s so much more to discover on this island. We’ve rounded up our top 8 favourite experiences in Gran Canaria.

  1. Cenobio de Valerón: With chambers cut straight into the rock, rather resembling a gigantic piece of honeycomb, Cenobio de Valerón is a truly awe-inspiring site. This collective granary dates back to pre-Hispanic times, with hundreds of chambers having been carved out for storage purposes. It’s one of the island’s most important archaeological sites.

    Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️ This site is very popular, so try to visit in the morning to beat the crowds.

  2. Mercado of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Located in the capital and home to over 120 stalls, this market is the place to go to for fresh ingredients, good coffee and local delicacies. It’s open every day except for Sundays.

  3. Pico de las Nieves: For some of the best views, head out to Pico de las Nieves, one of the highest peaks in Gran Canaria. Although the summit is occupied by a military base and is therefore restricted, visitors can make their way to a viewing platform where they’ll be able to see as far as Tenerife on a clear day.

  4. El Museo Canario: To get to grips with Gran Canaria’s long history, pay a visit to El Museo Canario, which can be found in the capital. This museum is largely dedicated to the island’s pre-colonial history, especially its prehistoric beginnings, and is a must-visit for any history enthusiasts.

  5. Risco Caído: Located in Gran Canaria’s interior, a visit to Risco Caído is an unmissable experience. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as this archaeological site contains a number of ancient cave dwellings, granaries and temples. It’s even thought to have been an early astronomical observatory.

  6. Dunes of Maspalomas: These vast dunes make you feel like you’ve suddenly stumbled into a desert, with miles of sandy mounds stretching off into the distance. You can find a peaceful beach here too, although keep in mind that parts of this beach allow nudists.

  7. Palmitos Park: A visit here could easily take up a whole day, as there are many moving parts to this attraction. And it’s not just for families either - Palmitos Park consists of a zoo, aviary and botanical garden all in one, offering something for just about everyone.

  8. Jardín Botánico Viera y Clavijo: Located in the northeast, this botanic garden is a beautiful place, with terraced garden collections and lovely views. It’s home to hundreds of the plant species that can be found in the Canary Islands.

  9. Pozo Izquierdo: Located on the east coast of the island, Pozo Izquierdo is a wind surfers paradise as it's one of the best natural areas in the world for windsurfing. Be sure to check out Gran Canaria Wind & Waves Festival, which takes place every July in Pozo Izquierdo.

Family-friendly holidays in Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is a top destination for family holidays. There’s a wide range of accommodation types to choose from, from self-catering apartments to all-inclusive beach resorts - complete with kids clubs and other organised activities.

In addition, the island has a number of family-friendly beaches that feature shallow, reef-protected water and top-notch facilities. Some of our favourite beaches for families are Playa del Inglés, Amadores and Anfi del Mar.

Lastly, there are many attractions that are aimed specifically at families. For those who love water, Aqualand Maspalomas, Palmitos Park and Poema del Mar Aquarium are crowd pleasers, while Holiday World and Sioux City are two of the best theme parks.

Pirate Tip 🏴‍☠️: For something truly unusual and memorable, book yourselves onto the Yellow Submarine experience in Puerto de Mogán. This submersible sinks down to the seafloor, allowing visitors to peer outside at the local marine life and, more unexpectedly, a shipwreck.

Getting active in Gran Canaria

While it may feel like most people come to Gran Canaria to relax on the nearest beach with a cocktail in hand, this destination caters for many active pursuits, from hiking and mountain biking to diving and watersports.

Los Tilos de Moya is a popular place for hiking, where the trails allow visitors to marvel at the things that make this place so unique: its laurel trees. This laurel forest once covered the entire island. It’s a sensory experience, too, where you can smell the laurel trees while you take on some steep hiking trails.

Roque Nublo is one of the ultimate places to get active in Gran Canaria. This natural rock crag, which has the nickname ‘Rock in the Clouds’, stands at 220 feet tall and at a total height of 5,948 ft above sea level. You can walk the entire way to the top or add Roque Nublo to a longer hiking trail where you see some of the area’s other natural highlights.

Gran Canaria is an excellent choice for diving enthusiasts; you’ll find most of the dive schools and centres along the south coast of the island. The dive sites themselves, though, dot all along Gran Canaria’s coast. The island’s best dive sites include shipwrecks, reefs and caves; consider booking multiple dives to drive down the total cost of your diving holiday.

What to eat and drink in Gran Canaria

Although you can find plenty of cuisines represented at Gran Canaria’s restaurants, don’t miss out on the opportunity to try the local dishes. For these, the emphasis is on using simple, authentic flavours and the freshest produce. And while it may look like there’s a lot of focus on meat and seafood, you can increasingly find vegetarian options too.

Here are some dishes you need to try while in Gran Canaria:

  • Papas Arragudas: These may appear a bit plain at first glance but these potatoes are very moreish. Boiled soft and deliciously salty, the skins of these potatoes are distinctively wrinkled.

  • Cheese: Most of the island’s local cheeses are made with sheep or goat milk, and they are very tasty. Since there are over 100 cheese producers in Gran Canaria, your best bet is to order a local cheese platter and discover your favourite.

  • Ropa Vieja: An extremely hearty local stew, this one’s best for when you’re feeling very hungry. Made with shredded meat, potatoes and beans or chickpeas, ropa vieja is packed with flavour.

  • Coffee: Home to the world’s most northerly coffee plantation, it would be remiss of us not to mention Gran Canaria’s coffee. Keep an eye out for the opportunity to try Agaete coffee, made from the beans grown locally.

  • Bienmesabe: For something sweet, don’t pass up the chance to try Bienmesabe, which translates to ‘it tastes good to me’. Made of egg yolks, honey and almonds, this sweet and thick paste is usually served with ice cream and fruit.