12 Top-Rated Things to Do on Gran Canaria
Authors Michael and Lana Law island-hopped through the Canary Islands in the fall of 2022, including an extended stay on Gran Canaria.
Each of the Canary Islands is unique, and Gran Canaria is no exception. This round island is lush and green, a stark contrast to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, with a jagged interior crowned by the very impressive Pico de las Nievas at 1,949 meters. It's reminiscent of Hawaii in some respects, with things to do year-round.
Home to an impressive assortment of beaches in its southeast corner, Gran Canaria is a hot spot for those looking for sun and surf. Beaches here come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from ones with massive sand dunes, right through to crescents of golden sand backed by countless resorts.
Discover the best places to visit with our list of things to do on Gran Canaria.
1. Reserva Natural Especial de Las Dunas de Maspalomas (Playa de Maspalomas)
One of the top attractions in Gran Canaria and a must-see is the spectacular Reserva Natural Especial de Las Dunas Maspalomas. This huge natural reserve is a series of towering dunes just back from the ocean. In some areas, the dunes are fronted by shallow lagoons.
Home to three of the island's most popular and beautiful beaches, Playa de Maspalomas, Playa del Ingles, and El Veril, the area around the reserve is packed with hotels, restaurants, and things to do.
Wander out into the dunes if you like, but be prepared. This is hard work, especially under the hot sun of the Canary Islands. Many people choose to take a 30-minute camel ride, these sand-loving beasts glide effortlessly over the ever-shifting sands and take you to an incredible viewpoint.
2. Playa de Las Canteras
One of the best urban beaches of all the Canary Islands, Playa de Las Canteras, stretches for over two kilometers. A mix of golden brown and black sand, the beach is a popular destination for the residents living in Las Palmas as opposed to those visiting from overseas.
The beach is backed by a delightful elevated walkway that is a popular destination for joggers, walkers, and those just strolling along aimlessly soaking up the views. Along this stretch, you'll find cafés and restaurants. Grabbing a table here for snacks and drinks is a popular pastime throughout the day and especially at sunset and into the evening.
The beach runs in an arc, and at the southern end, you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas. At the northern end, the beach frequently has very large waves and is a popular spot for playing in the waves, surfing, and boogie boarding.
Street parking is almost impossible but fortunately, several large underground parking lots are available.
Accommodation: Best Beach Resorts in Spain
Read More: Top-Rated Beaches in Spain
3. Driving Tour to Pico de las Nieves
One of the most enjoyable things to do on Gran Canaria is to rent a car and go exploring. The roads are excellent, well marked, and will deliver you to spectacular locations.
One of the best routes is to head to the interior of the island to Pico de las Nieves. Drive up, up, and up the twisty roads to the highest point on the island. From a small parking lot, a trail leaves to a very short hiking trail heading to the viewpoint. From here, you can see the ocean; Roque Nublo; and, on a clear day, Volcan Telde on Tenerife.
As part of your tour, be sure to stop briefly at the Degollada Becerra lookout and then drive a bit farther to the Parador in Cruz de Tejeda for lunch. Dine on their wonderful patio, home to the most stunning views in the area.
The drive is easiest from the east side of the island. Driving from the south and the west side is much more challenging. Don't be deceived by looking at the map. Although the distance may seem short, drive times on the twisty roads are much longer than you may expect.
Rent a car and go exploring or sign up for the very popular small-group Full Day Lazy Wednesday tour, which takes you to many of the highlights on the island, including Pico de las Nieves.
4. Hike up to Roque Nublo
If you have a bit of a taste for adventure, consider tackling the Roque Nublo hiking trail. Extending up to one of the highest areas on the island, this trail has an effort-to-reward ratio that is off the scale.
The huge rock protruding from the top of the flat mountain can be seen from a great distance. It's massive. As you drive around this part of the island, you can't miss it. Seeing it makes you want to do this hike.
The hike is approximately three kilometers round trip, but the elevation gain in this short span is approximately 500 feet. What this means is that you'll have some steep, but manageable sections that with a little effort, most people can easily handle. Keep in mind that this is a hike, not a short walk to a scenic lookout.
The trail is scenic throughout the hike, but the prize at the top is an unbelievable 360-degree view of the surrounding peaks and, if the weather is clear, the top of the 3,715-meter-high Volcan Tilde over on Tenerife.
The Roque Nublo is the most popular hike on the island, and only limited parking is available at the trailhead. Try to go early to secure a spot. Also, wear sturdy shoes; the trail is uneven and rough in some sections. Flip-flops are a definite no.
5. Palmitos Park
Another fun family thing to do on Gran Canaria is Palmitos Park. The park consists of five different areas: Birds, The Garden, Aquarium, Reptiles, and Mammals.
In each area are interesting things to see and do, including the Cage of Lories full of colorful birds from around the world; the House of Butterflies, considered the largest in Europe; an Aquarium full of fascinating fish; and the Island of Primates, home to Gibbons and Merkeets among many others.
Palmitos Park also features live animal shows. Two of the most popular are the dolphin shows and birds of prey flight demonstrations. These shows take place twice daily.
Address: Barranco de los Palmitos, s/n, 35109 Maspalomas, Las Palmas, Spain
6. Cocodrilo Park
As the name suggests, you'll definitely find crocodiles at Cocodrilo Park; however, the attraction is much more than a collection of these scaly beasts. Inside are hundreds of other animals that have been rescued or nursed back to health.
The park focuses on education but also has live animal shows featuring crocodiles (of course!) but also birds and other critters. The park is laid out in an easy-to-follow pathway past the animal enclosures, highlights include tigers, white foxes, and the ever-so-cute googley-eyed lemurs.
The most entertaining part of the pathway is where you walk through a wire tunnel in the bird enclosure. It's here that the birds get up close and personal — and loud! Near the end of the route is a fascinating turtle pond with hundreds of turtles swimming in the current.
Address: Ctra General Los Corralillos, Km 5.5, 35260 Agüimes, Las Palmas, Spain
7. Playa Puerto Rico
You have to give credit where credit is due. The enterprising Canary Islanders knew they had a good thing going in the far south of Gran Canaria: non-stop sun, crystalline water, and amazing scenery. What they didn't have were beaches. No problem, they said, and they went and created several beautiful ones along this coast. One of the best is Playa Puerto Rico.
An almost perfect arc of imported golden sand greets you as you descend from your mountainside hotel. Thinking ahead, the creators put a large breakwater in the ocean to stop the waves, so the water is calm and safe for swimming. The water in the protected area is shallow and as a result, warms up very nicely, unlike other Gran Canaria beaches that are directly on the ocean.
Restaurants and shops line the walkway at the back of the beach making it easy to grab a bite or cold drink and return to your perfect patch of sand. Chair and umbrella rentals are easily available and are highly recommended as the sun is hot and rarely stops shining.
The large city of Las Palmas is home to a delightful Old Town area known as La Vegeuta. It's a relaxed place to visit, full of buildings dating from the 19th century fronting onto narrow roadways, many of which are pedestrian-only.
8. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria's Old Town (Vegueta)
During the day, the historical center of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Vegueta), hums with locals going about their shopping and errands. At night restaurants set up tables in the street, and dining al fresco is the main pastime. Unlike other European city centers that have been gentrified and done up for the throngs of tourists, Vegeuata has a much more authentic feel.
A few of the must-see highlights here include Casa de Colón, a wonderfully restored building well over 500 years old, and the beautiful Catedral de Canarias on vibrant Santa Ana Square. While you are touring, swing by the Vegueta Market, operating since 1863, and home to the island's freshest produce, meats, and cheeses.
9. Jardin Botanico Viera & Clavijo
One of the best free attractions on Gran Canaria is the Jardin Botanico Viera & Clavijo. This wonderful public space is set in a valley with a small stream running through the middle. The park has pleasant walkways winding their way through and past all kinds of interesting plants, most of which are labeled with their name and origin.
The park has a focus on cacti and features some incredibly large examples of these prickly desert dwellers. Look for them both on the ground and on the cliffs above.
The park is surprisingly large. You may think that you'll pop in for a quick visit, but by the time you walk the length, you may be surprised at how much time has passed.
If you have rented an electric car, a charging station is located in the parking lot.
Address: Carretera del Dragonal Km 7 GC-310, 35017 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
10. Casa de Colon
Christopher Columbus' 1492 expedition to the New World set off from Europe, and his final departure point before sailing into the great unknown was the Canary Islands. His presence here was critical in establishing the Canaries as an important stopping point for the transatlantic trade that soon followed.
The Casa de Colon (Columbus is referred to as Colon by the Spanish) museum showcases the voyages of Columbus and also does a nice job of covering the history of the Canary Islands. The building itself, parts of which formed the Governor's house, has been beautifully restored to its former glory.
Address: C. Colón, 1, 35001 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain
11. Poema del Mar Aquarium
One of Gran Canaria's newest attractions is the Poema del Mar. This bright and airy building was recently opened with much fanfare, and the hoopla was well deserved. This modern aquarium is home to countless fish and sea creatures.
An ideal family thing to do when visiting Gran Canaria, the Poema del Mar has two huge tanks, one of which you can walk through via a glass tunnel. Sitting areas by the glass walls are ideal spots to relax and watch the sharks, turtles, and countless other fish slowly glide by.
In addition to the marine theme, the aquarium also features a rainforest exhibit. An on-site restaurant serves up decent fare. Grab a bite to eat and watch the sea creatures eyeing you or perhaps your lunch!
The Poema del Mar is located near the ferry terminal in Las Palmas.
Address: Av. de Los Consignatarios, s/n, 35008, Las Palmas, Spain
12. Dolphin and Whale Watching
The waters around the southern end of Gran Canaria, and the Canary Islands in general, are popular places for dolphins and whales. The fertile seas offer extensive feeding opportunities, and the channels between the islands offer a resting place from the open ocean.
If you can tear yourself from the beach, consider taking a dolphin and whale watching cruise. These popular excursions offer knowledgeable guides who are adept at spotting the sometimes elusive marine creatures. The tours are generally two hours in length.
Best Time to Visit Gran Canaria - Historical Climate Averages
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