Often overshadowed by larger Tenerife, Gran Canaria is a world class vacation destination in the Canary Islands. It offers holiday makers everything from lush beaches to rocky landscapes and everything in between, without the unbearable tourist crowds.
You’ll hear Gran Canaria referred to as a mini continent — not because of its size, but because of the diversity in landscapes and climate, which is instantly noticeable from a quick gander around the island. You can be in a hoodie one minute and a bikini the next, so layers are a must here!
With such diversity, there’s no shortage of things to do on the island, whether you’re looking for deep relaxation, intense trails for hiking, ridiculous theme parks, delectable eateries, or all of the above.
Here’s a list of 19 things to do in Gran Canaria, suitable for all kinds of travelers!
- 1 Marvel at Maspalomas
- 2 Trek to Roque Nublo
- 3 Make Your Way to the Top of Pico de las Nieves
- 4 Explore Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
- 5 Learn About Marine Life at Poema del Mar
- 6 Take a Dolphin Cruise
- 7 Venture Through the Caves of Valeron
- 8 Learn About the Past at Cueva Pintada
- 9 Wander Around Jardin Botanico Viera y Clavijo
- 10 Hike Through Laguna de Valleseco
- 11 Chill Out in Puerto Mogan
- 12 Have a Picnic at Presa de los Perez
- 13 Partake in Adventure Sports (AH)
- 14 Time Travel to the Wild, Wild West in Sioux City
- 15 Enjoy a Movie at Moonlight Cinema
- 16 Take Surf Lessons at Playa del Ingles
- 17 Try Out a New Water Sport
- 18 Tour the Entire Island in a Day
- 19 Rent a Scooter and Explore on Your Own
Marvel at Maspalomas
One of the most breathtaking places to visit in Gran Canaria is Maspalomas, the second longest beach in the area.
What makes Maspalomas so special is it’s filled with sprawling sand dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see. On a walk through the dunes, you’ll feel as if you’re in a vast desert, not a beach on the coast of Spain. You can even book a camel ride to traverse the dunes the way they do in the Sahara!
There’s a nearby beach for lounging once you finish walking through the dunes. There’s also an active lighthouse that’s worth visiting for stunning seascape views. If you need a place to cool off after wandering around, check out the nearby shops and bars.
Trek to Roque Nublo
Besides Maspalomas, Roque Nublo serves as a symbol of Gran Canaria, appearing on postcards, t-shirts and other souvenir items coming from this island. So what exactly is Roque Nublo?
Roque Nublo is essentially an enormous volcanic rock sitting next to a “brother” rock called Roque de la Rana. A whopping 80 meters in height, Roque Nublo is said to be more than 4.5 million years old, making it Gran Canaria’s most well-known natural symbol.
These volcanic rocks are found in Nublo Rural Park which is a quick ride from Gran Canaria’s city center.
Once you reach the park, you have about a kilometer and a half to walk before reaching Roque Nublo. The route you take is circular and spans a total of five kilometers, making it a decent day exploring Spanish natural wonders.
If you’d prefer to a guide to take you around, check out this guided trek of the area.
Make Your Way to the Top of Pico de las Nieves
Right smack in the center of the island is the largest peak on Gran Canaria: Pico de las Nieves. As it sits at a wondrous 1,949 meters above sea level, views from the summit are nothing short of mesmerizing.
It’s easiest to reach the lookout point of this mountain by car. As you get closer to the top, you can park, get out and walk around to find the best view. You’re also able to see Roque Nublo and its brother from the highest point!
You should expect tons of people here as it’s the highest lookout point on the island, but it’s still worth making the trip, especially at sunset, that’s for sure.
Explore Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
A trip to Gran Canaria isn’t complete without thoroughly exploring the capital city: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Palmas is an electric and lively city, with an undying atmosphere of fun.
There’s a lot to visit in the city, but here are the main things you should be on the lookout for.
Vegueta is the Old Town in Las Palmas and the oldest neighborhood on the island. It’s the center for culture in Gran Canaria, and home to many museums and exhibition spaces like Centro de Cultura Contemporanea San Martin. There’s also hidden courtyards, town squares, markets, shops and of course, plenty of cobblestone streets for getting lost in.
Another unmissable spot in Las Palmas is Mercado del Puerto, a massive indoor market that dates back to the late 19th century. Here you’ll find many of the original stalls still standing, full of vendors selling the freshest ingredients in the city. Find meat, seafood, fruit and veggie stalls as well as several small eateries and bars for a quick afternoon snack.
While it’s not very well known, Gran Canaria is actually home to a deep past, with evidence still shining through today. One place where you can see Gran Canaria as it once was is at Pueblo Canario.
Located in Las Palmas, Pueblo Canario is an interpretation of a traditional village where you can come to learn about the island’s past as well as traditional Spanish culture. Canarian folk performers, dressed in full traditional costumes, put on music shows every Thursday and Sunday. Talk about an experience!
Finally, in Las Palmas, be sure to stop by Las Canteras Beach for a hefty dose of sunshine. This is definitely one of the most popular beaches in not just Las Palmas and Gran Canaria, but all of Spain! Once you finish at the beach, head up to Paseo de las Canteras (the promenade above the beach) to enjoy street art, colorful graffiti, and a tall glass of sangria.
Learn About Marine Life at Poema del Mar
Poema del Mar is also located in Las Palmas, but as it’s one of the greatest attractions in all of Gran Canaria it definitely deserves its own section. Poema del Mar is the only aquarium on the island, and is home to the largest fish tank in the entire world!
You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a National Geographic documentary as you wander the massive halls where the only thing separating you from the marine life is a thick glass wall. There are loads of exhibitions and shows, a fish tunnel, and a more diverse fish population than you could ever imagine.
Since Poema del Mar is one of Gran Canaria’s greatest attractions, you can expect a fair amount of crowds, especially if you choose to go on a rare rainy day.
To avoid the crowd and long lines, purchase a skip-the-line ticket in advance so you can get straight to the fishies!
Take a Dolphin Cruise
For authentic viewings of marine life in its natural habitat, book a dolphin cruise to travel the waters around the island to spot these friendly creatures out on the open ocean.
This dolphin cruise takes place on a speedboat and lasts for two and a half hours, so you can see as many dolphins as possible and stop at a cozy beach for a swim. This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Gran Canaria, so don’t miss out!
PS: Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit.
Venture Through the Caves of Valeron
For a truly remarkable sight, check out the Caves of Valeron for some old-time discovery.
This collection of caves can be found in Santa Maria de Guia and dates back to before Roman times. It’s one of the most popular sites for people to visit in Gran Canaria as it holds a deep cultural and historical significance.
Besides the caves carved into different levels of stone, it was once believed that the small stone enclosures were once used to imprison young nobles until they were of marriageable age. These young nobles were said to be watched by harimaguadas girls (aka spiritual young women), which is where the name Cenobio (or monastery) comes from in the Spanish name for the caves, Cenobio de Valeron.
Learn About the Past at Cueva Pintada
If you find yourself in the northwestern part of the island, make a beeline for the town of Galdar to visit the Painted Cave.
The Painted Cave, or Cueva Pintada, is a massive archaeological site dating back to before Spain had control of the Canary Islands. Considered to be the “Sistine Chapel” of Gran Canaria, a visit here is certainly one of the best things to do on the island. It holds important historical significance and is still an active site, so discoveries are still being made!
Besides the site, there’s also a Painted Cave Museum where you can find paintings from the time before Spanish rule and aboriginal artifacts found in excavated caves.
Wander Around Jardin Botanico Viera y Clavijo
Gran Canaria may seem like a desert island, but there’s actually an abundance of plant and animal life that call this place home. Evidence of this is seen at Jardin Botanico Viera y Clavijo, which sits in the northeast of the island. It has an impressive collection of more than 500 plant species!
You can find the most beautiful selection of plant life here, from cacti and succulents, to blooming flowers of all different colors. An afternoon spent wandering here is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors of the Canary Islands!
Hike Through Laguna de Valleseco
If natural beauty is what you’re seeking, you can’t miss a day spent at Laguna de Valleseco.
Located within Rural Park Doramas, this area is filled with trails, trees, and massive expanses of lush green wonderland or barren desert wasteland, depending on the time of year you visit.
Laguna de Valleseco makes for the perfect picnic spot as there are grills, running water, tables and benches. If the day is too hot, enjoy a shaded area under a giant chestnut tree while you snack — just be sure to book a spot in advance!
After you feast on a nice picnic meal, continue on walking from Laguna de Valleseco and you’ll end up at Pico de Osorio, an unbeatable viewpoint created from what was once a gigantic volcanic crater!
Chill Out in Puerto Mogan
Puerto Mogan lies on the south side of Gran Canaria, and is a charming little village for some peace and quiet. It’s never too busy here, but instead it’s a much more laid-back atmosphere compared to bustling Las Palmas.
Besides a small beach, there are plenty of streets lined with whitewashed houses for wandering, opulent flower gardens to enjoy, and little cafes, bars and restaurants for feasting.
If you’re up for a little adventure, consider taking a coasteering activity which will allow you to experience the cliffs and waters of Mogan!
Have a Picnic at Presa de los Perez
Gran Canaria is home to tons of scenic dams which are gorgeous places to visit. Presa de los Perez is one such dam, ideal for a day trip of hiking, wandering, and picnicking.
Located in the northwest of Gran Canaria, Presa de los Perez is in an elevated pine forest. On a walk around the water, you’ll be able to meander between jagged rock formations and gaze out at sprawling mountains and deep valleys.
As you wander around Presa de los Perez, you may even forget that the area is man-made!
Partake in Adventure Sports (AH)
Due to the exhilarating natural environment and gorgeous surroundings, Gran Canaria has become a hub for adventure sports. No matter what kind of thrill you’re seeking, there’s a blood pumping adventure for you on this island.
Pick the thrill of your choice:
- Skydive over Maspalomas
- Bungee jump from the La Calzada Bridge
- Go paragliding in Los Giles
- Take a buggy excursion covering the entire island
An adventure activity is the perfect way to round out a trip full of art, culture, and the beach in Gran Canaria!
Time Travel to the Wild, Wild West in Sioux City
Definitely one of the most random attractions Gran Canaria offers visitors is the chance to travel to a Wild West theme park that sits in a desert-like canyon full of cacti in the south of the island.
Sioux City is a pretty accurate taste of what life was like in the American Wild West as everything in the park is an exact replica. With loads of activities, rides, reenactments and shows, you’re in for a day of good, wholesome fun among the Indians and cowboys.
Here, you’ll see cowboys steering their cattle in the streets, bandits robbing banks, and the sheriff throwing back bourbon at the local saloon. There’s no better place to join in the fun than at Sioux City! You can buy tickets online here.
Enjoy a Movie at Moonlight Cinema
For a chilled out evening, watch a movie under the stars at Europe’s only permanent outdoor cinema.
Moonlight Cinema is located in Maspalomas, and shows the most recent movies in their original English version with Spanish subtitles. The seats are comfy and the cinema itself creates a really cool atmosphere with the night sky directly above you.
Moonlight even has a full menu offering the likes of pizza, nachos, popcorn, beer and cocktails… YUM!
Take Surf Lessons at Playa del Ingles
One last beach that you can’t miss lounging on is Playa del Ingles, a 2.7 kilometer sandy stretch that makes up the third largest beach on the island.
Since the water is calm with moderate waves, it’s actually an awesome place to learn how to surf! You can book a single surfing lesson or sign up for a full course with up to five days of surfing instruction, with each lesson lasting six hours. They even provide photos of you surfing for free at the end of your lesson!
Besides being a killer beach, Playa del Ingles is also the party center of Gran Canaria. This is the place to be for vibrant bars and clubs bumping music until the wee hours of the morning.
Try Out a New Water Sport
As it’s surrounded by water on all sides and home to some of the best beaches in Spain, Gran Canaria is the perfect place for all sorts of water sports.
Here are some cool activities to try:
- Cruise around Maspalomas on a stand-up paddleboard
- Take a group kitesurfing lesson
- Try your hand at flyboarding in Anfi del Mar
- Snorkel at Amadores Beach
There are also plenty of places to jet ski or rent a kayak around Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria and Maspalomas to explore the Atlantic Ocean in style.
Tour the Entire Island in a Day
There’s quite a lot to see in Gran Canaria and it can be overwhelming to figure out how to see it all. Instead of fumbling around and trying to find your own transportation, book a guided tour of the entire island so you can see the best of Gran Canaria completely stress-free!
This tour begins in Las Palmas and includes stops at the Maspalomas dunes, Mogan, and the Guayadeque ravine at Agüimes. Along the way, you’ll get to admire the stunning and dramatically changing scenery of the island.
On this tour, you’ll have a mix of volcano and beach. The day starts with a visit to Bandama volcano where you can view the crater and admire the panaromic views of the island. For even better views, the next stop on the tour is the highest point in Gran Canaria, Pico de Las Nieves. You’ll also stop at a mountain village, San Bartolomé.
You’ll end your tour at Maspalomas, where you’ll have some time to soak in the sun. How’s that for the best way to see Gran Canaria?
Rent a Scooter and Explore on Your Own
If you’d rather be your own guide, consider renting a scooter to move around with ease and complete freedom. There’s nothing quite like the rush of riding around with the wind whipping through your hair and a marvelous landscape everywhere you turn.
This scooter rental includes a 125cc scooter, helmet, all-risk insurance, and road assistance. In addition, there’s no limit to the amount of kilometers you can put on the thing — so go as far and wide as you please!
With rentals lasting from one to seven days, this is without a doubt the best way to enjoy Gran Canaria.
After seeing all that there is to do in Gran Canaria, do you believe me when I say that there’s literally everything on this island?
From the highest peaks to the depths of the ocean, the beauty of Gran Canaria is beyond words and offers travelers a unique experience to hang out off the coast of the Sahara.
Headed to Spain? Check out these articles!
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- Where To Stay in Spain (2020): Insider Guide on the Best Hotels
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