These days, “remote” is the catchphrase of the moment and while some are keen to climb unheard of mountains and hike the stretches of icy tundra to get away, others want something distant, but comfortable and familiar. We give you Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the crown jewel of the Canary Islands, situated just off the shores of northern Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. If you want colorful history, pristine beaches, and mouthwatering eats, make this your new bucket list #1.
A brief history of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
While small, the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has an impressively long history. It was founded in 1478 by the head of the Castilian army who found himself on the island during skirmishes with locals. The city picked up its founder’s native tongue – being just a jot southwest of Spain herself – and soon became a Spanish colony.
Over the years, the islands – and their de facto capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – have had visits from several big-name explorers, including Christopher Columbus in 1492 and Francis Drake in 1595. The latter endeavored to plunder the town (to no avail); this was followed in 1599 by an attempted Dutch plundering expedition which also failed.
Suffice it to say, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is a formidable city, softened in recent years by tourism and visitors’ lust for pristine beachfront – not plunder. You’ll uncover more, of course, when you visit the city’s rich museums and walk its colonial-era neighborhoods.
How to get there/how to get around
There are two primary ways to get to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: boat and plane. Flights generally come in from Spain or Portugal (Lisbon, typically), which means you’ll have at least one layover if you fly from the U.S. If that doesn’t bother you, then the international airport won’t either: Aeorpuerto de Gran Canaria is clean, fairly modern, and efficient. Also, they’re used to catering to English-speaking tourists so you’ll have no problems getting help; just ask in English.
Alternatively, you could take a car ferry from Cadiz, but to be honest, the trek is almost two days long and costs almost as much as an airplane ticket. If you’re in Spain and have a rental car, this is worth considering; otherwise, fly.
As Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is situated on a large, beautiful island crisscrossed by roads, it might be worth your while to rent a car at the airport; standard rental companies like Avis and Budget are available and you can get four wheels for under $50/day. A drive from the airport to the center of town is only about 25 minutes.
As a final option, you can take public transportation. Buses run from the airport to the city about every 30 minutes during peak hours and take 35-45 minutes to get to there. Fares are €2,30 ($2.50) one way. Buses are also available in the city center and are fairly reliable and clean; fares are about the same in town.
Where to stay
The hotels in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria run the gamut from modest, frill-free stays running about €60-70 ($70-80) per night to the sort of expensive resort-style accommodations you would expect of a semi-popular beach locale. For our money, something in-between usually hits the spot, situated in the north of the city. To give you a sense of the options, however, here are two of our faves:
#1: Hotel Boutique BedandChic. A riff on the classic B&B, this central-drag, quasi-colonial mainstay costs only about $70/night and includes some impressive rooms – spacious, appointed with minimalist but modern décor, and comfy as all get out. The design was seriously our favorite part about these digs, but we also have to nod to the delectable, coffee-first breakfast every morning.
For more of a splurge, we would point vacationers to the Santa Catalina, an opulent stay that smacks of noble spoilings. With its 15th-century-styled minarets flanking a rooftop pool, plush everything inside, and several dining options (though we preferred loitering in the wood-rich Carabela Bar), there’s hardly anything missed. Prices are steeper, to be sure (€150+/$170+ per night), but you’ve earned it, right?
What to see/do in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Part of the magic of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is its diversity of activities. With an extensive local history, you can visit several landmarks and museums showcasing the influences of explorers and settlers; but you can also soak in the surrounds on the sprawling beaches. Here’s our roundup of priority activities for your stay:
First, Casa Museo de Colón, the city’s go-to for the islands’ history. Housed in a colonial mansion with an impressive stone façade, this popular tourist destination does an exemplary job of showcasing the islands’ longstanding relationship with both the Americas and its mother country, Spain. Exhibits showcase art from the American Baroque period, maps from multiple centuries, classic European furniture, and numerous other pieces that tell the story of the Canary Islands’ growth from fledgling colony to a beloved international destination. Fortunately, the museum is very easy to enjoy its entirety in about an hour; exhibits are only spread across 13 rooms.
When you’re ready for some serious shopping, head to boutique central, Calle Mayor de Triana. This water-flanking stretch south of town is rife with international brands and local fascinations. For example, Foot Locker anchors one block, while half a block up you’ll find Joyería Topacio, a must-see for jewelry aficionados. From fashion hubs to hair salons (we love Peluquería Nena), you’ll find all the retail excitement you could want here.
Much of the enjoyment to be had in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is outdoors – with its diversity of topography, gorgeous horizons, and ocean as far as the eye can see. To wit, we highly recommend setting aside some time for the beach – specifically, Las Canteras beach. Situated on the northwestern edge of the city, this sprawling, 1.2-mile strip is steps away from the city and offers mesmerizing views of the Atlantic. If you’re keen, there’s even snorkeling available, though we prefer just to linger on a beach towel and soak in the idyllic setting.
More of a seafarer? You can fairly easily get tickets to boat excursions that circle the island. Some of them depart from ports outside of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, but as the island is small, this is seldom an issue. Plus, many of these treks include food and non-alcoholic beverages. Tickets run around €50 ($60); check out a full list here.
Where to eat
Not surprisingly, Spanish cuisine is the go-to in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, but you’ll also find plenty of New American influences throughout the city.
For example, we love the Argentinian mainstay El Almacén on Calle Pascal. It’s not a fancy place, but that’s part of its appeal – you can get piled-high plates of asado with fries, as well as Argentinian pastries, without breaking the bank. (Oh, and be sure to sample their flaky empanadas.)
For a Galician feast, head to Restaurante Ons on Calle Portugal – steps away from Las Canteras beach. This is your go-to for seafood, most notably stuffed crabs and clams. Whatever you order, get a side of the house aïoli – it goes well with everything and, if we’re honest, is good enough to eat with a spoon.
And while the city certainly has its share of gelaterias and crêperies, we would point you to Pastelería Di Nardi for your sweet indulgences. From their Dulce de Leche Croissants to the glazed sweet rolls, there is something for every dessert-seeker here. Plus, they offer coffee, so you can enjoy your cozy espresso and pastry as you contemplate your next big adventure on the island.
Want more Las Palmas de Gran Canaria inspiration? Check out their tourism website.