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The Canary Islands have been one of the popular destinations in Spain among tourists for several decades now. While the islands are officially a part of Spain, the culture is a bit different, and so is the location. Geographically, the Canary Islands are much closer to Africa than to mainland Spain.

Because of this, you will find amazing weather and interesting local foods when visiting the Canary Islands. Here is an essential guide for first-time visitors.

Dotted with spectacular world-class beaches and manmade ones with the sand imported from Sahara, Spain’s Canary Islands are always the best choice for a family outing. Especially, Tenerife Island which is the largest of the group offers wide-range of holiday experiences. Housing the world’s largest water park and most visited national park, this Canary offers thrilling water slides and wave pools.

Furthermore, it is a great place for children aged between 6 and 16. The amazing shark tank and the activities like paddleboarding, kayaking and snorkelling gift the best vacation ever for the kids.

Facts about the Canary Islands

• Despite being far away from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands are a Spanish territory. Historically, the islands were an important stopover during the age of discoveries. Due to the location in the Atlantic Ocean, the islands are considered a bridge between the continents of Europe, Africa, North America and South America.

• The Macaronesian archipelago of Cape Verde is located just over 1,500 kilometers south of the Canary Islands, that is, a length less than the journey to Madrid. The Cape Verdean ensemble is a reflection of the Canary Islands of half a century ago. Both archipelagos coincide in features such as meteorology and volcanic origin. Live the incredible experience as a crew member on a tall ship on a journey through the Atlantic Ocean with the possibility of spotting dolphins and whales along the route. At night, you can lie back and reconnect with the universe, gazing at the stars. Among things to do in Cape Verde, in Plateau, a neighborhood located on the top of a hill in the city, the visitor can find a variety of restaurants set with live music and taste the popular seafood, tasty fresh fruit or the typical cachupa (dish based on corn, beans and fish or meat).

• Travelers headed for South America would usually stop in the Canary Islands in the past. Some chose to stay, and that became the foundation of the current Canary population.

• The Canary Islands have a bit over two million permanent inhabitants. Spanish heritage is most common with around 80% of the population being Spaniards. Around 20% of the population is foreign-born. It’s common to meet Colombians, Venezuelans, Moroccans, Cubans and Portuguese people on the islands.

• Spanish is the official language, but the accent is quite different than in mainland Spain - and it almost sounds like a Venezuelan accent!

• Ever since the conquest of the islands, Roman Catholicism has been the dominant religion, although several other religions have gained popularity in recent years.

Things to do in Canary Islands

The main Canary Islands destinations

Being an archipelago, the Canary Islands consist of seven different islands and they have wildly different shapes and structures. You will find everything from mountains and green areas to volcanoes and deserts.

The two islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria are the most inhabited islands and also the most popular ones among travelers. It helps that they have international airports - and aside from providing nice beaches and great weather, these two islands also offer many interesting side activities.

Tenerife's main city, Santa Cruz, is a great place to go. The same can be said for Las Palmas, the main city of the Gran Canaria island. Both cities are historic and great to visit. But with that said, most of the main attractions in the Canaries are related to nature - so it is highly recommended to explore the more unknown parts of the islands if you intend to visit. But more about that later.

Most tourists come from the United Kingdom and Germany. There is also a fair share of Spanish visitors coming in from the mainland, although they are classified as domestic tourists and not foreign travelers.

Overall, it is estimated that the Canary Islands get around 16 million visitors per year, with Tenerife (6 million) and Gran Canaria (4.5 million) being the largest contributors to this number. Here are the best things to do in the Canary Islands:

1. Santa Cruz


Most likely, you will be staying close to either Santa Cruz in Tenerife, or Las Palmas in Gran Canaria: Simply because they have the widest selections of hotels and holiday apartments. If that is indeed the case, you can enjoy those cities by checking out the local monuments, museums and nearby beaches. Santa Cruz has a famous carnival and there are rumours that it will be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List soon.

2. Teide National Park


But you will definitely find the best attractions when getting out of the main cities and into the nature. On the island of Tenerife, you should visit the Teide National Park. Teide is a giant volcano, usually with the top covered with snow. For another dramatic view, visit the Los Gigantes cliffs which is a great place to watch the sunset - and among the most popular things to do in the Canary Islands among tourists.

3. Las Palmas Cathedral


In the island of Gran Canaria, you should absolutely see the majestic Cathedral of Acuras. It is huge, and it is one of the few things that will be reminiscent of the northern part of mainland Spain.

4. Teror


The small town of Teror is also worth a visit, particularly because of the beautiful architecture. The streets are filled with cobblestones and the houses are incredibly colorful.

5. Roque Nublo


If you're looking for a natural sight in Gran Canaria, check out Roque Nublo, a large stone that has been shaped by the wind throughout the years. The rock is about 80 meters tall, and if you’re feeling up for it, you can actually climb it!

6. El Hierro


El Hierro, one of the smaller islands, also offers some great sights along with scuba diving. Head up to Mirador de la Peña to see some unique architecture and to get a great view out over the Atlantic Ocean. Fun fact: El Hierro was once believed to be the westernmost location in the world!

7. Teide Observatory


No matter where in the Canaries you are, you should set aside one night to stay awake until the next morning. Due to its location and high mountains, you can see the stars very clearly on most nights. Professional astronomers regularly travel to the Canary Islands. Be sure to visit the Teide Observatory or the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory if you are into astronomy.

One of many interesting destinations in Spain

If you're visiting Spain, a trip to the Canaries should always be considered. The islands are truly amazing if you are into natural attractions, and almost all tourists are very impressed when they visit. Aside from that, you will find some of the best beaches in the world!

However, Spain has a lot to offer, so be sure to read up on other nice destinations as well. The mainland cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are among the best, and if you’re also looking for tips to smaller destinations in Spain, head over to Spain Guide Now and get some inspiration.
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