There’s no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which is the nicest Canary Island. While all seven are breathtakingly beautiful, the best for winter sun, sports, nightlife and exploring on foot do vary. Thus it’s really a question of which is the best of the Canary Islands you want to discover next.
The Canary Islands – or Canaries as they are informally known – is an archipelago off the coast of North Africa. Morocco is around 60 miles (or 100 kilometres) away. Their position means year-round sunshine, and warmer temperatures than mainland Spain or Europe. There are seven main islands to visit.
Though geographically near Africa, the islands are under Spanish rule and as such belong to the European Union (EU). The Canaries offer an incredible amount of natural beauty and diversity. As such they are a firm favourite among European holidaymakers, especially during winter.
On the volcanic Canary Islands you’ll find black and golden sandy beaches, isolated deserts, rocky shorelines, vast pine forests, fertile valleys, snow-capped mountains shaped by lava, charming villages, sporting opportunities and of course a great selection of sun-drenched resorts.
The seven islands are Tenerife, La Palma, Lanzarote, La Gomera, Gran Canaria, El Hierro and Fuerteventura. Each has so much to offer, and the individual character of each will be outlined in this guide. Continue reading to discover which Canary Island to visit next.
The Canaries are deservedly popular among those taking a break as a family. After visiting all the islands ourselves with kids in tow, we recommend Tenerife, Gran Canaria or Lanzarote for a family holiday. Here’s a little on which Canary Island to choose.
Gran Canaria offers almost 45 miles (70 kilometres) of beaches, so it’s a real contender as the best Canary Island for a family holiday. Add to that the magnificent mountain peaks found inland, the desolate Maspalomas Dunes nature reserve and you have the recipe for as relaxing or active a family holiday as you please.
The biggest Canary Island is ideal for all age groups. Children adore the theme parks and beaches found mostly in the southern resorts. Tenerife also offers a great range of accommodation, and the island is easy to get around. In the north, you can enjoy hiking while exploring the lush valleys and mountainous terrain.
Lanzarote is perfect for active families. Surf schools are dotted along the western coast, while cyclists truly appreciate the island’s slick roads, coastal paths and thrilling descents. Much of Lanzarote is a protected biosphere, so it’s also ideal for walkers. There are few high rise buildings blotting the natural landscape, yet there’s Aquapark and plenty of golden sands for kids to enjoy.
When there’s just the two of you, which of the Canary Islands is the best? We reckon couples should head to Lanzarote, Tenerife, Gran Canaria or Fuerteventura.
Lanzarote is often seen as the best Canary Island for couples on honeymoon. The relaxed atmosphere and serene beauty make for a romantic setting. You can do so much here – or very little if you prefer. Sample some water sports, visit a modern art gallery, enjoy dinner with a sea view, laze on the beaches or dance the night away.
Tenerife offers both lively nightlife and secluded spots for couples to choose from. There are local and international restaurants and resorts, vibrant bars and clubs and both low cost and luxurious accommodation options. Teide National Park also provides the perfect setting for daytime hikes or evening stargazing.
Gran Canaria is in some ways the party island, as it hosts a multitude of festivals throughout the year. Southern resorts like Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas are busier, while heading to the north of the island makes it easy to escape the masses and discover the local lifestyle.
For beaches, Fuerteventura is unbeatable and is the perfect romantic destination for those who love coastal life.
Though Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote do have some breathtaking coastal spots, the best Canary Island for beaches is definitely Fuerteventura.
The Canaries’ finest beaches can be found in Fuerteventura, and there are many to pick from all over the island. Surfers should head to El Cotillo, while walkers can explore the Isla de Lobos nature reserve. From sampling sailing, windsurfing, diving, kitesurfing or snorkelling to gazing in awe at Parque Natural de Corralejo’s windswept dunes, Fuerteventura is the top pick when it comes to beach life.
The general rule, when it comes to Canarian winter sunshine, is to head for the southern parts of each island. Tenerife and Gran Canaria and Tenerife are top of the list when it comes to dry, balmy weather.
Europeans flock to Gran Canaria during winter – especially those from northern parts like Scandinavia. It’s around 20ºC in the southern part of the island, so spending time on the sandy beaches is realistic.
The biggest and busiest Canary Island keeps visitors coming all year round. Winter flights also tend to be cheaper. You can enjoy the lovely beaches even during December, January and February, or hike in the interior while the fresh breeze keeps sweat at bay.
The top Canary Islands for nightlife are Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
Tenerife’s nightlife is the most legendary. Playa de las Americas has brash, all-night drinking and dancing venues, while Costa Adeje is ideal for quieter, more laid-back nightlife.
Las Palmas is at the heart of the action here. The presence of a university and port means the stylish bars are thronged with youthful Spaniards. Or for clubbing, go to Playa Del Ingles.
The best Canary Islands for hiking are La Gomera, Lanzarote and La Palma. A great year-round climate means you can go walking during any month.
Lanzarote’s landscape really stands out. There are hundreds of miles of hiking routes here, some of which follow the shoreline or take you into the countryside. The Natural Park of Los Volcanes, meanwhile, is an otherworldly landscape dotted with craters.
Lesser-known, unspoiled La Palma has some of the best National Parks in the Canaries, and is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. You can gaze at clear night skies here, discover lush forests or stumble upon a black sand beach that will take your breath away.
La Gomera has a truly untouched feel, awash with This fairy-tale island has earned its title ‘the island lost in time’. With its enigmatic landscapes, beguiling forests and dramatic ravines, La Gomera offers walkers a real sense of discovery.
Surfers tend to flock to Tenerife or Fuerteventura during every season.
The north shore of Fuerteventura has been compared with Oahu’s laid-back north shore in Hawaii, and not without reason. There are spots for beginners as well as more experienced wave riders looking to improve. La Caleta is the best-known place, but there are many more.
Tenerife is also ideal for beginners and seasoned surfers. The island is also popular with bodyboarders. Puerto de la Cruz is great for rookies, while Playa de las Americas is home to the legendary Las Palmeras break.
If you love to explore on two wheels, head to La Palma, Gran Canaria, Tenerife or Lanzarote.
La Palma offers some truly authentic ride experience, though some roads aren’t in peak condition. En route you can pass fragrant pine or laurel forests, deserted volcanic plains or by the stunning Atlantic coastline. The island is ideal for descents and mountain biking in particular. For more challenging terrain, head to the north.
Lanzarote is a favourite among athletes, and resorts like Club La Santa have sprung up to serve this market. Here you can tackle ascents through unspoiled rural or barren landscapes via smooth tarmac, with few high rises interrupting the view.
Mount Teide attracts cyclists to Tenerife, and there’s a variety of other landscapes to pedal through on this large island. You’ll need to be able to tackle steep ascents here, as flat roads are few and far between.
Gran Canaria is used as a training zone for professional cycling teams. The roads here are relatively traffic-free, and generally more pleasant to ride on. Again there’s a lot of climbing to be done. The island also boasts some of the Canaries’ white sand beaches, so it’s ideal for combining an active break with down-time.
The best time to dive is between April and October. El Hierro comes into its own here, and Lanzarote also offers some ideal underwater spots.
The little Canarian island of El Hierro is known for La Restinga marine reserve. There’s an abundance of ocean flora and fauna to discover, and divers can also plunge in from several hundred metres above sea level. You can also see underwater caverns, cliffs and craters here.
Lanzarote has numerous marine parks, and the yearly Open Fotosub Lanzarote Mar de Lava showcases images of the unique ocean topography and huge biodiversity beneath the surface of the sea. Key dive sites can be found close to Playa Blanca, Puerto del Carmen, the Chinijo Archipelago and the northeastern coast.
Which Canary Island Should You Go to on Holiday?
Here’s a general outline of what each unique Canary Island has to offer the holidaymaker.
Tenerife is the biggest of the Canary Islands. This one’s well suited to those who want to try it all, so it’s ideal for first-time visitors. It’s the most-visited island in the archipelago, and is also popular for winter sun breaks.
Tenerife boasts a couple of UNESCO World Heritage Sites plus over 40 miles (70 kilometres) of black or golden sand beaches. On this island you can see fertile forests, lofty mountain peaks, stark desert landscapes and of course a spectacular coastline.
The south and north can be very different. Most tourists spend more time in the southern beach resorts, and the colonial-style capital Puerto de la Cruz in the north is also a favourite destination. The second-biggest carnival on the planet is held here during late February to early March.
During a holiday in Tenerife you can swim, play golf, hike the trails, go whale watching, discover secluded villages, visit a water park, or party until dawn. You can also sample plenty of authentic Canarian and Spanish cuisine here, or dine at one of several Michelin starred restaurants.
If you feel like taking a break somewhere a little more peaceful, then consider Gran Canaria. There is lots to do here, but it’s generally less crowded. Attractions include broad sweeps of sandy beach, vibrant nightlife and the famous Maspalomas sand dunes.
Gran Canaria is the third-largest island but is second only to Tenerife in terms of appealing to all interests and age groups. Gorgeous scenery, lovely beaches, great food, excellent hiking and a wealth of cultural experiences and historic sites make this a top choice.
Include a visit to the capital Las Palmas if you can, where the welcoming locals are always ready to party.
For fans of archeology, architecture, art and even wine, Lanzarote is a must. The volcanic terrain and lunar landscapes are perhaps surprisingly appealing and give the island a unique feel. Vibrant resorts, grapevines grown within calderas and the ever-present coastline also provide a pleasing contrast.
Highlights include volcanic Timanfaya National Park, La Geria vineyard and the César Manrique Museum of Contemporary Art. For good wine, fine food and a thriving arts and cultural scene, relatively undeveloped Lanzarote is a treat.
This island is also popular with families, although it can be busy during peak season. Few kids will be able to resist a day at Ranchos Texas Park, the largest theme park on the island.
If you’re into lazing about on the beach or trying out new water sports, Fuerteventura is the best of the bunch. This is the second biggest island, yet has far fewer visitors than Tenerife or Gran Canaria. There are over 150 beaches here, and what’s more is that most have soft, golden sands rather than the black volcanic sort.
Fuerteventura and its waves hold particular appeal for surfers, kitesurfers or windsurfers, and conditions are good all year long. It’s not really the place to go if you’re seeking lively nightlife, hiking or a major cultural scene, though there are a handful of fun after-dark spots, trails and historic sites to be found.
Windswept Playa del Moro is popular with surfers, while El Burro, Playa del Moro or Glass Beach is ideal for both kitesurfing and the more traditional sort. You can also go dolphin-spotting or snorkelling in Fuerteventura, or visit the nature reserve at Isla de Lobos.
La Palma is a top pick among hikers and nature lovers. It’s the most fertile of the Canary Islands, and largely removed from the mass tourism and partying that characterise some Canarian resorts. Many locals refer to it as ‘La Isla Bonita’ – the beautiful island.
La Palma became the Canaries’ first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1983, and the capital Santa Cruz de La Palma is rich in history and magnificent architecture. Buildings here were constructed between the 16th century and modern times.
About 530 miles (850 km) of hiking trails criss-cross the island, and take in highlights like Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente or the peak of Pico de Bejenado. The night skies as seen from La Palma are also incredible.
La Gomera is also popular with hikers, though this small island can be more difficult to reach than others. Most visitors travel via Tenerife to arrive by ferry, and then explore the landscape on foot. The large laurel and subtropical forest of Garajonay National Park is a joy to explore.
La Gomera is not a bucket-and-spade or package holiday kind of place. Its charms can be uncovered in a couple of days, so it’s perfect for taking a break from a neighbouring island. Don’t miss out on trying a Canarian meal at one of San Sebastián’s fine restaurants during your visit.
La Gomera has lots to offer foodies, adventurers and walkers alike. There aren’t too many hotels here, so book ahead if you do want to visit.
For the truest sense of escapism, volcanoes or great diving, head to El Hierro. It has an
end of the world kind of feel, and indeed was seen as this for many hundreds of years. The second smallest is the most peaceful and least developed Canary Island of all, with no structures more than two storeys high.
On El Hierro you can really connect with nature and the local people. Many businesses are family-run, and the island aims to soon be solely powered by renewable energy. For untouched wildflower-clad hillsides plus outstanding hiking, snorkelling and kayaking, this is the island to visit. It also offers great value for money.
El Hierro has been a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve since 2014. Among this unspoiled landscape you can walk along peaceful hiking trails via fragrant pine forests, dramatic cliff sides and wildflower meadows. For scuba diving, head to La Restinga in the south, or explore the Canaries’ only inland capital of Valverde, which is compact and friendly.