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Holidays to Tenerife have been popular amongst us Brits for decades but not everyone who visits the island strays from its beaten path and experiences life beyond the resorts. I visited on a press trip with Jet2.com and Visit Tenerife to explore the lesser-known parts of the destination recently and discovered all of the fun, unique things to do in Tenerife. Over the course of our three day stay in Tenerife, I learned so much about the holiday destination. Did you know there are around 300 volcanoes there? Yeah, neither did I!
Tenerife’s landscape is what really blew me away; with black sand beaches that slope inwards towards lava-carved verdant forests and sleepy untouched towns, and upwards to the island’s central peak, the sometimes snow-capped Mount Teide. Teide forms the island’s pyramid shape and gave Tenerife a name that translates to ‘White Mountain’. With nine different microclimates, the landscape is incredibly diverse. I figured I’d write something to encourage more tourists to explore it!
What To Do In Tenerife: Off The Beaten Path
Most holidaymakers in search of relaxation flock to the south of Tenerife but the neglected north has plenty to offer tourists who are looking for more authentic places to go in Tenerife. Here’s my huge list of the best things to do in Tenerife, whether you’re into nature, wine, city life or adventure.
1. Spend a day (or a fortnight!) in Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife’s north has seen huge investment in the past few years and this once thriving tourist city is on its way back to its former glory – it was originally one of the best places to visit in Tenerife and the local community is keen to get that title back! If you’re wondering what there is to do in Puerto de la Cruz, the answer is: loads. Book round-trip transport for a day in Puerto de la Cruz from your hotel and take a sunset stroll along the palm-fringed promenade, dive off the rocks into the boisterous waves in the natural swimming pools at San Telmo and look out for the Mujer Pescadora, aka the ‘Ganochera’ statue in Santa Cruz’ fishing harbour.
There are plenty of shops in Santa Cruz and contemporary art fans can also visit The Eduardo Westerdahl Museum of Contemporary Art (MACEW) on the seafront.
Fun fact: the Beatles visited Puerto de la Cruz in the 1960s and weren’t allowed to play! I bet that bar owner is sick to his stomach now…
2. Take a hike in Anaga Rural Park
The island’s volcanic landscape provides ample hiking opportunities for active travellers, and Anaga Rural Park has some of the best hiking trails in Tenerife. The park sprawls over the mountains of La Laguna and Santa Cruz and is easily accessible by car. Bring hiking boots though, because my guide was not impressed by my Converse.
Start at Cruz del Carmen Visitors Centre and hike through the enchanted bay leaf scented forest of Laurisilva. Easy short hikes include the Route of the Traditions or the Path of the Senses, while there are also longer multiple day hikes. Keen riders can explore the rural park on horseback, and there’s also a wheelchair accessible route in the park.
3. See the cave houses at Chinamada
If you’re interested in more unusual attractions in Tenerife, I recommend a visit to Chinamada which is a tiny hamlet in the north of Tenerife’s Anaga mountain range. Chinamada is home to a ‘troglodyte community’ who live in a group of around 30 modernised cave houses. Two thirds of these cave homes are underground but they’re not as primitive as they once were. Don’t be surprised to see a satellite TV dish protruding from one or two – the hamlet got its first electricity supply in the 1990s.
The surrounding landscape is filled with potato fields, though few of the residents live solely off the land these days. A short walk along the red earth paths in this area left me questioning whether I was still in Tenerife!
4. Visit ‘The Village At The End Of The World’
Taganana is another tiny hamlet in Anaga Rural Park that feels a world away from the pristine all-inclusive resorts in Tenerife’s south. This hidden gem of a hamlet was completely cut off from the rest of the island – and subsequently, the world – until the 1950s when a road was established. Even today, getting to Taganana isn’t easy: it involves a stomach-twisting drive on winding roads. Taganana means ‘surrounded by mountains’ in the ancient dialect of the Guanches, Tenerife’s original inhabitants.
If you decide to pay Taganana a visit, some points of interest are Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, the fourth oldest church in Tenerife which was built in 1515, and El Bailadero viewpoint. Some of Tenerife’s best beaches are hidden in Taganana’s lower crevices.
5. Lie on Tenerife’s golden sand beach
For travellers looking for an alternative to the island’s black sand beaches, Playa de Las Teresitas is one of the best golden sand beaches in Tenerife. Located north of the village of San Andrés municipality of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the beach has calm water suitable for swimming all year round. The bright yellow sand was imported from former Spanish colonies in the Sahara.
This is a great beach to spend the day at in Tenerife because there are plenty of amenities, such as showers, cafes and disabled access.
6. Explore Santa Cruz Tenerife
Tenerife’s cosmopolitan capital Santa Cruz is home to some of the top things to see in Tenerife in terms of city sightseeing.
Many of Santa Cruz’ top attractions sit within its historical triangle, which takes up the area between Calle la Noria, Plaza de Espana and Plaza de Candelaria and Plaza de Weyler. Visit the state-of-the-art Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín, which may remind you of Sydney’s iconic Opera House. Another thing you shouldn’t miss is Tenerife Espacio de las Artes. This building’s architecture is truly something! The window designs are based on blown-up pixelated images of the sun reflecting off the Tenerife sea, and the lights inside the 24/7 library, ‘Biblioteca Municipal Central de Santa Cruz de Tenerife‘, are made to resemble droplets of water. Much more elegant than my old uni library!
British tourists in particular might be interested in paying a visit to the Military Museum to see ‘El Tigre’, the cannon that claimed Admiral Horatio Nelson’s arm while he was trying to take the Canaries from Spain in the name of the British Empire. Nelson’s statue sits in London’s Trafalgar Square today, minus an arm.
7. Take a day trip to La Laguna
La Laguna is one of the best places to go in the north of Tenerife, particularly if you’re interested in learning more about the island’s history. This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s 15th century layout was used as a template for many colonial cities established by the Spanish in the USA and Latin America, so you may well feel like you’ve been here before if you’ve travelled in those areas. You’ll find a lot of Tenerife’s cultural attractions here and you only have to walk 100 metres to take in buildings that reflect over 300 years of history. Is it any wonder La Laguna is known as the cultural capital of Tenerife?
Some of the top sights in La Laguna are The Cathedral of La Laguna, Plaza del Adelantado (the wooden balcony you’ll see protruding from the convent’s roof has a sad story attached to it about a nun who was forced to watch her illicit lover’s execution), Palacio de Nava and the market in Plaza del Cristo. Book a walking tour to learn about the main sights.
8. Make a splash at Tenerife’s water parks
One of the best things to do for families in Tenerife is undoubtedly a day at Siam Park, which is located in the popular tourist resort of Costa Adeje. The park has a Thai theme and a truly terrifying ride called ‘Tower of Power’ that jettisons riders through shark-infested waters in a protective plastic bubble. I braved it when I was 19 but I wouldn’t dare do it today!
I got talking to a local on the flight who told me that the smaller water park called Aqualand, which is nearer the airport, is quieter and therefore the better option for families with young kids who want to avoid long queues.
9. See the stars
Stargazing in Teide National Park is one of the best free things to do in Tenerife. 83 of the 88 officially recognised constellations can be seen from the park. You can go it alone or hire an astronomer to explain the constellations – our guide, José from Star Excursions, was so entertaining and he even arranged for the space station to pass by during our talk (ha).
I learned that due to its lack of light pollution around the island’s volcanic peaks, Tenerife is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. In order to protect its status, it’s actually illegal to fly through Tenerife’s airspace between sunset and sunrise. If you’re looking for romantic things to do for couples in Tenerife, just look up!
You can visit Teide’s Observatory on a fully guided tour to learn more, or book a stargazing tour with dinner for the full experience.
10. Say ¡Salud! at a wine museum
Delight each of the senses with a wine tasting at Casa del Vino in El Sauzal in the north of Tenerife. It’s a great place to learn all about the island’s thriving wine industry (and have a few pre-lunch tipples, if you’re so inclined. I definitely was). You’ll also get to marvel at the intricate detail of the traditional Canarian ceiling in one of the rooms.
Around 8,000 hectares of Tenerife is dedicated to wine production and the destination has five wine trademarks – a lot, considering its size! I loved learning all about the traditional cultivation methods and the state of Tenerife’s wine scene today at the wine museum. Oh, and look out for the museum’s two friendly cats! If you’re unlucky enough to get a rainy day during your holiday, the wine museum is one of the best things to do in Tenerife in bad weather.
11. Swim in a lava swimming pool
Garachico is a good option for a day trip in Tenerife. Once the island’s most important port, the town was marked by the eruption of Montaña Negra in 1706 and lost a lot of its status. The volcano did leave Garachico with one gift though: the lava that ravaged the place also carved unique rock pools into its harbour, which now attract swimmers.
The peaceful Plaza de la Libertad is also worth a visit while you’re in Garachico.
12. Drink a Barraquito
You can’t go to Tenerife on holiday without ordering this sweet hot drink! A Barraquito is a typical Canary Islands liqueur coffee made with condensed milk, espresso, frothed milk, lemon, cinnamon and a good splash of Licor 43 or Tia Maria.
I had one after a meal in Puerto de la Cruz and it had quite a kick!
13. Learn to make mojo sauce
Mojo sauce is typically served on Canarian potatoes (papas arrugadas) and you’ll likely find it on the table at every meal you eat in Tenerife. I went to a cooking class at Bodgeas Monje, a traditional winery in El Suazal. You can take a tour of the surprisingly huge winery and chat with the owner, who is the fifth generation of his family to be involved with winemaking – they started in the 1700s!
We had a demonstration from one of the chefs and then got to attempt our own red and green mojo sauces, fuelled by plenty of the winery’s vino. Once our sauces were ready, we were put to the test by the chef, who has a trophy for being a champion mojo sauce maker. He said mine was good, it just needed more time in the pestle and mortar…
14. Laze at a lagoon
One of the best things to do in Puerto de la Cruz is spending a day at the manmade seawater lagoon, Lago Martiánez. The creative complex has six swimming pools pools surrounded by sun loungers and amenities. For a small fee, you can spend a relaxing day there, then enjoy a sundowner at one of the nearby bars.
If your hotel doesn’t have a decent pool or you fancy a change of scene, add this place to your Tenerife itinerary. I would have loved an extra day in Puerto de la Cruz just to unwind here.
15. Hunt for Tenerife’s street art
Puerto de la Cruz has a lot to keep culture-hungry travellers satiated: the city is like an open-air art museum thanks to the Puerto Street Art Project, which began in 2014 in the historic quarter. How many murals can you spot on colourful Calle Mequinez?
I loved the vibe of this little area and think it’s one of next big places to go in Tenerife.
16. See an ancient Drago Tree
Technically a plant rather than a tree, the drago tree is synonymous with Tenerife. The oldest known drago is in Icod de los Vinos, and is known as Drago Milenario. You can see it when you visit the 15th century historical quarter.
If you’re looking for more things to do in Icod, try the Museo de Malvasia wine museum or the Mariposario Del Drago, which is a butterfly nature park – a good option if you need alternative things to do with kids in Tenerife.
17. Ride the cable car up Mount Teide
Teide National Park is Europe’s most visited national park, with around three million visitors every year flocking to the UNESCO protected volcanic landscape in the centre of the island. The park’s crowning glory is ‘Papa Teide’, as the volcano is known by locals.
Ride the cable car up to its peak, which is almost 12,000 ft above sea level. You’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping landscapes that feel more like Texas than Tenerife.
18. Taste Canarian cuisine
I’ve got a blog post all about Tenerife’s foodie attractions coming soon, but rest assured that there’s a lot more to Tenerife’s gastronomy than the great British fry up. Some of the main local dishes are the aforementioned papas arrugadas with mojo verde and rojo mojo.
You might also want to order conejo en salmorejo (rabbit in sauce), grouper, puchero (a hearty stew), and huevos estampido, which I can only describe as the best egg and chips you’ll ever taste. No, really.
19. Look out for whales
There are plenty of whale and dolphin watching tours leaving from the south west of Tenerife around Playa de los Americas and Los Christianos, and Costa Adeje. Tenerife is one of just four places in the world that plays host to a colony of whales that don’t migrate, so tourists have an opportunity to spot whales whatever time of year they visit.
There are around 27 species to be found in Tenerife’s waters.
Below are a few more Tenerife attractions I’ve learned about through our guide or the locals we got chatting to, but which I didn’t actually experience for myself. I was only there for three days so I hope you’ll forgive me!
20. Play a round of golf
Tenerife has nine golf courses so keen golfers can enjoy a round under the sun when they visit the island on holiday. The best courses in Tenerife are Abama Golf Resort, Golf Costa Adeje, Buenavista Golf, Golf Las Américas and Golf del Sur.
21. Take to the water
Another local tip from the guy on the plane, and not something I’ve done myself I’m afraid! I have it on good authority that El Medano is the place to go for windsurfing and kitesurfing in Tenerife. There are plenty of watersport activities available to book.
If you’d like to learn to surf in Tenerife, I saw surf classes taking place every morning on the waves at Puerto de la Cruz. For diving, La Baja de Realejos in the north of the island is favoured by locals. Rest assured, adrenaline junkies – you won’t struggle to find activities in Tenerife that keep your blood pumping.
22. Eat like a local
One of the most typical local experiences you can have is to dine in one of Tenerife’s ‘guachinches’. The island’s makeshift restaurants, usually on the side of the road and often taking the form of a disused garage, serve comforting food such as garbanzas (chickpea stew) or churros de pescado (battered local fish).
Good luck finding one though – my guide wanted to keep his favourites a secret. Honestly? I don’t blame him.
23. Attend San Andres Festival
Visit Tenerife on the 30th November to experience the annual San Andres festival, where locals in the north celebrate the new season’s wine. Head to La Orotava, Icod de Los Vinos, Puerto de La Cruz and San Juan de La Rambla to see people ‘Arrastre de Las Tableros‘, which translates to someihtng like ‘dragging the boards’. You’ll see locals rolling vast oil drums and pieces of wood downhill to alert everyone that the new wine is ready.
It’s certainly a unique attraction and one of the more unusual things to do in Tenerife! I’d love to go back while the festival is happening.
Where to stay in Tenerife
The best places to stay in Tenerife if you’re there to party or simply lie at the pool are resorts like Playa de las Americas, Costa Adeje and Los Gigantes. Our trip focused more on the north of the island though, and having stayed in the south on my first visit to Tenerife eight years ago, I can now safely say that I prefer the north. We were hosted by Hotel Sol Costa Atlantis in Puerto de la Cruz and it was lovely. Everything from the pristine lobby to the churros at breakfast hit the spot, and I loved sleeping with my balcony door ajar so I could listen to the sounds of the sea.
Fantasia Bahia Principe, another all-inclusive Jet2Holidays hotel, also looks amazing. It’s a five star in Golf Del Sur with a splash park and spa and has a fairytale feel. There’s even a fantasy castle!
Getting to Tenerife
We flew to Tenerife South with Jet2 from Manchester Airport. Jet2 have daily flights to Tenerife from nine major UK airports.
Whether you’re exploring Tenerife by car and want to know the key points of interest or you’re just looking for some inspiration for day trips in Tenerife from your hotel, you won’t be stuck for things to do in the largest of the Canary Islands. I was honesty taken aback by how much there is to do in Tenerife and while my first holiday there as a teenager was focused more on ‘the strip’, I’d definitely go back for a more relaxed, adventurous holiday in future.
Tenerife is a colourful holiday destination that offers so much more than just a break in the sun. If you’re planning a holiday there or (dare I be so bold) perhaps this post has inspired you to book a trip, please get off that sun lounger and explore!
This post is sponsored by Jet2 and some of the above experiences were part of a press trip, but words are my own.