Old world meets new in the capital of Gran Canaria. From its ornate Spanish balconies, patios and squares to its modern clubs, bars and cool urban beach life, Las Palmas thrills
With a brash, breezy, big city feel, the capital of Gran Canaria stretches for miles along the north-east cost of the island and has a superb beach as well as an abundance of shops and cafés and a dynamic cultural scene. While most of the city is unashamedly modern, with Latin American, African and Asian influences livening things up no end, La Vegueta, the old part of town, is traditional Spanish: all colourful façades, ornate balconies and cobbled lanes.
Where to stay
For glamorous colonial splendour, you can’t beat the five-star Santa Catalina, next to a lush park between the old town and the port. Built in 1890 for British travellers arriving by steamer, it feels comfortably old-fashioned despite a recent revamp and the inevitable swish spa. Former guests include Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie and Maria Callas, none of whom would look out of place in the bar today, particularly after a gin and tonic or two. Wi-fi is free but painfully slow. Doubles from about €100 b&b. Handier for shops and nightlife is the three-star Parque, which usually has doubles for about €50 b&b.
What to do
Have a quick look at the cathedral, which was begun in 1500 and ranges in style from late-Gothic to neo-classical, then check out the bronze dog sculptures in the Plaza de Santa Ana in front of it. Nearby is the Columbus museum, housed in a 16th-century mansion, where you can get up to speed on the city’s history as well as the voyages of the great explorer. Then drift into La Vegueta, the oldest neighbourhood, with its brightly-painted houses and plant-filled courtyards. The Atlantic Centre of Modern Art (www.caam.net) is a minimalist haven in white marble where several exhibitions are usually running, with fabulous views from the roof terrace.
Where to have lunch
At the northern end of La Cantera beach and overlooking the ocean, La Marinera (+34 928 468802) on La Puntilla serves the freshest locally-caught fish on its huge outdoor terrace. Start with some sardines, octopus, mussels or papas arrugadas con mojo – delicious little potatoes served with garlicky coriander and paprika dips, then choose bass, sole or one of the excellent rice dishes, accompanied by a white wine from Lanzarote. About €25.
What to see
Get into the swing of Las Palmas by joining locals on La Cantera beach. With more than 3km of golden sand flanked by a promenade liberally punctuated with outdoor cafés, this is everything an urban beach should be. Protected by a volcanic reef 150m offshore, the water is warm enough to swim, surf or dive in for most of the year. Stroll all the way around the curving bay to the fortress-like Auditorio Alfredo Kraus (www.auditorio-alfredokraus.com), the concert hall designed by renowned Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets.
What to buy
Next to La Vegueta, the Triana district is a grid of pedestrianised streets lined with boutiques and small shops housed in art nouveau buildings. Check out Inter Nos (Cano 11 and 19) for unusual gifts. For a more upmarket vibe, head uptown to Avenida de José Mesa López, to shop at El Corte Inglés department store, Zara, Mango and so on. Cigars are a good buy, and there is a huge selection at Tabaquería La Esfinge (Parque Santa Catalina 5).
Where to have dinner
Run by chefs Marta Ponce and Pol Durán, Deliciosa Marta (+ 34 928 370882) at Pérez Galdós 23 is a small, stylish restaurant that specialises in Canarian and Mediterranean cuisine with a creative twist. Regulars rave about the steak tartare with fried potato chunks, the sea bass with spinach and the suckling pig. Exquisite and unusual desserts. About €40 for three courses with wine, booking essential.
La Vegueta may date back to the 15th century, but it is also one of the hottest nightlife areas in the city. Have a cocktail in Quetal (La Pelota 16) and trawl the bars on the adjacent Calle Mendizábal. In Triana, try Underground on Plaza Cairasco, with live jazz on Thursdays, or Perojo (Perojo 45) – set in an elegant mansion with a cool patio with a fountain.
The morning after
Get the newspapers and install yourself wherever there is a free table at one of the cafés in the Parque de Santa Catalina, the large leafy square between the port and the beach. Here, old men in cardigans play chess while helmet-haired ladies make a café con leche last all morning. Look out for Café Lolita, with its breakfast of freshly-squeezed juice, two cups of coffee, a croissant and a hefty tortilla sandwich for about €7, which should set you up until lunch.
Thomsonfly and Fly Thomas Cook fly to Las Palmas from various UK airports. EasyJet flies from London Gatwick and Monarch from London Luton. Globespan flies from Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Aer Lingus from Dublin. Iberia flies to Las Palmas from London Heathrow via Madrid.