This port city of Tenerife is the place to go for winter sun, nightlife and tax-free shopping – plus a pristine stretch of tropical beach. In Santa Cruz, you get two short breaks for the price of one…
A bustling and vibrant port city lying at the foot of the Anaga Mountains, Santa Cruz has an annual average temperature of 22C and almost eight hours of sunshine per day. Parks and plazas abound with tropical trees and plants; beautiful Baroque buildings line elegant tree-lined boulevards where pavement cafés serve aromatic coffees. After dark, bars, restaurants and clubs throng with trendy city-dwellers. Add the largest open-air shopping centre in Europe, which enjoys tax-free status, and you have a retail nirvana for bargain-hunters with a healthy portion of nature, fun and culture on the side.
And just when you think you have found the perfect winter weekend getaway, Santa Cruz throws into the mix 1½ kilometres of tropical beach with fine white sand backed by gently swaying palm trees. Here are my tips for getting the most out of this amazing city:
Getting around the city could not be easier. The centre is compact enough to explore on foot and the plethora of pretty plazas and pavement cafés gives ample opportunity to rest and take in some of the architecture spanning five centuries of frontier society. For a free guided tour, pop into the Tourist Information Office in Plaza del España and take advantage of the services of an English-speaking guide.
Tenerife enjoys tax-free status, making tobacco, booze, perfume, electronic products and photographic goods particular bargains. Research what you want before you leave home, to ensure you do not pay over the odds – and avoid obvious "giveaway" prices as the goods are likely to be fake. Shops are open 10am-1.30pm and 4.30-8pm; larger stores stay open during the siesta.
The wide avenues of C/Castillo and C/Bethencourt Alfonso, running up from Plaza del España, throng with shoppers morning and evening. Designer outlets and independents sit cheek-by-jowl with household names such as Zara and BananaRepublic. El Corte Inglés is Spain’s answer to Selfridges and has seven floors of goodies from electrical to fashion (Avenida Tres de Mayo – near the bus station).
Pick up some tasty local produce or exotic flowers at the African Market (C/Darias y Padrón) and on Sunday mornings the streets surrounding the market are crammed with stalls for the city’s giant rastro or flea market – a bargain-bagger’s dream.
Dominating the port skyline like a white tsunami wave or a Trojan helmet is the iconic Auditorio de Tenerife (www.auditoriodetenerife.com); designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it is home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra and a venue for all manner of music from The Chemical Brothers to the Red Army Ensemble.
Next, discover a world where art meets nature: rainbow-filled fountains, sculptures by world-class artists and sub-tropical landscaping come together in an unrivalled symphony of beauty at Parque García Sanabria – the lungs of the city (Rambla del General Franco).
Take a couple of hours to unravel the mysteries of the violent birth of the Canary Islands and to visit the mummified remains of Tenerife’s first known inhabitants, the Guanche, at the Museum of Man and Nature (+34 922 212 909, www.todotenerife.es) on C/Fuente Morales. The museum is open 9am-7pm Tuesday to Sunday, closed Monday; entrance costs €5, free on Sunday.
Visit a working barracks and see the cannon that blew off Nelson’s right arm during the 1797 failed attempt by the British to take the city by force. There is a scale replica of the battle with sound effects and commentary in English, as well as all manner of military paraphernalia at the Regional Military Museum (+34 922 843 500, www.todotenerife.es) on C/San Isidro. The museum is open 10am-2pm Tuesday to Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday; entrance is free.
When you are all shopped-out and culture-full, take a short bus or taxi ride to the stunning beach of Las Teresitas nestling beneath the Anaga Mountains and feel the soft white sand beneath your feet. A breakwater the length of the beach creates tranquil crystal waters, perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Treat yourself to a delicious fish lunch by strolling to the quaint fishing village of San Andrés at the top of the beach and ordering the menu del dia at Rincon de Pescadors (on the corner of C/Chana Cabrera); it will be simple and simply delicious.
Restaurants and nightlife
The town’s Noria District (Calle Antonio Domínguez Alfonso) is the city’s newest nightspot. Trendy bars and chic restaurants line the refurbished street and occupy the viaduct arches, while at weekends the area is awash with a healthy mixture of fashion-centrics and -phobics.
Bulán Chill Out has delicious Mediterranean-style food and a cool rooftop bar while La Tasca Sáffron y Porron serves mouthwatering Castillian dishes. Try some traditional Canarian tapas at Bodeguita de Canarias on C/Imeldo Seris where the cheese and Serrano ham tablas are well worth trying, as indeed are the montaditos – small toasted pieces of bread with a variety of toppings.
Style gurus will feel at home in the chic and minimalist three-star Contemporáneo on the leafy Las Ramblas near Parque García. For a place in the heart of the city, try the three-star Plaza; it's not big on floor space and facilities, but unbeatable on location. New York-style decor and a California rooftop pool – at remarkably reasonable prices – are the trademarks of the glass-and-chrome four-star Silken Atlántida near El Corte Inglés and the Auditorium.