Sun, sand and shopping in Santa Cruz

by AndyMont

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:

Exploring

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.

Shopping

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.

The sights

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.

The beach

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.

Hotel choice

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.

AndyMont

I have lived and worked on Tenerife as a freelance feature writer and travel guide author for 7 years. I am Editor and Co-Director of Tenerife's premier online lifestyle magazine – Tenerife Magazine.

I first set foot on Tenerife in 2002 with a mindset that was predisposed to hating the place.
It is to Tenerife's eternal credit that what I found was so far removed from my prejudices that one year later I actually upped sticks and moved here.

Since then I've made it my business to uncover every gem in Tenerife's hidden treasures in my quest to tell the world about the 'other' Tenerife – the one that's really quite cool.
My Road to Damascus revelations have been chronicled in Traveller, Ling and Living Tenerife magazines, in various travel websites and blogs and in the two guide books I have authored; Real Tenerife Island Drives and Going Native in Tenerife.

I believe that to get to the heart of a place you have to throw yourself headlong into all it has to offer, so when I'm not researching or writing you can find me at Carnaval 'til dawn, sipping mojitos in a Cuban bar or clinging to some vertigo-inducing outcrop by my fingernails to see if an ancient path still exists.

My Tenerife

Where I always grab a coffee: in one of Cafe Ebano's big wicker chairs in Puerto's Plaza Iglesia for a café americano and a slice of chocolate cake.

My favourite stroll: Along the Rambla del Castro coastal path in Los Realejos to the little fort of San Fernando with views back over the palm groves and Casona de Castro hacienda.

My favourite beach: Bollullo on the border of Puerto de la Cruz and La Orotava is too remote for all but locals to access. There are no regimented sunbeds or water sports, just black sand coves, one cliffside restaurant and wild Atlantic rollers.

Fiction for inspiration: Agatha Christie's The Man From The Sea, part of the Mysterious Mr Quin collection was penned in the La Paz district of Puerto de la Cruz. Not her best but the location descriptions haven't changed all that much.

Where to be seen: at the Ítaca Terrace of the Faro Chill Art Bar in Costa Adeje.

Most breathtaking view: From the Pico del Inglés mirador in the Anaga Mountains. Looking south Mount Teide dominates the centre of the island with the Aguere Valley, La Laguna, Santa Cruz and the north airport spread below it. Looking north the Atlantic Ocean shimmers beyond the ancient Anaga Mountains.

Best spot for peace and quiet: the upper La Orotava Valley where trails thread through fragrant pine forests with only the sound of birdsong and the scuttling of lizards in the undergrowth to disturb the silence.

Shopaholics beware! The streets around Calle Castillo in the capital city of Santa Cruz have high street names and independents cheek by jowl with shady pavement cafés and tapas bars – a shopper's paradise.

Don't leave without: visiting Teide National Park and taking the cable car to within 200 metres of the summit for satellite views over the Canarian archipelago.