Are you looking for tips on things to do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife?
Linda shares with us her insider tips on the best things to see and do in Santa Cruz, plus recommendations on where to stay, eat, drink, and explore.
Why visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife?
Because Tenerife is very much a tourist destination, I inevitably have to point out to people thinking of visiting that there is more to the island than sun, sea and sangria, and part of what’s here is Santa Cruz and neighbouring La Laguna.
Both are full of history, lovely old buildings and stunning modern ones (the older parts are often compared to South America), and both have lots of good restaurants and bars where you can eat al fresco.
Very much cities with hustle and bustle, but still a laid-back vibe. There are also museums, art galleries and churches to visit. Yet ten minutes outside of Santa Cruz is the island’s prettiest beach, Las Teresitas, and ten minutes outside La Laguna and you are in rich, verdant farmland.
Things to Do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
- The contemporary Auditorio de Tenerife (often compared to the Sydney Opera House) and home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, annual Heineken Jazz Festival, a short opera season in Autumn and year-round music and dance performances of every type.
- The Market of Nuestra Señora de Africa
- Teatro Guimerá for the architecture but also for a production depending what’s on – plays will be in Spanish, but there are often music or dance performances too.
- The Museum of Man and Nature for details of how the volcanic Canary Islands exploded from the sea bed, and for the display of mummified bodies of the original inhabitants, the Guanches, who used to mummify their dead.
- Tenerife Espacio de Artes (Tenerife Arts Center) for photography and art exhibitions.
- A stroll around the docks which is a frequent stopping off point for tall ships.
- A stroll around the recently remodelled Plaza de España, including the tiny, underground museum of San Cristóbal, a part of the city’s original fortification and home to the canon which shot off Lord Horatio Nelson‘s arm when he tried to invade Tenerife in 1797.
- The centre of La Laguna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and walking its streets is like a journey back in time. It’s worth climbing the tower of La Iglesia de la Concepción to take a look over the valley in which it sits and the beautiful Anaga Mountain range behind.
- Check out the Convent of Santa Catalina.
- Plaza Adelantado
- Even the tourist information office which is housed in a gorgeous, renovated building, la Casa de los Capitanes, and where you can pick up information about museums and walking tours.
Where to Eat in Santa Cruz de Tenerife,
In Santa Cruz I don’t even have to think about this!
Calle Noria, which extends from La Plaza de la Iglesia de la Concepción is the place to eat, night or day, with its brightly-painted buildings it will remind you of Habana. It’s full of cafés, bars and restaurants, some quirky and all excellent.
My favorite is El Bulan, where they do extraordinary tapas, tastes and combinations I’ve had nowhere else.
Half the street is lined with chairs and tables (it’s pedestrianized) and you can eat lunch outdoors all year round, though dining in winter might be a bit chilly.
Although it’s pleasant to sit around the city’s main square, Plaza de España, sadly I couldn’t recommend any of the eateries around there, get off the main tourist drag if you want better food.
I don’t know La Laguna’s centre from a foodie point of view, although I’ve had plenty of tapas and cakes in the places around the main streets and never been disappointed.
You can’t visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife without eating …
Papas Arrugadas with Mojo.
Papas arrugadas translates as wrinkled potatoes, which may sound like a bland thing to recommend, but done right they really are delicious! These
are no ordinary potatoes but special varieties of small, floury tubers, grown in the Canary Islands.
They are served with mojos, Canarian sauces made with cilantro or red peppers.
Where to Drink in Santa Cruz de Tenerife,
No one bar stands out. In Santa Cruz head for Avendia Anaga after dark to cruise the clubs and bars. During the day, shuttered up, they look abandoned, but change character completely when the lights come on.
La Laguna is a university town, so there are plenty of reasonably-priced bars all around.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Of course when you live in a place, you don’t often get to stay in hotels or hostels.
The only hotel I’ve stayed in is the very chic Iberostar Grand Mencey, which somehow blends modern, luxury minimalism with a colonial feel, and which I loved! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
A friend stayed in city-center hotel Silken Atlantida earlier this year and pronounced it excellent too.
Markets and Shopping in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
The Market of Nuestra Señora de Africa for sure, to buy the best of the island’s produce bananas, tomatoes, papaya and other fruit, not to mention those
wee potatoes and yummy goats’ cheeses.
You can also buy artisan olive oils, those mojo sauces, local honey and jams, and lotions and other beauty products made from aloe vera, which grows all over the island.
The Canary Islands have a special status within the EU. They used to be duty free, and that’s not strictly true now, but you can certainly buy perfumes, booze and tobacco cheaper than on mainland Europe, though obviously you need to check how much you can take into wherever you’re going back to.
Major Events and Festivals in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
No doubting what springs to my mind first – Carnival. It’s claimed that Santa Cruz’s Carnaval in the couple of weeks leading up to Lent is second only to Rio de Janeiro in size. It’s one long, crazy, chaotic, fun-filled party. It would take me an entire post to do it justice.
The best I can say briefly is that it is the colourful, noisy, costumed event you imagine it to be!
Other than that there is the Heineken Jazz Festival in July, which includes some free concerts.
Santa Blues – a free blues festival one weekend in June.
August is a bit like one long fiesta too, when terrazas de verano (summer terraces) open. These are temporary bars which set up just for hottest weeks of the year, outdoors and with long opening hours to while away those sleepless nights.
In La Laguna there is a famous romeria, a traditional fiesta which is something like a cross between a harvest festival and May Day celebrations.
Folk groups, singers, dancers, farmers with their huge-eyed oxen, herds of goats, the odd goose or puppy take part, and everyone in traditional dress, including many of the onlookers.
Getting Around Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Both cities are very walkable. Although this is a mountainous island, slopes are fairly gentle, even in La Laguna, which is around 2,000 ft above sea level.
There are excellent bus services to other parts of the island, and a zillion taxis.
The two cities are connected by a modern tramway which blends surprisingly well with the historical surroundings when it passes through those areas.
Is Santa Cruz WIFI friendly?
A huge swathe of Santa Cruz city centre is actually a wifi zone set up by the town hall. You often see folk sitting in a square tapping away. La Laguna, as I said, is a university town, so facilities there are excellent too.
Best Time of Year to Visit Santa Cruz, Tenerife
In one sense – any time. Winters are very mild, shirt-sleeves by day, a jacket by night. Although La Laguna is cooler because it’s much higher, even so, the worst it gets is like an Autumn day in England, say.
If you don’t want all the noise of Carnaval avoid Shrove Tuesday week at all costs.
Low season here is May/June and November/early December and there are cheap flights around, but the trouble with low season is that sometimes you find restaurants have taken the month off.
Hottest time is late July/August/early September when temperatures can get up to 40ºC so if you don’t like it hot avoid summer. It’s also the busiest time, of course, during the school holidays.
Favourite Side Trip Away From the City
The Teide National Park absolutely! Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Park is site of the world’s third largest volcano measured from the ocean bed, at 3,713 m Mount Teide is the highest mountain in Spain and in winter you will often find it covered in snow, despite this being a sub-tropical climate.
The park’s volcanic landscapes are sensational, and although it’s pretty barren-looking, there is flora which grows nowhere else on earth in the wild. I love to see the expressions on people’s face when I take them up there. The most-used adjectives are lunar or surreal.
It’s also an interesting drive, through pine forests. Often you emerge above cloud level, to look down on clouds as you would from a plane, and see Mt Teide rising above it all – impressive.
Getting Here and Away
From Europe is pretty easy. Several low-cost airlines serve the islands now, including Easyjet, which is my favourite, from UK. From further afield it means flying into a main hub, like Madrid and then onwards to Tenerife.
Because I’m English, when I fly, say, to the US, I often stopover in England to visit friends and family. The problem with that is that I have far less baggage allowance on that last leg of the journey than on the previous one, and I’ve been caught out a few times with excess weight, whereas when I book straight
through that doesn’t happen.
Best Insider’s Tip for Travellers to Santa Cruz
If you’re into history, inquire with the museums – they do themed walking tours, but they’re not well-known.
One takes in the length of the original ortification of the city (of which the Museum of San Cristóbal was once a part), and another La Laguna by night, beginning in the city’s museum after hours – now there’s an eerie prospect.
Tenerife‘s history is on a similar timescale and has a similar background to the Americas, so it ties in with many places across the Atlantic as well as Europe.
Even with so much to see in the cities I would definitely hire a car and visit the mountains, vineyards and villages. There are some marvellous, bars and restaurants to be found in the countryside.
I Love Santa Cruz de Tenerife because..?
It has a city feel but island charm, and it blends the historic with the contemporary beautifully.
More posts about the Canary Islands
For more ideas about things to do on that road trip, planning information, beautiful photos, and practical maps to help you plan your travels, check out ZigZag On Earth’s eBook: Explore and Photograph Lanzarote
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Linda left the flat and damp of north west England with her family for the warm and mountainous Canary Islands over 20 years ago, and blogs her experiences at islandmomma. Now in her “third age” she is doing her best to make some of her dreams come true, writing and messing about with her camera. She can found on facebook and tweets as @madreislena
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Do you have any tips for things to do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife?