Why the Canary Islands deliver the ultimate winter sun escape

Tenerife is the biggest, boldest Canary island with plenty of activities for families - Joel Micah Miller

A bell tolls in a church tower hidden behind swaying palms as locals order another cortado (espresso with milk) and settle in for a chat in the village square. A surfer eyes the foaming whitecaps offshore, then jogs down the smooth golden sands to catch the morning’s waves. A hiker shields their eyes from the rising sun as they reach a volcano’s summit and breathes in fresh mountain air with the faintest tinge of sulphur.

These may, perhaps, not be scenes that you would expect from an archipelago more often associated with the groaning buffets of pack-them-in hotels or the raucous nightlife of boozed-up Brits abroad. But times have changed, and so have the Canaries.

It’s time we accept that the Canary Islands have shaken off their outdated, unfair reputation and focus instead on what makes them such a popular holiday spot with people from every walk of life.

Take the beaches, for example, with golden sands as far as the eye can see. Some of them are lively with holidaymakers, of course, but others are quiet and secluded; the sort where you’ll make the day’s first footprints. Then there’s the landscape, its staggering variety taking in volcanoes that peak at over 10,000 feet and subtropical rainforests dense with laurels and ferns, arid lava flows topped with rock stacks like gnarled fingers and lush banana plantations vaulting down to the sea.

There’s also incredible food, from simple grilled fish you’ll pull from the bone with salty fingers to Michelin-starred tasting menus you’ll be talking about for months. Not to mention charming villages with cobbled streets and hanging balconies, rooftop cocktail bars with Atlantic views and wine so delicious it’ll have you checking the post-Brexit customs rules to see what you can bring home.

Value-focused travellers have long known that the Canaries offer excellent bang for your buck, but in recent years a more discerning holidaymaker has started to discover this archipelago and a raft of chic hotels and stylish villas has opened up to accommodate them. This is evident in a recent poll run by Telegraph Travel of where people are booking, which shows that the islands are a forerunner with many Britons planning a holiday this year. It’s time to join them. Here’s our guide to finding the right Canarian holiday for you.

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Which island to choose


Best for endless activity

Tenerife is the biggest, boldest Canary, rearing up from the Atlantic like a hulking, jet-black pyramid as you fly in, then dazzling you with everything from waterparks and zoos to Michelin dining and exuberant nightlife. Here you can take a cable car to stand atop Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide volcano (volcanoteide.com; from £18.90), dance through the night at the world’s second-largest carnival (after Rio) and delve beneath the volcanic landscape at the Cueva del Viento lava tubes (cuevadelviento.net; £17.20).

In the sun-drenched south, you’ll find luxurious hotels with oceanfront pools, sweeping beaches with sand imported from the Sahara (the natural beaches here are black) and the fabulous Siam Park waterpark (siampark.net; £36.10). Meanwhile, the north has an altogether more laidback air, with its swimming spots quieter, its landscape greener, and its ancient towns home to tapas bars and churches.

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Tenerife is sunny almost all year round - Shutterstock

If you head north, check in to the elegant Hotel Botanico, for Teide views from your balcony and a Thai-themed spa garden (hotelbotanico.com; double rooms from £195 B&B). The south’s top pick is the adults-only Royal Hideaway Corales Beach, with a rooftop infinity pool and Michelin-starred restaurant El Rincón de Juan Carlos (barcelo.com; double rooms from £283 B&B). Rather book a self-catering break? The Canarian hamlet of Hacienda El Terrero on the north coast has a rustic-chic style and beautiful Atlantic views (haciendaelterrero.com; sleep two to four from £80).

How to get there: There are regular direct flights to Tenerife South from the UK with airlines including BA (ba.com), EasyJet (easyjet.com) and Jet2 (jet2.com), with at least one daily departure from both London and Manchester. Flight time is around four and a half hours. Tenerife has a second airport, Tenerife North, but there are currently no direct flights from the UK.

Gran Canaria

Best for variety

Gran Canaria and Tenerife may tussle over which island makes the better holiday destination but there’s little between them when it comes to top-notch hotels, sandy beaches or places to eat – especially now that both have Michelin-starred restaurants from the ground-breaking Canarian-born Padrón brothers with Poemas in Las Palmas (restaurantepoemas.com; tasting menu £120).

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria is filled with top-notch hotels, sandy beaches and places to eat - Camera Press

Compared to Tenerife, Gran Canaria probably has the more enticing capital; Las Palmas boasts the lively urban beach of Las Canteras, plus a stylish bar and restaurant scene. In the island’s south, the dunes of Maspalomas stretch for some two miles and run down to calm waters ideal for a dip. There’s smashing hiking on Gran Canaria too, with trails up to the rock stack of Roque Nublo and around the crater edge of Caldera de Bandama. Then there are the ancient cave paintings at Gáldar (cuevapintada.com; £5.20) and the cave houses of Artenara.

Base yourself in Las Palmas at the opulent five-star hotel Santa Catalina, a Royal Hideaway (barcelo.com; double rooms from £126), which dates from 1890 and boasts a rooftop pool. Alternatively, head to the other end of the island and stay in a room with a view of the Maspalomas dunes at the stylish Seaside Palm Beach in Meloneras (hotel-palm-beach.com; double rooms from £245 B&B). Close by is beachside Villa Sisao with its own private pool, garden and direct access to the promenade (oliverstravels.com; sleeps eight from £6,510 a week).

How to get there: There are regular direct flights to Gran Canaria from many major UK airports including Manchester, Stansted and Bristol with airlines including Jet2, Vueling (vueling.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com). Flight time is around four and a half hours.


Best for style

Lanzarote can thank César Manrique for saving it from the rampant mid-20th-century development that blighted some other Spanish holiday destinations. The island-born architect and all-around style authority insisted on no high-rise buildings and no billboards – and also designed some truly fabulous spaces. Check out his Jameos del Agua, a concert hall and restaurant sculpted from lava caves (cactlanzarote.com; £8.60), and don’t miss a stroll through his Jardín de Cactus, a striking garden that features some 4,500 cacti (cactlanzarote.com; £5.60). You can also visit Manrique’s utterly unique home and studio in Haría, which remains as he left it on his death in 1992 (fcmanrique.org; £8.60).

Lanzarote also has excellent beaches, from tot-friendly Playa Flamingo to blustery Playa de Famara, which is ideal for surfing. In the far south, the nature reserve of Papagayo is reached via a dirt track and strung with coves of golden sand.

Papagayo beach in the south coast of Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain
Papagayo in Lanzarote is strung with coves of golden sand - Getty/iStock

Lanzarote is also the islands’ top pick for wine touring; take a swing around the bodegas of La Geria (try Bermejo and El Grifo), picking up bottles of dry white malvasia volcánica as you go.

For a five-star stay, try adults-only Paradisus Salinas Lanzarote in Costa Teguise, which Manrique himself had a hand in designing (melia.com; double from £357 all-inclusive). Self-catering is chic and sustainable at Finca de Arrieta eco-village where you’ll find a range of yurts (lanzaroteretreats.com; sleep three to eight from £78). Meanwhile ex-farmhouse Villa Guatiza, in the somnolent eponymous village, promises a private pool surrounded by tropical plants (stayone.com; sleeps four from £172).

How to get there: There are regular direct flights to Lanzarote from many major UK airports including Gatwick, Edinburgh and Luton with BA, Vueling and EasyJet. Flight time is around four and a half hours.


Best for beaches

Locals can argue endlessly over which Canary Island has the best beaches, but Fuerteventura will always quietly steal the crown. Although this is the second largest of the Canary Islands it receives just a fraction of the attention compared to some of its neighbours and yet it’s lined with the sort of ridiculously flawless white sands you’d expect to see on a screensaver.

In the south, Playa de Cofete has a wild feel, its broad sands stretched flat between lofty cliffs on one side and turquoise waters on the other. Meanwhile, the north boasts the Corralejo dunes; a vast expanse of rippling beachscape worth crossing oceans for alone – its mile upon mile of buttery peaks that practically beg you to sprint down them, kicking up soft clouds as you go.

Corralejo Beach in Fuerteventura, Spain
Fuerteventura has the best beaches in the Canary Islands - Alamy

Corralejo makes a great base, with its compact town centre arranged around a sheltered beach and its promenade of low-key restaurants serving the freshest catch of the day. From here you can take the ferry (navieranortour.com; £13.75) to neighbouring Isla de Lobos; a rugged uninhabited islet home to rare birds which offers some excellent snorkelling and short hiking trails, the best of which runs up Caldera mountain for views back over Fuerteventura.

Families can stay in the centre of Corralejo at the sleek Barceló Corralejo Sands, which has a kid’s pool and mini club (barcelo.com; double rooms from £106 B&B). For grown-ups that don’t have little ones in tow, the relaxed feel of adults-only Avanti Lifestyle Hotel is for you with its promenade location and rooftop terrace (avantilifestylehotel.com; double rooms from £127 B&B). If you prefer to book a villa, opt for Beach Valhalla and you’ll get a private oceanfront garden with a pool and hot tub (oliverstravels.com; sleeps eight from £4,000 a week).

How to get there: There are regular direct flights to Fuerteventura from many major UK airports including Manchester, Gatwick and Birmingham with airlines including Ryanair, Jet2 and EasyJet. Flight time is around four and a half hours.

La Palma

Best for natural wonders

The volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands are far from dormant. La Palma experienced the islands’ most recent eruption in 2021, when the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge spewed lava and ash for 85 days straight, covering an area some 5 square miles in size. The fallout has been devastating (some 2,000 buildings were destroyed) but tourism remains the island’s lifeblood and the new volcano formed by the eruption now welcomes hikers to explore its slopes (guided tours only; islabonitatours.com; from £26). You can find out more about the island’s volcanic activity at Caños de Fuego Interpretation Centre where you can step inside a lava tube (lapalmacentrosturisticos.com; £6.90).

Spain, Canary Islands, La Palma
Discover volcanic landscapes in La Palma - 4cornersimages.com

It’s not La Palma’s terra firma that promises a natural show. With the island, one of the best places in the world to view the night sky, be sure not to miss an evening spent stargazing (islabonitatours.com; from £26).

The island has never courted the mainstream package holiday market, making hotel options rather more limited than neighbouring islands. Laidback Hacienda San Jorge, with its lagoon-style pool surrounded by palms, is the pick of the hotels (hsanjorge.com; double rooms from £118). Villa La Palma takes self-catering to luxurious heights with its Bauhaus style and Atlantic-view infinity pool (welcomebeyond.com; sleeps six from £385).

How to get there: Tui (tui.co.uk) flies weekly to La Palma direct from Gatwick and Manchester (Thursdays). It’s also possible to fly with Iberia (iberia.com) via Madrid a couple of times a week but you’ll have to clear immigration so a lengthy connection is advised. There are daily flights to La Palma from Tenerife South (bintercanarias.com). Alternatively, you can travel by ferry from Los Cristianos on Tenerife with Naviera Armas (navieraarmas.com) or Fred Olsen Express (fredolsen.es); multiple daily sailings from two and half hours.

La Gomera

Best for dramatic beauty

La Gomera is so riven with ravines that the locals developed a whistling language (Silbo Gomero) to communicate across its dizzying terrain. Today hikers make the most of the jaw-dropping landscape, following well-marked trails through valleys burgeoning with subtropical plants and banana plantations that stretch to the sea. For keen drivers, meanwhile, there are numerous viewpoints to pull in and enjoy the show stopping views. Stay at Parador de la Gomera (paradores.es; double rooms from £85), perched on the cliffs above the capital San Sebastián with Atlantic views from the rooms and a swimming pool.

How to get there: Take the ferry from Los Cristianos on Tenerife with Naviera Armas or Fred Olsen Express; multiple daily sailings; 50 minutes.

La Gomera, Canary Islands
Show-stopping views await hikers in La Gomera - Shutterstock

El Hierro

Best for end-of-the-world vibes

Once considered the edge of the world, El Hierro feels very far from pretty much everywhere. Here you can walk across lava flows to secluded black-sand beaches, swim in volcanic rock pools and feast on tangy local goat’s cheese and just-caught prawns. Take an oceanview room at the Parador de El Hierro (paradores.es; double rooms from £75) and you can watch the sunrise above the Atlantic from your terrace, illuminating Teide on distant Tenerife.

How to get there: Take the ferry from Los Cristianos on Tenerife with Naviera Armas; daily except Saturdays; two and a half hours.

El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain
El Hierro stands out with its black-sand beaches and volcanic rock pools - 4cornersimages.com

La Graciosa

Best for escaping everything

On La Graciosa, the streets are made from sand and the pace of life is languid. This is the place to sleep late, lunch long and snooze on the beach. Book a simple holiday cottage in Caleta de Sebo, such as the two-bedroom Casa Lola (airbnb.com; sleeps four from £354 for three nights) and get about by bike. You can peddle out to the buttery sands of Playa de las Conchas in about 20 minutes.

How to get there: Take the ferry from Órzola on Lanzarote with Lineas Romero (lineasromero.com); multiple daily sailings; 30 minutes.

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How to avoid the fly and flop

If you’re keen on an experience that goes beyond the realms of the conventional Canary Island holiday, there is plenty to choose from. Here are five of the best.

Take a hike

Get to grips with the volcanic Canarian landscape by striking out on two feet on a self-guided hiking holiday that takes in the highlights of both Tenerife and La Gomera. You’ll spend most of your time on La Gomera, hiking the island’s lush laurel forests and vertiginous valleys, but you can also summit Tenerife’s smouldering Mount Teide.

Book it: Walks Worldwide (01962 302 085; walksworldwide.com) offers seven-night self-guided walking holidays to Tenerife and La Gomera from £1,149pp B&B, including flights, transfers and some dinners.

Sail off into the sunset

See the islands from the water on a sailing holiday with G Adventures. Set sail from Tenerife and cruise westwards to La Gomera and La Palma, where there’s time to explore ashore. While at sea you can pitch in with the crew or just relax on deck. Once moored, there’s plenty of time for swimming.

Book it: G Adventures (0207 313 6953; gadventures.com) offers six nights of sailing in the Canary Islands from £979pp excluding flights and meals.

Avoid the airport

Prefer not to fly? Hop aboard a P&O cruise and head for the Canaries from Southampton, calling at Madeira, Cadiz and Lisbon on the way. The ship, Iona, has four pools, a spa and 30 restaurants and bars, with meals and entertainment included. You’ll get a full day ashore on each of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

Book it: P&O (0344 338 8003; pocruises.com) offers 14-night cruises from £949pp full board.

wine growing district La Geria, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain
Enjoy walks through the vineyards of La Geria - Alamy

Push your limits

Combine walking and cycling on KE Adventure’s Lanzarote itinerary, which includes a hike through the incredible volcanic landscapes of Timanfaya National Park, walks through the vineyards of La Geria and a cycling excursion to neighbouring La Graciosa.

Book it: KE Adventure (01768 773 966; keadventure.com) offers seven-night walking and cycling trips to Lanzarote from £1,245 excluding flights but including bike hire and some meals.

Breathe it all in

Year-round balmy temperatures and fresh sea air make La Palma ideal for a relaxing wellness break. Health and Fitness Travel have week-long holidays at the cliff top four-star La Palma Princess, where rooms come with ocean views and the treatment programme includes thermal spa circuits, multiple massages (including hot stone and aromatherapy) and group classes in pilates, yoga and Zumba.

Book it: Health and Fitness Travel (0203 397 8891; healthandfitnesstravel.com) offers seven-night half-board wellness holidays to La Palma from £1,055pp excluding flights.

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Need to know

When to go

Of course, you’re thinking winter sun – the Canarian high remains above 20 degrees even in January, after all – but it’s worth considering spring or autumn instead when prices and visitor numbers are lower. This is the time for quieter beaches. Fancy a party instead? Tenerife hosts the world’s second-largest Carnival (after Rio) every February or March (exact dates vary according to when Easter falls).

When to book

Want something specific or slightly unusual? Booking far in advance is best. If you’re looking for a simple beach holiday, though, waiting until the last minute can yield a bargain. With so much flight capacity from the UK and so many beds to fill across the islands’ large hotels, there are often fantastic late deals to be had.

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