Why Gran Canaria’s underrated, cosmopolitan capital should be your next weekend break

Las Palmas is the capital city of the Gran Canaria
Las Palmas is the capital city of the Gran Canaria - Getty

On a midwinter night in Las Palmas the temperature was a balmy 20C, and locals were complaining. “¡Qué frio!” (“how cold it is!”) exclaimed a woman at a terrace table in the old town, shivering as she pulled her jacket around her.

Not for nothing did the ancient Greeks describe the Canaries as the Fortunate Isles – but Gran Canaria may just be the luckiest of them all. Not only does the island possess a near-perfect climate and a laidback lifestyle which flies a rainbow flag for tolerance and diversity, but it also has a capital city, Las Palmas, whose historic architecture, fabulous urban beach, sizzling gastronomic scene, world-class Carnival, and generally sky-high quality of life, make it the archipelago’s most complete and cosmopolitan city by far.

While Gran Canaria’s south-coast resorts teem with cheap-and-cheerful tourism, “The Palms” – geographically distant in the island’s far north – retains all the character and realness of a big Spanish town simply getting on with life.

Las Palmas is full of colourful quarters reminiscent of Latin America
Las Palmas is full of colourful quarters reminiscent of Latin America - Gran Canaria Travel / Camera Press

It was on just such a winter day that I flew in from Madrid and installed myself in the Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana, one of a raft of bijou boutique hotels to have opened in the old-town barrio of Vegueta.

Leaning on my balcony in this prettily converted 1915 art-nouveau townhouse – newest of the Cordial group’s quartet of design-forward urban hotelitos – I feasted on a view of the city’s main square with the mighty cathedral of Santa Ana, the Canary Islands’ single most important religious building, looming up at the far end.

From the hotel’s chic rooftop bar the cranes and platforms of a huge container port, still the city’s economic powerhouse, stood out against the steely blue of the Atlantic Ocean.

At midday, locals braved the weather (now a more bearable 23C) to saunter Vegueta’s cobbled streets, chatting all the while in accents that recalled the melodic Spanish of Venezuela or Colombia.

Historic old town Vegueta is full of culture and pretty corners
Historic old town Vegueta is full of culture and pretty corners - Getty

From the wide-open windows of passing cars came the lilting strains of salsa or, if the driver were of a younger generation, pulsing blasts of reggaetón. Las Palmas has all the touchy-feely sensuousness of a Latin American city – and is less than half the flight time from the UK.

Around Santa Ana, ground zero of the city’s foundational phase in the 16th century, I wandered idly among palatial houses with grand façades, carved wooden balconies and ornamental doorways in grey basalt stone. I’d never thought of the Canaries exactly as a cultural hotspot, but Las Palmas gave the lie to that preconception.

In the downtown zone I counted half-a-dozen museums including the cutting-edge Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno (caam.net) and the Museo Canario (elmuseocanario.com), an elegant 19th-century mansion whose glass cabinets were crammed with pre-Colombian art, indigenous pottery and ranks of grinning skulls.

If Vegueta was a centro histórico to rival those of Andalucía’s great cities, the next-door neighbourhood of Triana, into which Las Palmas expanded over succeeding centuries, was a bustling commercial hub, in places as chic as anything in Barcelona.

Boutique Hotel Cordial Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana
Boutique Hotel Cordial Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana

A slow crawl up the Calle Perez Galdós, trendiest of Triana’s retail streets, took me past cool concept stores, fifth-wave coffee bars, vinyl record shops, hip menswear boutiques, and an interior-design emporium (Trastornados) so gorgeous you could practically live in it. Half-way up the street stood the colonial mansion slated for Cordial’s next urban property, due to open later this year.

A pleasure of Las Palmas, I found, was its legion of bistro-style restaurants helmed by Canarian chefs and foregrounding local ingredients. Everything flourishes in Gran Canaria’s year-round growing season: tomatoes actually taste of something even in the depths of December, and tropical fruits like papaya are par for the course at hotel breakfast buffets. The island even grows its own coffee.

The combination of a richly diverse larder of ingredients and an impressive talent pool among the city’s cooks, many of whom have returned from stages in the Michelin-starred restaurants of the peninsula, makes Las Palmas one of Spain’s gastro cities of the moment.

Triana in particular was a happy hunting ground, with restaurants Qué Leche (restaurantequeleche.es), Bevir (restaurantebevir.com), Triciclo (triciclobar.com), and El Canaia de Cano (el-canaia-de-cano.eatbu.com) vying to produce the freshest, most radical take on local classics like ropa vieja and rabbit en salmorejo.

At Muxgo (muxgo.es) in the grounds of the Hotel Santa Catalina, a grande dame recently given a sumptuous €40 million makeover, I was wowed by a menu degustación transmuting rustic island flavours (pine bark, Tejeda honey, prickly pear) into an exquisite kind of New Canarian cuisine.

Head to Talleres Palermo on a Saturday night
Head to Talleres Palermo on a Saturday night

But for seekers of contemporary culture, the major draw is Las Canteras, a 3km sweep of sand that is surely Spain’s most spectacular urban beach. The high-rise avenues behind Las Canteras have no pretensions to glamour, but this is where Las Palmas’ vibrant energy is at its most seductive.

On a Saturday night the barrio was buzzing. Talleres Palermo (tallerespalermo.es), a cavernous culture-space in a former carpenter’s warehouse, heaved with its usual up-for-it crowd of surfer dudes, digital nomads and creative types from northern Europe. After dinner at the Michelin-starred Tabaiba (tabaibarestaurante.com), undoubtedly the city’s most inspiring new restaurant, chef Abraham Ortega told me the pandemic had made young palmenses like himself, forced by the pandemic to return from their exiles in Madrid or Berlin, realise they’d be better off living and creating in their hospitable hometown.

I made the long walk from Las Canteras back to Vegueta along the sea-front, my pale arms fanned by a soft Atlantic breeze. During my short sojourn here, I reflected, I had never been kissed on both cheeks by so many strangers, nor addressed so often as hermoso (lovely one) or mi niño (my child).

What had won me over definitively about Las Palmas, quite apart from the warmth of its winters, was the friendliness of its welcome.


Iberia (iberia.com), Easyjet (easyjet.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) all fly direct to Gran Canaria from various UK airports, with returns starting at £30.

Hotel Cordial Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana (00 34 928 501122; becordial.com) has double rooms from £151 per night.

Paul Richardson was a guest of Turismo Gran Canaria (grancanaria.com). His book, Hidden Valley, finding freedom in Spain’s deep country (Abacus), is available now.

For more information on Las Palmas, see lpavisit.com