Crammed with volcanic peaks, primeval laurel forests and Atlantic-washed shorelines, soulful Tenerife tempts with much more than its balmy weather and beach-vacation buzz.

On the largest island in Spain’s Canary Islands, you can meander around lively neighborhood markets and linger at low-key terrace cafes before diving into forward-thinking art, brightly painted architecture or cliff-hugging hiking trails. And it's all set against a spectacular natural backdrop that feels unlike anywhere else on earth. 

From the cultural thrills of the dynamic capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife to tricky-to-find foodie delights and otherworldly hikes, here’s our pick of the top things to do in Tenerife. 

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Discover Canarian flavors at Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África

Settle into Tenerife life at Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África, the capital’s fresh produce market. The scents of cinnamon, cumin, paprika and other spices waft through the air as you wander past subtropical plants, mountains of colorful fruits, towers of Canarian cheeses and counters piled high with fresh seafood. The peach-orange building was built back in 1944 with Islamic-style arches and a sky-reaching clocktower. 

Delectable local treats range from olive oils and wines to toffee-colored palm honey, specialty coffee from La Orotava and tubs of almogrote (a cheese-based paste from La Gomera). Don’t miss the chance to buy your fish at the market and then have it cooked up at one of the cafe-bars dotted around its edge.  

A woman sits in the library at the Tenerife Espacio De Las Artes. Glass sculptures that look like raindrops hang from the ceiling and a modern white desk is visible in the background.
Immerse yourself in the modern aesthetic of the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes © Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Get creative at Santa Cruz’s Tenerife Espacio de las Artes

Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron – in collaboration with Canarian Virgilio Gutiérrez – are behind the boundary-pushing design of Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, the island’s unmissable art gallery housed in a bold concrete-clad building inspired by the surrounding volcanic landscapes. The free expert-led tours offer a detailed introduction to the TEA’s wonders, which include works by the Tenerife-born surrealist Óscar Domínguez, an astonishing collection of 20th- and 21st-century Canarian art and a 24-hour glass-walled library. 

Right opposite stands one of Tenerife’s oldest churches, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (built in the 1490s and later remodeled), and a 10-minute stroll south takes you to the sweeping wave-shaped Auditorio de Tenerife, designed by Santiago Calatrava. 

Hike through age-old laurel forests in the Anaga mountains

Welcome to the oldest (and arguably most spectacular) part of the island. Shrouded in mist and ancient laurisilva (laurel forest), the isolated Anaga mountains stretch across the northeasternmost tip of Tenerife, protected as both the 144-sq-km (56-sq-mile) Parque Rural de Anaga and, since 2015, as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. The best way to explore this natural paradise is on foot, hiking between clifftop hamlets along the 400km (249 miles) of pathways, which you can learn more about at the Centro de Visitantes Cruz del Carmen. Standout routes include the PRTF3 through the laurel forest and willow trees (8km/5 miles round trip) and the PRTF8 linking Afur, Taganana and Tamadite beach (14km/8.5 miles round trip). 

On the south side of the range, gold-sand Playa de las Teresitas is one of Tenerife’s most beautiful beaches, perfect for cooling off post-hike. 

Tourists and locals enjoy swimming and sunbathing in a natural saltwater pool, formed in an area of volcanic cliffs
Take a dip in one of Tenerife's natural sea pools at low tide © Marcos del Mazo / Getty Images

Cool off in the Atlantic sea pools

One of Tenerife’s greatest joys are its twinkling natural sea pools, where you can join the tinerfeños for a dip in the emerald Atlantic. Rough weather and high tides can make swimming dangerous, so time your visit for low tide. 

On the north coast, Bajamar has a duo of calm, restored salt-water pools set into a concrete terrace right by the waves, and they're perfect for families. Venturing southwest, you’ll find wilder north-coast swim spots at Charco de La Laja and Charco del Viento, located between Puerto de la Cruz and Icod de los Vinos. And then you reach Garachico, one of Tenerife’s most fascinating historical towns, with a string of tempting rock pools created by an 18th-century volcanic eruption. 

Over in the west, jump in at Charco de la Jaquita in Alcalá (which has views of La Gomera), Charco de Isla Cangrejo (overlooking the Los Gigantes cliffs) and hidden-away Playa Abama. On Tenerife’s less-touristy eastern shoreline, low-key Radazul has ladders plunging into the Atlantic beneath soaring magma-molded cliffs.

Explore Spain’s most beloved national park

Few visitors can resist the pull of Spain’s highest peak, 3718m (12,198ft) El Teide, which rises at the core of the eerily beautiful, Unesco-protected Parque Nacional del Teide, the country’s most-visited national park. Sidestep the crowds by hitting the rewarding walking trails that plunge across a silent lava-shaped valley or track up near-deserted volcanic cones.

If you’re planning to hike up to El Teide’s summit, you’ll need to book permits and (if needed) cable car tickets as far ahead as possible. It's around 40 minutes to the top from the upper cable car station at 3555m (11,663ft) along the Sendero Telesforo Bravo path or five hours (9km/5.5 miles) if you hike all the way up from the foot of Montaña Blanca at 2349m (7707ft) without using the cable car. 

But there are endless other exhilarating (and permit-free) trails through this astonishing lunarscape, including hikes up 3135m (10,285ft) Pico Viejo and around the Roques de García

A woman in elaborate gold and blue dress dances at Carnaval in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Celebrate "winter festival" in one of the most energetic Carnaval towns in Spain © Luciano de la Rosa / Shutterstock

Join the winter Carnaval

Rivaled only by Cádiz as Spain’s greatest Carnaval city, Santa Cruz bursts into riotous, sequin-clad fun for three weeks each February, with street parties, colorful parades, fashion competitions and galas spilling out across town. With roots in the 16th century, Tenerife’s Carnaval was banned during Franco’s dictatorship but powered on by recasting itself as a “winter festival.” Book accommodations far in advance. The dates change each year depending on when Easter falls. For those who can’t make it during the festivities, Santa Cruz’s Casa del Carnaval offers a taster. 

Ride the waves in El Médano

With rainbow-colored kitesurf sails rippling across the waves and a sprawling golden Blue Flag beach, bohemian-feeling El Médano ranks among Europe’s prime kitesurfing destinations. Well-established 30 Nudos Kite School runs two-hour kitesurfing sessions for beginners, along with more in-depth three-day courses for a variety of ability levels. They offer classic surf classes too. The best months are November to March and June to September, though conditions are good almost year-round. Don’t miss refreshingly undeveloped Playa de la Tejita overlooked by the Montaña Roja volcano, both part of a protected nature reserve.

Taste volcanic Canarian wines 

Tenerife’s distinctive climates and abrupt geology mean wine-making here is all about rare, autochthonous pre-phylloxera grapes, such as malvasía, negramoll and listán negro. Ancient vines have been grown across the mineral-rich, lava-flow slopes since at least the 15th century, and most are still harvested by hand in the island’s five Denominaciones de Origen (DOs; Denominations of Origin). 

Drop in for a tour and tasting at the award-winning Bodegas Insulares Tenerife, a 660-member cooperative in the northern DO Tacoronte-Acentejo or (with advance booking) at family-owned Suertes del Marqués in the DO Valle de La Orotava, which prioritizes traditional, sustainable production techniques. For a deep-dive into small, artisan tinerfeño vineyards, Tenerife Wine Experience offers private bodega-hopping tours. 

Feast on Tenerife classics at a guachinche

Beloved by tinerfeños, Tenerife’s guachinches are simple, great-value food spots specializing in traditional home-cooked cuisine, typically set in repurposed garages, garden shacks or country fincas (estates) whose owners make and serve their own wine. 

The best area to hunt one down is northern Tenerife, particularly around La Orotava, where you’ll be digging into garbanzas (chickpea stew), grilled meats, ultra-fresh fish, ropa vieja (a meaty stew), Canarian cheeses and other favorites. It’s best to get recommendations locally, but you can find a few online guides.

Enjoy watersports and whale-watching in Los Gigantes

Plunging into the Atlantic from 600m (1969ft) above, northwestern Tenerife’s basalt cliffs of Los Gigantes make up one of the Canaries’ most spectacular coastal landscapes. The dreamiest views are from out on the cobalt-blue water, which means kayaking and paddle-boarding are a delight, especially at sunset. It’s also Tenerife’s top spot for diving and snorkeling, with stingrays, barracudas, sea turtles, endangered Canarian lobsters and other creatures bobbing around the cliffs.

In 2021, a 2000-sq-km swath of ocean surrounding western Tenerife and neighboring La Gomera was declared Europe’s first Whale Heritage Site, recognizing local efforts to develop responsible whale-watching tourism and the area’s unique populations of short-finned pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins and 27 other cetaceans. Make sure you book with an ethical, low-impact operator that prioritizes the animals’ welfare, limiting numbers and always keeping a good distance.

Marvel at Canarian architecture 

Lush green interior patios await discovery behind the candy-colored facades, wood-carved balconies and shuttered windows of La Laguna’s Canarian mansions, just north of Santa Cruz. This town was the island’s original capital until 1723, with most of the palatial homes dotted around its Unesco-listed old town built between the 16th and 18th centuries, particularly along Calle San Agustín. Many remain private residences open only to visitors on free guided tours. It’s a similar scene over in La Orotava, the historically prosperous town clinging to northern Tenerife’s slopes; here you'll find the 1632 Casa de los Balcones, a jewel of Castilian-style Canarian architecture. 

Tackle the Barranco de Masca hike

One of Tenerife’s most thrilling hikes threads through the sheer-walled Barranco de Masca gorge, protected by the 80-sq-km (31-sq-mile) Parque Rural de Teno in the rugged northwest of the island. Following restorations, this spine-tingling trail reopened in 2021, linking Masca (among Tenerife’s most scenic hill villages) with a wild volcanic beach at the mouth of the ravine. It’s a 10km (6.5-mile) round trip, walkable in about seven hours. To help with preservation efforts, the barranco is open to the public only on weekends and there’s a daily cap on visitor numbers (currently set at 125) – you’ll need to book a permit far in advance. 

Dine among the stars

Over the last few years, Tenerife has stormed onto Spain’s gastronomic stage, shining a spotlight on the Canary Islands’ fabulous produce, on-the-up wines and distinct culinary heritage. The island now hosts four Michelin-star restaurants, including the Canaries’ only two-Michelin-star venture: M.B. by top Basque chef Martín Barasategui at the luxe, Morocco-inspired Ritz-Carlton Abama hotel. Also at the resort is Japanese-inspired Abama Kabuki, with one Michelin star. La Caleta’s Canarian-fusion spot El Rincón de Juan Carlos (by the tinerfeño brothers Juan Carlos and Jonathan Padrón) and nearby Italian-Chilean Nub (at the five-star Bahía del Duque hotel) joined the club in 2022. 

Stars (and price tags) aside, you’ll dine well all over the island, whether you fancy a lunch of fresh fish at a no-fuss chiringuito (beach bar) or a gomero-cheese tapa with a glass of Tenerife-made red.

Roam around blissful Canarian gardens

With their unparalleled lava-molded geography and hugely varied microclimates, the Canary Islands are an astonishingly biodiverse natural wonderland, with 500 endemic types of flora. Tenerife alone has around 140 plant species that exist nowhere else in the world. Get a taste at the peaceful Palmetum in Santa Cruz, a 12-hectare (30-acre) landfill now ingeniously reborn as a one-of-a-kind botanical garden devoted to palms from all over the globe.

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