Tenerife is the striking grande dame in the archipelago family. Attracting over six million visitors a year, the island’s most famous southern resorts offer Brit-infused revelry and clubbing, combined with white sandy beaches and all-inclusive resorts. But get your explorer's hat on and step beyond the tourist spots and you’ll discover an island of extraordinary beauty and diversity, with remote mountain-ridge villages, cultured port settlements and charming ancient towns.
This potpourri of experiences continues with tropical-forest walks and designer-shop struts, dark forays into volcanic lava, a sexy and sultry Carnaval celebration that’s second only to Rio's, and a stash of museums and temples to modern art. But above all else, this is an island of drama, and nothing comes more dramatic than the snow-draped Pico del Teide, Spain’s tallest mountain and home to some of the most fabulous hiking in the whole country.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Tenerife.
The highlights of this dramatic contemporary building are the architecture, its three galleries and the stunning library downstairs. The galleries display temporary exhibitions of art, photography and installation works, including the creative output of up-and-coming Spanish artists reflecting edgy, contemporary themes. The building was designed by the Swiss architects and Pritzker Prize Laureates Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, famed for their innovative construction, with a prestigious portfolio that includes London’s Tate Modern. When you reach the glass main entrance to the building, turn around for a superb shot of the covered approach. The cinema at TEA (€4) is dedicated to independent, art and experimental film and documentaries, allowing you the chance to see material that may be rarely screened. All films (shown at 7pm and 9.30pm Friday to Sunday) are in their original language, with Spanish subtitles. The astonishing library downstairs, a design classic, is open 24 hours. A popular cafe is next door to the library, and there's an excellent gift shop. Guided visits of TEA are €15.
This magnificent, soaring white wave of an auditorium was designed by the internationally renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and delivers shades of the Sydney Opera House, plus superb acoustics. Guided 45-minute tours (€7.50; reserved in advance by telephone) in English, German or Spanish take you behind the scenes of the remarkable building. If you don't have time for a tour or to attend a performance, at least consider having a drink in the cafe within the sweeping space of the main entrance. You can also walk around the entirety of the building and take plenty of arty photos to impress the folks and friends back home.
Established in 1788, this magnificent botanical garden has thousands of plant varieties from all over the world and is a delightful place to while away an afternoon smelling the roses. As well as the major collections of tropical and subtropical plants, there's a wide variety of palms, a fragrant herb garden and a giant 200-year-old Australian Moreton Bay fig. The garden is well signposted if you are driving. Alternatively, the majority of interurban buses make a stop near here on their way out of town, or a taxi will cost around €8.
This library downstairs at TEA is a design classic, a vast open-plan room with overhanging globular lights, copious natural light, angular lines and a sharp contemporary feel, all fashioned with a sense of uncluttered space that all libraries should emulate. If you’re footsore, there are quiet cubicles (and sofas outside) where you can sit, read or have a snooze, and books and magazines for browsing, including some in English. A kids' library is downstairs
Dating from 1944, this tantalising market is housed in an eye-catching building that combines a Latin American feel with Moorish-style arches and patios. A lofty clock tower helps in locating the place – or just follow the shopping baskets; the mercado offers fresh, competitively priced produce, and is the top choice for locals, including restaurateurs. Stalls are spread over two bustling floors and interspersed with colourful flower sellers, kiosks selling churros and lush subtropical greenery. It’s not large by Spanish standards (some 140 stalls) but it is still fascinating, with stalls selling mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables and a variety of fish. You can also buy picnic fare such as bread, local cheese, wine and cold cuts. Save money by buying your gourmet deli items here, including jars of chilli-spiked mojo salsa, cactus marmalade, local honey, herbs and spices. On the main Patio Naciente, head for stalls such as Mi Mundo Gourmet, which sells and has tastings of cheese and jamón (ham) or Herboristeria Mil Variedades, which specialises in medicinal herbs for every imaginable ailment. Visit La Queseria del Mercado for all your cheesey needs, while if you want the French stuff, head to La Maison du Fromage. Look for Canary Wine, where the charming and patient owner will guide you through the local wines, including eco-wines and the famous banana wine with the peeled-back price of just €8 a bottle. Another popular choice is viña norte, a Lambrusco-style rosé. Wine tastings take place during opening hours, but phone ahead if you're a group. For a bite to eat, the very freshest morsels from the deep are on offer down at the restaurants attached to the fish market .
This brain-bending amalgam of natural science and archaeology is an excellent museum, despite a rather confusing layout. Set inside the former civil hospital, the exhibit highlights are undoubtedly the Guanche mummies and skulls, all of which are shrivelled masses of skin, hair and bone, with faces dried into contorted and grotesque expressions. In addition, there are informative displays on wildlife, flora and geology; the audiovisual presentation about the eruption of El Teide on the ground floor is particularly powerful and mesmerising. There's also an absorbing section on the second floor devoted to archaeological finds on each of the islands, as well as an area detailing Berber ceramics. Children will enjoy the interactive displays, with their flashing buttons and large TV screens. Most signage is only in Spanish, although most of the exhibition rooms have laminated explanatory sheets in English, and a handy online audio tour in six languages is available. There’s also a cafe and gift shop.
It's difficult to miss the striking bell tower of the city’s oldest church, which also has traditional Mudéjar (Islamic-style architecture) ceilings. The present church was built in the 17th and 18th centuries, but the original building went up in 1498, just after Tenerife was conquered. At the heart of the shimmering silver altar is the 1494 Santa Cruz de la Conquista (Holy Cross of the Conquest), which gives the city its name. Check out the anteroom to the sacristy. The altarpiece in the chapel beside it was carved from cedar on the orders of Don Matías Carta, a prominent personage who died before it was completed. He lies buried here and the pallid portrait on the wall was done after his death (hence the closed eyes and crossed arms). There’s also a fine painting, La Adoración de los Pastores (The Adoration of the Shepherds) by Juan de Miranda.
This imposing domed church dates from 1959 and sits at the edge of the town centre, overlooking a rocky beach and flanked by a plaza where nine huge statues of Guanche warriors stand guard. The church has an enthralling interior as well as a palpable air of reverence, focused on the adoration of the Virgin of Candelaria. With its ornate decoration, the interior of the dome is an architectural highlight. During the official festivities for the Virgen de la Candelaria celebration on 15 August, the plaza fills with pilgrims and partygoers from all over the Canary Islands. If you visit during a Mass, you will probably find it is standing room only.
This is not just any old garden: step through the entrance and you'll be met by a sweeping lawn punctuated with tables and chairs, tropical plants (birds of paradise and poinsettias) and citrus trees. In the historic main house there's a cafe serving drinks and snacks. For a small admission fee you can also visit the magnificent aquatic gardens with herons, dragonflies, a mock lookout tower and benches for quiet contemplation. With a backdrop of green and birdsong, these gardens feel a world away from the clamour of the coast. Don't miss them.