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 cable car provides the easiest way to get up to the peak of El Teide. The views are great – unless a big cloud is covering the peak, in which case you won’t see a thing. On clear days the volcanic valley spreads out majestically below, and you can see the islands of La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro peeking up from the Atlantic. It takes just eight minutes to zip up 1200m.
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.
Calling this mountain ‘Old Peak’ is something of a slight misnomer considering it was actually the last of Tenerife’s volcanoes to have erupted on a grand scale. In 1798 its southwestern flank tore open, leaving a 700m gash. Today you can clearly see where fragments of magma shot over 1km into the air and fell pell-mell, while torrents of lava gushed from a secondary, lower wound to congeal on the slopes.
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.
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.
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
These astonishing, dark rock cliffs soar sublimely 600m from the ocean, forging a magnificent natural geological spectacle right on the edge of Los Gigantes. Try to stop by when the sun sets for added wow factor. The best views of the cliffs are from out at sea (there’s no shortage of companies offering short cruises) and from Playa de los Gigantes.
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.
A few kilometres south of El Teide peak, across from the Parador Nacional, lies this geological freak show of twisted lava pinnacles, christened with names such as Finger of God and the Cathedral. The display is a consequence of various processes: old volcanic dykes eroding or solidified vertical streams of magma. The most bizarre overture is the Roque Cinchado, while to the west spread out the otherworldly bald plains of the Llano de Ucanca.