14 Exciting Things to Do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands

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Santa Cruz is Tenerife’s capital city and is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for sun seekers looking for a beach resort holiday.

But there are so many things to do in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, that simply visiting for the beach and not checking out the city would be a huge shame.

City and mountain view of residential houses or buildings in serene hill valley in Santa Cruz, La Palma, Spain
Santa Cruz

From historic landmarks such as San Cristolbal castle to gorgeous nature parks, you’ll find there is something for everyone in Santa Cruz Tenerife.

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Linda Wainwright who has lived in Santa Cruz for over 25 years.

Linda shared with us her insider tips on what to do do in Santa Cruz, plus recommendations on where to stay, eat, drink, and explore.

Is Santa Cruz de Tenerife Worth Visiting?

historic building
Circulo de Amistad

Because Tenerife is very much a tourist destination, I inevitably have to point out to tourists thinking of visiting that there is more to the island than sun, sea and sangria, and part of what’s here is Santa Cruz and neighbouring La Laguna.

Both are full of history, lovely old buildings and stunning modern ones (the older parts are often compared to South America), and both have lots of good restaurants and bars where you can eat al fresco.

Very much cities with hustle and bustle, but still a laid-back vibe. There are also museums, art galleries and churches to visit.

Yet ten minutes outside of Santa Cruz is the island’s prettiest beach, Las Teresitas, and ten minutes outside La Laguna and you are in rich, verdant farmland.

For all these reasons and more, Santa Cruz de Tenerife is definitely worth visiting.

Things to Do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Below you will find some of the top attractions in Santa Cruz, one of the most bustling places in the Canaries. Whether you’re looking for museums, beaches, nature or parties, there’s something for everyone on this list.

1. Visit the Auditorio de Tenerife

curving sail shapes of the tenerife auditorium
Tenerife Auditorium designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.

The contemporary Auditorio de Tenerife (often compared to the Sydney Opera House) and home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, annual Heineken Jazz Festival, a short opera season in Autumn and year-round music and dance performances of every type.

The Tenerife Auditorium is one of the most iconic sites in Tenerife because of its impressive modern architecture. It was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, and was completed in 2003.

It’s one of the finest examples of contemporary architecture in the Canary Islands, and was even included on the local stamps and on commemorative 5 Euro coins in 2011!

As well as admiring the building, you can also catch a show, from operas to ballets, to orchestras, jazz musicians and classical musicians.

Be sure to check out the what’s on calendar to see what is happening at the time you visit!

2. Admire the Local Architecture

One of the top things to do in Santa Cruz is to wander around the neighborhoods and take in the architecture. A stroll around the docks is a great way to see some beautiful buildings and is also a frequent stopping off point for cruise ships.

a town street
Classic La Laguna

Don’t miss the plazas which are lined with amazing buildings and feature water fountains and classical architecture.

The most notable onces are Plaza de España which has a stunning artificial lake, Plaza de la Candelaria, Plaza Weyler, and Plaza Adelantado.

Don’t skip the tiny, underground museum of San Cristóbal castle, a part of the city’s original fortification and home to the canon which shot off Lord Horatio Nelson’s arm when he tried to invade Tenerife in 1797.

The most iconic architecture though can be found in the centre of old town La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and walking its streets is like a journey back in time. It’s worth climbing the tower of La Iglesia de la Concepción to take a look over the valley in which it sits and the beautiful Anaga Mountain range behind.

A statue of a man
Teatro Guimera

Teatro Guimerá also has incredible architecture but also has some excellent performing arts productions sometimes, depending what’s on. The plays will be in Spanish, but there are often music or dance performances too.

Even the tourist information office which is housed in a gorgeous, renovated building, la Casa de los Capitanes, and where you can pick up information about museums and walking tours.

3. Check out the Santa Cruz Museums

courtyard of museum in santa cruz

The Museum of Man and Nature (also known as MUNA or the Museum of Nature and Archaeology) is a great place to learn about how the volcanic Canary Islands exploded from the sea bed, and to see the display of mummified bodies of the original inhabitants, the Guanches, who used to mummify their dead.

It’s also set in the Old Civil Hospital and has stunning neo-classical architecture.

For art lovers, don’t miss the Tenerife Espacio de Artes (Tenerife Arts Center) for photography and art exhibitions.

The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) is also worth a visit to see incredible sculptures and artwork from Flemish artists from the 16th century to 19th century. 

Some of his most notable pieces are the Tríptico de Nava y Grimón by Pieter Coecke and the San Andrés by José Rivera.

And there’s also the Museum of History and Anthropology, which is set inside a stunning Spanish colonial villa.

4. Visit the Convent of Santa Catalina

One of the top attractions in Santa Cruz is the Convent of Santa Catalina, which is one of the oldest buildings in the city.

The monastery was established in 1611 in what used to be the house of Los Adelantados. Its architecture resembles that of a baroque style, which is best seen in the Main Chapel where you will see a Baroque altarpiece, as well as a silver exhibitor.

The monastery is now a fine arts museum, and features many examples of religious artwork and decoration. Inside the church, be sure to check out the sculpture representing Santa Rosa de Lima by Rodríguez de la Oliva, the most precious item in the museum.

5. Taste the Local Cuisine

Canarian wrinkly potatoes (Papas arrugadas) in Las Palmas
Canarian wrinkly potatoes (Papas arrugadas) in Las Palmas

No trip to Tenerife is complete without trying the local cuisine, specifically, Papas Arrugadas with Mojo.

Papas arrugadas translates as wrinkled potatoes, which may sound like a bland thing to recommend, but done right they really are delicious! These are no ordinary potatoes but special varieties of floury tubers, grown in the Canary Islands.

They are served with mojos, Canarian sauces made with cilantro or red peppers.

When it comes to finding places to eat in Santa Cruz, I don’t even have to think about this!

Calle Noria, which extends from La Plaza de la Iglesia de la Concepción is the place to eat, night or day, with its brightly-painted buildings it will remind you of Habana. It’s full of cafés, bars and restaurants, some quirky and all excellent.

palm trees on a sidewalk
Calle Noria houses

My favorite is El Bulan, where they do extraordinary tapas, tastes and combinations I’ve had nowhere else.

Half the street is lined with chairs and tables (it’s pedestrianized) and you can eat lunch outdoors all year round, though dining in winter might be a bit chilly.

people walking down a street
Calle Noria

Although it’s pleasant to sit around the city’s main square, Plaza de España, sadly I couldn’t recommend any of the eateries around there, get off the main tourist drag if you want better food.

I don’t know La Laguna’s centre from a foodie point of view, although I’ve had plenty of tapas and cakes in the places around the main streets and never been disappointed.

6. Enjoy the Nightlife of Avendia Anaga

Panorama of Santa Cruz at night
Panorama of Santa Cruz at night

When it comes to things to do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife at night, no one bar stands out. The area of Avendia Anaga after dark is alive with bars, clubs and party goers. It’s the place to be if you want to cruise the clubs and bars.

During the day, it’s shuttered up and the place looks abandoned, but it changes character completely when the lights come on.

La Laguna is a university town, so there are plenty of reasonably-priced bars all around.

7. Take a Walking Tour of Santa Cruz

spires and orange roof of Basilica of Candelaria,  overlooking water
Basilica of Candelaria

If you’re into history, inquire with the museums – they do themed walking tours, but they’re not well-known.

One takes in the length of the original fortification of the city (of which the Museum of San Cristóbal was once a part), and another La Laguna by night, beginning in the city’s museum after hours – now there’s an eerie prospect.

Tenerife’s history is on a similar timescale and has a similar background to the Americas, so it ties in with many places across the Atlantic as well as Europe.

You can also take a free walking tour with a knowledgable local, which is a great way to get to know the area and see the highlights.

8. Explore the Markets in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

an archway in a building
Market of Nuestra Señora de Africa

TheMarket of Nuestra Señora de Africa (Lady of Africa Market is one of the best places to buy the best of the island’s produce bananas, tomatoes, papaya and other fruit and vegetables, not to mention those tiny potatoes and yummy goats’ cheeses from the market stalls.

For souvenirs, there is one thing you should definitely take home. The Canary Islands has been famous for wine since the 17th century – Shakespeare was a huge fan, no kidding. He mentions “a cup of Canary” in several of his plays!

You can also buy artisan olive oils, those mojo sauces, local honey and jams, and lotions and other beauty products made from aloe vera, which grows all over the island.

The Canary Islands have a special status within the EU. They used to be duty free, and that’s not strictly true now, but you can certainly buy perfumes, booze and tobacco cheaper than on mainland Europe, though obviously you need to check how much you can take into wherever you’re going back to.

9. Enjoy a Festival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The carnival of santa cruz

No doubt what springs to my mind first when I think of festivals, the Santa Cruz Carnival. It’s claimed that Santa Cruz’s Carnaval in the couple of weeks leading up to Lent is second only to Rio de Janeiro in size. It’s one long, crazy, chaotic, fun-filled party. It would take me an entire post to do it justice.

The best I can say briefly is that it is the colourful, noisy, and vibrant event you imagine it to be! Think parades and costumes, loud music and a lot of drinking.

Other than that there is the Heineken Jazz Festival in July, which includes some free concerts.

person playing guitar on stage at Sant aBlues
Santa Blues

Santa Blues – a free blues festival one weekend in June.

August is a bit like one long fiesta too, when terrazas de verano (summer terraces) open. These are temporary bars which set up just for hottest weeks of the year, outdoors and with long opening hours to while away those sleepless nights.

>romeria a traditional fiesta which is something like a cross between a harvest festival and May Day celebrations.

Folk groups, singers, dancers, farmers with their huge-eyed oxen, herds of goats, the odd goose or puppy take part, and everyone in traditional dress, including many of the onlookers.

family dress in traditional romeria
family trad dress Romeria

10. Take a Day Trip to Teide National Park

mount teide peak
Mount Teide a volcano on Tenerife in the Canary Islands

If you’re looking for outdoor activities in Santa Cruz, then a visit to The Teide National Park is a must. It’s my favourite day trip from Santa Cruz!

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Park is site of the world’s third largest volcano measured from the ocean bed, at 3,713 m Mount Teide is the highest mountain in Spain and in winter you will often find it covered in snow, despite this being a sub-tropical climate.

The park’s volcanic landscapes are sensational, and although it’s pretty barren-looking, there is flora which grows nowhere else on earth in the wild. I love to see the expressions on people’s face when I take them up there. The most-used adjectives are lunar or surreal.

The scenery is stunning and you’ll find plenty of hiking trails for those who like to get out and explore. Another popular hiking spot is Anaga Rural Park, if you have more time to spare.

It’s also an interesting drive, through pine forests. Often you emerge above cloud level, to look down on clouds as you would from a plane, and see Mt Teide rising above it all – impressive.

11. Enjoy Water Sports at Costa Adeje

blue waters of costa adeje

Just outside the city of Santa Cruz is the coastal town of Costa Adeje. It’s known for its beaches and untamed, natural beauty.

If you’re looking for beaches, this is it. It’s also the perfect place to do water sports since the wind makes it a great spot for sailing, parasailing and more.

Yet in the bays, you can find softer waves, which are perfect for ambling along on a sea kayak or whizzing around on a jet ski.

If you visit at the right time of year (November to February), you can also see whales migrating in the waters.

12. Visit Palmetum (The Botanical Garden Santa Cruz de Tenerife)

plam trees on cliff edge next to water

For visitors to Tenerife who enjoy nature and botany, a visit to the Palmetum is a must!

The Palmetum of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a 12-hectare botanical garden with a particular interest in palm trees.

It has two big lakes, a stream, and three cascading waterfalls, a lovely green space, as well as areas with the Canary Island’s iconic volcanic rocks.

The botanical garden is built on a former waste dumping ground and is now bursting with plant life. It is the work of several dedicated people from around the world who bought this innovative garden to life.

The gardens are home to more than 3,000 species of plants from around the world, including more than 600 species of palm trees.

Another relaxing park you might want to visit is the García Sanabria Park, a lush garden park that’s perfect for a picnic and relaxation.

13. Have a Beach Day at Playa de las Teresitas Beach

sweeping view of Playa de Las Teresitas
Playa de Las Teresitas, Canary Island Tenerife, Spain.

One of the best beaches in Tenerife is Teresitas Beach, which is an artificial beach famous for its soft and clean golden sand and calm waters.

The beach is around 1.5km long so you won’t have a problem finding a spot. It also has a breakwater, which means the beach gradually slopes into the water and the bay is protected, which makes the currents calm and peaceful, like a glistening swimming pool.

For that reason, it’s one of the most popular beaches on the island, especially for those with kids.

The beach has all the facilities you would need, including toilets, showers and changing rooms, plus there are some great restaurants lining the promenade.

It’s a great place to visit for sunset, too.

14. Splash About at Cesar Manrique Maritime Park

view overlooking city and Maritime Park of Cesar Manrique on water
Maritime Park of Cesar Manrique

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife with kids, then a visit to César Manrique Maritime Park is a must!

The resort is 22,000 square meters big and features several swimming pools, waterfalls and other elements of nature, including volcanic rocks and palm trees.

It has three swimming pools with water drawn from the ocean, an artificial waterfall as well as a children’s play area and games room.

For mom and dad, there’s a gym, sports ground and hot spring hot tub. It’s fun for all the family!

Best Time of Year to Visit Santa Cruz, Tenerife

In one sense – any time is a good time to visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Winters are very mild, shirt-sleeves by day, a jacket by night.

Although La Laguna is cooler because it’s much higher, even so, the worst it gets is like an Autumn day in England, for comparisson.

If you don’t want all the noise of Carnaval avoid Shrove Tuesday week at all costs.

Low season here is May/June and November/early December and there are cheap flights around, but the trouble with low season is that sometimes you find restaurants have taken the month off.

Hottest time is late July/August/early September when temperatures can get up to 40ºC so if you don’t like it hot avoid summer. It’s also the busiest time, of course, during the school holidays.

Getting To and Around Santa Cruz

From Europe is pretty easy. Several low-cost airlines serve the islands now, including Easyjet, from UK. From further afield it means flying into a main hub, like Madrid and then onwards to Tenerife.

When it comes to getting around, Santa Cruz is very walkable. Although this is a mountainous island, slopes are fairly gentle, even in La Laguna, which is around 2,000 ft above sea level.

There are excellent bus services to other parts of the island, and a zillion taxis.

The two cities are connected by a modern tramway which blends surprisingly well with the historical surroundings when it passes through those areas.

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Of course, when you live in a place, you don’t often get to stay in hotels or hostels.

The only hotel I’ve stayed in is the very chic Iberostar Grand Mencey, which somehow blends modern, luxury minimalism with a colonial feel, and which I loved! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. A friend stayed in city-center hotel Silken Atlantida said it was excellent too.

Scroll through the list below for more accommodation options

For more ideas about things to do on that road trip, planning information, beautiful photos, and practical maps to help you plan your travels, check out ZigZag On Earth’s eBook: Explore and Photograph Lanzarote

Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Santa Cruz, Tenerife

I love Santa Cruz de Tenerife because it has a city feel but island charm, and it blends the historic with the contemporary beautifully.

I hope this guide helped you decide on what to do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and helped you map out your itinerary.

Even with so much to see in the city, I would definitely hire a car and visit the mountains, vineyards and villages outside Santa Cruz. There are some marvellous, bars and restaurants to be found in the countryside.

Bio: Linda left the flat and damp of north west England with her family for the warm and mountainous Canary Islands over 20 years ago, and blogs her experiences at islandmomma. Now in her “third age” she is doing her best to make some of her dreams come true, writing and messing about with her camera. She can found on facebook and tweets as @madreislena

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