Tenerife Island is the largest of the seven Canary Islands and the most populated. With the highest elevation in Spain, Tenerife also claims the world’s third largest volcano, El Teide. Our guest expert, Linda Wainwright, knows at some point people want to get off the beach and get into town. Here is an overview of cities on Tenerife and cool stuff to do.
By Linda Wainwright
Think Canary Islands and you think ocean and beaches, perhaps, if you’re in the know, you might think hiking or windsurfing, but did you ever consider Tenerife for a city break? Very few do, although the increasing number of cruise ships arriving in the capital, Santa Cruz has brought a huge increase in tourism to the city and to the ancient capital, La Laguna, situated about half an hour away.
So what is there to attract those who prefer the arts, history and culture instead of sun, sea and sangria? First, winter temperatures in Santa Cruz rarely drop below 20ºC (68 degrees F), so even if you don’t want to tan on a beach, it’s still pleasant to be walking around in shirt sleeves in winter. La Laguna is higher and you might need a sweater, but not necessarily. Winter here reminds me of English summers – in a word, unpredictable!
A modern tramway connects Santa Cruz to La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, in the center at least, you are taken back to colonial times. Much of the Heritage Site is pedestrianized, so wandering through history, admiring historic buildings like the Teatro Leal, The History Museum or any of several old churches and convents is easy. The city, whose coat of arms was granted in 1510, is home to the island’s cathedral, but my favorite church is La Iglesia de la Concepción, whose tower you can climb for a mere €1, to view not only the city, but the verdant valley in which it sits – so very, very far away from those tourist beaches in the island’s south.
Santa Cruz, city of contrasts, is named for the wooden cross which Conquistadors planted on the island’s soil in 1496, pieces of which are kept in another Iglesia de la Concepción, which might be your first port of call in a day’s sightseeing. From there it’s a short walk to the enticing market of Nuestra Señora de Africa, where you can buy the freshest of island fruits, spices and vegetables, as well as souvenirs, like artisan olive oils which you won’t find in the supermarkets.
Crossing the road from the market’s main entrance you will see an impressive, contemporary building which is the Tenerife Arts Center, where you can see art and photography exhibitions year-round. It’s also home to an airy, modern library, and a small cinema which shows the sort of documentaries and films which don’t make the major circuit, usually in the original language with subtitles in Spanish.
Had history taken a different turn, this island might have been English and not Spanish. 17th and 18th century English “pirates” (though English history sees them differently!) made several attempts to storm the capital, which at that time had a fortification which ran the length of the city. The most famous was an attempt by Horatio Nelson in 1797, and it was on Santa Cruz’s shore that he lost his arm. You can see the cannon which fired the shot in the small museum under the Plaza de España, and parts of the original fortifications which survive, as you walk along the seafront.
Most imposing architecture on that sea front is undoubtedly the Auditorio de Tenerife, a creation of celebrated, international architect Santiago Calatrava. Its sweeping lines resemble a wave crashing over the sea wall. Contrast that with 19th century Circulo de la Amistad building, or the Habana-like, colorful buildings of Calle Noria (the best place to eat in the capital) and you can see why I call this a city of contrasts…..and I haven’t even mentioned museums and shopping!
Linda Wainwright likes to say that she is “re-inventing herself for her third age.” She transplanted to the Canary Islands more than 20 years ago from England and her passion for the islands continues. Now with kids grown up, leaving behind the 9 to 5, she studies writing and photography and is beginning to scratch a living from them, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream. She blogs at http://islandmomma.wordpress.com/