While its party town of Playa del Inglès may have gained it a somewhat wild reputation, Gran Canaria, the third largest of the Canary Islands, is surprisingly great for family holidays. Often described as a 'continent in miniature', it has a very varied terrain – as you move across the island (if you can drag yourself away from the beaches, that is), you’ll come across both fertile greenery and more barren lunar landscapes in the interior, as the mountains unfold. But though it’s probably the least attractive of the Canaries, if you have your own wheels and avoid the boobs ‘n’ bums resorts, you’ll find a peaceful world where time passes slowly.
The weather in Gran Canaria is gorgeous year-round, so you can get up and out first thing in the morning to enjoy a mindboggling array of outdoor activities. A vast number of family-friendly resorts line the south coast of the island, whether windsurfing or a pampering in the spa is your bag, while inland there’s spectacular walking amidst those awesome landscapes.
|Flying Time||4.25 hours|
|Carbon Footprint||2.52 tonnes CO2|
Head for the beautiful beaches. All Gran Canaria's public beaches are free to access, and most offer beach chairs and umbrellas for a fee. The main public beach in Puerto Rico has lots of restaurants, shops and watersports – banana-boat rides, jet-ski hire and paragliding. With teenagers and older children, take the Big Red Power Boat Ride – like a rollercoaster on water (be prepared to get soaked!).
Venture to the picturesque town of Puerto de Mogan, with a main market on Fridays and a smaller craft market on Mondays – great for souvenirs (even sulky teens will enjoy browsing here). It also has a beach and a marina, and trips aboard the Yellow Submarine glass-bottomed vessel.
Inspire budding naturalists with trips out to see the dolphins or sealions. Or visit Palmitos Park for the monkeys, colourful birds, meerkats, and dolphin and birds-of-prey shows. For something less cute, try the African-themed Crocodilo Park.
Relive moments from Lawrence of Arabia by taking a camel ride.
Take a history lesson by touring Casa de Colon, which was Christopher Columbus’ house. Little ones love the talkative parrots out front.
Brave Holiday World in Maspalomas – a funfair with rides for everyone, from rollercoasters and a sky-drop to kiddie rides. Then drop down to the beach and watch the professional sandcastle builders (if you’re coming from Playa del Inglès, beware that there’s a nudist area).
If your kids have an interest in the Wild West, head for Sioux City, with mock gunfights, BBQs, saloon gals, sheriffs and can-can girls, country and western music, plus a small children's zoo.
Avoid Las Palmas – Spain’s seventh largest city, with all the problems associated with most big urban areas, including pickpocketing. It’s not really geared towards small children, although if you’re happy watching them play around a plaza, it’s fine, and though the menus may not be child-friendly, local kids eat out with their parents late into the night.
The best food on Gran Canaria is off-the-beaten path, in mountain towns, but it takes some hunting out. In the tourist centres on the sunny south side, there is not much variety – tapas of little shrimp, potatoes with garlic sauce, lots of meat dishes, spicy peppers and always almonds. Paella – a staple of many family holidays – is everywhere, especially in the fishing towns along the south coast.
In all the major tourist cities you will find familiar fast-food restaurants. Be sure to stop by one of the local bakeries for fresh empanadas, croissants and other baked treats.By Rachelle Keyes
Temperatures in Gran Canaria rarely dip below 16ºC or stray above 32ºC, making it a feasible year-round destination for family holidays, although with younger kids you may want to avoid the height of summer.
Gran Canaria’s airport 16km from Las Palmas has many direct flights from the UK, plus flights to the other Canary Islands.
Gran Canaria has an efficient bus network, or you can hire a car or bicycles.
The cost of family holidays on Gran Canaria varies widely by season and by accommodation type, but it can be a good-value destination, especially for those who opt to self-cater or take an an-inclusive package.
The south of Gran Canaria is chock-a-block with purposebuilt, family-friendly resorts, but if you want sleep, stay well away from Playa del Inglès! There is also a good choice of self-catering villas and apartments.
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