7 places to visit in the Canary Islands during your cruise

The Canary Islands, scattered across the Atlantic off the coast of West Africa, might not seem like an obvious choice when you’ve traveled from Australia to visit Europe. You won’t find the glamor of the French Riviera, nor the concentration of antiquities of Greece.

And even. The Canary Islands are extraordinarily beautiful, and given that it is a single volcanic archipelago, with surprisingly varied geology and landscape. There is a fantastic food scene and history on many levels, from the first Berber settlers in Africa, just 100 kilometers away, to the legacy of great explorers like Christopher Columbus. You will also find an array of non-stop activities; there aren’t many places you can throw snowball to the top of a 3,000+ meter mountain, then head to the beach for tapas and wine with your toes in the sand.

Many sun-seekers don’t stray far from the bustling southern resorts of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. But cruise ships barely touch these areas, instead they dock in stylish capitals like Santa Cruz de Tenerife or Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, where you’ll find atmospheric old quarters, colorful markets and a authentic Spanish culture and cuisine.

An even more compelling reason to visit is the superb hiking, amidst ancient forests and breathtaking mountain scenery, from smoking volcanoes to cliffs that plunge straight into the sea.

Many cruise lines visit the Canary Islands both summer and winter, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Azamara, Hurtigruten and Sea Cloud.

During the European winter, many cruises depart from UK ports, adding a few days at sea at each end and often a stopover en route, perhaps in Lisbon or Cadiz. Others depart from continental European ports; Hurtigruten has an expedition departing from Lisbon in November 2022, notable as it calls at some of the lesser-known islands, including El Hierro, La Gomera and Madeira’s volcanic neighbor Porto Santo, fringed by long sandy beaches.

Some lines, like Celebrity, feature the Canary Islands on a trip from Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon or from Southampton to Miami. P&O Cruises offers air cruises in winter, so you’ll fly from a UK airport to Tenerife, skipping sea days, while Azamara sails a handful of intensive trips to the Canary Islands from Gran Canaria in 2023 and 2024. From Australia, your best bet to reach them is to connect via Madrid.

Traditional colorful buildings with boats in front and mountain in background – Puerto de Mogan, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain


The largest and busiest of the islands, Tenerife is dominated by the conical and often snow-capped peak of Teide, Spain’s highest mountain. at 3,718 meters. Most ships stop in Santa Cruz, a beautiful city with wide boulevards, grand old buildings and a gourmet market, Nuestra Señora de Africa.

Stalls selling heaps of island-grown oranges, pineapples and papayas bear witness to the subtropical climate of the islands. San Cristóbal de La Laguna, with its cobbled streets lined with mansions in old pink, ocher and sky blue, is widely considered as the most beautiful town on the island.

It is so well preserved that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gran Canaria

Ships dock at Las Palmas, the island’s capital, to the north. The town itself is a delight, with a beautiful old quarter, Vegueta, and a beautiful urban beach. Join a walking tour around Vegueta to the house where Christopher Columbus briefly stayed in 1492 as part of his epic journey to the Americas. Whitewashed houses, their elaborate balconies carved from Canarian pine, line the cobbled lanes. In the Plaza de Santa Ana, you will discover how the archipelago got its name when you come across a series of beautiful bronzes of dogs in front of the cathedral. “Canaries” would derive from the Latin canum, meaning dogs, coined by early explorers who were surprised by the large sheepdogs they found here. Or the barking of sea lions; no one really knows for sure.


The most austere of the Canary Islands, Lanzarote is dark, fiery and windswept. Surprisingly, decent wine is produced in this harsh landscape, the vines grown in small pits in the ground, protected from the wind by semi-circles of volcanic stones. Any refreshment stop on a tour will include a tasting of the local Malvasía white, the wine paired with tiny boiled potatoes dipped in a tangy tomato and chilli sauce.

Lanzarote’s architecture is defined by the work of local artist and early proponent of sustainability César Manrique, who worked with the government in the 1960s to create an aesthetic for the island: white houses made of sugar cubes on which even the woodwork reflected the colors of nature, green and blue. It is thanks to Manrique that Lanzarote has no skyscrapers.

La Gomera

Tiny La Gomera is located off the coast of Tenerife. A highlight here is undoubtedly Garajonay National Park, one of the last examples of true rainforest in Europe, a living remnant of over two million years ago. Here, the laurels, some of which are 500 years old, are adorned with green-gray lichens, suspended in strands of beard, the footpaths lined by giant ferns. Join a hike then stop for tapas in the small capital, San Sebastián, where ships dock.

La Palma

La Palma made headlines with some force last September when Cumbre Vieja, one of its volcanic mouths, began to erupt, an explosion that lasted several months and caused extensive damage. The volcano is quiet now, but the breathtaking Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente is a good indication of the dramatic forces of nature that created this otherwise sleepy island. The views from the lookout in the park are magnificent. Ancient, steep-sided lava cliffs plunge hundreds of meters into forested valleys, spindly gravity-defying pines clinging to their lower slopes.


The clue is in the name here: Fuerteventura means ‘strong wind’, and this dreary landscape of barren mountains, red-gold plains and stretches of white-sand beach backed by rolling dunes is a big draw for tourists. windsurfers and kitesurfers. Ships dock in Puerto del Rosario, but your best bet is to head straight to Parque Natural de Corralejo, for those dazzling beaches, or inland for an almost Martian-like landscape. It is possible to climb the 400 meters of Mount Tindaya, considered sacred and the site of hundreds of examples of ancient Guanche rock art.

Beautiful young brunette woman surfing in Fuerteventura


Part of Portugal, volcanic Madeira lies about 500 kilometers north of the Canary Islands. Madeira is lush, subtropical and volcanic, with towering cliffs and villages perched above black sand beaches. If you want to get a sense of the drama of the island, head to Cabo Girão, the highest promontory in Europe. Here, a glass platform cantilevered above free-falling waves, foaming onto a black sand beach some 580 meters below.

First-timers tend to stay in Funchal, the pretty capital, for the day, as there’s plenty to see. Take the cable car to the top of Monte, the mountain that overlooks the city and visit the magnificent Madeira Botanical Garden nearby. There is an unusual descent to the city in wicker slides, controlled by two pilots, hurtling down incredibly steep and narrow routes at breakneck speed.

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