10 Great Reasons to Visit the Canary Islands

You don’t have the Canary Islands on your summer hit list? Pop them on. Diverse landscapes, mid-century architecture and independent vineyards are just some of the reasons this Spanish archipelago off the African coast is one of our top travel destinations.

At some point over the last half-century, as the Balearics became increasingly chic, this string of Spanish islands off Africa's west coast lost their aspirational sheen. However, if you know the right places to go (and where not to go) the Canary Islands can make for an exciting summer getaway. It's certainly not all high-rise, all-inclusive resorts.

Spotlighting César Manrique, the acclaimed architect and designer responsible for streamlining Lanzarote's fashionable aesthetic, and the all-natural handicrafts of the islands - the type of dangerously pretty things that will land you an excess baggage fine - we've pulled together 10 reasons to visit the Canary Islands.

10 reasons to visit the Canary Islands, including the best things to see and do

You’re guaranteed a spot of African sun

They might be Spanish territory, but the islands' North African climate certainly gives the Costa del Sol a run for its money. It's perhaps the most obvious reason for visiting, and one that has played to the island's detriment in recent decades with tourists flying over and flopping into plasticky resorts, with little interest in exploring the islands' unique culture, diverse landscapes and modish architecture.

Work out on world-class mountains and volcanoes

If you're the type who prefers to work up a sweat in the great outdoors rather than the gym, look no further. These are mountainous, volcanic islands, so there are plenty of rip-roaring climbs that will set your heart racing. Gran Canaria is a boon for cyclists, with its swirling, shrubby hummocks and 360-degree hilltop viewpoints, while trail runners can take their pick of terrains from flat and mild Lanzarote to leafy La Palma.

For handicrafts that could have been lifted from the pages of Elle Decor

Most people are unaware that the Canary Islands have a cultural heritage that is distinctly theirs - one moulded by their historic ties with the Caribbean and Africa, underscored by old-school Spanish style. For a lesson in cultural heritage, head to Casa de Los Balcones. Its creaky, wooden balconies and palm-strewn courtyards are themselves exemplary of the islands' plantation-style architectural influences, and the intricate wickerwork furniture speckled therein is just the sort of thing you might find front and centre in The Conran Shop.

For a lesson in minimalist design from César Manrique

If it weren't for César Manrique, who knows what towering monstrosities might have colonised Lanzarote? After a successful international art career, Manrique returned to his homeland in the 60s and set about implementing strict building regulations to prevent the island from being sold out to package tourism. Not only that, but he installed numerous public sculptures and designed an impressive host of exquisite buildings, thereby shaping Lanzarote's signature, laid-back style - think: smooth, white stucco in simple, curvilinear forms, bursting with tropical greenery. Standout masterpieces include the Fobos sculpture in Tahiche, the futuristic Mirador del Río restaurant and Jameos del Agua, a restaurant embedded in a lava cave.

They do chiringuitos like nowhere else

Struggling to place "chiringuitos"? If you're a true SUITCASE reader, you likely have a list of favourites you revisit year after year. A chiringuito is a casual beach bar - the type that serves a light tapas menu under canvas parasols which ripple to a Balearic beat - and those in the Canary Islands are masters at crafting the perfect ambience. For some prime examples, make tracks for Playa de Papagayo in Lanzarote or Playa de las Teresitas in Tenerife, where upscale beach-shack tipples come garnished with paradisiacal sunsets.

Get one over on your wine-buff friends

The Canary Islands are big on their wine, don't you know? The blistering climate and fertile, volcanic earth make for bodaciously fruity vintages. La Geria in Lanzarote is one such pocket of industry, or try Tenerife which has more than 70 wine-producing bodegas to check out. Our tip? Don't shell out at the vineyards, but buy from your local supermarket to cut the best deal.

Diverse landscapes

By which we mean, an impressive scope of varied terrains for such a concentrated patch of islands. Yes, you'll get some soaring volcanic mountains, but you also have the ever-shifting dunes of Maspalomas in Gran Canaria - a protected ecosystem of sweeping, powdery sands which spans 400 hectares - Lanzarote's Cuevea de los Verdes caves and the rifts of La Palma, scored by rivers and made kaleidoscopic by algae and naturally occurring minerals in the rock. Textbook-perfect beaches are a given.

Explore the works of pioneering modernist, Nestor

That's Néstor Martín-Fernández de la Torre, of course. This born and raised Gran Canarian is considered one of modernism's foremost proponents. You'll find a hefty archive of his colourful, symbolic paintings in Gran Canaria's Museo Néstor Álamo. In his lifetime, he mingled with the biggest and brightest names in Paris and London before returning to Gran Canaria in 1934 and launching Tipismo (meaning "picturesqueness"), a campaign which highlighted the islands' heritage crafts to bolster tourism. The posters from that era are buried in the annals of the internet - tricky to find, but beautiful.

It’s one of the best places in the world for astrotourism

La Palma is actually Unesco's first Starlight Reserve, meaning its skies are some of the best in the world for stargazing and fall under certain protective measures to prevent further light pollution. La Palma has long been at the vanguard of sustainability efforts. After much lobbying from local inhabitants who'd noticed the gradual impact of climate change on their farming practices, La Palma signed an EU initiative called the Pact of Islands in 2012 and contributed to the Action Plan for Sustainable Energy Islands. Various plans are in motion to up the island's solar and geothermal energy resources too.

It’s known as “The European Hawaii” for a reason

These beaches are second to none. For waves which rumble over a low, volcanic edge before breaking onto shallow shores, hit up El Confital in Gran Canaria. Punta Blanca in Fuerteventura is the place to go for total surf virgins, while the uninhabited island of Los Lobos is a riot of Instagrammable tube sections and long, gurgling right-hand waves.

Discover More
21 Reasons to Visit Hobart, Tasmania