Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a great place to experience a different side of the island. A perfect setting for leisurely strolls, it’s home to buildings of historical and architectural significance, quirky shops, fascinating museums, and riveting old streets. Meeting the port town’s friendly locals and trying its terrific selection of restaurants while enjoying incredible views and its laid-back charm is also an excellent way to get to know the northern part of Tenerife.
History of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Once called Añaza or Añazo, the area now known as the municipality of Santa Cruz de Tenerife was home to a population of Guanche aborigines roughly 2000 years ago. The successful conquest of Tenerife in 1499 brought a tidal wave of changes to Tenerife, among which the birth and blossoming of San Cristóbal de La Laguna and the port of Garachico. After the destruction of the mentioned harbor due to a volcanic eruption in the 18th century, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, then known as Santa Cruz de Santiago, emerged from the backwater. Its port became a critical stop for European trading vessels journeying to the New World in the 18th and 19th century. Then, the coastal village separated from La Laguna in 1803 and was declared the capital of the Canary Islands in 1833, a status it held solo until 1927 when a royal decree ordered that the position be shared with Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The arrangement remains in place to this day.
Top Attractions in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is blessed with year-round excellent climate conditions and a rich cultural ambiance rarely found in cosmopolitan cities. The town’s impressive old and new architecture thoughtfully blends with nature, highlighting the harmonious beauty of its artificial and natural landscapes. Perfect for self-guided walks, tourists interested in stunning building designs, sculptures, fountains, compelling museums, and serene gardens will have plenty to feast their eyes on here.
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción
The original chapel of Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción was erected in 1498, a few years after Tenerife was successfully conquered, making it one of the firsts in the island. Ravaged by a fire in 1652, it was rebuilt the following year, and the tower went up in 1786.
This church’s remarkable bell tower commands attention and curiosity. The inside is as striking, with a blend of baroque and traditional Mudéjar (architecture with Islamic art-styled decoration and ornamentation) design. Besides the delightful interiors, it holds a wealth of cultural and religious artifacts, including the Gothic figures of La Cruz de La Conquista, which arrived on the island with the conqueror Fernández de Lugo in 1494, and the Virgin de Consolación.
As you walk around this sacred place, you’ll also find many other religious works of art. A pulpit that contains the 18th-century carvings by Rodríguez de la Oliva, one of the most revered sculptors from the Canary Islands. The silver procession platform for carrying the Santo Entierro figure made by Damián de Castro, a renowned silversmith and goldsmith from Cordoba. The Logman Monstrance, also known as La Custodia de Los Logman, was provided by the Logman brothers who served here as priests. The chapel of Los Carta that was commissioned by the captain and merchant Matías Rodríguez Carta. The figure of La Inmaculada Concepción created by Fernando Estévez, an 18th cenutry artist from La Orotava. Last of all, the valuable creations by Miguel Arroyo, Luján Pérez, and González de Ocampo.
If you love visiting baroque or old churches, don’t miss Iglesia de San Francisco de Asis. Erected in the 17th and 18th centuries, this beautiful church is the second most significant in the city, after Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. Tourists can admire its ornate ceilings and altarpieces or attend the daily evening mass.
Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (TEA)
A must-visit for arts and architecture lovers, Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (TEA) was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the same talents behind the world-famous Tate Modern. The contemporary building boasts three galleries, a stunning library, and a theatre, all with seamless visual connection despite having separating elements. It also has high ceilings, glass windows, and an optimized interior design that bring plenty of natural light, so it’s never boxy, unlike other industrial spaces.
TEA’s galleries house temporary art, installation/environmental art, and photography exhibits of burgeoning Spanish contemporary artists. On the other hand, the theatre features art and experimental films, as well as documentaries, created by independent filmmakers. These rarely screened pictures are in their original language but added Spanish subtitles. Downstairs, just beside a lovely little cafe, you’ll find an astonishing public library that is nothing like the community or local libraries we have at home. It was initially open to the public twenty-four seven but now requires prebooking due to Covid-19 restrictions.
If you prefer classic galleries over contemporary ones, add Museo de Bellas Artes to your city tour itinerary. Built in 1900, it houses a diverse collection of paintings and sculptures primarily created by Spanish and Canarian artists and holds temporary exhibits. Amongst the most famous art pieces you’ll find here are by Brieva, Bruegel, Ribera, Rodin, and Sorolla.
Auditorio de Tenerife
A magnificent piece of architecture looming right by the sea, Auditorio de Tenerife was designed by the renowned Spanish/Swiss architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava. Its cantilevering wave is an incredible display of contemporary architecture, while the inside is a harmonious blend of modern and Canarian style.
Holidaymakers can see the behind-the-scenes of Auditorio de Tenerife through a guided 45-minute tour (in English, German, or Spanish) of the atrium or attend a music concert, opera, or dance performance. You can also enjoy a cup of coffee and seafront views in the cafe at the main entrance or walk around the building to take plenty of enviable arty photos. While you stroll outside, the artwork on the rocks featuring the faces of the world’s most famous or important musicians and composers is hard to miss.
If you are wowed by classical architecture, another auditorium you must visit is Teatro Guimerá. The 19th-century building is the oldest theater in the Canary Islands and still holds regular performances. A reminiscent of Madrid’s El Real, it has all the grandeur of a bygone era, such as splendid doors, raised gallery seating, fold moldings, and awe-inspiring dome ceiling. Another option is Centro de Arte La Recova (La Recova Arts Centre). Built in 1851, the exhibition hall hosts various art exhibitions mainly by contemporary Canarian and Spanish artists. This includes the prestigious International Comic and Illustration Convention.
Parque Marítimo de Santa Cruz (Parque Maritimo Cesar Manrique)
The marvelously landscaped Parque Marítimo de Santa Cruz was opened in 1995. Designed by Canary Islands’ most prominent artist and architect, César Manrique’s style of unifying art and nature with architecture is unmistakable in this oceanfront entertainment complex. His signature design elements, such as dark volcanic rocks and palm trees, blend amicably with the saltwater waterfalls and white structures in and around the park.
The facilities in Parque Marítimo de Santa Cruz include three lagoon-style seawater swimming pools (one for children), restaurants, terraces, sunbathing areas, and a small outdoor gym. It sits between Auditorio de Tenerife and Palmetum, offering a relaxed vibe alongside the extraordinary views of the atrium, hills of Anaga Rural Park, and rolling seas.
This beautiful plaza is a great starting point when exploring the city, as its top attractions and shopping streets are within comfortable walking distance. Santa Cruz de Tenerife’s marina and port, as well as a tram track stop, are also close by.
Dominated by a large, imposing cross, Plaza España’s humongous yet shallow circular lake is encircled by a visually appealing mixture of classic 20th-century architecture and 21st-century ecologically creative developments. There are several monuments, the memorial to the fallen island residents who fought on Francisco Franco’s side in the Spanish Civil War being the most distinctive. You’ll also find lovely old government buildings and ground story structures with flower-covered roofs.
When sightseeing gets too much, you can rest, eat, and do some people-watching in any of the cafes and restaurants around Plaza España. You can even bathe your tired feet in the pool.
The best time to visit this photogenic spot is in the early morning or late afternoon when ambient architectural spaces reflect on the water. The pond fountain sprouts four times daily, making for excellent, instagrammable shots.
Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre
Set inside a former hospital, Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre is an excellent natural science and archaeology museum. It exhibits the island’s dramatic wildlife, marine life, flora, and geology. There’s a powerful audiovisual presentation about Mount Teide’s eruption as well.
In addition, this is a great place to learn about Tenerife’s origins and ancient inhabitants. There’s a section on the second floor dedicated to the archaeological treasures of each of the Canary Island. Considered by many as the highlight of their visit, you’ll also find displays of Guanche mummies and skulls still incredibly intact and with grotesque expressions.
Most signages are only in Spanish, but the exhibition rooms have explanatory text panels in English. Some have interactive displays as well, which children especially love. Not a Spanish or English speaker? No problem. The museum offers a free over wi-fi audio guide in six different languages, which visitors can download on their mobile phones to fully experience this gold mine. There’s also a cafe in the courtyard and a gift shop.
Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África
Opened in 1944, Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África is in a lovely, Moorish-style building with an unexpected Latin America feel. The bustling establishment has two floors speckled with vibrant kiosks of flowers, fresh produce, snacks, and lots of others. It’s not big by Canarian standards, housing only about 140 stores. However, if you like cooking your own food even when on holiday or are searching for great places to eat where everything is cooked to order, do include it in your travel plans.
Locals and restaurateurs are crazy about this place. There are stalls offering mountains of the freshest fruits and vegetables, as well as varieties of seafood more than you can count. Gourmet deli choices are also incredible. You’ll find bread, cactus marmalade, cold cuts, honey, local cheese, spicy mojo salsa, and even medicinal herbs.
In addition, Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África is must-visit for wine lovers. Vino shops offer wine and wine-tasting guided by friendly and very knowledgeable stall owners. The most popular choices are eco-friendly wines, the Canary Islands’ famous banana wine, and Lambrusco rosé.
Palmetum is a 12-hectare botanical garden established on a closed landfill. It boasts a diverse collection of exotic plants and flowers, with specimens from Brazil, India, Morocco, Madagascar, Australia, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu (to name a few) thriving alongside endemic floras. This place is perfect for relaxing walks through splendidly laid-out gardens and contemplating stunning views of the sea and the city.
If greenery is your religion, then do visit Parque García Sanabria as well. It’s a beautiful park located north of the city center, with a magnificent collection of Mediterranean and subtropical plants, flowers, and trees. The wide paths of this verdant place are ideal for wandering about, while its shaded grounds are great for picnics. Whatever you decide to do here, be ready to be in the company of small reptiles and be wholly immersed in bird songs.
Castillo de San Cristóbal
The Castle of San Cristóbal (Castillo de San Cristóbal) was the primary defensive structure on Santa Cruz Bay. Its construction began in 1575 but was only militarized in 1577 when the artillery was moved in it. The first fortification of importance in the island, it has seen many battles, including the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife against Admiral Robert Blake in 1657, Admiral John Jennings in 1706, and Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson in 1797. The building also served as the seat of the Military Government, as well as the residence of the captain-generals and governors.
Castillo de San Cristóbal is now a popular museum that commemorates the it’s rich history. Located underneath Plaza España, what remains of the castle are quite hard to spot, but visitors need only look for the entrance seaward side of the park and go down the stairs. You’ll find the still-standing fragments of the fortification and the El Tigre cannon, which is said to be the artillery that wounded Nelson. The entire tour would take around 20 to 30 minutes, and there’s usually a staff to give explanatory handouts and answer inquiries.
The nearby Castillo de San Juan Bautista is another fortification with a military past. Unlike the former, tourists cannot get inside this fortress, but it is an excellent spot for photographs. It’s in the central waterfront zone, only a good 10-minute walk away from Plaza España, and between Auditorio de Tenerife and Parque Marítimo de Santa Cruz. Also known as the Black Castle or Castillo Negro, it was erected in 1644 to defend the town but was also involved in the trade of African slaves.
Museo Historico Militar de Canarias
Museo Historico Militar de Canarias doesn’t look like an exciting place to visit on the outside, but it’s one of the city’s top attractions and is often described as a must-see. A former military base, it’s also known as Museo Militar de Almeyda, and it’s a great venue for understanding the military history of Tenerife, particularly the successful defense of the island from the assault of the British Royal Navy launched by Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Here, visitors will find a remarkable 30-meter scale model of HMS Theseus, the flagship of Nelson’s fleet in the 1797 battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and El Tigre, the most significant weapon used for the island’s defense, which reputedly blew off Nelson’s arm. Different maps and captured British flags from this disastrous attack are also on display, alongside other historical weapons.
The diorama about the 1797 incursion has an available commentary in English, but you have to ask the person at the front desk. There are loads of artillery weapons as well, some from WWII, and a lovely onsite cafe with great views of the bustling harbor. A visit to Museo Historico Militar de Canarias typically takes an hour or so.
The carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the largest event of its kind in the entire Canary Islands and Spain. It is also the second most popular globally, next only to Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro carnival. It lasts for several weeks, comprising several events, such as the election of the carnival queen, street parties, the opening parade, the big parade, and the burning and burial of the sardine. In the first few weeks of the festival, most events are held indoors, and outdoor happenings occur in the last part.
Celebrate like the locals by participating in at least one daytime and nighttime party. Amongst the day events, the Sábado de Piñata draws the biggest crowds and is celebrated at three venues. For night events, holidaymakers can join the street parties that start on the night of the opening parade, which takes place on Friday, up to Ash Wednesday. The first night is the most “Brazillian,” with up to 400,000 people dancing endlessly in their dazzling costumes.
Not going to be in Tenerife from late January to early March? Don’t fret. Casa del Carnaval, a new, government-built museum offers the carnival experience all year round. It only has two rooms, but the visit won’t disappoint. The first room tells the history of the carnival and displays many costumes from the past years. There are incredible life-sized and miniature replicas of various ensembles, with details in the pieces that will blow your mind away. The second room is interactive, as guests can try on costumes and do their makeup after viewing the audiovisual snippets of the carnival through the years.
Where to Stay
Santa Cruz de Tenerife has more to offer holidaymakers than sea views, historical sites, and carnival—just look at its vast and rich collection of accommodations for proof. There are romantic Canarian-style homes, swanky city center apartments, and luxury hotels with cultural significance. Whether you want to spend your vacation relaxing near the water or galavanting on dry land, this municipality has the perfect accommodations for you. Here are our top three choices in Santa Cruz:
Hotel Iberostar Heritage Grand Mencey
Iberostar Heritage Grand Mencey is one of Santa Cruz’s most iconic hotels. Situated north of the city center, it’s only 50 meters from Parque García Sanabria and a quick 5-minute drive from the harbor. The property combines breathtaking colonial-style architecture with the latest services and amenities for modern travelers. Recharge in your room and garden areas of this tranquil oasis, enjoy fine wine as you take a dip in its gorgeous pool, and try some lovely Canarian dishes in the in-house restaurant, all while supporting the sustainable practices of this hotel with excellent green credentials.
The apartments of Lavaderos Suites are perfect crash pads for couples and small groups or families. It’s near the city center and only 2-kilometer away from Vallesco Beach. The property offers accommodations with one or two bedrooms, every single one airy, bright, and well-equipped. Staying here is perfect for relaxing after being on foot all day, getting some work done, enjoying morning yoga exercises, and even doing laundry. The apartment complex is almost across the street from Parque García Sanabria, one of the municipality’s two best open green spaces, with tree-lined walking paths, an incredible collection of Mediterranean and subtropical floras, and shaded picnic spots. It’s also a comfortable walking distance to Museo Historico Militar de Canarias.
Luminous Loft next to the Atlantic Ocean
The dreamy Luminous Loft next to the Atlantic Ocean is one of the nicest accommodations in this magical town. Standing next to the sea, the whitewashed two-bedroom modern Canarian home is minimalistic yet cozy and homey. The loungers out on the balcony are great for soaking up the sun, while the outdoor stone oven grill is for fun BBQs with the vast blue sea as the backdrop. Apart from the amenities, this holiday rental lacks distractions and is extremely private, making it an optimal place for relaxing. Guests can even sleep with the doors wide open to let the ocean breeze freely blow in.
From the northernmost area to the south tip of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, some of the best restaurants on the island are in this municipality, especially in and around the city center. Some places have stood fast for decades as their neighborhoods slowly became more touristy, while others are newer, bringing a new twist to classic cuisines.
We’ve narrowed the list so you know the three dining options you absolutely must try and what best to order when you’re there. These are the finest restaurants in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
El Porron Tasca Andaluza
El Porron Tasca Andaluza is one of the best dining options in Santa Cruz de Tenerife for Spanish-Canarian dishes. It is close to several attractions in the city, the nearest being Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, so it can get really busy. Book in advance, or you’ll almost surely need to wait for a table. The assortment of tapas from this little restaurant is superb–fresh, tasty, and can be ordered in half portions, allowing customers to get more variety. Other standouts include avocado tartare, Iberian pork chop, and empanadas.
Cacio e Pepe – Ristorante Pinseria
Cacio e Pepe is a warm and inviting restaurant. It’s always full of locals who certainly know where to go for a taste for Rome in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and tourists who heard great things about this place. This means guests may have to wait if they didn’t book in advance, but everyone you ask is sure to say it’s all worth it.
People come to Cacio e Pepe for all sorts of homemade, high-carb food, especially ravioli, pinsa Romana (pizza made with sourdough), and suppli cacio e Pepe. The tagliata rucola e Pachino is also their strong suit, but the absolute star dish here is the rigatoni carbonara.
Tucked away from the bustling tourist crowd of the city is Bodegón Campestre. It’s a lovely place that has carved out a name for itself with a myriad of wonderfully cooked meats sizzling away on a cutting board. Come and claim a wooden table in this restaurant, drink a few glasses of in-house wine, try their bread, salad, and meat starter, then eat supersized grilled steak or sausages. Will you overeat? Yes, you will, but you’d still order dessert.
Getting to and Around Santa Cruz de Tenerife
There are two airports in Tenerife, one in the north and the other in the south. The Tenerife North Airport is only 11 minutes away from the city center by car or taxi, and can be reached by bus through bus lines 102, 108, and 109. On the other hand, driving from Tenerife Sur Airport to the city center takes at least 38 minutes since it’s about 61 km out. Tourists can also go by public transport via bus line 341.
Being the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife is well-connected to other parts of the island by road network. Visit the Titsa website for the complete bus routes to Santa Cruz de Tenerife and an updated timetable. For vacationers who prefer to drive, these highways are the ones that lead to or pass through Santa Cruz de Tenerife:
TF-1 — Candelaria, Tenerife South Airport, and Adeje
TF-2 — Connects TF-5 and TF-1
TF-4 — Connects TF-1 to Santa Cruz
TF-5 — TF-2 , San Cristóbal de la Laguna, Tenerife North Airport, and Puerto de la Cruz
TF-11 — Puerto Deportivo Marina Tenerife and San Andrés
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is also accessible by ferry since the municipality has its own bustling port. Here’s a list of places with ferry routes to Santa Cruz de Tenerife:
Mainland Spain – Cadis (Naviera Armas), Huelva (Fred Olsen Express and Naviera Armas)
Gran Canaria – Agaete (Fred Olsen Express), Las Palmas (Trasmediterránea and Naviera Armas)
Architecture and Heritage Travel to Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is rich in cultural heritage and glorious architecture. From centuries-old churches, fortifications, and the canon that blew off Nelson’s arm to contemporary structures and modern art exhibits, the municipality will keep its visitors busy for days. Its most interesting spaces and neighborhoods are ideal for wandering. On the other hand, the views of the Atlantic Ocean and Anaga mountains are great company when soaking up the sun and relaxing. You can walk around for hours in the city center, shop, and experience Tenerife Carnival and get back just in time for dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant. Just a typical day in one of the island’s most exciting towns.