Top notch dining; vanguard architecture; a vibrant social scene; shops galore and a hefty dose of art and culture – it’s no surprise that the island’s capital is slowly making a name for itself as a popular city break destination.
In possession of a contrasting convoy of city icons that include the busy port, palm-filled beach of Las Terresitas and soaring structure of Tenerife Auditorium; Santa Cruz is a difficult city to define.
Historically a port town that served the former capital of La Laguna, Santa Cruz was originally a 200-house settlement occupied by merchants, sailors and fishermen. These days, the town has its eye firmly on the future; with several projects (underway or in the pipeline) aimed at transforming the island’s capital into a modern European city.
Santa Cruz has a big city feel; yet the city centre is compact enough to make walking around a pleasant experience. If you want to avoid the stress of city traffic, your best bet is to explore the town on foot. Parking is always a sore point. So, unless you miraculously come across a space along the tangle of double-parked cars, head to a parking lot as soon as you enter the city. That said, a flashy new tram network between the capital and La Laguna will be put into motion in the near future; a high-speed train link from the south of the island is also planned.
Santa Cruz was founded in 1494 on the spot where the island’s first governor Alonso Fernandez de Lugo marked Spain’s victory by putting up a large wooden cross (the name Santa Cruz literally means ‘holy cross’). The same cross was used in the island’s first mass held in Playa de Añazo.
The city of Santa Cruz replaced La Laguna as the island’s capital in 1723. Along with its newfound administrative power came commercial and financial might – when the dominant port of Garachico was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1706. Due to its strategic position as a stop over point between Europe and the Americas, Santa Cruz was the target of many attempted invasions – most famously by the British, led by Admiral Horatio Nelson in 1797. The British were defeated and Nelson lost his right arm during the battle.
What to see
In 1974, Santa Cruz held an international street sculpture exhibition. As a result, a city with strong artistic tendencies emerged. A variety of prestigious sculptors, such as Henry Moore, Joan Miró, Martín Chirino and Eusabio Sempere, contributed to the eclectic collection of urban art now on show throughout the city.
Most of the sculptures are found along Rambla del General Franco; many others are located within the Parque Garcia Sanabria (currently closed to the public due to refurbishment) and on almost every street or plaza in Santa Cruz.
If you’d prefer to spend your time admiring the impressive sculpture collection rather than studiously inspecting a city map, then book yourself a place on one of the free, daily ‘sculpture trail’ walking tours organised by the council. Ask at one of the tourist information points or call 922 531 107. Tours are available in English.
Situated off Plaza Iglesia stands the church of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. Building began in 1502 but took two hundred years to complete. Destroyed by a fire in 1652, the church was rebuilt a year later. The distinctive six-story belfry was added in 1786. The church sits on the spot where Fernandez de Lugo was said to have placed the ‘holy cross of the conquest’.
The original wooden artefact now dominates the baroque altar inside.
Squares and stones
While strolling through Santa Cruz, make sure you take advantage of the abundance of plazas by recharging the batteries with brief but frequent sit-downs. And don’t forget to raise your eyes once in a while so as not to miss the wonderful architecture that lines the city’s streets and squares. On Calle Viera y Clavijo you’ll find the Banco de España building, which harbours a magnificent stained-glass ceiling; the pillared splendour of City Hall, created by architect Antonio Pintor Ocete in 1898 and the pretty Plaza de los Patos, with its Gaudi-inspired ceramic fountain and matching benches.
Sit on the dock of the bay and watch out for the colossal cruise liners that regularly come to port. Santa Cruz receives over 4 million international cruise liner passengers each year and is fast becoming a favoured stopover for the world’s finest liners – including the flashy Queen Mary ll.
A future project involves transforming a large portion of the seafront, alongside the port, into a ‘green’ walkway full of cinemas, shops and cafes.
What to do
No stay in Santa Cruz would be complete without a visit to this striking example of modern architecture. Concerts should appeal to most tastes, with ballet and opera productions to blues and jazz performances. December events include a version of The Nutcracker, by the St Petersburg State Ballet and a concert by Canadian Jazz musician Diana Krall (see page 14 details).
(+34) 922 270 611; Avenida de la Constitución, 1; www.auditoriodetenerife.com
Museum of Fine Arts
This stately building houses an impressive collection of paintings dating back as early as the 16th century; several of the pieces are by Canarian artists.
There are also regular temporary exhibits on the ground floor. Don’t miss the ‘Goya y Picasso’ exhibit currently on (see page 14 for details).
(+34) 922 244 358; Calle José Murphy, 12; 10:00-20:00 Tuesday to Friday, 10:00-15:00 weekends, closed Monday; free entry
Museum of Man and Nature
This beautiful neo-classical building, with its immaculate courtyards, was formerly the city’s civil hospital. It’s an ideal place to unwind and lose yourself in the wealth of displays on the Canary Islands. Three vast floors take you on a journey that encompasses the creation of the island, endemic plants and animals and Guanche society – including a fascinating Guanche mummy exhibit.
Displays are in Spanish, although the same text is relayed in English on laminated cards at the entrance of each room. Audio guides are available in English at the ticket desk for a fee of €3 (you’ll need to hand in your passport as a deposit).
(+34) 922 535 816; Calle Fuente Morales; www.museosdetenerife.com; open daily 09.00-19.00, closed Monday; entry fee is €3 daily, free entry on Sundays
This 19th century fortress provides a fascinating insight into the island’s military history. The display detailing Nelson’s defeat at Santa Cruz (a surprisingly gentlemanly affair) is particularly good and goes a long way to illustrate what the city would have looked like in the late 18th century. The diverse range of exhibits makes this an entertaining place in which to spend a pleasant couple of hours.
(+34) 922 843 500; Calle San Isidro; open 10.00-14.00, closed Monday and Sunday; free entry
CajaCanarias cultural centre
An exhibition centre that displays a heady mix of temporary exhibits encompassing a range of mediums that include sculpture, photography and painting. Theatrical events, music concerts, lectures and film screenings are also on offer throughout the year. A hearty slice of culture completely free of charge.
(+34) 922 471 138; Plaza del Patriotismo; www.cajacanarias.org/obsf/;11.00-13.00 and 17.00-21.00 daily; free entry
Cesar Manrique Maritime Park
Enjoy a cooling spritzer at this stylish pool complex on the seafront. Designed by Canarian artist César Manrique, the facility is located within the modern Cabo-Llanos area and houses several salt-water pools adorned with a staccato of greenery and fountains.
(+34) 922 203 244; Avenida de la Constitución, 5; open 10.00-19.00 daily Las Terresitas beach
Top up your tan at the city’s picture postcard beach. Las Terresitas is, undeniably, the most glamorous of the island’s beaches. Built in 1973 using four million sacks of sand shipped over from the Sahara, when Las Terresitas was constructed it was the largest artificial beach in the world. A future building project will see the seafront transformed into a vast pleasure zone; with a luxury hotel and 10,000 square metres of public space filled with shops and leisure outlets.
Calle Castillo and the parallel Calle Bethencourt Alfonso, offer more than enough to satisfy even the most fervent shopaholics. Designer labels and classy boutiques mingle with high street favourites along these bustling pedestrian streets.
Most shops are open from 10.00-21.00 Monday to Saturday; some smaller shops close for siesta from 13.30-16.30
El Corte Inglés
Located just behind the bus station, this is Spain’s answer to Selfridges. There’s a varied array of things on offer, including clothing, electrical goods and cosmetics. There’s also a travel agent, supermarket and two restaurants. Convenience aside, it can be a touch expensive.
(+34) 922 849 400; Avenida Tres de Mayo, 7; open 10.00-22.00 Monday to Saturday; www.elcorteingles.es; a free interpreter service is available.
Centro Comercial Meridiano
A relatively new addition to the city, it didn’t take long for this shopping centre to become a much frequented fixture. Hardly surprising since there are 108 outlets all together, as well as a flashy multi-screen cinema and several restaurants.
(+34) 922 236 000; Avenida La Salle to Calle Benito Pérez Armas; open 10.00-22.00 daily
Mercado de Nuestra Señora de Africa
A bewildering range of fruit and vegetables are sold alongside meats, dairy products, herbs, spices, bread, cakes and flowers. On Sundays, a huge rastro (flea market) extends from the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de Africa exterior to Avenida Tres de Mayo.
Calle San Sebastián, 6.00-14.00 daily, 17.00-19.30 Fridays
Where to stay
Rub shoulders with the rich and famous in this five-star hotel brimming with old fashioned opulence. There are 286 rooms in total, including 5 executive suites. Services include a heated swimming pool, a tennis court and casino.
(+34) 922 609 900; double rooms from €215 per night; Calle Doctor José Naveiras, 38; [email protected]; www sheraton.com/mencey
Housed in a stylish building five minutes from the city centre – as its name suggests, this is a thoroughly modern hotel. There are 126 rooms in total, all with a contemporary feel.
(+34) 922 271 571; double rooms from €91.50 per night; Rambla General Franco, 116;
[email protected]; www.hotelcontemporaneo.com
A cheerful three-star hotel conveniently situated in the thick of things; an ideal base from which to explore the city without paying through the nose.
(+34) 922 272 453; Plaza de la Candeleria, 10; double rooms from €91.50 per night; [email protected]; www.hotelplazastil.com
Where to eat
Rincon de la Piedra
Golden walls, scarlet drapes, dark polished wine barrels and emerald green ferns – a rainbow of colours combine to give this classy restaurant a welcoming glow. Modern Canarian dishes are elegantly presented.
(+34) 922 249 778; Calle Benavides, 32; 12.30-16.30 and 19.30-23.30; average price for a main course is €12
A romantic spot on one of the city’s most charming streets. The church tower looms above this stylish restaurant. Creative cuisine in a relaxed setting.
(+34) 922 245 800; Calle Domínguez Alfonso, 4; 13.30-16.00 and 20.30-midnight, closed Monday evening and Sunday; average price for a main course €12
With maritime-style décor and a name like ‘The galleon’, it’s no surprise to find that this eatery specialises in seafood. Fresh food and friendly service make this a deservedly popular choice.
(+34) 922 290 616; Calle Dieciocho de Julio, 37; 13.30-16.00 and 20.00-midnight; average price for a main course €9
El Coto de Antonio
Popular long-established restaurant, this eatery serves a sumptuous menu featuring Canarian and Basque dishes.
(+34) 922 272 105; Calle General Goded, 13; 13.00-16.00 and 20.00-midnight, closed Sunday evening; average price for a main course €35
A narrow interior with an exposed breezeblock bar; grab a seat outside on the well-kept Calle Domínguez Alfonso. Lined with bars, this road attracts the fashionable set. (+34) 922 241 028; Calle Domínguez Alfonso, 38; 13.00-16.00 and 20.30-midnight, closed Monday and Sunday
Casa Parra and Desvan
A little alley is home to two trendy bars. Smooth jazz notes from Casa Parra mingle with Latin funk beats from Desvan next door. At both, the ambience is as cool as the cerveza – a perfect nook in which to chill out with the in crowd.
(+34) 922 241 190; Pasaje de Xichac, 19 (between Rambla de Pulido and Calle Dieciochio de Julio); 19.00-midnight daily
The seafront street Avenida de Anaga is known for its lively social scene. For something completely different try this chic (or should that be sheik?) bar. Decked out like a Bedouin tent with piles of Arabic-style cushions covering the floor, this unusual bar serves liqueurs and teas from around the world. Try the house special, an alcohol-infused pipe, while reclining across a large cushion.
(+34) 630 056 951; Avenida de Anaga, 11; 19.00-01.00 daily
From Las Américas and Los Cristianos the 110 service runs every 30 minutes (€6). From Puerto de la Cruz, the 103 service runs approximately every hour (€3).
The main taxi ranks are on Plaza España, Plaza de Weyler, and at the port and bus station. Alternatively, you can call a local cab firm (922 641 459 or 922 311 012). Fares from Tenerife north airport are around €12; €45 from Tenerife south airport.
There are cash machines dotted about the city.
The easy option is to leave your car in a parking lot.
Popular choices are Plaza España, El Corte Inglés or Nuestra Señora de Africa shopping centre. Daily rates are around €9.