On a trip to Spain, you can explore the country’s various islands, each featuring a charm of its own.
The islands of Spain fall into two main groups, the Balearic Islands, situated just off the south-east coast of the mainland, and the Canary Islands, which are located off the coast of north-west Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.
What are the Main Islands that Comprise the Balearic Islands?
The Balearic Islands are comprised of 4 main islands, Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. Each island is very different and has its own distinct character. To get there, on a trip to Spain, you can fly or take an overnight ferry from Barcelona to Majorca, Minorca, and Ibiza. Formentera is only reached by boat from Ibiza.
Majorca is the largest of the islands, measuring 80 kilometres/50 miles from one end to the other, and has 550 kilometres/340 miles of coastline. The attractions can be roughly divided into two – the beaches and the countryside. In Majorca’s case, this gives you the opportunity to enjoy two worlds the islands has to offer on a Spain vacation. The white sand beaches and clear water are ideal for both swimming and water sports. The capital of Majorca is Palma and is well worth exploring. It has a huge cathedral which is the city’s architectural gem designed by the renowned Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi. Opposite the cathedral is the Palau d’Almudaina, originally an Islamic fort, it was converted into a residence for Majorcan monarchs in the 13th century. The interior contains period furniture, tapestries, and other items. Other highlights in Palma are the old harbour with its lively Lonja Fish Market and the Plaza Mayor, the town’s main square.
The very attractive interior of the island is crowned by the beautiful village of Deia, which is set in a hillside alongside citrus orchards and olive and almond trees together with the occasional vineyard. In the background is the mountain, Puig des Teix. Deia was once a home to writers, actors, and musicians, the best known of whom was the English poet, Robert Graves. You can visit his house, which is now a museum. It contains writings, books, and pictures that belonged to him. Another attractive village is Valldemossa, once the hideaway for composer Frederick Chopin and his lover, George Sand, the female French novelist. Generally, there are pleasant surprises all over Majorca. It is an island waiting to be explored.
Smaller than Majorca, the island of Minorca has 216 kilometres/134 miles of very varied coastline ranging from rugged cliffs in the north to the softer south with its sandy beaches. Mahon, the capital, possesses the world’s second deepest natural port. There are wonderful views from here of the surrounds, plus there is a good selection of restaurants, bars, and boutique shops to enjoy on a trip to Spain. On the island is the Cami de Cavalls, an ancient path which circles the island. Created in the 13th century, it takes you to ancient sites as well as some otherwise inaccessible beaches. There are several ways that you can travel along the Cami de Cavalls. You can hike, ride a bike, or travel on horseback. The Parc Natural S’Albufera des Grau is a nature reserve and known as Minorca’s Biosphere Reserve as it contains wetlands, a haven for aquatic and migratory birds.
Let’s start with the fact that Ibiza is known as the “fun island.” Its nightlife is famous with its fashionable bars and night clubs, street markets, and open-air concerts. Young people come year after year to enjoy the latest trends in music and to dance at any time of the day or night. However, as you’ll discover on a trip to Spain, there is more to Ibiza than the partying atmosphere. You can shop at the once hippy market of Punta Arabi (only open April to October) on Wednesdays with around 500 stalls selling handicrafts and clothing. You can visit Dalt Vila, a UNESCO World Heritage site which features a fortified Phoenician old town with narrow cobblestone pedestrian-only streets, a cathedral, a bishop’s palace, and a 16th-century castle. Then there are the beaches and crystal-clear waters ideal for swimming. You can choose from many tiny coves, wide sandy beaches, and even sand dunes.
If you are looking for a quiet vacation with stunning beaches of fine white sand, turquoise sea, quaint little villages, natural harbours, lighthouses, woods of pine, and juniper trees then Formentera is the place to visit. Don’t think of it as primitive as it does have accommodation ranging from budget to luxury, as well as good restaurants offering excellent seafood. But don’t expect lively nightlife – that’s not Formentera’s style. Getting around the island is done by local bus or on a bike or scooter, both of which are available for rent. One special area is the Ses Salines Nature Park, with its salt pans which have created wetlands for birdlife.
What are the Main Islands that Comprise the Canary Islands?
The Canary Islands are located 100 kilometres/62 miles west of Morocco. There are 7 main islands but the most important are Tenerife, Grand Canary, Fuerteventura, and Lanzarote. The Canaries have a subtropical climate with hot summers and moderately warm winters. What is remarkable about the landscapes of these islands is that they range from white and black sand beaches and lush flat green areas to deserts and mountains. Again, as in the Balearic Islands, each of these four islands has its own character. Tenerife offers dramatic landscapes and good nightlife, Grand Canary has outstanding scenery and good hiking trails, Lanzarote is perfect for families, and Fuerteventura has the best beaches.
Tenerife is the largest of the islands and the most varied. It offers spectacular black sand beaches, volcanoes, mountains, and thick forests. The beaches in Tenerife consist of black sand due to eruptions from the local volcano over time. In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital, there is a yellow sand beach with sand imported from the Sahara Desert. Tenerife has over 400 kilometres/250 miles of coastline with a variety of beaches. The best include Playa Bollullo, probably the most beautiful of Tenerife’s beaches and surrounded by dramatic cliffs, Playa del Pozo, known as Tenerife’s gay beach, and Playa El Puertito, very different and unspoilt as well as serene. Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a city with a few museums including a natural history museum, an art gallery, a space museum and a planetarium.
A big attraction in Tenerife is the Teide Volcano, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is also the highest mountain in Spain at 3718 metres/12.100 feet. This is reached by cable car and once you arrive at the peak, you are rewarded with great views including 3 neighbouring islands. The volcanic landscape, pine forests, and green valleys are breathtaking. One secluded resort is Los Gigantes, an incredibly untouched place known for the giant cliff formations that climb to a height of 800 metres/2600 feet. These rocky cliffs offer outstanding views of the surrounding beaches and clear blue sea. Tenerife is also a good place for those on Spain holidays that enjoy hiking, be it up to the Teide Volcano or the trail from the Masca Mountain down through a valley to the beach, or vice versa. Another popular place to visit is the Pyramids of Guimar, a collection of six free-standing pyramids built without mortar in the 19th century.
Grand Canary Island
Also known as Gran Canaria, this island is just as varied topographically as Tenerife, with its highest mountain being Roque Nublo in the centre of the island at 1815 metres/5950 feet. Grand Canary’s capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, is the most populated city in the Canaries. There are over 80 beaches on this island. The artificial beach, Anfi del Mar, in the south-west of the island, is similar to the one in Tenerife, and with its palm trees and floral displays along with tranquil, turquoise water, makes it a calmer part of the Atlantic Ocean. Las Canteras, which is the longest beach at 2.8 kilometres/1.75 miles in length stretching around a bay, is located in Las Palmas and is widely regarded as one of Europe’s best urban beaches. Las Maspalomas is the island’s most attractive with over 6 kilometres/3.6 miles of beach. It is never overcrowded and consists of large sand dunes. Guigui Beach is the island’s most unspoilt and remote beach favoured by nudists, hippies, and nature lovers. One more outstanding beach is Playa de Mogan at Puerto Mogan, a charming coastal village offering lots of ambiance.
Nothing to do with beaches is Vegueta, an ancient 15th-century town full of cobblestone streets and old houses. The Cathedral of Santa Ana and the Museum of Sacred Art, plus numerous art galleries, should not be missed. The Viera and Clavijo Botanical Garden in Tafira Alta has displays of indigenous and imported plants (over 500). Pueblo Canario in Las Palmas is a traditional Canarian village where you can learn about local culture and enjoy free live performances of Canarian folk music.
This is the second largest island in the Canaries and has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. There are so many pristine and secluded beaches on this island (over 150) as well as charming fishing villages, that it is almost impossible to name all of them. You can try Caleta de Fuste, 800 metres/half a mile long and suitable for families, Corralejo Beach, the most popular beach, Cofete Beach which stretches over 20 kilometres/12 miles with a backdrop of low mountains, and Playa Esmeralda, one of the best beaches in Fuerteventura where the sea is calm and tranquil. The capital, Puerto del Rosario is a lively commercial city with a collection of houses of whitewashed streets and a picturesque promenade to enjoy while on a trip to Spain.
This is an island of wild beauty. There are 300 volcanic cones, strange blackened lava fields, and the occasional idyllic palm-filled valley. There are beautiful beaches of both golden and black sand. The volcanic badlands of Timanfaya National Park are somewhat surreal in appearance. Almost totally without life, this bare moonscape is where volcanic cones meet fields of frozen lava along with a boiling chamber 4 kilometres/2.8 miles below the surface. Puerto del Carmen is the most popular resort in Lanzarote with good beaches, restaurants, and some nightlife. Want to get away from it all? Head to the Isla Graciosa just off Lanzarote – and reached by ferry – where you can find wonderful beaches, volcanic landscapes, and a fishing village with a number of seafood restaurants.