Santa Cruz de Tenerife: The Complete Guide

Plaza De España, Santa Cruz De Tenerife
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Mike Peel

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, commonly known as Santa Cruz, is a major city and the capital of both the island of Tenerife and the Province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It also shares the title of capital of the Canary Islands. Santa Cruz has a population of 206,593 within its administrative boundaries, and the urban area extends beyond the city limits, encompassing a population of 507,306, with 538,000 in the greater urban area. It is the second-largest city in the Canary Islands and the main city on Tenerife, with nearly half of the island’s population living in or around it.

Situated in the northeast quadrant of Tenerife, Santa Cruz lies 210 kilometers off the northwestern coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest point on mainland Spain is 1,300 kilometers away. From the 1833 territorial division of Spain until 1927, Santa Cruz de Tenerife was the sole capital of the Canary Islands. In 1927, a decree ordered that the capital be shared, a status that remains today.

Santa Cruz’s port is a vital communications hub between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, with cruise ships arriving from many nations. The city serves as the focal point for domestic and inter-island communications in the Canary Islands. It is home to the Parliament of the Canary Islands, the Canarian Ministry of the Presidency, half of the Ministries and Boards of the Canarian Government, the Tenerife Provincial Courts, and two courts of the Superior Court of Justice of the Canary Islands. Several faculties of La Laguna University are located in Santa Cruz, including the Fine Arts School and the Naval Sciences Faculty.

The harbor is one of Spain’s busiest, crucial for commercial and passenger traffic, and a major stopover for cruise ships en route from Europe to the Caribbean. The city is renowned for hosting one of the world’s largest carnivals, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which aspires to become a World Heritage Site and is the second largest in the world.

Key landmarks in Santa Cruz include the Auditorio de Tenerife, the Santa Cruz Towers, and the Iglesia de la Concepción. The city hosts the first headquarters of the Center UNESCO in the Canary Islands. Recent years have seen the construction of numerous modern structures, giving Santa Cruz the sixth tallest skyline in Spain, behind Madrid, Benidorm, Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao.

In 2012, the British newspaper The Guardian included Santa Cruz de Tenerife in its list of the five best places in the world to live, alongside the Cihangir district in Istanbul; the district of Sankt Pauli in Hamburg; the north coast of Maui in Hawaii; and Portland, Oregon. Notably, 82% of the municipal territory of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is considered a natural area, largely due to the presence of Anaga Rural Park. This makes Santa Cruz the third-largest municipality in Spain with the highest percentage of natural territory, after Cuenca and Cáceres. The city holds the status of a global city.

History of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Early History

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, located on the northeastern coast of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, has a history that dates back to the Guanche period, the native Berber inhabitants of the islands. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the area was known for its natural harbor and was used by the Guanches for fishing and trading.

Spanish Conquest

In 1494, Spanish conquistadors led by Alonso Fernández de Lugo arrived on Tenerife. The Battle of Aguere, fought in the area of present-day Santa Cruz, marked the beginning of Spanish control over the island. The Spanish established a settlement and built a fort to protect the harbor, which became a crucial port for the Spanish Empire.

Development as a Port

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Santa Cruz de Tenerife grew as an important port, serving as a stopping point for ships traveling between Europe and the Americas. The city prospered from trade, particularly in sugar, wine, and other goods. Its strategic location also made it a target for pirate attacks, leading to the construction of additional fortifications.

18th and 19th Centuries

In 1723, Santa Cruz de Tenerife was declared the capital of Tenerife, replacing La Laguna. The city’s importance continued to grow, and in 1833, it became the capital of the newly created province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The 19th century saw further economic growth, driven by trade, shipping, and the establishment of British and other foreign businesses.

20th Century

Santa Cruz de Tenerife played a significant role during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The city was a stronghold for Francoist forces and witnessed various military actions. After the war, Santa Cruz underwent modernization and expansion, with new infrastructure, housing, and public buildings.

Contemporary Santa Cruz

Today, Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a vibrant and modern city, known for its cultural events, beautiful beaches, and significant landmarks. It is one of the co-capitals of the Canary Islands, sharing the title with Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The city hosts the famous Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, one of the largest and most spectacular carnivals in the world. The port remains a crucial hub for shipping and tourism, contributing to the city’s dynamic economy.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife continues to be a cultural and economic center in the Canary Islands, blending its rich history with contemporary developments and attractions.

Visiting Santa Cruz de Tenerife for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Spring

Spring, from March to May, is a great time to visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The weather is warm and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 18°C to 24°C (64°F to 75°F). This season is perfect for exploring the city’s outdoor attractions, enjoying the beaches, and participating in local festivals without the summer crowds.

Summer

Summer, from June to August, is the peak tourist season in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The weather is hot, with temperatures often reaching 28°C to 30°C (82°F to 86°F). This is the best time to experience the vibrant beach life, water sports, and outdoor events. However, it can be quite busy, so booking accommodations in advance is advisable.

Autumn

Autumn, from September to November, offers slightly cooler temperatures, ranging from 20°C to 27°C (68°F to 81°F). The crowds begin to thin out, making it a more relaxed time to visit. The sea remains warm, and it’s an excellent time for beach activities, hiking in Anaga Rural Park, and exploring the city’s cultural attractions.

Winter

Winter, from December to February, is mild with temperatures between 15°C and 22°C (59°F to 72°F). This season is ideal for those looking to escape colder climates. The weather is perfect for sightseeing, enjoying the city’s museums and historical sites, and experiencing the festive atmosphere during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Additionally, the famous Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife usually begins in February, offering a vibrant and unique experience.

Average Temperatures in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

  • January 21°C 3
  • February 22°C 4
  • March 21°C 3
  • April 23°C 2
  • May 24°C 1
  • June 26°C 0
  • July 28°C 0
  • August 28°C 1
  • September 27°C 4
  • October 26°C 5
  • November 24°C 5
  • December 22°C 5

How to get to Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, is accessible via several modes of transportation:

By Air:

The nearest airports are Tenerife North Airport (TFN) and Tenerife South Airport (TFS).

  • From Tenerife North Airport (TFN):
    • Taxi: A taxi ride to Santa Cruz de Tenerife takes about 15-20 minutes.
    • Bus: The TITSA bus service (Line 102) runs from the airport to Santa Cruz de Tenerife and takes approximately 25 minutes.
  • From Tenerife South Airport (TFS):
    • Taxi: A taxi ride to Santa Cruz de Tenerife takes about 40-50 minutes.
    • Bus: The TITSA bus service (Line 111) runs from the airport to Santa Cruz de Tenerife and takes about 60-75 minutes.

By Ferry:

Santa Cruz de Tenerife has a major port with ferry services from mainland Spain and other Canary Islands.

  • From Mainland Spain: Ferries operated by Naviera Armas and Trasmediterránea connect Santa Cruz de Tenerife with Cádiz. The journey takes approximately 40 hours.
  • Inter-Island Ferries: Fred. Olsen Express and Naviera Armas provide regular ferry services between Santa Cruz de Tenerife and other Canary Islands, including Gran Canaria, La Palma, and La Gomera.

By Car:

Driving to Santa Cruz de Tenerife is an option if you are already on the island.

  • From the South of Tenerife: Take the TF-1 highway northbound to Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The drive from the south takes about 40-50 minutes.
  • From the North of Tenerife: Take the TF-5 highway southbound to Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The drive from the north takes about 15-20 minutes.

Local Transportation:

  • Walking and Biking: Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a walkable city with many attractions close to each other. Biking is also a popular way to get around.
  • Public Buses: TITSA operates an extensive bus network within Santa Cruz de Tenerife and across the island, providing convenient transportation options.
  • Tram: The Tranvía de Tenerife connects Santa Cruz de Tenerife with La Laguna, offering a modern and efficient way to travel between these cities.
  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available for getting around Santa Cruz de Tenerife and are a convenient option for short trips.

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