If you choose your holidays and short breaks for the history, architecture and culture of your chosen destination, why not check out the best things to see and do in La Laguna. It is the second largest city in Tenerife and considered the island’s cultural capital.
San Cristóbal de La Laguna has a history that dates back to the 15th century. Located on a plateau 500 metres above sea level and six kilometres inland in the north of Tenerife, it is also the first large town built on the Island.
It is a city of two halves, with the ‘Upper Town’ built in 1497 close to a freshwater lagoon and more reminiscent of an urban sprawl. The ‘Lower Town’ was constructed in 1502, expanding from a central square one kilometre east called the Plaza del Adelantado, and built using the grid system.
The magnificent architecture of this striking Spanish colonial city offers an extensive mix of historical properties with tree-lined courtyards, old stone porticos, wooden balconies and cobbled interior patios.
It is also a premier university town, home to the University of La Laguna established in 1701, and the oldest university in the Canary Islands. La Laguna was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, and is the Island’s second most populated city after the capital, Santa Cruz.
With its modern shopping centres, bars, clubs and restaurants, and its young, mixed population of friendly residents and students, it provides an exhilarating buzz both day and night.
With much of the city centre pedestrianised, there are also plenty of things for visitors to see and do in La Laguna whatever time of year they visit.
15 Best Things to Do in San Cristobal de La Laguna
1. Enjoy a guided walking tour of San Cristobal de La Laguna – It’s Free
As a lover of organised tours to help me make the most of my time, I always check what is available at my destination. And San Cristobal de La Laguna has some excellent guided tours on offer.
One of my favourite walks to do in La Laguna is the La Laguna Free Walking Tour.
With an English-speaking guide, this two-hour guided stroll begins at the Plaza del Adelantado in the centre of town, where you can admire the Nava Palace and 17th-century Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena.
From there, you stroll to the Santo Domingo de Guzmán parish and the Chapel of the Cross of Rodriguez Moure.
Next, walking along the pedestrianised Calle Herradores street will get you to the Church of La Concepción. In contrast, a stroll along Calle Obispo Rey Redondo provides ideal opportunities to study the architecture that helped La Laguna secure World Heritage status.
Before ending the tour outside the Teatro Leal, you will also visit other historical buildings, including the Palacio Salazar and the Casa de la Alhóndiga.
2. The Museum of History and Anthropology of Tenerife (MHAT)
One of the best things you can do in La Laguna, if you have an insatiable thirst for history and culture, is to visit The Museum of History and Anthropology.
The museum initially opened its doors in 1993, in the 16th century property ‘Casa Lercaro’, in the city’s old town area. Since then, it has expanded to two more local properties, Casa de Carta and the Castillo de San Cristóbal.
The museum is all about the history and culture of Tenerife from the 15th to the 20th century, with a major focus on the institutional, socio-economic, and cultural development of the island during this period.
The museum is actively involved in researching, disseminating, preserving and exhibiting numerous heritage pieces, artefacts and treasures and is open seven days a week from 10.00 to 17.00.
3. Do a little people-watching at the Plaza del Adelantado
Considered the main cultural, historical and social area of the city, Plaza del Adelantado is the original square from where the lower town area of San Cristóbal de La Laguna was extended in 1502.
The square is surrounded by shops, bars and historical buildings, including the Municipal Courts, Town Hall and the Ermita de San Miguel Chapel. It is a popular meeting place during both the day and evening for locals and visitors looking for things to do in La Laguna.
The square’s centrepiece is an impressive marble fountain weighing 30 tons, commissioned in Marseille, France, and shipped to La Laguna in 1869.
4. The Ermita de San Miguel
If you began sightseeing at the Plaza del Adelantado, you may have already found the Ermita de San Miguel. The Ermita was built originally as a chapel in 1506 by a Spanish Adelantado (king’s nobleman), to highlight his importance in the area. It was also the place of the first meeting of the Council of Tenerife.
Due to poor quality, the building had to be rebuilt in 1574 to the original plans and again in 1759, when it was extended and bought into line with the square. The interior also lacks its toral arch, allowing the attractive coffered wooden ceiling to be seen.
In the 1970s, the building was refurbished by the Island Council to convert it into a multi-purpose exhibition space. It was declared a Monument of Cultural Interest in 1986.
5. Visit the Nava Palace (Palacio de Nava)
The Nava Palace sits on a corner of the Plaza del Adelantado, presenting a side view to Dean Palahi Street South and a front profile to the square.
Built in 1585 on a plot owned by the conqueror of Tenerife Jorge Grimon, various modifications were undertaken until, in 1776, the architect Toma Nava y Grimon completely covered the exterior with stone blocks. It is that facade that visitors see today.
The property is built over two floors, and the top parapet has a balustrade and central crown, which obstructs a ground view of the traditional Arabic tiled roof.
The ground floor has columns and a Grimon coat of arms carved in stone. A marble staircase leads to the upper level, adorned with steel grilled balconies, columns, zoomorphic gargoyles and numerous other carvings in stone.
The Palace was made a Monument of Cultural Interest in 2000 and is open to the public.
6. Visit the Cathedral of La Laguna
Located along Calle Obispo Rey Redondo, on the Plaza de los Remedios, the impressive Roman Catholic Cathedral of La Laguna is the only cathedral in Tenerife.
It was built over eleven years from 1904 and is dedicated to the Virgin of Los Remedios. It is also the mother church of the Diocese of San Cristobal de La Laguna, covering La Gomera, La Palma, El Hierro and all of Tenerife.
A church of various architectural styles, it has elements of Neo-Gothic, as seen in its impressive dome, but is most famous for its Neoclassical frontage.
The cathedral contains paintings by notable Spanish artists and the remains of Alonso Fernandez de Lugo, who conquered the Island for the Spanish and founded the town of La Laguna. It is a registered Asset of Cultural Interest.
7. Enjoy a little theatrical culture at the Teatro Leal
If you find yourself strolling the Calle Carrera, in zone 1 of the Historic District of La Laguna, you will come upon the magnificent Leal Theatre standing four storeys high.
The theatre was promoted and financed by philanthropist Antonio Leal and is named after him. Building began in 1912, to plans drawn up by the architect Antonio Pintor y Ocete and portrays a mix of styles.
It is also one of the first buildings in Tenerife where steel girders and reinforced concrete were used in its construction. The interior décor was planned and undertaken by recognised artists of the time, among them Lopez Ruiz, Manuel Verdugo and Benjamin Sosa.
The theatre holds 600 theatre goers and opened in 1915. Today, it is considered a pillar of Tenerife’s culture and puts on dance shows, plays, concerts and a mix of different artistic works.
8. Visit the Church of the Immaculate Conception
Everywhere you look when deciding what you want to see in La Laguna, you will find numerous churches and other religious properties that date back through history, so we have tried to pick out a few that may have special interest.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Spanish, Iglesia de la Concepción, can be found in the city’s old town area on Conception Square. Said to be the first religious building on the island, it was built in the 16th century.
The exterior woodwork has intricate carvings, and the church has a bell tower stretching over 90 feet high, which you can climb for some excellent views over the city.
Inside the church can be found numerous sculptures, silverware, a cedar wood pulpit by the French sculptor/artist Verau, and a Sevillian terracotta font circa the 15th century, and said to have been used to baptise the Island’s first Christian converts.
With its unique history, in 1948 it was declared a Site of Cultural Interest, and in 2012 it was made a Historic Artistic Monument.
9. Royal Sanctuary of the Christ of La Laguna
Located on the Plaza San Francisco, this Roman Catholic church is said to be the most important Catholic building in San Cristobal de la Laguna.
Built in 1580 and established by Alonso Fernández de Lugo, it is the first monastery of the Franciscan order to be founded on the island of Tenerife. And holds one of the city’s most sacred artefacts, the ‘Holy Christ of La Laguna’.
The entrance door opens underneath the choir loft, and the high, narrow knave is forty-five metres long and seven metres wide. The rear wall has a large silver altarpiece.
In 2014, the church received a replica of the Shroud of Turin, one of only two in Spain and said to be the most accurate of any of the copies. The church is also a Monument of Cultural Interest.
The church is open to the public Monday through Thursday, 8.00am to 1.00 pm and 4.00pm to 8.45pm. Friday 8.00am to 9.00pm. Saturday 8.00am to 1.00pm and 4.00pm to 8.45pm and Sunday 8.00am to 9.00pm.
10. The Palace Casa Salazar
Taking a break from all the churches we can see in La Laguna, we’ll make our way to Calle de San Agustín, 28, San Cristóbal de la Laguna, and a visit to the Palace Casa Salazar.
Built in the late 1600s, it is a stunning example of Canarian Baroque architecture with elements of Neoclassical and Mannerist features; the palace is the seat of the Diocese of Nivariense.
Constructed two floors high, in 1982, it was declared a Cultural Monument, and in 1999, became a part of the city’s World Heritage Site.
In 2006, it was internally destroyed by fire, leaving just the external walls standing. Over subsequent years, it was faithfully rebuilt in its original style, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign by local residents, and reopened in 2009.
The relaxing inner courtyard is shaded by numerous fruit trees, a cooling fountain and has a number of sculptures that can be examined. The palace is a popular attraction to see in La Laguna and is open to visitors Monday through Friday from 10.00 to 19.00.
11. The House of the Captains General
Take a stroll down Calle del Obispo Rey Redondo 5, and you will come upon an impressive-looking villa with typically Canarian wooden balconies, timber columns and corbels supporting a balcony with French window.
You will also notice the use of a red stone on the façade, primarily to provide a border around the windows. In the courtyard are stables, tack rooms, store rooms and cellars.
With a Mediterranean-style garden of hard landscaping, raised borders, mature fruit trees and a fountain, it is a property designed to cater for occupants of a certain status.
The House of the Captains General took seven years to construct from 1624 to 1633. It was built by Tenerife and La Palma’s then Governor and Captain General, Diego de Alvarado Bracamonte.
It is also named House of the Captains General because, between 1705 and 1723, a total of six Captains General called it home.
One of the best things to see in La Laguna, the villa today houses the local tourist office, holds several civic ceremonies throughout the year and is open to the general public.
12. Cheer the children up with a visit to The Museum of Science and the Cosmos
Located on the Avenida Los Menceyes, La Laguna, visiting the Museum of Science and the Cosmos is one of the best things to do in La Laguna for children of all ages.
A traditional museum it’s not. Opened in 1993, and in those days concentrating more on astrology, it has developed into a learning centre for adults and children alike.
Using every multimedia tool available and the latest digital technology, the museum makes science and the Cosmos fun things to study, with a myriad of interactive activities that will keep the kids occupied during your visit.
The Astronomy room is a favourite, teaching about rotation, revolution, magnetic fields, and black holes. It also has models of the Teide and Roque de los Muchachos Observatories and the Gran Canarias telescope.
The young ones also have their own Microcosmos room, and the whole family can learn how different things work. From the human body to smartphones, to electricity, the moon, the weather, icebergs and the Space Station.
As if that’s not enough, the museum has its own Planetarium using a 6.5-metre diameter dome and the latest digital projection.
The museum is located at Avenida Los Menceyes. Opening hours are: Tuesday to Saturday, 9.00am to 8.00pm and Mondays and Bank Holidays, 10.00am to 5.00pm.
13. Pay a visit to the Mesa Mota Monument
On the morning of the 27th March 1977, at Tenerife’s Los Rodeos Airport (Tenerife North), two fully loaded Boeing 747s collided in thick fog and burst into a fireball.
The later enquiry found the crash was caused by the extremely thick fog and a misunderstanding between pilots and the control tower. The resulting fire claimed the lives of 583 passengers and crew from both aircraft and to this day remains the aviation industry’s deadliest plane crash.
On the 30th anniversary of the disaster (27th March 2007), a monument was erected on Mesa Mota on the outskirts of San Cristobal La Laguna, in memory of those who perished in the disaster. It was attended by family members, with representatives of the aviation authorities and other dignitaries.
Located on the edge of town, the site can be easily reached by hire car, taxi or public transport. Sitting on a hill, it is also a favoured picnic spot and a popular thing to do in La Laguna by those who like to visit memorials to pay their respects.
The memorial was designed by Dutch artist Rudi van de Wint, and is an 18-metre-high, steel spiral stairway depicting a stairway to heaven.
You can also look down on Los Rodeos Airport from the memorial and see Mount Teide silhouetted in the background.
14. Visit the one-time convent of La Iglesia de San Agustin
Located at Calle San Agustin, the Church of San Agustin has had something of a chequered career almost from the day it was built, right up to modern times.
Founded in 1515 by Augustinian monks during the invasion of Tenerife, the site also included a convent and other related buildings.
Over the ensuing centuries, various renovations and add-ons were undertaken, including a tower. Through the years, the convent has been used as a centre of education, a library, a weather station, a prison during the Spanish Civil War and a soup kitchen.
Unfortunately, in 1964, the complex suffered massive fire damage, and it took until 1993 for restoration work to begin, which, except for the church, was completed in 1997. The church, unfortunately, remains a shell with no roof, but the compound is still well worth a visit.
You can visit one of the best Renaissance cloisters on the island and six chapels founded by various families and organisations. It also holds the remains of historian Juan Núñez de la Peña and has an art gallery of regularly changing works by local artists.
The church grounds and gallery are open from 10.00am to 1.00pm and 2.30pm to 6.30pm.
15. The Square of the Supreme Council of the Canaries
Sitting in the middle of La Laguna, the Square of the Supreme Council of the Canaries is another plaza that buzzes with locals and visitors through most of the day and evenings.
Also, like other large squares, with its mature trees shading out some of the hot sun, it is a great place to sit with a beer or coffee, and do a little people-watching.
Around its perimeter, you will find shops, offices, bars and cafes, as well as several historical buildings.
Although a pleasant visitor attraction to enjoy in La Laguna in its own right, the historic buildings that surround it reflect the history of the Canary Islands and the people’s fight during Spain’s occupation by France in 1808.
You will also find a monument to Jose Tabares Bartlett on the square. Born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1850, he became a renowned local poet and Mayor of La Laguna.
Exploring the Square of the Supreme Council, you will find the building that housed the council, which was composed of representatives from the seven islands that made up the Canary Isles.
The grand council building was built in 1783 and housed the Canary Islands government until 1927. It was constructed with a typical Canarian neoclassical exterior, including a central balcony and displaying a large coat of arms.
In 1983, it was declared a National Historic-Artistic Monument, and today serves as a cultural centre housing the Canary Islands Institute of Historical Studies, the Canary Islands Academy of Languages and the Canary Islands Academy of Fine Arts.
It also plays host to numerous cultural events, exhibitions and concerts.
GETTING TO LA LAGUNA
Getting there is a breeze if you’re staying around Tenerife South’s main tourist resorts, and considering visiting San Cristobal de La Laguna.
- From Puerto de la Cruz: By hire car, the distance is 32 kilometres. Leaving the city, join the TF-5 motorway heading north, and you will be in La Laguna in 35 minutes.
- By public transport (coach), the journey will take between 35 and 55 minutes
- From Las Americas South: By hire car, the distance is 80 kilometres. Join the TF-1 heading north, and you should be on the outskirts of La Laguna in 65 minutes.
- By public transport (coach), your journey time will be 95 to 110 minutes, depending on whether you get the Express.
If you want to change a half-day excursion exploring the things to do in La Laguna into a full-day trip to the north, La Laguna is Santa Cruz de Tenerife, with travelling time by car or coach on the TF-5 around 15 minutes.