Standing at a maritime crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Americas, the island, locals say, is its own continent in miniature – with parched desert, green valleys and soaring mountains awaiting those who strike inland from the coastal resorts.

Shielded from Atlantic currents by a barrier of sand and coral, Playa de las Canteras is a two-mile stretch of urban beach in Las Palmas, popular with surfers and swimmers. Its attractive seaside promenade is where joggers, cyclists and strollers congregate on weekends. Cafés, bars and shops also line the waterfront.

The Barranco de Guayadeque is a dramatic ravine in the centre of Gran Canaria hemmed in by verdant ridges. The Museo de Guayadeque – built into a cave at the head of the ravine – contains exhibits on the area’s prehistoric inhabitants, including a mummy discovered in the 19th century (00 34 928 17 20 26; admission £2).

A few miles south of Las Palmas, the town of Agüimes is arguably the prettiest on the island, and is crowned by the Iglesia de San Sebastian – a majestic neoclassical church.

The stone crucifix of the Cruz de Tejeda – the island’s centre – is a good place to take in views of the island, including the monolithic peak of the Roque Nublo. Free Motion offers guided hiking trips in the area (from £40).

Castillo de la Fortaleza in Santa Lucía resembles a medieval castle – but it was only built around 50 years ago as a home for writer, archaeologist and artist Vicente Sanchez Araña. It’s also home to a number of objects from the island’s pre-Hispanic past (00 34 928 79 83 10; admission £2).

Eat and drink
On the hillside village of Tejeda, Dulceria Nublo Tejeda  is a pastry shop selling delicious local specialties. Try chestnut and almond cakes coated in chocolate, or take home a jar of bienmesabe – an almond and honey spread (00 34 928 66 60 30; Calle Hernández Guerra 15; pastries from 85p).

Singlehandedly introducing Basque cuisine to Gran Canaria, Restaurante Amaiur is next door to a 19th-century palace in the Vegueta neighbourhood of Las Palmas. Smart dishes may include peppers stuffed with codfish, monkfish with prawns, or caviar (Calle Pérez Galdós 2; mains from £10).

The Restaurante Casa Montesdeoca in Las Palmas sees diners feasting on seafood on a leafy patio beneath an ornate timber balcony (Calle Montesdeoca 10; mains from £12).

The Italian-owned Restaurante Molinet in Las Palmas matches a striking red and black interior with an intrepid menu of ostrich with muscatel sauce, langoustines, and calamari with homemade pasta. Ask for an outside table overlooking the beach (00 34 928 26 30 19; Paseo Canteras 6; set menus from £13).

A short distance from Playa del Inglés’s Yumbo Centrum shopping centre, a tank of crustaceans guards the entrance to the Restaurante Rias Bajas. The fish and seafood here has an island-wide reputation (cnr Avenida Tirajana & Avenida EE UU; mains from £30).

Hotel Madrid in Las Palmas has the dubious distinction of being the place where General Franco spent the night before he flew to Spain to attempt a coup d’etat in 1936. Rooms have an old-world appeal with antique bedheads and china, and there’s an atmospheric bar and restaurant downstairs (Plaza Cairasco 4; from £40).

An 18th-century house in the region of Teror is home to Casa Rural Doña Margarita. Restored in recent years, rustic interiors are typically Canarian with wood and basalt surfaces. Three large apartments feature antique furniture and higgledypiggledy stone walls (Calle Padre Cueto 4; from £60).

Set amid banana plantations six miles to the north of Teror, La Hacienda del Buen Suceso dates back to 1572. Its elegant rooms have parquet flooring and beamed ceilings, and the restaurant specialises in rustic Canarian cooking (Carretera de Arucas a Bañaderos; from £100).

A gem in the sea of generic high-rise hotels around Playa del Inglés, Parque Tropical exemplifies traditional Canarian style, with a stucco façade, wooden balconies and subtropical gardens. Rooms feature Andalusian style tiling and pastel-coloured paintwork (Avenida Italia 1; from £105).

Hotel Santa Catalina is set in a leafy park in Ciudad Jardín, an upmarket suburb of Las Palmas. The 19th-century hotel has traditional balconies, showy turrets and opulent interiors. The hotel also has its own casino and hammam (Calle León y Castillo; from £110).

Getting around
Bus operator Global has a good network, although rural areas aren’t as well covered (from £2). Cicar is a local car rental operator (from £20 per day). Binter Canarias flies to other islands, such as Tenerife (from £25).

Getting there
Gran Canaria airport is well connected to the UK. Ryanair flies from Bristol, Birmingham, Stansted and Liverpool (from £110) while easyJet flies from Gatwick (from £115). From the airport, buses run to Las Palmas (from £2.50).

When to go
Gran Canaria benefits from a warm climate year round – coastal resorts are busiest from May to September. For February’s Carnival, fancy-dress festivities take place in Las Palmas. September’s Fiesta de la Virgen del Pino is the island’s most important religious feast.

The article 'Mini guide to Gran Canaria, Canary Islands' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.