Why go now?
Tenerife is the largest and most populous Canary Island. The island's capital, Santa Cruz, offers wonderful cultural diversions. Beginning on Easter Sunday, British Airways is reintroducing flights to Tenerife from Gatwick, in time to enjoy spring in the city, where the average April high is 22C, before the summer heat.
British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) will fly from Gatwick to Tenerife South five times a week. Flights are also operated from a range of UK airports by Monarch (0871 940 5040; flymonarch.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com), Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com), Thomas Cook (0871 230 2406; flythomascook.com) and Thomson Airways (0871 231 4787; thomson.com).
The airport is 60km south of Santa Cruz, but direct buses, number 111, run from the stop outside the airport terminal to Santa Cruz bus station (1). They depart every half hour between 6am and 11.30pm, with night buses at 12.45am, 2.30am and 4.15am. The journey takes about 45 minutes for a fare of €9 (00 34 922 531 300; titsa.com). A taxi costs about €60.
Get your bearings
Tenerife's cosmopolitan capital lies on the island's north-east tip. Most of its hotels, shopping areas, restaurants, bars, galleries and museums fall within a triangular area bordered by its wide Rambla on the west, the port on the east and the main artery of Avenida Tres de Mayo in the south. The most notable building is the Auditorio (2) at Avenida Constitución 1, Santiago Calatrava's magnificent contribution to the city's skyline (00 34 922 568 600; auditoriodetenerife.com). Shaped like a white tsunami, a cobra head or a centurion helmet, depending on your point of view, the structure has become an icon of the city and home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.
Santa Cruz is easily navigable on foot; a tram system also operates across the city, with single journeys costing €1.35.
The city's only five-star hotel, the Mencey (3) at Calle Doctor José Naveiras 38 (00 34 922 609 900; thegrandcollection.com), reopened in 2011 after a two-year, €25m refurbishment. While maintaining the hotel's colonial style and charm, the renovation has also brought a 1960s retro design to the bedrooms, plus a new spa and wellness centre. Doubles from €132 with breakfast.
The NH Hotel (4) is at Candelaria Esquina Doctor Allart (00 34 922 534 422; nh-hotels.com), in the heart of the city's old quarter, alongside its main shopping streets and just a two-minute stroll from the vibrant dining and nightlife district of La Noria. It makes an excellent base for exploring. Glass, chrome and contemporary business style characterise the bedrooms; the roof terrace gives an excellent vantage point. Doubles from €86, room only.
Sharing the Hotel Mencey's locale but without the price tag is the Hotel Taburiente (5), Calle Doctor Jose Naveiras 24A (00 34 922 276 000; hoteltaburiente.com). Rooms are small but comfortable; the buffet breakfast is excellent and the botanical splendour of Parque García Sanabria is right on your doorstep. Doubles from €75, including breakfast.
Housed in a 19th-century former hospital, the Museum of Man and Nature (6) chronicles the evolution of the Canary Islands from their explosive beginnings to the present day (00 34 922 535 816; museosdetenerife.org). Three floors of interactive exhibits include illustrations of why the islands have their extraordinary micro-climates; the rich variety of flora and the history of their occupation by man, including mummified remains of the earliest inhabitants, the Guanche. Open Tues to Sat 9am to 8pm, Sun and Mon 10am to 5pm; admission €5.
Lunch on the run
Next door to the Museum of Man and Nature is the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (7), where contemporary art is housed in a dramatically designed building of geometric concrete and glass sides centred around a courtyard (00 34 922 849 047; teatenerife.es). In the light-infused TEA cafeteria you can enjoy a €9 three-course menu which features locally sourced produce and elements of traditional Tenerife cuisine, such as rabbit in a piquant sauce. Open daily 9am to 9pm (from 10am at weekends).
Take a view
Ride the lift to the seventh floor cafeteria of El Corte Inglés (8) at Avenida Tres de Mayo 7 (00 34 922849 400; elcorteingles.es) for views over the port and across the city to the splendid profile of the Anaga Mountains.
Take the escalator back down through El Corte Inglés's seven retail floors before heading back to Calle Castillo (9), the hub of the city's main shopping area. All the usual clothing outlets are there, plus one or two independent labels. The tastiest finds are at the Nuestra Señora de Africa market (10) on Avenida José Manuel Guimera, where you'll find exotic fruits and local specialities such as smoked goat's cheese and honey.
Take a seat on the outside terrace of Macusamba bar lounge at the Hotel Contemporaneo (11) at Rambla de Santa Cruz 116 (00 34 922 271 571; hotelcontemporaneo.com) where Santacruceros meet up for an early evening glass of Dorada beer or a mojito.
Dining with the locals
One of the city's top chefs is just around the corner from Macusamba at his eponymous Bistro de Victor Cruz (12) on Calle Doctor Guigou (00 34 922 281 509; victorcruzrestaurantes.com; open daily except Sundays). Victor blends traditional Canarian ingredients with the flavours and textures of Spain and serves it all with avant-garde aplomb. Try some of his excellent pintxos, such as goat's cheese with caramelised duck mousse, for starters. Tuck into tuna steak with black potatoes for a true taste of Tenerife or you can bite into hamburguesa de conejo (rabbit hamburger) which is an island classic that's been given a gourmet makeover. The extensive wine cellar also includes the pick of Tenerife's crop.
Sunday morning: Go to church
Marking the start of the restaurant and bar district of La Noria is the distinctive, six-tier belfry of the Church of the Conception (13) on Plaza de la Iglesia. The church itself has a beautiful Mudejar-styled ceiling and contains the wooden cross around which, allegedly, the first mass was held by the Spanish conquistadors to celebrate victory. The city's name, which means "holy cross", also derives from this relic (open to visitors on Sundays, mass at 9am and 7.30pm).
Out to brunch
The Noria district is where you will find Santa Cruz's trendiest bars and restaurants lining one of the oldest streets in the city. Tables and chairs spill out on to the pedestrianised avenue.
Try the popular ham, chicken and cod croquettes at Mojos y Mojitos (14) at Antonio Dominguez Alfonso 38 (00 34 922 281 641; mojosymojitos.com); the tasty montaditos (open sandwiches) and tapas at Los Reunidos (00 34 922 241 028; losreunidos.com) two doors down. Or opt for the €10 three-course menu of the day at Bulán (00 34 922 274 116) opposite, which includes Canarian classics such as goat.
Take a hike
When Santa Cruz staged the first International Street Sculpture Exhibition in 1973, artists such as José Abad, Miró, Oscar Dominguez and Henry Moore contributed pieces which today form a sculpture trail across the city. Start at the roundabout (15) where Avenida de San Sebastian meets Avenida de la Asunción. Follow the central walkway of La Rambla, diverting into Parque García Sanabria (16) where the open-air art gallery continues with exhibits such as The Cat by the home-grown Surrealist Oscar Dominguez and the voluptuous Fecundidad. Watch for Jaume Plensa's work Islas featuring name tags in the trees as La Rambla reaches Avenida Francisco La Roche where the Angel of Victory resides. Turning right, cross the road and walk back towards Plaza España (17).
Take a ride
Hop on a Linea 1 tram from Plaza de la Iglesia (18) to La Trinidad (single ticket €1.35, return €2.50) to visit the former capital city and Unesco World Heritage Site of La Laguna, which was the blueprint for Latin American colonialism. Pristinely preserved 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century mansions line the cobbled streets and conceal tranquil courtyard gardens. Alternatively, catch the 910 bus from the stop near Plaza España (17) for the 20-minute ride to the palm backed, golden paradise of Las Teresitas beach where you can soak up some therapeutic spring sunshine.