A visit to Lanzarote is so much more than sunshine and sand (although they’re always welcome!). Add this to spectacular unspoilt scenery, traditional towns and villages, delicious local food and wine, and cultural and artistic attractions and events, and you’ve got a perfect holiday for culture freaks and history buffs.
Panoramic viewpoints, art galleries, castles, live music, dance, folklore and traditional culture: All this on a laid-back island of only 805 sq. km that’s easy to get around at a stress-free pace. Read on for inside information on the best cultural attractions in Lanzarote.
What you need to know: César Manrique
César Manrique (1919-1992) was a Lanzarote-born artist who shaped tourism on the island as we know it. He was way ahead of his time and true pioneer of sustainable tourism as early as the 1960s, when the term was relatively unknown. He tirelessly defended his island’s natural assets and worked together with the government to develop the island’s natural and cultural treasures.
An architectural legacy
You’ll see Manrique’s stamp all over. Wind and artistic sculptures adorn many of the island’s roundabouts. Lanzarote’s houses must be painted white, with wooden frames in either blue, green or brown, depending on whether they are coastal or rural.
Art and nature in harmony
He built his original house the Taro de Tahiche, in 1968 and it is now the César Manrique Foundation. It is built around five volcanic bubbles and is a true example of his style and commitment to blending art and nature in perfect harmony. This design concept was so avant-garde at the time that it attracted architects from all over the world.
He spent his later years in his home in the picturesque town of Haría. The César Manrique House Museum is a glimpse of Manrique’s personal side and is also a must-see on your list of cultural attractions in Lanzarote.
Lanzarote’s tourist centres
Preserving the best of Lanzarote
Manrique’s most impressive contribution to his island is perhaps his work with the island’s tourist centres, transforming them into places that tourists could enjoy whilst also ensuring their conservation.
The artist maintained his colour palette throughout: the blue of the ocean, the blacks, oranges and reds of volcanoes, the green vegetation and the pristine white-washed walls of island architecture.
When Volcán de la Corona erupted 21,000 years ago, it created the Tunnel of Atlantis, a 7 km-long tunnel that extends under the sea. Two of Lanzarote’s most magnificent natural attractions are located inside this tunnel: Cueva de los Verdes and Jameos del Agua
Cueva de los Verdes
Journey towards the centre of the Earth
The caves were used as a hideout by the islanders during the pirate attacks during of 16th and 17th centuries. They were later the focus of scientific interest in the 19th century, for their geological importance and uniqueness.
Cueva de los Verdes was the first tourist centre to be opened to the public in 1964. Manrique did this with minimal human intervention, installing only paths and handrails for access.
The ingenious illumination was the brainchild of Fuerteventura-born Jesús Soto. Soto was a highly skilled lighting technician who added a touch of magic, enhancing the natural colours and textures of the natural caves.
They also created an auditorium area to capitalise on the cave’s natural acoustics. If you’re visiting during the autumn and winter, make sure to see one of the classical music concerts held here.
Jameos del Agua
“The eighth wonder of the world” – Rita Hayworth
Manrique transformed volcanic debris in a lava tunnel into one of the world’s most beautiful and unique places. It was first opened to the public in 1966. He create a restaurant, bars, dance floor, open-air pool and natural auditorium where regular music and dance performances are held. Jameos del Agua is a superb example of how man, art and nature can co-exist in perfect harmony.
You can experience fine local gastronomy and live acoustic music at Jameos Nights on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Jameos del Agua a magical place at night-time with its extraordinary lighting under starry skies.
Manrique was helped by Jesús Soto and a team of local craftsmen who used their own bare hands to place every stone, plant, seat and ornament. Don’t miss Las Manos, (Hands) a documentary screened on Sundays at 12:30 in the auditorium.
Casa Museo del Campesino
A tribute to Lanzarote farmers
Lanzarote’s most famous monument, the Monumento de la Fecundidad (Fertility Monument) is also popularly known as Monumento del Campesino and was built in 1969. Manrique wanted to pay tribute to local farmers who had struggled against volcanic eruptions and the island’s harsh climate for centuries in order to survive.
The sculpture itself is made from used water tanks from fishing boats and represents a camel, a donkey and a dog: three faithful animals in Lanzarote’s agricultural past.
Casa-Museo del Campesino is now a real-life house museum that gives you a fascinating insight into Lanzarote’s traditional architecture, agriculture, handicrafts and gastronomy. Get hands-on and make your own handicrafts in one of the many workshops on offer.
Castillo San José
An 18th-century fortress
“La fortaleza del hambre” (the hunger fortress) was built by order of King Carlos III in 1776-1779. Not only was it intended to defend the strategic port of Naos, it provided work for the islanders who were still suffering greatly as a result of the Timanfaya eruptions in 1730s.
Castillo de San José is a quadrangular construction is over 7m high with a drawbridge has views over the entire port. Four watchtowers sit on its corners, a large bell presides over the main entrance and it holds many mysterious rooms and vaults.
Contemporary art in an ancient setting
Manrique restored the deteriorated castle in 1975 and created MIAC – International Museum of Contemporary Art and Jesús Soto created the exterior lighting and silhouette of Castillo de San José.
César Manrique donated some of his own collection and it became one of the best abstract art collections in the Canaries in the second half of 20th century, including works by Miró, Tàpies, Picasso, MIllares, Zóbel and Mompó. It grew steadily over the years with paintings, sculpture and photography from later generations and the best Canarian artists.
Spanish artist Juan Hidalgo, one of the most versatile of his time, made invaluable contributions to the MIAC collection over the years. One of the main attractions is the Piano con Ñ (1997) a grand piano made from glue, covered in black lacquer with the Spanish flag and a large letter Ñ.
Gastronomy, music and art with ocean views
Castillo de San José also includes a beautiful restaurant overlooking Arrecife bay where you can also enjoy fine cuisine and music at Museum Nights. The restaurant overlooks The Rising Tide sculpture collection by Jason deCaires. The castle is also a venue for regular exhibitions, conferences and round table events.
The Cactus Garden
An award-winning haven of peace and beauty
The Cactus Garden is located on the site of an ancient volcanic crater which was used as a rofe (volcanic gravel) quarry. It was César Manrique’s last intervention before his death in 1992.
The artist transformed the site into a landscaped garden that is a haven of peace and tranquillity and home to 4,500 species of cactus. His masterpiece won the International Scarpa Prize for Gardens in 2017, for its fertile equilibrium between Lanzarote’s nature and culture.
The garden also features a 240-year-old windmill which was used for milling corn in the 19th century. It was restored to working order and is the only one of its kind remaining on the island today.
We hope you enjoy this guide to Lanzarote’s best cultural attractions, but it’s impossible to cover it all.
Top tip: Save money and get a multi-centre voucher to enjoy more cultural attractions for less.