This is an article about what to do in Arrecife on Lanzarote Island, Spain. Once you step on Lanzarote you immediately realize that is wealthy, organized, clean, nice and beautiful. White short cute houses contrasting with the black volcanic landscape. On the island there is only one small city, Arrecife, the capital of Lanzarote, very different from the cute small white villages spread all over the territory but in the very centre of everything.

EL Charco de San Ginés, Arrecife, Lanzarote Island
El Charco de San Ginés, Arrecife, Lanzarote Island

Arrecife looks real and decadent at the first look. Working class kind of tall buildings at the suburbs that break the perfect always-present white. In the old centre, some houses look worn and gnawed around El Charco de San Ginés. The bins for the rubbish seem not to be big enough and the salary of the street cleaners could be higher all over the centre.

So, is it still worth to go?

Definitely yes. No doubts about it. Arrecife has been from long time ago a city linked to the Ocean. It acquired the rank of independent municipality in 1798, as a result of the strength of maritime traffic.

Marina Lanzarote, Arrecife
Marina Lanzarote, Arrecife

The original nucleus of the city is El Charco de San Ginés, where a first church and several fishermen’s houses were built. First, it was only a port and then it developed into a town early after the arrival of Jean de Béthencourt. It hasn’t been always a city called to be a capital. In the first quarter of the 18th century, the estimated population was only 73 inhabitants, and a century later three thousand. But, thanks to the trade it achieved an important development with the consequent demographic influence in the 19th century. After a period of crisis, the construction of its first commercial dock in 1908 and the development of the maritime traffic allowed Arrecife to get into a new stage of prosperity.

Arrecife from Castillo de San Gabriel
Arrecife from Castillo de San Gabriel

For a long time the base of its economic activity was fishing, since the piece of Ocean fin between Eastern Canary Islands and the African coast is one of the best fishing banks all over the world. That fact justified the colonization of the Spanish Sahara in the beginning. The fishing industry gave rise to an important salting industry and the subsequent appearance of salt mines in Lanzarote and in Fuerteventura. And their production not only served local consumption, but also supplied the rest of the islands and some African countries.

Arrecife Centre
Arrecife Centre

Fishing continues to occupy an important place in the economy of the municipality, together with the reactivation of the services sector motivated by the growing presence of tourism, which is installed in touristic areas near Arrecife.

But why tourists don’t go to Arrecife that much?

They go in fact but for short visits since they still prefer to stay and stick around beach vocational locations with all the services to spend a perfect holiday.

Arrecife centre
Arrecife centre

Many locals don’t help unfortunately to spread the reasons of visiting their nice city. Some of them they can tell you that far from being the third capital of the Canary Islands, is visibly deteriorating in the face of the impassive attitude of its political leaders who, due to lack of knowledge or worse, have not come up with appropriate solutions for the city’s problems.

Indeed, in Arrecife you will catch up with real problems normal in real cities as some damaged facades, destroyed public spaces, streets with sinkholes, poor lighting, accumulated dirt and chaos and a poorly maintained historical heritage. But let’s face it, that happens in many neighbourhoods of Barcelona, Paris, London or New York and nobody would like to skip their visit on purpose to go a dozen of kilometres far away.

We wanted to stay in Arrecife so we rented an apartment there. There are not many hotels in Arrecife since the whole island is full of accomodations. The best location in Arrecife is to stay in between Puerto de Naos and Reducto Beach. For a complete map of Arrecife with its neighbourhoods click here.

Tip: Choose an apartment next to the sea in the centre, Valterra or La Vega neighbourhoods. They are cheaper than the cheapest options all over the island and you can check for some days how the real local vibe in the heart of the real Lanzarote is.

The heart of the old town is still El Charco de San Ginés. It is difficult to describe how much beautiful is at sunset, with smooth light colours that change according of the sun hiding rhythm behind the white buildings beyond the water. El Charco is vivid, full of bars and restaurants still open even though the constant and intermittent Spanish restrictions due to the pandemic. Some of the best tapas restaurants in town are there: Tasca La Raspa, La Caja de Tapas, La Casa del Miedo

All around El Charco de San Ginés there some delicious narrow streets with hidden corners and traditional white and colourful patterns that you will enjoy into a real local atmosphere.

Walking around there for sure you will reach Parroquia de San Ginés, the iconic church of the neighbourhood, which its bell tower can be spotted from many places in the old town.

Parroquia de San Ginés
Parroquia de San Ginés

From Parroquia de San Ginés the visitor should take a short stroll to rich the historic bridge or the parallel Calle de la Lagarta to arrive to Castillo de San Gabriel, the historic castle of the town currently turned into a History Museum, and from the castle continue to Punta de la Lagarta and Muelle de La Cebolla, just in front the Ocean.

Castillo de San Gabriel
Castillo de San Gabriel, Arrecife, Lanzarote Island

On the East the traveller could choose to walk Marina Lanzarote direction and made it to one of the most beautiful ports in Spain. Or rather walk West direction along Avenida de la Marina to get to Playa del Reducto, one of the nicest urban beaches in all Canary Islands.

Arrecife has its assets but in our opinion what is really interesting is to understand how the life is flowing in “the third capital of the Canary Islands”, a real city, with real challenges, nice people around and a very specific character. If you are eager of nice beaches and for cute villages in an awesome landscape probably you have consider to go to Lanzarote.

Don’t miss its real capital, Maybe Arrecife is not waiting just for you, but you shouldn’t wait that much to go.

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2 responses to “What to do in Arrecife, a stroll through a real capital on Lanzarote Island”

  1. Itinerario circular en Lanzarote – Los 15 mejores lugares

    […] La ciudad ha sido la capital de Lanzarote desde el siglo XIX y es el centro administrativo y comercial de la isla. Arrecife es completamente diferente de los lindos pueblecitos blancos de toda la isla y si te apetece saber más, definitivamente deberías consultar nuestro artículo completo sobre Arrecife. […]

  2. The perfect round trip on Lanzarote island – Top 15 spots to discover

    […] the moment when we arrived by our ferry to Playa Blanca on Lanzarote, and we started to drive into Arrecife direction, we both were shocked about the landscape, how it can be so different, so interesting […]

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