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Conquered by the Spanish and later invaded by masses of European vacationers, Gran Canaria is a mix of cultures and landscapes. Singing to the same seasonal rhythm as the Mediterranean, the third largest and most populated of the seven Canary Islands harbors lush, rolling meadows in the north and flat dusty plains and sandy beaches in the south, all in a fist-shaped island roughly the same size as the city of Houston. The capital, Las Palmas, is a popular port-of-call for large cruise liners, and provides two urban beaches for its dense population.

Things to do

Many visitors come for the incredibly healthy climate and invigorating mountain walks such as those found in the Roque Nublo Park. Others delve deep into the history in the historic old quarter of Las Palmas. But most seek little more than sun, sand and sea; bronzing on one of the island's 60 beaches. This is occasionally forsaken for strolls in pretty villages such as Tejeda, or a splash in one of the water parks of the south, where at night the revelry continues amidst scores of bars and clubs.

Restaurants and Dining

Pick your way past the dozens of British eateries in the main resorts and you'll find the local hangouts where goat's cheese, rabbit and veal are offered in various guises. Pork and chicken is also popular, served either grilled or roasted and almost always with papas arrugadas and mojo sauce--boiled potatoes in sea salt and a spicy pepper sauce. Unsurprisingly, the coastline is awash with good seafood restaurants. Parrot fish is a common catch and sea bream a local specialty.

Shopping

Shopping is a hugely popular sport in Gran Canaria, largely due to the reduced import taxes, making certain goods like alcohol, tobacco, electronics and perfumes cheaper than other places in Europe. For more poignant souvenirs grab a basket made out of banana leaves, local pottery and lace embroidery, or a miniature replica of the famous Canary Island wooden balconies. Las Palmas provides the most varied retail therapy with a smorgasbord of retailers lining streets such as Calle Mayor Triana and coloring the plentiful local markets.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Playa del Inglés is the winter party capital of Europe, especially popular with gay travelers. The Yumbo Center is at the heart of the gay club land action offering a heady mixture of hardcore dance venues, drag shows and same sex bars. Check out the nearby Kasbah Center for family fun pubs. The capital, Las Palmas, also boasts a moonlight buzz.