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Gran Canaria's capital has a rich history, which is best illustrated in the oldest neighborhoods of Vegueta and Triana. The city has its origin in Vegueta. Here, the Spanish army set up camp in the fifteenth century. Many colonial buildings, such as the City Hall (Casas Consistoriales), the Bishop's Palace (el Palacio del Obispo) and the Cathedral, were preserved. It took several centuries to build the cathedral, which explains why it is a mixture of both Gothic and Baroque architectural styles. The cathedral is connected with the Sacred Art Museum, which is located on a very nice courtyard, the Orange Tree Courtyard (el Patio de los Naranjos). Most houses in this part of the city have beautiful courtyards and richly decorated wooden doors. Every Sunday, an artisan fair is held behind the cathedral, interspersed with performances by local artists.
Behind the Santa Ana Square lies the Casa Museo de Colón, Columbus' house. Not that the man ever lived here, but en route to India (which turned out to be America), he did occasionally stay with the military governor, who did live here. The museum exhibits ancient nautical charts, paintings and ship models. There is also a replica of a ship cabin.
The Museum of the Canary Islands is mainly dedicated to Gran Canaria's inhabitants before the Spanish seized the island. Here you can see models of the houses in which they lived and a large collection of archeological finds.
On the other side of the ravine – through which the main road to Gran Canaria's center runs these days – lies Triana. It is Las Palmas' commercial heart with shops, cafés and restaurants. Merchants from England, Malta and Denmark used to settle here, which explains why the main street mainly consists of architecture from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. On this main street, the Calle Mayor de Triana, you'll find high-end shops with smaller boutiques and cafés in the side streets. The nicest terraces can be found on the Hurtado de Mendoza Square, which is popularly called Plaza de las Ranas (frogs), after the two statues of frogs that spit water at each other all day long.
In the north of Triana lies the San Telmo city park: Palm trees, benches, a playground, but also a beautiful café in Art Deco style, as well as a Baroque chapel. Opposite the park lies the military headquarters, where General Franco proclaimed the Spanish Civil War in 1936. A plaque reminds of this.
Much further north lies another popular park, Parque Doramas. It holds beautiful water features, statues and wonderfully landscaped flowerbeds. On Sundays there are free open-air performances for children, such as puppet theaters or clowns. The park's main attraction is Pueblo Canario (Canarian Village), where they brought together the island's traditional houses. There are also traditional dance and music performances.
On the north side of Las Palmas' beach (Playa de las Canteras) lies the picturesque fishermen's quarter La Isleta, with the Castillo de la Luz (Castle of Light). For centuries, this castle protected Las Palma's natural harbor against intruders. It did not always succeed, as in 1599 Dutch pirates burned the castle to the ground, after which it was rebuilt.
A rental car is an ideal means of transportation to discover the real Gran Canaria. The villages in the interior are virtually unaffected by tourism and the landscapes you drive through are overwhelming. For this reason the island is sometimes called a miniature continent. There is a huge diversity of landscapes, ranging from wooded hills, to deep, rocky ravines and from meadows with colorful, wild flowers to large sand dunes on the coast.
You can find these dunes near Maspalomas, on the south coast. You can ride through them on a camel! Children will love it. And if they are a bit dehydrated afterwards because of all the sand, there is an amazing water park in Maspalomas where you can take them. Aqualand has no less than forty water slides and other water attractions.
Gran Canaria has several natural parks, the largest one being the Tamabada pine forest. This national park lies on the west coast and can be easily reached by rental car; the GC-200 coastal road runs through it. Obviously you should not only view this forest from your car. Get out and take a long walk through this nature reserve. Climb the rocks (up to a thousand meters high!) and look at the ocean deep down below.
Near San Bartolomé de Tirajana, in the interior, lies the smaller Pilancones nature reserve. Here you can see spectacular deep ravines, where rare birds and special flowers feel at home.
Las Palmas is a busy city and finding a parking space in the center is not always easy. Parking is prohibited alongside curbstones with a yellow line; a blue line means that you have to pay, usually at a parking machine. Do you know how the locals solve the parking problems? They simply double-park, give the key to a tramp who pushes the car forwards or backwards as required and on their return they give the tramp a reward.
The airport is located eighteen kilometers south of Las Palmas. Gran Canaria Airport can be easily reached by rental car. The airport is situated along the island's main road, GC1, which runs from Las Palmas to the south. The exit is clearly signposted.