The Canary Islands (English /kəˈnɛəri ˈaɪləndz/; Spanish: Islas Canarias [ˈizlas kaˈnaɾjas], locally: [ˈiɦlah kaˈnaɾjah]), also known as the Canaries (Spanish: Canarias), are a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are one of Spain's 17 autonomous communities and one might argue the outermost region of the European Union proper (although the French overseas departments, spread worldwide, and technically part of the European Union are further still from Europe). The islands include (from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este and Roque del Oeste.
The archipelago's beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The islands have a subtropical climate, with long warm summers and moderately warm winters. Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation. For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.
The capital of the Autonomous Community is shared by the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which in turn are the capitals of the provinces of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Province of Las Palmas. Las Palmas has been the largest city in the Canaries since 1768, except for a brief period in 1910. Between the 1833 territorial division of Spain and 1927 Santa Cruz de Tenerife was the sole capital of the Canary Islands. In 1927 a decree ordered that the capital of the Canary Islands be shared, as it remains at present. The third largest city of the Canary Islands is La Laguna (a World Heritage Site) on Tenerife.
During the times of the Spanish Empire the Canaries were the main stopover for Spanish galleons on their way to the Americas because of the favorable easterly winds.