Travel Guide to Nassau and Paradise Island in the Bahamas

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Though far from the largest of the Bahamas islands, New Providence is the most populous, home of the country's capital, Nassau, and the big sister of Paradise Island, home of the Caribbean's "Vegas-by-the-sea" Atlantis mega-resort.

Long the site of historical tumult -- from its origins as a hideaway for pirates and smugglers to its frequent capture and re-capture by British and American forces since the 1700s -- New Providence, and Nassau in particular, reflects a commingling of native and colonialist sensibilities. Nassau's Georgian-style houses are painted in vibrant Caribbean pinks and greens, the steps to Fort Fincastle are carved out of coral sandstone, and the fort itself in sculpted in the shape of a paddle-wheel steamer. It's also an animated city of 260,000 full of high-end retail, classy restaurants, and late-night discos that manages to be both busy and tourist-centric without sacrificing its provincial charms.

Accommodations, from small hotels to larger all-inclusives, are primarily in downtown Nassau itself -- notably the iconic British Colonial Hilton -- on Paradise Island (Atlantis, the new Riu Palace Paradise Island, the One&Only Ocean Club, and others); and on Cable Beach, a two-mile stretch of white sand just west of the city. There you'll find the Sheraton, the Radisson, and the Wyndham as well as the Crystal Palace casino.

The island is not all high-octane revelries, however. There's plenty to do outside of the slots and shops, from visiting the quiet bloom of the Ardastra Gardens, the fish and fauna at Crystal Cay Zoo, or climbing Nassau's famous Queen's Staircase. Equal measures of whimsy and sophistication set New Providence and Paradise Island apart, a blend that makes it perfect for couples, families, and singles alike.

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