There is no shortage of things to do in Bridgetown, Barbados. The center is so packed with historic architecture that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage in 2011.
On this island nation with a population of less than 300,000, Bridgetown is both the only city and the central hub of activity. For centuries, this thriving port town has been a crucial center of trade in the Caribbean.
Whether you’re hoping to tour charmingly dilapidated British colonial mansions and forts or simply to lounge by the ocean with a potent rum cocktail in hand, this enchanting little city has something for every taste.
Bask in the Sun on Carlisle Bay
Situated on the western side of the island, Carlisle Bay is a particularly popular spot to catch sunsets, but it’s lovely all day long. With its snow-white sand, waving palm trees, and some of the Caribbean’s clearest waters, this half-moon-shaped bay looks like something lifted from a postcard.
Visitors will find several of the best beaches in Barbados here, including Bayshore Beach and Pebbles Beach. Since the area is so close to downtown Bridgetown, everything is easily accessible.
As if that weren’t already enough to recommend this spot, Carlisle Bay also happens to be part of a UNESCO-designated Marine Park.
Go snorkeling and spy on parrotfish, stingrays, and the occasional sea turtle in this underwater wonderland. For those who would rather spend their time above the waves, well-equipped water sports facilities offer everything from jet skis to sea kayaks.
Snap a Selfie at Gun Hill Signal Station
For a jaw-dropping panoramic view of Bridgetown, look no further than this 19th-century signal station. Originally constructed as a part of a series of such military stations, Gun Hill was located in a particularly strategic spot to spy oncoming invaders.
Since the days of searching for enemy ships are long gone, this elevated landmark building is now a peaceful retreat for travelers. Check out the carved stone lion, which dates back to 1868, on your way up.
Browse Your Way Through Cheapside Market
Whether you’re looking to shop or simply soak in the scene, perusing the wares in this lively bazaar is a great way to spend an afternoon. For decades, locals in Bridgetown have flocked to Cheapside Market early in the morning to stock up on some of the freshest produce in town.
Expect to see mountains of plantains, breadfruits, yams, greens, soursops, and cassavas, plus the sweet onions that were once one of the island’s most famous edible exports.
Travelers looking to try some of these ingredients for themselves should check out the upstairs food stalls, which serve tasty, affordable renditions of Bajan staples.
Although all that farm-fresh bounty occupies the central part of the market, Cheapside also sells all sorts of other items.
From clothing to jewelry to leather goods and knickknacks, travelers will find plenty of prospective souvenirs to haul home here. A bit of friendly bargaining is part of the fun, although don’t expect every vendor to bend on price.
Try the National Dish of Barbados
Dining in Bridgetown is pure pleasure. Thanks to its abundance of freshly caught seafood and its complex history as a trading port, Bajan cuisine is deliciously complex and imbued with multicultural roots.
While there is no shortage of exceptional fish dishes—grilled mahi mahi and crispy fish cakes among them—nothing beats a platter of flying fish.
These silver sea creatures, which are roughly the size of a herring and have the unusual ability to glide above the waves, swim in abundance in the warm waters here. They’re excellent grilled, pickled, or steamed, but especially tasty when fried to a crisp.
The traditional foil for flying fish is coucou, a comforting, starchy staple found throughout various parts of the African diaspora in the Caribbean.
The dish consists of coarse cornmeal stirred into a thick porridge, much like polenta, and studded with breadfruit, okra, or green bananas, depending on the whims of the individual chef. No matter how you make it, it’s an ideal vehicle for soaking up rich, chile-laced sauces.
See the George Washington House & the Old Garrison Tunnels
The sunny yellow facade of this stately home is steeped in Barbadian history. In 1751, scholars believe that George Washington, who would later go on to become the first president of the newly formed United States of America, stayed here for two months when he was still a teenager.
Visitors can tour the interior and learn more about what life was like during this pivotal moment in history.
Nearby, visitors can explore the historic former British Garrison Tunnels, one of which goes right up to the house. Incredible as it might sound, this tunnel remained forgotten and undetected for years, until it was rediscovered in 2011.
Tour the Barbados Museum & Historical Society
For travelers looking to learn more about the complex history of the island, there’s no better place to go than this museum, which holds more than 500,000 artifacts.
Highlights here include the Cunard Gallery, which showcases an impressive collection of oil paintings and other works of art depicting the island, and the Warmington Gallery, which feels like stepping into a 19th-century plantation house.
Visitors can wander between a mock master bedroom, nursery, living room, and dining room, all while admiring the mahogany period furniture and fine china.
Sample Delicious Bajan Baked Goods
Barbados is known for a fantastic array of both sweet and savory baked goods. The one dessert that every traveler to the island should absolutely make sure to try is black cake.
Dense, moist, incredibly rich, and studded with dried fruit, Bajan-style black cake resembles a distant, Caribbean-style relative of English plum puddings and American fruit cakes.
And while it may have originally evolved from the former, this rum-soaked confection definitely has its own character.
Salt bread is a savory bread that makes regular appearances next to bowls of pepperpot stew or seafood dishes.
Typically made with a succinct list of ingredients, these simple rolls are the perfect accompaniment to richly flavorful, well-seasoned Bajan dishes. Order them alongside almost any entrée, or ask for a “cutter,” a stuffed salt bread sandwich.
Rotis, flaky flatbreads, are another essential component of the cuisine of this island. They’re great for mopping up sauces or stews.
One of the best ways to order them is in the form of doubles, a staple found on multiple Caribbean islands consisting of rotis rolled around chickpea curry or other fillings. In Trinidad and Tobago, this popular street food tends to be vegetarian, but in Barbados, variations often include chicken.
Dive Deep Under the Sea with a Submarine Tour
Bridgetown is amazing above the surface, but those travelers fortunate enough to take a tour below the waves will find a whole new world waiting for them to discover.
In this biodiverse seascape, you’ll spy leatherback and hawksbill turtles, as well as barracudas, sharks, and all sorts of other marine life. The Atlantis Submarine, a state-of-the-art vessel, is the perfect way to explore it all without the need for dive certification.
Catch a Cricket Match at the Kensington Oval
One of the residual souvenirs of British colonialism in Barbados is an enduring national obsession with cricket. For more than 120 years, this sprawling stadium has been one of the premier places to watch the sport in the world.
The Kensington Oval, which has hosted the Cricket World Cup on more than one occasion, seats 28,000 spectators around its emerald playing field. Even if you’re not usually a cricket enthusiast, it’s easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm at a match.
Visit the Nidhe Israel Synagogue & Museum
Housed in a striking, pastel-pink building that has a story that dates all the way back to 1654, this synagogue is one of the oldest in the world.
Sephardic Jewish settlers first arrived on the island of Barbados back in 1628 after fleeing persecution from the Spanish Inquisition. Although the structure of the first synagogue was lost to a hurricane in 1831 and reconstructed, the building today still carries a powerful resonance and historical weight.
In 2008, an archeologist unearthed a mikveh thought to date back to the original 17th-century building.
Much of the museum portion of the site is dedicated to educating the public on the history of the slave trade and the darker elements of Barbados’s past. The synagogue itself is still very much an active place of worship, which continues to serve the Jewish community in Bridgetown to this day.
Sip Rum at the Oldest Still-Operating Distillery
Bridgetown is a city that knows how to have a good time, as evidenced by the sheer number of places to drink, dance, and be merry.
Nowadays, bars in the capital offer you just about any sort of drink—whether you want a bone-dry martini, a glass of natural orange wine, or just a cold beer.
Yet despite the plethora of options, it’s hard to beat a classic and on Barbados, no spirit is more historically linked to the island than rum.
The finest Caribbean rums are best sipped neat and savored. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with sampling liquors in the form of rum punch, a heady, sweet elixir beloved throughout Barbados.
Founded in 1703, the Mount Gay Distillery is considered to be the oldest rum still in production. Knowledgeable, entertaining tour guides on the “Distillery Experience” regale travelers with tales from more than 300 years of history, while offering plenty of samples of spirits.
Rum connoisseurs should book the “Premium Rum Flight Experience,” which offers the chance to try rare aged rums, while food lovers should check out the “Sweet and Savoury Pairing,” which matches rums with chocolates that bring out their complex nuances.
Go Deeper into the History of Spirits at St. Nicholas Abbey
With more than 350 years of history behind it, St. Nicholas Abbey is one of the most fascinating places in the capital. Despite the name, this is not a place of worship.
Rather, the plantation was first built in 1660 as a private residence, then later opened to the public. The Great House here is a masterpiece of Jacobean architecture that retains much of its original grandeur. Plan to spend several hours admiring the immaculately manicured gardens and grounds.
After all that exploration, pay a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey’s renowned rum distillery. Unlike mass-produced rums, all of the spirits here are made through the old-fashioned pot still distillation method, then aged in bourbon oak casks for a rich, round finish on the palate.
Admire Beautiful Blooms at Tropical Garden
Formerly known as Orchid World, this magnificent botanical garden is a welcome reprieve from the bustle of Bridgetown and is only 15 minutes’ drive from the capital. The orchids are still stars of the show here, but there’s so much more to see here.
From the colorful blossoms of the anthurium garden shed to the serene decorative pond dotted with lilies, there are plenty of pretty petals to photograph here. Plan to spend at least an hour wandering along the sprawling grounds, which encompass more than six acres.
The best way to discover all that Bridgetown, Barbados has to offer is onboard a luxury cruise through the Caribbean. Browse our cruises to Barbados and book your next island voyage today.