St. John’s, Antigua Cruise Port Guide

Colorful St. John’s will be your port of call on a cruise to Antigua, a coral island fringed by no less than 365 white sand beaches. St. John’s itself dates back more than 300 years. Alongside the brightly colored buildings in shades of turquoise, coral pink, and sunshine yellow, you’ll find stately old buildings and solid forts.

As well as history and abundant shopping, you’ll find that St. John’s is the perfect gateway on your Caribbean cruise to the rest of the island’s charms. Sail through aquamarine seas on a catamaran, kayak through the mangroves, hike rainforest trails, or join a tour along the beach on horseback. Explore historic Nelson’s Dockyard, or head up to Shirley Heights Lookout for breathtaking views of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour. Of course, you could just take your pick of those incredible beaches and spend your day relaxing on a beach chair with an ice-cold rum punch, too.

Cruises to Antigua





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Top Sights & Attractions on Cruises to Antigua

St. John’s Cathedral

This imposing Anglican cathedral has stood in its hilltop position since 1845, on the site where two previous places of worship existed. It was built in the Baroque style, with two white, 70-foot towers crowned by gleaming cupolas. Check out the iron gates on the south face of the church, which date back to 1789 and are flanked by figures of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Divine. These were plundered in 1756 by British sailors from a French ship bound for Martinique.

Nelson’s Dockyard

Nelson’s Dockyard was built at English Harbour in 1725 as a base for the British navy. It was of great importance in the 18th and 19th centuries as a center for ship repairs. Today, the old stone buildings have been beautifully restored. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, complete with a museum, art galleries, craft shops, and restaurants dotted around lush green lawns. The presence of numerous gleaming yachts adds an air of glamor.

Dickenson Bay

One of the best beaches in Antigua is the long sweep of Dickenson Bay, an expanse of pure white sand and turquoise water backed by lush greenery, just three miles from the cruise terminals. The bay is lined with lively beach bars, food trucks, watersports concessions, and some great restaurants. Wade in the calm, shallow waters, which are also ideal for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. The people-watching opportunities are boundless.

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Things to Do in Antigua

Join a Historical Walking Tour

Learn about the history of the island on a fascinating tour created by the Historical Society of the Museum of Antigua. Explore streets in St. John’s that date back to the late 18th century, and learn about the architectural detail on the Georgian and Victorian buildings that are dotted around the city. You’ll see historical Redcliffe Quay, Market Street, and the Fish Market, as well as the Methodist Church, the Cenotaph, cathedral grounds, and the museum itself.

Go Horseback Riding on the Beach

There’s something undeniably romantic about riding a beautiful horse through the surf along a deserted beach. You’ll enjoy sweeping views of St. John’s Harbour on this ride as you explore the area around Fort James, which used to protect the city. The highlight of the trip is unsaddling the horses and riding them bareback into the sea, a thrilling experience for rider and horse alike.

Hike Through the Rainforest

Join a hike through the lush rainforest of Wallings Nature Reserve in the south of the island. A local guide will point out the different species of trees, as well as vines, lichens, and mosses. Keep an eye open for the collared pigeon, or the bright yellow and blue West Indian Euphonia. The walk ends with spectacular views over the south coast before passing a pineapple plantation en route to one of the island’s beaches. You’ll have time here for a swim and a cold drink.

Food & Drink in Antigua

St. John’s is packed with restaurants ranging from classy establishments serving international cuisine to waterfront bars and fast food joints. Local specialties to look out for include sweet Barbuda lobster and the delicious Antigua black pineapple. Traditional dishes include saltfish and chop-up, which is a mix of callaloo, eggplant, and okra. 

Bun and cheese is a sweet raisin bun served with a slice of salty cheese, while Johnny Cakes are crisp, deep-fried patties with a soft, fluffy inside. Fungee is a cornmeal, polenta-like dish served with a meaty stew. Goat water is a rich, seasoned one-pot stew of goat meat. Antiguans eat a lot of pork, including souse, a soup made with all the leftover parts of the pig. But if this is a little too rustic, it’s just as easy to find a good pizza, a burger, or freshly squeezed juice in St. John’s.

Culture & History of St. John's

Antigua was inhabited as early as 2400 B.C. by the Siboney people and later, pastoral Arawaks. The Arawaks were displaced by the aggressive Carib tribe. Christopher Columbus spotted the island in 1493 and named it after a saint worshiped in Seville, Santa Maria la Antigua. But he didn’t land here; the island was not occupied by Europeans until 1632. It was cultivated with the arrival of the British entrepreneur Sir Christopher Codrington, who exploited Antigua for large-scale sugar cane production using African slaves. You can still see around 100 stone towers from the sugar mills dotted around the island and visit Codrington’s house, Betty’s Hope.

Antigua was an important naval base thanks to the deep water harbor at St. John’s and the protected bay of English Harbour, where Horatio Nelson built Nelson’s Dockyard in 1784. St. John’s, already the most populous town on the island, was heavily defended in those days, and you can still see the old forts and arsenal that protected the harbor. Slavery was abolished in 1834, an event celebrated at Antigua’s annual Carnival. As the sugar cane industry declined, so did the island’s fortunes, reviving only in the second half of the 20th century as tourism began to boom. Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from Britain in 1981 but remain members of the Commonwealth. Visit today and you’ll find a vibrant culture with African, British, and other influences, and a busy calendar of events, including Antigua Sailing Week.

Antigua Cruise Port Facilities & Location

Cruise ships dock in either Heritage Quay or Redcliffe Quay, both of which are right next to downtown St. John’s and some of the finest shopping in the Caribbean. Both have tourist information, taxi ranks, and restrooms. You could also dock at Deepwater Harbour, which is 20 minutes’ drive away from downtown and doesn’t have any facilities.

Transportation in Antigua

St. John’s is easy to explore on foot, and you will most likely be docked right by the downtown area. Taxis are also available in town and will wait to pick up passengers at a taxi rank outside the cruise port. Drivers often offer to act as a tour guide for the day, but be sure to settle on a fare before you set off if you choose this option. Car rental is widely available, though you’ll need to buy a local permit. Be aware that driving is on the left in Antigua. Buses run all over the island, stopping when they are flagged down. There are two bus stations in St. John’s. Allow about 45 minutes if you want to get to English Harbour by bus.

Shopping in Antigua

Heritage Quay is an impressive shopping complex with duty-free shops selling jewelry, liquor, fragrance, and electronics as well as high-end fashion, purses, and beachwear. Local items to look out for include pottery, linen, batik prints, Caribbean art, rum, and spicy sauces. For a taste of authentic Antigua, head to St John’s Public Market to get a feel for the fruits and vegetables growing on the island; you could even pick up a sweet and juicy black pineapple for a snack.

Local Currency & Tipping Customs

The official currency in Antigua is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$), although the U.S. dollar is accepted in a variety of places as well. The East Caribbean dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of EC$2.7 to US$1. Keep a few EC$ handy if you’re shopping in markets or from street food stalls; if you pay in U.S. dollars, you will probably be given change in local currency. Some restaurants will include a 10% service charge already, but if they don’t, you should tip 10-15% for good service. Taxi drivers should also receive a tip of around 10-15% of your fare. Tipping your tour guide is also customary in Antigua.

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