Colorful St. John’s will be your stop on a cruise to Antigua, welcoming you to paradise on your Caribbean cruise. St. John’s is home to 365 white sandy beaches, historic testaments to British colonial occupation, and kitschy beachy bars around every corner.
Like any tropical destination, St. John’s is perfect for lounging beachside, snorkeling and diving, or hiking to see Fort Barrington’s watchful eye overlooking the city. Historic sites like Fort James and St. John’s Cathedral make for nice tours during your Antigua cruise, leaving plenty of time in your day for tasty Caribbean cuisine and seafood, where the fresh catches of the day rule the local menus.
This Anglican church is a short walk from the cruise port, so you can exit the ship and quickly find yourself surrounded by 16th century history. The cathedral sits at the top of a hill in St. John’s, looking down over the rest of the city. You’ll notice careful renovations to the church are ongoing to maintain and preserve this historic landmark.
Tour this museum to gain a full understanding of the history of Antigua and Barbuda, cataloguing writings and artifacts dating back to Arawak inhabiting the area all the way up to the British colonial period. Once a courthouse and now the oldest building still being used in St. John’s, the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda is a must-see. They’re open Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm as well as Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.
In the 18th century, the British grew nervous that the French would invade St. John’s, and they built Fort James to protect the harbor. It’s less than a 10 minute drive from downtown St. John’s to Fort James, where you can take a tour of the waterfront ruins to better understand its history and significance in Antigua. It won’t take up your whole day, and entrance to the fort is free.
At Public Market, you’ll get a sense of what regular life is like for Antiguans as they shop for local produce like mangoes and pineapples at Public Market. Grab a healthy snack while you’re here or watch as others interact with market vendors and go about their day. The most popular day at Public Market is Saturday, which is also when you’ll find the freshest produce.
Multi-colored buildings pop against the green landscape in St. John’s, and that’s when you know you’ve reached Heritage Quay, the commercial stretch of the city. There are many shops housed here, including duty-free shopping. When your arms tire of carrying your shopping bags, the area is also home to variety of bars and restaurants.
This British fort looks down over the shore of St. John’s. It was built in the 18th century to defend the British from French invasion, and today it’s remarkably intact. The hiking path is challenging and steep, but it’ll take you only 20 minutes to reach the top, where you’ll be welcomed by incredible panoramic views of St. John’s.
To be exact, there are 365 beaches for you to check out on Antigua, and while you can’t hit them all during your cruise to Antigua, you have no shortage of options. Dickinson Beach is a hub for nightlife and water sports, while Jolly Beach is great for family fun. Bars and restaurants dot the waterfront of almost every beach in Antigua, and you’ll have views of the water a lot of the time.
One of the best ways to see St. John’s and greater Antigua is to tour the area by catamaran. Book a shore excursion for several hours of boating on an exclusive vessel, typically with plenty of snacks and cold drinks included in your excursion costs. You’ll see the English Harbor by boat, have chances to snorkel in the Caribbean Sea, and maybe even catch a sunset from the boat.
Castaways on the Beach
Address: Jolly Harbour, South Beach, Saint Mary's, Antigua
For fun cocktails and dining, Castaways is a staple of the area. They serve the beachy bar classics you’d expect like burgers but also Indian-inspired dishes that you don’t anticipate. You just might stumble in on karaoke night, so be prepared to belt a song.
Cecilia’s High Point Cafe
Address: Texaco Dock Road, High Point, Coolidge, Saint George, Antigua
Cecilia’s uses locally sourced produce for their dishes, and their laid back bistro vibe is both unassuming and a romantic spot for lunch in Antigua. Try the salmon quiche, the mahi mahi, chicken liver pate with fresh baked bread, or smoked salmon. Cecilia’s is vegetarian friendly and moderately priced on the waterfront of Dutchman Bay.
Ticchio Italian Food and Wine
Address: Friars Hill Road, St John's, Antigua and Barbuda
Ticchio is a little piece of Tuscany in St. John’s, and it provides exactly what you’d expect—Italian cuisine and quality wines in the heart of Antigua. Lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, authentic cheeses, and more are waiting for you here. Plus, you can purchase olive oils by the bottle as well as cheeses and salumi. If you don’t feel like eating there, purchase items ala carte to make a picnic on your Antigua cruise.
Address: Fort James Beach, St. John's, Antigua
“Limerz” are people who hang out and chill, according to Beachlimerz’ website. They serve wine and cocktails on the beach, along with every type of local fish you can imagine. Stuffed saltfish, lobster, deep fried shark, salmon, as well as chicken and ribeyes are all on the menu here. Beachlimerz is tropical, celebratory, and no frills.
Address: Dickenson Bay, PO BOX W876, Antigua and Barbuda
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Coconut Grove is a Caribbean restaurant that has something for everyone’s tastes. They fix up all the Caribbean classics, plus fresh seafood from clams to coconut shrimp to entire lobsters. They have vegetarian options, too. On Sundays, they offer a local Antiguan breakfast with salt fish, boiled eggs, fried plantain, and more. Don’t miss happy hour every day from 5-7pm.
St. John’s is the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, and it’s the most populated area of Antigua. The natives of this area were the Arawak tribes, then a group called the Carib. From there, British occupation heavily influenced the future of the area, and the slave trade powered the sugar economy. Even after the legal end of slavery, Antiguans who had been enslaved were systemically at a disadvantage and indented to earlier class systems and laws that hindered their social movement.
The tourism industry, including the cruise industry, was critical for the area’s economy starting in the 1950s, allowing the area to move away from a heavily agricultural economy to a tourism-driven economy. Wealthy people began to flock to St. John’s as they did to St. Thomas and other Caribbean destinations. On a cruise to Antigua, you’ll hear that the primary language spoken is Antiguan creole, which blends West African languages and English. Many speak English as their second language.
While you’re on a cruise to Antigua, the St. John port is well-maintained and can accommodate up to four cruise ships per day. You might dock in either Heritage Quay or Redcliffe Quay, which both have shopping and resources available to you once you leave the terminal. The cruise ships are a commanding presence in the distance, and Antigua’s hillsides roll beyond the pier. When you step off the ship, you’ll be greeted by rows of multicolored pink and blue buildings.
The only other place your ship might dock is called Deep Water Harbor, which is further away from Heritage Quay by about 20 minutes. If docked here, leave some wiggle room to get back to the ship on time.
Taxis are common in St. John’s and will wait to pick up passengers outside the cruise port. Many taxi drivers can be hired for an entire day to pick you up and drop you off at multiple destinations in the city. Be sure to ask if they’re available, and settle on a fare for the day before you set off on your adventures in St. John’s. There is also shuttle that runs on Wednesdays through Sundays with stops at major attractions in the area. It’s called “The Link,” and it operates only from June to September, the peak season in St. John’s. Public transit via bus is available, but it’s mostly for in-town riders and locals getting from one side of town to another, not the popular tourist destinations.
As soon as your Antigua cruise ship docks, you can head to the commercial district of Heritage Quay for shopping, specifically for duty-free items. In fact, the terminal at Heritage Quay is your first view of St. John’s. Island rum and souvenirs are easy to find in this area, including a shop actually called Gift Shop. At Heritage Quay, peruse shops for jewelry, pottery, leather materials, art, and more.
The official currency in Antigua is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (E.C.), and the U.S. dollar is accepted in a variety of places as well. Most ATMs come with a fee, and you can withdraw money from the ATMs in downtown St. John’s. Some restaurants will include a 10% service charge already, but if they don’t, you should tip 10-15% for good service. Give porters and bellhops a dollar per bag to be polite. Taxi drivers should also receive a tip of around 10-15% of your fare. Tipping your tour guide is also customary in Antigua.