Stanley is probably the smallest and most remote capital city in the world. The official existence of Port Stanley began in July 1845, when the islands’ capital was moved from Port Louis to an area originally called Jackson’s Harbour. It was situated on a north-facing slope in order to face the sun throughout the year. It grew dramatically during the Californian Gold Rush in the mid 1800s with this boom lasting until the 1890s. Subsequently, Stanley has continued to be the commercial centre of the islands and the main port of access.
A wide range of architectural styles prevails in the city, ranging from the magnificent brick-built Christ Church Cathedral, to Jubilee Villas – an imposing terrace of four tall, red-brick houses with large bay windows, to the hospital and school with their colourful roofs and white-clad exterior. Upland geese and Falkland steamer ducks frequent the waterfront, while turkey vultures and kelp gulls glide overhead. It is also one of the few places on the islands where house sparrows, introduced during the 19th century, have remained plentiful. Stanley is where many Falkland holidays start and finish, and therefore it has a good selection of accommodation and tour operators able to cater to visitors’ tastes and interests.
What to see and do in Stanley
The Historic Dockyard Museum and around
A good place to start is at the new Historic Dockyard Museum situated in the old dockyard on Ross Road. The perfect starting point for a history lesson about Stanley, the museum houses information ranging from the first settlers up to the present day. Exhibits cover every aspect of life in the Falklands including the Falklands War and other conflicts, camp life, shipwrecks and natural history. There is a very poignant video playing in one room, showcasing interviews with islanders about their experiences during the war. To see it all takes the best part of 2 hours, with some visitors coming back for more than one visit.
The main museum building is situated in an old store, one of the oldest buildings in Stanley, which dates back to 1843. The site beyond once included storerooms, workshops, a jail, a magazine (used for storing munitions) and a smithy, and many of these buildings have been restored to their former glory as part of the museum’s exhibits. For those seeking refreshment, the Teaberry Café is on site.
The memorial just opposite the Historic Dockyard Museum is the Liberation Monument. Paid for by public subscription and erected by volunteers, the monument was officially unveiled on 14 June 1984. The military personnel who gave their lives to liberate the islands are remembered on the surrounding wall. Liberation Day, 14 June, is marked in the islands each year by a public holiday.
Some 50yds away is the bust of Margaret Thatcher, prime minister at the time of the Argentine invasion, and largely held responsible for the decision to send the task force to regain control of the islands. The Secretariat, just behind these memorials, houses the islands’ administrative offices and treasury buildings. Adjacent to these buildings is Cable Cottage, the Attorney General’s Chambers, which housed the Stanley end of the telegraph cable that linked the islands to Montevideo in the early 1900s.
Just below the community school playing field is a long-angled driveway that leads up to Government House. Originally built in 1845, this building has been regularly extended, improved or just generally altered over the years. Every governor and his wife seem to have added their own touch to the building. Each spring, when the gorse hedges are in bloom, this is a very picturesque situation in the lee of the macrocarpa trees. The conservatory at the front of the house is home to one of the most prolific grapevines on the islands.
The house itself, though not open to visitors, is full of all manner of memorabilia from throughout the ages. Outside the west entrance are a pair of brass guns cast in 1807, and elsewhere there is a harpoon gun that was presented by a South Georgia Whaling Station and a shell that is supposed to have come from the German cruiser Leipzig. The bullet holes still visible in the walls mark the most dramatic period in the history of this building, which suffered during the invasion and subsequent recapture of Stanley from the Argentinians. The large trees are a good place to look for some of the smaller birds such as black-chinned siskins and the occasional swallow blown in from South America.
1914 Battle Memorial
This monument commemorates the Battle of the Falklands fought on 8 December 1914, in which the British Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Sturdee destroyed the German Squadron under Vice Admiral Graf Von Spee. A public holiday on the Falklands was declared on this date and every year there is a parade and a ceremony, which includes a display by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. The memorial was paid for by public subscription and was first unveiled on 26 February 1927.
Between SURE’s headquarters and the memorial is a memorial wall built in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the two battles at sea in World War I. There are three plaques on the wall, detailing information about the two battles and the people involved. There are also a couple of benches and a pretty flower garden – this is a quiet place to sit in the sun out of the wind.
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral must be one of the best-known, most-photographed buildings on the islands. It is the southernmost cathedral in the world and for part of its history was the main cathedral for the missionary diocese of South America.
Consecrated in 1892 and finished in 1903, it has remained in use to this day. The whalebone arch, situated next to the cathedral and made from the jawbones of two blue whales, was presented to the islanders in 1933 by whalers from South Georgia. The arch and the cathedral were renovated in 1991.
About 300yds further on, at the head of the public jetty in front of Jubilee Villas, among the oldest buildings in Port Stanley, is a small plaque commemorating the visit of HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh in 1871, the first royal visit, and the visit of the present Duke of Edinburgh in 1957. The easternmost building is now the offices of Falklands Conservation, a non-governmental environmental charity, which is involved with a wide range of research and advisory roles concerning the islands’ wildlife.
The ruins of the William Shand are best seen from the public jetty looking towards the East jetty. This barque, built in Greenock in 1839, visited Stanley on the outward journey from Liverpool to Valparaíso in February 1859, and returned to the islands after a severe battering as she tried to round Cape Horn two months later. She was condemned and ended her days in Stanley.
A superb view over Stanley can be had from Sapper’s Hill, which overlooks the town from the west. From here you can see Stanley laid out before you, over the harbour to Port William, and out over the South Atlantic Ocean to the south. This viewpoint is reached by heading west towards Government House from the Historic Dockyard Museum, but turning south down Darwin Road, following it to the Stanley– Mount Pleasant Airport Road for half a mile and then turning on to the track that leads up the hill for a few hundred yards.
On the way back, you can take a different route by following the Stanley Bypass and turning left into Dairy Paddock Road before soon reaching one of the most unusual gardens in Stanley. In the gardens, next to the sign, ‘say no to whaling’, are the impressive skulls of killer and sperm whales along with a metal sculpture of a whale and a harpoon gun from the whaling days. By continuing down Dairy Paddock Road for another 100yds, you come to Pioneer Row, where some of Stanley’s best-preserved older houses can be found.
Travel to Stanley
Stanley can be reached by land, sea or air. The majority of visitors who reach the capital do so via the cruise ships that call in at the islands.
Although there are various overland routes to Stanley, most traffic uses the all-weather road, which leaves the town to the south and leads on around the slopes of Sapper’s Hill. This is the route used to reach the military base and international airport at Mount Pleasant (MPA) and all other destinations on East Falkland. The drive from Stanley to the airport takes an hour through typical Falkland habitat of diddle-dee-and white-grass-covered slopes.
Visitors landing on the islands from overseas airports can only do so at Mount Pleasant. The airport at Stanley is used for internal flights by the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS). This service is used to transport people and goods all over the Falklands, and is therefore the only practical way for visitors to travel around the islands. The Islander aircraft have a capacity of eight passengers with a luggage limit of 20kg per passenger.