Many holidaymakers to the Caribbean only venture out of their all-inclusive resorts on the occasional organized excursion, but, thanks to excellent public transport, good roads and short distances, Barbados is very easy to explore independently.

Lizzie Williams, author of Barbados: The Bradt Guide

Tourism and Barbados go together like rum and coke or flying fish and chips. You can pay thousands of dollars to be truly cosseted along with music moguls and supermodels, or you can cater for yourself and go shopping with Bajans. The west coast, commonly referred to as the Platinum Coast, is the place to be seen.

The south is for beach life, nightlife, fun and games, the package-holiday end of the market with a cheerful, relaxed atmosphere and the best sand. The east is wild and untamed, a world apart, where the Atlantic crashes into cliffs, eroding the coastline and creating beaches of a rare beauty. Head to the hills inland to explore relics of colonial days such as plantation houses, signal towers, tropical gardens, museums and rum distilleries.

Of all the islands in the eastern Caribbean, Barbados is unique in that it remained British throughout its colonial history, without being passed from one European master to another. The island is divided into 11 parishes named
after 10 saints, Christ Church being the 11th. Many of the parish churches are impressive buildings. Towns have the charming English seaside resort names of Hastings, Brighton or Dover and the island was often referred to as Little England, not always as a compliment. Since independence in 1966 the country has moved closer in cultural terms to North America while also pursuing its African roots – and in 2021 it became the world’s newest republic.

Food and drink in Barbados

Just as Barbadian culture is a blend of British and African traditions, so the cuisine of Barbados is a mix of British and West African tastes and ingredients, developed over the centuries with some other flavours brought to the pot by immigrants from other nations, such as India.

The need for carbohydrates to fuel slave labour and arduous work in the sugar cane fields has led to a diet based on starchy vegetables known as ground provisions, while difficulties in storing meat and fish in the tropical heat led to common use of salt meat and fish, pickles and other preserves. Sugar, the main crop of the island for generations, features heavily in both food and drink, reaching perfection in the production of rum.


Fresh fish is excellent and sold at the markets in Oistins, Bridgetown and elsewhere in the late afternoon and evening, when the fishermen come in with their catch. It is a fascinating sight to watch the speed and skill with which women fillet flying fish and bag them up for sale. The main fish season is December-May, when there is less risk of stormy weather at sea.

Flying fish is the national dish and a speciality with two or three fillets to a plate, eaten with chips, breaded in a sandwich (flying fish cutter) or with a sauce made from onions, tomatoes and herbs. Other popular and tasty fish include red snapper, wahoo or kingfish, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, and ‘dolphin fish’ – the latter being also called dorado or mahi mahi on restaurant menus with no relation or resemblance to the mammal dolphin. There is also plenty of local crab, lobster, conch (lambi), octopus and shrimp/prawns.

Cou-cou is a filling starchy dish made from breadfruit or corn meal with okra, peppers and hot sauce. Jug-jug is a Christmas speciality made from guinea corn, pigeon peas and salt meat, supposedly descended from the haggis of the poor white Scottish settlers exiled to the island after the failed Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. Pudding and souse is a huge dish of pickled breadfruit, black pudding and pork.

Conkie is a corn-based dish often referred to as stew dumpling, traditionally made and sold during November, originally to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I, and later to celebrate independence from British colonial rule. Conkie contains spices, sugar, pumpkin, corn meal, coconut and sometimes raisins or cherries, all wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf, served hot.

There is a riot of tropical fruit and vegetables: unusual and often unidentifiable objects as well as more familiar items found in supermarkets in Europe and North America but with 10 times the flavour. The best bananas in the world are grown in the Caribbean; they are cheap, incredibly sweet and unlike anything you can buy at home. Many of the wonderful tropical fruits you will come across in juices or in ice cream. Don’t miss the rich flavours of the soursop, the guava or the sapodilla.

Avocados are nearly always sold unripe, so wait several days before attempting to eat them. Avocados have been around since the days of the Arawaks, who also cultivated cassava and cocoa, but many vegetables have their origins in the slave trade, brought over to provide a starchy diet for the slaves. The breadfruit is eaten in a variety of ways: with tomato and onion, a cucumber and lime souse, mashed like a potato or as wafer-thin crisps. It is one of the many forms of starch popular in local cooking; others include sweet potato, yam, eddo, green banana, plantain, bakes, cassava, rice, pasta and potato. Rice usually comes mixed with pigeon peas, black-eye peas or split peas. Macaroni cheese is a popular accompaniment, and is referred to as ‘pie’.


Barbados is a major producer of rum and you can find some excellent brands including Mount Gay, Cockspur, Malibu, Foursquare and St Nicholas Abbey. It is worth paying a bit extra for a good brand such as VSOP or Old Gold, or for the slightly sweeter Sugar Cane Brandy, unless you are going to drink it with Coca-Cola, in which case anything will do. A rum and cream liqueur, Crisma, is popular in cocktails or on the rocks. Mount Gay produce a vanilla and a mango-flavoured rum. Falernum is sweet, sometimes slightly alcoholic, with a hint of vanilla and great in a rum cocktail instead of sugar syrup.

For non-alcoholic drinks, there is a range of refreshing fruit juices, including orange, mango, pineapple, grapefruit, lime, guava and passionfruit. Sorrel is a bright red drink made with hibiscus sepals and spices, and mauby is a bitter-sweet drink made from tree bark. Both are watered down like a fruit squash and they can be refreshing with lots of ice. Banks produces Bajan Light (a lager) as well as a milk stout and a non-alcoholic malt drink. Water is of excellent quality, as it comes mostly from deep wells sunk into the coral limestone, but there is bottled water if you prefer.

Health and safety in Barbados


Travel in Barbados poses no health risk to the average visitor provided sensible precautions are taken. Make sure you have sufficient medical travel insurance, get a dental check, know your own blood group and, if you suffer from allergies, diabetes or epilepsy, add your emergency information to the lock screen of your mobile phone or obtain a Medic Alert bracelet. If you wear glasses, take a copy of your prescription.

All travellers should get fully vaccinated for Covid-19 before travel, and a yellow fever inoculation certificate must be produced on arrival if you have arrived within 5 days of leaving an area in Africa or South America affected with yellow fever.

There are minor mosquito-borne disease risks in the Caribbean region; dengue fever, chikungunya virus (also known as chik V), and Zika (ZIKV) virus. Although the risk of contracting any of these is very low, it is always a good idea to protect yourself against mosquitoes; try to wear clothes that cover arms and legs at dusk and dawn (when mosquitoes are most active) and use effective mosquito repellent. Rooms with a/c or fans also help ward off mosquitoes at night.

Some form of diarrhoea or intestinal upset may affect some holidaymakers. The standard advice is always to wash your hands before eating and to be careful with drinking water and ice. Tap water is generally very good, but if in any doubt buy bottled water. Food can also pose a problem; be wary of salads if you don’t know whether they have been washed or not. Symptoms should be relatively short lived. Adults can use an antidiarrhoeal medication to control the symptoms but only for up to 24 hrs. In addition, keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and eat bland foods. Rehydration sachets mixed with water are a useful way to keep well hydrated and should always be used when treating children and the elderly. If symptoms persist, consult a doctor.

The 2 main hospitals on the island, both in Bridgetown, offer all services including 24-hr A&E departments and helicopter air ambulances. There are a number of other medical centres and clinics and the larger hotels have doctors on call. In the event of a diving emergency, the Barbados hyperbaric chamber is at the Barbados Defence Force Headquarters, St Ann’s Fort, Bridgetown.


Most visits to Barbados are trouble-free, but there are isolated incidents of crime, including armed robbery, theft from vehicles and sexual assault. But Barbadians are, as a rule, exceptionally friendly, honest and ready to help, and most visitors will not experience any issues and will have a safe and enjoyable stay.

The general common-sense rules apply to prevent petty theft: don’t exhibit anything valuable and keep wallets and purses out of sight; do not leave your possessions unattended on the beach; use a hotel safe to store valuables, lock doors as noisy fans and a/c can provide cover for sneak thieves; don’t leave items on balconies when you go out; at night, avoid deserted areas, including the beaches, and always take taxis. If hiring a car, don’t stop if you’re flagged down by pedestrians, keep valuables out of sight and lock car doors when driving.

If you are offered drugs on the beach, in a rum shop or at a party, do not be tempted to dabble; all are illegal and law does not allow for ‘personal possession’. Larger amounts of marijuana or any amount of cocaine will get you charged with trafficking and penalties are very severe.

Disabled travellers

Both the airport and Bridgetown Cruise Terminal have good accessibility for wheelchairs but they are not accommodated on public road transport and the towns have very uneven pavements. However, modern resorts and hotels have rooms with disabled facilities and many of the sites are accessible; for example, Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum, Mount Gay Rum Tour, the electric train at Harrison’s Cave, and South Coast Boardwalk. To watch cricket at Kensington Oval, all stands have ramped access and staff will assist. It’s easy enough to tour the island in a taxi (a larger minivan for wheelchair storage), in a rented vehicle or by boat, and local people will do their very best to help.

LGBTQ+ travellers

Technically same-sex relationships are illegal but laws are rarely enforced and currently under review. Barbados held its first Pride Week in 2018 raising awareness and acceptance. There’s a relaxed attitude in the tourism industry, although public displays of affection are ill-advised.

Travel and visas in Barbados


Visitors must have a passport valid for 6 months after the date of entry and adequate unused pages for stamps. Even though you may not always get asked for it, all travellers need to be able to produce a return or onward ticket, proof that they can support themselves during their stay (a credit card will suffice), and an address at which they will be staying (the hotel on your 1st night should be enough).

Most visitors do not need a visa (including citizens of the US, UK, EU, most Commonwealth countries, South Africa and the Caribbean), although the length of stay permitted varies from 28 days to 6 months. Those in transit or visiting from a cruise ship for less than 24hrs don’t need visas either, even if they are from countries that would otherwise require one. For full details and how to apply for a visa, see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade website.

Extending your initial entry stamp is possible by applying to the Chief Immigration Officer Immigration Department, Careenage House on the Wharf in Bridgetown. Additionally, Barbados (like much of the Caribbean) has introduced a remote working visa called the Barbados 12 Month Welcome Stamp.

Getting there and away

By air

Barbados’ popularity as a tourist destination means regular flights from Europe and North America and you can often pick up good-value deals on package holidays; combining flights with a hotel can often work out cheaper than booking each separately and airport-to-hotel transfers are usually included.

Barbados is also the hub of the Eastern Caribbean region and has good connections for some island-hopping by air. Grantley Adams International Airport is 16 km east of Bridgetown, near the resorts on the south coast and connected to the west coast beaches by the Adams Barrow Cummins (ABC) Highway which bypasses the capital. Flights to Barbados are heavily booked in high season (mid-December to mid-April), especially at Christmas and Easter, and also for Crop Over (June-early August).

The scheduled carriers to Barbados from the UK are British Airways, who fly daily from London Heathrow and three times a week from London Gatwick, and Virgin Atlantic who fly daily from London Heathrow and three times a week from Manchester.

By sea

There are no ferry services between Barbados and the other Caribbean islands. Cruise ships call at the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal which has capacity for six vessels at a time, and some passengers choose to start, finish or break their cruise in Barbados.

Getting around

By car

At only 34 km long and 22 km wide, the island is fairly small and the terrain is relatively flat, so nowhere takes too long to get to and there’s a good choice of transport options. However, away from the main highways on the south and west coasts, the interior rural roads are narrow, winding and poorly signposted, but Barbadians are more than happy to point you in the right direction if you ask.

Having your own car, if only for a couple days, is highly recommended to get to attractions and restaurants and it’s a great way to carry around beach gear and picnics for impromptu stops. The network of minor roads criss-crossing the island can be a little confusing and there are plenty of ways to get lost, but Barbados is an enjoyable destination for a bit of a ramble in the interior, distances aren’t great, and it won’t take long to find the right road again.

By bus

There are three types of public buses on Barbados and they are cheap, frequent and crowded. Almost all routes radiate in and out of Bridgetown, so while cross-country journeys may be time-consuming, travelling by bus is very easy and can be a lot of fun and a great way to meet Bajan people. On most routes, the first buses depart around 0500 and run until at least 2100; on the more popular routes they run until 2400. Look out for the red, white and black bus-stop signs at the side of the road; out-of-town bus stops are marked simply ‘To City’ or ‘Out of City’. Some of them have shelters with a bench, and solar USB-charging points for phones, but you rarely have to wait too long for a bus on the busier routes.

The large public buses belonging to the government’s Transport Board are hard to miss, and are painted blue with striped yellow sides. The flat fare is B$3.50 per journey anywhere on the island, so if you change buses you pay again. The drivers do not give change so exact fare is required; if you are boarding at a terminal, you can get change from the cashier (0700-2200). The routes cover just about every corner of the island and usefully service many of the tourist attractions.

When to visit Barbados


With an average of eight to nine hours of daily sunshine and consistently warm sea temperatures, any time of year is holiday time in Barbados. The climate is tropical, but rarely excessively hot because of the prevailing northeast trade winds that gently roll in off the Atlantic.

Daytime temperatures average between 28°C and 35°C, the coolest and driest time being December-May, and a wetter and hotter season June-November. Rain is usually heavy when it comes but, because of its easterly position outside the Caribbean Sea basin, Barbados has rarely been hit by hurricanes, although tropical storms may occur August-October.


If you want a carnival atmosphere then time your visit for the Crop Over Festival, from late June to early August, a centuries-old tradition that celebrates the end of the sugar cane season. The main carnival celebrations take place on the first weekend of August; book flights, accommodation and car hire in plenty of time for this long weekend as everything is very busy with Barbadians, returning family and friends and visiting tourists. Other musical events worth aiming for are the Reggae Festival in April, the Celtic Festival in May and the Jazz Excursion in October.

Cricket lovers should try to take in a Test Match or a regional competition to see top international players at the Kensington Oval, but there are cricket festivals at other times of the year and of course matches every Sunday in villages around the island. For a diary of events and festivals see


Barbados Horticultural Society (BHS) Annual Flower & Garden Show

Held on the last weekend in January, there are lovely floral exhibits from societies affiliated to the BHS including the Barbados Association of Floral Artists, Bonsai Barbados, Barbados Orchid Society and the Barbados Cactus and Succulent Society, as well as craft, tea and food stalls.


Holetown Festival

The week-long festival begins in mid-February and commemorates the first settlers’ landing in February 1627. There are parades with floats during the day, all well organized and restrained, nothing outrageous. It features a parade of vintage and classic cars, plus the Queen of the Festival pageant. A few kids march in costume, there are one or two masked performers, and stalls are set up, selling food, Banks beer and crafts.

One of the most popular events is the Police Tattoo, a floodlit night show featuring the men and women of he Royal Barbados Police Force. The Police Force band plays on a stage on the beach and the mounted troop, canine unit and motorcycle unit are usually on display. This is Little England par excellence.

Oistins Fish Festival

Held over the Easter weekend to celebrate the signing of the Charter of Barbados and the history of this fishing town. There are three days of competitions, parades and demonstrations of fishing skills. Fish-boning is the major competition, the winner being the Queen of the Festival. There are also boat races, the greasy pole and a big street party with live music which goes on until late at night – and of course, lots of fried fish and fish cakes.

Vujaday Music Festival

Held over five days in mid-February, this electronic music festival (house, techno, etc) features international DJs, rappers and producers. It’s a mobile party at different locations, often on beaches with bars and food vendors.


Barbados International Fishing Tournament

Held in mid-April, this, one of the premier fishing events in the southern Caribbean, attracts participants from across the region and internationally for five days of competition. Apart from the fishing, there’s much dockside activity and in the evenings people gather to witness the boats arriving with their catch and join in the cocktail parties, a fashion show, wine tasting, live bands, a pig roast and fish fry. 

Barbados Reggae Festival

Held in the third week of April and featuring top-quality local, regional and international reggae acts with a beach party, cruise party, and the very popular Reggae on the Hill open-air concert at Farley Hill National Park.


Barbados Celtic Festival

Held over four days at the end of May on the South Coast Boardwalk, this is rather an unusual festival to be celebrated in the Caribbean, but Barbados attracts Celtic people from around the world for their annual gymanfa-ganu and other events including folk music, street theatre, ceilidhs and Celtic chefs. The main event is the Bridgetown Street Parade of marching bands playing pipes and drums on the Saturday afternoon.


Held over Whitsun, the last weekend in May, this international festival attracts gospel singers from the USA, UK and all over the Caribbean. Concerts are held at various locations including Farley Hill National Park.


Sol Rally Barbados

The Caribbean’s biggest annual motor sports event started out as a one-day car rally in 1990 and now attracts over 100 international drivers for three days of racing on public roads and off-road routes. There are many vantage points for spectators and several associated social activities.


Banks International Hockey Festival

Hockey is very popular in Barbados and this is the largest field hockey event in the region, with teams coming from all over the world to participate. Held at Sir Garfield Sobers Sports Complex in late August, matches take place during the day and are followed by beach parties, fêtes, party cruises and clubbing.


Barbados Jazz Excursion and Golf Weekend

Established in 2014 by Barbados-born soul-jazz saxophonist, Elan Trotman, jazz and R&B concerts are held over Columbus Day holiday weekend at the Hilton Barbados Resort and Lighthouse Beach. There’s a charity celebrity golf tournament at Apes Hill Club on the Sunday.


Independence Day

Although the actual day is 30 November, there are several events during the month commemorating Barbados’ independence from Britain in 1966, including a parade on the Savannah.

National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA)

Plays, concerts and exhibitions in the four weeks before Independence Day on 30 November. Competitors work their way up through parish heats to reach the finals at the Frank Collymore Hall in Bridgetown.


Run Barbados Marathon Weekend

On the first weekend of December, a full and half marathon, 10-km run and 5-km walk following an ‘out and back’ mostly flat route, take place from Bridgetown’s Bay Street Esplanade, where there’s music, family entertainment and food and drink.

What to see and do in Barbados


Bathsheba is in the parish of St Joseph, about halfway up the east coast, and 19 km northeast of Bridgetown via Highway 3. It has a double bay with wave-eroded rocks and boulders at each end and in the middle.

Attractions in Bathsheba


The beach is sandy but at the water’s edge it turns to flat rocks, platforms interspersed with rock pools where you can cool off at low tide. Windswept and with pounding surf, swimmers confine themselves to these pools, best in the shelter of the enormous boulders (watch out for sea urchins), but Bathsheba is one of Barbados’ top surfing beaches. The bay seems to be almost white as the surf trails out behind the Atlantic rollers.

The popular surf spots are Soup Bowl and Parlour, where waves break consistently year-round but are best between September and November. Surfing championships are often held here.

Bathsheba village

Bathsheba village is home to a small community of fishing folk and their families and is effectively just one long beach road, dotted with the odd rum shop; it’s just about as laid-back as it gets in Barbados. If you’re neither a surfer nor a tidal pool-paddler, then there are plenty of walks in the area. Low-key accommodation is available, and this is also where some Barbadians spend their weekends, with many owning holiday homes in the area.

Tent Bay

Just south of Bathsheba (a suburb really), picturesque Tent Bay is home to a small fish market, and colourful local fishing boats can be seen making their way in and out of the bay in the morning and evening. Like the other beaches, there are strong currents and swimming is not recommended. The landmark Atlantis Historic Inn opened here in 1884 when the old railway between Bridgetown and Belleplaine ran directly in front of the hotel and made a stop at the bottom of the steps. The Atlantis is still a great place for lunch on a tour of the island and is well known for its Bajan buffets.

Hackleton’s Cliff rises up in the woodland on the slopes behind Bathsheba and is one of the highest points in Barbados at about 1000 m above sea level. It was allegedly named after a man called Hackleton who committed suicide by riding his horse over the cliff in the 17th century. At the top of the cliff are three burial vaults dating back to 1865 and containing the remains of the Hackleton, Forster, Cox and Culpepper families, some of the earliest settlers to arrive in Barbados. On a clear day, it offers a tremendous view of the east coast spanning from Pico Teneriffe in the north to Ragged Point in the southeast. You can drive up to Hackleton’s Cliff Lookout (with toilets and picnic benches) from the west side and Highway 3 via Horse Hill.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Andromeda_Botanical_Gardens_Barbados_Postdlf_Wikimedia_Commons-1024x683.jpg
© Postdlf, Wikimedia Commons
Andromeda Botanic Gardens

Perched up on the hillside with a fabulous view of the ocean is one of Barbados’ prettiest gardens. It covers 2.5 ha (6 acres) above the bay at Bathsheba and is within walking distance of the beach (although it is uphill all the way – hot work). The garden started as a private plant collection around the home of Iris Bannochie (1914-1988), a leading expert on horticulture on the island who laid a prominent water feature, on land owned by gardens to the Barbados National Trust in 1988.

The gardens contain plants from all over Barbados as well as species from other parts of the world, particularly Asia, amounting to over 600 in total. There are many varieties of orchid, heliconia, hibiscus and flowering trees and its blooms are regular winners at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in London.

You have a choice of two self-guided walks through immaculate gardens, sprawling over the hillside between limestone boulders – Iris’s Path has more to see in the way of plants, while John’s Path passes an astonishingly vast bearded fig tree. It is always full of interest and colour, with good explanatory leaflets for each walk, telling you of the uses of each plant as well as where to stop and rest.

The café offers good food – Bajan fishcakes, sandwiches with homemade bread, salads, coffee, fresh juices and cakes – and is open until 1645, and there’s also an art gallery.

Bottom Bay

Beginning just south of Ragged Point, the string of beaches on the southeast coast starts at Bottom Bay, 7 km east of Six Cross Roads via Highway 5, and 800 m from the highway down a turning at Apple Hall (buses can drop at this junction).

This has to be the most beautiful beach in Barbados and one of the best in the Caribbean. What is more, it is often deserted, even in high season, but even with a few couples on the beach you will feel as though you’ve got the place to yourself. Steep cliffs surround the small bay and the sand is a glorious pale coral pink. You can park on the clifftop and then walk down steps carved between the cliffs on to a huge expanse of sand, where a clump of palm trees grows in true holiday brochure fashion. Sometimes there are boys on the beach who will offer to climb up to get coconuts down for you to drink the cool milk.

There is a little hut under the coconut palms where you can usually hire sun loungers and umbrellas, but it is not always open mid-week or in low season. The only shade is under the palm trees or the cliffs, but with few other people around, that is usually plenty. The sea is often rough with quite big waves, better for jumping and splashing about than swimming. This area is becoming a popular part of the island to live in, and many new homes are being built on the clifftops.

While there are no hotels in Bottom Bay, some places are available as holiday rentals. A short walk south along the cliff from Bottom Bay overlooking Cave Bay are the ruins of Harrismith plantation house that was built in 1920 and was once a hotel. You can park near this building; a long flight of stone steps carved into the cliff leads down to the beach. Also known as Harrismith Beach, Cave Bay has no facilities, and the strip of sand is narrower than that at Bottom Bay but palm trees grow behind the beach for shade and there is a lagoon formed by a reef, which gives protection for bathers.

Flower Forest Botanical Gardens

Just 300 m beyond Cocoa Hills Forest at the end of Richmond Road, and at 270 m above sea level, is this 21-ha (53-acre) beautifully landscaped botanical garden on a former sugar plantation. Named paths wend their way around the hillside; they are well maintained and even suitable for wheelchairs, although there are a few which go off the beaten track and can only be negotiated on foot. The garden contains species not only from Barbados but from all over the world, all beautifully arranged with plenty of colour year round. You can find heliconias, ginger lilies, orchids, anthuriums, ixoras and bougainvilleas as well as productive plants such as bananas, cocoa, coffee and breadfruit.

The outstanding feature of this garden, however, is the forest. Enormous trees loom above you, with royal and other palms giving shade to the paths, while in between you can find bearded fig trees, huge baobab and mango trees. Here and there they open on to large grassy areas affording excellent views over the valley to the east coast. Liv’s Lookout in particular has a fantastic outlook all up the northeast seaboard. To the west you can see Mount Hillaby.

The best of the island’s diverse flora is preserved in this lush tropical forest making it a wonderfully tranquil place and an oasis of cool on a hot day.

Oistins Fish Fry

Oistins, the main town in the Barbados parish of Christ Church, is 8 km west of Grantley Adams International Airport. It was named after plantation owner Edward Oistin. Oistins Beach is divided into two bays, separated by rocks and the jetty. It is now the main fishing port on the south coast, with colourful boats pulled up on the shore.

The Oistins Fish Market is worth visiting, even if you don’t want to buy, to see the expert skill and lightning speed with which the women fillet flying fish and bag them up for sale. The Fish Festival is held over the Easter weekend celebrating fishermen’s skills with demonstrations of fish boning, boat racing and crab racing, helped along with steel pan music and dancing.

Held at Bay Gardens near the fish market, Oistins Fish Fry is a major street party on a Friday night for both Barbadians and tourists. Busloads of tourists are ferried in from resorts around the island and it’s a lot of fun. Excellent flying fish, as well as tuna, swordfish, barracuda, kingfish, marlin, mahi mahi and lobster, plus pork chops, ribs and chicken, with sides of coleslaw, green salad, baked macaroni pie, rice and peas and hot sauce, are all served in an extremely informal setting from about 30 or so wooden stalls and eaten at communal bench tables.

It attracts hundreds of hungry people and food is usually available from around 1800. There’s also plenty of drinking, as well as karaoke, steel pan bands, and live calypso and reggae on the main stage area for dancing. For a big plateful of food, expect to pay in the region of US$15, and about US$3 for a bottle of Banks beer and US$6 for a rum punch. A smaller event happens on Saturday night, and on other nights many stalls do food and some bars are open, but it is low key and mostly caters for locals liming and playing dominoes.

St Nicholas Abbey

St Nicholas Abbey is on a 162-ha (400-acre) estate comprising 91 ha (225 acres) of sugar cane fields as well as lush tropical gullies, mahogany forests, formal gardens and Cherry Tree Hill (260 m), a prominent landmark that you can walk or drive up, or catch the train.

Approached down a long and impressive avenue of mahogany trees, St Nicholas Abbey was never actually an abbey – it has no monks’ cells or cloisters and some have supposed that the ‘St’ and ‘Abbey’ were added to impress. It is, however, one of only three surviving Jacobean mansions in the western hemisphere (the other two are Drax Hall, also in Barbados in St George near the centre of the island, the first place on the island where sugar was cultivated in the 1640s and today a private residence; and Bacon’s Castle in rural Virginia in the US, which, like Barbados, was a wealthy English plantation colony in the 17th century).

St Nicholas Abbey is thought to have been built by Colonel Benjamin Beringer in 1658, but was sold to Sir John Yeamans, who set out from Speightstown in 1663 to colonize South Carolina. The three-storeyed house has a façade with three ogee-shaped Dutch gables over its main portico and cornerstone chimneys and fireplaces of local coral stone; as these are unnecessary in the Caribbean it’s likely that Beringer purchased the plans in England.

Today, scrupulously restored, it is one of the architectural treasures of Barbados, with a Chippendale staircase and cedar-panelled rooms containing antique furnishings including a 1759 James Thwaite of London grandfather clock, an 1810 Coalport dinner service and a collection of early Wedgwood portrait medallions. Visitors are given an interesting tour of the ground floor of the house, as well as the rum and sugar museum and the gardens. The rum distillery uses a traditional pot-still to make the unique St Nicholas Abbey Rum sold in the shop, which also sells molasses and brown sugar from the estate, plus jellies and chutneys made with fruit from the gardens. Behind the house, near the 400-year-old sandbox tree, the Terrace Café serves lunch, tea and other light refreshments.

From the top of Cherry Tree Hill there are glorious views all over the Scotland District, which falls mainly within the parish of St Andrew. It is believed that cherry trees grew here once, but today the road up the hill is lined with mahogany trees.

The St Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway runs from the station just inside the main gate of the abbey, where there’s also a small coffee shop. It’s a gentle-paced and very scenic 3-km train ride in open carriages pulled by a diesel or steam locomotive. In particular, railway enthusiasts will enjoy seeing Tjepper No 5, built in Germany in 1914 before being shipped to Java, Indonesia to work on sugar plantations, and spending later life in the UK’s steel and coal industries. After extensive restoration it arrived in Barbados in 2019. The railway follows a route past St Nicholas Abbey, around an ornamental lake and through woods and plantations to the top of Cherry Tree Hill. It takes around 1 hr with a break at the top to enjoy the views, and if they wish, passengers can assist the staff with turning around the locomotive on a turntable for the return journey.

The Garrison Historic Area

South of central Bridgetown is the Garrison area on the strategic southeast point of the island guarding the entrance to Carlisle Bay and the capital. During the 18th century the Caribbean was the scene of numerous military conflicts, primarily between Britain and France who fought for supremacy.

In the face of a possible French invasion in 1785, a permanent garrison was built and Barbados became the headquarters of the Windward and Leeward command of the British forces in the region. It was the largest of its kind in the British Colonies, and included hospitals, barracks and houses in the Georgian and Palladian style with grand staircases, arcades and pediments. But by the late 19th century the British decided to reduce their forces in the region, and by 1905 most of the last regiments had left the island.

In 2011, Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “an outstanding example of British colonial architecture” and today there are a number of historically significant buildings to visit.

Garrison Savannah

The 61-ha (151-acre) Garrison Historic Area covers an area from the Bay Street Esplanade to Hastings on the south coast. The focal point is the 13-ha (30-acre) Garrison Savannah (or just the ‘Savannah’), once a swamp before it was drained by the Royal Engineers in the early 1800s to become a parade ground for soldiers and the place where they trained and drilled.

It was surrounded by a six-furlong racecourse in 1845, first used by regimental officers whose horses competed against those of wealthy plantation owners. Still a popular racecourse, it is now the home of the Barbados Turf Club, and is used at other times for exercising the horses, early morning or evening jogging, informal rugby and basketball games and there’s usually something going on on Sunday afternoons.

Along Garrison Road and the roads leading off are numerous 17th- to 19th-century military buildings constructed on traditional British colonial lines from brick brought as ballast on ships from England. Painted in bright colours, some now contain government offices, others are places of business or private homes.

There are several memorials around the oval racecourse. In the southwest corner is one commemorating the ‘awful’ hurricane which killed 14 men and one woman and caused the destruction of the barracks and hospital on 18 August 1831; outside the Barbados Museum in the northeast corner there’s another to the men of the Royal York Rangers who fell in action against the French in Martinique, Les Saintes and Guadeloupe in the 1809-1810 campaign.

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© David Stanley, Wikimedia Commons

Main Guard

On Garrison Road, the Main Guard overlooks the racecourse from the western side. Built in 1804, it is one of the most outstanding buildings in the Garrison Historic Area. It is of elegant Georgian style and the main house, with its Roman arched portico and pediment, has a George III Coat of Arms designed especially for the building, a handsome clock tower, a fine wide veranda (or gallery in Caribbean terms) with cast-iron trimmings, and there’s a guardhouse at the rear. It was used as the main guard command and central military police station during the 1800s until 1905 when the British forces withdrew.

Today the property is home to several organizations, including the Barbados Legion and Barbados Poppy League. Outside is an impressive array of 26 cannons mounted on metal garrison gun carriages (replaced with wooden ones during action as they were prone to shatter).

Barbados Museum

On the northeast corner of the Savannah, this museum is housed in the former British Military Prison; its upper section was built in 1817 and lower section in 1853. It became the Barbados Museum and headquarters of the Historical Society from 1930.

It is well set out through a series of 10 galleries, and exhibits include a fine map gallery with the earliest map of Barbados by Richard Ligon (1657), colonial furniture, military history (including a reconstruction of a prisoner’s cell), prints and paintings which depict social life in the West Indies, decorative and domestic arts (17th- to 19th-century glass, china and silver), and a gallery about slavery and African people in the Caribbean.

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© David Stanley, Wikimedia Commons

George Washington House

North of the Main Guard at the northwest corner of the Savannah, this beautifully restored 18th-century plantation house is where the future first president of the USA stayed in 1751 for a few months when, as a 19-year-old, he accompanied his sick brother Lawrence (who later died) to search for a cure for his TB. This was George Washington’s only excursion outside his homeland and Bridgetown was the largest town he had seen. At that time, health care was more advanced in Barbados than it was in the United States. While in Bridgetown, Washington was introduced to the delights of the theatre and banquets where he met the leading scientists, engineers and military strategists of the day. He contracted smallpox but the skill of a British doctor saved him. As a result, he acquired immunity to the virus which enabled him to survive an outbreak of the disease during the American War of Independence, which killed many of his men.

The house went on to become Bush Hill House, a residence for officers within the Garrison, including the Commander of the Royal Engineers. After the withdrawal of the British in 1905, it returned to private ownership until it was restored and opened to the public in 2007. The ground floor is furnished as it might have been in 1751 when Washington stayed, while the second floor displays items typical of life in the mid-18th century, from medical appliances to agricultural implements; there’s a section on the plantation economy and slavery and how it related to Washington, a slave owner himself.

Garrison Tunnels

Access to the Garrison Tunnels is from George Washington House. The tunnel below the house was re-discovered quite by accident in 2011 during preparation work for the relocation of the café. After exploration, this tunnel was found to extend far beyond the boundaries of the property and joins a 3-km network of at least nine other tunnels under the Savannah area, with others extending into the west of the Garrison’s 61ha (151 acres).

The restored section under George Washington House that is open to the public is about 60 m in length, 60 cm wide and 2.5-3.5 m high. It is believed that these mysterious arched-roof tunnels carved through limestone rock date from about 1820 and were used as a drainage course for the then swampy Savannah, and also to facilitate the secret movement of soldiers.

St Ann’s Fort

South of the Main Guard on the southwest side of the Savannah, St Ann’s Fort was built in 1705 and, during the 1800s, a lookout was added and it became the main command post and communication point for the six signal stations located around the island. The long, thin Drill Hall was built on to the walls of the fort in 1790 as barracks for the soldiers, and in 1881 the building became the headquarters for the Garrison until the British left in 1905. In 1979, it became the Officers’ Mess and Sergeants’ Mess of the Barbados Defence Force, and the fort remains their headquarters today. You cannot enter but look for the crenellated signal tower with its flagpole on top.

The Barbados National Armoury is in the old naval powder magazine of St Ann’s Fort. It displays the majority of the Barbados National Cannon Collection (also known as the National Ordnance Collection of Barbados) and, with more than 400 great guns, is considered the world’s rarest collection of 17th- and 18th-century English iron cannons. Some have royal seals from Charles II, Queen Anne, the King Georges and Queen Victoria. The most famous is the 1650 Commonwealth Gun, which bears the Coat of Arms of Oliver Cromwell; only one of two in the world (the other is in the Tower of London).

Charles Fort

To the west of St Ann’s Fort, off Drill Hall Beach Road, and in the gardens of the Hilton Barbados Resort at Needhams Point, Charles Fort was built in 1650 and was the largest of the many forts which guarded the south and west coasts. Originally called Needhams Fort, the name was changed in 1660 when King Charles II regained the throne after Charles I was beheaded. In 1836 the fort was incorporated into the Garrison.

Today, only the ramparts remain but there are a number of 24-pounder cannons dating from 1824 pointing out to sea, and there is a good view across Carlisle Bay. Between the Hilton and St Ann’s Fort, the Military Cemetery dates back to 1780; the headstones make interesting reading – it appears, for instance, that disease claimed more lives than military action.

Welchman Hall Gully

Welchman Hall Tropical Forest Reserve, more commonly referred to as the Welchman Hall Gully, is in St Thomas, one of the hilliest parishes in Barbados.

The gully was formed by the collapsed roofs of caves and is a fascinating 30- to 45-minute walk through one of the deep ravines that are so characteristic of this part of Barbados. You are at the edge of the limestone cap which covers most of the island to a depth of about 100 m. Owned by the Barbados National Trust, a good path leads for about 1.2 km through six sections, each with a slightly different theme.

The first section has a devil tree, a stand of bamboo and a judas tree. Next you will go through jungle, which has lots of creepers, the ‘pop-a-gun’ tree and bearded fig clinging to the cliff (note the stalactites and stalagmites); a section devoted to palms and ferns: golden, silver, Macarthur and cohune palms, nutmegs and wild chestnuts; to open areas with tall leafy mahogany trees, rock balsam and mango trees. At the end of the walk are ponds with lots of frogs and toads. Best of all though is the wonderful view to the east coast. On the left are some steps leading to a gazebo, at the same level as the tops of the cabbage (royal) palms. Look out for green monkeys, which are very likely to make an appearance thanks to banana feeding between 1030 and 1200.

Entry fee to Welchman Hall Gully includes a booklet that lists over 50 plants and trees and there are clear and informative signs along the walk. There’s a children’s playground with a treehouse, mini zip-line and rope swing, and the Chunky Monkey Café serves snacks and drinks including coconut water and rum punch.

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