From the boulder-spattered east coast to the shimmering stretches of sand that line the western shore, the pretty colonial bridges and statues of Nelson in Bridgetown to the crumbling plantations and fishing towns of the north, Barbados is a truly enthralling and fascinating Caribbean destination to say the least.
Steeped in tales of piracy and English colonialism, doused in rum and set to the mouth-watering scents of weekend fish fries, the island makes its home in the midst of the pretty Lesser Antilles chain.
There, it attracts SCUBA divers with its fringes of reefs, sunbathers with the gorgeous southern beaches, surfers with the iconic rollers of Bathsheba Bay, history buffs with those soaring forts and UNESCO sites, foodies with spice-topped swordfish – the list goes on.
And that’s not even mentioning the uber-luxurious all-inclusive hotels and earthy eateries that pepper the towns, or the perennially-smiling locals that always make a trip here a happy affair!
Let’s explore the best things to do in Barbados:
1. See the cliffs and waves of Bathsheba Beach
Whether you come to Bathsheba to wax up the surfboard and don the board shorts for a ride over the swells of the iconic Soup Bowl (experts only!), or to gawp up at the striking cliffs and protruding rocks that sprawl and pepper the sands and the shoreline alike, you can rest assured that you’re in for a real treat.
Unquestionably one of the most picturesque seaside spots in all of Barbados, this one makes its home between the craggy headlands of the east coast.
While swimming isn’t recommended (the rip tides can get quite rough), scaling the sea-vines and dunes to watch the crashing waves break, or chatting with the local Bajans in Bathsheba Park are two great ways to enjoy its natural beauty.
2. Stroll around historic Bridgetown
The UNESCO-attested capital of Barbados rarely fails to impress.
Cut-through the middle with the lively shopping strip of Broad Street, it’s loaded with pretty little historic sites like the Chamberlain Bridge and the gorgeous neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings, built in the high style of Victorian England.
There are honorific statues of Nelson and other grand colonial figures sat in the sun-splashed squares too, balanced out by the lively quays of Bridgetown harbour, where little rum bars pulse with the chatter of travelers and off-duty local fishermen alike.
Yep, Bridgetown is a great place to wander and soak in the Bajan atmosphere.
3. Relax in the midst of Hunte’s Gardens
A patchwork of blooming orchid flowers and emerald-green fern explosions, of looming palm boughs and yellow-tipped craboo trees, this gorgeous enclave of horticultural majesty is a fine place to get acquainted with the sheer wealth of biodiversity that graces the tropical Caribbean.
Owned by local Anthony Hunte, the gardens are intended to be a fully-fledged sensory experience.
Visitors are invited to stroll the winding paths and nurseries, spotting the unusual flowers and relaxing as classical compositions drift through the trunks and canopies.
4. See a heritage wonder at St. Nicholas Abbey
Head through the green fields and palm groves east of Moore Hill in northern Barbados to discover the elegant Jacobean facades of St. Nicholas Abbey.
One of only three heritage sites of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, the site dates way back to the 1600s, which is when sugarcane was first raised and harvested on the fields around the central house.
Unusually, the crop is still cultivated here today, while St. Nicholas Abbey itself has become a museum site, inviting travelers to explore its restored interior rooms.
Entry tickets also include a rum punch cocktail and access to the beautiful avenues of Cherry Tree Hill nearby – think awesome panoramas of the east coast’s cliffs!
5. See horses and history at the Garrison Savannah Historic Area
Just a stone’s throw from central Bridgetown on the southern side of the island is where travelers can delve into the medley of history and sporting action that is the Garrison Savannah Area.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the spot hosts buildings like the George Washington House, where the erstwhile first President of the United States once took refuge in the 1750s.
There are also a series of ruined barracks and fort buildings used by the British.
However, it’s the Garrison racetrack that takes centre stage.
This is where the rich landowners of Barbados would have once raced their mares, and today the heart-thumping competitions continue, with regular race days on the Turf Club’s calendar from January through April!
6. Hug the baobab of Queen’s Park
Living up to the reputation of the bulbous baobab in grand style, the colossal trunk of Barbados’ largest tree can be found (and hugged, at least if there’s a group of you!) on the lawns of pretty little Queen’s Park in the heart of Bridgetown.
Considered by many to be the fattest tree in the entire Caribbean region, it takes around 15 adults to stretch around the full circumference of the central branch! A small sign offers information on the age and heritage of the mighty tree, while the surrounding gardens of the park host a pretty Bandstand and the Queen’s Park art gallery to boot.
7. Walk the length of the Barbados Boardwalk
The first of its kind in the entire Caribbean, the Barbados Boardwalk links up almost two kilometers of beachfront around the southern coastal stretches of the island.
Flat and well-maintained, it attracts walkers and joggers, who can go all the way from the pearly sands of Rockley Beach in Hastings in the east to the coconut groves of Coconut Court Beach in the west.
Along the way there are countless little rum shacks and bars to enjoy, while there are also swaying palm trees and blooming cassias, pretty clusters of fig bushes and plenty of places to sit and take in the salty sea breeze.
8. Party and eat at the Oistins Fish Fry
Oistins Fish Fry has risen and risen to become a veritable rite of passage for first-time visitors hitting Barbados.
Erupting every Friday and Saturday night (Friday is particularly lively!) on the streets between Welches Beach and Miami Beach on the south coast, the shindig is one to remember.
There are sizzling barbeques cooking up some of the freshest swordfish and marlin, mahi mahi and lobster you could imagine, along with live bands spouting a medley of reggaeton and samba, steel drums and Bajan folk.
The real draw though? Well that has to be the company: a fusion of locals and travelers, all smiling, eating and partying the night away!
9. Get a sense of the real Barbados in Speightstown
Offering something of a more authentic picture of island life, away from the beach resorts and preserved historic towns around Bridgetown and the south coast, Speightstown beckons travelers with its rows of ramshackle fishing shacks and some age-stained architecture from centuries gone by.
Check out the exhibitions at the Arlington House Museum, where the restored 18th-century rooms exude stories of buccaneers and British slave drivers.
Or, head to the shore, where vocal fruit and fish sellers vie for custom.
And then there’s the revived Speightstown esplanade, which runs the gamut of ivory-white beaches and enticing rum bars along the northern shore.
10. Go supersonic at the Barbados Concorde Experience
Who would’ve thought that the final resting place of the legendary Concorde would be a small aircraft hangar on the edge of Barbados’ Grantley Adams International Airport.
But it is, and today thousands of visitors a year make a beeline for the spot to learn all about the world’s first supersonic commercial flier.
The exhibitions deal with the advanced technologies that were used to get these famous jets up to whopping speeds of more than 2,000 kilometers an hour, and patrons can even see the fuselages themselves, complete with swish interiors and those unforgettable swordfish nose designs!
11. Delve underground at Harrison’s Cave
Head for the rising hills around Walkes Spring and Carrington in the very heart of Barbados and get ready to delve underground, following the winding tunnels and caverns of Harrison’s Cave – one of the island’s most breathtaking natural wonders.
Laden to the brim with bulbous stalagmites and stalactites, the subterranean passages here hide echoing chambers like the 50-meter-high Great Hall and curious geological formations, like the so-called Altar, formed from millions of years of mineral deposits.
Walk-in tours are available, while the tram journey into the cave’s depths proves the most popular!
12. Go rum tasting at the Mount Gay Distillery
No trip to this rum-drenched gem in the midst of the Lesser Antilles chain could possibly be complete without at least a sampling of the island’s most popular liquid export: Mount Gay.
The distiller’s visitor center can be found on the harboursides of historic Bridgetown, offering exhibitions that chronicle the over 300 years of rum production on the island.
Tours are inexpensive and reveal the intricate processes behind the refining of the Mount Gay taste, not to mention oodles of samples along the way – don’t be surprised if you leave a tad lightheaded! There’s also an on-site souvenir shop for branded merchandise and gifts.
13. Barbados Wildlife Reserve: macaws and green monkeys await
Situated on the edge of the historic Farley Hill National Park, where the mahogany woods give way to the manicured gardens of the St. Nicholas Abbey, the Barbados Wildlife Reserve is the closest this island gets to a bona fide zoo.
Low-key and packed with awesome examples of the region’s indigenous fauna, the site is home to packs of swinging green monkeys and rose coloured flamingos, slow-moving iguanas and endangered turtles, multi-coloured parrots and snapping caiman.
Entry to the attraction also includes access to the nearby Grenade Hall: an interesting old signal station dating from the 1800s.
14. See the eerie ruins of Farley Hill
Now a national park, Farley Hill offers both a glimpse at the island’s long colonial history and a truly eerie experience amidst the swaying mahogany groves in the middle of Barbados.
The centrepiece of the preserve is the dilapidated manor house at its heart, which was completely ravaged by fire in the 1960s.
Today it’s just a shell of its former glory; just an echo of the time when it was the home of rich colonial landowners like Sir Graham Briggs.
There are also plenty of walking paths around Farley Hill, along with panoramic lookouts over the east coast and a series of al fresco reggae concerts to enjoy throughout the year.
15. Start the day at Bliss Café
Just a stone’s throw back from the sun-kissed sands of Dover Beach, amidst the sleepy streets of the St Lawrence Gap, Bliss Café continues to serve up some of the most acclaimed breakfast dishes on the island.
The menu is a medley of sweet waffles and uber-fresh panini sandwiches, topped with a hearty offering of continental and full English options to boot.
There are veggie omelettes and toast, fresh juices and strong coffees to help get the day going too, while the interior is a stylish and laid-back affair that spills out onto a sunny terrace on the front.