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10 Special Things To Do In Barbados
Eating, drinking, chilling and exploring...one tourist's perspective
Not just a tropical beach, Barbados is a fascinating place, packed full of culture, things to do and a real sense of history.
This guide to what to do in Barbados is based on my real experiences, covering places that I have explored and walked (and eaten and drank). This means that it's been written from a holidaymaker's viewpoint, since at the time of writing there aren't any guides by locals available here. So, if you're a Bajan, or another visitor, please add about your opinions and recommendations in the comment box.
Special things to do in Barbados
Ten of my favourite places on the island
1. Spot the monkeys at the Wildlife Reserve
Beautifully landscaped amid lush vegetation, Barbados Wildlife Reserve is a great place to see the island's green monkeys (pictured right). The reserve was established to conserve the monkey population, but other animals have been introduced, including caiman alligators, armadillos and tropical birds.
It takes about an hour to stroll around the gardens and aviaries; our trip included an overly-aggressive peacock and a deer in the gents' restrooms which refused to go outside.
If you're at the Wildlife Reserve it's just a stroll across the carpark to the Grenade Hall Signal Station next door. There are good views of the surrounding countryside from the military signal station, while just below it is a patch of native woodland where you can walk the shady paths through mahogany trees.
2. See the view from Farley Hill
Very handily, over the road from the Wildlife Reserve is Farley Hill National Park, which consists of a ruined 19th century mansion, parkland and spectacular views over the hilly Scotland District to the Atlantic Ocean. It costs just a few dollars to get in and once there you can sit undisturbed on a bench and enjoy the view. It's a simple, tranquil, restful place. My recommendation is to spend the morning at the Wildlife Reserve, and then go to Farley Hill for a picnic.
3. Hang out with the locals at the fish fry
Friday night is fish fry night at Oistins on the south coast. Although there are stalls frying fresh fish every night of the week at Oistins Market, Friday night is when locals and tourists all descend on the market for a big lime (social gathering). As well as the divine smell of all that fish, there's a great atmosphere and a chance to meet local Bajans.
4. Explore old Barbados in Speightstown
Visiting Speightstown (pronounced 'Spikestown') feels like going right off the tourist track. It's a charming, slightly dilapidated old town on the North Coast, with narrow streets and crumbling, historical buildings. There's not much to do except stroll around the town, but everywhere you'll see real, everyday Bajan life.
5. Surf the waves at Silver Sands
Silver Sands beach (not to be confused with the next-door beach outside the Silver Sands Hotel) is a destination for water sports, particularly kite surfing. You can rent equipment or take lessons at deAction, a relaxed two-storey shack next to the beach, where you can sit at the outside tables and chill with a burger or a beer.
Go to the beach first thing in the morning or after 3pm and you'll meet the beach dogs, a friendly pack of three stray dogs who, happily, have now appeared wearing collars.
The picture in the Introduction above shows the beach at Silver Sands.
6. Get a sense of history at Sunbury Plantation House
Dating from the mid 18th century, Sunbury Plantation House stands amid waving fields of sugar cane. It is one of the island's oldest plantation houses and, although not enormous, is chock-full of antiques and paraphernalia from plantation life. As well as visiting the house, you can stroll around the shady gardens or enjoy a special candlelit dinner at the magnificent mahogany dining table.
7. Enjoy the peace at St John's Church
In the hills behind Bathsheba is St John's Parish Church. The interior is cool and shady, with a beautifully carved pulpit, but even more special is the graveyard. Perched on the edge of a cliff, the graveyard has magnificent views along the rocky coastline, while shady trees and tropical plants provide quiet and rest. On a more prosaic note, the giftshop has a wide selection of rum cake (check the sell-by dates though) and very cheap sunscreen.
8. Walk the back streets of Bridgetown
The walk from the cruise ship terminals down to the Waterfront Cafe is pleasant, breezy and shaded by trees with a good scattering of benches. However, the most engaging part of Bridgetown for me is the streets to the north of Broad Street (the main tourist drag). Wander the narrow streets, see Bajans bustling to work and feel part of the crowd. This also brings you close to Tim's cafe, on Swan Street, where you can choose from a buffet lunch of authentic Bajan food.
9. Feel the elements in Bathsheba
Of course it's as tropically hot as the rest of the island, but Bathsheba feels weather-beaten and elemental. Very large boulders are spread around the beach; my wife says that a giant flung them all down in a storm. It's a really good place to take dramatic photographs.
The village itself is strung along the beach and consists of a few restaurants and rum shacks. It's the perfect place to sit on the veranda of a rum shack with a Banks beer and watch the waves.
10. Return to Eden in the Botantical Gardens
Near to Bathsheba is the Andromeda Botanical Gardens. Just like the Wildlife Reserve, the landscaping of the gardens is beautifully done, enabling you to wander the lush, tropical pathways. There are two alternative trails to follow, one easy and one a little longer. There are orchids, frangipani and you can spot hummingbirds around the hibiscus. The tropical abundance of the gardens is truly astonishing.
Vote now! - Which is your favourite place in Barbados?
Which of these places would you most like to visit in Barbados? Or if you've already visited the island, which do you like best?
Mahogany Trees, Barbados
This grove of mahogany trees shades the road to Cherry Tree Hill, a vantage point near the Wildlife Reserve.
Hints and tips for visiting Barbados
I learnt the hard way so that you don't have to...
Don't forget the rum cake!
Tortuga Rum Cake (pictured right) is a real cliché, sold in every tourist trap on the island. But the thing is...it's really delicious and far more moist than most shop-bought cake. So make sure you try some - there's a whole range of flavours to work through (I recommend the Blue Mountain Coffee variety). And it's well-packaged enough to survive the journey home.
Barbados (compared to the UK at least) is not a cheap place to visit. If you're self-catering, a visit to the supermarket costs far more than it does at home. Look out instead for roadside stalls selling local produce, which is generally of fantastic quality. For the bits and bobs you do need from a supermarket, the Supercenter chain carries most of the produce you'd expect to see at home.
Eat like a Bajan
The bill in an average restaurant in Barbados can equate to that of a high quality restaurant at home. I'm still in shock from the nondescript restaurant that charged $40 for a banana split. Bananas grow freely all over the island, so presumably these were nurtured by elves and sprinkled with stardust by fairies.
Enjoy eating out in the island's restaurants, but if you have a budget, make sure you factor in a few trips to the places where the locals go, such as the Oistins Fish Fry (above). The food from street vendors is usually of a really good standard, particularly the flying fish in St Lawrence Gap.
Also stick to local drinks sometimes, such as Banks beer and Mount Gay rum. And keep an eye out for cheap drinks offers in St Lawrence Gap, where McBride's and Cafe Sol both offer 2-for-1 drinks each night (but note the hangover tip below!).
Escape the rush hour
Barbados is a small, crowded island and the roads around the capital, Bridgetown, are grid-locked each morning and evening. If you're planning an excursion, try to travel outside the rush hour if possible, or plot a route away from Bridgetown in the morning and back towards the area in the evening.
Watch out for the hangover
Beer aside, they tend to make drinks very strong in Barbados (stand at the bar and watch those spirits get glugged-glug-glugged into the glass), so watch the rum and Cokes. Particularly those of the 2-for-1 variety. You have been warned!
The dramatic beach at Bathsheba
Yes, that really is a house perched on a rock. Bathsheba is a fantastic location for photographs.
The must-have book for travellers to Barbados - Don't leave home without it!
We use this guide all the time in Barbados and it was a massive help planning our first few visits. It covers everything you need to know about attractions and things to do on the island, including places off the tourist trail. Without it, we'd never have discovered Speightstown. The guide also contains restaurant recommendations and handy maps.
Best of all, unlike most travel guides, it's light and portable so you can pop it in your bag and away you go!
An itinerary for cruise ship visitors
Just one day to explore the island? Read on for suggestions on how to get the best from your visit
You can, of course, stroll along the shady path from the dock in Bridgetown to the Careenage (pictured right). Here you can sit outside the Waterfront Cafe and watch the yachts bob in the sunshine. It's a nice way to spend the afternoon but you won't see much of Barbados.
As an alternative to the cruiseline's organised tours, head for National Heroes Square on the other side of the water from the Waterfront Cafe. Here you'll find lots of taxi drivers waiting to whisk you around the island. Negotiate a rate with them and in just half a day you can sample a good cross-section of the island.
Head north to Speightstown
You only need 20 minutes to stroll around this charming town and catch the views out to sea. If it's time for coffee or lunch, stop off at Patisserie Flindt in Holetown on the way.
Cut east across the island to the Wildlife Reserve
You only need an hour to walk around the Wildlife Reserve. Then cut over the road to Farley Hill to look at the view. Cherry Tree Hill, just a few minutes away, is a good place to stop for souvenirs.
Head south-east to Bathsheba
Here you can admire the dramatic views of the coast and stop for refreshment at a rum shack. If time permits, you're also right next to the Andromeda Botanical Gardens and St John's Parish Church. The Roundhouse Inn in Bathsheba is a good spot for lunch.
Back to Bridgetown
The route from Bathsheba to Bridgetown cuts across the island. Places to stop at en route (though you won't have time for them all) include Harrison's Cave (interesting but not very Bajan), Orchid World and, if you have time for a detour, Sunbury Plantation House.
Great places to eat in Barbados
Tried and tested ideas
A visit to Pisces, located in St Lawrence Gap, feels very special. Beautifully lit by hundreds of hanging lanterns, the restaurant has an amazing waterfront location. The food is delicious - try the fish and chips which is beautifully presented in newspaper (pictured right with tuna behind it) or the salmon in Cajan spices. There is also an excellent, extensive cocktail list.
The Atkee Tree is a casual local restaurant in Hastings on the south coast. It sells simple, authentic West Indian curries and Creole dishes, and specialises in roti (curry wrapped in a chapati). Unpretentious but delicious. Be warned: the restaurant was empty each time we visited, which felt a little weird, but the friendliness of the staff made up for it.
A busy, open-air restaurant in St Lawrence Gap, Brown Sugar specialises in authentic Bajan food. It's a little expensive for simple food and a simple interior, but worth it to try a selection of Bajan dishes. The restaurant also offers cookery courses.
This west coast cafe in upmarket Holetown (there's also a branch in Rockley) is ideally located for a break during a shopping trip. It has a shady garden, which is pleasant but subject to noise from the road, where you can enjoy beautiful home-cooked breakfasts, cakes and lunches.
Busy at night and when the cruise ships dock, this Bridgetown cafe is a bit of a tourist trap. But the cafe's location on the waterfront and its extensive outdoor seating makes it a pleasant place to sit with a coffee or a beer and watch the boats. Unfortunately it doesn't serve breakfast.
My favourite hotel in Barbados
And no, I don't work for them...
The Silver Point Hotel in Barbados makes the trip for me. It is almost boutique in style, but has a cool, chilled vibe which makes it not quite boutique (a good thing, in my opinion).
Located on Silver Sands beach at the south of the island, the hotel is ideally located if you enjoy watersports. But the grounds are also perfect for a laid-back lounge in the sun. It's a small hotel, with only one restaurant, but the food is excellent and the staff are incredibly friendly.
The clientele are mostly young couples, but there's a sizeable scattering of older people too. The hotel is near the airport, which is great when you arrive, but isn't close to any of the main towns or attractions, so you'll probably want to hire a car if you're there for more than a couple of days.
Upgrade if you can to an Ocean Front Room, where you have a view right onto the beach. The rooms are a little smaller than the Ocean View Suites, but the latter lack aircon in the living rooms and are across the road from the beachfront.
And say hello to the beach dogs from me!
Read more about the Silver Point on Trip Advisor: Silver Point Hotel
The beach dogs at Silver Sands!
Meet (from top to bottom) Sandy, Scrappy and Scruffy, the beach dogs at Silver Sands. Sandy is the leader of the pack and will take on far bigger dogs to defend their territory.
Links to things to do Barbados
- Barbados Wildlife Reserve
There doesn't seem to be a website by the Reserve itself, but this general tourist site will give you more details.
The website for the best south coast surf shop, cafe and watersports facility.
- Sunbury Plantation House
All the details about the house and its history.
- Andromeda Botanical Gardens
Not the most inspiring website, but there's some nice pictures of plants.
- Harrison's Cave
Information about the cave and its history, along with opening times and entrance fees.
- Orchid World
Opening hours, location details and plenty of photographs of the orchids.
Links to places to eat in Barbados
- Silver Point Hotel
The website for my recommended place to stay.
- Waterfront Cafe
Nice website with plenty of pictures and menu details.
- Patisserie Flindt
All about the patisserie, including menus.
Beautiful pictures of the restaurant, plus menu details.
- Cafe Sol
The home of that essential vacation experience, 2-for-1 cocktails.
- Brown Sugar
Colourful website with details of the menu choices.
- Roundhouse Inn
Details of the restaurant and accomodation.