If you’re booking a holiday to Barbados, chances are you’ve got one thing on your mind. Drop off the bags in the hotel and try not to argue over which to do first- lounge by the pool or hit the island’s dazzling white or pink-sanded beaches. Sipping rum cocktails under swaying palms might top your list for things to do in Barbados, but if you’re going, you should probably read this.
From beaches and cultural must-sees, to four-wheel jungle trips and nightlife, here’s our expert guide (that’s way more than the standard Barbados tourist attractions).
Getting Your Bearings
The East-Caribbean island of Barbados might sound like one giant beach, but it’s divided into different regions. The sophisticated southwestern corner has Bridgetown’s shopping, dining and nightlife, although the entire south of the island is worth exploring. For calm beaches and stunning reefs, head west. With choppier waters (but beautiful botanical gardens), go east. Hotels and resorts are spread across the island.
We’d Be Doing A Bad Job If We Didn’t Mention Barbados Beaches
Idyllic beaches are probably the reason you’re booking Barbados. With over 70 miles of pristine coastline, this island doesn’t disappoint. Take the west coast’s Mullins Beach. The soft sands here are white, waters are turquoise and local shacks sell beer, rum and ice-creams. Nearby Paradise Beach is one that’s barely known, so head here for some relaxing peace and quiet – also walk to the nearby Batts Rock Beach and walk the beachside pathway to take in the impressive sea views. Western Barbados also offers Gibbes Beach (great for the villas), Paynes Bay’s fine white sands and turtles, plus Pebbles Beach near Bridgetown.
L: Crane Beach | M: Bottom Bay | R: Harrismith Beach
Beaches to the north are less popular than southern or western ones. That’s partly because there’s more to do overall in the southern St. Lawrence Gap and Bridgetown. Many beaches here have sunbeds, water sports options and varied dining. If you’re in the happening Oistin Bay, make the most of nearby Miami Beach- it’s just magical. Locals come here on weekends, you’ve got both crashing waves and sheltered spots, and the Bajan fishcakes are spot-on. For pink sands, head over to Crane Beach with its palm groves, cliffs and spectacular sunsets.
Southern Barbados- Oistin’s Fishing Town, Outdoor Bars, Bridgetown And Caves
Southern Barbados is best known for St. Lawrence Gap and the fishing village of Oistins. The Gap has tons of great bars and restaurants. It’s divided into the West End’s boardwalk (for street vendors, horizon benches and drinks) and the quieter East End (where it’s more relaxed and restaurants are more low-key). The Gap has Scoopie’s Jazz Bar, the Sanddollar Restaurant & Bar and food that ranges from Mexican, Bajan, Jamaican and Thai to proper British grub. The clubs here are also brilliant. Fridays are Fish Fry at Oistin’s Bay Gardens- they will literally cook anything for you, there’s live music, lots of ceramic and clothing stands and even dancing.
L: Oistin’s | M: Bridgetown | R: Harrison’s Cave
Harrison’s Cave is also worth a visit here. This limestone cavern has streams and pools, tons of atmosphere, and it’s the perfect contrast to the nearby Hunte’s Gardens (where rainforest is landscaped). Stop by the 1700s George Washington House for a tour of this elegant property and exhibitions if you’re here.
Bridgetown is the island’s capital. While you might be tempted by the duty-free shopping, it’s worth exploring this bustling city’s colonial architecture and neo-Gothic Parliament buildings. Bridgetown overlooks the sandy Carlisle Bay (which has a marine park for shipwreck scuba diving), so you can spend the morning here before visiting St. Ann’s Fort or the Barbados Museum. We absolutely recommend the Catamaran Snorkelling Cruise, where you can see schools of tropical fish and swim with sea turtles. With cathedrals, old synagogues, parks and everything from luxury to budget hotels, you’ve got it all in the south.
Eastern Barbados- Jungles, Golf And Great Resorts
Waters might be choppier on the eastern coast, but this part is worth a visit for a 4×4 jungle exploration. With less tourists and more nature, you’ll find national parks filled with wildlife, plus the lesser-visited Bathsheba town. Former plantations like the Victorian-furnished are open to the public, nearby rainforests are home to 5,000 monkeys and the stand-out St. Nicholas Abbey is worth visiting for its intricate interiors, mahogany trees and the fact that it isn’t even an abbey! St. Nicholas also has a 350 year-old rum distillery.
L: Farley Hill National Park | M: Beach in Bathsheba | R: Morgan Lewis Mill
Bathsheba also has the 6-acre Andromeda Botanic Gardens. It’s full of cacti, orchids and a giant canopy of lush greenery. Eastern Barbados is a must-do for golfers and the selection of resorts here is great.
Western Barbados- Calm Shores, Coral Reefs and Top-Notch Food
With eight miles of golden sands stretching across it, the west coast of Barbados might offer stunning beaches, but there’s plenty more to it. This region is where the majority of luxury hotels are located. It takes in the parishes of St. James and St. Peter, so expect monuments like Needlepoint (and keep your eyes peeled for Holder’s House signs). This old plantation estate has polo grounds, relaxing spots and a massive celeb presence. The nearby historic market town of Holetown has a February festival with live street parties, although you can visit any time of year for the shopping.
Dining in Western Barbados is less beach shacks and more fine dining establishments. The cuisine here is properly gourmet, so pack an appetite. You’re also near lovely Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, markets at Speightstown and Port St. Charles’ moored yachts. If you’re hitting the beach here, expect beautiful coral reefs. You can even get a massage on the beach!
A Few Words On Barbados Activities (Even Family Fun!)
Yes, you’re here to lounge in the sun and do nothing. If you’ve got some energy though, here are some fun activities that work as well for couples, friends and solo travellers as they do for families. The Bajan Bus offers colourful, open-air rides. Earthworks showcases pottery (free entry). There’s also 53.6 acres of flowers at the Barbados Flower Forest. Finally, the Animal Flower Cave is the coral-floored ocean cave with rock pools, sea anemones and a great restaurant.
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