No holiday to Barbados is complete without spending a day in the capital, Bridgetown. Catherine Roberts lists the things that should definitely be on your to-do list…
Bridgetown is a city of two very different halves. Most people – myself included – head straight for downtown, where you’ll find guidebook classics like National Heroes Square and St Mary’s Church. But don’t forget lesser-known Historic Bridgetown. Its friendly garrison and historic houses are often over-looked – and by my reckoning, it’s the prettiest part of the whole city. Pen and paper at the ready…
Once you’ve got here – it’s a 5-minute taxi ride from downtown, or a 15-minute walk from Hastings – it’s easy to navigate. All the tourist sights line up along Savannah Racecourse, so just wander around its edge.
Home to the smiliest army troops I’ve ever met. Parades run on Bajan time, so take start times with a pinch of salt – things will probably run late. The men are really lovely, too. We stuck around to chat with them after the parade and came away with restaurant recommendations, a lifetime’s worth of anecdotes, and an invitation to join them on their afternoon rum break. Cheers to that.
2) Barbados Museum
We originally ducked inside to take advantage of the air-conditioning (it was hot outside), but ended up being reeled in by the museum’s eccentric collection of artefacts. Glass domes stuffed with fist-sized butterflies. Massive British Navy maps. Pretty watercolour paintings. Prehistoric fishing boats. And all housed in an ex-military prison. Also, remember to keep an eye out for the family of monkeys that swing around the gardens.
3) George Washington House
George Washington stayed in this plantation house in his youth. But the best thing about it? The people who run it. They so obviously love their job that it’s hard not to get enthused about things like 18th-century cholera epidemics and posh banqueting rooms.
4) Savannah Racecourse
Barbadians love going to the races. It’s a typically casual affair – jeans and T-shirts rather than teetering heels and hats – and the entry is free, so you might as well use your dollars for a bet. Read the local papers to see who’s hot and who’s not.
5) National Heroes Square
Where: The Wharf Road and Broad Street
Anti-slavery campaigners. Politicians. Writers. Cricket champions. National Heroes Square is like a Hall of Fame for Bajan heroes. It’s surrounded on all sides by busy roads, but in the middle is a fountain, garden and a 19th-century statue celebrating Admiral Horatio Nelson.
6) St Mary’s Church
Where: Lower Broad Street
St Mary’s is a 19th-century church with loads of character. The graveyard is stuffed with weird and wonderful plants, and a giant cotton tree once used for public executions looms overhead. Make sure to have a look for Samuel Jackman Prescod’s grave – a politician who also stars in National Heroes Square.
7) Cheapside Market
So much fruit. So many locals. So much banter. If you want to see a market done Bajan-style, head to Cheapside. When we wandered by, it had spilled out onto the street in a mishmash of fruit, book and CD stalls. For the real deal, though, drop by on an early Saturday morning – you’ll find everyone from local chefs to keen grandmas happily haggling for a deal.
8) The Wharf
Where: The Wharf Road
It’s along the wharf that you’ll see how Bridgetown got its name. From iron pedestrian bridges to busy car bridges – it’s got them all. Oh, and there’s a very pretty boardwalk.
9) Pelican Craft Centre
Where: Princess Alice Highway
Each shop here is dressed like a traditional chattel house. In one you’ve got a health food store filled with an array of herbs. Another is full of chunky jewellery and canvasses painted with the kind of sunsets you only get in the Caribbean. My favourite place had a counter piled high with mangoes and bananas – all crushed to make smoothies as big as your head.