Stretching just 21 miles long, Barbados is renowned for its striking white-sand beaches and award-winning rum, which was first discovered on the island in the 17th century.
The Caribbean nation has also been home to some of history’s greats. George Washington left the North American mainland only once – when he visited Barbados in 1751 and spent an entire summer here. You can tour his home on the island, which is now a museum.
More recently, superstar Rihanna was born and raised near Bridgetown, and visits her island often. Drive to her childhood neighborhood, snap a selfie outside her former home, and “lime,” as Bajans say, at a rum shop on the recently renamed Rihanna Drive.
With a rich African and European heritage, there’s more to Barbados than meets the eye, both on and off the beach. Here’s how to make the most of your time in the island paradise.
Explore historic Bridgetown on foot
Go on a walking tour of downtown Bridgetown, the island’s capital and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012. Bridgetown was once Britain’s most lucrative port thanks to sugar-cane plantations, and became its most heavily protected Caribbean possession. You can glimpse a part of this history at the Hilton Barbados, home to Charles Fort, which was built in 1650 to protect from invasions through Carlisle Bay.
Stroll along the city’s scenic Careenage waterfront or Constitution River, dotted with sailboats and catamarans. The colonial streets date back to the 17th century and feature fascinating sights like the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, which boasts the oldest mikveh in the Americas. An adjacent museum showcases the trajectory of Jewish families to Barbados, and their role in developing the island. Nearby, crowds pour into Broad Street’s duty-free stores, while haggling is popular on pedestrian Swan Street, once a Jewish commerce hub and now packed with souvenir stands and fruit vendors. Past Parliament Square, Chamberlain Bridge leads to breezy spots in the shade at the waterfront Independence Park.
When you’re ready for lunch, the Waterfront Cafe terrace, overlooking the Careenage, is the perfect spot for a plate of flying fish and cou-cou – Barbados’s national dish made from cornmeal and okra – washed down with a cold Bajan lemonade.
Beach hop from the Caribbean to the Atlantic
The crown jewel of Barbados’ shoreline, Carlisle Bay, is a protected marine park. The picturesque beach lining the bay attracts snorkelers (who are often in search of turtles), as well as sailing enthusiasts. If the water’s not your thing, you can also relax under colorful umbrellas while snacking on fish cutters from the blue-painted Cuz’s Fish Stand.
The white sands of neighboring Browne’s Beach make it another local’s favorite, and you’ll find plenty of other tranquil stretches lining the west coast, such as Mullins Beach, or Weston Beach, which are easily reached by bus or taxi.
Barbados’s rugged east coast in Bathsheba, a haven for surfers, reveals a breathtakingly wild tropical landscape, with large coral boulders along the beach. Locals love to dip in Bathsheba’s pools after lunch at the Round House restaurant.
Spend the day in Speightstown
Speightstown, on the western Caribbean coast, makes for a fun day trip with history, beach time, and local cuisine. The Arlington House Museum‘s three floors of exhibits relate the story of Barbados’ schooner merchants and colonial history through state-of-the-art audio displays. Afterwards, head down to the beach to relax in the turquoise waters or have some fun on a jet ski.
Make sure to stick around for sunset, as they’re legendary in Speightstown. Fisherman’s Pub has front-row seats from its over-the-water dining terrace, as well as rum cocktails and a buffet of local dishes.
Tour a rum distillery
St. Nicholas Abbey, one of the most beautiful sugar plantation estates in Barbados, as well as one of only a few Jacobean mansions in the Americas, offers an intimate look at the island’s rum culture. Visitors can tour the small factory on site, producing unblended rum distilled directly from sugar cane, and bottling it in-house. After the tastings, be sure to take some time to relax on the outdoor cafe terrace.
Catch some sports
From cricket to horse races and polo, Barbadians love outdoor sports. Cricket matches take place at Kensington Oval arena, near Bridgetown, from January to April, but you can spot it being played anytime around the island. Soccer is also popular on Sundays on the beach at Carlisle Bay, or ask to join locals playing road tennis – invented in Barbados in the 1930s – in the mornings on Enterprise Beach (also known as Miami Beach).