In Antigua, we have a saying that ‘the beach is just the beginning…’ Fill in the blanks with your own adventure at any of these recommended spots:
Where the cruise ships dock
It’s a magnificent sight! As many as seven mega cruise ships anchored at the foot of Antigua’s main city, St. John’s. Even more magnificent is the hours of duty free shopping to be had at the city’s two major shopping centers – historic Redcliffe Quay and ultra-modern Heritage Quay (including the Heritage vendors mall) – adjacent to the piers. In fact, take a day and stroll the entire city dipping into the various boutiques, restaurants, and shops (including the craft market on the city outskirts) where you’re sure to find not only vacation keepsakes but the ultimate in urbane brands.
Where ‘King Sugar’ once reigned
Betty’s Hope was Antigua’s pioneer sugar estate; and one of the most large-scale, efficient, and enduring. Located on 100 acres of beautiful park grounds, it is today a living example of a classic plantation and a legacy of that dark time in human history when the enslavement of Africans was commonplace. A must for history buffs, Betty’s Hope is the only fully-operational, wind-powered sugar mill in the Caribbean. The cotton house storeroom has been converted into a visitor center that portrays various aspects of the plantation's history. Open Tuesday through Saturday from to Where the sea rages
At Devil’s Bridge, the sea demonstrates her awesome power to transform, having created – over hundreds of years of Atlantic breakers meeting limestone – a natural arch. There’re all sorts of lore associated with the intriguingly named bridge, but the huge sprays created by this relentless pounding action is something to behold all on its own. Located on the north east shore of Antigua, the bridge and surrounding area of Indian Town Point became a National Park in the 1950's.
Where you’ll find an authentic Georgian era dockyard
The Nelson’s Dockyard – an 18th century haven for the British navy and, at the time, headquarters of the Leeward Islands’ fleet – is the main attraction of historic English Harbour, mere minutes from the Catamaran Hotel in Falmouth. The Dockyard is named for famed British admiral Horatio Nelson. It is still considered to be one of the safest land-locked harbours in the world; and, having been carefully restored, remains one of the most attractive and a popular yacht haven. The entire EnglishHarbour area is a storehouse for much of the island’s history; including restored buildings, hilltop forts, and museums.
Where Antigua is at her most tropical
Fig Tree Drive, the closest thing to a rain forest on Antigua, is lushly populated with majestic palms, a range of vegetation, and, perhaps most significantly tons of fruit trees – including ‘fig’, the banana’s colloquial name. An island tour is not complete without a drive along the winding hilly path, and a roadside stop for local libations. The view along the route includes a number of sugar mills and old churches.
Where vestiges of our military heritage remain
Fort James is not only the site of one of the island’s most popular beaches; it is also a remnant of Antigua’s military history. Originally constructed in 1675, FortJames is a small fortification located on the north side of St. John'sHarbour. There you’ll find some of its original 36 cannons, a powder magazine, and a fair portion of its wall intact. With restaurants on site, the beach below, and ruins to explore, it makes for a complete outing.
Where artistry is at its most sublime
It takes some driving to get to its east coast location at Brown’s Bay, but the aptly named Harmony Hall is well worth it. There, natural and historic beauty combines with the imagination of our vibrant art community for a delightful diversion – and perhaps a priceless purchase. Harmony Hall's highlights are the Antigua Artist's Exhibition and the Craft Fair, both in November; but Exhibits run throughout the year, and the sugar mill tower is always good for dining before a spectacular ocean view.
If time is short, yet you wish to take in Antigua’s history, the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda can give you the full picture in a single snapshot. Housed in the old St. John’s Court House – dating back to 1750, it tracks the transformation from the geological origins to contemporary Antigua. In addition to the permanent exhibition of images and artifacts, ranging from life-size replicas to memorabilia of local heroes, temporary exhibitions are mounted from time to time. Ask about their monthly field trips and research facilities; and for a taste of things Antiguan, check out the Museum gift shop.
Where water is more than just the source of life
Potworks Dam, an expanse of freshwater about a mile and a half long, is reputed to be the largest of its kind in the Eastern Caribbean. For Antiguans as a main source of water, it, of course, serves a very practical purpose. For visitors, there’s a bit of interesting history and a natural appeal. Named for an 18th century pottery works at the Garden Estate, it was here that black potters applied their skill at making sugar pots - used for draining molasses. The dam itself dates back to the 1960s, and has appeal as a bird watching stop where the likes of the West Indian Whistling Duck, the Snowy and Cattle Egret, or the Osprey may be spotted.
Where you’ll find the Caribbean’s best Sunday night party
Even without the music, barbecue, and rum, Shirley Height’s has a lot to recommend it, not least of which is the iconic bird’s eye view of the Nelson’s Dockyard. Part of the military remnants of the late 18th century and named for then Leeward Islands Governor, General Shirley, the site also has a rambling array of gun emplacements and fortifications. For more than 20 years, however, it’s also earned its reputation as The Place to be on a Sunday evening in Antigua thanks to the food, the drinks, the company, and most of all, the music – which includes steelband, reggae, and Antigua’s own, soca.
Where the bells ring out
Antigua has many churches and many Christian denominations and other religions, of course, but the St. John’s Anglican Cathedral is our most famous and our most magnificent. This is largely due to is distinctive architecture – the twin towers, the outer stone and inner wooden frame – and historic relevance. The location on a rising overlooking the city is surely holy ground as a church has stood on that site since the 1600s. The current building, however, dates back to the 1800s. St. John the Divine and St. John the Baptist, mounted imposingly on pillars and reportedly pilfered from a French ship during the Seven Years’ War, greet visitors entering via the South entrance.