Maybe you are planning your first foray into the Caribbean and can’t make up your mind where to go because of the vast choice. Spending a weekend in Nassau is a great start that will leave you hooked on the Caribbean nature, culture, and lifestyle.
Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas, part of the Lucayan Archipelago in the Nortwest West Indies in the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago consists of more than 700 islands, many uninhabited, and nearly 2,000 cays. There are 16 major islands and Nassau is located on the biggest, New Providence.
The proximity to the United States — just 50 miles southeast of the coast of Florida — makes Nassau an ideal destination for a weekend trip. The international airport, Lynden Pindling, connects with many destinations on mainland U.S.A. American citizens can stay up to 90 days without the need for a visa, but they must show a return ticket. Many also arrive on cruise ships. If you consider renting a car, bear in mind that traffic is on the left.
What makes Nassau so attractive are its plethora of beaches, some of them pink, the mixture of Caribbean and British history and architecture, fabulous resorts, great water sports, and excellent shopping. Let yourself be carried away by the laid-back lifestyle and have a weekend you’ll never forget. And you’ll love their very distinctive island lingo.
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Live It Up On Paradise Island
Paradise Island, formerly known as Hog Island, is located just off the shore of Nassau. You can reach it either by small ferries from the port of Nassau, which by themselves are great fun as the skipper will tell you stories during the cruise, or via two bridges that cross Nassau Harbour, one of them for pedestrians.
Paradise island couldn’t be more aptly named. It’s indeed a paradise of beaches, water adventure, history, music, tropical gardens, and tasty food. The highlight where you find most of these attractions plus a casino is the famous Atlantis Resort. It features the world’s largest open-air marine habitat, with pools and slides, and Aquaventure, a huge aquarium, reached through an underwater tunnel with glass walls and roof. You walk through it whilst sharks, turtles, and other water creatures swim over your head and you can see how their caretakers feed them. The resort is, after all, called Atlantis, and reproductions of the sunken city sit among the fish.
Atlantis is also a hotel with towers reminiscent of Disney World, and its famed largest suite is located in a bridge that connects two towers. And then, there is the casino. Even if you have no interest in gambling, you must visit just to see the incredible architecture and decoration. The centerpiece is a gilded pharaoh sitting on his throne, and hardly a visitor can resist having their photo taken with the king. What I like best are the huge chandeliers and incredible glass sculptures made in Venice.
There is also a golf course near the beach, several beaches themselves, and plenty of food stalls and restaurants throughout the resort. At the marina, you can admire the yachts of people who have arrived in their own boats. The shops leave nothing to be desired, either. Of course, there is a fitness center and beauty salon.
Apart from the beaches and the lagoon, there is more to see on Paradise Island, for instance, the reconstructed remains of a 14th-century French monastery known as the Cloisters. If you don’t stay at Atlantis, Paradise Island is a day trip that will keep you entertained all day long. All you need to bring is swimwear as the shops don’t come cheap.
Admire The Wildlife At Ardastra Gardens
Right in the heart of Nassau, on four acres of land, sits the Bahamas’ only mini zoo and center of the conservation of wildlife, Ardastra Gardens. What the water creatures are for Aquaventure on Paradise Island are the Caribbean flamingos for Ardastra. Created by Jamaican horticulturist Hedley Edwards in 1937, the peaceful gardens are a lush tropical paradise primarily conceived to create a home and breeding ground for the flamingos. As they thrived, later other local birds and small animals were added, all running free for you to enjoy but not to touch or feed. If you travel with kids, they will have great fun here.
Love flamingos? Beyond the Bahamas, consider these six places to see flamingos in the wild.
Browse The Straw Market
You definitely need a souvenir or two from your weekend in Nassau. and there is no better place to get one than the world-famous straw market on Bay Street. Pleating and braiding straw to make hats and baskets has been a craft throughout the Bahamas since the 1940s. When tourism began, and especially as cruise ship passengers descended on the islands, the objects sold in the straw market became coveted souvenirs. In hundreds of stalls, you’ll find everything from conch jewelry to hats, sandals and wood carvings. There are several straw markets throughout the islands, but the one on Bay Street is the most popular. Nowadays, the vendors cater mostly to tourists, but there are smaller ateliers and craft shops where you can get the desired objects you desire in peace — and they’re often even more authentic. A word of caution: Be aware of pickpockets and sometimes aggressive vendors. The floor is also quite dirty.
Climb The Queen’s Staircase
The Queen’s staircase, commonly known as the 66 Steps, is located in the Fort Fincastle Historic Complex in Nassau. Hewn out of solid limestone rock by slaves between 1793 and 1794, the steps provided a shortcut between Fincastle and Nassau City. It’s a historical landmark and monument to the darker past of the Bahamas and was later named after Queen Victoria. A handrail helps you maneuver the rather slippery steps, but you still need shoes with soles with good grip and to be in reasonably good shape. Lush vegetation grows alongside but better wear a hat (from the straw market!) to protect against the fierce Bahamanian sun.
Travel Through Pirate History
Between 1690 and 1720, Nassau was home to just about every pirate and buccaneer of the times. It’s as much a part of the country’s history as slavery and the reign of the British. Have a great few hours in the interactive Pirates of Nassau Museum. Board the pirate ship Revenge and let yourself be transported into the world of sea battles, hidden treasures, smugglers, and life on board.
Get A Tipple At John Watling’s Distillery
You can’t spend a weekend in Nassau without a visit to the famous John Watling’s Distillery. Located in the historic Buena Vista Estate in downtown Nassau, the red, blue, and white building combines nature, history, and of course rum in a unique way that you can enjoy during a self-guided tour. You’ll also a chance to try some typical Bahamian drinks, all with plenty of alcohol.
The estate was started in 1789 and is surrounded by tropical gardens. You’ll find centuries-old black olive trees, a 200-year-old water well, and furniture and paintings from times gone by. Over 1,000 aging white oak barrels contain the rum for as many years as it takes to mature. The process, all by facilitated hand, is also beautifully explained. John Watling’s doesn’t only produce rum, but also Red Turtle Vodka, so named because it’s filtered through pink sand from Eleuthera. Favorite drinks are of course the rum concoctions, most of which are made with coconut or coconut water.
Go On A Guided Food Tour
Bahamian cuisine is downright mouthwatering and has something for everybody, vegetarian and otherwise. Just a few examples: conch salad, lobster, pork and chicken, johnnycakes, pigeon peas and rice, and an endless variety of tropical fruit.
Of course, you can work your way around the many restaurants and stalls on your own, but it’s more interesting to learn the history behind the dishes and the cultural influences that have defined Bahamian cuisine. To that end, it’s far more rewarding and entertaining to go on the best guided food tour with Tru Bahamian. Not only are the guides knowledgeable; it’s a pleasure all by itself to listen to the enthusiasm with which they explain every detail and many stories you won’t find in any guidebook.
Take A Day Trip To Rose Island
You will be very busy with all the things to do and see in Nassau, but you should reserve one day of your weekend for a boat trip to Rose Island. It’s only 25 minutes from Nassau, and what is waiting for you is a day full of sun and fun on your own (almost) private beach. The greatest fun however are the swimming pigs. There are currently six on the island, and they have been raised and cared for by the Sandy Toes resort. They run freely, swim, roam the beach, and are accustomed to humans and even love to swim with them, but bear in mind that they are still wild animals. For more on this experience, consider Swimming With Pigs In The Bahamas: What You Need To Know.
Nassau’s old town has a lot of steps, some of them steep and slippery. Make sure you wear adequate footwear to avoid nasty falls and twisted ankles. The Bahamians are extremely friendly people who love to chat with everybody, but don’t be careless. Muggings and thefts are not unheard of, especially when cruise ships are in port and thousands of passengers disembark at the same time. If you shop in markets, haggle fiercely; it’s expected.