While it's justifiably famed for its fantastic beaches, Barbados is an island that has it all. In addition to fine powdery sand and brilliant turquoise bays, you'll find smashing nightlife, a Unesco World Heritage–listed capital, a beautiful interior dotted with gardens, and wild surf on the lonely east coast, all inhabited by a proud and welcoming populace.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Barbados.
Well off the beaten track, the pint-sized Shark Hole is one of those special places for which your selfie will not do justice. Down a short flight of steps, a small stretch of delicate white sand is totally enclosed by rocks that wrap around 300 degrees, forming a perfect secluded cove. A reef just offshore calms the water, creating a perfect natural saltwater swimming pool.
A somewhat hidden gem that is the antithesis of its American namesake. Small, shady and intimate, it's well removed from the often frenetic south-coast pace. The beach is divided into two sections by a rock breakwater. The west side is one of the premier swimming spots on the island, with deep, calm and crystal-clear waters, while the east side has a wide recreation area featuring picnic tables under shady evergreen pines and almond trees.
On the north side of National Heroes Sq are two stone-block, neo-Gothic-style buildings constructed in 1871. The western building with the clock tower contains public offices; the building on the east side houses the Senate and House of Assembly. At the museum learn about the island’s strong democratic heritage and visit the gallery of national heroes. When the assembly building is free, it's possible to take tours to check out the impressive stained-glass windows.
Fringed by a fine stretch of sand, gently curving Paynes Bay is endlessly popular and its calm waters make it one of the west coast’s best spots for swimming and snorkeling (if you're patient enough there's a very good chance of seeing sea turtles).
These gardens at the home of famed local horticulturalist Anthony Hunte already have a magical aura. Set mostly within the confines of a collapsed cave, all kinds of plants and shrubs line crisscrossing paths beneath majestic cabbage palms, while hummingbirds, lizards and monkeys frolic around. Classical music combined with the extravagant colors and harmonious birdsong make it a full-on sensory experience. Make use of the benches at key points on the trail to sit back and take in the beauty.
At the northern tip of the island, near where the Caribbean and Atlantic meet, you'll find this large waterside cave carved into a cliff face. It is accessed by a set of stairs that have been carved into a blowhole – there's no other way down the cliffs – and there's a pool inside for paddling. You'll be accompanied by a guide into the cave. Bring reef shoes if possible, but any old tennis shoes will also do the trick.
St Nicholas Abbey is a Jacobean-style mansion that is one of the oldest plantation houses in the Caribbean and a must-see stop on any island itinerary. The grounds include the Great House, various gardens and a very traditional rum distillery. A cafe serves light lunches (B$30 to B$42) on a platform overlooking a lush valley full of trees. A fully functioning steam train complete with smartly attired conductors runs a loop round the property and up to Cherry Tree Hill.
Running between two high-end hotels, this lovely stretch of sand is really just an extension of Brownes Beach. It has soft sands and calm waters and is home to water-sports outfitters. It offers a lively ambience rather than island tranquility and can get a bit crowded, but is a fine place to hang out.
This wonderful strip of white powdery sand was hit hard by the sewage failures of 2017/18 when it was closed to visitors after waste from nearby roads washed into the sea, making waters unsafe for swimming and the sands an unpleasant place to be. It has now been officially reopened and government scientists report that the brilliant turquoise waters are completely safe.