Lauded for over 70 miles of bucolic coastline and friendly, down-to-earth locals, this Antillean island delivers far more than batches of the world’s finest rum. Replete with all-inclusive resorts like many of its Caribbean neighbors, Barbados also boasts a slew of little-known spots providing an opportunity to experience the Bajan lifestyle if you so choose.
Distinguished by warm, aquamarine waters ideal for swimming, the beaches on the Platinum Coast (west coast) remain the most frequented by visitors. On the southeast side, the world-renowned Crane Beach (often voted one of the best beaches in the world) attracts a plethora of travelers each year but bear in mind that Barbados offers scores of less touristy locales for sun and sand.
High coral cliffs overlook Bottom Bay, also on the southeast coast in St. Philip. Although swimming isn’t recommended due to its strong surf, the panoramic view guarantees plenty of photo ops. Crowded on weekends and quieter during the week, this beach is ideal for picnicking and relaxing while watching the rolling waves and catching a breeze as the lofty palm trees sway. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles and whales in the waters at Bottom Bay.
Try your hand at windsurfing or bodysurfing on Christ Church’s Accra Beach (also known as Rockley Beach). At the eastern end of the island’s boardwalk, Accra is home to a well-known resort but provides sizable waves and serene spots for a swim. Its crystal clear waters remain shallow enough for wading while the soft, sugary sand makes for a pleasant amble.
Up the east coast in St. Joseph, Cattlewash Beach remains a local favorite –– don’t be surprised if you find this beach awash with Barbadians on their days off. Because of Cattlewash’s billowing waves, take care swimming in the open waters. You should be able to find a safe place to bathe in natural pools among the rocks, however.
Stroll about two kilometers south from Cattlewash to Bathsheba Beach. Renowned locally and internationally, this surfing spot (called the Soup Bowl) attracts surfers and admirers from around the globe. Foamy waves crash against Bathsheba’s famed oversized rock formations (broken away from ancient coral reef), which present a breathtaking backdrop.
The cuisine is celebrated here, and an essential piece of Bajan culture. Some restaurants are open for lunch only, with early dinner on certain nights. Always call restaurants ahead, especially in the off-season.
Before or after beach time at Bathsheba, head to Round House (St. Joseph) for a late lunch or early supper. Aim to land an outdoor table overlooking the eastern shore’s rugged coastline where you can also watch surfers in the distance. The historic inn, specializing in hearty sandwiches and salads, as well as main courses like traditional flying fish and corn meal coucou, promises sweeping views and an easygoing atmosphere.
Also in Bathsheba and minutes from Round House, you’ll find The Atlantis Hotel (Foster Hall). Work up an appetite before you sit down for the famed West Indian buffet lunch, served Wednesdays and Sundays. Dinner at the Atlantis never fails to impress, with meats, local produce, and fresh catch of the day (often Mahi-Mahi) topping off the menu.
On the south coast in Christ Church, Oistins Fish Fry (Oistins) is a must-try for seafood lovers. The Friday night feast continues to draw both locals and out-of-towners to partake in this Bajan tradition. Fish hits the grills and fryers at shacks stationed next to Oistins fish market beginning around 6 p.m. Expect music, dancing, and fun-loving Barbadian fanfare to follow.
Churning out French, Thai, and Bajan plates, Jumas ( No.2 West End, Queen St) offers a fixed menu, as well as a la carte choices and a casual lunch accompanied by live music. Located in quaint Speightstown, this lovely spot overlooks the sea, where in addition to savoring a stellar meal, you can relax on a lounger, take a dip, and, while you’re at it, sip a cocktail too.
Brown Sugar (Bay St) lies just outside the capital city of Bridgetown. This Caribbean-meets-Creole eatery serves a daily buffet, dinner, plus a delectable gluten-free lineup. Murals and lush greenery set the tone in what feels more like a local’s home (with a sweet outdoor space to boot) than a casual restaurant. Brown Sugar is often the preferred dining choice for the most authentic Bajan cuisine on the island.
A rum punch might be the signature drink in Barbados, but you’ll find many Bajans drinking locally-brewed Bank’s beer. As with restaurants, some of the watering holes keep to a daytime schedule; in other words, imbibing is just as feasible during daylight hours as it is after dark.
To catch an afternoon buzz, pop by the Sand Dunes (Ermy Bourne Hwy, Windy Hill) in St. Andrew, the only drinking establishment along the east coast until you travel farther south toward Bathsheba. Beyond beer and libations, the Sand Dunes prepares authentic Bajan dishes. Take one of the picnic tables outside and catch a soft Atlantic breeze while you relax.
Quaff one of the tastiest rum punches on the island at the John Moore Bar (Hwy 1B). This west coast shack in the St. James Parish also cooks up local fare, perfect for soaking up all that alcohol.
If you find yourself back in Speightstown, the Fisherman’s Pub and Grub (Queen St) continues to be a go-to among islanders, which is always a good sign. This cafeteria-style eatery offers a range of regional dishes along with plenty of brews and spirits to drink, not to mention karaoke, Steel Pan, and live jazz.
The slightly seedy-yet-charming Sea Side Bar (Hwy 3) is a tavern along the east coast in St Joseph frequented mostly by Barbadians. Sit back, chill out, and take in the culture, or better yet, strike up a conversation since the bar’s patrons will happily chatter while slugging back a few bottles of Bank’s.
Beyond the island’s myriad shopping malls where you can purchase everything from spirits to designer handbags, Barbados also offers a stellar collection of highly browse-able boutiques.
For the fashion-forward female, Holetown boutique Beth & Tracie (2nd St) sells chic resort wear. Expect sarongs, swimwear cover-ups, sundresses, and colorful, comfy beach clothing suitable for your stay on the island or warm-weather gatherings anywhere.
Cast your eye over collections from David Yurman, Movado, Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and other luxury brands at the Bridgetown location of Little Switzerland (Broad St, DaCostas Mall). This signature Caribbean watch and fine jewelry headquarters continues to be recognized for its knowledgeable staff.
Discover dinnerware and serving pieces in colorful, whimsical patterns at Earthworks Pottery (2, Edgehill Terrace) in St. Thomas Parish. Mugs, bowls, platters, vases, and one-off pieces made from fired red clay come fully functional and dishwasher safe.
Best of Barbados (The Chattel Village) is aptly named –– the shop’s goods are the works of local painter and proprietor Jill Walker and the hands of Bajan artists. A purveyor of jewelry, prints, books, tabletop items (such as dinnerware, napkins, placemats), and more, this family-run store has been one of the country’s most treasured since 1975.
Navigating the Island
Although a mere 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, it’s best to hire a car if you’re planning to explore the island’s 11 parishes. Barbadians drive on the left side of the road (as in the UK), so keep that in mind.
Most roads tend to be on the narrow side, and some aren’t exactly well-signed. Losing your way at some point is possible if not probable, but Bajans are more than obliged to point you in the right direction if you ask, or will even escort you themselves.
Car-hire companies usually have mokes (open-air jeep-like vehicle), luxury SUV’s, and economy-size cars on offer (with GPS optional). Stoutes and Voyager offer free pick-up and delivery, so the process is practically hassle-free. Minimum age to rent is 21, and you’ll need a valid driver’s license.
If you’d rather leave the driving to others, you have the option of chartering a taxi for a private tour of the island as well as general transportation. Hourly rates usually range from $20-$25 for guided tours, depending on the number of passengers. With their flat rates per trip, private cabs remain a viable transportation choice for dinner and cocktail outings as well as sightseeing, and there are myriad taxi services in Barbados. Tipping is always appreciated; fifteen percent minimum is standard.