Caribbean

10 Unique Things to do in Antigua & Barbuda

by Paul Joseph  |  Updated May 22, 2019

Located at the meeting point of the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans, the two islands of Antigua and Barbuda are awash with reef-lined beaches, sheltered bays, rainforest and luxury resorts, not to mention candy-coloured villages and fascinating historic sights.

A pretty harbour town lined with shops in Antigua & Barbuda (Photo: Roman Melnichuk via Flickr)

It is for the renowned natural beauty of the islands that so many visitors are drawn to Antigua and Barbuda. Sadly Barbuda was very badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and the rebuilding process, although well under way, does mean that some key infrastructure is missing still. But don’t let that put you off entirely. The island and its people are incredible and it’s best to check online for the most up-to-date developments on the island.

On both islands, the beaches are undoubtedly the main draw, and certainly the best place to start out on any trip, but if you can tear yourself away from your beach towel for long enough, you’ll soon discover that there’s a diverse choice of unique things to see and do. Here are ten of the best.

Get panoramic views of Antigua from Shirley Heights Lookout

A restored military lookout and gun battery, Shirley Heights is one of the most well-visited landmarks on the islands thanks in large part to its spectacular 360 degree views. It is a particularly popular spot to enjoy sunsets, with a unique natural phenomenon known as the ‘green flash’ creating a green jet of light that covers the horizon as the sun sets behind the ocean. During the day the view towards Freeman’s Bay and Falmouth Harbour is the most spectacular. The walk to the top is relatively steep but shouldn’t be beyond most visitors. The buildings themselves house a restaurant and a bar, and every Sunday night a party featuring a barbecue and local bands playing Caribbean flavoured music is held here.

Magnificent views from Shirley Heights Lookout (Photo: Prayitno via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Spend a leisurely afternoon at Nelson’s Dockyard

Just past Freeman’s Bay is the legendary sheltered cove used by Horatio Nelson as a safe place to guard his fleet. The cultural heritage site is now UNESCO-listed and forms part of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, of which Shirley Heights is also a part. Today the dock sees more sport sailing events than military vessels, and the restored dockyard was converted into hotels, restaurants with fine dining by the water, as well as a museum and marina. This is also a good starting point for forays into nature along the various paths.

Dockyard Drive

All calm at Nelson’s Dockyard (Photo: johnmburgess via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Ride the waves on the Barbuda Express

If you can’t afford to charter a superyacht in Antigua & Barbuda – and few of us can – then the next best thing is the Barbuda Express. This innovative, wave-piercing catamaran propels you across the water at high speeds, providing a thrilling way to enjoy the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the region. As well as providing transport for tourists and businessfolk needing to traverse the twin islands, it also offers a great choice of tours, including excursions to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary and Princess Diana Beach. Rides can get a little bumpy, especially in inclement weather.

Factory Rd, St John’s

Barbuda Express

Beautiful frigatebirds viewed during a Barbuda Express day tour (Photo: Barbuda Express)

Antigua Chiama Italia

For anyone seeking accommodation in Antigua & Barbuda, this is about as good as it gets. Antigua Chiama Italia features a vast guesthouse containing three separate villas, all of which offer stunning views as well as direct access to Jolly Beach, the biggest beach on the islands. Guests can rent individual villas, or even single rooms within them, depending on availability, if preferred. They also organise land tours around the islands, with multi-lingual guides available. This is a superb spot for a lavish stay in the Caribbean, perhaps even for a Honeymoon.

Antigua Chiama Italia

The kind of stunning vista you can enjoy from Antigua Chiama Italia (Photo: Antigua Chiama Italia)

Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours

The award-winning Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tour is an adventurer’s delight, offering adrenaline junkies a unique eco-tour through Antigua’s lush rainforest. Participants are taken on an aerial journey through the verdant forest, high above the trees, via a double wire and state of the art harness that will help you along ziplines measuring anywhere up to 328 feet in length. You’ll get to traverse a tree house and two suspension bridges along the way, offering a stunning bird’s eye view of the flora and fauna in the rainforest while listening to the numerous bird species found there.

Fig Tree Dr

Antigua Forest Zip Line Tours

An adventure seeker enjoying a zip line tour (Photo: Antigua Forest Zip Line Tours)

Heritage Quay

For anyone used to shopping in characterless malls and jam-packed high streets, Heritage Quay is about as different as it gets – and not just because of the duty- and tax-free goods. The large outdoor waterside complex is a picturesque and serene place to indulge in some retail therapy, with a huge choice of stores selling everything from electronics, local music, liquors, fine crystals and china, designer clothing, swimwear, fragrances, fine jewellery, high end watches and more. There’re also numerous sports bars and specialty restaurants to grab a tropical drink or a delicious meal when you’re all shopped out, while nocturnal attractions include several nightclubs and a casino.

High St, St John’s

Heritage Quay

Bright lights bring Heritage Quay to life at night-time (Photo: Heritage Quay)

Stingray City

Swimming with stingrays may sound like a hazardous pursuit but despite their venomous potential they are actually some of the friendliest creatures in the ocean. Antigua & Barbuda is particularly famous for its rays, which are said to be the brightest in the Caribbean, and Stingray City offer the chance to get up close and personal by embarking on an exciting snorkel adventure tour. A short speedboat ride whisks you to a shallow pool with a white sand bottom surrounded by beautiful coral reef where you’re invited to snorkel (or stand, if you prefer) with the rays, and even get some pictures taken with your new friends. For more information and booking options, check out Viator here.

Stingray City

One of Antigua’s supersized stingrays (Photo: Stingray City)

Antigua Reef Riders

Antigua Reef Riders run tours where participants are given a 10-foot inflatable ‘reef rider’ to explore the West Coast and its jaw-droppingly beautiful coral reef that is covered with marine life. The size and mobility of the craft means that it is possible to moor at a reef lagoon, put on a snorkel and explore the aquatic life down below. Visitors can expect to see parrot fish, surgeon fish and stingrays, among many other species, as well as the numerous types of coral.

Golf Course Way, Jolly Harbour

Jolly Harbour

Antigua & Barbuda is home to many excellent, well equipped harbours and among the finest is Jolly Harbour, a bustling little hub dotted with eating, shopping and leisure activities. Jolly Harbour sits on the southwest coast of the island, close to the larger Five Islands Harbour. Visitors can take a boat out on the crystal clear waters, make use of the tennis courts, or enjoy a round of golf at the 18-hole championship golf course. The harbour also contains plenty of options for a great night out, including several lively bars.

Jolly Harbour

A bird’s-eye view over Jolly Harbour (Photo: Jolly Harbour)

Discover Antigua’s natural beauty on a guided hike

Both Barbuda and Antigua are renowned for their great natural beauty. Both inland and along the coasts there are some wonderful natural and geological features and plenty of good walking paths to get you away from the settlements and into the islands, proper. This includes cliffs and mountains, covered in rainforest. One such hiking tour that lasts around 3.5 hours is specifically aimed at tourists entering St Johns from the cruise ships and takes you to the most strikingly beautiful parts of the island such as Shirley Heights Lookout, as well as past unusual cliffs and pristine beaches. Check out more about it on Viator.