Located at the meeting point of the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans, the two islands of Antigua and Barbuda are awash with unique things to see and do.
On both islands, the reef-lined 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 landmarks, activities and attractions, including sheltered bays, rainforest and luxury resorts, not to mention candy-coloured villages and fascinating historic sights. Here are 12 of the best.
Enjoy panoramic views from a military 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’s 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.
Take in some Caribbean culture
Housed in what’s thought to be the oldest building anywhere on the islands, the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda offers a fascinating exploration of the country’s rich history and culture. The museum’s main floor houses exhibit relating to the geological formation of the islands, the Amerindian peoples and cultures who inhabited the islands prior to European settlement, and recent Antiguan cultural practices. Meanwhile, a library upstairs boasts a vast collection of pre-Colombian and historical artifacts, including ceramics, faunal remains, and metal objects, as well as texts, maps, and photographs.
Long St, St John’s / Mon-Fri 8.30am-2pm Closed Sat-Sun
Located in leafy Fitches Creek, 10 minutes from the airport, visiting Gilly Gobinet’s Art Gallery is an unforgettable experience. Warmly welcomed by the artist, you enter a cool, comfortable, colourful space of calm & tranquility. Her eclectic artwork is on every wall, from one room to the next, ranging from small scale to big and bold, in watercolour or acrylic on canvas and wood. Surrounded by nature, this is Gilly’s main source of inspiration, although she also excels at pet portraits & special commissions. Take a walk round round the gardens, pause on the dock overlooking the sea, enjoy the flowers, trees & birds that make up this enchanted oasis – and then take another look at the paintings inside the Gallery. You might find one or even more to your liking – what better souvenir to take back home: an original piece of art.
Needs Must Circle / Mon-Fri 9am-1pm (or by appointment) Closed Sat-Sun
Spend a leisurely afternoon at a historic dockyard
Just past Freeman’s Bay is Nelson’s Dockyard, a aheltered cove used by legendary British navy officer 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 (see above) is also a part. Today the site sees more competitive sailing events than military vessels, and with the docks themselves converted into hotels, restaurants with fine dining by the water, as well as a museum and marina. The dockyard is also a good starting point for forays into nature along the various paths that lead out from it.
Take a cooking class
At Nicole’s Table, they welcome foodies who love to learn new recipes, trade stories, and meet new people. They explore foods from across the Caribbean – some in their traditional forms and others with their own “Caribbean twist” marrying local and other cuisines. Each “class” includes recipes for a starter, main course and a dessert along with an “old fashioned” rum punch, juice, or fresh water from their own cisterns. The creations are served on a veranda overlooking the Caribbean and St. John’s Harbour. lasses are rated 5/5 on TripAdvisor winning TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence many years in a row.
Explore a well-preserved fort
Located at Fort Bay on the northwest coast of Antigua, Fort James is one of many forts built by the British on the islands in the 18th century as a pre-emptive defence against French invasion. During the 19th century, guns were routinely fired here to salute warships arriving into the harbour, as well as acting as signals for sunrise and sunset. Happily for history buffs, those same canons have been well preserved and make for popular photo opportunities with visitors, many of whom also come here to enjoy the large sandy beach and beautiful scenery.
Devil’s Bridge National Park
Situated outside the village of Willikies in the eastern part of Antigua Island, Devil’s Bridge National Park offers a stunning glimpse into Antigua’s geological past Composed of limestone rock, the area’s rugged terrain is the result of millions of years of ancient reef formation, with numerous geysers and blowholes, together with waves continually breaking against the coastal rocks, creating a staggering visual spectacle for the large number of visitors who flock here throughout the year.
Willikies / Open all hours
Set sail on a private yacht charter
Antigua is often called the capital of sailing in the Caribbean and for good reason. Steady trade winds, warm seas and temperature make for excellent sailing conditions. In addition, Ondeck Maritime Training have a wonderful range of sailing events and races including Antigua sailing Week, the Classic Yacht Regatta and The RORC Caribbean 600. Ondeck offers private yacht charters, participation in all of the Caribbean Regattas , practical RYA training for power and sail boats plus its unique Hidden Caribbean sailing trips visiting many of the islands less visited by mass tourism. Whatever you do you are encouraged to take part in all aspects of sailing the yacht and go home with outstanding memories.
Test your mettle on a zipline adventure
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 helps 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 the numerous bird species tweet their distinctive tweets.
Fig Tree Dr
Indulge in some retail therapy
For anyone used to shopping in characterless malls and jam-packed high streets, Heritage Quay is about as different as it gets. 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 to designer clothing, swimwear, fragrances, fine jewellery, and high end watches. There are also numerous sports bars and speciality restaurants where you can 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
Get up close and personal with stingrays
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 intrepid types the chance to get up close and personal by embarking on an exciting snorkelling tour. A short speedboat ride whisks you to a shallow pool with a white sand bottom surrounded by beautiful coral reef where you can snorkel (or stand, if you prefer) with the rays, and even get some pictures taken with your new friends.
Set off on a scenic hike
Barbuda and Antigua are renowned for their great natural beauty – and both inland and along the coasts there are some wonderful natural and geological features and plenty of excellent walking paths along cliffs and mountains covered in rainforest. One of the most popular hiking trails takes around 3.5 hours and is specifically aimed at tourists entering the capital St Johns from the cruise ships and takes you to the most strikingly beautiful parts of the island, including cliffs and pristine beaches.