A trip to Barbados is synonymous with spending time on pristine white beaches and drinking cocktails. However, if you’re interested in exploring beyond the sun, sea, and sand, there are many hidden gems right in Bridgetown Barbados’ historical capital city. Local blogger Malou, highlights the culture, people, food and the amazing sights in this tropical town and its surrounding area.
Everything you need to know for a trip to Bridgetown Barbados
Though Barbados is best known for its beautiful beaches and clear, blue water, this island is also steeped in a rich, fascinating history. Barbados gained its Independence from England in 1966 and continues to function under a Parliamentary system of government. As a former British colony, its serpentine urban layout is a very different approach to colonial town-planning compared to the Spanish and Dutch colonial cities in the Caribbean which were built along a grid plan.
Bridgetown is the Capital of Barbados and in 2011 Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison were added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is so much to do, see and eat in this historic area that dates back to 400 years. Bridgetown and its Garrison covers the area that reflects the layout of the early town and port in Bridgetown and the overall Garrison, with all its historic components.
Here are some highlights of the culture, people, food and the amazing sights in this tropical town and its surrounding area.
As a sustainable travel and lifestyle blogger, I am very passionate about the impact that we have on the places that we visit and my island home is no exception. From the environmental impact of sunscreens on our reefs to using reusable straws and supporting sustainable businesses, there are a number of ways in which we can each play our part so I will be adding little tidbits and side notes throughout this guide.
Bridgetown is named after – you guessed it – a bridge in the center of the city. It was thought that this bridge was created by a people indigenous to the Caribbean known as the Tainos. The British settlers began to call the area Indian Bridge and eventually the area became known as Bridgetown.
Barbadians refer to themselves as “Bajan” – which is derived from how we say the word Barbadian, which ends up sounding like “Barbajian”.
Main Attractions in Bridgetown
House of Parliament
Bridgetown is home to the House of Parliament – the third oldest legislature in the Americas and is among the oldest in the Commonwealth of Nations. These historic Parliament Buildings (once known as the Public Buildings) are home to the House of Assembly and Senate. With more than 350 years of history, these buildings were built from local limestone and completed in 1874 by a Gothic Architecture. You can book a tour these buildings.
Barbados Synagogue in the Historic District
Bridgetown is also home to Nidhe Israel – the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1654. The synagogue, mikveh, and adjoining museum are surrounded by the centuries-old graves of the island’s Jewish settlers. This Historic District covers an entire city block that features numerous heritage buildings that boast a rich history dating back to the mid-17th century. Since its official opening in April 2017, the Synagogue Historic District has, in my opinion, become of the best museums in the island.
Barbados Museum and Historical Society
Situated in what was the Military Prison, the Museum showcases the island’s cultural heritage and houses the Shilstone Memorial Library with its research material. The Museum also recently constructed an outdoor theatre, where many events are hosted. Main Attractions in Surrounding area
This park is a beautiful oasis in the centre of Bridgetown, with cool, shaded areas where you can sit and watch the world go by. The main house in Queen’s Park, constructed in 1783, was originally King’s House and was the residence of the Commanding Officer of the British Troops in the West Indies.
Main Attractions in the surrounding area
The Barbados Garrison and Savannah
The Barbados Garrison, officially called St.Ann’s Garrison, was the largest in the British Colonies during the 18th and 19th centuries. The area offers many features, other than military, such as the Savannah and the beautiful buildings surrounding the area. The buildings are often built of London brick brought here as ballast, dating back centuries. For example, there is the Stone Barracks, The West India Barracks, and Stafford House and also The Barbados Turf Club offices which were the Military Engineers Officers’ Quarters originally. Personal favorites include The Main Guard and The Barbados Museum and Historical Society.
Beaches, snorkeling, and swimming
No trip to Barbados would be complete without spending time on a beach! On the edge of Bridgetown lies some of the most beautiful beaches in Barbados! Carlisle Bay is a natural harbor which has recently been turned into a marine park. On the North end is “Browns Beach” and on the South end is “Pebbles”, though it’s technically all the same stretch of beach. There are a number of beach bars and clubs dotted along the beach, from Copacabana and The Boatyard on the North end to the Cruising Club on the South end. You can rent paddle boards and snorkeling gear from the Cruising Club, and explore the many shipwrecks dotted in the bay! There are sea turtles as well, and you can either do a guided tour, a catamaran cruise or swim out to see them yourself.
Things not to be missed in Bridgetown
- Cheapside Market Bridgetown
- Fish Market
- Boat Tours – I recommend a catamaran tour with Calypso Cruises.
- Snorkeling or Diving in Carlisle Bay with Barbados Blue.
- Visiting a ‘rum shop’ in Bridgetown
- ‘Hike’ or walking tour of Bridgetown
- The Barbados Historic Garrison Tours -They also offer a Night Tour & Tunnel Experience
- Having lunch at The Waterfront Cafe and watching the boats come in with their daily catch
- Keep an eye out for the beautiful street art around the ‘City’!
- Take a break in the beautiful Queen’s Park
- Visit one of the many churches throughout Town such St.Mary’s Church, St.Michael’s Anglican Church, Calvary Moravian Church and St.Patrick’s Catholic Church on Bay Street
If you’re planning a trip to Barbados and heading to Holetown, check out our Destination Guide here.
Best Food and Drink in Bridgetown & Surrounding area
Bajans love their food! Bridgetown offers a wide variety of food choices, from snacks to quick lunches, restaurants and street food. Local food is influenced by African, European and Asian communities, and most foods are packed with flavor. Make sure to try out some spicy pepper sauce with your dish, and wash it down with some local rum or a Banks beer.
Here are some of my personal recommendations – a list of must-try dishes and foods in Bridgetown and its surrounding area:
- Vegan Food at Cheapside Market and in Pelican Village
- Roti at Indian Grill
- Rotisserie chicken at R A Mapp Rotisserie Chicken
- Classic Bajan “Big Food” at the Dockside and Mustor’s
- Cuz Fish Cutter
- Legendary fish cakes
- Traditional Bajan food at Brown Sugar Restaurant
- Josephine’s Cafe, located at the Nidhe Israel Synagogue
- Copacabana Beach Club – they have excellent fish tacos!
- Lobster Alive on Bay Street
- Baxter’s Road for late night food
- Snocone from a snocone cart on the side of the road – a refreshing treat!
- Rum punch at Waterfront Cafe
Responsible Travel in Barbados
Swimming with the sea turtles
This is an incredible experience, but you are not meant to touch or feed the turtles as they are wild animals, despite what your tour guide may say! They are very friendly and curious and will come straight up to you.
Reef Safe sunscreen
Sunscreen washes off your body when swimming and enters the marine environment, so it’s important to remember to use ‘Reef Safe’ sunscreen! Common chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone, can kill coral and damage coral reefs. There are a number of sunscreens that do not have any of these harmful ingredients and they are safe for coral reefs.
Barbados Green Monkeys
You may see people walking on the beach with a baby monkey and I would advise against approaching them to take a photo with the monkeys. Local green monkeys are taken from their mothers at a young age in Barbados and paraded along beaches so that visitors can pay to take photos with them. While we have no laws against animal cruelty in Barbados yet, so it certainly helps when visitors are aware of the situation and avoid supporting this practice.
During your trip to Barbados, you can drink the tap water in Barbados with no issue, so feel free to walk with a reusable bottle that you can fill up as you go along! This saves on buying plastic water bottles.
Remember to pack a reusable straw!
Thousands of plastic straws end up in the beautiful Caribbean Sea thanks to the number of beach bars and restaurants, harming marine life and the coral reefs.
Pack your carrier bag!
Culturally, Bajans tend to automatically serve food in styrofoam containers and plastic bags. Depending on the situation, you can ask to be served on a regular plate and ask them not to pack everything in a plastic bag.
When buying your own food from the markets, you can refer to the Slow Food Barbados Sustainable Seafood Guide, which will help you pinpoint which fish is best to buy, as well as the Slow Food Barbados Buyer’s Guide, which outlines local produce and where you can buy it.
GETTING AROUND BRIDGETOWN
Bridgetown is relatively small, so it’s very easy to walk around, but its surrounding Garrison area extends about 3 miles. It is safe to walk anywhere, but just keep basic rules in mind: don’t walk anywhere by yourself at night, don’t walk on the beaches at night.
You can also take a local bus to get around – the price is approx. US$1 per ride. The two main bus terminals are also in Bridgetown.
Taxis are easy to find! Or rather, they will find you! Be sure to ask for the price up front. You can pay in US dollars or Barbados dollars.
It’s best to wear a hat when walking around, the heat and humidity is no joke!
Bridgetown is the cultural and financial capital of Barbados, and though there are residential areas dotted in and around Bridgetown, the majority of accommodation is available on the outskirts of Bridgetown, and further along the South Coast:
There are a number of Airbnb options in areas such as Hastings, Bay Street and the Garrison area
If you are looking for an upmarket accommodation option, you can find plenty of hotels such as Hilton, Marriott, Radisson and locally owned hotels such as Sugar Bay, Island Inn, Savannah Beach Hotel, Coconut Court Hotel.
CLUBS, BARS & NIGHTLIFE IN BRIDGETOWN
Bridgetown was the epicenter of nightlife back in the day, and there are still a number of great bars and restaurants that you can visit once the sun has gone down.
- Live jazz at Waterfront Cafe on Thursday nights
- Live Music, Quiz nights and big parties at Copacabana Beach Club
- Blackwood Screwdock bar
- Pirate’s Cove for parties
- Monday, Wednesday, Friday nights at Harbour Lights
DON’T MISS OUT ON BRIDGETOWN’S
If you’re considering visiting Barbados, it’s worth trying to time your trip with the following seasonal attractions:
- Barbados Independent Film Festival in January
- Dive Fest in July
- Barbados Crop Over Festival between June – August
BARBADOS, A SURVIVAL GUIDE
The warmest months of the year are usually June – September
Generally, prices on the South Coast are cheaper than the West Coast when it comes to accommodation, food, and drink
You can read up on the basics about Barbados through the Ins & Outs Guide
It’s difficult to summarise everything into one guide, as there is SO much more I can add to this, but I hope this I offered you a little glimpse into what our capital, and the rest of Barbados, has to offer.
Barbados is marketed as a tropical paradise, but just like anywhere else, it’s multi-faceted and there are a number of ways for you to enjoy my home aside from the beach; from eco-tourism to community and impact travel, diving, food tours, and cultural immersion. If you’d like to read more about our way of life here, check out some of my Island Diaries blog posts.
Malou Morgan is a purpose-driven entrepreneur and sustainable travel enthusiast. Malou was born and raised in Barbados, and followed her heart back home after studying and traveling throughout the world for a number of years. Malou runs Caribbean Collaborative, a social enterprise focused on volunteering, impact travel, and philanthropy throughout the Caribbean.
When she’s not working, Malou is either in the ocean, blogging, reading, eating something with cheese or collecting stamps in her passport. Follow her on her site Skip to Malou to learn about her travels and Caribbean living. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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