Only have a brief stop in Nassau while on a Caribbean cruise? No problem! Here are a few of the “must see” sights. If you plan your day out well you should be able to hit most, if not all, of these.
Nassau is the capital and largest city of the Bahamas. Officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, the city is located on the north side of New Providence Island. Nassau has a colorful blend of Old World and colonial architecture, a busy port, and of course, spectacular white sand beaches. The tropical climate and scenic beauty of the Bahamas has made Nassau a very popular tourist destination.
Below are some of the top sights in Nassau, Bahamas:
Visit the Atlantis Resort
Many people head straight for the world-famous Atlantis Resort. Located on nearby Paradise Island—which is connected to New Providence Island by two one-way bridges—the Atlantis Resort accounts for more tourist arrivals to the city than any other hotel in the country. The property is open to visitors who are not hotel guests, but at a premium. There are three levels of guest passes: The Discover Atlantis Tour offers access to the casino, magnificent aquariums, and The Dig, an archeological expedition that’s fun for the whole family. For a bit more, guests gain entrance to the places listed above, as well as access to the resort’s exclusive beaches. The highest-level pass includes all of the above plus admission the sprawling Aquaventure water park. These packages are quite pricey, but worth it. Of course, the more time you spend at Atlantis, the less you’ll have to enjoy the other sights that Nassau has to offer.
Visit Downtown Nassau
Downtown is the hub for all activities on New Providence Island. Thousands of people visit daily for the many shopping, dining, and sightseeing opportunities. The busiest part of downtown is concentrated on Bay Street and Woodes Rogers Walk, located across the street from the port and parallel to the bay. The surrounding blocks are wall-to-wall boutiques, restaurants and clubs. Famous historical landmarks are also in the vicinity, including the Pirate Museum and Christ Church Cathedral.
Go Shopping at the Straw Market
If you’re looking for handicrafts and one-of-a-kind items that are truly Bahamian, the place to visit is the Straw Market. Located right on Bay Street, the large wood-beamed warehouse is clad with corrugated metal siding and roofing. The market features countless vendors selling t-shirts, woodcarvings, masks, jewelry, seashells, and other souvenirs. Of course, being that it’s called “The Straw Market”, there are plenty of places to purchase items made of woven straw, a specialty of Bahamian artisans.
Go to the Beach
What would a trip to the Bahamas be without a visit to a gorgeous, white sand beach? Nassau has several public beaches, including Junkanoo Beach, which is within walking distance of the port. However, the most popular area on New Providence Island is Cable Beach, a three-mile taxi or jitney (public bus) ride west of downtown. There are several resorts on Cable Beach as well as a gigantic development called Baja Mar, which is currently under construction. Active visitors can take part various watersports, jet-skiing, snorkeling or SCUBA diving or, if relaxing is more your thing, just pick a spot on the beach, sit back and catch some rays.
Admire the Architecture in Parliament Square and Rawson Square
Nassau features countless beautiful buildings, many of which are painted in vibrant pastel colors. Just a few blocks away from the port, the buildings in Parliament Square were constructed in the early 19th century by the Loyalists and are excellent examples of the colonial architecture of old Nassau. A statue of Queen Victoria can be found in front of the pink and white Senate building; the building to the left houses the office of the Leader of the Opposition; and Parliament meets at the House of Assembly, located on the right side of the square. Located behind the Senate building is the Supreme Court of the Bahamas. Although the island nation gained its independence from Great Britain in 1973, the institutions have not changed all that much. Judges and lawyers still dress in traditional British wigs and robes.
Check out the Government House
Another typical, pink Georgian Colonial building is the residence of the Governor of the Bahamas. Perched at the top of a low hill called Mount Fitzwilliam, the Government House was completed in 1806 and features a statue of Christopher Columbus smack dab in the middle of the front steps. You can’t enter the building but, in order to keep British tradition alive, twice a month (on alternate Sundays) you can watch the changing of the guard out front.
Visit one of the Island’s Forts
There are three main forts in Nassau that are open to the public. The easiest to reach is Fort Fincastle, located atop Bennet’s Hill just a few minutes walk from downtown. It’s a small fort but offers great, sweeping views of the island and sparkling ocean. Fort Charlotte is the largest and arguably most impressive fort in Nassau. Built in 1789, it was named for the wife of King George III. The fort features a moat, a drawbridge, ramparts, cannons and even a dungeon. Finally, Fort Montagu is located on the southeast point of the harbor about two miles from downtown Nassau. Constructed in the 1740s, it is shaped oddly enough like a paddle-wheel steamer.
Ascend The Queen’s Staircase
One of Nassau’s most visited attractions is the Queen’s Staircase, located next to Fort Fincastle. Carved out of solid limestone by slaves in the late 18th century, this 102-foot tall staircase was named in honor of Queen’s Victoria, who reigned over the British Empire for sixty-five years. Visitors can climb the 65 steps as a shortcut to the top of Bennet’s Hill. The green, tree-lined canyon where the stairs are located was created when limestone was quarried for the island’s forts and other buildings. The stairs are now faced with brick to make them more stable and to protect them from erosion so you can’t actually see the parts that were carved out.
Cruising is a great way to get a taste of what the islands have to offer. Unfortunately, most cruises only drop anchor for a matter of hours so you really can’t immerse yourself fully in Bahamian culture. That being said, I’m sure that after experiencing Nassau in just one day, you’ll definitely want to return on another trip and spend more time in this vibrant city. I know that I really enjoyed what I saw but would love to come back and spend a few days living on “island time.”
Have you ever been to Nassau? What were your impressions? Feel free to comment in the section below!
Michael Figueiredo is a freelance travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not gallivanting around the world, he’s enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and perfect weather of Southern California. So far he’s visited forty countries and territories on five continents. His goal is to see at least one new country every year! . Read more from this author