Barbados (map) is a gorgeous island nation located at the eastern edge of the Caribbean. Known for its stunning beaches, azure waters and as the birthplace of rum (and Rihanna), there are many things to do in Barbados. Most visitors stick to the west and south coasts, with their picture perfect beaches and hotels, but venture to the wild east coast, the hilly interior and the little villages along the coast and inland, and you’ll discover a diverse island full of natural and cultural gems. Wherever you go, you’ll find brightly-coloured houses, lively rum shops and warm, welcoming Bajans (as Barbadians are called). To get you started, here are my recommendations for things to do in Barbados, including attractions, restaurants and hotels I visited. And there’s a video too!
Things to do in Barbados
1. Hit the beaches
It’s the most obvious thing to do in Barbados for many visitors so here’s my take on the best beaches Barbados has to offer. The beaches on the west coast facing the Caribbean Sea are calm and easily accessible (perfect for swimming and snorkelling), whilst the east coast, facing the Atlantic Ocean, is wild and rough (more suitable for surfing).
My favourite beaches are just a few minutes’ away from Bridgetown along the tranquil shores of Carlisle Bay. There are three public beaches at the bay: Brownes Beach, Bayshore Beach, and Pebble Beach, each of which boasts soft, powdery white sand and calm, crystal-clear water. There are various facilities such as parking, dive shops, showers and restrooms, and for food and drinks, there’s a choice of cafés (Dipper’s has gorgeous views of the beach) as well as the legendary Cuzz’s Fish Stand (a hut in the parking lot that sells delicious fish cutter sandwiches, and you can get a cold beer or rum cocktail from the vendor next door).
There are various shipwrecks in Carlisle Bay, making it a terrific scuba-diving and snorkelling spot. You can even join a clear-kayak tour to view the shipwrecks and maybe spot some turtles.
Other beautiful sandy beaches include:
- Near Bridgetown: Needham’s Point, just south of Bridgetown, fronted by the Hilton Barbados resort but the beach is open to the public; and Brandon’s Beach a stone’s throw north of Bridgetown. Search for hotels in and around Bridgetown;
- On the south coast: Accra Beach, Maxwell Beach, Dover Beach (a lively beach at St. Lawrence Gap, with many cafés, restaurants and shops within walking distance). Search for hotels in and around St. Lawrence;
- On the southeast coast: Crane Beach offers a wide arc of pinkish sand against a backdrop of cliffs, though as it faces the Atlantic, it’s less suitable for swimming;
- On the west coast, between Holetown and Speightstown, there are a variety of sandy beaches that are perfect for swimming, lounging and watching the sunset. These include Alleynes Bay, Mullins Beach and Gibbes Beach. There’s a plethora of hotels, guesthouses, beach clubs, bars, cafés and restaurants in this part of the west coast. Search for hotels in and around Holetown, Porters or Speightstown;
- Silver Sands Beach on the south coast near the airport is the place to be for kiteboarding and windsurfing;
- For the experienced surfers, head for Bathsheba Bay on the Atlantic coast. In this area, Bath Beach is a more tranquil beach for swimming.
2. Explore Bridgetown
The capital of Barbados is a bustling town with a beautiful waterfront along the Careenage and Constitution River. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Bridgetown has a long and often tempestuous history.
I recommend spending a few hours strolling around the historic town centre, with its landmarks such as the Parliament, St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance building, and the colourful streets on either side of the Careenage. You can also join a walking tour to learn about the town’s fascinating history.
3. Enjoy Bajan street food
One of the best ways to experience the soul of Barbados is to indulge in its street food! Street food vendors can be found all over the island. There’s a wide variety of dishes to try, such as ‘Bread & Two’ (salt bread stuffed with fish cakes), Coucou and flying fish (okra and cornmeal with Bajan hot sauce served with fried/steamed flying fish), macaroni pie, rice and stew, cutters (fish sandwich with cheese and/or egg) and all sorts of grilled fish.
One place I frequented (because it’s at my favourite beach) was Cuzz’s Fish Stand. This little shack serves different varieties of fish cutters – the full fish, egg and cheese cutter topped with lots of hot sauce is unforgettable!
Other street food areas I visited include Oistins (Pat’s Place is a good place to start) and Half Moon Fort. Join an Oistins fish-fry tour.
4. Visit St. Nicholas Abbey and the Heritage Railway
In the north of the island, amidst green rolling hills and thick forests lies the historic St. Nicholas Abbey. The road leading to the Abbey, lined by stunning mahogany trees, is in itself a highlight of a visit to the Abbey.
Other than its name suggests, it is a plantation house built in the 17th century in the Jacobean style (one of only three Jacobian mansions left in the Western Hemisphere), surrounded by lush tropical gardens. The house has been beautifully restored as a museum, a visit to which provides interesting insights to the lives of 18th century plantation owners. In addition, the Abbey also produces its own rum.
A relatively new addition to St. Nicholas Abbey is the Heritage Railway. The railway was built to commemorate the old railway that used to cross the island to transport sugarcane. This new, touristic route is a fun, historic experience and transports visitors from the Abbey to a panoramic viewpoint on Cherry Hill.
5. Explore the wild east coast
The east coast of Barbados is characterised by charming villages, verdant hills, swaying palms, cliffs, rock formations and the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean. The scenery is both idyllic and spectacular.
I recommend a drive along the coast to enjoy the scenery – this can easily be combined with a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey. I also suggest stops at the Morgan Lewis sugar mill, the Caribbean’s largest windmill, and Bathsheba, with its big waves and rocky formations. If you have time, drop by at the Andromeda Botanic Gardens just outside Bathsheba.
For lunch, check out Dina’s Bar, Zaccios on the East and Garage Bar & Grill, for fabulous food and sea views.
6. Stroll around Hunte’s Gardens
Another great thing to do in Barbados is to visit one of its beautiful tropical gardens. One garden I can definitely recommend is Hunte’s Gardens. This lush, tropical garden, with its towering royal palms and large variety of tropical plants, is a wonderfully tranquil retreat.
7. Richard Haynes Boardwalk
Stretching 1.6km between Camelot and the gorgeous Accra Beach on the south coast, the Richard Haynes Boardwalk is a delightful path for a stroll. Enjoy the sea breeze, the sound of the waves and the mesmerising sea views.
I suggest stopping at one of the many cafés and restaurants that line the boardwalk for a drink or a meal – my favourite is Tapas (excellent food and views) but other places I can recommend include Blue Pineapple Restaurant & Beach Lounge (right on the beach) and Chicken George & Yankey Joe’s Beach Bar. The boardwalk also passes various beaches and coves that are perfect for a refreshing dip.
8. Go on a catamaran cruise
You can’t leave Barbados without having been on a catamaran cruise or a sunset cruise. It’s truly one of the best things to do in Barbados! There are various operators to choose from – I went with Cool Runnings who operate luxurious catamarans which have all the facilities you’ll need and multiple areas to relax. In addition, the crew are terrific (with a great sense of humour) and the food is top-notch!
During the cruise, the captain will stop at various points where guests can go snorkelling to view shipwrecks and coral reefs, or swim with turtles. Note: when swimming with the turtles, please do not approach or touch them. Try to remain stationary as much as possible and don’t make any sudden moves when they’re near you.
9. Go rum tasting
Being the birthplace of rum, Barbados has a strong rum tradition that’s an integral part of the social fabric. There are a big variety of rum distillers, from small producers to the large brands such as Mount Gay. There’s a Mount Gay visitor centre in Bridgetown which offers rum tastings or you can tour the Mount Gay Distillery in St. Lucy, the world’s oldest continuously operating rum distillery, to learn about the history of rum.
My favourite rum distillery tour is at Foursquare, the producer of multiple award-winning rums. Located near the airport, the tours of this historic distillery are led by very knowledgeable (and entertaining) guides and end with a fun-filled rum tasting. After learning about this blog, the rum sommelier even created a special Velvet Escape cocktail for me! Book a Foursquare rum tour.
For a local rum experience, you should visit one of the many rum shops spread out across the island. These are basically small bars where locals drop by to drink and socialise. You can’t miss their brightly coloured exteriors!
10. Indulge in a fabulous meal
There are lots of terrific fine-dining restaurants in Barbados. After a day at the beach or exploring the island, why not treat yourself to some superb food in a wonderful ambiance.
Of the fine-dining establishments I visited, my favourite is The Cliff (west coast). The food and service are superb and the sea views (get there before sunset) are simply amazing!
Another of my favourites is Tapas, located right on the Richard Haynes Boardwalk, that serves fabulous food and dreamy views.
11. Visit Harrison’s Cave
Situated in the central highlands of Barbados, Harrison’s Cave is great way to spend an hour or two admiring the wondrous limestone formations, ivory-white flow stones and the crystal-clear streams and rock pools.
A tram tour takes visitors underground, with several stops along the way for photos and commentary. You’ll also learn a lot about this precious water source and sustainable water management policies on the island.
12. Get into the island groove!
If there’s one thing that continuously struck me while I toured Barbados, it’s that there was always the sound of music wherever I went. From Caribbean rhythms to hip-hop, soul and the best of the 80’s and 90’s, I found myself humming, singing or swaying along to the tunes everywhere I went! Many beach clubs have DJs and live bands, especially during Happy Hour and in the weekends. You’ll always find locals enjoying the music and dancing along so it’s really not difficult to get into the island groove! It’s also an easy way to meet the locals and mingle.
Beach clubs/restaurants I can recommend with fabulous food, cocktails and music include The Cliff Beach Club (book a Sunday lunch and stay on to listen to the live band, and stay longer to see the sunset!), La Cabane (atmospheric club with great food and vibes and where you can enjoy the evening with your feet in the soft sand), The Boatyard Club and Surfer’s Bay Beach Bar.
One last tip, Barbados is the birthplace of one of the most famous artistes of our time, Rihanna. If you’re a Rihanna fan, you can’t miss a visit to her childhood home in Bridgetown. They even named the street after her (Rihanna Drive) so you can’t miss it!
Where to stay in Barbados
I stayed at the Hilton Barbados just a short drive away from Bridgetown. The hotel fronts the beautiful beaches of Needham’s Point and includes the 17th century Charles Fort and Needham’s Point Lighthouse. There are two pools and several restaurants/bars. The comfortable rooms have views of the Caribbean or Carlisle Bay.
I also visited several hotels on the island. I didn’t get to visit Sandy Lane, the premier five-star resort in Barbados (where many celebrities choose to stay) but I found some little gems which offer a cosy yet luxurious experience right at the beach. Cobblers Cove is one of them. Often voted as one of the best hotels in Barbados, Cobblers Cove is located in Speightstown and has an intimate, distinctly English feel.
Another hotel I found absolutely charming was the Coral Reef Beach Club situated in Holetown. It has a rustic yet luxurious feel and offers beautiful sea views, top-notch service and excellent cuisine.
On the south coast, I visited the Sea Breeze Beach House, an all-inclusive resort located directly on the beach. The recently refurbished rooms are spacious and boast amazing sea views.
I hope you found my list of things to do in Barbados helpful. It’s by no means exhaustive as there’s so much to do and discover on the island. I totally fell in love with Barbados after a week there and I hope to return one day soon. When I do, I’ll certainly add more recommendations to this post. 🙂
Note: I visited Barbados for a series of business meetings, however, I got to experience the island thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Tourism Barbados. That said, all views shared above are mine, and mine only.