Antigua and Barbuda might not feature high on your travel bucket list, but it should. These beautiful tropical islands are, in fact, some of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. Antigua and Barbuda are best known for powdery white sand, azure waters, sailing and the well-preserved Nelson’s Dockyard. But islands also have crumbling English fortresses, a rainforest and the largest nesting colony of frigate birds in the Caribbean. Whether you want to explore attractions on the islands or their underwater wonders, there are many exciting things to do in Antigua and Barbuda. Here is our list of the top attractions you should not miss when planning your perfect escape.
Top things to do in Antigua and Barbuda
1. Shirley Heights Lookout
No trip to Antigua and Barbuda would be complete without a visit to iconic Shirley Heights. This former military complex, located on the southerly tip of Antigua, is, in fact, one of the most visited landmarks on the islands. Not only it is an excellent lookout point with stunning views of the historic English Harbour, but also Sunday nights are legendary here.
The steep walk to Shirley Heights lookout point is challenging. However, if you do not fancy hiking, you can also drive up to the entrance. Once you get there, be prepared to be amazed. Shirley Heights is world-famous for watching the sun go down and partying.
There are several viewpoints you can catch the spectacular sundown in Antigua, but the one in Shirley Heights is, in fact, unique. On a clear day, you can see from here Guadeloupe and also Montserrat Island.
Before you start partying, make sure to try the local cuisine in a restaurant. Sunday barbecues with rum punch and local steel drum bands playing Caribbean music are unmissable when in Antigua. They are popular not only among the tourists but also the locals.
It is easy to see why a visit to Shirley Heights is one of the best things to do in Antigua and Barbuda.
If partying is what you are after, then you’ve come to the right place! The Sunday night parties at Shirley Heights lookout start at 7 PM and finish at 10 PM.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Admission to Shirley Heights also includes an entrance to Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour. However, for the Sunday party, you need to pay an additional admission fee.
The best time to visit Shirley Heights is either early in the morning or at sunset. Visit on Sunday night for the best party, or Thursday afternoon for quieter “Reggae Heights”.
2. Stingray City, Antigua and Barbuda
If you feel adventurous and want to meet some local marine life, then visit Stingray City. As you probably know, swimming with stingrays in Stingray City is one of the best things to do in Antigua and Barbuda. A few minutes speedboat ride from north of the island will bring you to a sandbank in the bay. Here, you can meet up face-to-face with hundreds of wild stingrays. Snorkel or swim in the shallow ocean with friendly creatures and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.
3. Nelson’s Dockyard National Park in Antigua and Barbuda
Not in a mood to get sand between your toes? Do not worry, Antigua has the culture to offer as well. Spend an afternoon exploring Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour. The dockyard named after Admiral Horatio Nelson was once a strategic docking point of the Royal Navy. It housed naval ships of all shapes and sizes in the past. Today Nelson’s Dockyard is a UNESCO listed cultural heritage site. It is also the only continuously operating Georgian dockyard in the world.
Wander around beautifully restored Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Visit the Dockyard Museum in the admiral’s former house and learn more about Antigua’s rich history and the forts. Admire Nelson’s telescope, ship models, maps and other interesting objects.
A visit to restored Nelson’s Dockyard is one of the best things to do in Antigua and Barbuda if you are a history lover. It has several colonial-era buildings, where are a museum, restaurant and also two hotels. Also, natural trails can bring you to hilltop forts with beautiful views.
4. Fort Berkeley
After exploring Nelson’s Dockyard, hike to nearby Fort Berkeley. A 10-minute walk will bring you to one of 20 fortresses that once protected the island. In the past, Fort Berkeley was a crucial part of Antigua’s defence. The fort used to protect the entrance to English Harbour. Even though Fort Berkeley is in ruins today, you can wander around the remains of its defensive walls. Imagine how it looked like when the British Navy protected the islands. See antique cannons, a gunpowder storehouse and enjoy beautiful views of nearby hills and beaches.
5. Pillars of Hercules
Another famous sight to witness in the Pillars of Hercules. Iconic rock formation formed from crashing waves and wind is near English Harbour. The Pillars of Hercules are best appreciated from a boat, especially in the late afternoon. Besides, there is also a beautiful hiking trail from Galleon Beach, which is located below Shirley Heights lookout. Do not forget to bring water and be careful, as it can be slippery here.
6. Take a boat to Barbuda from Antigua
Most visitors to Antigua spend their holiday only on the island, but that would be a mistake. Once here, do not miss a chance to visit Barbuda, the sister island of Antigua. The smaller and less developed neighbouring island has unspoiled white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. It also has caves and one of the largest colonies of frigate birds in the world. The island suffered significant damage by the hurricane in 2017. Despite this, there are regular day trips from Antigua to Barbuda, which support the island’s regeneration. Hence, take a 90-minute boat to Barbuda and see what the Caribbean used to look like before the development.
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7. Jolly Harbour
It is easy to see why Jolly Harbour on the southwest coast of the island is a popular place to visit in Antigua. It has a beautiful landscape that surrounds it, has plenty to offer, and it is an excellent base from where you can explore the island. Besides, this is where you will find a stylish marina often filled with yachts. Jolly Harbour also has a lovely waterfront area, numerous shops, restaurants and boat services. And, some of the best beaches on the island are only a short distance from here.
8. Jolly beach in Antigua
One of the best places where to soak up the beauty of the island is the Jolly beach. This picturesque beach located near Jolly Harbour is a haven for sunbathers and for a good reason. It has powdery white sands, turquoise waters and you can also enjoy water sports here. Also, Jolly beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Antigua. Many day tours leave from here.
9. Half Moon Bay
If famous beaches are not your thing, then head to Half Moon Bay on the south-eastern part of the island. White sandy beach with turquoise waters is a more off-the-beaten-path location on the Atlantic side. The waters on the south side of the bay are ideal for snorkelling and sunbathing. The north is excellent for surfing and windsurfing. It might not be easy to find, but a visit to Half Moon Bay with beautiful views is one of the best free things to do in Antigua and Barbuda.
10. St. John’s in Antigua and Barbuda
If you have a spare hour or two while visiting Antigua, make sure to take time to explore St. John’s. The colourful St. John’s is not only a cruise ship port of Antigua and Barbuda but also their capital. The central hub of activity on the island has many colourful colonial buildings and market stalls.
Shopping at Heritage Quay and touristy Redcliffe Quay are popular things to do in Antigua and Barbuda. Here, you can find many duty-free shops and souvenir stalls, cafes, and restaurants where you can taste some local dishes. Also, admire the Monument of Sir Vere Cornwall Bird, who was the first Prime Minister here. And if you are in St. John’s on Saturday morning, stop at the authentic market where you can buy some local spices and fresh fruits and vegetables.
11. Museum of Antigua and Barbuda
If you have enough time, pay a visit to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda. The museum might be small, but it can help you better understand the nation’s history and culture. Take a look at models of sugar plantations and exhibits displaying pottery and pre-Colombian artefacts. You can also find here fossils and corals, which are a million years old. The museum is located in one of the oldest buildings in the town, in the former St. John’s Courthouse.
A visit to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda is one of the best things to do on the islands if you love history. It is an excellent place which allows you to learn more about the history of both islands. The museum covers the geological origin, the colonial period, slavery and its journey to independence.
12. St. John’s Cathedral
Next, take a look at St. John’s Cathedral, which sits high atop a hill in the capital. This white Anglican church with twin towers has a distinct baroque flavour. The present church stands in the same place where two previous churches were destroyed due to the earthquake.
13. Fort Barrington
In addition to the museum, there are numerous forts on the island, which you can explore to learn more about Antigua’s rich history. One of them is Fort Barrington, located in the area of Five Islands.
See the fort, which was built by the British as a protection and defence from the French. The ruins of the only fort in Antigua that saw military action remind us of the island’s war history. The fort reporting ship movements served as a protection of nearby St. John’s Harbour.
Even though today Fort Barrington lies in ruins, it is still possible to visit it. Explore several rooms of overgrown ruins with rusting cannons. Fort Barrington, which sits on top of Goat Hill offers beautiful views of Deep Bay, the Caribbean Sea and Montserrat Island.
GOOD TO KNOW:
A climb to the remnants of Fort Barrington might be steep but is definitely worth a visit.
14. A catamaran day trip around Antigua
It is no surprise that sailing around the island is one of the best things to do in Antigua and Barbuda. Not only it allows you to see the island from the water, but you can also visit secluded places you would never find on your own. Sail along Antigua’s 365 beaches, and admire the island’s beautiful coastline. Also, you will visit an uninhabited Green Island where you can meet up the colourful marine life.
One of the best ways to see Antigua is from the water. Step on the board of a catamaran that goes right around the island. Enjoy a breath-taking coastline, deserted tropical islands and also snorkelling. Therefore, sailing around Antigua’s beautiful bays is one of the top attraction in Antigua and Barbuda.
15. Betty’s Hope
Antigua’s fertile soils were perfect for raising sugarcane crops.
Back on land, there are plenty more attractions to see in Antigua. One of them is Betty’s Hope, Antigua’s first sugar plantation. It might not have longer operating windmills, but this open-air museum is now a national heritage landmark. You can find it just outside of the village Pares.
Betty’s Hope played a crucial part in the history of Antigua and Barbuda for hundreds of years. The historic British plantation, which used to run on slave-power, influenced the lives of many people. Today, it is a testament to colonial history and slavery during the sugar era on the island.
Travel back in time and explore Betty’s Hope plantation with some of the original restored stone windmills, which once extracted the juice from sugarcane. Most of the other buildings are in ruins, though.
16. Devil’s Bridge, Antigua and Barbuda
Just a short drive from Betty’s Hope is Devil’s Bridge, located in a national park in the northeast. A natural limestone bridge developed by sea erosion has dramatic scenery and also dark history. This natural rock arch is a geological wonder where slaves committed mass suicide during the period of slavery. Due to rough waters near the bridge, the chance of survival was low. Today Devil’s Bridge is a popular attraction in Antigua and Barbuda. It offers beautiful views, rewarding hikes and excellent birding.
GOOD TO KNOW:
This natural rock arch can get very slippery from the powerful waves. Hence, walk across the bridge is at your own risk.
17. Visit Montserrat Island from Antigua and Barbuda
If you find yourself in Antigua, you have to make time to visit nearby Montserrat Island. It might be small, and maybe you have never heard about it before, but the island is, in fact, unique. Escape the buzz of Antigua and explore the pristine Caribbean island famous for its erupting volcano. Explore the modern-day Pompeii – the volcano-buried town and the island’s exclusion zone – it is safe these days.
Montserrat Island, half lush, half-deserted, is one of the least visited islands in the Caribbean. It offers unique attractions, pristine beaches and excellent snorkelling opportunities. Several tour companies offer day excursions to the island. But it is even better to visit the island for a few days. The trip from Antigua to Montserrat Island takes approximately 90 minutes by boat.
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18. Take a road trip around Antigua
If you aim to visit as much of the island as possible, renting a car is your best options. Most of the visitors spent most of their time by the pool, but that would be a mistake. Many of the hotels have car rental facilities, hence do yourself a favour and rent a car for a few days. Experience Antigua’s landscape away from the crowds and visit the famous sites before or after day-trippers leave the popular sights. And do not forget to leave a bikini near the top of your bag. There are countless beaches to choose from where you can cool off before you move to another place.
Renting a car and taking a road trip around the island is one of the best things to do in Antigua and Barbuda.
19. Fig Tree Drive, Antigua and Barbuda
When exploring the southern coast of the island, the journey continues through Fig Tree Drive. It is a particular highlight of the island because this steep road takes you through a rainforest. The volcanic hills surrounded by lush vegetation, towering coconut palms, old mango and banana trees offer unforgettable views. Fig Tree Drive is the most beautiful drive meander in Antigua, where you can also buy some fresh fruit from the local vendors.
Did you know that fig is the word for a banana in Antigua?
20. Donkey sanctuary in Antigua and Barbuda
One of the best things about Antigua is that the island offers something for everyone. Kids can spend the day feeding, petting and brushing donkeys who have found a loving home in a sanctuary. Donkey Sanctuary looks after injured and sick donkeys struggling during a drought in Antigua. Help take care of four-legged friends who were at risk and make a donation to support the sanctuary. Donkey sanctuary relies on donations and the sale of the items to survive. Also, it is possible to adopt one of the donkeys.
21. Antigua’s Black pineapple
Last but not least, a visit to the island could not be complete without tasting Antigua’s Black Pineapple. But do not let the name fool you. This tropical fruit with a distinctive flavour has golden-yellow colour. One of the best things about Antigua’s Black Pineapple is that it, is in fact, special. It is the world’s sweetest pineapple; it has a lower acidity than other types of pineapples. The locals say it is due to the unique environment in Antigua. The island with average rainfall has rich soil and endless sunshine.
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