The largest of the three forts still on the island, Fort Charlotte was built by Lord Dunmore in 1789 to guard the western entrance to the harbor. Today, it offers a waterless moat, ramparts, canons, underground passages to dungeon rooms, and spectacular views of Paradise Island, the harbor and much of Nassau. Happily, the fort never fired a shot in battle. Costumed and trained tour guides, working for tips, are available to enrich your visit with tales of the history of the area.
Although great views abound in The Bahamas, some of the best can be had from the Cloisters and Versailles Gardens on the eastern end of Paradise Island, overlooking Nassau Harbor. The stone remains of a 14th-century French monastery traveled a long road to end up here above the sparkling waters. Newspaperman William Randolph Hearst imported the dismantled stones to the US in the 1920s, but they remained just random pieces of a giant puzzle until Huntington Hartford purchased them in the '60s and had them reassembled (without plans) on his oceanfront Ocean Club estate. These grounds of the One&Only Ocean Club resort are a popular location for weddings.
With just 65 steps spanning 102 feet, this is a steep ascent from Elizabeth Avenue to Fort Fincastle. Carved out of a limestone wall by 18th century slaves, the steps once afforded soldiers protected passage from the fort to the town. Named to honor the 65 years of Queen Victoria's reign, this is one of the most popular stops in Nassau.
Overlooking Nassau from its elevated position, this has been the official residence of the Governor General of The Bahamas since 1801. The architecture of the impressive pink and white mansion blends island and American colonial influences, and the size and location testify to the power and esteem granted to the personal representative of the queen. A 12-foot statue of Christopher Columbus is a silent sentinel in front, honoring the explorer's Bahamian landfall in 1492. Interior tours are not available, but try to time your visit to include the pageantry of the Changing of the Guard ceremony which takes place every other Saturday at 10am.
The Parish of Christ Church was established in the 1670s, soon after The Bahamas were granted to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina by the English with the mandate to establish churches in the islands. This is the fifth church to be on this or nearby sites. Another key date, though, is 1861 when the Christ Church Parish Church became a cathedral and consequently, Nassau became a city. The Gothic structure is built of local limestone and is known for its beautiful stained glass windows. Also notable are the needlepoint tapestries and kneelers.
Near the top of the Queen's Staircase at the highest point of the island stand the ruins of Fort Fincastle, built by Governor Lord Dunmore in 1793. Although small and never tested in battle, the fort provided an excellent vantage point for the lookouts posted to give warning of approaching pirates. Those panoramic views of the island, the harbor and surrounding waters are prized today by both tourists and locals. The fort's name honors Lord Dunmore's second title, Viscount Fincastle. The adjacent 126 foot water tower was built in the early 1900s and has also served as a lighthouse. The observation deck provides outstanding views of the area, offering true value for the minimal admission charge.
The Nassau Public Library and Museum building dates to the late 1790s when it was constructed as a jail. The octagonal design provided for eight individual cells on each of the first two floors, with each cell having the luxury of a window which allowed for cross-ventilation. Converted in 1873 to the first library on New Providence, the cells are now lined with an extensive collection of colonial documents and historic prints in addition to modern-day bestsellers. The veranda surrounding the third level cupola overlooks Nassau's business and shopping areas.
Centrally located in downtown Nassau, Parliament Square is the traditional center for government in the Bahamas. The pastel-hued buildings are good examples of colonial architecture from the early 1800s. Clustered around a marble statue of Queen Victoria are the Supreme Court, House of Assembly and Chambers of Parliament. Four times a year, the pomp attending the opening sessions for the court brings to mind the ties to London and the ceremonies of Parliament there.