Visit the Bahamas Historical Society Museum to gain greater insight into the fascinating past of this island nation. Exhibits cover more than 500 years of history, through artifacts, memorabilia, art, photographs and documents. The collection includes several intricate model ships that depict the maritime history of the islands, antique furniture, and archeological remains from the islands' earliest inhabitants. The museum is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Admission is a bargain at $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Travel tip: the museum is closed in July and August.
Housed in the beautifully restored 1860s-era Villa Doyle, the fledgling National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, which opened in 2003, has managed to collect a number of important works. Bahamian artists are the primary focus, but there are works by ex-pats as well, including some stunning Winslow Homer landscapes. The Gallery is open to the public daily except for Mondays and public holidays. The collection currently includes paintings, sculpture, textiles, ceramics and photography from the end of the 20th century to the present, from notables like Amos Ferguson and Antonius Roberts. While the art on display is typically not for sale, a gift store on site features an impression collection of handmade artwork, soaps and candles, quilts, sculptures, jewelry and hand-woven baskets.
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 is 1861, when Christ 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. The cathedral is open to visitors Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Services are held mostly in the evenings.
Junkanoo Beach, also known as the Western Esplanade, is not as sprawling as some of the other Bahamas beaches and, as a result, is much less crowded. Its proximity to Nassau's lively downtown makes it an easy option for vacationers who want to stay on foot. Junkanoo is a relatively quiet spot most of the year, but during spring break, watch out! One of the few beaches that has public toilets and changing facilities, it's popular among locals and vacationers alike. Nearby restaurants include Aqua at the British Colonial Hilton, Senor Frogs and the collection of seafood huts known at the Fish Fry.
Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Centre is the only zoo in the Bahamas. Nearly 300 animals call this four-acre refuge home: Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, Madagascar lemurs, monkeys, jaguars, reptiles and a vast array of birds. Some may share the walkways with you as you amble through the tranquil gardens. Although just a few miles from downtown Nassau, this place feels worlds away from the busy casinos and fast-paced nightlife of the island. Time your visit so that you see the flock of trained flamingos, the national bird of the Bahamas, march in unison. Combine a visit here with one to the Nassau Botanic Gardens across the street.
Aye, matey! In the late 1600s and early 1700s, the Bahamas gained notoriety as a haven for pirates, rogues and wild women. The stories of famous swashbuckling characters like Blackbeard and Annie Bonny are highlighted in this engaging museum. The attraction captures the feel of the era through interactive exhibits, including a pirate ship complete with crew! It's located within walking distance of the cruise ship port and from landmarks like the Nassau Straw Market. Kids especially will be entertained, but anyone with an imagination can have fun here. Enjoy a pint of ale in the pub afterwards, and don't forget to check out the loot in the gift shop.
With just 65 steps spanning 102 feet, this is a steep ascent from Elizabeth Avenue to Fort Fincastle and the Water Tower. Carved out of a limestone wall by 18th century slaves, the steps once afforded soldiers protected passage from the fort to the town. Plants line the sides of the steps and water cascades in to a pool below. Local fitness trainers use the steps as a part of their daily regiment and Nassau 9-5ers utilize the shortcut during the day to move to and from downtown, Nassau. Named to honor the 65 years of Queen Victoria's reign, this is one of the most popular stops in Nassau.
Junkanoo, a uniquely Bahamian spectacle, brings to mind the high energy, vibrant colors of Mardi Gras and the rhythmic sound of Brazil's Carnival. Its roots are in the 17th century, when slaves took to the streets to celebrate Christmas and New Year's. Junkanoo continues to draw the community together every December 26th and January 1st for an incredible pre-dawn procession down Bay Street. If you aren't lucky enough to be present for the actual festivities, be sure to stop by this museum to marvel at the elaborate (and often sizable!) costume pieces, masks and floats. The music of the Junkanoo drums is sure to boost your party spirit and get your toes tapping!
Overlooking Nassau from its elevated position, Government House 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.
John Watling's Distillery produces rum at the Buena Vista Estate in downtown Nassau. Tour the distillery, sample the rum and enjoy the view of the harbor from the historic estate, which often hosts weddings and other special events. Tours of the distillery are complimentary and museum-like, with very informative tour guides. John Watling's three varieties of rum (pale, amber and Buena Vista) are available for purchase in the store and in the signature cocktails made in the Red Turtle Tavern. The store, tavern and tour are open daily. Plan your visit for a Friday evening and take part in happy hour. Or visit the distillery on a rainy day.