Bridgetown is the capital and only city of Barbados. In 2014 it had a population of 110,000, about half the island's population, and many more commute in. The well-preserved centre is attractive and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main sights in the city are the Careenage (the original harbour around the river) and Garrison Savannah the 18th- and 19th-century military area a mile south. Bridgetown is a regular port of call for cruise ships and has good duty-free shopping.
The first English colony on the island was established in 1625 at St James Town seven miles north. The settlement here, from 1628, was initially called Indian Bridge for the structure found crossing the swamp at the river estuary. The colonists set about draining the swamp and found themselves with a better harbour, cultivation land and inland routes than St James Town, so the centre of island affairs shifted here. In 1667 Sir Tobias Bridge arrived as military commander, and it was thought a real smart idea to name the place Bridgetown.
At the centre it has remained, but only for a brief spell 1958-1967 was Bridgetown incorporated as a city. For the rest of its history it has simply been a constituency within the government of Barbados, though with the parliament, political base and big money concentrated here, many islanders might suspect that Bridgetown governs Barbados not the other way round.
Barbados Airport (BGI IATA) is usually shown on departure boards as Bridgetown but it's 8 miles west in Southern Barbados. Most tourists are bussed straight to their beach hotels and don't arrive via the city.
Cruise ships dock at Bridgetown Harbour a mile north of the centre. A swarm of touts, taxis and minibuses await them but the harbour is walking distance to the centre.
Bridgetown is the hub for the island's cheap and convenient buses. Buses from the south coast and airport arrive at Fairchild Bus Terminal, next to O'Neal Bridge south bank of the river. Buses from the west coast arrive at Cheapside or Princess Alice bus terminals, on the north bank half a mile west of O'Neal Bridge. Almost all bus lines terminate in the city, but there are through services between Oistins to the southeast and Speightstown to the north.
The city centre sights are easy walks. The harbour and Mount Gay rum distillery to the north, and the Garrison Savannah area to the south, are only a mile or so out: but the sun is hot and the roads are busy with poor sidewalks, so take a bus for B$3.50.
- 1 The Careenage is the sheltered creek that was the island's original harbour, and the natural centre of the early town. The first British found a wooden bridge here built by the Arawaks; they replaced it, and its present incarnation is the pedestrianised Chamberlain Bridge. When the eminent Sir Tobias Bridge arrived as commander of local forces in 1667, shrewd islanders came up with a great new name for what they'd hitherto called "Indian Town". 19th- and 20th-century shipping outgrew the creek and a deep water harbour was built further north, so this area was preserved from later industry. It now houses restaurants, bars and shops, in what used to be warehouses and stores for ship supplies. The north bank carries the busy Wharf Road (traffic nowadays crosses on the O'Neal Bridge), the south bank is pedestrianised and the better for relaxing. Enjoy a rum on the waterfront, and recall that "careenage" means hauling a beached vessel over onto one side to scrape the barnacles off the hull: bottoms up! Things get out of hand if you attempt this manoeuvre with a big steel ship, so in the 19th century, they built Blackwoods Screw Dock, a mechanism for jacking-up and dry-docking vessels. It's now rusty and a bit forlorn but worth a look.
- 2 St Michael's Cathedral, ☏ . Rebuilt in 1789 after hurricane damage, and promoted to a cathedral in 1825 when the Anglican Diocese of Barbados was created, it's a pleasant coral-stone structure. Note the tower, 17th-century font, stain glass windows, and chapel. Sir Grantley Adams, the island's first Premier, is buried in the graveyard.
- 3 St Mary's Church, Suttle St, ☏ . Anglican church built in 1827 but there has been a church on this site since 1630. The elaborate font was a gift from a Jewish merchant in 1863.
- 4 Nidhe Israel Synagogue (בית הכנסת נדחי ישראל), Magazine Lane. It was built in 1654, so it's one of the oldest in the Americas. Jewish refugees arrived from Brazil in that era; they knew a lot about sugar production and helped the Barbados cane industry to get started. The synagogue was wrecked by a hurricane in 1831, rebuilt, but fell into disuse and was deconsecrated in 1929. It was on the verge of being demolished, but refurbished and services resumed in the late 20th century, though it's now primarily a museum. Excavation in 2008 revealed a 17th-century mikveh or ritual cleansing bath. M-F 9AM-4PM.
- Parliament, Broad Street (near Trafalgar Square). M W-Sa 10AM-4PM. The neo-Gothic parliament buildings are open to the public when parliament is in session. B$5.
- Broad Street, Swan Street and Cheapside Market are good areas for strolling.
- Ilaro Court, the official residence of the Barbados Prime Minister, is occasionally open for public visits. It's on Two Mile Hill at the eastern edge of the city.
South of centre
- 5 Garrison Savannah and St Ann's Fort is a historic district a mile south of city centre, transected by Highway 7. In the 18th and 19th century the whole area was a military base, centred on the Savannah, the parade ground and sports fields, which are now the island's racetrack. There are many attractive old buildings here, with the chief sights being the George Washington House and the Barbados Museum east of the highway, and St Ann's Fort and Needham's Point to the west. All the buses and minibuses from Bridgetown towards Oistins and south-side hotels run this way.
- 6 George Washington House (signposted from bus stop). M-F 9AM-4PM. The only overseas trip George Washington ever made was to Barbados, in 1751 aged 19, accompanying his older half-brother Lawrence who was seriously ill with tuberculosis. He stayed several weeks in this plantation-style mansion, fell ill himself with smallpox, but recovered to make his mark on history. His observations of Barbados farming methods, social structure and military defences were to serve him well when he returned to Mount Vernon, Virginia. The ground floor is reconstructed to that period, upstairs is an exhibition on island life over the centuries. The house backs onto that archaeologists' delight, a midden: the island's limestone gullies were long used as trash and dung heaps, so there's a rich mixture down there of Arawak fish-bone artefacts, plastic cups, broken buttons, and Washington's poxy poop. Beneath the house in 2011 were discovered tunnels, a star-burst of long, deep channels radiating from the Savannah, built circa 1820. They're said to be for drainage, but they're excessively elaborate for that simple task, up to 17 feet deep and half a mile long - maybe a work-creation Folly for the post-Napoleonic peace? There's a pleasant cafe. B$20 (for admission, basic tour B̩$30, extended tour B$111).
- 7 Barbados Museum, St Ann's Garrison, St Michael (jcn of Garrison Rd & Dalkeith Rd), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su 2PM-6PM. Housed in the former British Military Prison, this museum covers the emergence from the sea of this coral island, its indigenous peoples, the arrival of Europeans and African slaves, the colonial period, emancipation of the slaves, independence from Britain, and more recent history. Adult B$20, child B$10.
- St Ann's Fort: the Garrison area west of the highway remains a military base and is off limits, but a weekly guided tour (on Thursday) visits the historic sections. This takes in the Drill Hall, the cannon collection, and the weekly changing of the guard, dressed in natty Zouave uniforms.
- Needham's Point is the tip of land beyond the military base. It has a lighthouse, nowadays within the grounds of the Hilton Hotel; it's accessible to the public but you can't go inside it.
- 8 Wildey House, just south of the city limits off Errol Barrow Highway, is a Georgian mansion built circa 1760. You can visit downstairs M-F 8:30AM-4:30PM; free, donation appreciated. Upstairs are offices, the HQ of Barbados National Trust.
- Mallalieu Motor Museum is likewise just south of the city limits in Southern Barbados.
- 1 Mount Gay Rum Distilleries, Spring Garden Hwy, Saint Michael, ☏ , email@example.com. M-F 9:30AM-2:30PM, Sa (Nov-Apr) 10:30AM-2:30PM. The sugarcane is nowadays imported, but the rest of the process of making rum remains local. The basic tour is the "Signature tasting", B$40, 45 min, every hour, kids free. Pricier tours include transport, more rum, and meals.
- West Indies Rum Distillery, which makes Malibu liqueur, is on North Brighton Rd. It was sold in 2017 to Maison Ferrand and tours are only by special arrangement.
- The Shallow Draught is a small boat harbour just north of the cruise liner terminal and south of Mount Gay Distillery. Many boat trips sail from here, for sight-seeing, snorkelling, fishing, partying and so on - operators offer a mix of trips to capture the widest market and adapt to the seasons. Others sail from the Careenage, south or north bank of the river outlet. (Limited parking, so enquire about hotel pick-ups or take a cab.) Operators include Atlantis (see below), Tiami, Silver Moon, Cat and the Fiddle, Seaduced, Calabaza, Jolly Roger (below), Eclipse Fishing, Small Cats, Therapy Charters, IOU Charters, Legacy Fishing and Billfisher III.
- Atlantis Submarines, Shallow Draught, ☏ . Dive 150 ft below sea level in a real submarine - but with big wide windows for a great view of the marine life, corals and shipwrecks. Morning tours are recommended since the sea gets rougher as the day goes on, but they also do night dives. The standard tour is 45 min, allow two hours as a transfer boat takes you out to the sub. B$180 pp.
- 2 Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise, ☏ . Daily. A fun-filled pirate cruise that takes guests across Barbados to show sites from the island's history of piracy. Tour highlights include shipwreck snorkeling and sampling of the Jolly Roger Rum Punch.
- Scuba-diving: the island's scuba shacks are mostly based near sheltered Bridgetown, but will pick up from hotels along the south coast out to Oistins and the west coast up to Speightstown, and from the cruise ship terminal. There's a selection of reefs and wrecks around these coasts, so operators can vary the programme according to sea conditions. They all offer basic and specialty training courses, equipment hire, and packages for trained divers. For simplicity only the one- and two-tank prices are quoted below, but all have cheaper multi-dive packages. Diving is by small to medium boats, mostly two-tank dives, but from nearby sites they can drop off after a single dive. It's best to call ahead because when a cruise ship is in port, they may get booked out.
- Eco Dive, Cavens Lane, Careenage, Bridgetown, ☏ . M-Sa. One-tank dive B$150, 2-tank dives B$270.
- West Side Scuba, Boatyard, Hwy 7 (jcn Bay St & Wellington St), ☏ . Daily. One-tank dive B$160, 2-tank dives B$270.
- The Dive Shop, Ameys Alley, Upper Bay St, Saint Michael, ☏ . Daily. One-tank dive B$140, 2-tank dives B$240.
- Roger's Scuba Shack, Carlisle Bay (near jcn Hwy 7 & Jemmottts Lane), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa. Well-organised friendly outfit, Mark and George are the main men. One-tank dive B$140, 2-tank dives B$240.
- Barbados Blue Diving, Hilton Hotel (Needham's Point, see "sleep" marker), ☏ , email@example.com. Daily. One-tank dive B$160, 2-tank dives B$270.
- The only out-of-town operator is Hightide Watersports based at Holetown, see Western Barbados#Do.
- Cricket: 3 Kensington Oval, President Kennedy Drive, ☏ . West Indies play as a combined team for international games. These are staged across the Caribbean and will usually include games here, in a variety of formats. Barbados also plays as a nation in Caribbean tournaments, and Barbados Tridents play T20 in the Caribbean Premier League. For tickets see the West Indies Cricket website. The Oval, capacity 28,000, is sometimes used for other sports, rock concerts and so on but is primarily a cricket ground. It hosted its first international in 1895; in 2007 it was extensively redeveloped with the opening of the new "3 W's" stand and Sir Garfield Sobers Pavilion.
- Go to the races at Garrison Savannah Racetrack (one mile south of centre on Hwy 7). This is a six-furlong clockwise (right-hand turning) grass track for flat racing, on the former parade ground of the 18th- and 19th-century military base. Notable fixtures are the Barbados Gold Cup (late Feb/early Mar, 8.95 furlongs) and the "Triple Crown" of the Barbados Guineas (mid-April, 7.8 furlongs), Midsummer Creole Classic (early July, 9 furlongs) and Barbados Derby (early Aug, 10 furlongs).
- Several vendors sell tourist kitsch (sea shells, beads) on the Careenage at the south end of Constitution Bridge, next to Independence Arch.
- There are numerous stores (including Cave Shepherd, the Macy's of Barbados) on Broad Street, especially for jewellery, and offer duty-free prices.
- Swan Street, a pedestrian mall, has stores selling cheap clothes.
- Waterfront Cafe, The Careenage, Bridgetown, ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-10PM. Set on the cool side of The Careenage, Waterfront Cafe is an excellent place to sample Bajan cuisine washed down with a rum punch or Banks on tap. Live music every night. Fast food it's not - relax, you're in the Caribbean. B$15-50.
- 1 Harbour Lights, Marine Villa, Bay Street. This has three aspects. By day it's a beach-club, B$20 entry, for cruise passengers and others who don't have a hotel beach. Another B$20 gets you a snorkelling trip with the turtles. On M & W evenings there's a dinner show, B$190, steel bands and all the rum you can handle. And W & F evenings it's a nightclub.
- 1 Radisson Aquatica Resort Barbados, Aquatic Gap, Bridgetown (just north of Garrison Savannah), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. 4-star hotel, building is tired but good reviews for location, views and services.
- 2 Hilton Barbados, Needham's Point, St Michael, Bridgetown, ☏ . Boxy 4-star hotel, wide range of facilities, gets very mixed reviews for quality of rooms and services.
- Sweetfield Manor is an upscale B&B on Brittons Ridge, northeast of the Garrison Savannah. It was built in the 1900s by a Danish shipping magnate and is occasionally open for public tours.
Embassies and High Commissions
- Canada, Bishop's Court Hill, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
- United Kingdom, Lower Colleymore Rock Road, ☏ . M-Th 9AM-4PM, F 9AM-1PM.
- United States, Wildey Business Park (one mile east of centre), ☏ . M-F 8AM-4:30PM. As well as Barbados, this embassy also provides services to US citizens in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Barthélemy, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, French St. Martin, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- Other nations represented in town are Guyana, New Zealand and Uruguay. A mile or so south along the beach strip are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, European Union, People's Republic of China, and Venezuela.
- All the island public transport converges on Bridgetown, so you can reach anywhere on the island, though services are infrequent on the less-populated east coast.
- Leaving Barbados means a trip to the airport, unless you've come by cruise ship or your own boat.