Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bridgetown
Bridgetown, the bustling capital and sole city of Barbados, was named for the native Amerindian bridge, which crossed the mouth of the Constitution River. Today the river, also known as the Careenage, slices Bridgetown in two and is mainly used for small pleasure craft. Mega cruise ships dock at an artificial port to the west of town. Steeped in British colonial history, Bridgetown exudes a distinctly English sensibility with a laidback West Indian feel. Island lovers come here from around the world to browse the duty free shops on Broad Street, frolic in the azure waters of Carlisle Bay, and explore the city's museums. History buffs will also enjoy the Barbados Garrison, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the city's magnificent colonial buildings.
Bridgetown overlooks Carlisle Bay, a natural harbor and the setting for many water sports. Popular Pebbles Beach, on the south side of the bay, offers a pleasing crescent of soft white sand and calm waters for swimming. At the nearby Boatyard Beach Club, guests can rent sun lounges and umbrellas, dine at the beachside restaurant, and participate in the many water-based activities on offer. Carlisle Bay Marine Park is a popular spot for scuba diving with many relics from old shipwrecks scattered across the ocean floor.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Barbados Garrison was the largest in the British colonies during the 18th and 19th centuries. Established in 1780 as the military headquarters for the Imperial Forces, the garrison is now home to the Barbados Defence Force and the area encompasses many intriguing historic attractions. Visitors can tour St. Ann's Fort, built in 1705; George Washington House, a Georgian-style mansion where the former American President stayed in 1751; and the Barbados National Armoury with a large collection of 17th-century iron cannons. Also within the garrison area, the Barbados Museum traces the island's history through its many excellent exhibits and galleries. The oval-shaped green-space of the Savannah once served as parade grounds, but is now a popular park, jogging track, and venue for sporting events and horse races.
At the top of Broad Street, the magnificent neo-gothic style Parliament Buildings, also known as the "Public Buildings", are important landmarks in Bridgetown. The buildings were constructed of coral limestone between 1870 and 1874 to house the Barbados Parliament, the third oldest in the Commonwealth. Bejeweled with beautiful stained glass windows depicting British monarchs, the east wing is home to the Senate and House of Assembly, while the west wing, with the clock tower, houses government offices, the National Gallery, and the Parliament Museum. At the museum, visitors can learn about the democratic heritage of Barbados from settlement to Independence. Museum entry includes a tour of the beautiful parliament buildings.
National Heroes Square
Tucked between the Inner Basin of the Constitution River and the Parliament buildings, National Heroes Square (formerly called Trafalgar Square) is home to three significant sculptures. The first, an obelisk-shaped cenotaph, is a memorial to the Barbadians killed in the two World Wars. The second, a bronze statue of Lord Horatio Nelson, marks the city center and was erected in 1813, before the famous Nelson's column at London's Trafalgar Square. The third structure is a clamshell-shaped fountain to commemorate the first piped water in Bridgetown.
St. Michael's Cathedral
Two blocks east of National Heroes Square, St. Michael's Cathedral was constructed of coral stone in 1789 after a hurricane destroyed the original wooden building dating from 1665. The church was elevated to cathedral status in 1825 with the arrival of Bishop William Harte Coleridge. Adorned with beautiful stained glass windows, the cathedral also features a tower and many arched windows. Highlights in the interior are the baptismal font dating to the 1600s and the roof over the altar resembling an inverted boat prow.
Nidhe Israel Synagogue
Dating from 1654, Nidhe Israel Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere. In 2011, the synagogue was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The current structure was erected in 1833 after a hurricane destroyed the original building. Interesting features of the synagogue include the marble accents and mahogany furniture, while the tombstones in the adjacent cemetery date from the 1630s. At the small museum, visitors can learn about the fascinating history of the Jewish community in Barbados and the key part they played in the island's lucrative sugar industry. The synagogue was abandoned in 1929, but saved and restored by the Jewish community in 1983.
To the east of downtown, along St. Michael's Row, Queen's Park was once the grounds of the 18th-century home of the commander of British Troops in Barbados. Today the park is a venue for many local festivals and events while the restored Georgian-style Queen's Park House serves as a theater and art gallery. To the east of the building, is a children's playground around a giant baobab tree with an 18-meter circumference. Some sources say the tree came from Africa on a slave ship. Other sources report that the baobab's seed floated to the island and the tree is more than 1,000 years old. Also in the park, visitors will find a pool and fountain, a gazebo, and the Barbados Solar House demonstrating renewable energy.
Housed in a 19th-century British military prison at St. Ann's Garrison, the Barbados Museum offers something for everyone. In addition to displays on Amerindian and African culture, the museum exhibits European decorative arts, a children's gallery, and a fine collection of antique maps, prints, and paintings. The natural history section highlights the island's ecology with exhibits on the flora and fauna of Barbados, and the museum also houses a research library, gift shop, and cafe.