11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Nassau
On the northeast coast of New Providence Island, the city of Nassau is the capital and commercial hub of the Bahamas and one of the most popular cruise ship ports in the Caribbean. Nassau Harbor, protected by Paradise Island, bustles with traffic, and several cruise ships at a time can dock at Prince George Wharf, disgorging waves of tourists into the city to explore its many attractions, both natural and urban.
Pleasure seekers flock here from around the world to relax in the warm, tropical climate; bask on the creamy sands of Cable Beach; browse the duty-free downtown shops; and frolic in the glitzy, themed resorts. Despite the rampant development in recent times, Nassau is still steeped in colonial charm. Visitors can witness this old-world elegance in the city's candy-colored colonial buildings, old forts, and grand hotels.
See also: Where to Stay in Nassau
1 Atlantis Paradise Island
Atlantis, a luxury hotel, aquarium, water park, and entertainment complex is one of the top attractions in the Bahamas. The Atlantis Resort designers have gone to great lengths to recreate this fantasy world. Decorations reflect real and mythical creatures - seahorses, helmeted domes, and giant bronze doors. The marine habitat is one of the largest outdoor aquariums in the world. It specializes in native tropical species, and the tanks incorporate the ruins and sculptures of Atlantis. Children and adults alike will love the water park. Highlights include the Leap of Faith, which plunges riders down an 18-meter drop through a tunnel submerged in a shark-filled lagoon, while the less adventurous can float around the park on lazy river ride, over waves and rolling rapids. Animal lovers can also swim with dolphins or join the Ultimate Trainer for a Day program at the resort's Dolphin Cay. As a theme resort, Atlantis rivals the best of Las Vegas.
Address: 1 Casino Drive, Paradise Island
2 Cable Beach
Nassau's Cable Beach is so named because the submarine telegraph cable came ashore here. Despite all the resorts lining this iconic stretch of coastline, it still manages to conjure the feel of a classic Caribbean beach, with its soft white sand and turquoise waters. The Meliá Nassau Beach Hotel, Breezes, and Sandals Royal Bahamian all rim the sun-splashed shore. Since the beach must maintain public access, it is possible to spend a few hours wandering around the area and relaxing by the sea. The clear waters here are also safe for swimming.
3 Downtown and Bay Street
A bustling mix of shops, restaurants, and street hawkers, Downtown and Bay Street offers some of the best duty-free shopping in Nassau. Cruise ship passengers flock here to buy jewelry, T-shirts, and perfume. Visitors will also find the straw market and Pirates of Nassau Museum along this strip.
4 Paradise Island
Formerly called Hog Island, the tourist hub of Paradise Island is home to the massive Atlantis resort as well as numerous other hotels, private homes, and a golf course. This long cay, running parallel to the northern edge of New Providence Island, is connected to the mainland by two bridges and forms the harbor at Nassau. Hog Island Lighthouse, at the western tip of the island, was constructed in 1817 and marks the entrance to the harbor. Besides the waterpark at Atlantis, prime attractions here include Marina Village, with its shops, restaurants, and mega yachts, and the considerably more peaceful Versailles Gardens and French Cloister, extending from the exclusive One&Only Ocean Club resort. Entrance to the gardens is free.
5 Blue Lagoon Island
Also known as Salt Cay, Blue Lagoon Island is a private island about five kilometers from Nassau offering a range of watersports as well as close-up encounters with dolphins and sea lions. This is one of the most popular side trips from Nassau. At the island's three-acre marine mammal facility, animal lovers can participate in the Dolphin Encounters program to learn all about these friendly mammals and interact with them under the careful watch of professional trainers. Day trippers can also tour the island on Segways, relax in hammocks along the palm-lined beach, and snorkel and swim in the lagoon. Children will love the water park packed with inflatable toys.
6 Ardastra Gardens, Zoo, and Conservation Center
Best known as the home of the marching flamingos, the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo, & Conservation Center is set on four acres of tropical gardens. The flamingos entertain visitors by marching in formation to commands. This zoo specializes in the conservation of Caribbean species, including the endangered Bahama Parrot and several species of iguanas. Children love the petting zoo and hand-feeding the friendly rainbow lorikeets.
Address: Chippingham Road, Nassau
7 Nassau Straw Market
After the decline of the sponging industry in the mid 1940s, Bahamian women began braiding and weaving the leaves of palm trees and sisal plants into baskets and fishing traps as a way to boost their income. Today this tradition continues at the Straw Market in Nassau. Shoppers can buy woven items such as hats, mats, and baskets, as well as fine wooden carvings, colorful fabrics, and many other souvenirs. The historic market building was destroyed by fire in September 2001, but the market continues and has become a downtown institution.
Address: Downtown Bay Street, Nassau
8 Pirates of Nassau Museum
Though a little light on historical exhibits, Pirates of Nassau Museum is a wonderful way for children to learn more about Nassau's seafaring days. Visitors to the museum can explore a replica of the pirate ship Revenge and the shanty town of Nassau, see pirate paraphernalia, and interact with theatrical pirate hosts.
Address: King and George Streets, Nassau
9 National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
Housed in the lovingly restored Villa Doyle, a large historic Neoclassical mansion, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas is the most important art institution in the country. The oldest section, looking toward the harbor to the north, was built in the 1860s by William Henry Doyle, Chief Justice of the Bahamas. The southern wing was added in the 1920s by Sir Walter K. Moore. The impressive collection includes paintings, sculpture, ceramics, photography, and textiles from Bahamian artists, spanning the early 20th century to the present day.
Address: Villa Doyle, West and West Hill Street, Nassau
10 Queen's Staircase
Cut by slaves into solid limestone in the late 18th century, the 66 steps known as the Queen's Staircase gave troops protected access to Fort Fincastle. More than a century later, the staircase was named to honor Queen Victoria and her role in abolishing slavery in the Bahamas. Today, visitors can appreciate this amazing feat of construction as they climb the steep staircase, now flanked by a cooling cascade, to Fort Fincastle, the highest point on the island. Built by Lord Dunmore in 1793, the fort is shaped like the bow of a boat and affords panoramic views of Nassau and the ocean beyond.
Address: Elizabeth Ave, Nassau
11 Government House
Built in 1801 and renovated after the 1929 hurricane, this magnificent conch-pink mansion on top of Mount Fitzwilliam is the official residence of the Governor General of the Bahamas. Constructed of stone and supported by ionic columns, the structure is an impressive example of Georgian Colonial architecture. A statue of Christopher Columbus, dating from 1830, stands at the entrance. Today, visitors can stroll around the complex and enjoy beautiful views of the bay and Paradise Island. Children will enjoy watching the changing of the guard ceremony, which takes place at Government House twice a month.
Address: Duke St, Nassau
Where to Stay in Nassau for Sightseeing
For first time visitors to Nassau, the best places to stay for sightseeing are on Paradise Island near Atlantis, one of the top attractions in Nassau, and along the white sands of Cable Beach. Downtown Nassau is also packed with attractions, such as the straw market, duty free shops, and the National Art Gallery. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these areas:
- Luxury Hotels: On Paradise Island, The Cove Atlantis, Autograph Collection is the most luxurious tower of the Atlantis Resort. Guests here score entry to an exclusive adults-only pool and beach club as well as all the other fun Atlantis attractions. The only beachfront hotel in the heart of Nassau, the British Colonial Hilton Nassau scores top points for its convenient location near the straw market and other downtown attractions. Its impressive pool and private white-sand beach regularly play host to cruise ship day trippers. For couples who prefer to stay on famed Cable Beach, Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island is a prime pick with its private island and all-inclusive rates.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Adjacent to the Atlantis, the Comfort Suites is one of the most popular mid-range hotels on Paradise Island, thanks to its good-value rates that include entry into the Atlantis attractions. Right on Cable Beach, the all-inclusive Breezes Resort and Spa Bahamas is a great option for those seeking a little sun, sand, and sea without small children - only kids 14 years and older are allowed. Tourists visiting Nassau for the popular Atlantis water park, Aquaventure, are right near all the action at the Atlantis Beach Tower, Autograph Collection, the "Value" tower of the resort.
- Budget Hotels: In the Bahamas, even budget hotels can be pricier than travelers expect, but the Sunset Resort Bahamas, across from the beach in downtown Nassau, draws rave reviews for its friendly staff and bright, beachy feel, while El Greco Hotel offers a pool and basic rooms across from the beach in town. On Paradise Island, BEST WESTERN Bay View Suites is convenient for travelers who want to self cater and is only a ten-minute walk from Atlantis.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Nassau
- Underwater Adventures: Nassau is all about life underwater as well as on land, and a great way to explore this subterranean world is on a Nassau Snorkel Bahamas Adventure. All your snorkeling gear, boat transportation, and even pickup and drop off at your hotel are included on this fun tour, so you can relax and enjoy seeing the beautiful fish; coral; shipwrecks; and even sharks, if you choose. This tour offers the flexibility of a morning or afternoon departure. If you prefer to keep your hair dry while you view the underwater sights, the Nassau SUB Bahamas Adventure is a great choice. Both non-swimmers and swimmers are given a safety briefing and demonstration of the SUB (Scenic Underwater Bubble) equipment, which allows you to glide through the coral gardens and see the marine life up close in your own self-propelled submarine. This five-hour tour also includes convenient round-trip transportation from your hotel.
- Day Trips: From Nassau, a day trip tour is a convenient and stress-free way to visit some of the smaller Out Islands without worrying about boat rental and navigating your way in unfamiliar waters. The full-day Exuma Powerboat Adventure whisks you to some idyllic smaller islands to see iguanas and snorkel with stingrays and sharks. Lunch and all the equipment is provided as well as pickup and drop off from your Nassau hotel. If you have less time, the 5.5-hour Rose Island Day Trip offers you a choice of activities, from basking on the beach of this beautiful island and group activities such as beach volleyball to snorkeling in the clear waters, or a combination of these options. All equipment is provided as well as a delicious buffet lunch.