12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Antigua and Barbuda
Former British colonies in the eastern Caribbean, Antigua and Barbuda boast some of the most ravishing beaches in the world. Antigua proudly proclaims it has "a beach for everyday of the year," and Barbuda, Antigua's sleepy sister island, is also blessed with some pristine stretches of pink-tinged sand sprinkled with chic resorts. Not surprisingly, many movie stars and moguls jet here to swim, surf, sun, and swoon on the dazzling shores.
Antigua draws the majority of visitors. Many arrive at the cruise ship port in the colorful capital of St. John's where shopping, museums, and historic buildings are the prime draws. The island preserves its history as a strategic naval port. English Harbour, on the southeast coast, is home to Nelson's Dockyard National Park, a restored Georgian shipyard with surrounding nature trails and the ruins of historic forts. Peaceful Barbuda has less than 2% of the islands' combined population. Seclusion seekers and nature lovers cherish the tranquility, while birders love the fabled frigate sanctuary. Water sports abound on both islands; diving, swimming, fishing, sailing, and windsurfing are all popular, and golfers will find a couple of scenic courses to play on Antigua.
1 Half Moon Bay, Antigua
At the southeastern end of Antigua, tranquil Half Moon Bay is fringed by one of Antigua's best beaches. Protected by a reef, this idyllic crescent of fine white sand and azure sea, backed by natural foliage, offers excellent snorkeling on calm days. When the wind is up, the surf can be rough. A small restaurant serves snacks just off the beach.
2 St. John's, Antigua
St John's, the capital city and cruise ship port of Antigua and Barbuda, is a kaleidoscope of candy-hued colonial cottages and market stalls piled high with tropical fruits and flowers. Looming above the skyline are the white neo-Baroque towers of St. John's Cathedral, one of the city's major attractions. For an overview of the island's history, many first-time visitors head to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in the 18th century former Court House. Shopping is also excellent in St. John's. Duty-free shops abound at Heritage Quay, souvenir stalls beckon from touristy Redcliffe Quay, and the lively harborside public markets are the place to be on Fridays and Saturdays. For city and harbor views visit the ruins of 18th century Fort James and Fort Barrington, built to protect St. John's from the French.
3 St. John's Cathedral, Antigua
A city landmark, St. John' Cathedral, topped by Baroque-style towers, has experienced many reincarnations. Originally consecrated as a wooden structure in 1683, the Anglican cathedral was rebuilt from stone in 1745, then again in 1847 after earthquakes struck. Local lore states the carved figures of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist at the iron entrance gate originally adorned the masts of one of Napoleon's ships.
4 Museum of Antigua and Barbuda
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda traces the history of these islands from their geological origins to political independence in 1981. Housed in the museum is a full-scale replica of an Arawak dwelling, as well as portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds, King George III, and Queen Caroline. The museum is located in the former 18th-century Courthouse in St John's.
5 Dockyard National Park, Antigua
One of Antigua's most popular attractions, Nelson's Dockyard National Park, in English Harbour, is home to Antigua's former 18th-century British Naval Dockyard as well as restored historic buildings and some of the island's best nature trails. The restored marina with beautiful old stone warehouses encompasses hotels, restaurants, shops, galleries, and museums. Both the Admiral's House Museum and Dockyard Museum trace the site's history from the 17th century to the present. After touring the Dockyard, visitors can enjoy panoramic island views from the ruins of Fort Shirley, perched on the hilltop at Shirley Heights, or Fort Berkeley, at the west entrance to the harbor. The park is also home to 18th century Clarence House, originally built for the future King William IV, as well as the Dow's Hill Interpretation Centre, along the Lookout Trail near Shirley Heights.
6 Dickenson Bay, Antigua
In the far north of Antigua, Dickenson Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island. Fronted by a long stretch of white sand beach lined with resorts and alfresco restaurants, the bay is great for swimming and offers the spectrum of water sports. Activity booths are sprinkled along the beach. The bay is also the hub for Antigua's windsurfing scene.
7 Indian Town National Park, Antigua
Along the rugged northeast coast, the dramatic scenery of Indian Town National Park features some rewarding hikes and excellent birding. More than 36 avian species roost in the park among the acacia trees, while the eastern point of the park is believed to have been an Arawak campsite. The park also encompasses the natural limestone Devil's Bridge sculpted over the centuries by the pounding surf. At high tide, waves force geysers of water through blowholes in the nearby rock.
8 Fig Tree Drive
Along Antigua's southern coast, Fig Tree Drive winds through rainforest, farmlands, and fishing villages. This picturesque drive offers a glimpse of local life. Banana trees (called "figs" by the locals), mango trees, and coconut palms dot the landscape, as well as the ruins of sugar mills. Look for the roadside stands selling fresh-picked fruit. Along the route, the Fig Tree Studio Art Gallery sells vibrant local art and zipline rainforest tours are nearby.
9 17 Mile Beach, Barbuda
Those who stroll Barbuda's 17 Mile Beach, will probably never see a more ravishing stretch of sand, nor another footprint. Lapped by pale aqua seas, this stunning stretch of pink-tinged sand separates the Barbuda lagoon from the Caribbean sea, and pleases even the most hardened beach connoisseurs. Facilities are few, if non-existent so visitors should bring their own supplies.
10 Frigate Bird Sanctuary, Barbuda
Barbuda's Frigate Bird Sanctuary is a haven for birders. Accessible only by boat, the bird sanctuary lies in Barbuda's northwest lagoon and is home to one of the Caribbean's largest nesting colonies of frigate birds. These large sea birds are known for their bright red gullets and one-and-a-half meter wingspan. The reserve also attracts about 150 other species of birds such as herons, cormorants, and pelicans.
11 Martello Tower, Barbuda
On the beach at River, a few miles south of the village, Martello Tower (River Fort), was built by the British in the early 19th century on the site of a previous fort that was probably constructed by the Spanish. Today the thick stone walls and gun platform of this small defensive fort are mostly intact, and the ruins are attached to the remains of the previous fort. The tower is the highest building in Barbuda and an important landmark on the island.
12 Darby Sink Cave, Barbuda
The Darby Sink Cave, caused by dissolution of the limestone, is one of Barbuda's most intriguing natural features. Although it is often described as a cave, the site is actually a sinkhole more than 100 meters in diameter. In contrast to the dry surrounding brush, the lush vegetation flourishing inside resembles a rainforest with ferns, tall palmetto palms, and thick lianas lacing around the tree trunks. Many birds can be spotted amid the foliage. Dripping water has also created stalagmites under the overhang.