12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Nassau
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On the northeast coast of New Providence Island, the city of Nassau is one of the most popular cruise ship ports in the Caribbean. It's also the capital and commercial hub of The Bahamas.
Nassau Harbor, protected by the tourist hot spot of Paradise Island, bustles with boat traffic. Several cruise ships at a time can dock at Prince George Wharf, disgorging waves of tourists into the city to explore its many attractions and things to do – from botanical gardens and an adrenaline-pumping water park to private island day trips, dreamy beaches, and duty-free shopping.
Despite the considerable development in recent times, you can still soak up some of Nassau's colonial charm. Wander the streets of downtown to witness this old-world elegance in the city's candy-colored colonial buildings, old forts, and grand hotels.
For ideas on the best places to visit in this buzzing Caribbean port, check out our list of the top attractions in Nassau.
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 Aquaventure 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, and the less adventurous can float around the park on a lazy river ride, over waves and rolling rapids. Spending a day here is one of the most popular things to do in the Bahamas.
Animal lovers can also swim with dolphins or join the Ultimate Trainer for a Day program at the resort's Dolphin Cay.
Atlantis is one of the best resorts in the Bahamas, and with its splashy attractions and colorful motifs, it rivals the top theme resorts in Las Vegas.
Address: 1 Casino Drive, Paradise Island
Official site: www.atlantisbahamas.com
2. Cable Beach
Despite all the resorts lining this iconic stretch of coastline, Cable Beach still manages to conjure the feel of a classic Caribbean beach. Soft white sand stretches to turquoise water, and sun loungers beckon along the shore, making this one of the top places to visit in Nassau. The clear waters are also safe for swimming.
Staying at one of the resorts here puts you steps from the freshly-raked sand – the Meliá Nassau Beach Hotel, Breezes, and Sandals Royal Bahamian all rim the sun-splashed shore. But even if you're not staying at one of the resorts, the beach is open to the public, so you can still spend a day here relaxing by the sea.
3. Paradise Island
Formerly called Hog Island, Paradise Island is a tourist hot spot. It's home to the massive Atlantis resort, as well as numerous other hotels, private homes, gorgeous beaches, and a golf course. No wonder cruise ship visitors make a beeline for this buzzing hub.
Besides the Aquaventure water park at Atlantis, prime attractions here include Marina Village, packed with shops, restaurants, and mega yachts, and the considerably more peaceful Versailles Gardens and French Cloister, extending from The Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort, Bahamas.
If basking on the beach is more your style, head to Cabbage Beach. Here, you'll find an idyllic slice of silky, white sand and crystal-clear water. Don your snorkel gear, and you can see schools of tropical fish in the shallows. And if you're looking for more adventurous things to do, try water-skiing or parasailing. Sun loungers and umbrellas are also available to rent.
Connected to the mainland by two bridges, Paradise Island runs parallel to the northern edge of New Providence Island and forms the harbor at Nassau. While you're here, try to snap a photo of Hog Island Lighthouse, marking the entrance to the harbor at the western tip of the island. It was constructed in 1817 and is one of the best known lighthouses in the Bahamas.
4. Blue Lagoon Island
Also known as Salt Cay, Blue Lagoon Island is one of the most popular things to do in Nassau on a cruise. This fun-packed private island lies about five kilometers from Nassau and offers a range of water sports, as well as close-up encounters with dolphins and sea lions.
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.
Official site: www.bahamasbluelagoon.com
5. Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Centre
Best known as the home of the marching flamingos, the Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Centre is set on four acres of tropical gardens. The flamingos entertain visitors by marching in formation to commands.
A fun spot to bring the whole family, 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. This is a great thing to do in Nassau with kids if you want a break from the beach.
Address: Chippingham Road, Nassau
Official site: www.ardastra.com
6. 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.
Looking for some Bahamian souvenirs? You 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
7. Clifton Heritage National Park
Clifton Heritage National Park offers a little something for everyone: history, culture, natural beauty – and tranquility.
Take a guided tour along the trails and soak up some history. Learn about the Lucayans, the Loyalists, and the Africans – three important cultures that make the Bahamas such a fascinating destination – and explore the remnants of villages, plantations, and slave quarters. You'll even find a medicinal garden here.
Wander the winding trails through different tropical ecosystems, from coastal wetlands and rocky cliffs to dunes, coral reefs, and an inviting slice of beach. Along the way, keep a look out for wading birds, seabirds, and songbirds.
Better still, don your snorkel gear and get out in the water. You can follow an underwater snorkel trail, admire the coral reef sculpture garden, and even see sunken film wrecks – the park was the setting for Jaws and other films.
Clifton Heritage National Park sits on the western tip of New Providence Island, about a 25-minute drive from Nassau. Many visitors book a guided tour here, but you can also visit on your own. Note, though, that there is an entry fee and a separate fee for snorkeling – bring your own snorkel gear if you want to save money renting it.
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. Exhibits also cover the infamous Blackbeard and women pirates.
This is a great thing to do for a couple of hours with the whole family, especially on a rainy day.
Address: King and George Streets, Nassau
Official site: www.pirates-of-nassau.com
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
Official site: www.nagb.org.bs
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 and tropical foliage.
The stairs lead 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 Street, Nassau
12. Downtown and Bay Street
A bustling mix of shops and restaurants, 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, and you'll also find the straw market and Pirates of Nassau Museum along this strip.
Street hawkers can be aggressive here, especially when a wave of tourists alights from a cruise ship, but a firm "no thank you" usually does the trick.
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 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 at Atlantis 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 a 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 The Beach at Atlantis, the "Value" tower of the resort.
- Budget Hotels: In the Bahamas, even budget hotels can be pricier than travelers expect, but the Bay View Suites Paradise Island is convenient for travelers who want to self cater and is only a 10-minute walk from Atlantis.
In a great central location, El Greco Hotel offers a pool and basic rooms across from the beach in town.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Nassau
- Sailing & Snorkeling: Nassau is all about life underwater, as well as on land, and a great way to explore this subterranean world is on a Nassau Sail and Snorkel Tour. Sail out to a fish-rich reef on a luxury catamaran and spend your time snorkeling among the colorful fish and coral. All your snorkeling gear, boat transportation, and refreshments are included on this fun three-hour tour.
- Scenic Underwater Bubble Adventure: 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 to group activities such as beach volleyball and snorkeling in the clear waters, or a combination of these options. All equipment is provided, as well as a delicious buffet lunch.