18 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Barbados
This tiny nation in the Lesser Antilles is an extraordinary jewel in the Caribbean. The soft-sand beaches and turquoise water create postcard-perfect scenes but the friendly Barbadians are what truly set this island apart. Colonized by the British, Barbados is English speaking and has a distinctly British vibe. Cricket, horse racing, polo, high tea, and driving on the left side of the road are all part of the experience. Top attractions in Barbados, apart from the outstanding beaches, include caves, historic sites, gardens, plantations, a wildlife preserve, and numerous points of interest in the capital city of Bridgetown. Some of the most popular things to do involve the sea. Snorkeling, diving, swimming, fishing, and other excursions are readily available. For ideas on how to spend your time, see our list of attractions and things to do in Barbados.
1. The Beaches of Carlisle Bay
One of the most Instagram-worthy destinations in Barbados is Carlisle Bay on the edge of Bridgetown. Beautiful blond beaches and long stretches of crystal-clear turquoise waters make this one of the most inviting areas to dip your toes in the sea or set up a beach chair. Pebble Beach is one of the best stretches along the bay, but Brownes Beach and Bayshore Beach are also enticing spots. You can wade or swim in the placid water, rent a stand up paddleboard, or simply relax on the beach. If you head down to Pebble Beach at dawn, you can see the racehorses getting a morning bath in the ocean and watch the sunrise. Washrooms and showers can be found at the top of the beach. If you are staying at the Hilton Barbados Resort or the Radisson Aquatica Resort, this beach is just outside your door.
2. Downtown Bridgetown
Bridgetown, the nation's capital, is home to a wealth of attractions, but it's also simply a beautiful place to wander around. The landmark Parliament Buildings, easily recognizable by the neo-Gothic style architecture and clock tower, and the National Heroes Square are two of the main sites in the city center. Across the street from the Parliament Buildings is the lovely Chamberlain Bridge, with views over the Constitution River, known more commonly as The Careenage. From the bridge, you can see yachts docked along the waterway and the colorful buildings that line the waterside walkway.
From here, wander inland to find the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, St. Michael's Cathedral, and the 1,000-year-old baobab tree in Queen's Park. Also allow some time to walk around the Garrison Historic Area to see George Washington House and the Garrison Tunnels, the Guard House, and the Barbados Museum. For a more complete guide to exploring the capital, see our article on the top attractions in Bridgetown.
3. Bathsheba Bay
Located along the rugged Atlantic coast, Bathsheba Bay offers a dramatic glimpse into the erosive power of the ocean. The beach here, popular with surfers but not a place for swimming, is dotted with huge rock formations created by the remains of ancient coral reefs undercut by the relentless waves. The water in the bay is shallow, and the surf creates a white lather, which led to the name Soup Bowl, a term well-known internationally in the surfing community.
As you arrive at Bathsheba Bay, the road descends from a high plateau down to the ocean and runs along the waterfront. You can see the remains of a staircase and structure in the surf and a little farther on is a restaurant and vendors selling goods. This is a good place stop and walk down to the beach or have lunch. If you are looking for an alternate lunch spot, continue beyond this stretch and up the hill to The Atlantis Hotel and dine in the hotel's restaurant. Just past the Atlantis, the De Garage restaurant is a more casual option. You can also combine a visit to Bathsheba with stops at the nearby Andromeda Tropical Botanic Gardens and the Flower Forest.
Location: Saint Joseph
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Bathsheba
4. Animal Flower Cave
At the northern tip of Barbados, the Animal Flower Cave is one of the top places to visit, not just for the cave, but for the dramatic views from the lookout above. From February to April, you also have a chance of seeing humpback whales from the cliff-side above the cave. Cave tours are only 15 to 20 minutes and are led by a guide. A short staircase takes you down into this unique cave. Large natural openings offer windows out to the ocean, and pools formed by the spray from waves act as reflecting ponds. These openings also provide plenty of light and remove the claustrophobic feeling often found in dark caves.
On the cliff-side above the cave is a restaurant and a few vendors set up in stalls selling trinkets. Views from the restaurant are incredible. Above a portion of the restaurant is an open-deck viewing area, popular when the whales are frequenting the area. A lookout area to the right of the cave entrance reveals the drama of the coastline. Huge waves crash against the eroding cliffs and blast spray high into the air.
If you are looking for more of a true caving experience and something more adventurous, Harrison's Cave is the place to go. Here, you can put on your helmet and headlamp and go exploring.
5. St. Nicholas Abbey
The Jacobean great house at St. Nicholas Abbey was built in 1658, and the tales that have ensued over the years around the abbey are as intriguing as the plantation itself. Despite the name, the abbey was a plantation and never had any religious association. The property changed hands several times over the centuries but is today owned by Larry and Anna Warren, who purchased the property in 2006. They have restored the estate and operate it as a sugar plantation. Visitors can tour the property to see antiques, learn about the workings, and explore the grounds, which generally takes a couple of hours.
Nearby is Cherry Tree Hill, a popular lookout area with views over the island and out to the ocean on the Atlantic side. If you have time, and especially if you are not visiting places like Farley Hill National Park or Welchman Hall Gully, which have their own beautiful views, it's worth stopping to have a look.
Address: Cherry Tree Hill, St. Peter
Official Site: http://www.stnicholasabbey.com/
6. Crane Beach
Crane Beach is a beautiful soft-sand beach tucked in a cove on the Atlantic coast, surrounded by high natural walls. The white sand, tinged with a hint of pink, looks out over blue and turquoise waters, while offshore waves break on the reef. The beach was once a boat landing where cargo was unloaded and lifted by a crane set atop the cliff.
Perched like a castle on a cliff above the beach is the luxury Crane Resort. If you are a guest of the resort or stopping in for a meal, you can access the beach from the resort via a lift or a long set of stairs. Public access and car parking for the beach can be found at the opposite end of the beach around a small headland, off a narrow road. From the roadside parking, you walk down a short set of stairs and then make your way along a rock pathway through the boulder-strewn shoreline to the beach.
Address: Crane Bay, Saint Philip
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Barbados
7. Barbados Wildlife Reserve
The Barbados Wildlife Reserve is a great place to see and enjoy some of Barbados' most notable creatures, including the island's famous green monkeys. You can often see the monkeys interacting with other wildlife at the reserve, entertaining themselves by pestering tortoises and other inhabitants. Shaded trails meander through the mahogany forest in this peaceful park. Agoutis, monkeys, deer, tortoises, and iguanas wander about freely within the confines of the facility, providing great opportunities for photography and close-up encounters. Some of the other residents include parrots, caiman, maras, and snakes.
Across the parking lot from the reserve is the Grenade Hall Forest and Signal Station. Admission to the zoo includes entrance to this attraction as well.
Address: Farley Hill, St. Peter
Official Site: www.barbadoswildlifereserve.com
8. Friday Fish Fry at Oistins
If you're wondering what to do in Barbados at night, Oistins' Friday Fish Fry is the answer. Every Friday night, you can try locally caught fish fresh off the grill. Dozens of vendors set up here and offer a full range of fish and side dishes. Locals and tourists come to enjoy the food and atmosphere. Picnic tables or plastic tables under tents serve as makeshift restaurants. In front, along the ocean-side, vendors sell jewelry and trinkets. If you are in Barbados on a Friday night, this is something worth experiencing. It's also one of the few free things to do in Barbados. The fish fry starts around 6pm and runs well into the evening.
Location: Oistins, Barbados
9. Farley Hill National Park
Like an undiscovered Mayan ruin in the jungle, the remains of the great house on Farley Hill are overgrown with trees and vines, creating a scene perhaps more dramatic than when the hall was in its full glory. The house is believed to have been built in 1818 and occupied for many years before falling into a state of decay by the 1940s. It was restored in the mid-1950s to be used as a filming site, but the materials used were inflammable and the great hall was destroyed in a fire. The government acquired the property and turned it into Farley Hill National Park in 1965. The 17-acre grounds, including the front garden and an area of mahogany trees in behind offer picnic tables in beautiful areas to relax. You can often see green monkeys lounging in the trees. The hall itself is completely fenced off, but the fence is extremely close to the structure allowing for plenty of opportunity to peer inside and see the interior arches.
Location: St. Peter
10. St. Lawrence Gap
St. Lawrence Gap, about 20 minutes from Bridgetown on the south coast, is a colorful 1.3-kilometer section of street known for its restaurants and shops. Most of the activity here happens in the late afternoon and into the night. As the evening goes on, the area becomes more and more lively. You can be the judge of what you are looking for. At the west end, where the street comes down to an ocean-side walkway, you can dine along the waterfront at places like Primo, with an indoor area and outdoor patio overlooking the ocean. Restaurants and other places in the center of the strip are much more casual, with street-side stools where you can watch the action.
11. Hunte's Gardens
Hunte's Gardens is the culmination of Anthony Hunte's vision and years of work creating this masterpiece. Set in a gully in the interior of the island, the gardens are laid out on terraced slopes with stairs and winding walkways meandering through the lush grounds. Shaded areas and open sunlit spaces allow for an assortment of species, ranging from huge palm trees to rare and exotic plants. Birds and animals also frequent the gardens.
Address: Hwy 3A, Coffee Gully, Saint Joseph
Official Site: huntesgardensbarbados.com
12. Welchman Hall Gully
The setting for this lush tropical garden and the natural feel are what sets it apart from many of the other gardens on the island. Lying in the remains of a series of collapsed caves, the gardens and trees surround you as you walk along the wide, wheelchair accessible path. Huge bamboo trees, flowering plants, a lovely pond, and the monkey play area, where you can often see green monkeys in the mornings when food is put out, are some of the most visible highlights. The garden is also home to endangered plants and animals and a couple of species of plants found only in Barbados.
A long set of stairs near the entrance leads to a high-point in the garden, with a beautiful view out over the lush hillside and beyond to the ocean. A covered shelter and benches make this a nice area to take a break after touring the grounds.
Address: Welchman Hall, Saint Thomas
Official Site: www.welchmanhallgullybarbados.com
13. Bottom Bay Beach
Bottom Bay, on the Atlantic side of Barbados, is a secluded golden-sand beach accessed via a long set of stairs and shaded by towering palms. Cliff walls line the beach on both ends, and the azure-colored water extends out to the reef, with the deep blue sea behind reaching out to the horizon. Even if you are not interested in spending time enjoying the beach, you can see the cove from the overlook to the south. A flat area offers views over Bottom Bay Beach, the ocean, and another beach in the opposite direction.
14. Richard Haynes Boardwalk
This 1.6-kilometer boardwalk running along Hastings Rocks links a string of beautiful beaches, including the popular Accra Beach. This is a pleasant area for a stroll, but you can also stop for a swim or enjoy some fine seaside dining. Along here, you'll find Tapas Restaurant and Naru Restaurant, two of the best restaurants in Hastings, and both have fabulous positions overlooking the ocean and beach.
15. Andromeda Botanic Gardens
Colorful brick walkways, stepping stones, and grass paths wind through these beautiful hillside botanical gardens. Tropical plants from all over the world are laid out in different zones creating small, intimate spaces. Some of the highlights are the palms, the rhododendrons, and an absolutely huge bearded fig. These trees once covered the island and were the inspiration for Portuguese sailors, who named the island "Barbados," meaning "bearded ones." From the highest level of the garden, you can see out to the ocean. Note that the trails here are uneven and, in some cases steep, making them inaccessible to visitors with mobility issues.
Andromeda Botanical Gardens uses only organic practices and participates in research organized by the University of the West Indies.
Address: Highway 3, Bathsheba
16. Sunbury Plantation
Sunbury Plantation offers a glimpse into the life of the early settlers. Built in approximately 1660 by Matthew Chapman, the mansion is today a museum featuring period pieces, including beautiful mahogany furniture and a collection of horse-drawn carriages. Visitors can tour every room on the guided tour. The plantation grounds recently underwent extensive renovations. The walkway and parking area are made of 200-year-old bricks, the gardens have been refurbished, and historical artifacts are sprinkled around the main building.
Address: 6 Cross Road, Saint Philip
17. Flower Forest
The Flower Forest is an unexpected treat in the hills of central Barbados. Colorful flowering plants and trees line the trails, and shade-covered benches provide places to sit and relax. Something is always in bloom in the forest, which encompasses 53 acres. From the high points are beautiful vistas over the lush hillside and beyond to the ocean. The road to the Flower Forest is narrow and hilly but it's paved and less daunting than it first appears.
Address: Richmond Plantation, Saint Thomas
18. Folkestone Marine Park & Museum
Located just outside of Holetown, the Folkestone Marine Park & Museum is a multipurpose park where visitors can go snorkeling, diving, or simply enjoy the beach and playground. The marine park is best known for the Stavronikitia, a purposefully sunk ship resting in 120 feet of water about a half-mile off shore. The ship is a popular dive site with experienced divers, and local dive shops will help arrange trips. More commonly, people come here to snorkel around the inshore reef to see local marine life. Since the water here is usually calm, it's also a popular area for paddleboarding and kayaking. On shore, the park is home to a children's playground, tennis courts, picnic tables, and a waterfront boardwalk. Also on-site is the Folkestone Museum with exhibits and aquariums.
Location: Holetown, St. James Parish
Exploring Barbados by Car or on a Tour
Although Barbados is only 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, the roads can be slow, and exploring the island takes time. Some attractions are close to each other and can be visited easily in the same outing. It's best to get a Barbados tourist map showing the sites before you head out.
The Animal Flower Cave is located at the far northern tip of the island. Heading south from here, the first set of attractions you come to are: St. Nicholas Abbey, Cherry Tree Hill, the Barbados Wildlife Refuge, and Farley Hill National Park. A second cluster of attractions a little farther south are: Bathsheba Bay, Andromeda Botanical Gardens, Hunte's Gardens, Welchman Hall Gully, the Flower Forest, and Harrison's Cave. Heading farther south, on the southeastern shore, you'll find the spectacular Bottom Bay Beach and Crane Beach.
On the west side of the island is the Caribbean coast, with an endless string of picture-perfect beaches and calm waters, ideal for swimming. Along this coast, Holetown is an upscale community where you can stop for shopping or lunch.
Another way of seeing some of the highlights around Barbados is on a Best of Barbados Tour. This is a seven-hour tour hitting some of the highlights, like Bathsheba Bay, Welchman Hall Gulley, and Harrison's Cave, and it offers a chance to swim with sea turtles. For something a little shorter and more relaxed, the five-hour Barbados Island and Beach Tour will also take you to some of the key attractions and allows for a little beach time. For travelers short on time, these are two great options.
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Exploring the Caribbean: Barbados and its capital Bridgetown lie just to the east of a string of popular Caribbean islands. To learn more about these islands, check out our articles on Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, and Montserrat. These islands, along with Antigua & Barbuda, north of Barbados, are home to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean as well as some of the top luxury all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.