Top 10 Things to See and Do in St John’s, Antigua

St John is all about sea, sun, sand – and the odd rum punch
St John is all about sea, sun, sand – and the odd rum punch | © Roman Stetsyk / Alamy

The palm-tree-lined Antiguan capital – a colourful, wood-built town with a real ‘take it easy’ vibe – has a proper Caribbean feel to it, with the smell of jerk bbq wafting through the streets and the sound of buskers echoing the great Bob Marley down every back alley. Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your stay here.

You can’t ignore the enormous cruise ships moored in the harbour, and who knows, reading this you may be on one of them. In which case finding the best spots can be a challenge when you’re limited to a few hours. Taxi driver Cassim Greene, practically a local celebrity who warmly greets every Antiguan we pass, encapsulating the genial spirit of the islanders, takes me on a whistlestop tour of his favourite things to see and do in the city for the best local experience.

My guide is taxi driver Cassim Greene, who seems to know everyone in Antigua

Redcliffe Quay

A walk along the promenade with a rum punch on the water’s edge isn’t the worst way to spend an afternoon in St John’s, but there’s more to it than the turquoise, red and yellow waterfront buildings. “It’s all about the history ‘ere, man,” says Cassim. The century-old quay (not to be confused with Heritage Quay, the parking space for the enormous cruise liners) gives a flavour of what St John’s looked like in the 18th century, with Georgian buildings sympathetically restored in their original style. What was once a trading place for rum, sugar, coffee – and, sadly, slaves – is now a top spot to eat and drink.

Vegetable market

“Nothing brings us ’ere Antiguans together like the vegetable market,” says Cassim. “For an authentic local experience this should be the first destination for visitors.” Vendors and shoppers go at the same pace as the rest of the city, taking it easy and treating it more of a social club. Bartering is a part of business here on the island, so you can nab a deal on hot peppers, bananas, coconuts, cucumbers, mangoes, livestock, pineapples and more that are grown on the island. Fridays and Saturdays are the best time to visit the Public Market Complex, a five-minute walk through the city, south of the cruise port.

Do as the locals do and shop at St John’s farmer’s market

Recreation ground

If you didn’t know by the time you get to St John’s, Antiguans adore cricket, and there’s no better place to get a flavour of this than by visiting the island’s cricket grounds. The Recreation Ground, a 10-minute walk from the quay, is like a museum of the West Indies glory days. It was the ground where they famously “blackwashed” England in 1986, and when Brian Lara set the record for highest individual Test innings, scoring 400 not out in 2004 against England. “Good times, man. Good times,” says Cassim, standing with his hands on his hips looking around the ground with a glaze of nostalgia in his eyes. When you visit you have to use your imagination. After the construction of the Sir Vivian Richards ground, which replaced it as the national stadium, The Rec, as it’s known by locals, is now run-down and more of a relic than a sports field, but fascinating all the same.

England’s Paul Collingwood hits out watched by West Indies wicketkeeper Danesh Ramdin at the Antigua Recreation Ground

Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground

For an entirely different cricket experience, take a 15-minute taxi journey east to the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, named after arguably the best batsman of all time. Even if you’re not a huge cricket fan, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the murals of the island’s knights in the lobby and the statue of Sir Viv outside the stadium. The four “sirs” are hailed like Maradona is in Argentina. “They were the founding fathers of the sport we love,” says Cassim. “They inspired a generation, role models to all of us. And now they continue to give back to the community.” The modern stands, with rum and jerk chicken stalls, feels worlds apart from the Rec, a must-visit whether you’re a cricket fanatic or not.

The Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium in Antigua

King’s Casino

“We love a gamble on the island, and this place is our favourite,” says Cassim. It’s unassuming from the outside, housed in a pink and blue rectangular concrete building, with a red neon sign that only illuminates a few of the letters. Don’t come expecting the bright lights of Vegas. This is an entirely different kind of casino, but one, according to Cassim, that brings locals from all over the island. Inside it’s dark and air-conditioned. There are more than 350 slot machines and around 50 different gambling tables, including Cassim’s favourite game, Caribbean Stud.

Caribbean stud is the name of the game at the King’s Casino

Saint John’s Cathedral

Saint John’s Cathedral, the capital’s most impressive architectural feat, is the religious heart of the Christian island. Its striking baroque design, dominated by 70ft twin towers, is reminiscent of Cuban churches. Inside feels like being onboard a galleon with its carved mahogany features. Two churches were destroyed on the site of the cathedral. The first was built of wood as early as 1681; while the second was constructed using English brick in about 1720. The present cathedral opened in 1847, and the panoramic views from the highest point of the city makes the visit well worth it.

The present Saint John’s Cathedral dates back to 1847


“Nowhere in the city does it quite like Hemingway’s,” says Cassim, talking about his favourite restaurant in St Johns. Sitting out on the breezy veranda sipping a local Wadadli beer, I can see what he means. He recommends the bulljoy – a fricassee of saltfish. There’s also the likes of Caribbean seafood chowder, spicy crab cakes and Antiguan lobster flambé on the menu that’s celebrated for being a local affair.

Head to Hemingway’s for a local beer

Big Banana

“Pizzas in paradise” is the slogan of this laid-back restaurant, which serves an unusual combination of pizza and sushi. In the Rum Warehouse on Redcliffe Quay, this is a favourite for locals, including Cassim, who swing by for lunch. “What can I say, man – it’s the best pizza on the island,” he says.

Big Banana serves an unusual combo of sushi and pizza

Fort James

Journey back in time with a trip along the coastline to Fort James. If you’ve arrived on a cruise, you may already have spotted the intimidating cannons pointing out at sea that still sit at the fort. Much of the original fort, used to defend the island against French invasion, is still intact and provides stunning views over the ocean and across to the capital. Finish your trip off at Fort James beach for a stretch of sand that’s synonymous with the Caribbean.

The cannons still defending Fort James


“You haven’t seen St John’s until you’ve been to carni,” says Cassim. “It’s a special, special time. Even now I’m much older than I used to be.” Islanders flock from all over Antigua to the the capital’s streets for the biggest party of the year. The celebration of the emancipation of slavery is held annually from the end of July to the first Tuesday in August. The sound of steel pans fill the colourful streets as the party goes on into the early hours. “There’s also a lot of ganja and rum,” Cassim jokes with the same hint of nostalgia from when we were at The Rec.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


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