For decades, Barbados has been a haven for sun-seekers looking for an archetypal, sun-drenched Caribbean getaway – but there’s so much more to the country than its famous beaches. Rich in history, culturally vibrant and bursting with life, you’ll find a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site, lively street parties, legendary food spots, brightly colored roadside rum shops and more. For a distinctly Bajan experience, these are the best things to see and do in Barbados.
When to go
The dry season in Barbados runs from December through to May, and the wet season is from June to November. The most popular time for visitors is generally from December to April because of the hot climate and predictably sunny skies.
Where to stay
For a relaxing break, head to Sugar Bay Barbados, conveniently only a seven-minute drive from Bridgetown. This tranquil, all-inclusive resort has 138 rooms on offer, all of which have a laid-back vibe with bohemian beach decor. Each room is complete with a terrace or balcony that either offers pristine beach vistas or picturesque pool views. Located right on the beach, guests have full use of water-sports equipment, access to two swimming pools and unlimited food and drink.
How to get around
Taxis are an easy and safe way to get around Barbados. Either ask your hotel’s concierge to book you one, or head to one of the taxi ranks dotted across the island at busy spots like Bridgetown (outside Jordans Supermarket), Broad Street, St Lawrence Gap and next to the bus terminals. Be sure to agree on a fixed rate before the journey, as taxis on the island are not metered. Barbados also offers public buses, which you can catch from bus stops across the island, and from the bus terminal. If you’d prefer to drive yourself, rental cars are another great option, and there are plenty of companies to choose from. Just remember that people drive on the left-hand side on the island.
With more than 1,800 rum shops, these roadside shacks have been the backbone of the island’s community for decades. To this day, they remain close-knit social hubs for neighbors, friends and families, and most have been owned and run by families for generations. These no-frill shacks tend to have a few things in common: a handful of plastic chairs and tables, stacks of glass rum bottles and posters advertising local rum distilleries on the walls. These unfussy drinking spots will get you right to the heart of the Barbados life and are so ubiquitous that there’s always one nearby. However, if you are looking for a good starting point, try TML One Love Bar, which can be found on a low-key side street in Holetown.
Sample a famous cutter sandwich at Cuz's Fish Shack
Food Stand, Caribbean
For a taste of authentic Bajan food, there’s truly nowhere better than Cuz’s Fish Shack, next to the beach at Needham’s Point. A local legend, Cuz, set up his shop more than 40 years ago, serving sandwiches and beachside snacks from a tiny blue shack in a nondescript car park off the highway. The must-try dish – a fish sandwich called a cutter – now has a cult following. It’s made with traditional Caribbean salt bread and a filet of crispy fish, and served with pickles, lettuce and tomato as well as a choice of cheese or a fried egg on top. It opens a “little after 9am” according to Cuz’s daughter Angela, and closes at around 5pm, or when they’ve run out of fish.
Descend underground and discover one of the island’s most astonishing natural phenomenon: Harrison’s Cave, located in St Thomas Parish. Packed full of geological limestone formations, you’ll find a chamber of ancient stalactites hanging from the cave’s roof and stalagmites ascending from its floor. Look closely, and you’ll notice that some stalactites and stalagmites have merged to form remarkable pillars. Tour the cave on an electric tram with a tour guide at hand, who will show you the full scope and depth of this natural wonder.
Situated just a stone’s throw from Bathsheba village, the Andromeda Botanic Gardens spans six acres (2.4 hectares). It’s home to more than 500 species of fascinating and rare tropical flowers, plants and ancient trees, which thrive around dramatic waterfalls and buzz with wildlife like hummingbirds, butterflies and even the occasional monkey. Previously unkempt farmland, Andromeda was founded by Iris Bannochie – who is regarded as the most prominent horticulturalist to ever live in the West Indies – in 1954. The garden began as a private plant collection, which she cultivated from scratch and collected from her travels around the world. After Iris’s death, the garden was inherited by Barbados National Trust, which subsequently turned the estate into a public garden to continue Iris’s legacy.
Dine on Bajan dishes and discover the island's best restaurants at the Food and Rum Festival
Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, Food Stall, Food Stand, Caribbean
Famously the birthplace of rum, Barbados certainly lives up to its reputation as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean. Every October, the island plays host to the unmissable annual Food and Rum Festival, which celebrates the country’s long tradition of Bajan cuisine, bringing together a roster of local and world-renowned chefs and championing new home-grown talent. The jam-packed schedule includes sampling the island’s best street food at a Food Truck Mash Up, cooking demonstrations at Oistins Fish Fry that focus on traditional Barbadian dishes and a gourmet safari where festival-goers dine at a handful of the best restaurants across the island. Be sure to try dishes local to the region like flying fish, cou-cou (cornmeal and okra) and macaroni pies, all with a rum punch in hand.
From sea turtles to parrot fish, Barbados is home to an abundance of marine life thanks to its protected coral reef. For an unforgettable day trip, cruise along the sublime Barbados coastline on a catamaran tour, where you can discover the reefs and snorkel in warm Caribbean waters. Cool Runnings offers three-stop snorkeling tours, complete with unlimited rum punch (of course) and blaring Caribbean beats. Snorkeling masks are provided along with a buffet lunch of traditional Bajan fare. Jump into the sea and swim alongside sea turtles, discover an old shipwreck and unwind in a picturesque secluded bay.
For centuries, due to the strong influence of Christianity, there was a tradition of forgoing meat on Fridays in the Caribbean. Instead, families and friends would get together for a Friday fish fry and feast, a tradition still alive and well in Barbados. Oistins Fish Fry is the only place to be on a Friday or Saturday night, and has grown to become the biggest social gathering on the island. A decade ago, an entrepreneurial stall owner started deep-frying the daily catch from Oistins Fish Market, kickstarting the weekly street party. Each weekend, the beachside area comes alive with rows of sizzling barbecues, boomboxes pounding reggae, a large stage with DJs and dancing into the wee hours. The menus are similar: swordfish, tuna, flying fish, lobster, shrimp, chicken and pork with traditional Bajan sides like rice and peas, plantains, grilled breadfruit and slices of macaroni pie – pick the vendor with the longest queue for the best food. This legendary street party is popular with all generations, from small children to older residents who regularly hold heated domino tournaments on the picnic tables.
A trip to Barbados just wouldn’t be complete without visiting a rum distillery. For centuries, sugar plantations have been the cornerstone of the island’s economy. Before the invention of rum, molasses – the by-product of sugar (known locally as white gold) – was simply thrown into the sea. It is still unclear who first discovered that this waste could be turned into an alcoholic spirit, but the first iteration of rum was named Kill Devil due its high alcohol content of 92 percent. The founder, ironically named John Sober, along with Sir John Gay (the namesake of Mount Gay) devised a recipe for rum centuries ago, and Mount Gay now exports the spirit to 180 countries with a global reputation for being “the rum that invented rum.” Situated just off Brandons Beach in the St Michael area, visitors can take a tour around Mount Gay’s distillery, the oldest commercial distillery in the world.
Crop Over Festival is without a doubt the most culturally significant annual festival in Barbados. Established in 1687, for generations a succession of carts and sugar cane workers would take to the streets to mark the end of the sugar season. The final cart in the parade hauled “Mr Harding” – a scarecrow-like figure made from discarded cane crop wearing old clothes, a symbol of the economic hardship faced by workers during the off-season. Since then, the festival has grown into a huge carnival that takes across the entire island, proudly honoring its historic traditions as a marker of the sugarcane harvest’s end. Expect six weeks of massive street parades, thousands of partygoers, booming sound systems, flamboyant costumes and a roster of world-renowned musicians like homegrown talent, Rihanna.
Escape the crowds and discover a tucked-away beach
Barbados is lauded as being one of the best beach destinations in the world, and for good reason. Home to 70 miles (113 kilometers) of tranquil coastline lined by swaying palm trees, there are idyllic beaches at every turn. To get away from the crowds, head towards St.Lucy at the tip of the island, where you will find Archers Bay. This spot is located on a rugged part of the north coastline and tucked between towering limestone and coral cliffs. Unlike other Barbados beaches, you won’t find crowds of people, changing rooms, lifeguards, toilets or even a signpost. It’s peaceful and secluded with breathtaking views and dramatic scenery, and residents often climb to the top of the cliff, where there’s a grassy field ideal for picnics. Be wary though, as swimming is not recommended at this beach due to the big waves and hidden undertow.
Although the people of Barbados predominately practice Christianity, the country is also home to one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere. Sat in the historic Garrison area, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum (roughly translating as Synagogue of the Scattered Israel) is a 17th-century Gothic building within the country’s UNESCO World Heritage site. Tracing the history of Judaism on the island, the synagogue and museum is not only a homage to the religious community, but also gives visitors an in-depth understanding of the island’s history, from the persecution of the Jewish community in Brazil to their role in shaping Barbadian culture and society. Be sure to wander through the grounds, which includes a mikveh (a ritual bath, and the only one to remain in the Americas) and a Jewish cemetery.