Secret Guide: Barbados

Swaying palm trees, sugar-white beaches, flying fish and endless rum cocktails: that’s Barbados in a nutshell. Despite measuring just 25 kilometres across, this island packs a mighty punch. Days spent beach-lounging and cocktail-sipping are perfectly complemented by endlessly scenic vistas, unforgettable hidden sights, and a heck of a lot of history. Discover our top recommendations to help fuel your wanderlust, and give you reasons you never expected to visit this Caribbean island.

Oistins, Barbados. Getty/zstockphotos

What to see & do

Blissful beaches

Naturally, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to sink-into sands with which to tickle your toes. All boasting white sands and palm trees, idyllic island beaches are always only a short walk away here. Some of the best include Miami Beach, Maxwell Beach and Dover Beach, as well as the beaches of Carlisle Bay – a wide, natural harbour near Bridgetown that has been made into a marine park. Tick off a bucket-list adventure by snorkelling with the turtles that paddle through the bay, and head below the surface to find six shipwrecks ready to be explored – a plethora of dive shops are on hand to help take you underwater.

Looking for something a little more secluded? If you hire a car (which we highly recommend you do for at least one day), you can hit all the tiny, unknown beaches of the east coast: Skeetes Bay is well off the beaten track, Bath Beach is tranquil and peaceful, and Bathsheba is a paradise for surfers, complete with intriguing rock formations and epic coastal views from nearby cliffs.

Historic sights

Inhabited since 1620 B.C., Barbados boasts a lengthy and intriguing history – from the Indigenous settlers that landed after crossing ferocious oceans from Venezuela, to the agricultural Arawaks, Carib cultures and Portuguese explorers, all the way to the present day. The island has fought its way through history, with slavery, sugar plantations and British colonisation at the centre of it all.

To gain an overview of the country’s past, the best place to visit is the Barbados Museum & Historical Society, where exhibits detail the Amerindians’ history and showcase maps, plantation records and much more. A visit to Holetown will also certainly be in order for history buffs: once called Jamestown in honour of King James I, it is where British colonists first landed in 1625. Today, the Holetown boardwalk makes for a lovely wander in the sea breeze.

Harrison Point Lighthouse, Barbados. Getty/Alessandro Bellani

A little off the beaten track, Harrison Point Lighthouse is a must-visit for urban explorers. It’s located down a single-track dirt road, but if you don’t mind a bit of an adventure, continue on to discover this abandoned lighthouse – you can even still climb to the top for views across the north coast and the ocean. On the opposite side of the island, Sam Lord’s Castle is an unmissable sight for those interested in the island’s history of piracy. This Georgian mansion was built in 1820 by notorious buccaneer Sam Lord, but struck down by a fire in 2010, the place is now left in eerie ruins.

Epic vistas

Ask anyone where you can find the best view in Barbados and you’re likely to receive one of two answers: Cherry Tree Hill or Animal Flower Cave. Part of the St Nicholas Abbey Plantation in the Scotland District, the road up to Cherry Tree Hill is lined with mahogany trees and swaying sugar cane. The main house is also worth a visit – it’s one of only three Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere – but if you’re here for the view, then you won’t be disappointed. This picturesque spot offers vistas across the entire east coast of the island, including the historic Morgan Lewis Windmill and plenty of beaches with their lapping waves.

Animal Flower Cave sits below the cliffs on the far northeastern point of the island. Animal flowers are not flowers at all, but a type of anemone that live in the caves, which can be toured throughout the day (provided the tide levels are right!) If they aren’t, then fear not: the view from the top of the cliffs is nothing short of spectacular, with the churning waters below making for an incredible sight. During the winter months, you might even get lucky enough to witness humpback whales playing in the deep waters beyond.

Cherry Tree Hill. Getty/Ilja Van Rijswijk / EyeEm

Where to eat

On a budget

Though Barbados is a little on the expensive side, cheap and delicious eats are easily found here. For a glimpse into local life, Baxter Road in Bridgetown is a must-visit, and is lined with food stalls offering a variety of local dishes, like macaroni pie, flying fish and cou-cou. Another must for budget eats is Cuz’s on Pebbles Beach, where you’ll find some of the best fish cutters on the island – a sandwich of salt bread, fish, cheese, fried egg and pepper sauce – combined with ice-cold Banks beers. If you want to visit a traditional Bajan rum shop, Kermitt’s Bar in Christ Church is a great choice – here you’ll find succulent rotisserie chicken plates and a menu that changes daily. If you fancy spreading out further into the Caribbean, you’ll easily find some Trinidadian eateries here, serving roti and doubles.

Mid-range options

Visiting the north of the island? When you’ve finished exploring, head straight to Fish Pot in Speightstown, where you can sample the freshest seafood the island has to offer. Housed in a 17th-century fort, this restaurant’s interior is as incredible as the food. Pair the seafood curry and grilled octopus with jugs of rum punch for a true Barbados experience. Brown Sugar is the perfect pick for those with an endless stomach – its all-you-can-eat lunch buffet will allow you to try all sorts of Bajan dishes at once, including homemade desserts. For more seafood, a visit to Tapas will be in order: this moreish spot offers tuna carpaccio, shark fritters and much more in a stunning seafront setting.

Delightful fine dining

If it’s time to splash out, you’ve plenty of upscale dining options. Tides in Holetown is often hailed as one of the island’s best restaurants, with a setting to match – you’ll be dining in an open-air, sea-view treehouse, no less. If you’d like your fish served a little differently, then a night at Nishi is a must: this Japanese restaurant uses the endlessly fresh fish of the island to craft unforgettable sushi, and you can watch it being elegantly prepared while you wait. No list of Bajan eateries would be complete without mentioning The Cliff, which might be one of the island’s most expensive restaurants, but for good reason: overlooking the shimmering Caribbean waters with epic views come sunset, this is the place for a special occasion – reservations are recommended at least a week in advance.

An unmissable experience

If you’ve heard anything about Barbados’ dining scene, then Oistins’ Fish Fry is likely to have garnered a mention (or 10). This unforgettable gathering happens every Friday night in Oistins, and locals and tourists alike gather to eat, drink, and be merry. Expertly grilled or fried fish is on offer from a range of food stalls, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t join in with the dancing by the main stage – you’ll often find live bands, DJs and even locals enjoying a karaoke tune or two.

Oistins, Barbados. Getty/zstockphotos

Where to drink

Where has the rum gone? A question you’ll never have to ask in Barbados, where rum punch and distilleries are to be found all across the island. Want to learn more? Book in a visit to the Mount Gay distillery: established in 1703, it’s the oldest continuously-running rum distillery in the world, where you can explore the lands, molasses house and much more. Combine this with a cocktail class, rum flight or tasting with lunch for the perfect boozy afternoon. St Nicholas Abbey, the house on Cherry Tree Hill, also boasts its own distillery, so you could combine your epic views with a tipple or two.

Rum shops are the beating heart of the Bajan social scene, and the island is home to almost 1,600 of them. Visit one (or a few) for a true insight into local life – you’ll likely spot policemen sipping a lunchtime rum alongside tourists and workmen, to the sounds of karaoke and reggae. They can be found everywhere, from roadsides to beachside – some of the best include London Bar, Lexie’s and Braddie’s.

If daytime punch-sipping isn’t enough for you, the island houses several clubs for an unforgettable night out. Harbour Lights is lively as anything, with fire dancers and thrilling open-air performances come dark – they even have ‘free drink’ nights where the party gets truly wild. A dry dock that doubles as a bar and nightclub, Blackwoods Screw Dock is one-of-a-kind: chilled-out during the day and ultra-energetic come nighttime, you can experience this unique bar whichever way you like.

Image courtesy of The SoCo Hotel, Barbados

Where to stay

You’ll most likely use the southern coast of Barbados as your base: speckled with plush resorts, spectacular beaches and the island’s capital, Bridgetown, it certainly makes sense to set up shop here for your holiday. The resorts along the west coast tend towards the luxurious end of the spectrum, while the east coast offers a more down-to-earth, local atmosphere.

The SoCo Hotel

For all-inclusive, adults-only bliss on the powdery-white Barbados coast, look no further than The SoCo Hotel on the Hastings Boardwalk. This lush stay offers a secluded and intimate, boutique vibe, massages on the beach, sleek bedrooms and waterfront dining for an unforgettable stay.

Sandals Royal Barbados

Looking for some tip-top island luxury? Sandals Royal Barbados is well-known for its luxurious poolside cabanas and endless Sandals perks. Swim-up bars, PADI-certified diving, paddleboard hire, seven restaurants and a range of tranquil, luxurious rooms make this one of the best spots on the island for beach idylls.

Infinity on the Beach

Right on the sands of Dover Beach and three kilometres from Oistins’ Fish Fry, Infinity on the Beach boutique resort boasts a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. By day, watersports and diving are on hand mere moments away, and come nightfall, beachfront dancing awaits for a fun-filled night under the stars.

Image courtesy of Infinity on the Beach hotel

Sweetfield Manor

For something a little different, Sweetfield Manor is just the ticket. Located in a historic plantation building in the Garrison area, this period home will take you back in time. An expert culinary team brings dining to the forefront, with al fresco meals in its leafy courtyard. For a spot of pampering, look no further than the small spa, tucked within tranquil gardens.

Sugar Bay Barbados

Located just a few minutes’ walk from Drill Hall Beach, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Garrison, Sugar Bay’s laid-back resort is bright and colourful, imbued with all the fun and vibrancy of the island. Spread over five acres, this hideaway offers a village-style atmosphere and a swim-up bar for added indulgence.

Cobblers Cove

If you fancy yourself a stay on the west coast, Cobblers Cove, situated on the edge of Speightstown, is the place for you. With the gracefulness of an English country home right on the beachfront, this charming stay is something special. Decor includes whitewashed shutters, rattan furniture and nautical umbrellas, under which you can dine on fresh seafood with the breeze blowing in your hair. A plethora of activities are available on site, from snorkelling to sunbathing on an offshore pontoon.