The most well-known city of the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, Nassau sets the stage for your visit to this tropical archipelago. Formerly known as Charles Town and renamed Nassau in 1695, this bustling tourist hub is a popular stop for cruise ships, and is known for its white-sand beaches, brightly colored coral reefs, and world-class snorkeling and diving. For those who find themselves with limited time to explore, there is no shortage of things to do within the city itself. Home to the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, the Pirate Museum, the Ardastra Gardens Zoo, and the John Watling Distillery, you’re bound to find something to appease every taste. If you’re tropical vacation extends longer than just a day at port, Nassau is the perfect starting point to set off on your Bahamian adventure, and offers easy access to many of the island’s most popular excursions, such as day trips to surrounding islands, swimming with the pigs off Big Major, or surfing at the Out Islands.
The capital of the Bahamas is located on New Providence Island, 184 miles southwest of Miami, and is a popular port of call for cruise ships making their way through the Caribbean. This tropical island chain is a British territory, so if you plan on renting a car during your stay, keep in mind that drivers drive on the left!
Nassau itself is on a smaller side and very easy to get around. The city center is a short walk away from the bustling harbor, full of souvenir shops, restaurants, and beachfront bars perfect for an afternoon of shopping and relaxing. The world-famous Straw Market is also a short walk away on Bay Street; it’s here you’ll find rows and rows of handmade Bahamian crafts, gifts, and local foods. Along the shore, you’ll find any number of shore excursions to suit any taste, including boat tours, jet ski rentals, and snorkeling. Hoping to head to Paradise Island? No problem! New Providence Island lies just to the south of this popular tourist spot. Just hail a taxi and hop on the ferry — it’s less than 20 minutes away!
With a bustling harbor full of boats, cruise ships, and watercrafts buzzing about, Nassau is a popular port of call in the Caribbean. Although most people might think of Nassau as a tropical beach destination (and it is!), it’s also an island town with European influences, and is full of centuries-old historic sights, colorful architecture, and beachfront attractions just begging to be explored. Whether you’re craving a lazy day in a beachfront cabana or are looking to dig into the history of this once pirate-controlled island, this laid-back city offers a little something for everyone.
First, your visit isn’t complete without at least a few hours spent lounging on the gorgeous sand of Cable Beach. One of the most picturesque beaches in the Bahamas, this two-and-a-half mile stretch of sand is conveniently located just a few miles west of Nassau. With water sports, restaurants, and plenty of other beach-front accommodations, Cable Beach has all you need for a day of fun in the sun.
Once you’ve had your fill of sun and sand, Nassau has loads of other activities to keep you entertained. Head over to Bay Street to check out the world-famous Straw Market, full of handmade Bahamian crafts and keepsakes. Or, head to the Fort Fincastle Historic Complex and climb the 66 steps of the Queen’s Staircase. Peruse the Pirate Museum (yes, it’s a real thing!), and learn how they played an important role in the history of the city. And once you’ve worked up an appetite, belly up to a plate of conch fritters and watch the cruise ships coming and going, frosty cocktail in hand.
Make the most of your time in this tropical paradise with this list of must-see attractions.
Start the day off with an authentic Bahamian breakfast of sheep tongue souse. This spicy stew is full of onions, peppers, and you guessed it- sheep’s tongue. Pair it with a cornmeal johnnycake, and this hearty meal will satisfy you until lunch time. Sound a little too adventurous for you? No worries. Restaurants on the island also serve familiar staples like egg dishes, breakfast meats, bagels, pastries, coffee, and more.
Craving seafood? Head to Arawak Cay. Known to locals as “The Fish Fry,” this is the place to go to go to indulge in island-favorite delicacies like conch salad, conch fritters, fried snapper, grilled shrimp, sweet plantains, and cheap local beer. The rows of pastel-colored huts lining the waterfront serve everything from small plates to full meals, so find a dish that catches your eye, crack a Kalik (dubbed “The Beer of the Bahamas”), and watch the locals playing dominoes and backgammon as you tuck into some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever have.
When it comes to dinner, Nassau offers everything from budget-friendly fare to fine dining experiences, and includes a huge variety of of culinary options. From a romantic, French-inspired meal enjoyed al fresco to an Asian-inspired supper served family style, you’ll find something for every taste. Kick back at a laid-back, beachy cafe or dress to the nines for a reservation at a restaurant run by a celebrity chef. No matter what you’re looking for, this city will serve up the perfect culinary experience for your vacation.
Many traditional Bahamian dishes have British, Spanish, and West Indian spices and techniques. Get a taste of local flavor by sampling foods like Bahamian fish stew, typically served with local snapper or grouper, pigeon peas (a staple bean of the Caribbean) and rice, rock lobsters (also called spiny lobsters), and, of course, conch. This local delicacy can be served as fritters (an island favorite!), cracked (fried), or ceviche-style in a salad.
With an interesting mixture of African, British, and American influences, the culture of the Bahamas has been evolving for centuries, allowing this island nation to develop its own unique arts and music scene not found anywhere else. Bahamians are known for their laid-back, easy-going nature, and that personality is reflected in the artwork you’ll find hanging in the city’s galleries and through the local dance scene.
Nassau’s small but mighty art scene is bursting with local influence. Native artists don’t need to look far for creative enlightenment — most of the inspiration for their bright, colorful artwork is drawn from the beauty of the surrounding islands and the people who inhabit them.
In addition to art, music also plays a role in the culture and heritage of the Bahamas, perhaps the most original of which is known as “Goombay.” Goombay refers to the goatskin drum that is used to bang out rhythmic music with either your hands or sticks. This form of music, and the rhythmic dancing that accompanies it, dates back to the 18th-century slave trade, and is closely related to the Afro-Caribbean style of music called calypso.
Interested in delving into Nassau’s art and culture scene during your visit to the island? Make sure to add these destinations to your itinerary.
Located at Cable Beach, the center gives you an up-close look at island traditions, such as plaiting the Maypole, Bahamian storytelling, and playing a game of Domino Squares. You’ll also learn about local legends, and will have the opportunity to peruse authentic Bahamian artifacts.
Established in 1996 by then-Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham, the NAGB works to preserve the narrative of Bahamian history. Located within easy walking distance of downtown in a historic building called “Villa Doyle,” the museum boasts four galleries: a permanent exhibition space, a project space for monthly presentations, and two temporary exhibition spaces. The permanent art collection, rotating temporary exhibitions, and public program schedule all strive to provide a stimulating environment for visitors to learn about the history and culture of the country through its local and contemporary art.
Launched in 2008, the D’Aguilar Art Foundation is the vision of art investor Vincent D’Aguilar, and serves to preserve and expand not only his collection, but also his investment in local art. The charming gallery is located just off of West bay Street, the city’s main shopping avenue, and plays host to a large collection of Bahamian art, along with pieces from over 20 countries.
The historic site of this national park was once home to the Amerindian peoples called the Lucayans, early settlers who called the Bahamas home long before Christopher Columbus made his voyage to the Caribbean. Today, the remnants of these early settlements can be seen at Clifton, and offer clues into how they lived their day-to-day lives. In addition to these ancient ruins, the ruins of slave cabins and plantation walls can be seen at Clifton Cay, and bring to light the Bahamian slave culture and white Loyalist plantation society of the 18th and 19th centuries.