Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Antigua and Barbuda
One of the best places to go on the island if you want fantastic views of the shimmering Caribbean waters, Fort James sits in an ideal position overlooking St. John's Harbor. Built by the British in 1706 to protect the harbor, the fort was intended to prevent the French from invading the island.
Today, come and see the cannons, powder magazine, and foundation of the wall, the remainders of the fort. The true highlight of a visit to Fort James, however, is the unbeatable view of St. John's Harbor. With its bright blue waters, nestled among towering cliffs and the picturesque town of St. John's, the harbor is truly one of the most beautiful sites Antigua and Barbuda has to offer.
Stingray City in Antigua is a special place as it is home to a plethora of stingrays in their natural habitat. Plus, the area of sea where Stingray City is situated is quite shallow and is only a few feet deep in many parts, making it an ideal excursion for families with children in addition to traveling adults or those who can’t swim well.
Though Stingray City in Antigua is a cordoned-off area, the stingrays are still in their natural habitat. The gentle creatures are accustomed to humans so they are quite friendly, and visitors can watch them float through the water. Learn how to interact with the stingrays before hopping into the water with snorkel gear to watch them glide around with the chance to touch and play with them.
Located in the Leeward Islands of the West Indies, Antigua is the main island in the grouping constituting the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Its history and geography have made it internationally famous as a sailing and yachting destination.
St. John’s has a large and deep harbor that perfectly accommodates large cruise ships. The main attractions in town are all within close walking distance to the pier. Heritage and Redcliffe Quay offer shopping opportunities directly next to port, and downtown St. John’s is just a short distance away.
Locals boast that Antigua has 365 different beaches, one for each day of the year. History buffs will love the island’s rich naval history, as it was once an important colonial base of the British Royal Navy. Take the Round Island Tour, which brings you through the historic Nelson's Dockyard National Park. Or, stay local in St. John’s with the city shore excursion, and tour the city’s vegetable market.
One of the best historical sites Antigua has to offer, Nelson's Dockyard National Park has been at the center of Antigua's activity since the first settlers arrived there in 500 BC. Today, however, the centerpiece of the park is the actual dockyard itself, originally developed as a base for the British Navy in 1725. It is the only Georgian dockyard that still exists in the world. Named for Horatio Nelson, famed commander of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, the dockyard is home to old navy ships and numerous historical artifacts.
Be sure to visit the Dockyard Museum, which offers a full history of the English Harbour and the people who toiled there throughout the years. No visit is complete without also checking out the park's many restored colonial-era buildings, which served the sailors and officers who occupied the harbour during 18th and 19th centuries.
Off the southwest tip of Antigua, Cades Reef is Antigua’s most popular diving and snorkeling spot. A section of the reef has been designated as an underwater park, and visitors can find more than a dozen dive sites throughout the inner and outer sections of the reef. One of the popular spots on Cades Reef is The Chimney, a dive site on the outer reef, where huge pillar corals create a staircase formation that descends from 40 to 80 feet deep. You can swim through a tunnel in the rock face where you can sometimes spot sleeping nurse sharks. On calm days, visibility at Cades Reef can be 100 feet, and the reef attracts all the usual Caribbean reef fish, including parrotfish, trumpet fish and barracuda.
Don't be scared away by its rather ominous name. Devil's Bridge National Park is one of the most unique natural sites that you can see, not just in Antigua, but perhaps ever. Devil's Bridge is a natural arch carved by the sea out of the soft and hard limestone ledges of the cliffs. As enormous breakers from the Atlantic repeatedly assaulted the rocks throughout the years, they eventually eroded away a soft part of limestone to create a bridge-like arch.
The bridge gained its name from the tragic events that took place there long ago. Supposedly, slaves would hurl themselves off the bridge into the rough waters below in an attempt to escape from their enslaved lives. It was soon said that the Devil must be present there. Today the bridge is free from such tragedy, but is still a hauntingly beautiful place to visit. With the wild surrounding shrubbery and huge howling waves, there is an almost frighteningly rugged natural beauty to the bridge and its surrounding area.
More Things to Do in Antigua and Barbuda
Betty's Hope Sugar Plantation is the historic site of the first large sugar plantation on Antigua, built during the late 1600s by Sir Christopher Codrington who named it after his daughter. All that remains today are the ruins of a stillhouse and two large stone windmills, one of which has been restored, with working gears, crushing rollers and a sail all built to period specifications. The local government is developing the area as an open-air museum, and a small visitor’s center offers information about how sugar cane was processed here, and about the hardships of the African slaves who toiled in its production.</)
Journey down to the far south of Antigua to see one of the island's oldest and most beautiful historic districts, English Harbour. This tiny (population of 759), but scenic settlement is a great place to wander around in and enjoy the old-fashioned buildings while learning about the nation's colonial roots.
English Harbour is best known for the many historic sites it is home to including Nelson's Dockyard, a restored British colonial naval station. It also is internationally recognized as a center of sailing and yachting. While visiting, enjoy a walk amongst the antiquated district's tall brick buildings from the colonial era, or stroll along the harbor and scope out the huge yachts and sailboats that are stationed there. No matter what you do, an afternoon spent in English Harbour is certain to be full of fun and interesting sites.
The blazing-white sands of Dickenson Bay are home to a handful of Antigua’s larger resort hotels, including Sandals, Halcyon Cove and Antigua Village. Along the beachfront you can also find a hub of restaurants, beach bars, and water sports operators renting kayaks, windsurfing boards, snorkeling gear and more. The bay is known for having consistently calm waters, which makes it a great place for families with kids to play in the water, or for snorkelers who want to visit the mile-long stretch of reef that runs along the shore. The one thing you won’t find at Dickenson Bay is a secluded stretch of sand, as it’s one of the most popular beaches on the island, but if you want get away from the crowd, head south to the next beach over along Runaway Bay.
Antigua and its neighboring island Barbuda are total opposites—while Antigua is rugged, mountainous and populated, Barbuda is low-lying, non-descript and practically deserted, except for the frigate birds and many other species that flock to Barbuda’s lagoons. The Frigate Bird Sanctuary can be found in the lagoons at the northwest of the island and is home to more than 5,000 frigate birds, as well as members from about 170 other bird species. Birdwatchers can visit during the fall to watch the frigate birds’ mating displays, and hatching occurs around the end of the year. To see the frigate birds at their best, look for them in the sky. They are known for their large wingspans and light frames that let them soar for long periods time. They got their nickname “man-o-war birds” because they use their superior flight ability to pester other birds into dropping whatever food they’ve hunted, and stealing it like pirates.
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