Antigua—best known for its 365 beaches— is not just a piña colada paradise (although we do make the best in the Caribbean.) It’s also home to a fascinating history of well preserved forts, dockyards, sugar mills and other archival sites.
Mixed with a unique culture of British and African influences, this 11-mile island is made for the historically infatuated.
So leave the frosty cocktail at the resort (it will be there when you get back) and experience everything this culturally rich island has to offer.
English Harbour & Nelson’s Dockyard
The Dockyard Museum, Antigua
Now, you may be wondering if your piña colada is missing you as much as you are it, but don’t worry.
While this 18th century British naval base stands as one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the Caribbean, Nelson’s Dockyard is also a great place to grab a drink or tasty treat.
Even if you’re just peckish while passing by the Dockyard Bakery, you owe it to yourself to pop in for a slice of famous coconut cake.
Dockyard Bakery, Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua
But, the real reason to visit this still active dockyard is not for its signature snacks, or even its sailboat rentals and souvenirs…
Like nearly every other island claimed during the land grab of the 17 and 1800s, Antigua drew the attention of the English entirely by accident. Upon discovering that the folds of land obscured his fleet’s position from the French, Admiral Horatio Nelson decided to stay and claim what would later become English Harbour.
Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua
Even now, amidst all the local eateries and custom outfitters, you’ll still find remnants of Antigua’s famous naval history inside The Dockyard Museum.
No need to ask for directions. The 10-foot tall admiralty anchor standing at its entrance ensures you can’t miss it.
Admiralty anchor near the entrance to The Dockyard Museum, Antigua
As a great navigational landmark and authentic piece of Antiguan history, it also makes a great photo op, so don’t forget your camera.
While you’re at it, be sure to snap a picture inside the quintessential British telephone booth. Its bright-red color makes it easy to spot, while paying homage to its 1920 origin, when it was emblazoned with a prominent crown to represent the British government.
A quintessential British telephone booth can be spotted near the museum’s entrance
Now, step inside The Dockyard Museum and discover a treasure trove of maritime artifacts, including muskets, cannonballs, telescopes and sextants, dating back to when the building first served as a naval officer and clerks house.
The museum also reveals the somber truth of the island’s history of slavery, as well as present-day initiatives, like the 8th of March Project, created to honor the families of those who lived and labored in the dockyard during the 18th and 19th century.
It’s easy to spend hours admiring the museum’s artifacts, like the prisms used on ships to refract light below deck, and the island’s regatta trophies, which offer a fun tribute to what is still an ongoing tradition of Antigua culture.
Which brings us to our next must do…
Visit during Sailing Week
Antigua Sailing Week. Photo Credit: sailingweek.com
If you’re lucky enough to visit Antigua during the last week in April, you won’t have to travel far from Nelson’s Dockyard to experience the thrill that is Sailing Week. In fact, you won’t have to travel at all.
Held annually in English Harbour since its inauguration in 1967, Antigua Sailing Week is one of the island’s most notable and highly anticipated events.
You won’t soon forget the sight of 150-200 of the world’s top racing and performance cruising boats lining the dockyard.
Antigua Sailing Week. Photo Credit: sailingweek.com
Not a sailor. No problem!
From spectating to enjoying beach fetes, outdoor reggae concerts and lots of after parties, there are plenty of events for landlubbers to join in on the fun.
Want to experience the exhilaration of Sailing Week without any of the anxiety of crossing the finish line?
Hop aboard a spectator boat and enjoy all of the event’s festivities and excitement as you sail along the west coast and experience the beautiful Caribbean Sea for yourself.
Antigua Sailing Week. Photo Credit: sailingweek.com
Check in with the water sports team at any of our all-inclusive resorts in Antigua and learn to sail a hobie cat from the familiar shore of your island retreat.
You can even take part in your own racing competition with daily activities held throughout the day at Pineapple Beach Club Antigua,
Pineapple Beach Club Antigua
St. James’s Club & Villas
St. James’s Club & Villas, Antigua
…and other family-friendly and adults-only resorts on the island.
Attend a Cricket Game
Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. Photo Credit: t20worldcup.com
In addition to regatta racing, you can’t fully grasp the culture of Antigua without a visit to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Built to host the Cricket World Cup in 2007, the stadium is one of the largest venues in the West Indies, and one of the most exciting places in the world to observe a match.
Much like American baseball or Canadian ice hockey, Cricket is Antigua’s national and most popular sport, often described by locals as more of a religion than a mere sport.
Antiguans enjoying Cricket at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. Photo Credit: West Indies Cricket Board, ©BrooksLaTouche
The energy, not to mention the refreshments, simply can’t be beat. You absolutely MUST try the jerk chicken. The authentic spices and deep heat pair perfectly with an ice-cold beer – both of which you can purchase at the local food stands located on stadium grounds.
The cricket season in Antigua lasts from January to July, so be sure to check the schedule and get your tickets!
If your next island escape doesn’t fall within that timeframe, feel free to make your own fun and challenge your fellow travelers to a friendly game of beach cricket at Pineapple Beach Club Antigua.
Beach cricket at Pineapple Beach Club Antigua
The staff is sure to jump in and show you the ropes. Don’t worry, they’ll take it easy on you…maybe.
Either way, you’re sure to work up an appetite, in which case we highly recommend taking a trip to downtown St. John’s.
Explore Downtown St. John’s
Downtown St. John’s, Antigua
As the capital city of Antigua, St. John’s is a popular tourism spot any day of the week. But if we’re talking food, Friday and Saturday nights are the best time to grab a bite to eat.
Even local residents forgo making dinner at home on the weekends in favor of the authentic Caribbean fares found during this once historical event.
As a celebration of culture – dating back to a time when freed slaves had to make the most of their produce, catch and supplies – food vendors set up shop under brightly colored pop-up canopies and bright lights to serve local dishes that often don’t make it onto many menus.
St. John’s street market. Photo Credit: theculturetrip.com
This is one of the only places you can get ducuna – a dumpling made of grated sweet potatoes, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg – and saltfish, which highly resembles the taste and consistency of cod or mackerel and is cooked with tomato paste and garlic.
Aside from its culturally rich food and atmosphere, St. John’s is home to some of the island’s most historical buildings, including St. John’s Cathedral.
St. John’s Cathedral, Antigua. Photo Credit: thestjohnscathedral.com
Built in 1845 after earthquakes claimed its two predecessors, the church remains one of the best places to take in panoramic views of the city.
However, as stunning as that view is, it’s nothing compared to the view that you get from our next two stops.
Shirley Heights, Antigua
A popular stop along the famous Pink Panther Safari tour, Shirley Heights is a must-visit for history enthusiasts and party-goers alike.
Overlooking English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard, Shirley Heights is a former signal station and colonial military complex, built in 1781 to further protect the Naval Dockyard from French invasion.
As such, it offers one of the most stunning views of the island.
Photo Credit: visitantiguabarbuda.com
From here, you can spot dozens of sailboats dotting the waters of English and Falmouth Harbour and truly appreciate the natural beauty of Antigua.
As hard as it will be to drag yourself away from the once-in-a-lifetime view and Wadadli beer waiting for you at the former Guard House, you want to venture east to discover the remnants of the station’s Officer’s Quarters, Ridge and Artillery Quarters.
Lookout Point, Shirley Heights, Antigua
As for the party-goers, stick around for the Shirley Heights Sunset Party on Thursday and Sunday evenings for mouth watering barbeque, impressive cocktails and live music.
Be sure to get there early and watch closely as the sun sets. You may see a jet of green light cover the horizon, known as the “Green Flash” – something that only the luckiest viewers and photographers have ever managed to capture on camera.
Shirley Heights Sunset Part, Antigua. Photo Credit: visitantiguabarbuda.com
Equally as impressive as sunset at Shirley Heights is sunrise at Devil’s Bridge National Park.
Just be sure to leave a day in between as you may have other plans that involve sleeping off a hangover.
Devil’s Bridge National Park
Devil’s Bridge National Park, Antigua
This limestone archway stands as a mere testament to the power of time and water to carve beauty from rock.
At the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, this natural wonder is located just outside the village of Willikies on Antigua’s Northeast coast.
Open 24 hours, you can visit the historic landmark at your leisure, but if you want the award-winning view, you’ll have to wake up before sunrise.
Devil’s Bridge National Park at sunrise
Perfectly positioned to catch the rays glistening off the water, this natural phenomenon is sure to leave a lasting impression – one that you can commemorate with a souvenir or trinket from the local vendors set up nearby.
Be sure to check your resort’s daily activities schedule for morning walking tours over to Devil’s Bridge National Park, or join our Pink Panther Island Safari for a deep dive into the chilling history of how the historic landmark got its name.
Designated a National Park in 1950, Devil’s Bridge serves as a way to honor the lives of former enslaved men and women who took their lives “in hopes of returning to Africa,” according to Pink Panther tour guide Kamesha Josep.
Pink Panther Safari stops at Devil’s Bridge National Park
Each spring, this site welcomes a more joyous occasion: the International Kite Festival. Here, you will see the skies filled with colorful and traditional home-made kites, as the young and young-at-heart participate in this Easter Monday tradition.
It’s truly remarkable.
is there is so much to see and do in Antigua!
From historic sites like Devil’s Bridge National Park and Shirley Heights, to exciting events like Sailing Week and the International Kite Festival, there is something for everyone.
Click here to book your next dream vacation at any of our all-inclusive beachfront resorts today!
Hammock Cove Antigua,
The Verandah Resort & Spa,
Pineapple Beach Club Antigua,
St. James’s Club & Villas, Antigua,
…and Galley Bay Resort & Spa, Antigua.