Best Things To Do in Antigua
Antigua's many beaches are the highlight of any visit to the island. While there are 365 to choose from, some of the most popular include Galley Bay Beach (for surfing), Half Moon Bay (for some peace and quiet) and Dickenson Bay (considered the island's best). If you get antsy after all that lounging, lace up your hiking shoes to make the trek up to Shirley Heights for incredible panoramic views. Or, educate yourself on the island's culture with a visit to Betty's Hope – a former sugar plantation – or Nelson's Dockyard, where you'll find a few museums detailing the island's colonial past.
Updated June 12, 2019
- #1View all Photos
Wear some comfortable shoes and make the hike from Galleon Beach in English Harbour to the summit of Shirley Heights. On a clear day, the panorama (located approximately 492 feet above sea level) affords views of the southern island of Guadeloupe and the active volcano Montserrat, which recent visitors called simply breathtaking.
It's a challenging hike up to the lookout and the Antiguan heat makes early morning the best time to make the trek. If you're not up for the task, you can also hop in a taxi – a recommendation from many past visitors. The popular Shirley Heights Lookout Restaurant & Bar rests at the summit. Come prepared to party on Sundays from 4 to 10 p.m., when local bands perform Caribbean music live, the barbecue is fired up and drinks are flowing. Be prepared for crowds, though. Recent travelers warned that, while worth it for the awe-inspiring sunset views, this party gets packed.
- #2View all Photos#2 in AntiguaMuseums, Shopping, Sightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Shopping, Sightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you only break from the beach for one day, head to the beautifully restored English Harbour, where you'll find Nelson's Dockyard. The naval dockyard was once the home of the British fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, and served as the headquarters of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson from 1784 to 1787.
The Dockyard has a laundry list of attractions: There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops; the Dockyard Museum, where Nelson's telescope and tea caddy are on display; and Dow's Hill Interpretation Center, where visitors can watch a 15-minute presentation on the history and culture of the island. Other Dockyard activities include sightseeing along the marina, relaxing at the nearby beach or taking a trip up to panoramic Shirley Heights. You probably can't hit all the dockyard's attractions in one visit, but you can enjoy a fair amount if you plan ahead, which recent visitors highly recommended. The park's official website lists all there is to see and do, including special events.
- #3View all PhotosfreeHalf Moon Bay#3 in AntiguaBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
You'll have to put a little effort into visiting one of the most breathtaking beaches of Antigua, as easternmost Half Moon Bay is far away from just about everything, but recent visitors promised it's well worth it. The trek has its advantages, though, namely fewer beachgoers to distract from the charm of this national park. Windsurfers will appreciate the sizeable waves toward the beach's center, while snorkelers can find calm waters near the edges. For those looking for a place to relax, the soft white sand at Half Moon Bay offers a comfortable viewpoint to enjoy the vast seascape.
The beach's off-the-beaten-path location means you'll want to visit before sunset. Half Moon is notoriously hard to find and the paved, yet windy road has little signage to help you out. Add in the no-see-ums (tiny insects, sometimes called sand flies, that come out to nibble after dark), and Half Moon is definitely a beach to enjoy when the sun is up.
- #4View all Photos#4 in AntiguaBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The four secluded Hawksbill beaches – Royal Palm Beach, Sea Grape Beach, Honeymoon Cove and Eden Beach – are technically on the property of the Hawksbill by Rex Resorts, an adults-only resort, but they're open for all tourists to enjoy. You'll want to visit Hawksbill if you're looking for more peace and quiet than Dickenson Bay can offer or calmer waves than you'll find at Half Moon Bay.
There's ample free parking at the hotel and it's just a short walk down to the four Hawksbill beaches; you'll know you're in the right spot when you see the peculiar shaped rock jutting from the water. It's this formation that gives the bay its name.
- #5View all Photos
Located in northwest Antigua in St. John Parish, Dickenson Bay is considered the island's premier beach. That's because Dickenson offers a little something for every type of beachgoer. Do you like lying in the warm sand? Check. Have you always wanted to go on a glass-bottom boat tour? Check. Maybe you like water sports to get your heart rate pumping? Check – Dickenson has it. On some days, you'll even find a few dolphins swimming alongside you in the crystal-clear water.
Dickenson Bay is one of the more accessible Antiguan beaches (plus, it's free). The beach is only a 15-minute drive north of the cruise port and there's a nearby taxi stand if you're not staying in one of the area hotels. Plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs are available to rent, according to recent beachgoers. The beach's convenient location attracts a lot of families; trek 1 mile south to Runaway Bay if you want more peace and quiet or consider a beachside stroll. Local vendors set up kiosks for a little light souvenir shopping, and there are also a handful of moderately priced shops and eateries in the area. The tourism board offers more information on its website.
- #6View all Photos
Millions of years of reef formation amount to this: the Devil's Bridge. The natural limestone arch located in eastern Antigua, near Indian Town, has sustained the crash of ocean waves for hundreds of years to form the distinct shape it is today. At the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, this natural wonder leaves an impression on sightseers. According to local lore, Antiguan slaves jumped from the arch to their deaths and the devil would claim their souls, which is where the site gets its name.
The limestone can get very slippery when wet and walking across the bridge is not advised. The bridge is also surrounded by blowholes (natural sea caves that blast sea water and air during certain weather conditions). Experts warn that those blowhole blasts can be dangerous, especially on windy days. This isn't the best outing for young kids. Know, too, that you're not allowed to swim near the bridge.
- #7View all PhotosfreeGalley Bay Beach#7 in AntiguaBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Galley Bay Beach on the northwest coast of the island has some of the best surfing waves in Antigua. Plus, it's a must-see for animal lovers. Sea turtles often leave their eggs here to nest (several times a year, but most frequently in summer). Bring your camera and plan a nighttime visit: You just might see the baby turtles hatch. If daytime is more your thing, get your snorkeling gear ready and grab a glimpse of Galley's underwater wildlife.
The thin beach stretches for nearly one mile adjacent to the Galley Bay Resort & Spa whose cottages are built into the coves of lush green landscape. Galley Bay Beach boasts the iridescent turquoise water you'd expect from Antigua and a soft, clean stretch of sand that recent visitors raved about.
- #8View all Photos#8 in AntiguaBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Just south of Jolly Harbour on the island's west coast, you'll find the serene waters and soft sands of Valley Church, and maybe even some dolphins, according to recent visitors. The natural beauty of the palm tree-lined beach is a pleasant contrast to the buzz from the nearby casino and restaurants. Despite the calmness, the water is not very clear; snorkeling is better saved for other beaches like those at Hawksbill or Galley Bay.
Local vendors stroll along the shore and personal watercraft are available for rent, but most recent visitors agreed this beach is best for lounging. And though reviewers described it as "idyllic," they also warned that the beach attracts large crowds of cruise ship passengers every day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Time your visit for before or after to avoid the rush.
- #9View all Photos#9 in AntiguaMuseumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Small, but packed with information, the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda takes a look at the history of the islands, with exhibits displaying everything from pottery to pre-Colombian and historical artifacts. Located in the former St. John's Courthouse, which was built in 1750 and is believed to be the oldest building in town, the museum is described by recent travelers as informative and worth a visit. On the main floor, exhibits include information on the geological formation of the islands, the Amerindian peoples and cultures who inhabited the island prior to European settlement and recent Antiguan cultural practices. Upstairs in the library, visitors will see faunal remains, metal objects, texts, maps and photographs.
The museum, located in St. John Parish, is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is a small admission fee. There is also a small gift shop with locally made crafts. For more information, visit the museum's website.
- #10View all Photos
Established in the mid-17th century and named after the daughter of one of its former owners, Betty's Hope was one of the first and largest sugar plantations on the island. It's no longer a working mill, but it is a standing monument to Antigua's role in British colonial history. The main mill has been restored with new sails and crushing machinery, while most of the other buildings on the former plantation remain in ruins. You can get a better feel for what the grounds used to look like by making a stop in the former cotton house store room on-site; now a visitor's center and museum detailing the lives of Antiguan slaves during the mill's most profitable production years. A stunning view of Pares Village below makes for some worthwhile photos.
Hours seem to be sporadic for the museum, according to recent visitors who were disappointed to find it closed, though they still say the site is worthwhile to visit if you want to understand the role slaves played in Antiguan history. Others noted that you'll have to make a donation to enter the sparse museum. Reviewers also recommended visiting Betty's Hope with a local guide as part of a larger tour of the island, saying you'll enjoy a broader historical context than if you stopped by on your own.
Explore More of Antigua
If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.