Best Things To Do in Antigua
Antigua vacations are almost always centered on the beaches. Should you tire of the sand, consider smelling the flowers and buying the local produce at St. John's Saturday Morning Market, learning about Antigua's naval history at Nelson's Dockyard, or touring a former sugar cane plantation like Betty's Hope in St. Peter parish. Nightlife is available in the Falmouth and English harbors.
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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.
You probably can't hit all the dockyard's attractions in one visit, but you can enjoy a fair few if you plan ahead. The park's official website lists all there is to see and do, including special events, but here's a quick summary: There are plenty of restaurants, cafés 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 Shirley Heights.
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Wear some comfortable shoes and make the hike from English Harbour in Nelson's Dockyard National Park 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.
It's a challenging hike up to Shirley's and the Antiguan heat makes early morning the best time to make the trek. The popular Shirley Heights Lookout Bar & Restaurant rests at the summit. Come prepared to party on Sundays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., when local bands perform live Caribbean music, the barbecue is fired up and drinks are flowing. Be prepared for crowds, though. Recent travelers warn that, while worth it for the awe-inspiring sunset views, this party gets packed.
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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 long enough to form its distinct shape today. At the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, this natural wonder leaves an impression on sightseers.
The limestone can get very slippery when wet and walking across the bridge is not advised. Visitors have the chance to brave the blast from one of the Devil's surrounding natural blowholes (natural sea caves that blast sea water and air during certain weather conditions). But experts warn that those blowhole blasts can be dangerous, especially on windy days. This isn't the best outing for young kids.
- #4View all Photos#4 in AntiguaBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
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, 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 Hawksbill name.
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Located in northwest Antigua in St. John's parish, Dickenson Bay is considered the premier beach of the island's 365 stretches of shoreline. That's because Dickenson offers a little 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 watersports to get the adrenalin 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. The beach is only a 15 minute drive from 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. The beach's convenient location attracts a lot of families; trek one mile south to Runaway Bay if you want more peace and quiet or consider a beachside stroll. "The 2 or 3 kilometer stretch of beach makes for nice walking, especially to the right as there is a large stretch of undeveloped beach up to the cliffs," one TripAdvisor reviewer said.
- #6View all Photos#6 in AntiguaBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Just south of Jolly Harbour on the island's west coast, you'll find the serene waters and soft sand of Valley Church. The natural beauty of the palm tree-lined beach is a pleasant contrast to the buzz from the nearby casino and restaurants. And since locals use the spot for casual boating and fishing, you'll avoid too many tourists competing for the chairs and umbrellas available for rent. Despite the calmness, the water is not very clear; snorkelling 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 visitors agree that this beach is best for lounging. According to one TripAdvisor reviewer, "This is an ideal beach for families with small children and everybody who uses the beach for relaxation more than for action."
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Many head straight from the cruise ship dock to Antigua's Heritage Quay or Redcliffe Quay duty-free shopping centers, but insiders know where the real deals are: The Saturday Morning Market on Market Street in the capital city of St. John's. Local vendors from all parts of the island come to sell a wide variety of goods. Come ready to peruse souvenirs and crafts, spices and fresh produce — think okra, coconut, papaya and Antiguan black pineapple. Don't worry about working meal times into your schedule, the market's prepared foods (like fried green tomatoes) can work well as breakfast or lunch.
The market tends to get crowded, so it's best to arrive early in the day to make the most of the vendor variety. Amid the stands' bright colors that same bustling energy of the crowd reflects the vibrant Caribbean lifestyle of the island.
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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 snorkelling 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 whose cottages are built into the coves of lush green landscape. Three of the resort's open-air restaurants reach out to the white sand's edge, not far from the "iridescent turquoise blue water you want from Antigua," as one TripAdvisor reviewer described it. Be wary of the strong undertoe and rough breaks that can make this beach tough for swimming — for the calmest waters, steer clear of the rock formations off to the sides of the beach. If you're bringing the family, be sure to keep an extra eye on swimming kids.
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Built in 1674 and named after the daughter of one of its former owners, Betty's Hope was the first and largest sugar plantation 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 competent museum on the lives of Antiguan slaves during the mill's most profitable production years. A stunning view of Pares Village, St. John below makes for some worthwhile photos.
While many recent travelers recommend a tour guide to help bring Betty's Hope to life, it's not essential as "information panels were placed to give the visitor rudimentary information regarding the site," one TripAdvisor reviewer said.
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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. The trek has its advantages, though, namely fewer beachgoers to distract from the charm of this national park. Windsurfers will appreciate the sizeble 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.
One TripAdvisor reviewer said, "We enjoyed this beach for the body surfing and the great rock formations to explore. And it wasn't busy. Thus, private and not having to stake out our territory." But 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 hours), and Half Moon is definitely a beach to enjoy when the sun is up.
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