December 5, 2019
At just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide Barbados packs a big punch for its size. It’s known as one of world’s greatest holiday destinations, yet tempting though the beaches, resorts and golf courses are, there’s so much more waiting to be discovered.
Inspired by our recent London bus campaign, we asked Sean Edwards, our regional manager for business development in the Caribbean, to show us round his home island and help us choose the ‘best ‘B’s’. Whether you’re a first-time tourist, or a returning visitor looking to explore the island and immerse yourself in local culture, our list has something for you:
Before setting off on your travels, it pays to learn a little about the history and culture of the place you’re visiting. Sean’s best book recommendation is Andrea Stuart’s Sugar in the Blood; a tough but absorbing family memoir that traces the story of Andrea’s ancestors from their journey to the New World in the 1600s up to the present day. A brilliant book that shines a light on the human cost of slave trafficking and the sugar trade, it will help you understand the complex past and proud people of Barbados.
To experience the real Barbados, you need a rum shop. These are scattered all over the island and are where locals go to ‘lime’ or socialise. Rather than measures and glasses of rum, the spirit is sold by the bottle which is shared among the whole table. Groups of friends play dominos, discuss the day and enjoy some simple but delicious Bajan chicken or fish dishes. Rum shops are often found a short walk from one of the island’s numerous churches, further strengthening the community!
You’d think – given this is the nation that invented rum – that choosing the best bar would create a huge amount of debate. That didn’t happen. Kermitt’s Bar near Oistins, down on the south coast, is Sean’s firm choice. The chilled-out, lime green venue is hard to miss, and is a favourite bar of many locals (and it has to be said, most of the Virgin Atlantic team who work on the island).
Harking back to the Victorian era, the twin neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings are situated in the capital, Bridgetown. The third oldest parliament in the Commonwealth consists of an East Wing that houses both chambers of Parliament – the Senate and House of Assembly – and the West Wing where principle offices can be found, as well as a museum and the National Heroes Gallery.
Talking of Parliament, Barbados, unlike some places we could mention, has a hugely popular, progressive and strong leader. Voted into power in a historic landslide victory in 2018, with a 72.8% share of the vote and securing every seat in the House, the best boss in Barbados is awarded to the prime minister, the Hon. Miss Mia Amor. Mottley, Q.C., M.P.
To experience the best holiday haircut head to Holetown on the west coast, where Fame The Grooming Club does a roaring trade among locals and visitors alike. The man to ask for is master barber Derek, who’ll fettle your follicles while you sit back and relax in this modern and stylish salon.
When it comes to Barbados, this is arguably the biggest B of all. And it’s not an easy task when there are so many outstanding beaches on offer, from the tranquil powdery white beaches of the west coast to the spectacular windswept surfer beaches on the east. Sean’s choice though is Brownes Beach on Carlisle Bay, a crescent-shaped stretch of sand in St. Michael parish on the south coast. With calm waters for swimming and kayaking, and some off-shore shipwrecks to attract marine life, this glorious beach has plenty of facilities but is long enough to absorb them without feeling overcrowded.
Brownes Beach is a popular spot for Bajans to go swimming (or take a ‘sea bath’), as well as being family-friendly, safe, and a great location for spectacular sunsets. It’s also the home of Departure Beach, our Virgin Holidays day centre, and the perfect place to spend the last day of your holiday.
It’s time for that all-important first meal of the day, and there’s plenty of competition for the top spot. One of Sean’s favourites is Bliss Café near Dover Beach. Situated on the edge of St Lawrence Gap, this family run café serves amazing flatbread toasties in a lovely peaceful setting, as well as fresh waffles, tropical fruit-filled smoothies and great coffee. They also serve lunch (including more delicious flatbreads).
When it comes to boat rides in Barbados, Sean’s recommendation is to forego the touristy pirate booze cruises and opt for an altogether more agreeable catamaran cruise. He recommends Cool Runnings who offer lunchtime trips with a stop on a secluded beach, or evening sunset cruises with buffet dinner and drinks included. Both cruises give you the opportunity to go snorkelling with turtles and over shipwrecks. They also run private charters for those extra special occasions.
There are only two bridges on Barbados, and Chamberlain Bridge is the easy winner here. With a history that can be traced back to the Arawak indigenous peoples, this historic bridge has been rebuilt and renovated at regular intervals from 1654 to the most recent conversion to a lifting bridge in 2006. Now closed to traffic it’s a must-see sight in the town named after it.
Barbados Blue is a responsible dive operator founded by Andre Miller, master scuba instructor, and PADI Ambassador for Conservation. The company runs relaxed dive and snorkel trips out to the nearby wrecks in Carlisle Bay, where you can swim among the corals, fish and turtles. You can also go freediving, or get PADI certified on a scuba diving course.
It’s the beer that’s been ranked the number one by tourists and locals alike for over 50 years. Brewed in the Caribbean sunshine, stored in brown glass reusable bottles, enjoyed by millions. We hardly need to name it: Banks Beer. Clear winner.
Situated in an atmospheric building in the fascinating Bridgetown Synagogue Historic District, Josephine’s Café and Bistro is a peaceful oasis that serves imaginative brunch with bottomless Mimosas. Book a table in the palm-filled open-air courtyard for the most laid-back meal in town.
If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to the big all-inclusive resorts there are plenty of bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs and apartments on the island that won’t break the bank. While researching this blog post (someone’s got to) we stayed at Dover Woods Apartments which are five minutes’ walk from the south shore beaches and St Lawrence gap nightlife. These modern, self-contained two bedroom apartments are just across the road from the Bliss Café (see above)
The almond croissants from the Cliff Bakery in St. James take some beating. Located outside the most famous restaurant on the island, The Cliff, the bakery is open from 7.30–11.30 a.m. You ‘ll also find them at Brighton Farmers Market on Saturdays and Holders Farmers Market on Sundays.
This is really a list of one. Little Bay in St. Lucy parish, in the far north east of the island. Wild, spectacular and a fantastic photo opportunity.
Over at the Atlantis Historic Inn in Tent Bay on the east coast, the Wednesday and Sunday West Indian buffets are worth a special trip. Featuring both Barbadian and wider Caribbean specialities – from fried plantain and pickled breadfruit to garlic yam pie and guava bread pudding – the food is only part of the story, with the beautiful, breezy oceanside setting rounding off the perfect meal.
The Richard Haynes Boardwalk stretches for 1.6 km between Rockley Beach and Hastings in Christ Church. Strolling next to the Caribbean and enjoying the breeze is a pleasant way to enjoy the natural beauty of the south coast. Leave enough time to stop at one of the cafés along the route or sit in the shade and soak up the views.
There’s barely a square inch of this island where you can’t snap a scenic or interesting photo. Sean’s choice for the most Instagrammable spot is the wild and naturally beautiful beach by the tiny fishing village of Bathsheba on the east coast. For the best shots get there for sunrise!
It’s a difficult one because there’s so much choice. Do you opt for the ultra expensive (somewhere like Sandy Lane)? Or maybe the one with the best spa (that would be Coral Reef Club)? In the end we decided to go with the two hotels that were recently featured in our sustainability video (above).
There’s only one endemic species of bird on the island. We therefore nominate the Barbados Bullfinch as the island’s avian superstar. (Or perhaps, like most Bajans, we should just call it by its local, far more common name – a sparrow!)
Bike Caribbean Tours will set you up for a cycle in the sun by the sea. You can rent any type of bike from electric to beach cruiser and everything in between, but the best activity here is to join a guided tour. These last from two to six hours and take you right off the beaten track to discover a Barbados few get to see. This family-run business is located in St Lawrence Gap.
Our lovely airport team at Barbados Grantley Adams airport. Nobody wants to leave paradise but our team at the airport are there to bring your trip to a close with minimal fuss and a big smile.