Things to do in Antigua: Top 14 things to see
The wonderful atmosphere typical of Caribbean beaches is not enough to describe the beauty of Antigua. Because this island has an exclusive and inimitable charm, it transmits sensations so sweet that they remain unforgettable to those who have experienced them, perhaps even during a short vacation.
It is subtle magic that we could also extend to all the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean because places so magical and generous in terms of beauty make everyone agree.
But this island has an added advantage. The sea is limpid and temperate; the vegetation is beautiful and lush. And then there are the beaches of Antigua, which many might call the most beautiful in the world. But that’s not enough: there is also much history, a culture to discover, a way of life to love and share. And there is the charm of a dream location.
I was wondering what to see in Antigua? John’s, Dow’s Hill, Stingray, and many more. Discover with us the treasures not to be missed on a Costa cruise.
Things to do in Antigua: Top 14 things to see
- St. John’s
- Nelson dockyard
- Dow’s Hill
- Pillars of Hercules
- All Saints
- Shirley heights
- Old pump house
- Antigua and Barbuda Museum
- Fort James
- Seat of government
- Falmouth Harbor
- Betty’s hope
1. St. John’s
With its 45,000 inhabitants, the capital is home to more than half of the population of Antigua and Barbuda. And it is the seat of the main activities linked to the economy, which, in addition to tourism, are based on the refining of sugar cane and textiles.
The role of the tourist port of St John’s is important. Strategic point for the English colonists who founded it at the beginning of the 17th century, it obtained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981 while remaining within the Commonwealth. St. John’s Anglican Cathedral is the city’s main attraction with its Baroque towers. Rebuilt twice after earthquakes, it stands out from the sea in the city skyline.
The island’s history is told at the Antigua & Barbuda Museum, in a colonial building that also housed the courthouse and which today exhibits artifacts and archaeological finds from indigenous peoples. An old tradition is the farmers’ market held in the southern part of town, devoted to crafts and local products, including fragrant exotic fruits.
Other attractions include the statue of Vere Cornwall Bird, former Prime Minister, and national hero. It’s a colorful and unconventional statue, a gigantic bust of this politician in a suit and tie overlooking the city streets.
The commercial area (by the sea) is Heritage Quay, very lively even at night. You can take a peaceful stroll through the streets of historic Redcliffe Quay. And at the entrance to the bay, the fortification of Fort James, where you will find the original cannons from the colonial period, is worth a visit. Across the harbor, you can see the remains of Fort Barrington.
2. Nelson dockyard
Within the largest national park of Antigua, this space is at the same time used as a shipyard for many yachts. The latest restoration has restored it to its former glory, and the 18th-century buildings now house shops, hotels, and other businesses. Historically, it has always been a place of strategic importance, not least because it was the only port in the Eastern Caribbean large enough to allow safe repair of ships. At the end of 1700, the hero of Trafalgar, Admiral Horatio Nelson, was sent to Antigua to enforce Her Majesty’s laws in the colonies. In his honor, the shipyard, renovated in the 1950s, was renamed Nelson’s Dockyard.
The Arsenal Museum, located in Admiral Nelson’s Old House, has exhibits on the history of the arsenal. Hotels, art galleries, and restaurants welcome visitors to the region, preserving the city’s cultural heritage and combining it with the needs of tourism. Important sailing events like Antigua Sailing Week like the Antigua Yacht Charter Meeting take place in the marina area.
3. Dow’s Hill
The best way to get acquainted with the history and the spirit of Antigua? A visit to the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Center, a multimedia venue that offers a very careful presentation of the historical and cultural heritage of Antigua and Barbuda. Watch the show sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned arena; the screen shows the story of six centuries of history that explains how we came to the present reality of the island.
Fifteen minutes of presentation accompany the viewer on a journey through the ages of American hunters, the British army, and the fight against slavery. In addition to the presentation, you can relax at the outdoor bar or stroll the streets of Dow’s Hill. Originally Shirley Heights was home to the official command of the British Navy, and today it is a modern cultural center that has retained a sense of history. The restorers themselves have used the original stones for the reconstruction.
4. Pillars of Hercules
Where are the mythical Pillars of Hercules? In Antigua. It is, in fact, a limestone rock formation that appeared above sea level that visitors – whether geology buffs or divers of all skill levels – see in all its magnificence upon entering English. Harbor and Freeman’s Bay.
A majestic work of natural architectural art: this is how we could define the Pillars of Hercules, which rise along with Pointe Charlotte and, in the depths of the water, have become a shelter for coral reef for various forms of marine life. Over the years, they have suffered erosion from wind and rain, and the sea. They can be admired in all their unique beauty from Fort Berkeley, across the harbor, or through an excursion that will allow you to tour the island by catamaran or motorboat.
The site of the Pillars of Hercules, with its seabed rich in diversity of underwater life, is certainly interesting for diving and snorkeling activities. From a depth of five meters, huge blocks of limestone plunge into the sea, and those who swim in these waters are often accompanied by stingrays.
In the calm and clear water, you can admire colorful corals, huge sponges, snappers, barracudas, lobsters, moray eels, turtles, and even small reef sharks and dolphins.
5. All Saints
With approximately 3,000 inhabitants, it is the third-largest city in Antigua, in the island’s center and less than ten kilometers from the capital St. John’s. Nearby is the first sugar cane plantation, wanted here in 1674 by Christopher Codrington and called Betty’s Hope. There is only a small museum left where you can trace the history of the plantation, with all the maps of the time and the tools that were used. The area around All Saints is also known for its traditional porcelain production, so much so that the nearest village has been named Potter’s Village.
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6. Shirley heights
Formerly a military point of view, it has been restored and today offers a superb view of the English ports and Falmouth. From the highest point called The Lookout, the spectacle is remarkable, especially at sunset, when the entire bay of English Harbor takes on an indescribable color. A panorama whose image is often used as a postcard to announce the beauty of the island. The old military fortification is also home to a restaurant and bar named after Sir Thomas Shirley, the governor who made Antigua’s defenses more secure in 1781.
It was a matter of strategic importance to Britain, which had lost all of its West Indian colonies (starting with North America), except the outpost of Antigua and Barbados. The sugar plantations and the important trading port also had to be defended.
The luckiest observers, at sunset time, could see in a fraction of a second a jet of green light that, at one point, covers the horizon. It’s a phenomenon known as “Green Flash,” but few people can capture it with a photo or video. From there, you can also admire the Montserrat volcano and the island of Guadeloupe.
Every Sunday evening, there is a party with drinks, barbecues, and music from local bands playing a mix of Caribbean music and international hits. The hike to the top from Galleon Beach is tough, but it’s a great workout, although it’s best to tackle it early in the morning, so you don’t suffer from the heat.
They were swimming in the clear waters simultaneously as the stingrays are a unique experience offered by Stingray. You immerse yourself in their natural territory; you let yourself be conquered by their docile curiosity, and thus you reach the coral reef in the middle of a series of other multicolored fish. It is a great opportunity to have an unforgettable experience. We start with a short lesson from the expert guides who will give you some interesting data about these wonderful marine mammals and useful tips on how to interact with them.
After a short trip in the water, here is the center of Stingray City. On this white sandbar, dozens of stingrays, starfish, colorful fish, corals, and much other marine life live in their natural habitat. . Indeed, it is not fish farming but a natural environment. The bond that has been created over time allows animals to trust each other when approaching visitors. If you pet them and show them your affection, perhaps offering them some food, they will thank you for their friendship.
The journey to the natural wonders of Stingray City begins at Seaton, where you can feast among monkeys and parrots as you wait for the speedboat that takes you to the center of the reef in five minutes. Seaton is a village in the region of the parish of Saint Philip on the east coast of Antigua.
Off the bay, we can reach Bird Island, literally Bird Island. Picturesque uninhabited islet that offers a good number of paradisiacal white sand beaches with wonderful water is ideal for snorkeling. The island is also covered with lush vegetation; the coast is dotted with tall and beautiful palm trees.
9. Old pump house
Want to spend a few hours of adrenaline and adventure? Follow us. But be aware that you have to cross a suspension bridge to get to the old pumping station that allows us to reach the opposite side by crossing a ravine. On the other side of the bridge, the route begins. Do you want to embark on a course made up of twelve ropes descents, with cables up to 100 meters long? It will be an exciting journey, which will take you through the treetops.
A unique opportunity to see the flora and fauna of the rainforest from above listen to the life flowing through the branches. In the hut, there is the possibility to experience an adventure course with 9 stations, but those who prefer can reach the cafe-bar, crossing the gorge. In complete relaxation, you will “tire” yourself watching other people try their hand at ziplines.
10. Antigua and Barbuda Museum
St John’s Courthouse was built in 1750, but since 1985 it has housed the Museum dedicated to the history of Antigua and Barbuda. Today, it is run by a private, non-profit organization. The exhibits tell the story of the place, from its geological birth to political independence, and were collected through donations and discoveries. There is also a reference library and a digitized database for 25,000 documents, available for quick reference.
11. Fort James
The English built this fortification in the 18th century to defend the entrance to the port of Saint John’s, the first rampart and landing place of the capital of Antigua. From the top of the rocky promontory overlooking the northwest coast of the picturesque town, Fort James overlooks the harbor and offers magnificent views of the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.
What remains of the fort is a series of ruins, from the foundation wall to the powder magazine, including the original cannons. The British built it to prevent possible attacks from the French and dedicated it to King James. Below is the long beach called Fort James Beach, popular with locals and tourists alike, an ideal space for improvised and often spectacular beach volleyball challenges and walks on the sand in the middle of a landscape. Marvelous between the sea and the peninsula, which rises to the castle.
12. Seat of government
The seat of government of Antigua is the precious symbol of the democracy conquered by a people who went from the full emancipation of slavery in 1834 to the recognition of independence in 1981. It has been the official residence of the governor-general of islands since 1800 and still officially represents Queen Elizabeth as the highest authority in the Commonwealth of Nations. The building is in a traditional West Indian style, surrounded by offices that once served as stables, laundries, kitchens, servants’ quarters, cisterns, and gardens along the perimeter wall.
The structure has undergone time and some infiltration until the renovation, which allowed it to be reborn on solid foundations. And in the adjacent gardens, there are splendid examples of plants such as West Indian mahogany, red cedar, and lignum vitae.
13. Falmouth Harbor
Falmouth Harbor Marina is located on the main road to English Harbor. It is exactly where the mega yachts that have placed Antigua at the top of their favorite destinations for years find a mooring. It is the right port to dock. Also, once disembarking from their boat, tourists can easily walk to the streets of restaurants and shops. There are also naval engineering and electronics offices, tailoring shops, dive shops, and the maritime industry.
14. Betty’s hope
We can call it an open-air museum of agricultural and industrial enterprise, in the place where Antigua’s first sugarcane plantation was founded (in 1600) and is no longer active today. It is located in a quiet rural area, close to the Municipality of Pares, south of Saint John’s.
The Museum tells the story of the plantation opened by the English governor Christofer Keynell (whose name is dedicated to his daughter) and flourished during centuries of slavery. In addition to the two windmills, you can visit the Grande Maison, the Cistern complex, and transform the cane juice into granulated sugar, the Still House distillery for the production of rum today ruins, and one of the villages where the slaves lived.
When the Codrington family, who owned the estate, returned to England at the end of the 19th century, some lawyers took over until the production was finally sold to Antigua Sugar Estates Ltd in 1944.
Explore Antigua with Costa Cruises
And at this point, there is no longer any doubt: Antigua is the Island of Dreams for more than one reason. For the wonder of the sea and the beaches and the beauty of the views and the surprise of a story to know. We’re ready; get on board!
Things to do in Antigua