Antigua: Perfecting the Art of Relaxation
A yacht-studded coastline, great shopping, verdant rain forest, and rich history prove there’s more to Antigua than just spectacular white-sand beaches.
With 365 picture-perfect beaches—one for every day of the year—it’s hard to imagine that Antigua’s shores really are just the beginning. A jagged coastline of yacht-studded bays frames the rolling landscape of rainforests, plantations, historic forts, and the British Navy’s former Caribbean home base. Antigua is an ideal place to shop, hike, sail, and snorkel—or simply to perfect the art of relaxation on the sugary-white sand.
It’s easy to get around St. John’s by foot; all of the downtown sites are within walking distance. Heritage Quay, a duty-free shopping center set right on the water, is packed with guaranteed shops, restaurants, and quality boutiques offering luxury goods at incredible prices. Local artwork and handicrafts are in abundant supply, as are selections of jewelry, emeralds, watches, electronics, china, and English linens. Down the block, Natura Creations sells wellness products, gourmet preserves, and pepper sauces. The shops at nearby Redcliffe Quay are housed in restored Georgian warehouses painted in a vibrant mix of Caribbean hues. Within the former trading post, a mix of fine boutiques sell some of the world’s most renowned jewelry and watch brands—plus designer gems found only on Antigua.
Founded in the 1660s by English colonizers, St. John’s is a charming Caribbean town where cobblestoned sidewalks are lined by wooden houses with corrugated iron roofs and Caribbean verandas. Fort James, overlooking St. John’s Harbor, was built in the early 18th century to protect the city from invaders. It remains in excellent condition, and a few of the original cannons are still intact.
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, inside the colonial Court House, is one of the oldest buildings in town. The museum displays Arawak artifacts such as stone pendants and flint knives from the island’s first inhabitants alongside modern treasures, including the bat of legendary cricket player Sir Vivian Richards.
The town’s most recognizable landmark is St. John’s Cathedral, a baroque structure with two stone cupolas that dominate the skyline. The first cathedral on this site was built of wood in the late 17th century and later replaced by a stone version in 1745. That version was destroyed by an earthquake in 1843. The current edifice underwent a major restoration project, which began in 2009 and was completed by the summer of 2015.
Antigua is best known for its beaches, and many of the cruise line’s shore excursions include time to relax on the sugary-soft sands. Some of the island’s best beaches are close to the cruise ship docks. For a fully loaded resort experience, head to Dickenson Bay Beach—about two miles from St. John’s. For a more private experience, opt for the Antiguan Crusoe Island Escape, which takes place on the secluded Prickly Pear Island.
Adventure seekers will find no shortage of active options on and around this island. The waters off the southern and western coasts are swarming with colorful marine life—perfect for diving and snorkeling. There are also kayaking adventures, catamaran tours, and even yacht-racing adventures. The mangrove-lined islands of the North Sound to Barge Reef are home to the enchanting Stingray City. Swim alongside the graceful sea creatures in the warm waters within a calm, clear bay.
If history is your thing, you’ll want to head to English Harbour, located on the south coast of the island. Once an important base for the British Royal Navy, this was the only harbor in the Eastern Caribbean large enough to accommodate naval-ship repairs. It became known as Nelson’s Dockyard in the 1950s when major renovation efforts commenced. It is named after the 18th-century British naval legend Horatio Nelson, who patrolled the Caribbean to help Britain maintain sea power over European rivals and the newly formed United States.
Today, English Harbour is part of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. The property features several shops, restaurants, and the Dockyard Museum, which presents the harbor’s history alongside exhibitions highlighting archaeological research on Antigua. Visitors can enjoy the scenic natural beauty of the island on the hiking trails surrounding the area.
Every spring, the marina plays host to Antigua Sailing Week, a world-class yachting regatta that attracts high-performance racing yachts from around the globe for a week of competition in paradise. For electrifying views of the harbor, head to Shirley Heights, a former military lookout point with an array of cannons and historic structures. The site is named for Sir Thomas Shirley, governor of the Leeward Islands when the area was fortified in the late 18th century. The lookout is noted for affording some of the best views on Antigua.
Just west of Nelson’s Dockyard is Fig Tree Drive, a picturesque road that meanders through the rainforest and farmlands around Fig Tree Hill before cascading down to the coastline. Along the way, the road passes old sugar mills and rows of mango, guava, and coconut trees. Look for vendors selling black pineapples, Antigua’s national fruit.
From Fig Tree Drive, it’s a 15-minute ride to Betty’s Hope, an abandoned sugar plantation where two stone windmills are a reminder of the once-thriving sugar industry. Betty’s Hope also holds a museum that documents the impact of sugarcane on Antiguan history. Nearly 100 windmills, now functioning as houses, restaurants, and shops, still stand across the island.
Experience Antigua’s aquatic delights three ways: a catamaran cruise, reef snorkeling, and swimming at a white-sand beach.
Experience Antigua’s aquatic delights three ways with a catamaran cruise, reef snorkeling and swimming at a white-sand beach. Set sail in a motorized catamaran. Anchoring near paradise Reef, crew members guide snorkelers around sheltered waters for the best views.
Explore Antigua’s rich naval heritage and scenery on a narrated island drive and walking tour of the restored naval station, Nelson’s Dockyard.
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