Ships dock at the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal, a modern facility on the island’s only natural harbor, Carlyle Bay. It’s about a mile to the center of Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital and its only city.
The island’s best shopping begins right in the cruise terminal, where the requisite fine-jewelry boutiques are joined by local vendors proffering handicrafts, delectable rum cakes, and handmade candy from quaint pushcarts and signature Barbadian chattel houses.
Outside the terminal, taxis and shuttles wait to take guests into town—where even more stores backed by the port shopping guarantee are just waiting to be explored. Brand-name boutiques, duty-free shops, and gemstone stores galore make Barbados a shopper’s paradise.
It’s also a paradise for history buffs, who will find no shortage of ways to pass a day exploring the sites throughout Historic Bridgetown, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The British officially established the city in 1628. They called the town Indian Bridge due to a rustic native structure spanning Constitution River, which runs through the city. The island gained independence in 1966, but the effects of more than three hundred years of British control still linger: English is the official language, cricket is the national sport, and afternoon tea remains an everyday tradition. Today, the majority of Barbadians live in or around Bridgetown. Steeped in more than 380 years of history, the city is now a burgeoning metropolis that feels remarkably similar to London, only sprinkled with Caribbean personality and charm.
Like London, Bridgetown’s most prominent structures are the Gothic-style Parliament Buildings, which were constructed of coral limestone in the early 1870s. Opposite the Parliament Buildings is Heroes Square, the location of Bridgetown’s statue of Lord Nelson. Erected in 1813, this piece predates London’s more famous Nelson’s Column by twenty-seven years.
Nearby, Barbados’ longtime Anglican affiliation is represented at St. Michael’s Cathedral, an English-style church that was built entirely out of ballast brick from British ships in the seventeen hundreds. A young George Washington supposedly worshiped here when he came to the island back in 1751. More than 250 years later, the church continues to hold services and plays an important role in the Bridgetown community.
West of St. Michael’s is the Bridgetown Jewish Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere. In the sixteen hundreds, over three hundred Jews fled Brazil to escape persecution and sought refuge on Barbados, where they established one of the first Jewish settlements in the Caribbean. The Jews are credited with introducing the windmill to the island, which helped fuel Barbados’ subsequent success in the sugar industry.
Beyond the streets of Bridgetown, more of Barbados’ historic relics are waiting to be explored, including two of only three remaining Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere—St. Nicholas Abbet and Drax Hall—both of which are open to the public, Originally built in the 1650s, the mansions have been restored and contain period artifacts and artwork.