10 unmissable things to do in Barbados

Barbados wins over most visitors with its unbelievable beaches and balmy weather. But this eastern outlier of the Windward Islands has a few other showstoppers up its sleeves.

Unmissable things to do in Barbados
Unmissable things to do in Barbados © Simon Dannhauer - Fotolia.com

As a manageable sized island in the Caribbean, Barbados is a wonderful place to explore on holiday. For culture, heritage and hedonistic delights, add these 10 unmissable activities to your Barbados travel plans.

Getting to Barbados: book your beautiful base with the likes of First Choice* and you too could be experiencing the following activities in this idyllic corner of the Caribbean.

1. Sample the national dish

Bajans are proud of their culinary heritage so if you're here in November, drop by the Barbados Food & Rum Festival and sample some local cuisine, such as their national dish, cou-cou and flying fish.

Essentially a fish stew (made with the native winged fish) with polenta and okra, it's packed with fiery Caribbean flavours. No additional hot sauce needed. Feeling brave? Try the pudding and souse (I'll let you look it up). Observe tradition and eat it on a Saturday.

2. Try a cutter at Cuz's Fish Shack

Continuing the culinary theme, you can't leave Barbados without wrapping your chops around a traditional cutter.

If you like a fried fish sandwich, you'll love these tasty morsels sold for less than $5 - you'll find them at a no-frills shack down from Bayshore Beach. Order one straight up (no cheese) and wash it down with an ice-cold Banks beer.

3. See the awesome waves of Bathsheba

The island of Barbados comprises around 85% limestone rock and, for the most spectacular geological wonders, you'll want to visit Bathsheba, on the island's eastern shores.

Bathsheba on the east coast of Barbados
Bathsheba on the east coast of Barbados © Digishooter - Fotolia.com

Here, you'll eyeball spectacular limestone cliffs battered by crashing Atlantic waves and giant coral boulders scattered across the sea. Surfing in the famed Soup Bowl is best saved for the pros but a dip in the naturally-formed Bathsheba Pools at low tide is tempting. Take your camera.

4. Party at Oistins Fish Fry

If you stay in the popular area of Christ Church, chances are someone will attempt to lure you to the Friday Fish Fry. Two words of advice - do it.

Hosted in the fishing town of Oistins, it's where locals congregate for a lime (that's a good old knees-up to you and me), the waterfront area is filled with smoking pit barrels and locals strutting their stuff to calypso, reggae and soca beats. Grab a bench, pour yourself a rum punch and join in the fun.

5. Spy on the island's greatest gardens

Green-fingered or not, you're going to love Hunte's Gardens. This oasis in the hills of St Joseph was created within a natural sinkhole by horticulturist Anthony Hunte. It's a fascinating jungle of towering trees, orchids, cacti and rare exotic plants.

Water Hyacinth in Hunte's Gardens, Barbados
Water Hyacinth in Hunte's Gardens, Barbados © David Berry - Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Follow the meandering paths (you may meet a monkey or two along the way) and keep your eyes peeled for hummingbirds. Also, make time for a rum punch with the eccentric Mr Hunte himself. Some claim these gardens have a spiritual quality about them - see what you think.

6. Explore Bridgetown & Garrison

The capital of Bridgetown is well worth exploring to understand the history of Barbados. Note the fortified port, once a prominent player in the British Atlantic slave trade, and English medieval serpentine street layout. Other key historical sites include National Heroes Square, St Mary's Church and the parliament buildings, some of the oldest in the world.

The Parliament buildings in Bridgetown, Barbados
The Parliament buildings in Bridgetown, Barbados © Nenad - Fotolia.com

Two miles from Bridgetown is the UNESCO-recognised Garrison district where the British empire based its military headquarters for over 100 years. Explore the preserved cannons, Savannah racetrack, and 18th-century walls of St Ann's Fort. To delve deeper, head to the Barbados Museum, housed in the Garrison's old military prison.

7. Visit Harrison's Cave

Arguably, one of the greatest natural wonders in Barbados, don't skip a trip to Harrison's Cave. This crystallised limestone labyrinth unveils a mind-bending collection of stalactites and stalagmites.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can book the eco-tour, which allows you to wade through underground streams with a flashlight. The echoes of dripping water and underground streams and waterfalls make for an extraordinary and eerie experience. The scenic gully tours outside of the cave are lovely too.

8. Take the Mount Gay Rum tour

It's no secret that rum is the tipple of choice here in Barbados. You'll know that if you've spotted the 1,200 rum shops that scatter the island. Take a guided tour of the Mount Gay Rum Factory in St Michael and you'll explore the island's sugar cane history and the distillery process that's been perfected over 300 years.

If the heady smell of molasses doesn't put a smile on your face, the tasting session will. You'll get to sample everything from their aromatic silver label to - if you're lucky - their 1703 Master Select blend.

9. Celebrate the island's sporting heritage

If you want to factor in some sport on your holiday, head to the Garrison Savannah Racetrack. It's been here since 1845 and Caribbean race day is quite a spectacle. Kensington Oval dubbed the 'Mecca of Cricket' was established in 1882 and is the place to watch the Windies cricket team.

See the statue of the country's national hero, Sir Garfield Sobers, and drop by the Barbados Cricket Museum.

The Kensington Oval, home of cricket in Barbados
The Kensington Oval, home of cricket in Barbados - photo courtesy of ROxBo

Polo is another sport that's treasured here and you'll find four key polo venues on the island. Make a day of it as most venues involve flowing appetisers, Champagne and a lively atmosphere as the crowds 'stomp the divots' at half-time.

10. Party at the Crop Over Festival

To experience an authentic Caribbean carnival, visit Barbados in August for the famous Crop Over Festival. Dating back more than 300 years, Crop Over is entwined in the Barbadian culture and promises steel bands, dancing and plenty of merriment.

Kadooment Day, part of the Crop Over Festival, Barbados
Kadooment Day, part of the Crop Over Festival, Barbados © Meg Stewart - Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The night-time party known as Foreday Morning Jam is a wild affair so prepare to have mud and body paint hurled at you with hijinks going on until the early hours. Kadooment Day marks the carnival's grand finale, a display of flamboyant costumes, fireworks and masquerade bands.

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Lucy McGuire

Lucy McGuire

Article updated on Wednesday 15th November 2017 in: Beach Caribbean Excursions Winter sun

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