One of Barbados’ major attractions is that it’s great for a sun and sea holiday with the family. Due to the heat, you’re likely to be back from cycling quite early in the morning, so the question is, what’s next?
We based ourselves in St Lawrence Gap but ended up exploring the whole island in our quest to find the best things to do in Barbados.
Though Barbados is rightly famous for its stunning beaches, there’s a lot more to it than just the beaches. You’ll find loads of history, architecture, natural beauty and culture. It’s easy to explore: take the bus, if you’re adventurous, or you can hire a car or book a driver for a day. For a small island, there are lots of amazing things to do, even if you’re in Barbados with kids.
The following are our favourite things to do in St Lawrence Gap and the surrounds.
We did all of these from our base in St Lawrence Gap, with our one-year-old and three year old children with us. We found first-hand that Bajans love kids; it is a very child-friendly place to visit.
1. The beach
With over 70 miles of palm-fringed, white sand beaches, it’s tough to decide which beach to visit!
Our thoughts on the beaches we visited
Dover Beach, St Lawrence Gap: We stayed in an apartment on Dover Beach. The beach here is relatively wide, with white sand and gentle-ish waves. The beach shelves gently and you wade out some way before you’re out of your depth. Our one and three year old loved it. Behind the beach are hotels, restaurant/bars and apartments, so it’s quite a lively place with loungers and parasols, as well as jet skis, for hire. There are a few people selling coconuts and other small ticket items on the beach, but we didn’t find it hassly.
Accra Beach to Rockley Beach, Hastings: The Richard Haynes boardwalk between these beaches hugs the sea and is a great place to stroll – it’s a godsend if you have a young child in a pushchair! We found the beaches at the western end of the boardwalk the quietest, with calm, turquoise water, bright white sand and gently shelving slopes. As you walk east, you come across some beachfront bars, a turtle hatching site, a small, faded playground and a toilet block.
On a recommendation from a local, we enjoyed a brief stop at the ArtSplash Centre, over the road from the playground. Their fruit smoothies were great (their coffee also comes recommended) and the kids enjoyed the playground at the back of the cafe. Some of the buildings along the boardwalk were derelict, which gives some sections a slightly sad, downmarket feel. But overall, this was a lovely spot.
Miami Beach: Near Oistins, this is a picturesque spot that is popular with locals. It is very shallow and calm on one side, while on the other it is deeper with small waves. There’s shade, picnic tables, parking, chairs, umbrellas, refreshments and public facilities. It’s good for swimming, and near the Oistins fishing village, there’s lots to see with fishing boats unloading catches. If you go, make sure you visit Layne, who cooks the most fantastically yummy fish cakes. If you face the sea, he is in the right-hand canvas tent/canteen. Tell him the British girl on the bike sent you!
Mullins beach: Everyone we spoke to before our trip recommended Mullins beach. It’s about two-thirds of the way up the west coast. The water is turquoise and pancake flat, the white sand beach is attractive (if narrow) and the trampoline and iceberg climbing wall, moored just off the beach, seemed popular with kids (20BBD per person for the day). You can also hire jet skis. The principal building on the beach is the famous Mullins beach bar. It’s a trendy place, with a relaxed vibe, fresh, green and white decor and upbeat music. Such an experience and reputation comes with a price tag: 10 BBD (5 USD) for a small ramekin dish of steamed rice and 50BBD (25 USD) for a small prawn salad felt a bit painful.
Bathsheba: This was one of our favourite places on the island. The air is crusty with salt, the waves are furious, and big boulders stand proudly on the beach, amongst rock pools and seaweed.
It’s not the perfect, preened west coast to be sure, but, to our eyes, the contrast with its glamorous neighbour makes it even more appealing. Beach houses sit comfortably in big plots just above the beach, with plenty of room between them and there’s little sign of concrete apartment blocks or the multi-level hotels found in the west.
The downside is that it takes time to get there and swimming off the beach is dangerous. However, at low tide, there are rock pools you can swim in, and you’re likely to see plenty of surfers riding the waves in the “soup bowl”.
Cattlewash: Lying along the Ermy Bourne highway, access to Cattlewash is easy. There are sweeping views along the beach, and it’s a great, deserted walk from Cattlewash to Morgan Lewis. Swimming is dangerous because of the currents.
Crane beach: Waves thunder down on this pretty beach that is backed by trees and has the attractive Crane Hotel perched on the cliff to one side. The flags were red when we visited and, given the size of the waves, we wondered how often it would be safe to swim. It’s a charming spot nonetheless.
2. Graeme Hall Nature Reserve
Worthing Main Road, Christ Church
This peaceful enclave is a godsend if you’re staying in St Lawrence Gap and with young children that want somewhere to run around that’s not a beach. Sadly the reserve itself was largely closed when we visited but what is open to the public is great: a large sloping lawn that leads down to a lake. There are outside tables and chairs and an excellent café where you can buy food to feed the fish and birds.
3. Swim with turtles
Highway 1, Folkestone
Barbados offers a wide range of water based activities. If we weren’t with kids, a catamaran trip would have been high on our must-do list. With the kids in tow, we didn’t think 5 hours on a boat was a good plan…
Instead, we opted for a glass-bottom boat from Folkestone Marina.
Monica, an ex-manager at Barclays bank, Barbados runs the boat. Her skipper is Kenrick, who has been plying the waters for the past 44 years. Tall and muscular, Kenrick was chatty and versatile – from repairing the engine that spluttered to a halt, to babysitting our one-year-old daughter while we snorkelled over a coral reef and shipwreck. Our three year old loved seeing the fish through the glass panels, and we were all hugely excited to swim with a beautiful turtle that paddled around us for several minutes in Paynes Bay.
4. St Nicholas Abbey
St. Nicholas Abbey, Cherry Tree Hill, St. Peter
Visiting this quiet, 350-year-old plantation house was one of the highlights of our trip. We found it hugely atmospheric and a little haunting.
Despite the name, St Nicholas Abbey is not a religious building, but a stone house built in 1658 and set in a colourful formal garden that is surrounded by trees. It is one of only three Jacobean mansions still standing in the western hemisphere today. Walking through the house transports you back in time. The three rooms you visit are full of antiques and curiosities that capture what life would have been like for plantation owners. It could be a Victorian drawing room in an English country house, but for a few subtle differences like the thousands of small, colourful shells decorating the chandelier and the hurricane lanterns around the candles (to stop them being blown out by the breeze that blows through the presumably constantly open windows).
In a separate building, we were handed a rum punch (you can also get a decent coffee and/or lunch). There’s the opportunity to sample the Abbey’s rum, and there’s an excellent short film, put together from slides taken by a previous owner on a trip to the plantation in the 1930s. We missed the tour that had just departed but, given we were with children, it may have been just as well. It gave us the opportunity to explore alone and the atmosphere felt thick with history as we wandered through the old stone buildings with the blustery wind rustling the trees.
St Nicholas Abbey produces one of the island’s best rums, and presumably this also helps sustain this magnificent site. The sugar cane used to produce the rum, is ground on site between January and June, using a 19th Century steam driven mill. Canes are cut by hand in the fields, fed by hand into the mill, and the cane juice is used for distillation of their award-winning rum. You can get up close to the mill and the kind overseer even cut a small piece of cane for the children to try.
5. Garrison area, Bridgetown
This UNESCO world heritage site is based around the majestic, wide open space of the Garrison Savannah race track. We were surprised that we could just wander around; it’s certainly more relaxed than the UK! Even if you don’t see a race, the sight of the racehorses being exercised along the track in the morning is memorable. Many of the buildings around the track are crumbling, but their colonial grandeur is obvious.
The blood red barracks buildings are impressive and well maintained (see the banner photo to this article). They house the 800 strong Bajan army. George Washington House is also close to the track. This is the house that the USA’s first president stayed in when visiting Barbados to try and find a cure for his brother’s tuberculosis.
6. Welchman Hall Gully
Welchman Hall, St. Thomas
With fantastic views to the east, Welchman Hall Gully is formed by a collapsed cave. It has a micro-climate that allows lush rainforest plants to thrive. It’s three quarters of a mile walk over a mainly flat path (there are some steps in the middle, but we carried the pushchair up and down them easily enough). If you’re lucky, you’ll see monkeys in the trees or at feeding time (which is between 10:30 and midday, depending on when the monkeys turn up).
We were unlucky and didn’t see any on our visit. We were told that the monkeys don’t like rain and it had rained a short time before we arrived. There were few flowers to see but a lot of different types of rainforest plants. We were most impressed by the giant bamboos. As we were there relatively early, we enjoyed walking through the gully alone; it made the experience all the more special.
7. Sunday brunch at The Crane Resort
The Crane, St. Philip
Sunday brunch offers a good spread of fruit, cooked breakfast, made to order omelettes, cereals, yoghurt, toast and pastries. But what took the experience to another level was the group of local gospel singers that sang while we ate. Their singing was passionate and stirring, varying from slow and thoughtful to upbeat and joyful. The views from the restaurant were also sublime: down to the azure sea with its backdrop of waving palm trees.
8. Take the bus
Sounds odd, but we really enjoyed this! Buses are cheap (2BD per person, however far you travel on that bus), often play lively music and give you the chance to be a local for a short time. Minibuses (with ZR number plates, hence often being referred to as ZRs) charge up and down the coast road, and you can just flag them down. There are also privately owned, yellow and blue mini muses, and government-owned blue and yellow buses. Check the board in the front of the bus for its end destination. Remember to have exact change for your fare.
9. St John’s parish church
If you happen to pass one of the parish churches, you should pop in. They’re fascinating places. St John’s is particularly beautiful: the smell of polished mahogany wafts up and, but for the pigeon nesting in the window above the altar and the cobalt blue sky visible through the windows, you could be in a parish church in England. The panoramic view from the grounds is breathtaking, stretching from Ragged Point in the east all the way to Pico Tenerife in the north.
10. Farley Hill House
This was one of Barbados’s oldest houses, but it was destroyed by fire in the 1950s. Now just a shell, vigorous tropical plants have taken root inside the house. But for the wire fence surrounding the house, it would be a truly romantic spot. Even with the fence, it retains a sense of mystery and enchantment. The house is surrounded by beautiful mahogany trees making it a lovely, cool place to relax, even in the midday sun. From the bandstand behind the house, the view stretches over luscious green forest to the sea.
11. Animal Flower Cave
This is a pleasing spot that’s worth including on a round the island tour. The waves smash into the limestone/coral cliffs as the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. There’s an attractive bar and restaurant, and you can walk down well-worn steps into the caves.
Once inside, there are giant holes through which you can see azure waves crashing, just metres away from you. It’s exhilarating. We got to the caves around 9am and were almost alone, which made the experience particularly atmospheric. There’s the opportunity to swim in one of the pools. Even if you don’t have your swimming kit on, do paddle – it was very shallow and warm when we visited, and it’s wonderful to feel the smooth rock of the cave beneath your feet. If you’d like to explore the caves it’s worth having shoes (not flip-flops) on as some of the rocks you clamber over are sharp.
Other activities we liked the look of (but didn’t do this time)
12. Hastings Farmers Market
The market is held every Wednesday and Saturday 8am-2pm, at the ArtSplash Centre in Hastings (opposite the boardwalk). You can get crepes, baked goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, plants and local food.
If you love art, visit the Gallery of Caribbean Art in Speightstown, Gallery NuEdge Fine Arts in Holetown and Village Gallery at the Crane Resort.
14. Atlantis Submarine
Take the submarine down 130 feet to see a fabulous shipwreck.
15. Harrison’s Cave
A beautiful limestone cavern which you visit by tram or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, crawl and climb through with headlamps and knee guards.
16. Barbados Wildlife Reserve
We saw green monkeys quite a few times while travelling around the island. Generally, they were running riot in people’s gardens or clambering over their roofs. They’re cute looking creatures, but we can see why locals see them as pests. On a future visit, we’d probably visit the Wildlife Reserve to see the monkeys at the 2pm feeding time as well as deer, tortoises, iguanas and peacocks. We like the fact most of the animals roam free within the reserve.
There are five gardens open to the public. Clustered together in the north are:
Orchid World (20,000 orchids on this 6 acre site) is to the west of these three and Andromeda Gardens, a 6 acre garden set out in rooms, is on the east coast, above Bathsheba.
18. Explore some other beaches
19. Explore Speightstown
We cycled through on our Tour of Barbados and loved the look of this sleepy, down to earth, looking town. It seemed to have a much more authentically Bajan atmosphere than nearby Holetown and some interesting looking colonial buildings. There’s also an art gallery featuring the work of Caribbean artists, a small museum, cafes, bistros and bars.
There’s duty-free and VAT free shopping available for visitors.
21. Watch a horse race at the Garrison Savannah in Bridgetown
Racing takes place throughout the year at the Garrison Savannah, particularly on Saturdays. You can buy a ticket for the grandstand or do as the locals do and watch from the side of the track where no ticket is needed! Even if it’s not convenient to go on a Saturday, if you are passing by in the morning, you’re likely to see horses in training around the track. More information.
22. Watch a polo match
If you’re into polo, Barbados has three fields, and there are matches between January and May.
23. Other sport
There’s a lot of opportunities to take part in sport while in Barbados. There’s golf, cricket, sailing, surfing, diving (there are eight PADI dive centres and over 20 dive sites), spearfishing, game fishing, kite and windsurfing, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, motorsport, tennis, squash and hiking are all available.
Have you done any of these activities?
What did you think? Have we missed anything? Comment below!
Looking for places to stay in St Lawrence Gap? Take a look at our guide.
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