Nassau is the capital and largest city of the Bahamas and one of the top destinations in the Caribbean, so you know lots is going on here to amuse and entertain island visitors. The city blends all of the best aspects of a Caribbean adventure and you can truly experience it all in Nassau, from crystalline beaches to its rich history. Whether you're looking for something to keep the kids entertained or for an enriching cultural experience, you can find it all in Nassau.
Try New Flavors With Tru Bahamian Food Tours
Learn about the history, the culture, and, of course, the gastronomy of the Bahamas with Tru Bahamian Food Tours. The cuisine of the islands comes from a tasty blend of influences from the Caribbean, the U.S. South, Africa, and the U.K. There's a lot more to sample than just seafood and jerk chicken, and relying on a local expert is the best way to make sure you're choosing the most authentic—and most delicious—eateries during your stay.
The most popular tour offered is the Bites of Nassau Food and Cultural Tour, a three-hour experience that brings guests to six different locations in Nassau, all of which are locally owned by small-business owners. Your guide will explain Bahamian history and point out the neighborhood street art in between bites, which include deep-fried conch (pronounced "konk"), steamed chicken with peas and rice, and a tropical rum cocktail.
Experience Local Wildlife at Ardastra Gardens
These gardens started as a breeding ground to rebuild the endangered flamingo population in the Bahamas, but today Ardastra Gardens and Wildlife Conservation Centre is the only zoo in the entire country. The park is still best known for its resident pink flamingoes, but you can see over 200 species of wildlife around the premises, including wildcats, native rodents, and all types of tropical birds. Handfeeding the lories is always a family favorite, but the daily flamingo parade is the highlight attraction as the birds march and turn in unison and on command.
Apart from the animals, you can also see some of the most dramatic foliage in the Caribbean at Ardastra. Vibrantly colored flowers are in bloom all year long, protected from the harsh sun thanks to the overhanging canopy of the mango trees. Ardastra is first and foremost a conversation center, so you can be assured that your visit is supporting the local flora and fauna.
Climb the Queen's Staircase
Climb the 66 steps connecting Fort Fincastle to downtown Nassau and you'll be moved by the sweat and labor it took slaves to carve the 600-foot-tall Queen's Staircase out of solid limestone. Built between 1793 and 1794, the stairs were later named in honor of Queen Victoria.
The stairs make a great photo op and of course provide access to historic Fort Fincastle, which sits on the highest point of New Providence Island, Bennett's Hill. The fort is open daily for guided tours, but don't forget to tip your guides.
Go to Graycliff for Chocolate, Cigars, and More
Don't let the Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant's name fool you. There's a heck of a lot more going on here than just rooms and food. Sure, the accommodations in and around this historic colonial mansion are great and it's a real step back in time when you enter the hotel, but this Nassau attraction is so much more than just an inn and restaurant. Even if you aren't a guest of the hotel, you'll want to add this hotspot to your itinerary.
The Garzaroli family has transformed this hillside location in downtown Nassau into a virtual entertainment complex, complete with a chocolatier where you can sample and even make fine chocolate treats and a cigar company where stogies are rolled by hand on-site and can be paired with rum tastings. There's also a pizzeria and a Bahamian heritage museum on the premises, and don't forget to ask for a tour of the Graycliff's amazing wine cellar, stuffed with more than 200,000 bottles.
Sample Rum at John Watling's Distillery
Nothing is more Caribbean than going to visit a local rum factory. Just steps away from the Graycliff Hotel and the iconically pink Government House, John Watling's Distillery is set on the spacious Buena Vista Estate. Built in 1789, it's a taste of the old Bahamas in the heart of Nassau. Speaking of tasting, you can sample Watling's small-batch barrel-aged rums, which come in "pale" (white), amber, and "Buena Vista" five-year aged varieties.
The distillery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and tours to see how the rum is produced are completely free. But don't leave your wallet at home because you won't be able to leave without stopping in the distillery bar to try some of this local rum yourself. After all, you are on vacation, so feel free to indulge a little.
Take a Dive Trip at Stuart's Cove
The Stuart's Cove dive operation is located on the less-visited southwest side of New Providence Island, in a cozy cove that continually bustles with activity. Beginners get diving lessons while experienced divers suit up for open-water adventures—the latter including the opportunity to dive with wild sharks. Other options include snorkeling, SNUBA (a cross between snorkeling and SCUBA), a wall dive using underwater scooters, and the opportunity to pilot your own mini-sub.
Get Your Fish On at Arawak Cay
This collection of eclectic beachside restaurants, huts, and bars can be a little touristy as far as Caribbean fish fries go, but locals still turn out for fresh fish and conch fritters, cold Kalik beer, and music and dancing every night of the week. It's one of the best places on the island to try freshly caught seafood while paying a fraction of the price of what you would pay in upscale hotel restaurants. To snack as the locals do, Arawak Cay is an unbeatable location with several different options to try. For fresh fish off the boat with an even more authentic local vibe, try Potter's Cay under the Paradise Island Bridge.
Browse the Straw Market for the Perfect Souvenir
Bahamians have been selling local handicrafts to Nassau visitors for hundreds of years since slaves would gather in a "straw market" to peddle weaved bowls using skills brought over from their native Africa. The tradition continues to this day at the Nassau Straw Market, relocated from its historic home a few years ago following a fire to a new building on Bay Street. These days, it's much more than baskets for sale—you'll also find t-shirts, wood carvings, beaded necklaces, and every type of island-themed souvenir imaginable.
As with many tourist markets, several stalls sell items that are mass-produced and imported from abroad. Shop around before you make a purchase and ask vendors if their goods are locally made, so you can support Bahamian business and also get an authentic handicraft.
Take a Day Trip to Rose Island
The laid-back Bahamas Out Islands (also know as the Family Islands) are a whole different experience than urban Nassau, and instant serenity can be found via a quick speedboat trip to Rose Island. This near neighbor isn't much more than a glorified sandbar, but there's just enough seclusion, beach, and shade to make for a perfect day-trip. Sandy Toes will get you there, serve you lunch and a welcome drink, and provide snorkeling gear. If you fall in love with Rose Island, ask about an overnight stay!
Shiver Your Timbers at the Pirates of Nassau Museum
It may look like a tourist trap from the outside, but the Pirates of Nassau Museum does an excellent job of telling the swashbuckling, sordid, and seductive tale of pirate history in the Caribbean. Nassau was a notorious pirate haven in the early 18th century, and the interactive exhibits at the museum transport you back to the year 1716, the heyday of the "Republic of Pirates."
Expect interactive exhibits, dioramas, displays of authentic pirate booty, and of course an exit through the gift shop. You'll also get a chance to lock your kids in the brigs—that alone could be worth the admission price.
Play at the Aquaventure Waterpark at the Atlantis Resort
There may be newer waterparks in the Caribbean, but Atlantis' Aquaventure is still number one for its cool Lost World theming and incredible aquariums, some of which you jet through on the park's waterslides. The most popular attraction at the park is the Mayan Temple waterslide, which includes a 60-foot drop and sends riders hurdling through an underwater tube surrounded by sharks. If you want something less thrilling, Dolphin Cay lets visitors splash around with dolphins.
The easiest way to play is to stay at any of the Atlantis resort properties. The second easiest (and cheapest) is to get a room at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island, right across the street, which also gives you access to all Atlantis amenities. A limited number of day passes to the waterpark also are available for Nassau visitors or cruise ship arrivals who aren't staying at Atlantis.
Go to the Beach, of Course!
Nassau has so many distractions you can sometimes forget that you came down here to relax on the beach. Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island and Cable Beach on New Providence Island are the best known, but you can also check out Junkanoo Beach in downtown Nassau for a lively beach scene that's close to the cruise port.
Love Beach has a true beach-bar vibe at Nirvana, and Saunders Beach, just to the west of downtown Nassau, is where to go for some local flavor. Check out the food stands on weekends, set up as fundraisers for local charities.
Want a side of history with your beach drinks? Fort Montagu, built in 1741, sits at the end of Montagu Beach and it's the oldest fortification on the island. For supreme privacy, consider Yamacraw Hill Beach on the east end of New Providence Island (few tourists ever find this secluded spot). "Jaws: The Revenge" was a critically-panned movie, but the one good thing about it was that it included scenes shot on Jaws Beach, a quiet stretch of sand next to Nassau's Clifton Heritage Park.