Nassau is the capital 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. We've sorted through the endless options and picked the 10 activities and attractions we think you can't miss when making a port call in this historic town.
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 tip your guides, please!
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 hotel, with rooms in and around a historic colonial mansion with lush and lovely grounds, is great, and it's a real step back in time when you enter the hotel and settle in for a semi-formal lunch or dinner.
But 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 site, 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
Just steps away from Graycliff and the Bahamas' beautiful pink Government House, the 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.
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. 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.
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 stocks—that alone could be worth the $13 admission, as of 2018. Kids are half-price.
Play at the Aquaventure Waterpark at the Atlantis Resort
There may be newer waterparks in the Caribbean, but we still love Atlantis' Aquaventure for its cool Lost World theming and incredible aquariums, some of which you jet through on the park's waterslides. 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.
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; 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 stinker of a 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.