Home to over half of the Bahamian population, Nassau brings to mind many things to many people. To some, it is the fine sand that ribbons the coast—so pure that it makes some think of baby powder, how smooth and white it is. To others, gambling comes to the fore, as the Bahamas are known for their world-class casinos. Others dream of their retirement in a colonial island paradise whose government increasingly recognizes that its inherent beauty is its economic strength. Yet for others, thoughts turn back to the 1980s, the days of the illegal substance cowboys exemplified by Don Johnson, Phillip Michael Thomas and the TV show "Miami Vice,"—the modern-day smugglers in high-speed chases from the American mainland to The Bahamas, as well as romance on the high seas. All this makes for a plethora of water sports and activities, superb shopping, excellent historic sites and a hopping nighttime scene.
But of course, the island of Nassau is so much more, it is an antidote for people needing relief from the day-to-day hassles and stress of life in the "real world", where the concern is not which reef to visit but which bill to pay. So the question is, "where do you go to best enjoy all these things?"
Downtown is the hub of activity in Nassau. Thousands of people visit daily, to shop, dine, sightsee and enjoy the bustling atmosphere of this port city. While the busiest part of Downtown is the Bay Street thoroughfare and the Woodes-Rodgers Walk, located across the street from the port and parallel to Bay, the area actually extends for several blocks in each direction. It starts at West Bay, around the Junkanoo Beach area. A few hotels and restaurants are located on West Bay, most notably
The pace in this district is busy, so it is frantic at times. Without a doubt, it gets the most foot traffic on the entire island. This place is perfect for recreational shoppers, sightseers and first-time visitors.
If Downtown Bay Street is known for its shopping, Cable Beach is the recognized hotel district. Five enormous hotels—two of them all-inclusive—are located on this strip. The area is also known for its dining options, the magnificent
This is a quieter, calmer place then Downtown. It's harder to walk from one place to another, and no one really wants to bother. It's much nicer to relax at a pool bar or splash in the waves. If things get boring, it's easy to catch a cab or a Number 10 bus and go to Bay Street.
Nothing can prepare one for the sight of the Atlantis, an enormous hotel/resort/aquarium/ water park modeled after the legendary sunken city. The rest of Paradise Island isn't at all shabby either. In fact, it is a veritable man-made oasis, built over what used to be a lackluster patch of ground known as Hog Island. The first resort to draw people to the island was the venerable Club Land'or. While this tiny club is very much in the shadow of the Atlantis, it still has many loyal fans. Golfers should check out the Clarion South Ocean Resort and Golf Club, while wealthy travelers desiring quiet will appreciate the
Paradise Island is stunning in some parts, lovely in others, and in some...well, it's not finished yet. There is constant construction and even more constant renovation as hotels strive to match up to the world-famous Atlantis. This is easily the most expensive and tourist-oriented place in all of the Bahamas, but no one would deny that it's a lot of fun. There's no bus over the Bridge. Drive, or take a cab or bus to the foot and walk.
There are many other parts of Nassau, however, they are strictly for locals; so there's nothing in the way of attractions, and very little interesting shopping. Anyone looking for a stereo, a pair of jeans or some inexpensive groceries can hop on a number 18 bus from the transit center and head to the
However, for sheer energy, activity and entertainment, a visitor could remain in the main three districts of Nassau for an entire vacation without ever getting bored.
As both the capital of the Bahamas and a world-famous vacation destination, Nassau boasts a wide variety of dining and entertainment options. Many of the island's restaurants and bars keep to a tropical theme in terms of ambience and cuisine, but a more eclectic dining scene is beginning to flourish, and different kinds of night spots are also beginning to crop up. One can find Chinese takeout, European bistros and Italian trattorias throughout downtown Nassau and Paradise Island. Gourmet rooms and upscale cocktail lounges are also scattered throughout the island, with a few restaurants making the "Top Ten" list in gourmet publications and trade magazines.
However, people don't come to Nassau to eat Chinese food or French food. They come to Nassau to drink rum and eat conch—that deliciously chewy sea creature rumored to have extraordinary libido-boosting properties. Spring Breakers visit the island for the inexpensive liquor and the thumping reggae and calypso music, while entire families can enjoy Junkanoo parades and inexpensive local seafood. The quintessential Nassau dining experience includes chipper Calypso music, fresh fish or lobster, friendly service and a view of the sea. One can find all of these qualities at dozens of restaurants in Nassau and Paradise Island.
Downtown-Bay Street Dining options on Bay Street aren't quite as plentiful as one might expect. The street is primarily a shopping area, and there are just a few restaurants interspersed with the stores. Most restaurants are located on side streets, a short distance from the thoroughfare. At the beginning of Bay Street, the majestic Colonial Hilton offers several dining options, all of them expensive. The Wedgwood Room is a perfect choice for very special occasions, say anniversary dinners or 50th birthdays. Portofino Italian Café, located on the ground floor of the Hilton, is less formal than the Wedgwood; it's appropriate for business lunches or dinners.
Fine dining choices don't stop at the Hilton, however. A number of gourmet restaurants are located within a few blocks of the landmark hotel. Graycliff and Chez Willie are known around the world for ambience and cuisine.
Although Nassau boasts a high number of world-class gourmet rooms, especially given its diminutive size—it has plenty of less formal options. Across the street from the Hilton is an extremely popular, extremely touristy restaurant, Conch Fritters. This place blatantly panders to drunken tourist families and bored businessmen, but in spite of its kitschiness, it has a certain appeal. Prices are relatively low and portions are large. It's a great place to try conch for the first time; it's also a perfect spot for daquiri-downing. Two doors down, the dingy Imperial Cafeteria offers authentic Bahamian fare. Only the bravest tourists venture in here, but locals flock to the counter day and night. Skans Café is smack dab in the middle of Bay Street. Busy and informal, it does a brisk lunchtime business. On a side street of Bay, the Brussels Brasserie serves delectable brunch and lunch dishes in a casually cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Most of Nassau's nightlife is located downtown. Bahama Boom, the latest hot spot, also claims the distinction of being Nassau's first techno club. Waterloo is a popular dance club, featuring all kinds of music and an outdoor patio. The Drop Off is famous for its intriguingly seedy mixed crowd and its late-night food service.
East Bay While it's not known for much else, the area around the foot of the Paradise Island Bridge has become a sort of restaurant district. Several popular restaurants, including the jazzy Pink Pearl and legendary Poop Deck, are clustered here, near Nassau Harbour. The recent addition of two popular restaurant franchises, the Outback Steakhouse and Hooters, makes this an even more popular dining destination.
Cable Beach This part of Nassau is known for its world-class hotels, but it has plenty of fine independent restaurants as well. BBQ Beach, a newcomer to the Nassau dining scene, features nouveau barbecue. Androsia Steak and Seafood is famous for its pepper steak and its fresh seafood.
Each of the major hotels on Cable Beach boasts a full complement of restaurants, and while the all-inclusives (Sandals, Breezes) don't allow outside guests, the other hotels are quite welcoming. The Marriott Crystal Palace has the fabulous Seaside Buffet, a casual restaurant by the name of Goombay Mama and a wonderful coffee shop and pastisserie, Crystal Sweets. Fine dining options—Italian, Chinese and Continental—are located on the second floor of the main building. One of Nassau's most popular local restaurants, Café Johnny Canoe, is located next to the Nassau Beach Hotel; eat here if you want to try conch or listen to calypso.
Paradise Island If you're in the mood to splurge, Paradise Island is the place to go. Dozens of restaurants are located on this tiny patch of Paradise— most of them within the gigantic Atlantis Resort. Over half of PI's restaurants are pricey and semi-formal. Highlights of the Paradise Island fine dining scene include Fathoms at the Atlantis and beloved Blue Lagoon at Club Land'or.
Finding mid-range or inexpensive restaurants on Paradise Island can be quite a challenge. However, there are a few options, although none of them are located at the major hotels. Anthony's Caribbean Grill, located in the Paradise Shopping Plaza, offers large, inexpensive tropical drinks and a laid-back atmosphere. The News Café is a great place to sip a cappucino in the morning or evening. Each of Paradise Island's shopping centers has its own deli, where tourists can buy sandwiches and chips for a few dollars.
Around the Island Some of Nassau's best and most unique dining options aren't located in any specific area, but manage to flourish by drawing customers away from the main drag. Foremost among these restaurants is the famous Sun and... Not only is its name enough to catch the eye over and over again, its cuisine is sufficient to draw rave reviews from the world's toughest critics. Seashells, the only restaurant on tiny Crystal Cay, offers stunning ocean views and a unique atmosphere. For genuine Bahamian cooking at low prices, dine at Traveller's Rest. It's far off the beaten path, but the restaurant often runs specials to make the drive worthwhile.
Nassau is a fun city for dining and drinking. With the exception of a few five-star gourmet rooms, the prices are not prohibitively expensive, and the cuisine is often inventive and flavorful. There are dozens of places to get a mixed drink for a few dollars, and the atmosphere at restaurants and bars is usually pleasant. Whether you're a student on Spring Break or a millionaire on a pleasure cruise, you're sure to find something that suits your palate and wallet.
Welcome to New Providence Island, known to the world as simply Nassau/Paradise Island. Touring can take several forms here depending on your interests and physical predilections. Whether you prefer a self-guided tour or to join up with an organized tour group, taking in the city of Nassau is pure pleasure. It offers colorful local shopping, fascinating examples of colonial architecture, museums, culture and history all within easy touring range. Most tours originate from Port George Wharf near the cruise ship area. The wharf area is a wonderful place to get your first "feel" of Nassau—it's where over a million visiting cruise-ship passengers disembark yearly.
Consider the downtown district in and around Bay Street, recently refurbished and beautified. It's the main avenue that runs along Nassau Harbour's south end and goes to the Government House, Junkanoo Museum, Pompey Museum and Rawson Square. This is a great place to book a horse-drawn surrey tour. The Junkanoo Museum at Prince George Wharf is basically located in an old warehouse, but what it houses is, quite frankly, pretty cool. It is really the Junkanoo Museum—a tribute to participants in past Junkanoo celebrations, the traditional festival time the week between in between Christmas and New York. Junkaroo generally refers to a specific type of music. Old costumes and the like are the highlights.
The Government House is the official residence of the nation's leader, on Duke Street just off Cumberland. It's been the leader's official home since 1801. A statue of Christopher Columbus honors the man considered the discoverer of Nassau, and there is a marvelous ceremony for the changing of the guard. The Royal Bahamas Police Force Band, dressed to the nines, provides the soundtrack. Parliament Square is at Parliament and Bay, three blocks from the Government House, and is the seat of Bahamian government. Like in most countries, there are two houses, the lower Assembly and the upper Senate. The buildings comprising the government complex are tropical pink, and in the centre of the square is a statue paying tribute to Queen Victoria.
The Bahamas Supreme Court, where ordinary folks can watch the justices debate and rule on points of law, is open to the public. The Colonial Secretary's Office also is at Parliament Square. Downtown is also home to the interactive museum, Pirates of Nassau, which dramatizes the colonial days of piracy during the 17th-century Bahamas. It's located in the Lofthouse building on Marlborough Street and is guaranteed to thrill visitors of every age.
Don't miss the 200-year old Queen's Staircase, constructed by slaves who hand-carved each of the 66 steps out of limestone rock indigenous to the island. It leads to Bennet's Hill and famous Fort Fincastle and Water Tower, raised in 1793 to protect the city. The water tower presides as the highest point in Nassau, at 126 feet itself and 200 feet above sea level overall. Don't forget a camera, perhaps with a zoom lens, because the vista from the fort is remarkable. The Pompey Museum at Cumberland at Marlborough pays tribute to those who were victimized during the slave trade of the 1700s. It's named for a rebel slave who called the Bahamas home in the 1830s. It was the site of slave auctions and used to be called the Vendue House.
Cumberland and Marlborough is where you'll find the Christ Church Cathedral, erected in the 1830s. St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral is on West Street, just down Cumberland. At East and Shirley is the Bahamas Historical Society Museum, which contains displays and artifacts, reflected in its name. It's small, but for those whom details—archaeological and the like—are the key, it's a paradise.
Speaking of Paradise, do take the trek across the bridge from Nassau to Paradise Island. It houses the world's largest aquarium, a championship golf course, casino, oodles of restaurants, resort and a world-class marina (accommodating yachts up to 200 feet). This is where you'll find Cable Beach, the famous two-mile stretch.
Of the 700 islands which make up The Bahama Islands, only about 30 are inhabited. Book an island-hopper flight or a day cruise to Abacos with its pristine waters, the Biminis (which are world-renown for game fishing), Eleuthera with its dramatic cliffs and pink sand, or to the largely undiscovered Exeumas.
Harbour Island Day Trip
For an unforgettable day, take the Bahamas Fast Ferries day trip to Harbour Island. It begins in the morning, when guests are picked up at Nassau Harbour. The boat itself is a state-of-the-art vessel, a sleek, high-powered catamaran that travels at a speed of up to 35 knots, or 40 miles an hour. The trip to Harbour Island only takes two hours. With a comfortable air-conditioned cabin, plenty of refreshments for sale and stunning views of the ocean as it whips by, this is anything but a normal ferry ride.
Once the boat docks in Governor's Harbour, passengers can enjoy an edifying tour of historical downtown Harbour Island, which was the Bahamas' first capital city. Stroll through the picturesque streets, and don't forget to take a peek at Town Hall: it's painted in the cheerful color known these days as "Bubblegum Pink." Enjoy a Bahamian lunch, courtesy of the Fast Ferry. The remainder of the day is spent at Harbour Island's world famous pink sand beach. Stroll along the rosy shores, and dabble your toes in the clear aquamarine waves. You may never want to leave—and for a few days at least, you won't have to.
While Bahamas Fast Ferries offers a one-day tour package for USD150, many people decide to use the boat as an alternative to air travel. For a slightly lower price, you can skip the tour and the lunch, and head off to a hotel or a tour of your own devising. Return on the ferry a few days later. Or if, one day of pink sand and pink government buildings is enough, hop on the boat at dusk and be back in Nassau in time for dinner.