The Bahamas are an excellent place to sit by the beach and relax. But there is so much to do and so many things to see outside of Paradise Island and Atlantis. Our family is from the Bahamas so we know the best kept secrets for visitors who want to see the real Bahamas lifestyle.
7 Non-Touristy Things to do in Nassau (secrets from a local)
The island life is calling! Nassau is the largest tourist destination in the Bahamas. The international airport makes it easy for people from around the world to get there. The sad part is that most visitors go to Paradise Island and never see the real Nassau.
There is so much more to Nassau than beaches and Atlantis water parks – the people are friendly, the food is fantastic, and the culture is fun.
Visit local shops on Bay Street
Bay Street is the main street in downtown Nassau. Walking along Bay Street you will pass the Straw Market (rebuilt from a fire) filled with souvenirs and a few authentic shops. Many bars and restaurants, and some exquisite jewelers also line the street.
The Straw Market is a Nassau tradition. Some shops have a lot of tourist-type t-shirts, but many shops are authentic Bahamian craft-makers. Some shops specialize in straw purses and hats, while others are wood carvers. Look around before you buy, there might just be a hidden gem that you would have passed!
Check out the oldest store in Nassau, A. Baker & Sons. A family run business for over 100 years, the shop is filled with Victorian-style British clothing (shipped directly from top stores in England), and an extensive hat collection. The inventory is a bit old, but the shirts, hats, and cuff links are top-quality. This is also the place to go for Christening gowns.
Head down the street and stop at the Bahamas Rum Cake shop. They have free samples, rum, and fabulous rum cake. Bring home some rum cake for a souvenir, or for your friends and family.
If you like rum…book this tour with Get Your Guide. “Stroll downtown Nassau, stopping to taste Caribbean rums and rum-infused desserts on a 2-hour walking tour. Journey back to pirate-plundering and rum-running days, when rum and other spirits played a colorful role in Bahamian history.” A local will take you on a walking tour of Nassau and you can experience all the best rums! It is two hours long, the perfect amount of time to explore the rum culture and get back on with your own local tour!
Tour the government buildings
Unlike the large, stone government buildings in other countries, Nassau’s government center is perfectly pink in Caribbean style.
Nassau gained its independence from Great Britain in the 1960s. The government is set up similar to that in England, with a Parliament and court system. The Prime Minister sits at the head (like an American President), and the cabinet is made up of many members like the Minister of Education, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Tourism. Fun fact, my grandfather was the Minister of Education in the 1960s. We like to visit and see parts of his legacy still remain.
Behind this building are the courts. You can still see lawyers and judges dressed in traditional English gowns and white-haired wigs.
Nearby the government buildings is the library. A small round building (nearby Cafe Matisse, keep reading for that!), in the center of a park has old and new books alike. A fun spot to tour, or just to take pictures of, it is away from the crowded streets and quite peaceful.
Sail to Rose Island
Rose Island has pink sands and clear waters. They only allow a few boats to visit each day, so you are certain to have an island all to yourself. Pack a backpack with some local beers (SANDS and KALIK) and cruise on over.
The boat ride takes about an hour or two, and is absolutely gorgeous. Once you are at Rose Island, you can snorkel, swim, and relax on the beach. I hear there is a bar on the island, but it was not open when I went. I took this tour with Get Your Guide, (book using this link for the best price) and it was excellent.
Visit Historic Nassau Landmarks
Many visitors fail to notice that there are historic landmarks in Nassau. There are a number of historic forts that were built back when international lands wanted to gain control of the Caribbean. The best part about these landmarks is that tourists rarely visit – they prefer to be at the beach. So you can view historic sights without all the crowds, and learn a little while you are there. Here are a few spots to visit in Nassau:
The Queens Staircase
Probably the most-visited landmark in Nassau, the Queen’s Staircase is over 100 steps tall. It was built in the 1700s by slaves, and it took over 16 years to make. It was later named for Queen Victoria who abolished slavery when she took the throne. The staircase is free to visit and climb.
The oldest fort in Nassau, dates back to the early 1700s. It was built to defend against the Spanish. Free tours are available daily from 8am-3pm.
The fort is a great spot for views of the ocean and a little history. The Bahamas, and the Caribbean, are well-known for pirates, but the Bahamas was also a center for international powers to try to take over the Caribbean and a number of forts were built to defend intruders. It is really cool to see old forts still present today. Who knows, Blackbeard could have visited the forts one day!
There are a number of other forts to visit too: Fort Fincastle and Fort Charlotte are the most popular.
A square named after a slave who led a revolt against slavery. Pompey was essential in moving forward the Emancipation Act in the Bahamas. The square is home to the Museum of Slavery and Emancipation as well as shops and dining spots.
SECRET TIP: On Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Pompey Square has an open-air marketplace where you can shop for authentic Bahamian crafts and art.
Built inFrance as a monastery in the 1300s and now on the Four Seasons property, the Cloister is a remarkable Roman-style structure that frequently hosts events. It is worth visiting because this type of structure is rare in the Caribbean where heat, hurricanes, and humid weather tear down many buildings. And it is one of very few French structures to be moved from France across the Atlantic.
Christ Church Cathedral
Built on the same site as the first church in Nassau, Christ Church was built in 1841 and still in use today. It is open Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm and offers a number of regulat church services.
The church has stained glass windows and fun wooden carvings – including a tiny church mouse! The coolest part of this church are the tablets along the walls. Each tablet traces a trial of a Nassau citizen for over the past 100 years. And the gardens have an old graveyard with stones as far back as the 1760s.
Blackbeard’s Tower is a rumoured outlook for Blackbeard in Nassau. It was built in the late 1600s, early 1700s, and is free to visit. It is a fun spot to bring kids to, they can pretend to be pirates!
Go to the Fish Fry
A true Bahamian tradition. The fish fry is a long street filled with fun restaurants serving up platters of traditional Bahamian food. Peas and rice anyone?
All the spots are good, you really can’t go wrong. Stroll along the fish fry until you find a spot that suits you. Order well, and maybe split a meal. Depending on where you go portions can be quite large. Just make sure to pair your order with our favorite drink – sky juice!
We stopped in at Drifters for dinner and it was great. The portions were huge though so we had to split! We’d recommend coming to the fish fry in the late afternoon to dusk. It is a bit up the road, and you’ll need to head back before it gets too late.
Dine at the best restaurants
Paradise Island is a great place for families to stay, and there are a ton of restaurants on the island–but none as good as Nassau.
An upscale Italian restaurant located near Parliament, Café Matisse is a place to see and be seen. The food is fantastic and you will likely see top government officials dining here.
Their back patio is serene and picturesque. The food is fantastic, portobello mushroom gratin with gorgonzola cheese and ossobusco grace the robust menu of Italian fare. The wine list is surprising, and the dessert is traditional Italian. I come here every trip and am always pleased with the wonderful service and dining options!
The Poop Deck
A casual restaurant overlooking the port and Paradise Island, The Poop Deck (at east Bay Street) catches fish and brings them straight from the ocean to your plate. Definitely one of our favorite restaurants-we go every visit!
The Poop Deck’s fresh catch is on display, you choose it, and they cook it perfectly. They are well-known for their snapper, but we love their crab claws!
Paradise Island is where all the tourists visit. Paradise Island is great for families, there is a ton to do with Atlantis and other water parks. But it is very expensive and does not show the real Nassau.
We’ve enjoyed our visits to Paradise Island, but we are mainland Nassau fans to our core. But if you are staying on Paradise Island you can still enjoy some local aspects of Nassau.
There’s a limited amount of restaurants on Paradise Island. It’s sort of a place to solely live in a beach house with family or widdle through the massive complex that is called Atlantis. One thing that Paradise Island offers is excellent beaches. It’s a great place to spend a day at the beach and get away from the city center of Nassau.
Nassau, Bahamas is a great place to visit the true Caribbean lifestyle. Come for beaches, stay for the culture. We promise that if you try true-Bahamian activities Nassau will become your favorite destination. Let us know about your visit by tagging us @viatravelers or using #viatravelers
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