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Exciting Things to Do in Barbados for First-Time Visitors

Are you looking for the best things to do in Barbados? From its stunningly beautiful beaches to its vibrant culture, Barbados is an island paradise that will inspire awe and wonder.

Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or simply an unforgettable destination for your next vacation, Barbados is an excellent choice.

It’s a small yet diverse area with many attractions for residents and visitors alike. The beauty of this country is visible in its people, culture, history, and beaches.

History of Barbados

The history of Barbados is long and complex. The first people to inhabit Barbados were from South America. These settlers, called Arawaks or Tainos, came around 200 AD and formed small communities on the island of present-day Barbados. They lived in peace until Christopher Columbus mistakenly landed here in 1493 during his travels across the Atlantic.

Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to visit Barbados, but they did not stay long. The Arawaks treated them kindly and gave Columbus gold gifts when he left in 1496. He wrote about this island in a letter, describing it as “very hilly” (meaning there are no mountains) and covered with trees. 

Barbados in the 1600s

In 1625, Captain John Powell and his group of English settlers arrived on Barbados and declared the island as property of England. To safeguard against potential assaults from French and Dutch ships nearby, they erected a fortress in Jamestown. For a long time thereafter, there was a continuous conflict between European nations vying for authority over the island.

In 1627, a Dutch fleet led by Admiral Pieter Schapenham attacked Barbados and burned the English fort at Jamestown. The Dutch ruled for about twenty years but were defeated in battle when an English fleet arrived with help from Jamaica in 1651.

The island was again under British control and stayed that way for the next two hundred years. Unfortunately, this also meant that Barbados had to fight in every European war during those times.

Barbados in the 1800s

 French and Spanish forces attacked Barbados several more times throughout the eighteenth century until Great Britain gained control over most of Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

Barbados was a convenient stopover for ships sailing between Europe and North America during the time of Great Britain’s maritime dominance. This practice earned it the moniker “the halfway house,” a title that still sticks to this day. 

Most of this fighting did not directly affect Barbados, and life on the island continued as before. In fact, Barbados became wealthier than ever because of its ties to Great Britain through trade and control of sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean region.

Culture and Customs of the People

The culture and customs of Barbadians are influenced by many events throughout the long history, but especially by the African heritage. The majority of Barbadians have some ties to Africa through slavery or other migrations during colonial times.

The Food of Barbados

One very popular aspect in this country is cooking with spices! Dishes made here are usually spicy and hot rather than sweet, like you often find in the Caribbean. Learn all about the foodie experience in Barbados with a Bajan Food Walking Tour hosted by Viator.

We’ve discovered that guided tours are worth the time and can help set a framework for the vacation experience. The local guides tend to share beautiful stories of their homeland, which go beyond the who, what, and where of history books.

Visitors to Barbados experience friendly and warm people passionate about their island, history, and culture. It’s a wonderful place for those looking to learn more about African traditions and meet locals with European influences from colonial times. The people of Barbados value strong family ties and are very proud of their heritage.

The Culture and Customs of Barbados

The history and culture of Barbados are deeply rooted in African customs, traditions, and beliefs. To learn more about the island’s past, visit the museum at Harrison’s Cave or tour the St. Nicholas Abbey plantation house built by wealthy British settlers during Colonial times.

We recommend this train ride experience to St. Nicholas Abbey.

There are many other places to gain insight into this country’s culture, including the Atlantis submarine experience to see the ocean floor and a few shipwrecked vessels.

Many visitors to Barbados are surprised at this country’s history and heritage level since it is so small. However, there’s much more than meets the eye regarding what makes up the island itself. The people are proud of their traditions, which have shaped who they are today, and they are very willing to share their country with visitors.

Top Things to Do In Barbados

Go to Harrison’s Cave and marvel at the illuminated stalactite and stalagmite geologic formations in the caverns.

image of Atlantis Submarine in Barbados - Caribbean cruise ship excursion
Atlantis Submarine excursion in Barbados is an adventure for Caribbean cruise ship guests
The Pelican Craft Center in Barbados is a colorful marketplace for local crafts and cuisine. It's only a few blocks from the cruise ship dock.
The Pelican Craft Center in Bridgetown, Barbados

Take a train excursion to visit the St Nicholas Abbey plantation, built by wealthy British settlers during colonial times. While here, you’ll see what life may have been like on a large 17th-century sugar plantation. From the mansion, you can visit the cane fields, see an old mill and distillery, then enjoy a meal at the on-site cafe while viewing the beautiful landscape.

For more things to do in Barbados, schedule a glass-bottomed boat ride to see majestic turtles while learning about the underwater world of coral and marine life.

Visit Bridgetown with a guided walking tour of the city, where you will find various historical and cultural sites to explore, such as St Michael’s Cathedral, one of the oldest Anglican churches in Barbados, dating back to 1628. Another destination (near the cruise ship port) is the Pelican Craft Center.

The Nelson’s Column monument in Bridgetown commemorates Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died during a battle with French forces.

Try some local flavors, including salt fish and fried flying fish, at one of many beachside restaurants along the coastline, or enjoy fresh lobster in any of the seafood restaurants in the downtown district.

Transportation in Barbados

There are many ways to explore this island’s culture and history, including using public transportation like minibusses or taxis.

Renting a car is also an option. Driving is on the left side of the road, which requires the driver to be more attentive to the road if not already familiar with the road rules and signage.

When visiting Barbados, You can easily visit the historic sites above by taking guided tours around Bridgetown. It’s a great way to see the island and learn about its culture, history, and famous landmarks from the locals. Our bus tour of Barbados was very educational, and the driver knew all the right spots for great vacation photos. 

If you’re looking for more freedom on where you go but still enjoy learning about Barbados’ culture and history, then hiring a taxi driver is another option. There are many companies to choose from, and the drivers generally seek out tourists to work with for a day. Our first experience with this touring technique was in Barbados, and we had an amazingly positive experience.

Before You Go to Barbados

To get your mind in the setting of a beautiful island getaway, take some time to read a book set in the area. This will help you relax on your journey from a cold winter to a warm and inviting tropical island. The Caribbean book by James A. Michener transports readers into the long journey of island history and tells a beautiful story that weaves the intricate history into the lives of each era.

Summary of Things to Do in Barbados

Exploring its stunningly beautiful beaches is one of the best experiences any traveler can have when visiting Barbados. The soft white sands and crystal clear waters are perfect for lounging around in the sun, swimming, snorkeling, or surfing. For adventure seekers, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy, such as kiteboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, and kayaking.

For those who prefer something a bit more cultural, wander through picturesque colonial-era towns such as Bridgetown or take in the stunning architecture of the historic George Washington House.

Travel deeper into the island’s culture with visits to local distilleries or rum factories for a unique taste of Barbadian heritage.

If you love music and dancing, head out for an evening at one of the island’s lively bars or clubs and enjoy some traditional Calypso tunes.

Immerse yourself in the Bajan way of life, and your trip will be filled with memorable experiences. Start planning now for all that awaits you when you step foot on these tropical shores!

Another set of islands that you may want to explore in the Caribbean is the Virgin Islands.

If You Go to Barbados

Beach Vue Barbados

Hilton Barbados Resort Butterfly Beach Hotel

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