Antigua is a small Caribbean island humbly known as “The land of sea and sun” with a reputation of having 365 beaches – one for every day of the year! There’s a lot that you can do on this popular island, and I have gotten the chance to visit this fun island twice for extended weekend trips [perks of living in the Caribbean]. While I wasn’t there long, we jam packed a ton into every visit. If you’re looking for things to do in Antigua, or dreaming of a Caribbean vacation, keep reading!
Visit Nelson’s Dockyard Heritage Site
Nelson’s Dockyard is a UNESCO Heritage Site and is a great spot for history lovers or cultural explorers alike. One of the most history filled activities I experienced in Antigua was walking around the grounds of this Heritage site. It is located within the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, and the site includes a historic fort as well as the marina. Explore the open air market while enjoying the sights of boats and yachts lining the historic sea walls.
The Heritage Site grounds have many historic buildings, museums, and are all walkable from one another. The historic Fort is accessible by hiking trails that lead you up the coastline where the fort resides. Not only is the Dockyard full of history, but is also a great place to watch the Classic Yacht Regatta (more on that later), and is also a popular location for events and concerts! I definitely would love to visit again in the future, and spend more time exploring the historic area!
Snorkel the Pillars of Hercules
Located in Freeman’s Bay, just across from Nelson’s Dockyard and below Shirley Heights lies an amazing snorkel spot called the Pillars of Hercules. The name comes from the cliff face that looks like ancient pillars, a natural geological formation in the cliffside formed by wind and sea over the years. In order to snorkel, the best way to access the spot is by boat. There is a hike from Shirley Heights, but the pillars can really only be seen from the water, and I’ve heard the hike is extremely strenuous. I’d recommend finding a snorkeling tour if you don’t have a boat of your own!
Once snorkeling, there’s lots of submerged rock formations, fish, and some life along the ocean floor. The conditions can vary depending on the sea state, since it’s just outside the harbor. If you’re not a confident swimmer, Galleon Beach is just inside the entrance to the harbor and is a calmer spot to enjoy!
Watch the Sunset from Shirley Heights
Shirley Heights, the most popular sunset spot in Antigua is one not to be missed! On Sunday, they have a huge sunset celebration with live music, great rum drinks, and a sunset you’ll never forget. Shirley Heights is located in the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, and overlooks the gorgeous views of Freeman’s Bay and the Nelson’s Dockyard Marina.
The sunset here is picture-perfect, with an uninterrupted view of the sun sinking into the ocean, with the sunlight reflecting off the boats in the harbor. The other areas of the island light up with the warm sun and pinks from the sunset, and the sky is incredible!
You can get to the lookout by taxi, or by renting a car. Parking was somewhat limited, and with the strong island rum, I would definitely recommend calling a taxi for the night. Once you arrive at the pavilion, make your way towards the opening in the people to watch the sunset. It can get crowded, so be prepared to swap photos with people to make your way closer to the uninterrupted sides, right near the fence.
After sunset, it is still an incredible sight to see. The ships in the harbor light up, and the moon shines off the surface of the water, leaving the view looking etherial. Our experience was incredible, and I am so glad I got the chance to experience Shirley Heights both before, during, and after sunset.
After the sun sinks below the horizon, look out for the live band that comes out. Live music and dancing under the stars, hard to beat after a sunset celebration! If you enjoy a more laid-back night, there are tables and a grass hill that you can sit on and laugh with your friends. I was lucky enough to experience both, which was the best option if I had been given the chance. It was definitely one of my favorite things to do in Antigua, and I will definitely visit Shirley Heights on my next trip!
Try Antigua’s Famous Pineapples
Antigua is known for having some of the sweetest pineapples in the world, and I can’t say I disagree! The Antigua black pineapple is said to be one of the rarest varieties, and is raised for its quality, not the quantity.
There are many places to grab a pineapple on the island, but there is a little farm called Cades Bay Agricultural station where you can get your hands on one of the sweet fruit. Once you have your pineapple, head to the stand near Cades Bay Fresh from a pineapple plantation, you can grab the gorgeous and delicious golden fruit from a produce stand right next to the beach! I may be biased, since pineapple is my favorite fruit, but a fresh golden pineapple on the beach is probably the best snack to have!
Visit some of Antigua’s Famous Beaches
Antigua is said to have 365 beaches around it’s coastline, with one to choose from every day, how can you visit Antigua without visiting at least one? There is a beach for everyone, offering everything from kite surfing, hiking, or just relaxing in a hammock. A trip to Antigua is definitely not complete without visiting one of the best things to do on the island! While there are far too many to list, I have a blog post about the 6 best beaches you need to visit in Antigua here!
Visit Devil’s Bridge National Park
Roughy 35 minutes drive away from English Harbor is the Devil’s Bridge National Park. This natural formation is created from limestone being eroded away by the Atlantic ocean and blowholes. You can walk around the park and watch the ocean pound into the rock face, with strong a sea breeze (and occasional big wave!). Be sure to wear shoes, as this limestone can be pretty sharp on bare feet.
All around the actual bridge, or the big archway that spans across a part of the ocean, you can watch geysers spew salt water up pretty high! It’s definitely an amazing spot to visit in Antigua, to see the natural formation and changes that the ocean brings to the islands!
Swim with Wild Stingrays at Stingray City
Arguably the best experience I had in Antigua was swimming with wild stingrays! Stingray city is a beautiful natural lagoon where wild stingrays gather over the sandy ocean floor. You’ll have a guide (or a few) to teach you about the rays, go over safety instructions, and explain what you will encounter! Just a little fun fact – the big ones are the females! Hop onboard a boat while your guide takes you from the dock to the snorkel spot. Once there, you’ll step off the boat onto a small floating dock with swim ladders. Not only will you meet beautiful Southern Stingrays and have the opportunity to touch or even hold them! Bring your snorkel gear, because seeing these beautiful animals underwater makes the experience that much more exciting! Stingray City also offers Galapagos Tortoise tours as well as exotic bird tours, so there’s plenty for everyone! Want to experience Stingray City for yourself? Check them out here!
Best Places to Eat in Antigua
For all the foodies out there, here are a few delicious places to check out while you’re in Antigua! While I can’t speak on EVERY restaurant on Antigua, here’s a couple that I’ve tried that were delicious!
Flattie’s Flame Grill
A popular spot after a long day of adventures, Flattie’s is right around the corner from Jolly Harbor. They’ve got a great atmosphere in the warm Antigua weather, and a good variety of options on the menu! We ate there twice while I was visiting, and the PeriPeri chicken seems to be a favorite [it can be pretty spicy though!] You can also try some Biltong, which is a South African beef jerky, but way better than the kind you get in the States [in my opinion]!
If you’re close to Falmouth Harbor and need a quick breakfast, Skull Duggery is an easy fix. We started our morning out with one of their delicious egg breakfast sandwich. At night, it has more of a bar feel and is lots of fun, while still being relaxed enough to have a conversation with your friends at the table! Try their “famous” espresso martinis, you will not be disappointed! Not to mention, you can listen to the water ripple against the adjacent boats lining the dock!
The first place I actually visited in Antigua after being picked up from the airport was Castaways. A little restaurant on the beach, the food and atmosphere are hard to beat. After enjoying something delicious that they have to offer paired with a fruity cocktail, we walked down to the beach to enjoy some sun before heading off on our first real adventure!
*Since originally writing this article, I have found out that Castaways is now called BoDog Beach Club. While I can’t speak to the new menu, I can say that the locations and vibes are well worth the visit!
Club Sushi, located within the Falmouth Harbor area, is a great spot for delicious sushi, live music, and is big in the cruisers’ community. Meet people and exchange stories of sailing, while enjoying the most fresh seafood you can get! The atmosphere is great, and it’s definitely a fun spot for a dinner with friends!
Sailing & Yachting in Antigua
Something you may not have thought about is that Antigua is a huge yachting and sailing hub. With how incredibly clear the water is, and all the beaches has to offer, it’s no surprise that Antigua is a huge hotspot for boating. Everything from luxury cruisers to racing sailboats can be seen bobbing along anchored in the harbor. There are even people that sail, paddle, or row all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and stop in Antigua, so one of the best things to do in Antigua is indulge in it’s ocean voyaging culture!
Classic Yacht Regatta
The Classic Yacht Regatta is something amazing to see every year in English Harbor. From traditionally built wooden boats from Carriacou (Grenada’s sister Island) to huge European vessels, these classic yachts are amazing to see coming into the harbor. The Regatta began in the 60s, and still runs this fun race annually. Bring your camera, and find a spot at the Nelson’s Dockyard Marina for the best views of the beautiful yachts and their crew!
Before moving to the Caribbean, I was unaware of how large the yachting industry is. To be completely honest, I didn’t even realize it existed in it’s own entity. If you want to see some [gigantic] private sailing vessels, Antigua will not disappoint. While I thought my exposure to what is known as a “super yacht” in Grenada was about the norm for the yachting industry, Antigua proved me wrong. I was able to see tons and tons of yachts [basically small cruise ships] all lined up next to one another. The sheer power of these boats compared to a tiny dinghy that can only hold two [MAYBE three] is incredible. You really start to think about how much work is put into each teeny detail, even without setting foot on the vessel itself.
On top of getting to look at pretty boats and crystal clear water, depending where you stay in Antigua, you may have interactions with the crew of many ships in port. Whether it be a single manned crew, or a crew of 50, the stories these people [endearingly nicknamed “yachties”] have to tell are incredible. These people are from all over the world, with differing backgrounds, experiences, and ways that they got into the industry. From the outside, it may seem that the industry is completely void of interpersonal relationships aside from individual ships, but that is not the case. The friendships that form across oceans [literally] is incredible to see, and is a much more tight-knit industry than one may think. I loved hearing the stories of all of the people that I met that live on and around the water all the time.
Antigua Sailing Week
As a sailor myself, I’m a little biased to experiencing some of these awesome events that surround sailboats. If you don’t know anything about sailing, check out this post to learn a little bit more about what it’s like sailing! Similar to the Classic Yacht Regatta, Antigua Sailing Week is held annually in the English Harbor area. This experience is a bit different, as the vessels are a bit more modern, and only sailboats (the Classic Regatta has sailing and motoryachts alike). Antigua Sailing Week is one of the world’s best regattas, with huge numbers of participants and observers alike! The week long event is filled with different activities, from live music to auctions! Even if you’re not interested in sailing yourself, you should check out the Sailing Week to fully indulge in one of Antigua’s Premier events!
Heading to Antigua sometime? Make sure to read up on the Best Beaches in Antigua here!