Barbados - The Insider's Guide
Our expert pick of the best things to do and places to stay in Barbados.
Barbados - The Insider's Guide
An insider’s guide to the best of Barbados, including beaches, bars and restaurants, plus great activities and the best places to stay.
Get out and explore the many different sides to this idyllic island
by Fred Mawer, Telegraph Travel destination expert
Most Caribbean holidays are about tropical sun, sea and sand – with perhaps a few rum and cokes thrown in. Barbados delivers all the above and a great deal else besides, which goes a long way to explaining why it’s the most visited island in the region by British holidaymakers. Barbados packs a lot to see and do into an area not much larger than the Isle of Wight. So get out and explore the island’s very different faces. Wherever you’re staying, wander along the idyllic strips of sand flanking the glam “platinum” (west) coast, snoop at the faux-colonial hotels and over-the-top coral-rock villas, and then sample a couple of the restaurants – Barbados is one of the few Caribbean islands with a bona fide gourmet dining scene.
Rent a car and pootle around the rolling, sugar-cane-covered interior (the signposting is terrible so you will get lost, but that just gives you an excuse to drop in on one of the island's many rum shops to ask for directions). In your wanderings, pop in to see fine botanic gardens and atmospheric old plantation houses.
Stop for lunch over on the wild and wave-pummelled east coast, and if you do one thing down on the lively south coast, make it a visit to the fishing town of Oistins on a Friday night for its weekly, foodie street party. Also keep an eye out for what’s on: your visit might coincide with a game of polo, a cricket match at the Kensington Oval or horse racing at the Garrison Savannah.
Read on for my recommendations on how to experience the best of this proud little nation.
Explore the island
Don’t spend all your time by the pool. Barbados has a huge variety of historical, cultural and family-friendly attractions.
St Nicholas Abbey and Speightstown
Delve in to the island's colonial past on a half-day visit to the north of Barbados
First head for beautiful St Nicholas Abbey – not a religious institution but a rare surviving example of a Jacobean plantation house. You can tour the ground-floor rooms and the on-site rum distillery (tastings and purchases on offer), and on some days in the winter months see a cane-grinding steam mill in operation. For me the highlight is the vivid black-and-white home movie of life on the island in the mid-1930s, filmed by the then owner.
A 15-minute drive west brings you to Speightstown. Now an enjoyably sleepy little town, it used to be a busy port servicing Barbados’s northern plantations. You can learn about the town’s heyday, and the concerns of slaves and their owners on nearby plantations, in the surprisingly high-tech Arlington House Museum. Finish with a drink or bite to eat at the waterfront Fisherman's Pub, which does cheap and appetising Bajan grub.
St Nicholas Abbey
Open: Sunday-Friday 10am-3.30pm; BDS$40 (£16), children 6-12 half price, under 6s free
Cherry Tree Hill, St Peter (001 246 422 8725; stnicholasabbey.com)
Arlington House Museum
Open: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday 9am-3pm; BDS$25 (£10), children 5-17 half price, under 5s free
Queen Street, Speightstown (001 246 422 4064; new.barbadosnationaltrust.org/project/arlington-house-museum)
This complex is on Unesco’s World Heritage List as an outstanding example of British colonial architecture
Barbados’s 150-acre Garrison was the largest British military establishment in the Caribbean in the 18th century, and most of its buildings have survived, though many have been adapted to other uses. The most rewarding way to visit the Garrison is on a guided tour with the Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium, not least because it includes otherwise off-limits forts.
If you’re on your own, take in the landmark Main Guard clock tower overlooking the Savannah (the former parade ground) and visit the nearby George Washington House. The handsome home where the first US president lived briefly in 1751 has a thought-provoking museum, and close by you can explore a section of the extensive network of underground tunnels that runs beneath the Garrison. In winter, the Washington House hosts “Dinner with George” period-style meals.
The Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium
Three-hour Thursday morning tour, US$55 (£44); two-hour Friday night tours, US$15 (£12) (barbadosgarrison.net)
George Washington House and tunnel
Monday-Friday 9am-4.30pm; US$15 (£12), children 5-12 half price, under 5s free.
Gardens and east coast
Explore a dream-like idyll and then dine in colonial splendour
The Barbados Horticultural Society has won numerous awards at the Chelsea Flower Show, and several of the island’s delightful gardens are open to the public. My favourite is Hunte’s Gardens, a dream-like idyll hidden in a sink hole, with lofty palms, rare heliconias, cheeky statues nestling in lush vegetation and classical music wafting around. Its creator/owner, Anthony Hunte, may well be on hand to chat. A 10-minute drive away lies Andromeda Botanic Gardens. Overlooking the unspoilt east coast, its six acres contain 600 species of flora from around the world; don't miss the magnificent bearded fig tree.
Have lunch at the nearby colonial-chic Atlantis Hotel – its West Indian buffets on Wednesday and Sunday lunchtimes are a big draw. Then pop along to Bathsheba Beach in the next bay, a spectacular concoction of giant mushroom-shaped rocks and crashing Atlantic breakers. Swimming isn't safe, but at low tide you can wallow in rock pools just offshore.
Harrison’s Cave and Welchman Hall Gully
An outing that combines a subterranean adventure with a jungle walk
Harrison’s Cave, up in the rural heart of the island, is an ideal attraction to visit with the family on a rainy day. You explore much of the 1.5-mile-long underground cave system on an electric tram, taking in lofty caverns, striking stalactite and stalagmite formations, and glassy lakes, streams and waterfalls. More adventurous tours, including for children, are available on request.
While in the neighbourhood, you should also pay a visit to nearby Welchman Hall Gully. Once connected to the Harrison network, this deep ravine was formed long ago by the collapsed roofs of caves. Tropical forest fills the gully, and you pass bamboo, and mahogany, sandalwood, baobab and nutmeg trees. You’re given a booklet to identify the flora, so it’s all rather educational. You may also see green monkeys: call ahead for feeding times.
See what lies beneath the ocean surface without getting wet
This underwater voyage will especially appeal to non-divers. Having taken a shuttle boat out to sea near Bridgetown, you clamber aboard a real 48-seater submarine and descend in to the depths for around 45 minutes. You reach the ocean floor at 150ft, visit a sunken wreck, and, best of all, explore a coral reef teeming with tropical fish.
As you peer through the rows of large portholes flanking the craft, you'll spy delicate fan coral, giant barrel sponges, pink anemones, large shoals of yellowtail snapper and blue chromis, and lots of other colourful marine life. On my trip, we were fortunate also to see a hawksbill turtle glide by. Staff provide a lively commentary, and visual information boards help you identify what you're seeing.
All in all, it's a thrilling but expensive outing. Though very much suitable for families, children have to be at least three feet tall.
Daytime tour US$104 (£83), children 12 and under US$52 (£41); night tour US$109 (£86), children 12 and under US$49.50 (£39). See website for discounted online deals.
The Shallow Draught, Bridgetown (001 246 436 8929; barbados.atlantissubmarines.com)
Barbados Wildlife Reserve
Time your visit right to see native monkeys at this family-friendly attraction
This modest but rather endearing place is spread over four acres of mahogany woods in Barbados’s northern highlands.
Most of the animals are free to roam (snakes and parrots being notable exceptions), as are the visitors. You wander through the woods along brick paths, trying not to step inadvertently on one of the hundreds of red-footed tortoises, and seeing if you can spot mongoose, peacocks and shy brocket deer.
But for many visitors, the prime reason to come is the chance to observe green monkeys. An estimated 8,000 of the primates – descendants of those brought over from Senegal and the Gambia during the slave trade – live wild on the island, and you can happen on a troop of the cute-looking creatures by roadsides and even in some hotel gardens.
At the reserve, the monkeys come and go as they please so you might see them at any hour, but the daily 2pm feed is the prime time to catch them.
Open daily 10am-5pm; last entrance at 4pm. BDS$23.50 (£9.50), children 3-12 half price
Farley Hill, St Peter (001 246 422 8826)
Barbados has plenty of gourmet restaurants, plus excellent affordable places where you can sample local Bajan food.
The Cliff Beach Club
The west coast’s latest see-and-be-seen dining spot has a theatrical ocean-view setting
A meal at Barbados’s most famous restaurant, The Cliff, is unforgettable, but costs £135 a head without drinks. If that’s beyond your budget, head next door to The Cliff Beach Club, The Cliff’s new sister establishment. It’s still expensive, but prices are comparable to those at most other high-end places to eat on the west coast.
Like its elder sibling, it is a real wow of a space, spreading over ocean-facing tiers under a cream canvas roof hung with glitter balls. The atmosphere is much more informal than at The Cliff. You can pop in for just a drink at the funky, African/movies-themed bar, or have a light lunch while watching the water-skiers and yachts saunter past in the near distance.
Under French chef Jérémy Dupire, the global dishes range from posh fish and chips at lunch to more elaborate offerings such as foie gras and smoked duck ravioli. My octopus carpaccio was as beautifully presented as the surroundings.
Open: Monday-Saturday, lunch and dinner; Sunday, lunch only. Main courses: lunch BDS$75-BDS$90 (£30-£36), dinner BDS$80-BDS$135 (£32-£54). Reservations usually not necessary for lunch, recommended for dinner.
Derricks, St James (001 246 432 0797; thecliffbeachclub.com)
Expect reliably excellent food and service in this stylish Holetown restaurant
If you want to splash out on a memorable meal at a top-flight, west-coast restaurant, The Tides is a very safe bet. Guy Beasley, co-owner and executive chef, knows a thing or two about fine dining, as he trained under the Roux brothers at London's Le Gavroche.
The coral stone and mahogany house has just undergone a stylish refurbishment. Allow time for a drink in the glamorous bar and take in the collection of colourful Caribbean art.
You can dine outside on the romantic, waterfront terrace, where casuarina trees rise up through the roof and at night you are serenaded by tree frogs, or inside in air-conditioned comfort.
Fish dominates the menu. The Seafood Tower for two and pan-seared scallops with butternut squash risotto are popular choices, and the catch of the day (served grilled, blackened, or pan-fried) is superbly presented.
Desserts such as white chocolate cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding are indulgent. Service is very personable and courteous.
Open: Sunday-Friday, lunch and dinner; Saturday, dinner only. Two-course lunch (starter/main or main/dessert) BDS$72 (£29); dinner main courses BDS$86-BDS$115 (£34-£46). Reservations essential.
Holetown, St James (001 246 432 8356; tidesbarbados.com)
The Fish Pot
A casual-chic restaurant in an out-of-the-way seaside spot
The Fish Pot is the main focal point of Little Good Harbour, a small, characterful hotel hidden away up on the north-west corner of the island in a little fishing community.
The restaurant sits above a sandy beach lapped by an aquamarine sea – you could arrive by boat, as the hotel has its own pontoon. You can dine in the art-filled rooms of the old coral-stone building (a miniature fort in the 17th century), or on covered open-air decked areas running behind the beach. Either way, the atmosphere is beguilingly easy going, particularly at lunchtime when it's fine to wear nothing smarter than T-shirt and shorts.
Hardworking Aussie owner Andrew Warden works his way round the tables chatting to guests as they tuck in to classy but straightforward local seafood dishes (barracuda is often the fish of the day), salads and Thai- and Indian-style curries. The latter are something of a speciality of The Fish Pot’s long-serving Barbadian chef, Stephen Belgrave.
Salads and panini from BDS$30 (£12); main courses (lunch and dinner) BDS$48-BDS$98 (£19-£39). Reservations recommended.
Shermans, St Lucy (001 246 439 3000; littlegoodharbourbarbados.com)
A strong contender for the most enjoyable restaurant on the south coast
Champers is proof that not all Barbados’s good, upmarket places to eat are over on the fancy-pants west coast. The restaurant, which has been around for 20 years, has a fantastic setting, perched on the rocks just beyond the eastern end of Accra Beach. Ask for a waterfront table on the terrace to enjoy unbroken sea views, often spectacular sunsets and, when there's a swell, the sound of waves crashing against the rocks and rising wafts of spray.
As for the food, you can look forward to fresh seafood, interesting combinations of flavours and hearty portions. I can recommend the shrimp and mango salad to start, and the spicy Cajun mahi mahi with sweet potato mash as a main course. Owner Chiryl Newman helps make the moreish puddings such as coconut pie.
At lunch, the set-price menu is good value by Barbados standards. Don't leave without checking out the gallery of local art upstairs.
Open: Sunday-Friday, lunch and dinner; Saturday, dinner only. Lunch: set-price three-course menu BDS$79 (£31), otherwise main courses BDS$42-BDS$75 (£17-£30). Dinner: set-price three-course menu May-November BDS$99 (£39), otherwise main courses BDS$52-BDS$95 (£21-£38). Reservations recommended.
Skeetes Hill, Christ Church (001 246 434 3463; champersbarbados.com)
This elegant restaurant is one of the best places to try some Bajan dishes
If you want to sample authentic Barbados cuisine, make your way to long-established Brown Sugar, near the Garrison Savannah. Laid out over the fan-cooled patios of an old home that are festooned with flowers, ferns and foliage, the restaurant is attractive and quite smart – being close to Bridgetown, it attracts businesspeople at lunchtime.
It’s a great place to come for lunch, when good-value, all-you-can-eat buffets are on offer. Among the many local dishes are macaroni pie, fish cakes, steamed or fried flying fish, rice and peas, cou cou (like polenta, made with cornmeal and okra), souse (pickled pork) and pepperpot (a meat stew with peppers and cassareep, a cassava preservative). Save room for the excellent bread pudding, which is laced with a rum sauce.
Bajan and Caribbean specialities such as crab cakes, creole fish chowder, jerk pork and curried lamb also predominate on the more expensive à la carte dinner menu.
Sunday-Friday: lunch and dinner; Saturday: dinner only. Lunchtime buffets: weekdays BDS$59 (£23), Sundays BDS$69 (£27); dinner main courses BDS$39-BDS$95 (£15-£38). Reservations recommended.
Aquatic Gap, St Michael (001 246 426 7684; brownsugarbarbados.net)
Superior fast food at two no-nonsense, open-air grills
If I want a quick, filling, tasty and inexpensive bite to eat, Just Grillin’ is usually top of my list of places to go.
There are two conveniently placed branches: one in Holetown on the west coast near the Chattel Village shops, the other down on the south coast in Rockley in the middle of a car park. At either, you order at the hatch, and eat at benches and wooden tables that you may have to share if it’s busy – the eateries are understandably popular both with locals and tourists.
The grilled-to-order food includes catch-of-the-day fish options (perhaps marlin or flying fish), shrimp, jerk chicken, ribs, steak and burgers. The substantial platters come with a choice of healthy sides, such as grilled potatoes, coleslaw and salad (note no chips are on offer), and there are also good-value fish and chicken sandwiches and wraps.
You can wash everything down with a rum and coke or bottle of local Banks beer.
Open: Monday-Saturday, 11.30am-10pm; Sunday, 5.30pm-10pm. Catch of the day sandwich BDS$18 (£7); full platters BDS$33-BDS$40 (£13-£16). Reservations not possible.
Quayside Centre, Rockley and Sunset Crest, Holetown (justgrillinbarbados.com)
Let your hair down at a foodie street party or full-on carnival, go on a bar crawl or lime with locals in one of the island’s many rum shops.
Oistins Fish Fry
For a cheap, fun night out suitable for all the family, head to Oistins on a Friday evening
The Friday fish fry at the south-coast fishing town of Oistins is a Barbados institution, attracting many hundreds of locals and tourists every week. Close to the fish market you’ll find several dozen wooden huts, where lobster, swordfish, tuna, mahi mahi and flying fish are barbecued before your eyes, and served with classic Bajan side dishes such as macaroni pie and rice and peas. This is no-frills dining: you eat off plastic plates seated communally at picnic tables. I can recommend Mo’s eatery, next to the main stage.
A friendly party atmosphere prevails. Calypso and reggae sounds blare out of speakers, and street dancers and Michael Jackson impersonators strut their stuff.
Away from the food stalls you’ll come across bars occupied by gaggles of locals focused on intense games of dominoes. At time-stood-still Lexie’s Bar, oldies show off their ballroom-dancing moves. Many food stalls and bars are open on other nights of the week, but it will be far less lively then.
From around 6pm until late; arrive early to eat without a wait. Plateful of grilled fish around BDS$30 (£12); bottle of Banks beer BDS$3 (£1.20)
Bay Gardens, Oistins
Crop Over Festival
Come during this summer festival if you want to party hard, Caribbean style
Crop Over dates back to the 1780s, when the end of the sugar cane harvest was marked with feasting and dancing. Over the years, it’s transformed into a raucous carnival that culminates each year in late July/early August. Key events include the Pic-O-De-Crop Finals, a competition for the best calypsonians, and the Foreday Morning Jam, a night-time street party in which revellers daub themselves and others with paint and mud.
The finale, on the first Monday in August, is the Grand Kadooment Parade. Thousands of unselfconscious, rum-fuelled revellers dressed in the skimpiest of clothing (sequined bikinis and feathered headdresses on women) shuffle rhythmically behind trucks blaring out calypso and soca sounds on a route through the streets of Bridgetown. Rihanna, the island’s most famous party-going girl, has been known to join in.
I’ve taken it all in with my family from a roadside spot, and while it was sappingly hot, we were made very welcome by other bystanders. It’s best to arrange for a taxi to take you in and pick you up.
St Lawrence Gap
Often just referred to as The Gap, this is the island’s nightlife hub
St Lawrence Gap is a mile-long, one-way street looping off the main south-coast road and running behind Dover Beach, with bars, clubs and restaurants dotted along most of its length.
A good starting point on a night out is Café Sol, an always busy but civilised margarita bar/Tex-Mex restaurant overlooking the water at the western entrance of the Gap; it has happy hours every night 5-7pm and 10pm-midnight. Or head to Primo Bar and Bistro, just along on the waterfront, a chic spot for a cocktail (and dinner). You can unearth various live music offerings – reggae, calypso, soca, jazz, karaoke – at the Gap. One of the most popular music venues is the Old Jamm Inn, up round the corner from Primo past the church.
If you simply fancy a Banks beer or two liming with locals, then the gaggle of simple outdoor bars at the eastern end of the Gap, across the street from the Dover playing field, should fit the bill.
Café Sol (001 246 420 7655; cafesolbarbados.com)
Primo Bar and Bistro (001 246 573 7777; primobarandbistro.com)
The Old Jamm Inn (001 246 428 3919; theoldjamminn.com)
John Moore Bar
Drop in any time at the Platinum Coast’s most authentic rum shop
John Moore’s sits right on the sand next to the fish market in Weston, an authentic stretch of west-coast Barbados among the lavish hotels and luxury villas. It is a classic rum shop, a rickety white and red clapboard shed with full-height shutter doors opening onto a shop counter and stools. Tables at the rear have an uninterrupted sea – and sunset – view.
Beloved of fishermen and office workers, the bar is relaxed and unthreatening, so it’s no problem to drop by – for a drink of rum of course, a plate of fish and the latest island gossip.
As you’d expect, Bajan rums are on sale – Mount Gay and Old Brigand, by the bottle. Equally you can buy a Banks beer or a “Deputy” (a Pilsener-style lager recently released by Banks). If you hear a slapping noise, it’s the dominoes players at the back. Do join in, but on no account think you might win.
Open daily from before dawn (when the fishermen come in) until late (often after midnight). Banks beer BDS$3 (£1.20); bottle of rum BDS$11 (£4.50)
Weston, St James (001 246 422 2258)
Barbados has great selection of sandy spots on the west coast – where they are lapped by calm seas – and on the surfy south coast.
This west-coast beach is good for strolls, safe swimming and communing with turtles out in the bay
Paynes Bay is wider and longer than most strands on this side of the island. It takes a very pleasurable 15 minutes to stroll end to end along its soft white sand, past the frontages of several smart hotels (The House, Tamarind by Elegant Hotels and Treasure Beach) and small-scale condos, up to the southern edge of the Sandy Lane estate. Due to the size of the beach, away from the hotels there are quiet areas, even in peak season.
The sea is usually calm and the beach is gently shelving, making swimming excellent for all-comers, including families. I've snorkelled with my children around the small reef just offshore in front of the Treasure Beach, spotting parrot fish and blue tang. If you’re feeling more adventurous, take a boat trip out in to the bay and swim with the turtles that gather there.
The best beachfront option for drinks and something to eat is the Rilaks Deck at Tamarind, which has a multi-faceted all-day menu.
Paynes Bay lies south of Holetown, set back from the main coastal road, with several public access points
Tamarind by Elegant Hotels (001 246 432 1332; tamarindbarbados.com)
A busy west-coast beach with a tranquil, hidden strand next door
This 300-yard-long, golden-sand beach is fun and upbeat. There are facilities galore for young and old alike – sun-loungers and umbrellas, a trampoline and iceberg in the water to jump on and off, banana boat rides, jet skis to rent. And presiding over the scene is casual-chic Mullins Beach Bar and Grill, a perfect spot for people watching, a slap-up lunch (there’s a wide-ranging menu) and rum punch at sunset.
If Mullins is too full-on for your liking, head one bay south to Gibbes Beach, an utterly ravishing tranche of sand backed by elegant, envy-inducing villas and lofty trees. You may have the beach virtually all to yourself; there are no facilities whatsoever.
Mullins Beach is just south of Speightstown; there are parking spaces across the road in the Royal Westmoreland Beach Club car park, and more parking up the side lane
Mullins Beach Bar and Grill (001 246 422 2044; royalwestmoreland.com/estate/beach/mullins-beach-bar).
If you’re willing to get your legs wet, at low tide you can reach Gibbes Beach by walking along the shoreline from Mullins; from the coastal road, Gibbes is accessed down a track by Dudley Wood house.
A strong contender for the most photogenic beach on the island
Crane Beach is over on Barbados’s south-east coast, so a bit of a schlep for most visitors – from the west coast it’s around 45 minutes’ drive. But the effort is worth it. What awaits is a long, wide stretch of pink-tinged sand backed by palm groves and limestone cliffs.
Just bear in mind that there can be big waves here, so swimming isn’t always safe (lifeguards are on duty). Boogie boards are available to rent, as are sun-loungers. Set on the cliffs above the beach is the upmarket Crane Resort. You can get drinks and food at the hotel’s beach bar and grill, or ask Cutters, a superior deli on the road behind the beach, to deliver a sandwich or pizza to your sun-lounger.
Sargassum seaweed affected the beach at times in 2015. The installation of an offshore boom appears to be helping resolve the problem.
There’s always a lively vibe at this much-visited south-coast strand
Accra Beach – also called Rockley Beach – is not for shrinking violets. The 300-metre-long arc of fine white sand attracts large numbers of locals and tourists. Many come to muck around in the milky-blue water, which is often great for families as it remains shallow some way out. That said, this is a south-coast beach, so at times there can be sizeable surf. Beware undercurrents at the beach’s western end.
Many Bajans hang out for the day on the beach, having picnics under the ample shade provided by the casuarinas and sea grapes. Also at the rear of the beach is a gaggle of huts selling handicrafts, jewellery, drinks and burgers.
Do stretch your legs along the attractive wooden boardwalk that begins at the western end of the beach and follows the rocky shoreline for about a mile to Hastings. Half-way along is Tapas, a buzzy seafront bistro and bar serving delicious Asian/Mediterranean tapas.
Accra Beach is in the conurbation of Rockley, behind the Accra Beach Hotel. There's a large car park by the beach.
Tapas (001 246 228 0704; www.tapasbarbados.com).
This gorgeous beach on the outskirts of the fishing town of Oistins is something of a locals’ secret
Last time I visited Miami Beach (or Enterprise Beach as it’s also known), I reckon I was the only non-Bajan there. It’s away from the tourist areas, with a single small hotel in the vicinity – the lovely Little Arches, just along the quiet lane.
The main section of beach – a long strip of fine white sand much used by locals for jogging and other exercise in the early morning or evening – faces the open sea and can be too rough for a relaxed or safe swim.
But at one end there’s a protected and shallow area, which is often packed with young children and oldies having a gentle bathe.
At weekends, locals come to the beach in droves for picnics, setting up at tables set under a grove of casuarina trees. You can also get drinks and Bajan food such as fishcakes and flying fish cutters (sandwiches) from Mr Delicious Snack Bar, a truck that has been stationed by the beach for many years. Or head to Little Arches' romantic, rooftop Café Luna for excellent fusion food.
Active and sporting
Barbados offers a host of exciting activities on land and sea. What are you waiting for?
Excellent kite-surfing, windsurfing and surfing are among the many watery activities on offer
Off the west coast, the usually calm waters are ideal for kayaking, pottering around on dinghies and water-skiing. Most hotels include non-motorised watersports in their rates. On the more exposed south-east coast at Silver Sands, the conditions for kite-surfing and windsurfing are ideal, thanks to cross-shore winds and the inshore waters being protected by a long reef.
Lessons and equipment for hire are available at deAction Surf Shop, run by windsurfing pro Brian Talma, who has really put Barbados on the map for the active beach culture scene that holds sway on this part of the island. Barbados also offers surfing, for all levels of ability.
The stretch of coastline in the far south east is best for learning to get up on a board and moderate conditions: well-regarded Zed's Surfing Adventures, at Surfer's Point, offers lessons and board rentals.
deAction Surf Shop (001 246 428 2027; briantalma.pro/shop): one-hour group kite-surfing lesson US$60 (£48)
Zed's Surfing Adventures (001 246 262 7873; zedssurftravel.com): two-hour group lesson US$50-US$80 (£40-£63)
Swimming with turtles
Get up close and personal in the ocean with playful sea turtles
On a recent family trip to Barbados, the number one highlight was snorkelling with my wife and children amid a collection of green turtles. They glided gracefully among us for ages, coming up incredibly close.
We enjoyed this thrilling experience off the west coast, a few hundred yards out to sea from Paynes Bay beach. Turtles reliably congregate here every day, knowing they will be fed titbits from the many boats that visit. The most popular way to swim with the turtles is on a west-coast catamaran cruise, but you’ll be in the water surrounded by dozens of other people. Alternatively, get your hotel to fix a ride out to the turtles on a small, private boat, or find someone on Paynes Bay beach to take you (check flotation jackets and snorkelling gear are provided). Go first thing in the morning: the catamarans start arriving around 10am.
A half-day cruise with Cool Runnings (001 246 436 0911; coolrunningsbarbados.com), including swimming with turtles, costs US$90 (£36), children 4-12 half price.
On a small, private boat, expect to pay around US$40 (£32) per person for an hour's trip.
On Barbados, golfers will find some of the most striking courses anywhere in the Caribbean
Tiger Woods sealed his ill-fated marriage at the luxurious Sandy Lane resort, which has three of the island’s seven golf courses. The Green Monkey, carved from an old limestone quarry, is usable only by guests staying at the hotel, but the lush fairways and immaculate greens of The Country Club and Old Nine courses are available to all, with green fees for non-hotel guests from US$195 (£155) and US$75 (£60) respectively.
Part of the exclusive experience is using golf carts fitted with GPS showing distances and hazards, and having knowledgeable caddies to escort you. There are two other demanding – and expensive to play – championship courses: the Royal Westmoreland, designed by Robert Trent Junior around rolling hills, ravines and rock faces, and Apes Hill, opened in 2009, with fabulous sea views. Or try the friendly Barbados Golf Club near the airport for an easier and more affordable round (from US$105/£83).
Green fees on all courses are generally lower outside the peak winter months, and some clubs offer reduced-price twilight rounds and multi-day passes.
A day at the races
Take a punt on this fun afternoon out for all the family
Horse racing has taken place at the Garrison Savannah since 1845. The track forms an oval ring around the edge of what was once a military parade ground, with rugby and football played on the green sward in the middle.
Races happen on Saturdays spread over the year, and the atmosphere is infectiously tropically informal. This is particularly true if you join the many locals who watch for free alongside the rail at the edge of the course, perching on the old cannons, downing rum and cokes and sucking on snow cones (you can access betting booths from the perimeter). If you want to have a prime view of the final few furlongs, sit in the grandstand – the fee to enter is usually very modest.
The big event in the racing calendar is the Sandy Lane Gold Cup, on the first Saturday in March (March 4, 2017). With big crowds, celebrities, fancy hats and ceremonial bands, it's Barbados' answer to Ascot.
Barbados Turf Club (001 246 626 3980; barbadosturfclub.org); grandstand BDS$20 (£8), or BDS$75 (£30) for Sandy Lane Gold Cup; minimum bets BDS$2 (80p).
Where to stay
All-inclusive luxury, quiet Caribbean charm, and everything in between: Barbados has it all.
Nobody does unstuffy luxury better
Located on the west coast just south of Holetown, the hotel backs on to a gorgeous arc of golden sand. Though the beach is public (all are on Barbados), Sandy Lane’s is effectively very private.
Sandy Lane is a celebrity magnet, especially in the peak-season winter months – but don’t let that put you off. No hotel in the Caribbean does unstuffy luxury better: expect palatial, hi-tech bedrooms, beach service on the signature pink sun loungers, an extragavant spa, three of the region’s finest golf courses and an outstanding children’s club. The two main restaurants both have a great reputation. Pillared L'Ajacou is for fine dining, while the more informal Bajan Blue is known for its indulgent buffets.
Double room from £737(US$, including breakfast.
St James, BB24024, Barbados (00 1 246 444 2000; sandylane.com)
A discreet and intimate haven with subtle Caribbean charm
A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, The Sandpiper offers a discreet and intimate haven with subtle Caribbean charm. Set behind an attractive sandy inlet between rocky breakwaters, the Sandpiper is a smaller and more informal-feeling sister property to the Coral Reef Club, 10 minutes’ walk up the coast.
The waterfront hereabouts is quite lively, with lots of people strolling along the interconnected beaches and boardwalks either side of the property. Wander under the shade of the swaying coconut palms in the gardens, before retiring to a room with views of the gardens or pool.
For that extra bit of luxury, the new Luxury Suites feature their own plunge pools, wonderful interior design and a fabulous location overlooking St James Beach.
Garden Rooms from £345 (US$490) in low season; rising to £711 (US$1,010) in high.
Holetown, St James, BB24017, Barbados (001 246 422 2372; sandpiperbarbados.com)
Little Good Harbour
A low-key hideaway in the heart of the fishing community
This small, low-key, relaxed and out of the way property lies on Barbados’s sleepy north-west coast. Up in the little fishing community of Shermans, you feel a world away from the busy and flashy parts of the island. Down the lane, simple local chattel houses lie by the roadside and fishing boats are hauled up.
The property is divided into two areas. On the inland side of the coastal road lies almost all the accommodation, housed in quaint, Creole-style cottagey, clapboard units with louvred shutters, and reached via pathways thick with bamboo, ferns, palms and bougainvillaea and dotted with Asian sculptures.
On the sea side of the road lies The Fish Pot restaurant, a lovely old coral-stone building (originally a mini 17th-century fort) where a casual-chic atmosphere pervades, both in its art-filled dining rooms and the covered open-air dining decks that extend along the back of the beach.
One-bedroom Garden suites from £218 (US$310) in low season; rising to £352 (US$500) in high.
Shermans, St Lucy, BB27190, Barbados (001 246 439 3000; littlegoodharbourbarbados.com)
Old-school Barbados at its best
This genteel, old-school Barbados classic has a loyal, largely British clientele. In a quiet waterfront spot on the west coast, near the faded little town of Speightstown, the hotel sits in compact but pristine palm-festooned and bird-rich gardens.
Style takes its lead from the main building, a 1940s crenelated pink mansion that was once the seaside getaway of a plantation owner, and inside there’s an ever-so-civilised drawing room with books, chess and backgammon. A peaceful, narrow sandy beach extends up the coast from the property, where at times you may have just a few local fishermen for company.
The Camelot Restaurant at Cobblers Cove has a long-established reputation for some of the best food of any hotel on the island.
Double rooms from £379 (US$550) in low season; rising to £666 (US$965) in high.
Road View, Speightstown, St Peter, Barbados (00 1 246 422 2291; cobblerscove.com)
A very British home from home
Bayfield House is a home; the British owners of this 1930s plantation-style home recently converted it into a civilised and very welcoming 10-bedroom guest house, and there’s no sign at the gate to indivate it is a commercial enterprise.
Trevor Ramsey, who has managed several Barbados hotels over the years, and his wife Pam offer guests a rum punch on arrival, and fall over backwards to help with restaurant choices and reservations.
Rooms are of a good size, with large modern showers and in many cases walk-in closets, while mod cons include air-conditioning but no TVs. Most rooms open on to the house’s large wrap-around, communal verandahs, which are pleasantly furnished with rocking chairs and fern-filled urns.
It offers some of the best-value accommodation on Barbados’s west coast. There’s normally a three-night minimum stay.
Double rooms from £100 per night.
Mullins, St Peter, Barbados (00 1 246 419 0497; bayfieldbarbados.com)
Plush, pretty and romantic
Little Arches is an intimate, romantic, adults-only hotel with a salmon-pink, hacienda-style look. The hotel is very pretty, with funky touches: mosaics of ceramic tiles pick out arches and doorways, and on the first floor terrace a chandelier hangs over the triangular-shaped, communal swimming pool. Untouristy Enterprise Beach, across the quiet lane in front of the hotel, is one of the island’s best.
The 10 plush bedrooms are individually designed, with four-poster beds, and the more expensive with their own plunge pool or whirlpool bath.
The food served in the romantic rooftop restaurant Café Luna is excellent, and the centre of the fishing village of Oistins is a stroll away.
Double rooms from £162. Rates are room only unless you stay for seven nights or more, in which case breakfast is included.
Enterprise Beach Road, Christ Church, Barbados (001 246 420 4689; littlearches.com)
Colony Club Hotel
Upmarket yet unflashy and activity-packed
You’ll find Colony Club Hotel in a tranquil spot on the west coast, set well back from the main road, 10 minutes’ walk north of Holetown. The long and narrow sandy beach in front of the hotel is picturesque and fringed by casuarina trees; the water is perfect for safe swimming.
The faux-colonial-styled low-rise property spreads over compact but lovely mature grounds set around four curvaceous swimming pools. The atmosphere is easy-going and unglitzy, but in the evenings you’re expected to dress up a bit (no shorts, T-shirts). Rooms are smart, comfy and attractive, with coral-stone walls and private terraces or balconies. Best of the bunch are the ground-floor Luxury Poolside Rooms whose terraces lead directly in to one of the swimming pools, and the very spacious Ocean View Suites, directly behind the beach. A major selling point is that many activities are included in the room rates, including watersports, kick-boxing and yoga aqua aerobics classes, some excursions, notably a fishing trip with the chef and a walking tour of Holetown. There is also a free water taxi to/from the Colony Club's two sister hotels on the west coast.
Double rooms from £315, including breakfast.
Highway 1, Folkestone, St James, Barbados (001 246 422 2335; colonyclubhotel.com)
Beach View Hotel
Family-friendly suites a short walk from Paynes Bay
On the upmarket west coast of Barbados, this reasonably priced family-friendly hotel offers spacious apartments and a choice of swimming pools a short walk from Paynes Bay beach – one of the best and most popular on the west coast.
The suites/apartments, which are cleaned every day, are really spacious and well equipped.
This is not a full-service hotel. A jolly green-and-yellow painted café is open 8am-2pm for breakfast, a rooftop bar opens three nights a week for sundowners, and there’s an evening barbecue once a week. Some of the island’s best eating and drinking spots – including the famous and very expensive Cliff – are a stroll away.
Beach View is owned and managed in hands-on fashion by the Walcott family, who will fix excursions, restaurants reservations and so on. They live just down the road, and hold a weekly cocktail party for guests in their lovely home.
Apartments from £137, breakfast excluded.
Paynes Bay, Saint James, 6450, Barbados (001 246 432 2300; beachviewbarbados.com)
Bougainvillea Beach Resort
A beautiful, well-equipped beachside hotel with an appealing price tag
A mid-priced, mid-sized hotel with good facilities on a great white-sand beach, Bougainvillea Beach Resort ticks many boxes. The pretty apartment blocks are ranged around three swimming pools, with the bright lights of St Lawrence Gap just a couple of minutes’ drive away.
The grounds, ranged around three swimming pools (one with a swim-up bar), little waterfalls and palms, and full of – you guessed it – bougainvillea, set the tone. Bedrooms are spread over several cream and pink four-storey blocks and are comfy, really spacious, and well equipped.
There are two attractive open-air restaurants. The Water’s Edge offers tapas-styled dishes, while Lanterns By The Sea features interesting variations on local dishes, such as flying fish with blue cheese polenta.
Many rooms can accommodate families (children under 16 stay free in parents’ rooms), there’s a well-equipped games room, a playground populated by pet tortoises, and, for an extra charge, a kids’ club on weekday daytimes.
The Atlantis Hotel
Colonial charm on the quiet east coast
Colonial-chic decor, friendly service and renowned Bajan buffet lunches make the boutique Atlantis a dependable choice in the seaside hamlet of Tent Bay on the quiet east coast of Barbados. A seaside path takes you to the striking, sandy, surfers’ beach at Bathsheba in the next bay in ten minutes.
Style-wise, think white shutters, darkly polished pine floorboards, photos of Barbados of yesteryear, and yachting prints. There are just 10 elegant, understated, comfy rooms, several of which look directly out to the ocean through French windows.
The hotel is owned and run in hands-on fashion by Andrew Warden, a friendly Aussie who also has the well-regarded Little Good Harbour and Fish Pot restaurant on the west coast.
Pamper yourself in Barbados
A holiday in Barbados is all about relaxation. Here are 10 of the best ways to pamper yourself on the Caribbean island this winter
Take a relaxing break in Barbados and enjoy an indulgent winter holiday in the sun.
With crystal clear waters, luxury hotels and a laidback charm, a winter break in Barbados gives you the chance to unwind on one of the Caribbean's most beautiful islands. From white sandy beaches to sumptuous spa treatments, enjoy a pamper break in wonderful surroundings.
Life’s a beach
Barbados has it all: luxury hotels, rich culture, glorious sunshine and friendly islanders, all wrapped in a 60-mile ribbon of white-sand beaches.
Soak up the sunshine on one of the island's beaches
Lapped by crystal-clear waters, home to a relaxing vibe and brushed by a gentle Caribbean breeze, it is easy to see why the beach often becomes the heart of a Barbados holiday.
Fancy a serene day relaxing in the sunshine? Try the ruggedly beautiful east coast beaches of Bath or Bathsheba – both are stunning and uncrowded. If you like your beach days filled with a little more atmosphere, Mullins is a lively option, and from there you can even jump on a jet ski to explore the coastline.
For surfing, Soup Bowl and Atlantic Shores are ideal, while you can try stand-up paddle-boarding at Pebbles Beach. Sandy Lane Beach edges the most exclusive area of Barbados’ west coast and Crane Beach is consistently named among the best beaches in the world.
Tropical temperatures, beautiful scenery and a warm Caribbean welcome are good for the soul.
Enjoy some much-needed relaxation time
But if you want to take your indulgence even further, why not enjoy an al fresco spa treatment on the beach, soak in a nutrient-enriched pool or relax in a hot tub as you watch the sun slip into the sea?
As a favourite getaway for the great and the good, Barbados has some of the best wellness retreats in the world. There are beautiful day spas scattered across the island as well as sanctuaries dedicated to pampering at the best hotels.
Take advantage of the range of treatments available
For the ultimate indulgence, head to The Spa at Sandy Lane Hotel – you don’t have to be a resident of the swanky resort to enjoy blissful treatments in luxury surroundings.
The Spa at Coral Reef Club is also a favourite, set in colonial-style buildings within 12 acres of tropical gardens, or why not try a Bajan cane sugar and spices wrap at the Accra Beach Hotel & Spa?
Drift off as you enjoy a sumptuous massage
Stretch out tired muscles with a class at Yoga by the Sea, or you could even opt for a mobile spa to send a therapist to your door and pamper you in your own surroundings.
A sporting challenge
If your love of sport goes further than swimming a few laps of the pool and strolling along white-sand beaches, Barbados has plenty of great events to challenge you.
Try your hand at various water sports
Make the most of its year-round sunshine and balmy temperatures and sign up for the Barbados Open Water Festival which takes place each November.
The four-day festival includes races of 1.5km (1 mile), 5km (3 miles) and 10km (6 miles) as well as guided open water swims and swim clinics for those who want to improve their technique or try sea swimming for the first time.
In December, the land-based activities take over with the Run Barbados Series. Sign up for one of five different distances, ranging from a fun mile to a full marathon, starting on the Bay Street Esplanade and touring historic Bridgetown.
Get the adrenaline pumping with lots of sea-based fun
Avid sailors should head to the island in January for the Mount Gay Rum Round Barbados Race – it is a tradition that dates back to 1935 and creates a wonderful atmosphere on the island.
Stay in style
With some of the best hotels and eateries in the Caribbean, not to mention great nightlife, it is easy to see how Barbados became the perfect winter escape for the A-list.
Infinity pools add a luxurious element to your stay
You won’t be short of glamorous places to stay, with hotels boasting beachside bars for sundowners, infinity pools, roof terraces and grand suites galore.
For an air of exclusivity, try the opulent suites of Cobblers Cove, or soak up colonial glamour in a charming plantation house such as Sweetfield Manor Historic Inn and Bayfield House.
Families will love all the activities at Turtle Beach by Elegant Hotels, such as beach cricket, boogie boarding and swimming with turtles, and The Crane’s Calypso Kids Club and clifftop pool complex are perfect for children of all ages.
Barbados has some of the Caribbean's most stylish hotels
Barbados is also a Caribbean capital of romance with plenty of adults-only resorts, such as sleek Sandals Barbados, which opened last year with 11 eateries, private pools and butler service for the suites, or the boutique Sugar Cane Club, set on a hill overlooking the Platinum Coast.
Take to the water
It may be tempting to while away your days on the 80 pristine white-sand beaches that edge Barbados, but there are so many other ways to explore the coastline.
Take a boat trip to explore the island's coastline
Why not start with the island’s underwater delights? There are around 20 wrecks off the coast as well as numerous coral reefs, which make for some fascinating scuba diving excursions, exploring everything from a Greek freighter to the colourful and aptly-named Barracuda Junction.
For a more relaxing excursion, take a catamaran cruise to explore the coastline. You can hop overboard for a spot of snorkelling, or opt to head out at sunset to enjoy the sight of the Caribbean Sea bathed in an orange glow.
Feast on freshly caught seafood
Seafood tastes so much better if you’ve caught it yourself and there are plenty of deep-sea fishing options in Barbados. Head out with a fisherman to see if you can land a marlin or kingfish for your dinner. If you prefer your adventure closer to shore, there are always surf lessons, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing and jet skiing to keep you entertained on those 80 beaches.
Whether you are looking for hearty Bajan cuisine or a fine dining experience for a special occasion, Barbados takes its food offering very seriously.
Enjoy a bite to eat in a beautiful location
Repeatedly voted one of the island’s most romantic places to dine, The Cliff – as its name suggests – has a beautiful location looking out to sea. It is illuminated by flaming torches, serves wonderful seafood dishes and does a mean pre-dinner cocktail.
Alternatively, try sleek, star-studded Cin Cin by the Sea, where the white and grey décor lets the sea views take centre stage and Caribbean and Mediterranean dishes are creatively combined.
For a quirky dining experience, try The Lone Star, an old garage that has been beautifully repurposed and serves fusion cuisine right on the beachfront. Don’t leave Barbados without tasting the richly-spiced local dishes, using fresh seafood, breadfruit, okra and plantain.
Sample a selection of delicious local dishes
You will find delicious Bajan food served with pride all over the island, from popular restaurant Brown Sugar, set in an old Barbadian home, to the Oistins Fish Fry which takes place every Friday night with live music and dancing.
Get back to nature
Whether you want to swim with turtles, explore the stalactites and stalagmites of Harrison’s Cave or take a moonlit hike to Highland to see the whole island bathed in silver light, there are so many ways to get back to nature in Barbados.
Get up close to spectacular sealife
Tempting you away from the beaches, you will find tropical forests, sugar cane fields and botanic gardens to be explored as well as agouti, caimans and monkeys to spot at Barbados Wildlife Reserve.
National Trust Hikes happen weekly across the island, offering guided walks to discover the beautiful scenery of Barbados, while Andromeda Botanic Gardens is a lush retreat of palms, orchids, bougainvillea and ferns, as well as being home to playful monkeys and buzzing hummingbirds.
See a variety of wonderful animal species
Back in the water, take a snorkelling tour to spot fish, coral and sponges at Folkestone Marine Park and Museum. All you have to do is wade into the water from the beach.
Lime with the locals
There is no better way to overcome the dark, cold days of a British winter than by escaping to Barbados to drink in the sunshine and local hospitality. It is what brings visitors back time and time again.
Enjoy a refreshing drink in the sunshine
The local Bajans love nothing more than welcoming people to their beautiful island and schooling them in the art of liming (that means “hanging out” to you and I).
This can be done on the beach, at one of the amazing bars that dot the coastline playing laid-back calypso tunes, or at Oistins Fish Fry, the Friday staple that sees an amazing array of fresh fish fried or barbecued, live music and a relaxed vibe as locals dance, chat and enjoy the start of the weekend.
For another great local experience, head to one of the many rum shops dotted across the island for a drink, lively conversation and a glimpse of how the locals live.
Try something new
A holiday is the perfect time to learn a new skill or try something different.
Barbados offers a fantastic range of golf courses
The A-list love stand-up paddle boarding and this serene sport is a great way to explore the coastline as well as a good workout.
For more of an adrenaline rush, head to the Atlantic coast, where you can learn to surf at the Soup Bowl, or perhaps you would prefer to learn to scuba dive with a PADI course?
If you can already dive, do you fancy trying your hand at spearfishing? You’ll be able to cook up whatever you catch on the beach afterwards.
With a dazzling array of golf courses across the island, Barbados is also the place to hone your technique.
Or if you’d rather learn a new sport, why not try road tennis? Played with wooden bats on a small court (or the road itself) it is a fast-paced Bajan sport that has started to gain an international following.
Find inner peace
If the swaying palms, gently lapping waters and laid-back ambience of Barbados aren’t enough to relax you, then why not try some yoga?
Book a dedicated yoga holiday for a relaxing break
Practitioners from all over the world flock to this island to teach courses, from dawn yoga on the beach to SUP yoga (yes, that is yoga while floating on a stand-up paddle board in the sea).
You can even book a dedicated yoga holiday, where your trip will be based around improving your practice, as well as enjoying all the island has to offer.
If yoga isn’t your thing, then you could try meditation while sat on a beautiful beach at night with Mind Body Spirit Barbados, or go for something more energetic with boxercise and boot camp offered at the health club Surfside Wellness.
Recharge the batteries with a spot of meditation
Whichever way you choose to recharge on holiday, you’re sure to come back with a glow that isn’t just down to the Caribbean sunshine.
Book your luxury Barbados holiday now with the Holiday Place