Both the largest city and capital of The Bahamas, the lively yet laidback Nassau is one of the most popular cruise ship ports in the Caribbean. Covering much of the eastern half of New Providence Island, it boasts a fascinating history and culture with a wealth of world-class beaches and watersports on offer.
Due to its strategic location alongside numerous trade routes, pirates flocked to the isle in the early eighteenth-century with the British later building forts to control Nassau Harbour. Many of its tourist attractions and museums relate to this period. The happening downtown area contains a mix of old world and colonial architecture.
Thanks to its glittering white sands, swaying palms and sparkling sea, it’s a beach lover’s paradise. Many visitors also include snorkeling and scuba diving on their list of things to do in Nassau and loads of excellent sites can be found just offshore. With gorgeous weather guaranteed and easy-going island life to enjoy, it is no wonder Nassau and The Bahamas are a dream destination for many people.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Straw Market
Right in the center of the city is one of Nassau’s top spots to shop for souvenirs: the colorful Straw Market. A fun and festive place to explore, vendors sell everything from woven hats, baskets and mats to wooden carvings and sculptures.
For decades now, tourists have flocked to the traditional open-air market to buy beautiful handmade bead jewellery, clothing and other souvenirs. The market’s origins date back to the 1940s when local women began braiding and weaving palm leaves into baskets and fishing traps following the decline of the sponging industry.
Nowadays, there are rows of stands and stalls for you to walk past until something catches your fancy and it’s time to test out your haggling skills.
16. Fort Fincastle
One of Nassau’s most important and impressive historic sights, Fort Fincastle lies perched atop the island’s highest hill overlooking the waterfront and Paradise Island. Accessed via the iconic Queen’s Staircase, it provides commanding views over the surrounding area and shimmering sea.
Built back in 1793 to protect Nassau from pirates, the small but sturdy fort is shaped like the bow of a boat and features 126-feet-high walls. In its heyday, it bristled with loads of cannons though never saw much action. The fort was later used as a lighthouse and signal station.
On tours, you can see rusty old cannons and informative plaques dotted about and learn more about its history from your knowledgeable guide. Although it is well worth exploring, the highlight has to be the panoramic views over Nassau and the ocean.
15. Government House
Just a short stroll away is the pretty pastel pink Government House which is the official residence of the Governor General of The Bahamas. Set atop Mount Fitzwilliam, the magnificent mansion has terrific tours for you to take around its outside gardens and grounds.
The best example of Georgian Colonial architecture in the West Indies, it was erected in 1803 with a fine portico and enormous ionic columns fronting its facade. Midway up the flight of stairs leading to the entrance is a striking statue of Christopher Columbus.
Aside from snapping some photos of its distinctive design and delightful shade of pink, visitors can learn all about the history of the building, governors and The Bahamas on guided tours. In addition to touring the complex, you can sometimes catch its superb changing of the guard ceremony.
14. Junkanoo Beach
While Nassau certainly has lots of interesting sites for you to see, it also has more than its fair share of brilliant beaches. One of the most popular amongst locals and tourists alike is Junkanoo due to its extensive amenities, activities and entertainment options and its proximity to the center.
Located at the western end of the waterfront, its soft sands and turquoise waters are protected by the protruding Arawak Cay. Plenty of deck chairs and parasols are available for rent with countless bars and restaurants lining the beach and vendors hawking snacks and drinks.
Although loud music and lively atmosphere aren’t for everyone, Junkanoo Beach does offer up an authentic taste of local life. While soaking up some sun and splashing about in the sea, you can also enjoy splendid views of Nassau Harbor Lighthouse and the gigantic cruise ships passing by.
13. Dive With Sharks at Stuart Cove
If on the other hand you are after an unforgettable underwater adventure, then the stupendous Stuart Cove is certainly the place to go. At the incredible dive site, you can snorkel and scuba dive next to swirling sharks with numerous tour operators in town running excursions out to the reef.
As the waters surrounding Nassau teem with life, guests are guaranteed to see vast shoals of tropical fish, lush coral gardens and steep drop-offs to the ocean floor down below. The undoubted highlight however has to be swimming about with dozens and dozens of Caribbean reef sharks and a couple of nurse sharks.
As the harmless predators swim about below and even brush past you at times, scuba diving and snorkeling here promises to be a memorable affair. Add in all the amazing stingrays, parrotfish and angelfish you see and this trip really is not to be missed out.
12. Cabbage Beach
After all the excitement and adrenaline, there is no better place to relax and unwind than at the calm and quiet Cabbage Beach. Situated just along from the lavish Las Vegas-style Atlantis Resort, it lies towards the northeastern end of the appropriately named Paradise Island.
Very scenic and serene, its brilliantly bright white sands gently curve their way alongside the ocean with almost everyone who visits rightfully commenting on its beauty. While its crystal-clear waters sometimes get a bit rough, at other times you can swim, snorkel or jet ski about its glinting surface.
Backed by swaying palm trees, the idyllic beach has numerous stands where you can pick up drinks and snacks or rent sunloungers and umbrellas. If at any point you get bored, the resort’s casino, spa and water park lie just a short distance away.
11. National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
Packed with phenomenal paintings, photos, prints and sculptures, the excellent National Art Gallery of the Bahamas can be found right in the city center. One of the country’s top cultural institutes, its large galleries have innumerable artworks and exhibits for visitors to peruse.
Although the art museum only opened in 2003, its comprehensive collection of Bahamian art pieces occupies a charming old colonial building that dates to 1860. In the historic Villa Doyle, there are a plethora of works ranging from precolonial times right up to the present-day with masterpieces by Max Taylor, Brent Malone and John Cox among others all on show.
On top of seeing these renowned Bahamians’ artworks from up close, guests can also see ceramics, textiles and contemporary installations in the elegant Italian colonial mansion.
10. Trip to Pig Beach
One of the most famous and popular attractions in The Bahamas are the swimming pigs that occupy the uninhabited Big Major Cay. From Nassau, numerous tour operators run trips to the beach where you can lounge about, feed and even swim alongside the cute critters.
Made up of more than 365 islands, the Exuma district of the nation lies about a two-hour speed boat journey east of Nassau across the open sea. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by blindingly bright white sands and twinkling turquoise shallows with happy hogs wallowing about in the warm waters.
Seeing them swim and sunbathe in such a pristine and picture-perfect environment really is an awesome experience like no other. To this day, no one knows exactly how the pigs arrived at the isolated isle. Some say they are survivors of a shipwreck and others that they are solely there to attract tourists.
Guaranteed fun for all the family, the enormous Aquaventure water park is home to lots of wild and wet rides, relaxing pools and a private beach. An important part of the high-end Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, its one-of-a-kind waterscape is surrounded by tons of tropical trees and Atlantean-themed towers and temples.
One of the biggest and best water parks in the Caribbean, its slides, swimming pools and sunbathing areas sprawl across a humongous area. With names like ‘Leap of Faith’, ‘The Abyss’ and ‘Challenger Slide’, you’ll certainly want to try out its waterslides with calmer splash pads and playgrounds being available for younger children.
Whether it is floating down the park’s lazy river, basking on its beach or seeing amazing marine life at Dolphin Cay; you really can’t go wrong spending a day or two at Aquaventure.
8. Pirates of Nassau Museum
As The Bahamas were once synonymous with buccaneers and Blackbeard, no trip is complete without stopping by the Pirates of Nassau Museum. Fun yet fascinating, its life-sized dioramas and displays shine a light on the time when the Caribbean was the center of the pirating world.
Located not far from the Straw Market and waterfront, the superb little museum chronicles the city’s history as a prominent pirate base in the eighteenth-century. Dotted about are wax models of pirates, old cannons and a replica of the famous pirate ship ‘Revenge’.
As you wander its enthralling exhibits, you’ll learn about life out on the high seas and explore a beachside shantytown. Other areas cover renowned pirates such as Anne Bonny, Mary Read and, of course, the fearsome Blackbeard himself.
7. Ardastra Gardens
Full of colorful plants, flowers, trees and shrubs, the gorgeous Ardastra Gardens are a treat to amble around. What’s more, its sprawling site encompasses the only wildlife conservation center in The Bahamas with over 135 animals and birds now inhabiting its expansive enclosures.
Founded back in 1937 by Jamaican horticulturalist Hedley Edwards, the lush tropical gardens were designed to be a ‘utopia of peace, beauty and tranquility’. They certainly live up to the original ideal as bright, blooming flowers and exotic plants pop out at you from all sides.
Just as delightful are the dozens of different species you can see as you stroll about. While peacocks and parakeets, iguanas and capybaras all feature, the most impressive thing is seeing its long-legged flamingos dubbed the ‘Ballerinas in Pink’ slowly strut their way around the park.
6. John Watlings Distillery
As its rum is known as the ‘Spirit of The Bahamas’, it is well worth touring the John Watlings Distillery when in town. At its historic Buena Vista Estate downtown, you can see how the strong spirits are produced and sample some stiff drinks and tasty cocktails in its atmospheric tavern.
Since 2003, the distillery has hand-crafted small batches of high-quality spirits at the quaint colonial estate which dates to 1789. At its central site overlooking the harbour, you’ll see sugarcane molasses fermenting, coconut charcoal filtration and big aging barrels, as well as other steps in the process.
After exploring the pretty property and experiencing the whole production process, you can sit and sip some of its remarkable rums and shop for souvenirs in its store.
5. Junkanoo Festival
One of the most exciting and unmissable events to experience in The Bahamas is the colorful and chaotic Junkanoo Festival. Each Boxing Day, costume-clad revelers of all ages flock to Bay Street along Nassau’s waterfront to parade about, perform and put on an unforgettable show.
In the run up to the fun-filled festival, participants labor away for months at their joyous cardboard costumes, rehearsing dance routines and practicing the songs they’ll sing and play. All the hard work bursts into life before you in the shape of stunning artworks, songs and spectacles.
While the origins of the event are unknown, most people believe it began with enslaved Africans on plantations who were granted time around Christmas to dance, sing and celebrate. As it is also held on New Year’s Day, Independence Day and on some Saturdays throughout the summer, visitors have more of a chance to participate in the thrilling street parade.
4. Clifton Heritage National Park
Offering the perfect mix of history, culture and nature, the incredible Clifton Heritage National Park occupies the very western tip of New Providence Island. With modern underwater art lying next to ancient archaeological sites and activities aplenty to enjoy; it is the highlight of many people’s visit to Nassau.
Only established in 2004, it preserves the ruins of a late eighteenth-century Loyalist plantation and the remains of villages left behind by the indigenous Lucayan people over a thousand years ago. As you explore, you can take in all the striking scenery and views over the sea with informative plaques on early Bahamian life and culture dotted here and there.
Besides basking on its beaches and wandering about its wetlands, woods and rocky coastline, guests can also swim, snorkel and scuba dive in its crystal-clear waters. Below the waves, you’ll spot shiny shoals of fish and interesting underwater sculptures such as Ocean Atlas and Lucayan Faces.
3. Blue Lagoon Island
Another terrific trip you can take when in Nassau is out to the beautiful Blue Lagoon Island which lies just five miles offshore. Once a short stopover for pirates and privateers, the small, scenic cay now instead attracts tourists come to enjoy its beaches, coral reefs and watersports.
Officially known as Salt Cay, the picturesque private isle has a whole host of epic outdoor activities and attractions for visitors to check out. Aside from snorkeling and scuba diving about its gorgeous corals, you can fish, sail and water-ski across the sea’s shimmering surface with fun dolphin and sea lion encounters also being on offer.
Add in phenomenal white sand beaches, lovely lagoons and lush tropical foliage and the tranquil isle really does have something that will appeal to everyone.
2. Queen’s Staircase
One of the most famous and photographed landmarks in The Bahamas is the Queen’s Staircase which leads up to Fort Fincastle overlooking the center. Commonly referred to as the ’66 Steps’, they make for quite the sight with the sheer walls, verdant vegetation and cool cascades alongside them.
Hewn out of solid limestone by hundreds of slaves, it was built between 1793 and 1794 to serve as an escape route from the fort above. Over a century later, the long staircase was renamed in honor of Queen Victoria who abolished slavery in the British Empire. Just by chance, the number of steps is actually equal to the number years she ruled as monarch.
As it lies right in the heart of downtown next to most of the city’s other main sites, almost everyone who visits Nassau passes by the distinctive staircase at some point.
1. Cable Beach
When people picture The Bahamas, it is invariably wonderful white sands and tantalizing turquoise waters that spring to mind. One of the most breathtaking of the lot is exquisite Cable Beach that lies on the north side of the island, facing the open ocean.
Stretching over two and a half miles in length, its sun-kissed shores wrap their way around Delaport Bay with palm trees, restaurants and resorts all backing the beach. After having topped up your tan, you can splash about in the shallows, swim or jet-ski along the glittering Caribbean coast.
Despite its proximity to the center, the calm and quiet Cable Beach feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of both Bay Street and the Straw Market. If you’re after a relaxing time in paradise, it really is a must-visit for its spellbinding scenery and warm, inviting waters.