You have have gathered that as a family, we are not very good at sitting still and it surprises us that we have now been back to Antigua several times and lots of things to do each time.
Below is a list of a few things that we have shared with friends before, and hope you may find them helpful to make the most of a trip to the island.
Our Top 10 Beaches in Antigua
This is a summary of some of the beaches (this is the tourist board link) we have visited since visiting Antigua over the last few years. You will find most beaches have beach bars for lunches and refreshments for varying budgets and tastes. In some cases, it's important to remember that local service may not be as prompt as elsewhere so you may need to be a little patient and enjoy island time. The island boasts a different beach for everyday so we didn't manage to get round them all, but I'd like to think this guide may help you think about exploring a little more of the island.
Pigeon Beach - Pretty biased here, as this was our local beach that we could walk down to from where we were staying. It had the choice of the 2 beach bars either end of the beach and there was plenty of shelter, in case it got too hot. The shallow beach is pretty good for people of all ages, and you often see a people 'doing laps' along the waterfront. Nearby is the smaller, less crowded beach of Windward Bay, where the waves are bigger and it's good for beach combing for things. The entry into the water is a bit tricky so probably best for stronger swimmers
Galleon Bay - on the entrance to Nelson's Harbour by sea, this is a sheltered arching bay with a few beach huts on the seafront. At the center of the beach is Cheeky Marlins beach bar that is popular in season. You'll see plenty of snorkelers here enjoying the projected waters. We were fortunate enough to see a turtle grazing on the seabed to the far end of the bay. We would recommend swimming with shoes on as the entry can be a bit rocky with sea urchins to avoid stepping on. A great beach for swimmers, explorers or chillers.
Halfmoon Bay - almost a perfect crescent shaped bay with protected calm waters on one side, the center offering the chance for body surfing, whilst the opposite side of the beach seems to collect seaweed. One of the few beaches with good waves (when we were there) and of course a beach bar for refreshments. You can walk along the rocky coastline to explore a little or just enjoy hanging out in the calmer water. Felt a bit more remote than other beaches and felt less busy.
Ffryes beach - a long sandy beach with gentle slope down into the see towards Jolly Harbour side of the island. Certainly a lovely place to spend the afternoon, though there was less shelter there than other beaches.If long sandy beaches is your thing, then this is a great choice.
Carlisle Bay - I thought this was the most scenic of beaches, with public access to the beach just after the entrance to the hotel. Palm trees line the bay providing welcome shelter. We stopped in at the Carlisle Bay hotel for a drink to round a lovely day at the beach. We justified the more expensive drinks for the beautiful surroundings and spotting the wild turtle bobbing up and down not far from the coastline.
Dickinson Beach - One of beaches with several international hotels lined along the beach. It seemed that the beach catered more for the hotel guests, but it's important to remember that all Antiguan beaches are open to the public, as long as you stay by the waterline.
Top Things to do in Antigua outside the hotel
We've found that hiring a car has not only let us explore more beaches but also enjoy some things that are out of the hotels. Driving on the left hand side, means that driving is less daunting, though the roads can be in need of a little love (but then again so can some of the roads in the UK).
Shirley Heights - overlooking English Harbour this is the view you are likely to see in the guidebooks. Certainly worth visiting for a sun downer for the wonderful views, some rum punch and in non covid times some local music. It's worth checking if it is open before turning up, you may also need to pre book tickets. Worth combining with time spent at Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour restaurants and bars and exploring the old fort (and Pigeon Beach)
Multiple restaurants from Caribbean, French, Italian to Indian in the space of 5 minutes walk along the harbour front
Nelson's Dockyard - UNESCO World Heritage Center where the British Navy would take refuge during the hurricane season with hotel, bar, bakery, shops to explore in the stunning setting of a Georgian Dockyard.
Explore the Old Fort and the 'middle ground' - see below
Beaches to visit include Pigeon Beach and Galleon Bay
Visit to the Yacht Club - a fun bar (we watched England lose to Italy here...but you can eat there in the evening too)
Jumping off the dock (when you are allowed)
Try out the 2 Six 8 local beers at the brewery - check when they are open
Sweet T's Icecream - roadside location that is hard to miss with it's brightly coloured building
Catamaran Day Trip - leaving from Jolly Harbour this was a full day touring the coastline with stops at various beaches to cool off, relax and enjoy swimming off the coast. BBQ'd lunch and refreshments throughout the day gave us the chance to see different parts of the island we couldn't get to easily from the Jolly Harbour starting off point.
Betty's Hope Plantation - the plantation is being restored to provide insights into both Antigua's industrial and agricultural history. Initially manned by slaves, and then labourers, the plantation shows how industrial machinery was developed to process the sugar cane grown on site and throughout the island. Sugar cane plays a major part in the island's history so I found it interesting to find out more;
Great Bird Island day trip - this included visiting a location where stingrays reside (you can feed them if you want to), snorkelling off the boat and then a short hike around Green Island before lunch, followed by some canoeing around the Mangrove. An action packed day with lots to do for those that are a little more actively inclined.
St Johns - The capital of Antigua that has a pretty laid back and safe feel. We did visit when there were no cruise ships which may have made it feel less hectic. I gather there can be as many as 4/5 cruise ships at one time which would really make the area around the docks feel a lot busier. Plenty of tourist shops to buy memorabilia from and places to eat. One place that is worth a quick visit is the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda at the Old Court House, that used to be a prominent building in years gone by. You can spend half an hour there to help provide some context to the island's history.
Zip Lining at the Antiguan Rainforest Zipline Tour - based in the center of the island our group enjoyed the few hours spent negotiating the zip line course with the help of local guides. Travelling through the island in itself is a fun way to explore the island. Combine it with a visit to another beach to make the trip worthwhile (either Ffryes or Carlisle Bay)
Old Fort and the 'Middle Ground' (between Nelson's Dockyard and Pigeon Beach) - Parking at Pigeon Beach and following the trail into the dock and then circling back to the beach takes between 45mins and an hour and half. There are some steep bits but the pathway is pretty well marked with white paint on the floor. Certainly take some water and a camera to take in views of the coastline, Galleon Bay and the Fort. There are several remaining parts of the fort that are clearly identified. This is one of our regular activities that never gets old.
Devils Bridge - worth a visit to this National Park to view the natural blow holes, and water spraying upwards, on the east coast of the island. Good for the latest post on Gram...
Great places to hang out
Boom Bar - a modern pool and bar overlooking historic English Harbour
Catherines Cafe - Pigeon Beach, with a relaxed chilled vibe and beach art at the shore front (these are teh ones I mentioned to you in English Harbour area)
Kon Tiki Bar - a floating pontoon about 100m from shore near to Dickson's Beach. Great atmosphere for those wanting to enjoy their holiday. We got to see a few stingrays swim beneath!
2 Six 8 - (the brewery is named after country dialling code) the location of the brewery to enjoy the selection of beers and stouts as well as taking in some more local food
Trappas - international cuisine for everybody's taste at the center of English Habour
Hemingways in St Johns, elevated position 1 floor up the fresh breeze is well worth it, with a great selection of local and international food
Sheer Rocks - popular and more exclusive restaurant towards Jolly Harbour (we've not been....but friends have!)
For those wanting to be active
Snorkelling and Scuba diving - though we didn't go with any organised tour there were plenty of guides available
Sailing - in previous years we have been able to charter a sailing boat (with captain) to get us out in the open sea
Running - running around the the Old Fort / Middle Ground was a great work out on uneven terrain in around English Harbour to Shirley Heights
SwimRuns - we have recently got into this sport and found routes along the coast to combine our swimming and running from between 1-2 hours. We made sure we told people where we were going and stayed together. During one swim we were slightly distracted as we saw a turtle grazing (I think they graze) on the sea floor grass.
Tennis - local courts can be hired if not part of the hotel complex but we found it too hot any time before 6pm
Ultimately, we love returning to Antigua to continue exploring the island. We tend to stay at English Harbour which has proved to be a great base. We have found that hiring a car works well and the roads, though could be improved, are pretty easy to navigate (and not too busy either). What's your tonic?
Hopefully you'll have found something in our suggestions above...
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