If you have ever taken a cruise you know when the ship floats into port, you only have hours to get your sightseeing on. I typically don’t like excursions because I feel they are overpriced, overcrowded and overrated. I look for “‘off the beaten path” sights with few crowds as much as possible. That sometimes becomes difficult on tiny islands filled with 1 or 2 cruise ships each holding 2,500 passengers. I also like to find places that play a part in history. Nassau has a few of these and I would like to share those with you.
You have 6-8 hours in port, what can you do and see? Quite a bit actually.
This walking tour is 2.9 miles/4.7km and if you didn’t stop, would only take you 58 minutes. It took us 4 hours total to see everything we wanted and then we ate lunch, hung out at the beach, and did a little shopping the rest of our time on the island.
As the ship floated into port, I was up before dawn and crossed “
see the sunrise over the ocean” off my bucket list. It was slightly overcast but the clouds burned off and made way to a bright sunny day over Nassau. We ate breakfast on the ship and was on land about an hour after the cruise ship opened the gangway for disembarking.
From the ship, I visually scanned the city and made mental notes of the buildings on my agenda. The first site is the Queen’s Staircase (East – left side of photo) and in the distance, you can see an enormous water tower jutting up on the horizon like a pawn in the game of chess. This tower became my first landmark. I knew I would use it as my visual guide when on foot. Between the ship and the tower are the pink government buildings, we will pass those en route. In the middle of the town stands a white church tower, that is my second landmark.
Further West is a long pink building, that’s the Governers Mansion, and finally, all the way to the West are some cranes, just past those I could see the long black concrete dock at Junkanoo beach. Ok! Landmarks detected we are ready to go! So now you have a map, and a visual guide lets hit the sights, shall we?
When you get off the boat you will go through a common area that is set up with booths of souvenirs, excursions and such. Keep walking, don’t stop, do not buy anything. Once out of the gate, you will be bombarded with cabbies wanting to drive you places. Just say, “we want to stretch our legs, maybe later“. They may ask where you are going just say, “Parliment” and point left towards the pink buildings. They will probably tell you how to get there. They are all super nice even if you do not want a ride. You won’t need a cab for this is a walking tour, however, you could rent a horse carriage for the day if you don’t want to walk. Negotiate a price beforehand. Show him all the sites you want to see and he will name his price. I would also recommend saying that you will need him to wait while you are in various locales and if he agrees to wait, pay half up front and half at the end. The horses are cared for and look healthy so if you got the cash and don’t want to walk this is a good alternative.
WanderTip: ask any local where you should eat lunch. They will give you their recommendation.
Parliment Buildings (1): Head down Parliment street and you will see the pink government buildings of Nassau. Snap a photo and keep walking behind the buildings. This was “eh” on my Wandering Scale of 1-10. 1 being “dude why did we waste our time” and 10 being, “holy crap man that was freaking unbelievably awesome“. “eh” falls in at a 2 or 3. They are pink buildings, that’s about it, move on.
Nassau Public Libary (2): We love books. So we had to sneak a peak. This may be low on your radar but if you are into books and libraries you will appreciate a view of this building. This is nothing like the U.S or Europe libraries for sure. It makes you realize how nice we have it with bookstores on just about every corner. Walking into the building I took a deep breath as the olfaction of worn novels filled my nostrils. I love that scent: The smell of a library. A circular inner room with 4 smaller rooms branching off, is all there is to this tired structure. Old glass windows with green shutters opened to a small grassy yard and allowed a cool breeze to enter. There were stacks of books piled everywhere: on shelves, tables, cabinets, there also was one entire room full of bundled and stacked newspapers for the past 3 decades. Don’t believe me? Click here. I suppose they don’t have digital copies of newsprint or even microfilm. There was one computer at the entrance and a less than friendly lady working the desk. She paid us no mind, knew we were tourists. Wandering Scale: 4 because it is old, unique, a little melancholy, but a neat find for a bibliomaniac.
Wandertip: Snap a photo of yourself and loved ones outside the library with the large tree as a backdrop.
Queen’s Staircase(3): behind the library, turn left on Shirley Street. You will see Zion Baptist Church on your right. This church was built in 1835, destroyed in 1929 by a hurricane and rebuilt.
Continue a short distance to Elisabeth Ave and turn right. The walk is pretty easy and pleasant. After a short walk up a fairly steep road, you will run smack dab into the entrance to the Queen’s Staircase. Just keep heading towards the water tower and you will find your way very easily.
The staircase and ravine are impressive. It is lush in vegetation and serene and quiet. Even on hot days, this place is cool because of the stone. Trees growing directly out of the rock, their roots exposed, still thrive here. (Click for more photos) There is an old waterfall built at the far end beside the staircase and rocks that act as natural seating. It is a great place to sit and sketch, paint or read. There weren’t any fellow travelers here. I am not sure if this was because it was still early or if this is a best-kept secret.
In 1793, sixty-three steps were hewn out of solid limestone rock, sadly, by slaves who used pick axes and hand tools to cut their way through solid limestone. For 16 years Bahamian slaves toiled in this ravine and inch by inch the limestone was carved out on the backs of the Islanders. =( I would love to say it was a labor of love, but sadly it wasn’t.
Twenty-eight years after the staircase was complete, Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 and signed a declaration to abolish slavery in the Bahamas. Decades later the staircase gained an extra two steps and was dubbed “The Queen’s Staircase” to honor her 65-year reign, her tireless fight to free the Bahamians, and her proclamation abolishing slavery. Today, the Queen’s Staircase still acts as a passageway to Fort Fincastle. It is tranquil, calm and lovely. We were lucky enough to see some locals working out on the stairs and I join them in 65-stair squats, as my 20-something children just watched, said my knee angle was poor, and “Snapped” rude things about their mama!
Wandering Scale: 9 because of the natural beauty, the cool breeze, the local interaction, and history.
Vendors at Fort Fincastle: At the top of the Queen’s Staircase you will see a mini straw market with really nice folks selling souvenirs. I spotted a cute a backpack for 18 bucks, I gave her a 20 and told her to keep the change. The backpack straps lasted 3 days and then broke. LOL! I did have it crammed full of stuff but beware this stuff is not high end.I simply reattached the straps with strong thread and it is good as new. You can also haggle. I didn’t because as my daughter said, “this is their livelihood.” Wandertip: I pay what I think the item is worth. If I feel they are overpricing me, I haggle, if not, I pay asking price. We purchased t-shirts, shot glasses, souvenir mugs for co-workers. The t-shirts were 10 bucks and the mugs for 6 were 20 bucks! Total spent: $42.00 for a crap ton of stuff.
Outside the fort, you may see someone selling enormous fresh coconuts. They lop the top off stick a straw in and you drink up the juice and then eat the flesh. Delicious! Cost: 5 bucks.
Fort Fincastle(4): This fort is $2 a person to enter. A guide will also tell you about the fort, snap a family photo and guide you around for a tip. At the end, Shane pulled all his small bills out his pocket and gave him $7 for 5 minutes of his time. The fort is the highest point on Nassau and you get a great view of the ocean, city, and ships. Great photo op (see the photo at the end of this blog). The fort is very small but neat. There are cannons that still pivot on their axels and it takes several people to move. There also are jail cells for you to lock your kids up and pretend they are pirates! Total cost: $19. Wandering Scale: 4 for an opportunity and to support the local historical society preservation and a great photo. Plus our guide kept calling me “Bahama Mama” and Shane a “Bahama Papa.” Want to see more photos of the fort? click here.
Gregory’s Arch(5), St. Andrew’s Kirk(6) and The Balcony House(7): Leaving the fort head down East Street to East Hill Street on your left. If you end back up at Zion Baptist, you just missed the East Hill Street. Walk .2 of a mile to Market Street. On your right, you will see Gregory’s Arch. Walk under the arch that was cut out of limestone to provide a shortcut for workers and to your right you will see St. Andrew’s Kirk. St. Andrew’s is a prep school for islanders. If you want to delve deeper into Bahamian history, cross the street at St. Andrew’s and tour The Balcony House (the oldest house in Nassau named for the unsupported balcony on its front). Once finished double back up the street to St. Andrews and turn right on Duke Street. WanderTip: you enter through the white gate at the Balcony House, not the door (which is locked). We skipped the Balcony House this trip, but I hear it is rich in history and culture. The only cost is a donation to the museum. Wandering Scale: 2 only reason to visit the arch and school is for navigation. I wouldn’t go out of my way to make a trip to them specially.
Government House(8): on Duke Street, you can see the Governor’s house. Wandertip: the last Friday of every month, High Tea is served and open to the public. Wandering Scale: 2 – it’s a building. Now if I attended High Tea that would be different.
Graycliff(9) – Turn left on Balliou and then right on W. Hill Street and you will be at Graycliff Hotel. Built in 1740, this hotel is so beautiful to me. It is old and secluded. I want to come back to Nassau and stay in this quiet place (for $350.00 a night). Shane, on the other hand, said it looked dingy and old. To each their own I guess.
You enter the hotel through a stone archway and into a tropical palm garden. A pool sits off in the distance and there are beautiful patios and alcoves.
Wandertip: This hotel has several packages that cruisers can book for 4-5 hours. You can take a cigar rolling class or tour the factory, you can learn to cook from the hotels executive chef, you can make your own chocolate bar or you can sit out by the magnificent pool for the day. The hotel also serves a fancy-smancy lunch if that is what you wish. We weren’t here to eat (but I wish we had). We were here for cigars and chocolate.
Graycliff Cigars: My father is a cigar connoisseur and said of the Graycliff cigars: “this was the best damn cigar I have had in a while!” Visitors to The Graycliff Cigar Company can watch skilled torcedores at work. This was so fascinating to watch as they sort, clean, and roll the cigars. For $20 you can take an extended tour of the factory that explains the process and history of Graycliff cigars. They also offer a cigar rolling lesson or a cigar and rum pairing session daily. Click here for more info.
Graycliff Chocolates: I love chocolate. The darker the better and Graycliff Chocolatiers did not disappoint! Here you can book a tour and learn how cocoa beans become yummy goodness when you create your own chocolate bar. They also have a spirits and chocolate pairing daily.
If you don’t book a tour at either the Cigars or Chocolatier, don’t worry you can still shop!
Wandering Scale for Graycliff is up there at 9.4. It is beautiful and full of history, culture, and fun. Total cost spent at Graycliff: $30.00 for 3 cigars and $10.00 for 4 pieces of chocolate.
Saint Francies Xavier: as you bid Graycliff goodbye you will head towards West Street. You will soon come to Saint Francis Xavier church, built in 1886 for the Catholic parish on the island.
John Watling’s Distillery: Turn left on West St and right on Delancy Street, up ahead you will run into 1789 Buena Vista Estate home of John Watling’s Distillery.
I urge you to take the tour of the distillery it is free, rich in culture and very informative. For example, do you know what a bunghole is? At the beginning, your guide will offer you a taste of the distillery’s pina colada made with their premium rum it is gooood. He will guide you through the process of small-batch rums. We tipped our tour guide when we were done. For $6 bucks you can taste all three of John Watling’s Rum or they will mix you a drink at their bar. Don’t know what to get? Ask for “Wilfred’s Rum Dum”. We bought a bottle of the Amber Rum to bring home. Total Spent: $63.00 for guided tour, 1 bottle, and tasting. Not convinced? Check out these photos.
Wandering Scale is 9.6 because of the guided historical tour, rum tasting, and cultural experience.
The beach is a straight shot from the distillery, just walk straight down Augusta Street and you will end up at Junkanoo beach.
Do not eat at the
Tiki Bikini Hut! It is the first hut you come to on Junkanoo Beach and it is awful! -10 on my Wandering Scale. It is overpriced, subpar food, horrible service and a long wait for food, actually I never got my order of conch fritters and finally, after 55 minutes of waiting, while my family ate, I said to just take it off the bill. While ordering we were told they were out of several items on the menu so 2 of our party ended up with a hamburger on an island in the Bahamas. For a family of 5, our bill was $170 bucks for 2 conch salads (on iceberg lettuce with a handful of Tostido chips), 2 burgers (that were just “ok”), 2 fries (crinkle cut frozen variety), 3 bottled waters and 2 tiny plastic opaque cups of liquid libation. The fries were 10 bucks a piece and the waters were 7 if that tells ya anything. Our waitress was unimpressive and barely came by except to tell me my fritters were coming or to say the fryer was messed up and they were recooking. The final straw was when the table next to us sat down 20 minutes after us, yet got their conch fritters before me, I picked off my families plates and went back to the boat hungry. I hear a lot of chatter about Crabs and Ting and if you want to spend 170 bucks the right way, go to Lukka Kairi Restaurant and Bar. In the end, I wish we had starved a little, saved our money, and ate on the ship for free or found a better place to have lunch. Remember my first tip: ask a local.
Junkanoo Beach – here you can get in the ocean for a dip, order a coconut water, drink lots of alcoholic drinks and waste your afternoon away. Wandering Scale: 8 because the water is cool, crystal clear and the sand is a soft white. It is beautiful.
Bay Street: Walking back to the ship you just follow the street as it curves slightly and then becomes a long straight street of shopping! Oh boy, beware these people would like to try to sale you a swamp in New York City. Wandering Scale: 3 buy some Rum cake. WanderTip: if you go into Diamonds International they will give you a cheap charm bracelet for free if you ask. It is gold plated but each charm is unique to the island you are visiting if you go to DI on other islands the charm is different so you can collect, kind of neat. They will try to sell you an amazingly gorgeous jewel. If you decide to drop a considerable amount of cash in DI, go in with cash and after oohing and awing, walk away. They will call after you and cut the price another couple of hundred. For example: I said, “oh I that is 1000.00, sorry I only have a limited amount of cash on me, I can’t afford it“. The reply was, “how about, just for you, 800.00?” I still said, “No Thank you, that would take all of the cash I have” and that was it, they didn’t go any lower, he did, however, tell me there was a bank across the street haha! Total cost on Bay Street: $8.00 for a rum cake and the free bracelet from Diamonds International. (I came out better in DI, they provided me a free Bahama Mama and Shane a local beer while I browsed. I managed to walk out of there without buying anything, as I just wasn’t prepared to drop a grand) Wandering Scale: 4 because of fun shops of all kinds of stuff, free drinks and food samples at many of the stores.
Straw Market: this is a tourist trap of souvenirs. Most of this stuff is tee shirts, hats, cups, jewelry and wooden carved animals, all made in Asia I am certain. It is dark inside the building and the sellers are not exactly pushy, but they are vocal. “Come see my merchandise“, “What do you need?”, “Buy from me!” I liked the vendors up by Fort Fincastle better. I did find a neat wooden turtle for my oldest daughter. WanderTip: if you decide to buy one of the straw bags with needlework on it, look for someone who is actually performing the needlework, otherwise you can just about guaranteed it was shipped in from China. You can also get your hair braided here, but be careful if they say $7.00 they usually mean per row of braid, not your entire head! Wandering Scale: 2 it’s a bunch of tourist junk. Total Spent: $7.00 for this palm-size wooden turtle. She loved it. I didn’t haggle.
By the time we got back to the port, we still had about two hours to spare. We could have spent longer at the beach but we were worried about time because of our food debacle and wanted to get some shopping done.
Total Spent (not including the lunch): $179.00. Tours/Tips: $14.00 Purchases: $165.00. For a family of 6, this came out to be less than $30 per person. Tell me of any excursion that costs so little but is so rich in culture.
All in all, we had a wonderful day on the island of Nassau. We learned some history and culture, met some really nice people, hung out on a beach, visited a fort, and 3 factories.
Keep the lust for wandering, Y’all!