Antigua’s reputation as a holiday destination centres around the impressive number of beaches that line the island’s coast. But it’s also a location that has a detailed military history and several impressive natural attractions offering so much more to do around the island than just spending your days by the sea.
If you’re visiting Antigua on holiday and fancy exploring more than just the beautiful coastline, there are a range of tourist attractions that you can add to your itinerary. In this article, we share seven of our favourite things to do in Antigua to help you plan your holiday to this spectacular Caribbean island.
Admire the View from Shirley Heights
One of the most popular attractions in Antigua is the viewpoint known as Shirley Heights on the southern coast of the island. It offers incredible views of English Harbour from 490 ft above sea level, but is also a site of historical interest relating to the island’s military background.
Shirley Heights was built by the British military in the 17th century when they had control of the island and was named after Sir Thomas Shirley, a former governor of the Leeward Islands who oversaw the construction of the site. The expansive views provided by the lookout were essential to the British’s success in defending the island.
You can either hike or drive to Shirley Heights, with the best times of day to visit being earlier in the morning when it’s quiet or just before the sun sets. Admiring the view in the evening is particularly popular, as not only do you get spectacular views of the sun disappearing into the sea, but you can also watch all the lights appear in St John’s down below.
You’ll find the restaurant and bar Shirley Heights Lookout alongside the historic remains at Shirley Heights which is a lively spot to have a meal or enjoy a drink. It’s famous for its Sunday night parties, which feature live music, a BBQ and plenty of local rum punch! If you’re looking for fun things to do in Antigua, these parties should definitely be on your list.
Hike Through Wallings Nature Reserve
If you like to get out and about when you’re on holiday then one of the best activities to do in Antigua is to visit Wallings Nature Reserve. Found inland in the southwest part of the island, this protected area of land has plenty of established walking trails and offers a lovely environment to admire the flora and fauna of Antigua.
Wallings Nature Reserve was set up as a community effort to preserve the biological diversity of the island and to help protect natural resources from the impact of climate change. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the shade provided by Antigua’s rainforest and also gives visitors the option to take part in a guided tour so they can learn more about the landscape and the projects taking place there.
Explore English Harbour
English Harbour is a town on the southern coast of the island that gets plenty of visitors throughout the year. Whether you’re here to admire the yachts in the harbour or sample the food at one of the top-rated restaurants, it’s a great place to stay and a great place to visit when you’re on the island.
The name of this popular Antigua attraction comes from its status as an important port during the British occupation in the 17th and 18th centuries. English Harbour was once a naval base for the military and is still home to the famous Nelson’s Dockyard, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Named after Admiral Horatio Nelson who was based in Antigua between 1784 and 1787, it’s still home to colonial architecture and a museum housed in the old Admiral’s House.
If you’re looking for even more things to see in Antigua, the colonial Clarence House sits just above the dockyard in English Harbour and is considered one of the most impressive examples of architecture from this period. Today it’s a museum with a star-studded history of visitors, as well as a popular venue for big events like weddings.
English Harbour is still a hub for sailing on the island and you’ll see plenty of impressive boats moored here if you take a walk around the marina. Depending on the time of year you visit, you might catch one of the sailing events or regattas, which always bring a lot of visitors to this part of the island.
Visit St. John’s Cathedral
If you’re the kind of traveller who loves to admire architecture when you’re on holiday then one of the top things to do in Antigua is take a trip to St John’s Cathedral. Originally constructed in the 1600s and then rebuilt in 1720 when the church became too small for its congregation, it officially became a cathedral in 1842 when the Diocese of Antigua was formed.
The design of St John’s Cathedral is Baroque, with two 70 ft high towers at the west end of the building. You’ll notice statues of St John the Divine and St John the Baptist on the pillars flanking the south gate; these were actually taken from a French ship destined for Martinique in the 1700s and displayed outside the cathedral instead.
If you’re in St John’s then it’s well worth a trip to the cathedral, as it’s one of the most impressive buildings of its kind in this entire area of the Caribbean. Some restoration work is still underway, but this doesn’t detract from the beauty of the place.
Marvel at Devil’s Bridge
Another of the most popular Antigua tourist attractions is Devil’s Bridge, which is found on the east coast of the island. Situated just outside the village of Willikies, this stunning natural spectacle consists of a limestone archway curving just above the water, formed by hundreds of years of relentless buffeting from the Atlantic waves.
The Devil’s Bridge wouldn’t have been formed without the windy conditions on the coast, but be prepared for a strong breeze when you visit. The bridge and the surrounding stone are home to quite a few blowholes, so you should also be prepared to get wet if you’re standing on the bridge at the wrong time!
Visiting this coastal attraction is one of the top things to do in Antigua, but you should also be aware of the sombre history surrounding how the spot got its name. People who had been enslaved on the island were said to throw themselves off the bridge and into the water to escape their circumstances, and this happened so many times that locals began to believe that the devil lived under the bridge.
Proceed with caution when visiting the Devil’s Bridge as the stone can be quite slippery. Once you’ve visited the site, Long Bay Beach is only a short walk away and provides safe conditions for swimming or paddling if the weather is good.
Tour Betty’s Hope Sugar Plantation
Antigua has a sad history of the slave trade, and as a visitor to the island it’s important to understand and acknowledge this. A tour of Betty’s Hope Sugar Plantation offers insight into the decades of slavery that happened here and also shares plenty of information about the work that was done on sugar plantations around the island.
Betty’s Hope is home to a fully restored sugar mill tower with sails and there are still remains of a stillhouse, distillery and estate house. Once you’ve paid an entrance fee you’re free to wander around the site yourself and examine the ruins or read the accompanying information.
This plantation was once the most profitable and successful spot on the island and you can learn about its history and influence at the museum on site or through one of the guided tours offered here. It was owned by the Codrington family, who had a significant influence on the island and belonged to them until 1944.
You’ll find Betty’s Hope outside of Pares Village in St. Peter’s. It’s best reached by car or as part of an organised tour, as it’s very difficult to get to on foot.
Sail to Barbuda
One of the most fun things to do in Antigua is take a boat trip to nearby Barbuda and explore the other main island that is part of the country. It takes only 90 minutes by ferry to travel between them, making this an ideal day trip if you’d like to see more of the Caribbean when you’re on holiday.
Barbuda is smaller and less developed than Antigua, making it a wonderful place to visit to admire some truly unspoiled Caribbean scenery and make the most of beaches that will feel a little less crowded. There’s one main village community on the island and that’s it, so it’s also a great opportunity to enjoy a more authentic atmosphere and support the local economy.
Perhaps one of the most unique things to do in Antigua and Barbuda is visit the pink sand beaches, and Barbuda is home to one of the most beautiful in the entire Caribbean. If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Antigua, a trip here will provide a magical atmosphere for a day spent in the sun with your partner.
Aptly named ‘Pink Sand Beach’ it stretches for eight miles along the coast and gets its rosy hue from the shells that are deposited on the shore by the waves, which means the colour varies depending on the tides. It’s still beautiful no matter when you visit however, and should be top of your list if you make the trip to the island.
Spend Time at the Beach
We couldn’t write a post about the best things to do in Antigua without mentioning the attraction that the island is most famous for; the beaches. Antigua is known as the Caribbean island with a beach for every day of the year, so you better make sure you pack your sandals, sunglasses and swimming costume if you’re taking a trip to this destination.
Unless you’re planning a 365-day trip to Antigua (and we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to) then you won’t get the chance to visit all of the spots along the coast. Every spot has classic Caribbean white sand and bright blue water, so you can be sure of incredible scenery and great swimming and snorkelling conditions wherever you go.
Some of the most popular beaches in Antigua include Dickenson Bay in St John, Half Moon Bay which is a popular spot for surfboarding, and Pigeon Point Beach near English Harbour, which is great for snorkelling. If you’re searching for things to do with kids in Antigua, Ffryes Beach is a popular choice because of the calm water and nearby amenities, along with Long Bay Beach which has a great selection of watersports activities for families.
If you want to spend your entire time in Antigua visiting the island’s different beaches, you certainly won’t run out of places to visit! But if you’re looking for more ways to spend your time when you’re here, there is a great range of other things to do, including historical attractions, outdoor activities and architectural sites.
Are you planning a holiday to Antigua and looking for the perfect place to stay? The Villa Collection has a stunning portfolio of luxury properties on the island that offer the perfect base to explore. Take a look at our villas in Antigua or visit our blog for more recommendations on what to do on your Caribbean holiday.r.
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