Antigua is a smidgen of a place, pure paradise stretching a miniscule 14 miles long by 11 miles wide. 365 sandy flecks dapple that tiny island coastline, some hidden – others a highlight, but Antigua’s appeal doesn’t start and end at its seascapes. From the uber-luxurious to the hedonistic, the beaches are just the beginning of the story for a tiny isle that lives up to a big reputation.
What to do in Antigua
Come to Antigua and hang out at St John’s – how original, you say. We hear you. But you can’t come here and not spend at least a few afternoon hours walking between the paintbox colonial Georgian buildings that walk a fine line between Disney and kitsch. Redcliff Quay and Heritage Quay attract a crowd on cruise days with arty craft stores and foodie spots. For more local interactions, make for market; the city’s is a rambunctious and exciting assault on the senses. Sample handfuls of morning-fresh figs, before treasure seeking in the admittedly underwhelmingly named ‘bend down’ flea market – named so because you’ll need to bend down to rifle through the goods.
Nelson’s Dockyard has been in operation since 1745 and the Georgian-era marina has drawn a crowd ever since. You’ll find the usual Caribbean dockyard residents here, all the restaurants, bars and boutiques, but if you dip behind the Copper and Lumber Store you’ll find a path less trodden too. A gentle 15-minute hike leads to the ruins of the 18th-century Fort Berkeley, from where wide-open views of the coastline and English Harbour below unfold. Don’t forget to dip into the Dockyard Museum on your way back down for a look at the telescope used by Admiral Nelson himself, amongst other trinkets.
Despite being something of a well-worn cliché now, Antigua’s claim of a beach for every day of the year holds true. You can’t come here and not spend time on at least one of them, but all that choice can be daunting for a beach-seeker on limited time; if you’ve only got a few hours spare to cool down in one electric blue Caribbean cove here, make it Fort James Beach. It’s one of the lesser-known spots, even when the ships are in town.
And finally, if a year in lockdown has left you craving a little adventure, saddle up for a scooter snorkel. A what, you say? Scooter snorkelling takes the effort out of exploring the deepest blue – simply hold on and the motorised ‘hand scooter’ will guide you through an underwater world. Use the energy conserved here to negotiate the zip line and suspension bridges of the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour, found half an hour from St John’s if you’re feeling especially adventurous or have kids in tow.
Where to eat in Antigua
There are more great meals here than there are beaches; combine the two and you’re onto a good thing. Coconut Grove sits on the sand at Dickenson Bay and it’s hard to imagine a better start to the day than breakfast here, whether that’s a traditional stack of fruit-topped pancakes or a more acquired taste of a local dish of salt fish and ‘chop up’, an okra, aubergine and spinach mash. The views past palm trees and across the beach are just the tonic after a year at home.
Antigua comes alive when the sun goes down and sunset parties are THE place to be each week. Every Friday at 6pm brings an atmospheric Caribbean fish fry on the lawn outside popular Nelson’s Dockyard haunt, the Copper & Lumber Store Historic Inn. And if you’re in town on a Sunday night, there’s only one place to go and that’s the Shirly Heights Lookout. Head here from 4pm for steelband music, finger-lickingly good barbecue food, cold Wadadli and the best views on the island. The mood simmers from 7pm, when local bands take to the stage to help you unwind into the night.
Where to drink in Antigua
There are few better feelings than drinking rum punch on the beach with a view of the sun sinking into the sea, you cares sinking with it. Despite being one of the most popular spots on the island, Beach Limerz on Fort James Beach is a boozy hideaway from the hustle and bustle.
If you’re living life by the ‘here for a good time, not a long time’ approach, hit the Beach Bar Trail. Created a couple of years ago by the Antiguan tourist board, this tour of the island’s coolest watering holes is heavy on spiced rum, Red Stripe and swaying hammocks. There’s goat curry and bread pudding to soak up the ABV, plus the promise of those same palm-lined curves being here tomorrow morning for lazing in the name of rehabilitation.