Nassau is compact and easy to see in a day, which is quite convenient considering many visitors (coming off cruise ships) only have that long to see it. This would also be a great walking tour for those staying at Atlantis or other hotels on Paradise Island, as that is the starting location.
For my last day in the Bahamas, I vowed to tackle as many Nassau highlights as I could. Here’s what I got up to.
1. Potter’s Cay
Potter’s Cay is a shipping dock and hub of activity located beneath the bridges going to and from Paradise Island. The bars lining the entrance are a great place to grab a cheap Kalik local beer, try super fresh conch and rub shoulders with the locals. If you walk through early in the morning bars won’t yet be open, but there will be plenty of activity further beneath the bridge.
You’ll find islanders unloading their wares in the market section, selling everything from shriveled dead fish to creaking live crabs.
Pushing even further back under the bridge you’ll find barges and small fishing boats, colorful graffiti and amazing murals.
At the far end of Potter’s Cay you can see over the top of that barges straight across the bridges through to Atlantis. I marvel at the fact that such an amazing place with such strong local flavor can exist side by side with such a megalith manufactured resort (one that brought us great riches not too long ago!) What a poignant image.
2. A Bit of History and Hospitality
Walking in towards Nassau town on Bay Street, you will pass a grand church on your left at the aptly named Church Street. It wasn’t listed in my guidebooks or any maps but I was able to identify it as St. Matthews with a bit of google sleuthing.
While we wandered around the grounds of this church, we encountered the caretaker who approached us kindly, asking how we were enjoying our stay in the Bahamas. His eyes lit up when we told him about our trip through the outer islands and he offered us a tour of the grounds of what he then informed us was the oldest church in the Bahamas. Speaking with him was one of the highlights of the day!
It’s a beautiful building and worth nosing around to look for. Even more impressive was the hospitality of the caretaker, just another reminder of the kindness of the Bahamian people.
3. Cruise Mania
About 3/4ths of a mile past Potter’s Cay you will reach the cruise ship terminal. I actually went here looking for the Junkanoo Expo, which was very poorly marked on maps and I never did find. But there were some floats and costumes in the terminal from Junkanoo (the Bahamas biggest festival) so it wasn’t a total loss.
4. Rawson Square
Rawson Square is a filled with benches in which to hide in the shade and get some respite from the hot Bahamas sun. Across the street is the grand pink parliament building, where lawmakers still wear full white wigs!
4. Junkanoo Beach
Junkanoo Beach is a beautiful and conveniently located stretch of sand. On my way into the Bahamas from the airport, my taxi driver informed me that not long ago it was only a local’s spot and he marveled that tourists now use this beach as well. I can see why they do, and its somewhere between the white sand and glassy blue water. Looking off in one direction you are treated to the sight of a charming lighthouse, and in the other direction, the giants of Bahamas tourism: Atlantis and the cruise ship. There is also some great graffiti to check out.
5. The Pirate Museum
What could possibly top a repository of pirate memorabilia and a chance to take cheesy photos with an extra from The Black Pearl? Say arrrrgh!
When you approach Pirates of Nassau, prepare to be hassled by costumed ticket takers who are surprisingly convincing and only break character to ask you what model SLR camera you are carrying.
Upon entering the building you will be greeted by a life-size recreation of a pirate ship. Along with the accompanying soundtrack and and light show, it really does feel like you were in Nassau harbor as it was being pillaged by pirates. Well, you know, if Nassau harbour had drop ceilings and halogen lights. Moving into the ship, we encountered life size dioramas and fact filled and educational signage.
I was surprised how big the building was, and I actually did learn about the original “true” pirates, including my liveaboard boat’s namesake, Blackbeard. In the last room there were genuine artifacts and antiques, as well as more information about Nassau’s deep connection to the pirate world. It lent an authentic air to the whole affair.
My favorite part? I think its obvious: the photo ops. I would pay the admission price — $12 — to play with these backdrops alone. Don’t forget to come armed with your camera specs for the guys holding a fake gun to your head.
6. Balcony House
The 18th century Balcony House is the oldest residential structure in Nassau. There are tours available, but we were just walking by as the house is right around the corner from the Pirate Museum.
7. Nassau Public Library and Museum
I love libraries. This one would be interesting even to non-bibliophiles for its unusual octagonal shape and the fact that it used to be Nassau’s jail. The cells are now lined with books and historic prints.
The second floor was sadly closed for repairs when we stopped by, but it seemed like the views would be great.
8. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Art
While walking around Nassau I kept noticing interesting art works shown in public. Some of them were really fun and I couldn’t wait to look up the website on the accompanying signs (you can see the sign above in the top left corner).
It turned out to be a public arts project aimed at sprucing up Nassau sponsored by Coca Cola, using all art from local artists. There is a map of all the pieces, from murals to sculptures on the website. I wish I had known about this beforehand because it would make for a really fun day walking around trying to see them all. Here are a few of my favorites. Points for art, for supporting the local arts movement, and for urban beautification!
Want to do it yourself? View and print my Walking Tour of Nassau, Bahamas on Google Maps! Enjoy!