Tourists looking to soak up the winter sun can’t go wrong with Barbados. The island is justifiably famous for its spun-sugar beaches, gorgeous blue seas and laid-back lifestyle (as well as being the birthplace of singer Rihanna), but step off the beaten path a little and you you’ll also discover a thriving surfing community, rugged coastline and truly world-class cuisine.
Here’s our guide to what to do to get the most out of a Christmas getaway.
Rum is more than Barbados’ national drink: it’s almost a national religion. The interior of the island is littered with small rum shops, which open in the afternoons to offer locals and curious tourists alike glasses of the good stuff. Mount Gay is the most famous brand on the island, and for fans a trip to Mount Gay Distillery on the outskirts of Bridgetown is a must.
Costing SD25 (Barbadian dollars; £10) per person, the experience includes a lecture on the island’s history, a tasting tour of the entire Mount Gay rum collection and a free rum punch to kick off .
For those wanting a more low-key experience, the beach bars that litter the beautiful west side of the island (like the Tiki Bar on Rockley Beach) sell Barbados’ notoriously strong and delicious rum punch: perfect for sipping everything watching the sun go down over the sea. Or if you want that extra wow factor, then the Cliff Bistro offers spectacular cliffside views of the peaceful Caribbean Sea (and dinner, if the mood takes you).
Being an island, you would expect Barbados to serve up great seafood. And oh boy, it does – if you know where to go. As well as local fish markets in places like Speightstown (which serves fresh fish from the sea), there are countless options for those in need of a gourmet fix.
Topping the list for good food is Sea Shed near Holetown, where you can sample lobster, tuna and grilled fish from the market as the Caribbean Sea unfolds just yards from your feet. It’s chic, the service is impeccable and it’s always busy. Be warned, though, it’s pricey: a meal for two will set you back around 350 BSD, or £145.
If that didn’t grab you, try The Fish Pot, a repurposed 17e century fort located in the quiet fishing village of St Lucy. It is recognized as one of the best restaurants on the island and focuses on creating simple cuisine and a relaxed atmosphere, with the obligatory good fish and Australian wine (the owner is Australian).
For those looking to sample Bajan cuisine on the cheap, a visit to the Cuz Fish Stand to try the island’s signature fish cutters is a must. What is a fish cutter? It’s a fried flying fish steak slapped between two slices of salty bread. Served in a shed next to Pebbles Beach, it’s a local hotspot – and having your 10BSD (£4) cutter with lashings of Bajan hot sauce (a spicy, fruity chutney) on top is practically mandatory.
And of course, for fish cooked the local way, there’s always Oistin’s Fish Fry (more on that below).
Top of the list for any sightseeing experience has to be Oistin’s Fish Fry. Taking place every Friday night at Oistin’s Beach (south of Bridgetown), tourists and locals come together in the evening for a party like no other.
With around 50 stalls, all of which have their own unique (and closely guarded) recipes for cooking fish fresh from the ocean, as well as rum punch by the bucketful, the evening usually ends with dancing and parties. songs. Get there early to reserve your spot, as the lines for tables and food get long very quickly.
A little up the coast near Pebbles Beach, it’s something for early risers: at 6am (around sunrise) every morning, trainers from the local racetrack take their horses for a swim at dawn. If you play your cards right, you might even be able to swim with them – and the groomers are often happy to pose for pictures too.
Of course, the main draw for tourists – especially sun-hungry Brits – are the island’s beaches, and to that end much of the island’s idyllic west coast offers white sand to relax on. . All beaches in Barbados are public, so take your pick: some of the best include Accra, Gibbs, Miami, Enterprise and Crane Bay.
Many of the island’s beaches are also home to the famous Barbados turtles, and several tours will take you on a day of snorkeling and turtle watching – but keep in mind that they are more likely to be present during the nesting season, which is between May and October.
Barbados also has a reputation as something of a surf mecca, if you know where to look. The fishing village of Bathsheba, on the island’s rugged east coast, has become a haven for surfers and nature lovers, and any tourist who makes the trip there today will be rewarded with a whole different side of the island: calm, local and home to some of the best waves on the island.
Given Barbados’ reputation for sun and sea, it’s no surprise the island is a favorite of celebrities and jet-setters alike, which means both high prices and beautiful hotels.
One of the most important is the Colony Club. Located on one of Barbados’ most beautiful white-sand beaches, this sprawling hotel features multiple pools, beautiful gardens, multiple restaurants, and 96 rooms, plus water sports galore. Rooms start at around £450 a night, and if you’re looking for somewhere to catch a sunset, the hotel’s beach bar looks directly out over the white sandy beaches and sea.
That said, those looking for good vibes can’t go wrong with Waves Hotel & Spa. Located halfway up the west coast of the island, Waves offers a spa, two different restaurants and beautiful ocean views, with an attentive staff always on hand to prepare a mint daiquiri or the cocktail of your choice. . It’s the ultimate wellness destination – and a week-long all-inclusive holiday for two will cost around £3,320 each.
And if what appeals to you is a beautiful boutique hotel, Barbados has it in spades. One of the best has to be The Lone Star. Located on the road between Speightstown and Holetown on the idyllic west coast, it has private balconies, direct beach access and even an excellent restaurant that serves everything from steak to white crab to curry. Prices range from £200 to over £1000, depending on the room and time of year.
It is best to fly to Barbados with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic.
British Airways fly direct from London Gatwick to Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown from £507; britishairways.com
Virgin Atlantic has direct flights from London Heathrow to Grantley Adams International from £512; virginatlantic.com