The small island of Barbados, a part of the Lesser Antilles, is best known for four things, three of which begin with the letter s. There’s the sun, the sea, the sand, and the fact that Barbados is where Rihanna is from. The three S are a major part of the tourist draw to the island – because of its position, Barbados is usually spared the worst weather that hits the region, so the first S, sun, is always there. As for the sand, yes, there are a lot of very beautiful beaches in Barbados. The third S is actually incorrect, as Barbados is surrounded by the ocean and not by a sea, but nevertheless, it’s still gorgeous.
But what happens when you take away these three S from Barbados’ tourist draw? Would there still be anything to do and see there?
Well, there wouldn’t be as much, but still enough to warrant a trip – or a few – to the island. Yes, Barbados is more than just sun and sea and sand, and if you’ve been there and missed all of these great things the island has to offer beside them, here’s where you should drive your rental car next time you’re there.
Churches and Religious Places
If you don’t know already, Barbadians are religious people. In fact, the religious streak runs through the history of Barbados since it was first claimed by the Spanish explorers back in the late 15th century, and where history and religion cross paths, there are always some beautiful old churches that provide a place for worship and a lesson in history.
For example, did you know that the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere is located in Bridgetown? It was built in 1654, and it’s had a very turbulent history – it was destroyed by a hurricane, and then rebuilt, then completely neglected, then sold, only to be bought back in 1983 by the Jewish community and completely restored to its former glory.
Then there’s the St. John Parish Church, built in 1836 to replace a church that was destroyed by a hurricane. It’s a beautiful Gothic church which contains the remains of a former prime minister of Barbados, Hon David John Howard Thompson, as well as the remains of a member of the Paleologus dynasty, Ferdinand. And it has arguably the best view of the East Coast of Barbados.
St. James Church, located on the “God’s acre” in Holetown, St. James, was also built and rebuilt over time, but it stands as one of the oldest established sites of worship in Barbados, and it also contains many valuable historical monuments and items. If you want to go to a church to learn about history, St. James Church would be among the best because of the tours that are organized there.
Sugar, Rum and History
Sugar played a vital role in the history of Barbados, a role that wasn’t all that positive. Still, as the horrors of past provide a valuable lesson for today, learning about how sugar cane plantations shaped Barbados into the country it is today – a country that’s among the least corrupt countries in the world – is something that shouldn’t be skipped. Quick note though – you’ll really want to rent a car if you want to visit all of these places.
The best place to start would be Arlington House Museum, located in an 18th century merchant’s house in historic Speightstown. The museum is divided into three themes, each covering a floor of the house – Speightstown Memories, about the first settlers on the island, Plantation Memories, about the sugar cane plantations, and Wharf Memories, about Speightstown Port’s role in trade. Arlington House Museum is arguably the best museum on the island, so it’s the best starting point for learning about Barbados’ history.
St. Nicholas Abbey is not an abbey at all – it’s a very well preserved plantation house in Saint Peter, often called one of the Seven Wonders of Barbados. It’s a lavish house with very well landscaped grounds, and for the history buff, it’s also a place where a 1930s movie about plantation life can be seen.
And speaking of sugar cane, you can’t go to Barbados and not visit at least one rum distillery. The visitor’s center of the Mount Gay Rum Refinery is a very fine choice, as is the Foursquare Distillery. Whichever you choose, you won’t make a mistake, and visiting both would probably be the best idea. Just be sure you have a designated driver with you to drive your rental car if you end up tasting more rum than you can handle.
For the sport-lovers, Barbados can be a bit strange. It’s not that it doesn’t offer plenty of chances to enjoy sports, it’s just that anyone outside the Commonwealth of Nations, that is outside of the British cultural influence, won’t find that much to do or see when it comes to sports in Barbados.
For example, you can watch horse racing at the Barbados Turf Club in Bridgetown, which admittedly has a universal appeal, but then you can also watch polo and cricket which are sports that aren’t that popular in the world outside of the UK and its former colonies. The Polo Club is located in Holders Hill, and the premier cricket venue is the Kensington Oval.
For sports you can actually do, there’s golf at the Barbados Golf Club at Durants, horseback riding at the Caribbean International Riding Centre at the Cleland Plantation, and shooting, archery and fishing at the Kendal Sporting in Carrington.
At the end, even if you take out the most striking features of Barbados, its beaches, the ocean, and the beautiful weather, it’s still a place with a lot of natural appeal. Hunte’s Gardens at Castle Grant, the Flower Forest at the Richmond Plantation, the Wildlife Reserve at Farley Hill, and the Andromeda Botanic Gardens are places you have to visit. Yes, some of them are man-made, and most of them are cared-for by humans, but they nevertheless feature the best things nature has to offer, and in that regard, are a true heart of the majesty and beauty of Barbados.