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About Barbados

The nation of Barbados is the easternmost of the Caribbean islands. Home to the Commonwealth’s third oldest parliament, it is often called “Little England” for its lasting British influence. Yet it remains a richly diverse melting pot of different cultures, religious beliefs and languages. Nowhere is the convergence of Caribbean and British cultures as rich as in Bridgetown, the island-nation’s major port and capital.

Barbados can trace its earliest history to the 4th century, when it was populated by indigenous Amerindians. Later, in the 17th century, the English built a settlement on Barbados, with the most wealthy owning the most land. Over the course of the next century, sugar, tobacco and cotton became the biggest drivers of the Barbadian economy.

After slavery was abolished by the British in 1834, former Barbadian servants entered a diverse range of fields, from politics to manual labor. During this time, people from around the world came to the country’s shores, drawn to the island’s tropical climate and laid-back way of life.

Barbados remained a British colony until 1961, when the island was given internal autonomy. Five years later, the nation received full independence, though it retains ties to the British Crown through its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Today, travelers visit the island to witness the intense beauty of its sparkling turquoise waters, breathtaking vistas and rewarding attractions.

Barbados Lifestyle and Culture

Barbadian culture is shaped largely by the country’s history as a British colony. West Africa also shares some claim to the inspiration behind the country’s music and cuisine. Architecture in Bridgetown and beyond mainly reflects European roots; many historic buildings were constructed in Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian styles. While Britain’s influence is certainly visible in Bridgetown’s structures, many were enhanced with coral straight from sea, a readily available building material that gives the island’s architecture flair of its own.

As a consequence of the island’s long status as a British colony, Christianity is practiced by 95% of Barbadian citizens. Other islanders are followers of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.

Traditional Barbadian cuisine mixes inspiration from African, Indian and British dishes. A normal meal in Barbados consists of a main meat dish, a few side dishes and any number of salads. Herbs, spices and sauces are also significant elements in a typical Barbadian meal. Marinades are responsible for the unique flavors of a number of classic Barbadian dishes.

Flying fish and cou cou are national dishes of Barbados and are usually served as a side coupled with meat. Fish cakes are also a favorite, preferably fried and seasoned with zesty Bajan herbs and spices. Those who enjoy macaroni and cheese (or simply pasta in general) will find Barbadian macaroni pie a feast for the senses.

Folk and popular music in the country take some cues from Africa and Europe. Modern Barbadians enjoy a wide variety of music, but calypso, contemporary folk and world music remain the most popular. Percussion instruments, including different types of drums, gongs, cymbals and rattles, are common elements in the music of Barbados.

Music plays an important role in the island’s many seasonal festivals and celebrations. Crop Over, a traditional harvest festival held by Barbadians since the island’s colonial days, features singing, dancing, feasting and drinking. For two months, from the beginning of June to the start of August, past and present traditions blend together to create a carnival-like spectacle.

Barbados Sights and Landmarks

The island’s capital, Bridgetown, boasts a wealth of historic buildings and sites. British influence is apparent all around, from the city’s architecture to locals playing cricket in public parks. Bridgetown is home to the third oldest parliament in the Commonwealth. With its 30-acre Garrison Savannah, the city’s historic center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. George Washington stayed in the fortress in 1751 while visiting his sick brother.

Near the east coast fishing village of Bathsheba, you can enjoy striking views of endless blue while surfers take to the rolling waves off the coast of the famous Bathsheba’s Soup Bowl.

One of the island’s most remarkable destinations is Harrison’s Cave, a subterranean world accessed via a glass elevator and an electric tram. This impressive underground treasure is a stunning tableau of roaring streams, crystal clear pools and impressive rock formations.

Another relic from the island’s more recent past, Farley Hill National Park is home to the ruins of a colonial Georgian mansion. Standing proudly upon a hilltop, the manor provides sweeping views of the Atlantic coast, making it a popular location for both picnics and weddings.

Barbados Entertainment and Activities

To delve into some island history, visit St. Nicholas Abbey, one of the oldest plantation houses in the Caribbean. This Jacobean-style mansion is lovely, the centerpiece of well-manicured gardens. The island’s capital of Bridgetown is a rich repository of colonial-era buildings; its entire downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simply wandering Broad Street or the car-free Swan Street affords a rewarding glimpse of the island’s past. The 30-acre Garrison Savannah, too, is steeped in island lore: It is said that George Washington stayed here in 1751 while visiting his sick brother.

Barbados is home to plentiful beaches, but none are as expansive as Accra Beach. Its long crescent shore stretches like a perfect arc between shade trees and a moderate surf, and a boardwalk invites long and scenic walks.

To sample a well-known local product of Barbados, its rum, you can visit one of the Caribbean’s oldest distilleries, the Mount Gay Rum Distillery. It has been producing the spirit since 1703 and, best of all, it is located just over a half-mile from the harbor.

Barbados Restaurants and Shopping

Authentic Caribbean cuisine is on the menu no matter where you choose to dine in Bridgetown, or on Barbados. Just off Broad Street, Mustor’s Restaurant serves some of the island’s most popular dishes in all their delicious simplicity, including pork stew, macaroni pie and flying fish. Also casual, the Carib Beach Bar and Restaurant, an outdoor spot on Sandy Beach, is known for its burgers and seafood and, of course, its setting. At the Waterfront Café, sandwiches, salads, seafood and traditional Barbadian snacks accompany your views of the harbor. This nice find is located on the Careenage.

Local handicrafts and keepsakes are easy to find throughout Bridgetown. Perhaps you’ll want to leave the island with a bottle of its very own Mount Gay Rum. Or peruse the stalls and shops of the Pelican Craft Village, where the work of local artists is on display in galleries and workshops.