The capital, Bridgetown, is on the southwest corner of the island. The city itself covers a fairly small area. It is busy and full of life. There are no really large buildings except Tom Adams Financial Centre, which houses the central bank.
The suburbs sprawl most of the way along the south and west coasts, and quite a long way inland. Many of the suburban areas are very pleasant, full of flowering trees and 19th-century coral stone gingerbread villas. There are two interesting areas, downtown Bridgetown with National Heroes Square on the north side of the Careenage and the historic area at Garrison.
National Heroes Square was until 1999 called Trafalgar Square, with a statue of Lord Nelson, sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott and predating its London equivalent by 36 years. It has recently been the subject of some controversy as it was thought to link Barbados too closely with its colonial past. First Nelson was turned through 180° so that he no longer looked down Broad Street, the main shopping area, but now he is to be removed, when a suitable home can be found. The square is now celebrating 10 official national heroes, including Sir Grantley Adams. There is a memorial to the Barbadian war dead and the fountain commemorates the piping of water to Bridgetown in 1861. To the north is the Parliament Building. Built in 1872, the legislature is an imposing grey building with red roof and green shutters. Built in gothic style, the clock tower is more reminiscent of a church. You can walk between the buildings (providing you are correctly dressed).
Take the northeast exit out of National Heroes Square along St Michael’s Row to reach the 18th-century St Michael’s Cathedral. It has a fine set of inscriptions and a single-hand clock. The first building was consecrated in 1665 but destroyed by a hurricane in 1780. The present cathedral is long and broad with a balcony. It has a fine vaulted ceiling and some tombs (1675) have been built into the porch. Completed in 1789, it suffered hurricane damage in 1831.
If you continue east, you reach Queen’s Park, a pleasant, restful park just outside the city centre. Queen’s Park House is now a small theatre and art gallery. There is a small restaurant and bar, which does a good lunch and a buffet on Friday.
The synagogue is an early 19th-century building on the site of a 17th-century one, one of the two earliest in the Western hemisphere. The original synagogue, was built in the late 1660s by Jews fleeing Recife, Brazil, who heard that Oliver Cromwell had granted freedom of worship for Jews and gained permission to settle in Barbados. The tomb of Benjamin Massiah, the famous circumciser of 1782 lies on the left hand side of the graveyard, just inside the entrance. Recently painstakingly restored, it is now used for religious services again and is open to visitors. It is supported by only 16 families now. Mon-Fri, 0900-1200, 1300-1600.
The area south of James St is good for street markets. A whole range of goods can be bought along Swan St and Boulton Lane, good fruit and vegetables as well as leather goods. Street music is sometimes performed. This is in marked contrast to the large shopping malls and department stores on Broad St. Here you will find a whole range of sophisticated shops catering for tourists (see Shopping). The Government plans to ban traffic from Broad St as part of a plan to regenerate the city centre. More developments are planned along by the Careenage where old warehouses are being converted into restaurants, discos, smart shops. Multi-storey car parks, a marina and port expansion are also part of the US$25mn project.
The Harry Bailey Observatory in Clapham is not far from Banks Brewery. A chance for northern visitors to look at the Southern Hemisphere stars. T4261317. Fri nights 2030-2330.
The Mount Gay Visitor Centre at Brandons, St Michael, does a very good 45-minute tour of the blending and bottling plant, with an exhibition of rum, rum tasting and shop near the deep water port in Bridgetown on the Spring Garden Highway. For their distillery tour, see page 890. T4258757. B$12, or a special luncheon tour B$50. 0900-1600 Mon-Fri.
The Malibu Visitors’ Centre, Brighton, St Michael, is near the West India Rum Refinery. The adjacent beach has watersports. T4259393. US$6 for tour, US$27.50 tour with lunch. Mon-Fri 0900 with the last tour at 1545. Banks Brewery has a tour and also do a ‘beer trail’, whereby you get your card stamped in participating bars and restaurants around the island. With five stamps you get a free brewery tour, 15 get you a T-shirt. T4292113. US$5 adults, US$2.50 children 10-15, no children under 10, proceeds to charity. Tour on Tue and Thu 1000 and 1300.
A short bus ride from town is Tyrol Cot, built in 1850, home of Sir Grantley Adams. There is a Heritage Village with craftwork on sale, plus chattel-house museum, gardens and restaurant in the old stables. Run by the National Trust. T4242074. US$5.75, children US$2.90. Mon-Fri 0900-1700.