You can see most of the sights of Port of Spain by walking around the town centre. For further afield, however, there are taxis, buses, route taxis and maxi taxis, see Essentials section at the beginning of the chapter for an explanation of how they work and appropriate fares.
Port of Spain lies on a gently sloping plain between the Gulf of Paria and the foothills of the Northern Range. The city has a pleasant atmosphere, with many new buildings constructed in the last few years and older ones now being better maintained. It is also full of life and an exciting city to spend time in. The streets are mostly at right-angles to one another; the buildings are a mixture of fretwork wooden architecture and modern concrete, interspersed with office towers. Within easy reach of the port (King’s Wharf and its extension) are many of the main buildings of interest. On the south side of Woodford Square, named after the former governor, Sir Ralph Woodford, is the fine Anglican Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity (consecrated 1823), with an elaborate hammer-beam roof festooned with carvings. It was built during Woodford’s governorship (1813-28) and contains a very fine monument to him.
The Red House (completed 1907) contains the House of Representatives, the Senate and various government departments. It was the scene of an attempted overthrow of the Robinson Government by armed black Muslim rebels in July 1990. The rebels held the Prime Minister and several of his Cabinet captive for five days before surrendering to the Army (see box, page 53). On the west side of the Red House, at the corner of St Vincent and Sackville Streets, can still be seen the skeletal remains of the former Police Headquarters, which the rebels firebombed before launching their assault on the Red House. The first Red House on this site was, ironically, destroyed by fire in 1903 during riots over an increase in water rates. On the opposite side of the Square to the Cathedral are the modern Hall of Justice (completed 1985), Central Library and City Hall (1961), with a fine relief sculpture on the front. The Square is Trinidad’s equivalent to Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park.
On Independence Square (two blocks south of Woodford Square) are the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built on the shore-line in 1832 but since pushed back by land reclamation, and the Salvatori building at the junction with Frederick St. The central area of Independence Square, from the cruise ship complex to the Cathedral, has been made into an attractive pedestrian area, known as Lara Promenade in honour of the Trinidadian cricketer, Brian Lara. Behind the Cathedral is Columbus Square, with a small, brightly-painted statue of the island’s European discoverer. South of Independence Square, between Edward and St Vincent Streets is the financial complex, two tall towers and Eric Williams Plaza, housing the Central Bank and Ministry of Finance. Also, a little to the south of the square is the old neo-classical railway station, now known as City Gate, a transport hub for taxis and buses travelling between Port of Spain and eastern Trinidad.
To the north of the city is Queen’s Park Savannah, a large open space with many playing fields and a favourite haunt of joggers. It was the site of Trinidad’s main racecourse for decades, until racing was centralized in Arima. In the middle of the Savannah is the Peschier cemetery, still owned and used by the family who used to own the Savannah. Below the level of the Savannah are the Rock Gardens, with lily ponds and flowers. Opposite are the Botanic Gardens, founded in 1818 by Sir Ralph Woodford. There is an amazing variety of tropical and sub-tropical plants from Southeast Asia and South America, as well as indigenous trees and shrubs.
Adjoining the Gardens is the small Emperor Valley Zoo, dating from 1952, which specializes in animals living wild on the island. It has a number of reptiles, including iguanas, four species of boas and the spectacled caiman. 0930-1800, no tickets after 1730, adults TT$4, children three to 12, TT$2. Also next to the Gardens is the presidential residence: a colonial style building in an ‘L’ shape in honour of Governor James Robert Longden (1870-74). Just off the Savannah (on St Ann’s Rd) is Queen’s Hall, where concerts and other entertainments are given.
There are several other Edwardian-colonial mansions along the west side of Queen’s Park Savannah, built in 1904-10 and known as the Magnificent Seven (after the film of the same name). From south to north, they are Queen’s Royal College; Hayes Court, the residence of the Anglican Bishop; Prada’s House, or Mille Fleurs; Ambard’s House, or Roomor; the Roman Catholic Archbishop’s residence; White Hall, which has regained its status as the Prime Minister’s office; and Killarney, Mr Stollmeyer’s residence (now owned by the Government). Apart from Hayes Court, which was built in 1910, all were built in 1904. A walk along the north and west sides of the Savannah can be made in the early morning (before it gets too hot), arriving outside Queen’s Royal College as the students are arriving and the coconut sellers are turning up outside. The Anglican Church of All Saints at 13 Queen’s Park West is also worth a visit; its stained glass windows are recently restored. Knowsley, another 1904 building, and the spanking new headquarters of the BP Amoco Oil Company, formerly the historic Queen’s Park Hotel (1895), both on the south side of the Savannah, are interesting buildings too. For a history of Port of Spain buildings, with illustrations, read Voices In The Street, by Olga J Marrogordato (Inprint Caribbean Ltd 1977).
Just off the Savannah, at the corner of Frederick and Keate Streets, is the small National Museum, in the former Royal Victoria Institute. It has sections on petroleum and other industries, Trinidad and Tobago’s natural history, geology, archaeology and history, carnival costumes and photographs of kings and queens, and art exhibitions (including a permanent exhibition of the work of the 19th-century landscape artist, M J Cazabon, see Culture above). Entry free. Away from the city centre, to the west of Port of Spain, is the suburb of St James where in Ethel St is a large new Hindu temple, the Port of Spain Mandir. On the waterfront is the San Andres Fort built about 1785 to protect the harbour.