Exploring Bridgetown

Often hot and clogged with traffic, the capital, Bridgetown, merits a morning's shopping jaunt, plus a visit to some of its major sights.

Since about half a million visitors arrive on Barbados by cruise ship every year, the bustling cruise-ship terminal houses about 30 duty-free shops, 13 local retail stores, and scads of vendors. Cruise passengers can choose from a range of products, including the arts and crafts of Barbados, jewelry, liquor, china, crystal, electronics, perfume, and leather goods. The interior was designed to re-create an island street scene; some storefronts appear as traditional chattel houses in brilliant island colors, complete with streetlights, tropical landscaping, benches, and pushcarts.

Begin your tour at the waterfront, called the Carenage (French for "turning vessels on their side for cleaning"). This was a haven for clipper ships, and even though today it doesn't have the color of yesteryear, it's still worth exploring.

At Heroes Square (formerly known as Trafalgar Square), the long tradition of British colonization is immortalized. The monument here honoring Lord Nelson was created by Sir Richard Westmacott and erected in 1813. The great gray Victorian/Gothic Public Buildings on the square look like ones you might find in London. The east wing contains the meeting halls of the Senate and the House of Assembly, with some stained-glass windows representing the sovereigns of England. Look for the "Great Protector" himself, Oliver Cromwell.

Behind the Financial Building, St. Michael's Cathedral, east of Heroes Square, is the symbol of the Church of England. This Anglican church was built in 1655 but was completely destroyed in a 1780 hurricane. Reconstructed in 1789, it was again damaged by a hurricane in 1831. George Washington supposedly worshipped here during his visit to Barbados.

The Synagogue, Synagogue Lane (tel. 246/426-5792; http://haruth.com/jw/JewsBarbados.html), is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere and is surrounded by a burial ground of early Jewish settlers. The present building dates from 1833. It was constructed on the site of an even older synagogue, erected by Jews from Brazil in 1654. It's now part of the National Trust of Barbados -- and a synagogue once again. It's open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm; a donation is appreciated.

First made popular in 1870, cricket is the national pastime on Barbados. Matches can last from 1 to 5 days. If you'd like to see one, watch for announcements in the newspapers or ask at the Barbados Cricket Association, at the nation's state-of-the-art and futuristic-looking stadium, Kensington Oval, St. Michael (tel. 246/436-1325; www.bcacricket.org).

From Bridgetown you can take a taxi to Garrison Savannah, just south of the capital, a venue for horse races.

Barbados Museum, St. Ann's Garrison, St. Michael (tel. 246/427-0201; www.barbmuse.org.bb), is in a former military prison. Extensive collections show the island's development from prehistoric to modern times and give fascinating glimpses into the natural environment and fine examples of West Indian maps. The museum sells a variety of quality publications, reproductions, and handicrafts. Hours are Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday 2 to 6pm. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $3.75 for children.

Nearby, the russet-red St. Ann's Fort, on the fringe of the savanna, garrisoned British soldiers in 1694. The fort wasn't completed until 1703. The Clock House survived the hurricane of 1831.

In the Center of the Island

Many visitors stay on those fabulous west-coast beaches, but the island's true beauty is its lush interior. If you have time, we highly recommend a hike, drive, or tour through such rarely visited parishes as St. Thomas and St. George (both are landlocked) and the wild Atlantic coast parishes of St. Andrews, St. Joseph, and St. John.

A Beautiful Picnic Spot -- Farley Hill National Park surrounds what used to be one of the great houses of Barbados, Farley Hill, a mansion now in ruins. The park is north of the parish of St. Peter, directly across the road leading into the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. You can bring in a picnic and wander in the park, overlooking the turbulent waters of the Atlantic. You can enter the park for free if you're walking, but it costs $2 to enter by car. Hours are daily 8:30am to 5pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.