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For first-time visitors, the ideal way to see the City of Hamilton and its parish, Pembroke, is to sail in through Hamilton Harbour, past the offshore cays.

In 1852, the cornerstone was laid for the Hamilton Hotel, Bermuda's first hotel, completed in 1863 (a fire destroyed it in 1955). When the Hamilton Princess opened in 1887, it overshadowed the Hamilton Hotel and became the island's hotel of choice. The Hamilton Hotel's colorful history includes being taken over by Allied agents during World War II.

If Queen Victoria could visit Bermuda today, she would probably stay at Government House, on North Shore Road and Langton Hill. Because this is the residence of the governor of the island, it's not open to the public. This Victorian home has housed many notable guests, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Sir Winston Churchill, and Pres. John F. Kennedy. In 1973, Gov. Sir Richard Sharples, his aide, Capt. Hugh Sayers, and the governor's dog were assassinated while they were walking on the grounds. A local named Erskine Burrows was hanged in 1977 after being found guilty of these murders as well as that of Police Commissioner George Duckett in 1972 and an armed robbery in 1973.

While touring Pembroke Parish, visitors often stop at Black Watch Well, at the junction of North Shore Road and Black Watch Pass. Excavated by a detachment of the Black Watch Regiment, the well was dug in 1894, when Bermudians were suffering through a long drought.

Another choice spot to visit is Admiralty House Park, off North Shore Road at Spanish Point Road. In 1816, a house was erected here to offer accommodations for the commanding British admiralty, which worked at the naval base at the dockyard. Over the years, the house was rebuilt several times. In the 1850s, it gained a series of subterranean tunnels, plus a number of galleries and caves carved into the cliffs above the sea. By 1951, the Royal Navy withdrew, and most of the house was torn down -- except for a ballroom, which survives. Today, you can explore the parklike grounds. The sheltered beach at Clarence Cove is ideal for swimming.

The City of Hamilton

The capital of Bermuda was once known as the "show window of the British Empire." Both Mark Twain and Eugene O'Neill, who lived in lodgings that opened onto Hamilton Harbour, cited its beauty.

Named for former governor Henry Hamilton, the City of Hamilton was incorporated in 1793. Because of its central location and its large, protected harbor, it replaced St. George as the island's capital in 1815. The city encompasses only 73 hectares (180 acres) of land, so most visitors explore it on foot.

Long before it became known as "the showcase of the Atlantic," the City of Hamilton was a modest outlet for the export of Bermuda cedar and fresh vegetables. Today, it's the hub of the island's economy.

More popular for its shops and restaurants than for its attractions, the City of Hamilton boasts the largest number of dining spots and bars on Bermuda, especially on and near Front Street. The restaurants have a wide range of prices, and there are many English-style watering holes if you'd prefer to go for a traditional pub-crawl. And religion isn't neglected -- there are 12 churches within the city limits, the most interesting being the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.

The only sights that are worth in-depth visits are Fort Hamilton, the Bermuda Historical Society Museum, and the Bermuda National Gallery. You can safely skip the rest if you're pressed for time.

A stroll along Front Street will take you by some of the City of Hamilton's most elegant stores, but you'll also want to branch off into the little alleyways to check out the shops and boutiques. If you get tired of walking or shopping (or both), you can go down to the docks and take one of the boats or catamarans waiting to show you the treasures of Little Sound and Great Sound.

Ferries back to Paget, Warwick, and Sandys parishes leave daily between 6:50am and 11:20pm. On Saturday and Sunday, there are fewer departures. For schedules and fares, go to www.seaexpress.bm.

On certain days you may be able to see locals buying fresh fish -- the part of the catch that isn't earmarked for restaurants -- right from the fishers at the Front Street docks. Rockfish is the most abundant, and you'll also see snapper, grouper, and many other species.

Opposite the Visitors Information Centre stands the much-photographed "Birdcage," where you used to be able to see a Bermuda shorts-clad police officer directing traffic on a pedestal likened to a birdcage. Visitors often wondered if the traffic director was for real or placed there for tourist photographs. Such a sight is rare now.

Nearby is Albouy's Point, site of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, founded in 1844. The point, named after a 17th-century professor of "physick," is a public park overlooking Hamilton Harbour.

To reach the sights listed here, take Bus no. 1, 2, 10, or 11.

From the Land & From the Sea -- The City of Hamilton should be seen not only from land but also from the water. Try to make time for a boat tour of the harbor and its coral reefs. If you're visiting from another parish, the ferry will let you off at the west end of Front Street, which is ideal if you'd like to drop by the Visitors Information Centre (tel. 441/234-3824), which is right near the Ferry Terminal, and pick up a map. The staff also provides information and helpful brochures; hours are Monday to Saturday 9am 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.