For administrative purposes, the islands of Bermuda are divided into parishes, all named for shareholders of the Bermuda Company, which was formed by English investors in the early 1600s to develop Bermuda as a profit-making enterprise. From west to east, the parishes are listed below.

Sandys Parish

In the far western part of the archipelago, Sandys (pronounced "sands") Parish encompasses the islands of Ireland, Boaz, and Somerset. This parish (named for Sir Edwin Sandys) is centered in Somerset Village, on Somerset Island. Sandys Parish is often called Somerset.

Some visitors to Bermuda head directly for Sandys Parish and spend their entire time here; they feel that the far western tip, with its rolling hills, lush countryside, and tranquil bays, is something special and unique. (This area has always stood apart from the rest of Bermuda: During the U.S. Civil War, when most Bermudians sympathized with the Confederates, Sandys Parish supported the Union.) Sandys Parish has areas of great natural beauty, including Somerset Long Bay, the biggest and best public beach in the West End (which the Bermuda Audubon Society is developing into a nature preserve), and Mangrove Bay, a protected beach in the heart of Somerset Village. Take a walk around the old village; it's filled with typically Bermudian houses and shops. On Somerset Road is the Scaur Lodge Property, whose waterfront hillside is open daily at no charge.

The parish boasts some of the most elegant places to stay in Bermuda, but if you want to be near the shops, restaurants, and pubs of the City of Hamilton, you may want to stay in a more central location and visit Sandys Parish on a day trip. You can commute to the City of Hamilton by ferry, but it's a bit time-consuming. Those who prefer tranquility and unspoiled nature to shopping or lingering over an extra pint in a pub will be happy here. Another advantage of staying here is that Sandys has several embarkation points for various types of sea excursions.

Southampton Parish

Southampton Parish (named for the third earl of Southampton) is a narrow strip of land opening at its northern edge onto Little Sound and on its southern shore onto the Atlantic Ocean. It stretches from Riddells Bay to Tucker's Island, and is split by Middle Road.

If dining at waterfront restaurants and staying at big resort hotels is part of your Bermuda dream, then Southampton is your parish; it's the site of such famed resorts as the Fairmont Southampton and the Sonesta Beach Resort. Southampton is also the best place to stay if you plan to spend a great deal of time on the island's fabled pink, sandy beaches. Among Southampton's jewels is Horseshoe Bay, one of Bermuda's most attractive public beaches, with changing rooms, a snack bar, and space for parking.

Southampton lacks the intimacy and romance of Sandys, but it has a lot of razzle-dazzle going for it. It's the top choice for a golfing holiday. If you like to sightsee, you can easily occupy 2 days just exploring the parish's many attractions. It also has more nightlife than Sandys -- although not as much as the City of Hamilton.

Warwick Parish

Named in honor of the second earl of Warwick, this parish lies in the heart of Great Bermuda Island. Like Southampton, it is known for its long stretches of rosy sand. Along the south shore is Warwick Long Bay, one of Bermuda's best public beaches. Warwick also offers parklands bordering the sea, winding country roads, two golf courses, and a number of natural attractions. This area is the best on the island for horseback riding, which is the ideal way to see pastoral Bermuda up close.

Warwick is a great choice for visitors seeking cottage or apartment rentals (where you can do some of your own cooking to cut down on the outrageous expense of food). The parish is not strong on restaurants; one of its disadvantages is that you have to travel a bit if you like to dine out. Nightlife is also spotty -- just about the only action you can find after dark is in hotel lounges. This parish is for tranquility-seekers, but because of its more central location, it doesn't offer quite the seclusion that Sandys does.

Paget Parish

Paget Parish lies directly south of the capital City of Hamilton, separated from it by Hamilton Harbour. Named after the fourth Lord Paget, it has many residences and historic homes and it's also the site of the 15-hectare (37-acre) Botanical Gardens. But the south-shore beaches -- the best in the chain of islands -- are what draw visitors here in droves. Paget Parish is also the site of Chelston, on Grape Bay Drive, the official residence of the U.S. consul general. Situated on 5.8 hectares (14 acres) of landscaped grounds, it's open only during the Garden Club's Home and Garden Tours in the spring.

This is one of the best parishes to stay in; it has many excellent accommodations, including Elbow Beach Hotel. It's close enough to the City of Hamilton for an easy commute, but far enough away to escape the hordes. Because public transportation is all-important (you can't rent a car), Paget is a good place to situate yourself; it has some of the best and most convenient ferry connections and bus schedules. There are docks at Salt Kettle, Hodson's, and Lower Ferry; you can even "commute" by ferry to Warwick Parish or Sandys Parish, to the west. Paget's relatively flat terrain, rural lanes, and streets lined with old mansions make this an ideal place for biking. And hikers will find many small trails bordering the sea.

If you don't like big resort hotels, you can rent a cottage or one of several little guesthouses here. Unlike Warwick, Paget has a number of dining choices, too. Elbow Beach offers the most, but other fine options include Fourways Inn and Paraquet Restaurant. Most of the parish's nightlife centers on Elbow Beach.

There are no major disadvantages to staying in Paget. You will find overcrowded beaches during spring break, however, and congestion in the City of Hamilton in the summer, when many cruise ships arrive.

Pembroke Parish

This parish (named after the third earl of Pembroke) houses one-quarter of Bermuda's population. It is home to the City of Hamilton, Bermuda's capital and its only full-fledged city. The parish opens at its northern rim onto the vast Atlantic Ocean and on its southern side onto Hamilton Harbour; its western border is on Great Sound. The City of Hamilton is the first destination that most cruise-ship passengers will see.

This parish is not ideal for those seeking a tranquil holiday. Pembroke Parish, already packed with the island's greatest population density, also attracts the most visitors. The little city is especially crowded when cruise ships are in the harbor and travelers pour into the stores and restaurants. Yet for those who like to pub-crawl English style, shop until they drop, and have access to the largest concentration of dining choices, Pembroke -- the City of Hamilton, in particular -- is without equal on Bermuda.

Whether or not you stay in Pembroke, try to fit a shopping (or window-shopping) stroll along Front Street into your itinerary. The area also boasts a number of sightseeing attractions, most of which are easily accessible on foot (a plus because you don't have to depend on taxis, bikes, or scooters -- which can get to be a bit of a bore after a while). Nightlife is the finest on the island. Don't expect splashy Las Vegas-type revues, however; instead, think restaurants, pubs, and small clubs.

Devonshire Parish

Lying east of Paget and Pembroke parishes, near the geographic center of the archipelago, Devonshire Parish (named for the first earl of Devonshire) is green and hilly. It has some housekeeping (self-catering) apartments, a cottage colony, and one of Bermuda's oldest churches, the Old Devonshire Parish Church, which dates from 1716. Three of Bermuda's major roads traverse the parish: the aptly named South Road (also unofficially referred to as South Shore Rd.), Middle Road, and North Shore Road. As you wander its narrow lanes, you can, with some imagination, picture yourself in the parish's namesake county of Devon, England.

Golfers flock to Devonshire to play at the Ocean View Golf Course. Along North Shore Road, near the border of Pembroke Parish, is Devonshire Dock, long a seafarer's haven. In fact, during the War of 1812, British soldiers came to Devonshire Dock to be entertained by local women. Today, fishermen still bring in grouper and rockfish, so you can shop for dinner if you're staying at a nearby cottage with a kitchen.

Devonshire has a number of unspoiled nature areas. The arboretum on Montpelier Road is one of the most tranquil oases on Bermuda. This open space, created by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Parks, is home to a wide range of Bermudian plant and tree life, especially conifers, palms, and other subtropical trees. Along South Road, west of the junction with Collector's Hill, is the Edmund Gibbons Nature Reserve. This portion of marshland, owned by the National Trust, provides living space for a number of birds and rare species of Bermuda flora.

Devonshire is one of the sleepy residential parishes, known for its hilly interior, beautiful landscape, and fabulous estates bordering the sea. There's little sightseeing here; all those stunning private estates aren't open to the public, so unless you get a personal invitation, you're out of luck. But the parish is right in Bermuda's geographic center, so it's an ideal place to base yourself if you'd like to explore both the West End and the East End. There are two major drawbacks, though: With a few notable exceptions, the parish has very few places to stay and almost no dining choices.

Smith's Parish

Named for Sir Thomas Smith, this parish faces the open sea to the north and south. To the east is Harrington Sound; to the west, bucolic Devonshire Parish.

The parish encompasses Flatts Village, one of the island's most charming parish towns (take bus no. 10 or 11 from the City of Hamilton). It was a smugglers' port for about 200 years and served as the center of power for a coterie of successful "planter politicians" and landowners. Flatts Village's government was second in importance to that of St. George, which was once Bermuda's capital. People gathered at the rickety Flatts Bridge to "enjoy" such public entertainment as hangings; if the offense was serious enough, victims were drawn and quartered here. From Flatts Village, you have panoramic views of both the inlet and Harrington Sound. At the top of McGall's Hill is St. Mark's Church, based on the same designs used for the Old Devonshire Parish Church.

Most visitors view Smith's Parish as a day trip or a half-day trip, although the parish does have places to stay, such as the Pink Beach Club and Cottages. Dining choices are extremely limited, however, unless you stick to the hotels. Again, if you're seeking lots of nighttime diversion, you'll have to go to another parish. Because the Spittal Pond Nature Reserve is here, many nature lovers prefer Smith's to the more populated parishes. Basically, Smith's Parish is for the visitor who wants serenity and tranquility but not at the celestial prices charged at the "cottages" of Sandys.

Hamilton Parish

Not to be confused with the City of Hamilton (which is in Pembroke Parish), Hamilton Parish lies directly north of Harrington Sound, opening onto the Atlantic. It's bordered on the east by St. George and on the southwest by Smith's Parish. Named for the second marquis of Hamilton, the parish surrounds Harrington Sound, a saltwater lake stretching some 10km (6 1/4 miles). On its eastern periphery, the parish opens onto Castle Harbour.

The big attractions here are the Bermuda Aquarium and the Crystal Caves. Scuba diving and other watersports are also very popular in the area.

Around Harrington Sound, the sights differ greatly from those of nearby St. George . You'll find such activities as fishing, swimming, sunfish sailing, and kayaking at Harrington Sound, but it doesn't offer the historical exploration that St. George does. Some experts believe that Harrington Sound was a prehistoric cave that fell in. Harrington Sound's known gateway to the ocean is an inlet at Flatts Village. However, evidence suggests that there are underwater passages as well -- several deep-sea fish have been caught in the sound.

For the best panoramic view of the north shore, head for Crawl Hill, the highest place in Hamilton Parish, just before you come to Bailey's Bay. "Crawl" is a corruption of the word kraal, which is where turtles were kept before slaughter. Shelly Bay, named for one of the passengers of the British ship Sea Venture that foundered on Bermuda's reefs in 1609, is the longest beach along the north shore.

At Bailey's Bay, Tom Moore's Jungle consists of wild woods. The poet Tom Moore is said to have spent many hours writing verse here under a calabash tree (which is still standing). The jungle is now held in private trust, so you must obtain permission from a security guard to enter it. It's much easier to pay your respects to the Romantic poet by going to Tom Moore's Tavern.

Although the parish has some major resorts, such as Grotto Bay Beach Hotel, most visitors come here for sightseeing only. We have to agree: Hamilton is a good place to go exploring for a day or half-day, but you're better off staying elsewhere. If you stay here, you'll spend a great deal of your holiday time commuting into the City of Hamilton or St. George. Bus no. 1 or 3 from the City of Hamilton gets you here in about an hour.

St. George's Parish

At Bermuda's extreme eastern end, this historic parish encompasses several islands. The parish borders Castle Harbour on its western and southern edges; St. George's Harbour divides it into two major parts, St. George's Island and St. David's Island. A causeway links St. David's Island to the rest of Bermuda, and St. George's is also linked by a road. Many parish residents are longtime sailors and fishers. St. George's Parish also includes Tucker's Town (founded in 1616 by Gov. Daniel Tucker), on the opposite shore of Castle Harbour.

Settled in 1612, the town of St. George was once the capital of Bermuda; the City of Hamilton succeeded it in 1815. The town was settled 3 years after Sir George Somers and his shipwrecked party of English sailors came ashore in 1609. (After Admiral Somers died in Bermuda, in 1610, his heart was buried in the St. George area, while the rest of his body was taken home to England for burial.) Founded by Richard Moore, of the newly created Bermuda Company, and a band of 60 colonists, St. George was the second English settlement in the New World, after Jamestown, Virginia. Its coat of arms depicts St. George (England's patron saint) and a dragon.

Almost 4 centuries of history come alive here. Generations of sailors have set forth from its sheltered harbor. St. George even played a role in the American Revolution: Bermuda depended on the American colonies for food, and when war came, supplies grew dangerously low. Although Bermuda was a British colony, the loyalties of its people were divided because many Bermudians had relatives living on the American mainland. A delegation headed by Col. Henry Tucker went to Philadelphia to petition the Continental Congress to trade food and supplies for salt. George Washington had a different idea. He needed gunpowder, and a number of kegs of it were stored at St. George. Without the approval of the British Bermudian governor, the parties struck a deal. The gunpowder was trundled aboard American warships waiting in the harbor of Tobacco Bay under cover of darkness. In return, the grateful colonies supplied Bermuda with food.

Although St. George still evokes a feeling of the past, it's actively inhabited. When cruise ships are in port, it's likely to be overrun with visitors. Many people prefer to visit St. George at night, when they can walk around and enjoy it in relative peace and quiet. You won't be able to enter any of the sightseeing attractions, but they're of minor importance. After dark, a mood of enchantment settles over the place: It's like a storybook village.

Would you want to live here for a week? Probably not. Once you've seen the glories of the town of St. George -- which you can do in a day -- you're inconveniently isolated at the easternmost end of Bermuda for the rest of your stay. Several chains, including Club Med, have tried and failed to make a go of it here. Accommodations are extremely limited, although there are a number of restaurants (many of which, frankly, are mediocre). For history buffs, no place in Bermuda tops St. George's. But as a parish to base yourself in, you might do better in the more centrally located and activity-filled Pembroke or Southampton parishes. As for nightlife in St. George, you can always go to a pub on King's Square.

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.