Historic Barbados Activities

Visitors to Barbados will find evidence of the island’s colonial past at sites across the island. Permanent English settlers arrived in 1627. Later, sugar plantations brought over tens of thousands of African slaves, whose descendants populate Barbados today. An 1816 rebellion led by the slave Bussa spurred larger uprisings and ultimately led to slavery’s abolition. In 1966, Barbados became an independent state and Commonwealth realm with the British monarch as hereditary head of state.

The Museum of Parliament uses interactive audio and video and exceptional exhibits to trace the development of democracy in Barbados since 1629 and the role played by island residents. The information is housed in the historic West Wing of Parliament, which offers a combination of traditional exhibits, artistic impressions, and modern interactive displays.
62a Tudor St, Bridgetown, Barbados
One of the best days for horse racing in the islands is Boxing Day, or as it’s known in the States, “The Day After Christmas.” This past Boxing Day, I was lucky enough to be in Barbados, so I made a point to pay a visit to the Barbados Turf Club at the historic Garrison Savannah. Located just east of Bridgetown, this storied patch of land has been hosting horse races since 1845! To put things in perspective, Churchill Downs didn’t open its doors until thirty years later in 1875! So what can you expect from a day at the races in Barbados? Sun, rum, horses, pudding and souse eating, betting, cheering, thrills, and more! Not going to be in Barbados for Boxing Day? Don’t worry. There are approximately 25 race meetings throughout the year running from January to April (Spring Season); May to September (Summer Season) and from November to December (Winter Season). So you’d be hard pressed to visit the island when there is no racing going on at all.
Four Roads, Barbados
It’s not done idly when they eschew the term “distillery” in favor of “rum factory and heritage park” in the case of Foursquare. As a “rum factory” they produce tremendous amounts of some of the most loved rums from Barbados. Naturally, you can find the exquisite Foursquare Rum here, but they also produce an exceptional line under the Doorly’s label, plus another hard-drinking favorite named Old Brigand, among others. And when it comes to the “heritage park” part, the grounds boast a kind of museum in the form of a field littered with antique rum manufacturing equipment, plus a rum educational pavilion, and most uniquely, an amphitheater for local musical and theatrical performances. When you stop in, ask for a corn ‘n oil!
Garrison, Bridgetown, Barbados
With its fine Georgian buildings, Parliament house, churches and bridges, Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. An additional reason why Bridgetown is recognized by UNESCO is because of its unusual street plan. While many later colonies would be constructed on some version of a grid pattern, Bridgetown grew up organically beginning in the 17th century. Its streets follow the winding routes that were typical of medieval English cities. Historic Bridgetown is centered around the harbor created where the Constitution River, commonly called the Careenage, enters Carlisle Bay. Today, yachts can be found where merchant ships would have once dropped anchor. Bay Street links historic Bridgetown with the other half of the UNESCO site, the Garrison, to its south.

Barbados is considered the most British of the West Indies, and its historic churches, which wouldn’t be out of place in an English village, help it claim that title. On the site of older churches that were destroyed by fire and hurricanes, some dating as far back as the 17th century, St. John’s Parish Church is an early-1800s dark stone Gothic gem. Though the earliest St. John’s church was constructed in 1645, the one that stands today is largely from 1836, replacing a building destroyed by a hurricane in 1831. Its remarkable pulpit is made of ebony, mahogany, locust and other local woods. Many prominent figures are buried in the graveyard, which has views of the coast.

Route 7
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Historic Bridgetown, the Garrison was Britain’s first permanent military base in the Caribbean. Established in 1705, it was the obvious destination for transatlantic traders and naval expeditions due to its location, which was farther east than its neighbors in the Caribbean and thus closer to England. The primacy of St. Ann’s Fort for British operations in the region would last through the 18th and 19th centuries. Of particular interest to American travelers is George Washington House, where the president lived for two months in 1751. His only journey outside North America was to accompany his brother who was suffering from tuberculosis and had been advised to spend a winter in the tropics. The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, in the former military prison, should be high on all travelers’ lists, regardless of nationality.

Fusilier Rd, Gun Hill, Barbados
Gun Hill offers a panoramic view of Barbados. Used to communicate military emergencies and as rallying points in the event of civil disorder, the station was built as a security measure in 1818. Restored by the Barbados National Trust, it today houses military memorabilia. Visitors can also climb the tower, enjoy a picnic in the pavilion, or partake in food and drinks at the Fusilier Bar and Cafe.
Dalkeith Road
Near the racecourse in the Garrison part of the city stands a former military prison from Barbados’s time as headquarters of the British navy’s Windward and Leeward forces. Since the 1930s, the two-story stone structure with gardens has been put to happier use, housing the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Exhibits cover the island’s coral structure and natural history, as well as the original Amerindian presence, the slave trade, sugar cultivation and rum production.

A tour of St. Nicholas Abbey is a chance to explore one of the finest so-called great houses of Barbados. Not an actual abbey, the well-preserved Jacobean plantation mansion in the northern parish of St. Peter dates from the mid-17th century and is filled with antiques. On the mahogany tree–dotted manicured grounds, visitors can also see the old steam mill and rum distillery that are still in operation; the output from the latter, and other local products, are sold in the gift shop.

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