Bridgetown The Capital of Barbados
With a population 110,000, Bridgetown is not only the capital of Barbados, it’s also the largest city on the island. Located in the southeastern end of the Parish of Saint Michael, Bridgetown is the current and historic seat of power on Bridgetown. It’s also one of the most commercially developed areas on the island with shopping, dining, ritzy resort hotels, and tourist attractions galore.
Often called “The City” Bridgetown offers everything a traveler might need at the tips of their fingers. However, most Barbadians simply call it “Town” and there’s a good reason for that. This close knit community sits right in the historic heart of Barbados. Here you’ll find some of the oldest-standing buildings on the island and cultural heritage icons like The Kensington Oval, the Parliament Buildings, and Saint Michael’s Cathedral.
Bridgetown is also the commercial and transportation hub of the island. 7 of the major highways on Barbados begin in or circle Bridgetown so you really can get there from here. You’ll also find Sir Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown with local island-hopping flights and international departures and arrivals daily. Public buses also run from Bridgetown to several other destinations on the island including Holetown and Speightstown.
The Port of Bridgetown located along Carlisle Bay is a major commercial shipping port and also home to cruise ship docks. It’s one of the few deep water harbors on Barbados and feeds through a number of tidal rivers that crisscross Bridgetown itself. These rivers allow small to medium sized pleasure craft direct access to the heart of the city.
The History of Bridgetown on Barbados
Island was totally uninhabited (or abandoned) when British colonists first landed in 1628. This initial small group was led by Charles Wolverton and discovered the series of bridges crossing the swampy marshland that would later give the city its name. The bridges were thought to have been constructed by the native Arawak people before they were driven off the island by rival tribes.
The town was officially settles in 1654 and at the time labelled the Town of Saint Michael. In 1824 when Barbados became the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Barbados and the Leeward Islands (which elevated Saint Michael Parish Church to a Cathedral) Bridgetown was officially granted the title of “City.”
In an effort to preserve the historic and cultural importance of Bridgetown, Bridgetown and its Garrison became UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2011.
An interesting bit of trivia for Americans: Bridgetown was the only city outside the United States which George Washington ever visited. In fact, the George Washington House (in which he stayed while there) still stands today.
Essential Sightseeing in Bridgetown Barbados
There’s enough to do and see in Bridgetown to keep visitors busy for days. In fact, in may be tempting to spend your whole holiday here. But here are a few of the biggest attractions and best sights to see if you’ve only got a day or two to take it all in.
The Parliament Buildings
Constructed in 1871 and ’73 respectively, the west building and the east building feature gorgeously wrought architecture. The coral limestone clock tower was originally located on the other side of the building but began to sink into the soft soil immediately after it was built. It was demolished and reconstructed on the other wing where it has stood since and now proudly flies the Barbadian flag. The buildings are illuminated during the holiday seasons with the colors of the national flag.
Carlisle Bay is a modern commercial shipping and cruise ship port in the heart of Bridgetown Barbados. However, its roots stretch far back into the past as it was one of the ports used by British colonists in the 1700s. While a major commercial zone, Carlisle Bay also features some beautiful sand beaches from which sun bathers can swim, snorkel, and even scuba dive on a number of amazing shipwrecks in the bay.
South Coast Boardwalk
This is Barbados’s first boardwalk by the sea and was constructed to give locals and visitors alike the opportunity to enjoy the scenic beauty of the south coast. During the morning hours you’ll see many joggers getting in their morning run along the boardwalk before the sun rises too high. Later in the afternoon the boardwalk offers a wonderful opportunity to stroll by the sea and take in a late lunch or even dinner at one of the lovely restaurants along this stretch of sand.
St. Michael’s Cathedral
Located on Saint Michael’s Row, this building sits near the location of a former structure built in 1665. The current structure was raised in 1789 after its predecessor was destroyed by a hurricane and is a magnificent example of the use of natural building materials. It is constructed entirely out of out of coral limestone and authentic woods. The rugged tower and stained glass throughout became the hallmark of Parish churches on Barbados and hints of these architectural touchpoints can be found just about everywhere on the island. The cathedral is currently closed to visitors due to ongoing refurbishment.
The Historic Jewish Synagogue
The Nidhe Israel Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere. It was constructed in 1654 (though the original structure was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831). The synagogue was founded by Brazilian Jews fleeing persecution from Portuguese tyrants in their home country. These Jews were proficient in growing sugar cane and used their skills to help build the sugar industry on Barbados, an industry that would propel Barbados to wealth and even independence.
The Kensington Oval
The premiere Cricket venue on Barbados, the Kensington Oval was first created as by the Pickwick Cricket Club in 1882. Since then the facility has only grown over time. The Oval was completely refurbished in 2005 and hosted the 2007 Cricket World Cup Final. The facility feature multiple modern additions including a VIP area, numerous meal and beverage opportunities, and seating for up to 28,000 people.
The Garrison Savannah and National Historic Area
This historic area in Bridgetown is a 30 acre facility used as a parade ground. It also houses the historic horse racing track, military barracks, and Saint Ann’s Fort (the current home of the Barbadian Defense Force).
This is also where George Washington came to visit in order the help his sick brother (a planter on Barbados) recover. The home he stayed in, now called the George Washington House, still stands in the National Historic Area.
On November 30 in 1966 a flag ceremony signaled the end of British colonial rule and the birth of Barbadian independence on the island.