A first-timer’s guide to Barbados

Visiting Barbados for the first time and looking for the best things to do?

We’ve teamed up with Caribbean expert Linda Thompkins to bring you this insider’s guide to Barbados, featuring her take on the best beaches, restaurants, attractions and places to stay. When looking to enjoy the ultimate vacation, our luxury Barbados villas promise pure Caribbean escapism. Many offer direct beach access too! Equipped with scenic private pools and exclusive in-house amenities and staff, your dream Barbados beach getaway is only a click away.

What are the best beaches in Barbados?

When visiting Barbados, the beaches along the western and southern coasts have the calmest waters as they border the Caribbean Sea. The best family-friendly beaches on the southern coast are Accra, Dover, Miami and Maxwell. On the western coast, family-friendly beaches include Batts Rock, Folkestone, Mullins Bay and Brighton, all of which have public facilities, beach rentals and restaurants – either on the beach or close by. The eastern side of the island borders the Atlantic; this is home to the experienced surfing crowd and has giant waves, so no swimming is allowed.

Beaches in Barbados

Are the locals friendly in Barbados?

Yes, Barbados is known for being the Caribbean island with the most return visitors, and this is partly due to the friendliness of the locals.

Are there any special customs I should know about?

Are there any do’s or don’ts when visiting Barbados? The culture is a mix of British and African customs and traditions. Bajan people appreciate a smile along with simple ‘hello’ and they love to talk about their island. Locals prefer that visitors dress sensitively when leaving the beach and heading out to restaurants, bars or even back to your vacation home. There are no nude bathing beaches in Barbados.

A first timer's guide to Barbados

When is the best time to visit Barbados?

It’s beautifully warm all year round in Barbados so there isn’t really a bad time to go, but the weather and the prices do vary depending on the time of year. Weather-wise, peak season is one of the best times for visiting Barbados as it’s slightly cooler, so you won’t have to worry about the heat and humidity. The summer months are hotter and wetter, but prices are lower so it’s the best time to visit price-wise.

You can find out more about the best time to visit Barbados in our month-by-month guide.

What is the food like?

When visiting Barbados you simply must try the island’s national dish of flying fish and cou-cou! You can order your fish fried, baked, steamed or grilled. Cou-cou is made from corn meal and okra, and has a very creamy texture. Pudding and souse is another local favourite consisting of steamed sweet potato and pickled pork. Pork, sweet potatoes and even breadfruit are all pickled with hot peppers, onion, lime and cucumber. Cutters are popular at lunch, these are made with Bajan salt bread and a choice of fish, ham, chicken livers, cheese or egg. Other staples in the local diet are plantains and macaroni pie.

The food in Barbados

Where are the best restaurants?

There’s an abundance of restaurants in Barbados offering every possible cuisine from around the globe – and catering for every price range. Affordable dining choices include the island’s own fast food chain, Chefette, which offers pizzas and rotis. They also have a kids’ menu. You can try some of the best cutters on the island at Cuz’s Fish Stand, located by the beach in Bridgetown.

The best family restaurants in Barbados are on the south coast, these include McBride’s Pub, Harlequin Restaurant, Café Sol Mexican Grill and Lucky Horseshoe. The most affordable fish dinners on the island can be found in the town of Oistins on the southern coast where you’ll find the Oistin’s Fish Fry every Friday night.

Some of the best restaurants for couples are Tides and Lemongrass in Holetown, The Cliff in Derricks, and the Fish Pot in Clinketts.

The best restaurants in Barbados

What are the top attractions?

You’ll find plenty to see and do when visiting Barbados. Harrison’s Cave, is one of the top attractions in Barbados and it’s one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the Caribbean. Other top-rated attractions include Welchman Hall Gulley nature park, the Barbados Wildlife Reserve and the Folkstone Marine Park coral reef.

Attractions in Barbados

Are there any historic sites?

There are numerous historic sites to visit in Barbados, such as the island’s capital Bridgetown with its parliament buildings and garrison, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The 18th-century building that houses the Barbados Museum is also located at the garrison, and this is the headquarters of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.

Arlington House Museum in Speightstown is home to an interactive educational experience. While in Speightstown you can also visit the massive beachfront mural decorated with scenes of the island’s history.

Where are the best shops?

There are lots of shopping malls, gift shops and duty-free stores in Barbados. Best of Barbados gift shops are located all around the island and specialize in unique local crafts, with most items being quite affordable. Also, local vendors are willing to haggle over prices for beach wraps and jewelry, especially if you are buying more than one item.

There’s lots of shopping to be found in the capital Bridgetown, however be prepared for lots of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Visit the Limegrove Mall in Holetown for a more upscale shopping and entertainment experience, and the Sheraton Mall which is the largest shopping mall in Barbados.

shopping in Barbados

What are the best souvenirs to buy?

The local hand-crafted pottery makes a great souvenir to take home, you can buy some of the best at Earthworks Pottery in St. Thomas. Other great local souvenirs include art work, locally woven baskets, wood carvings, hand-made jewelry and any other items made by local arisans. The local rum makes a great souvenir, as does hot pepper sauce and Bajan rum cake. You can buy these at most local shops and supermarkets.

Tell me more about the rum…

Barbados is renowned as the birthplace of rum. Needless to say visiting Barbados should include a tipple or two of this world-famous drink! It was first produced on the island in 1642 and is still widely produced on the island today using traditional local methods. You can take a rum tour at the Mount Gay Rum Distillery in Bridgetown and at the West Indies Rum Distillery, where Barbadian Cockspur Fine Rum is produced, along with Malibu, Gilbey’s and Popov. This is located at Brighton Beach in the southern parish of St. Michael.

The St. Nicholas Abbey in St. Peter is another great attraction for anyone interested in the island’s rum history. The main house was built in 1658 but it has been restored to its former glory with a plantation house, a museum and a rum distillery.

Barbados rum

If rum cocktails are your thing then check out these great rum cocktail recipes.

What are the local sports?

Cricket is king in Barbados. It’s the island’s national sport and you can catch a good game almost anywhere. International test matches are held at the Kensington Oval, and you can find exciting local matches on any beach or village green.

Other popular sports include horse racing, sailing and road tennis – and one of the most popular activities is dominoes! The horse racing is found at the Garrison Savannah Racetrack in Bridgetown.

Are there any golf courses in Barbados?

Yes, the island is a golfer’s paradise with courses that appeal to every kind of player. The Royal Westmoreland golf course is a regular host of the PGA European Tour Seniors tournament, and Sandy Lane hosted the World Golf Championships World Cup in 2016. Sandy Lane is considered to be one of the best golf courses in Barbados. Facilities at the resort include a restaurant, tennis courts and gymnasium as well as an excellent selection of luxury villas.

What are the best things to do with kids?

When visiting Barbados, there are so many family-friendly attractions to keep kids and parents happy. You can take the kids on a unique underwater adventure with a submarine tour, or head to one of the many beaches in Barbados for some swimming, sunbathing and water sports. Horseback riding along the coast is a great way to spend some family time, and the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary is a great place for kids with its lovely lakeside lawns and its abundance of local wildlife.

things to do with kids in Barbados

Most vacation homes in Barbados are located in family-friendly resorts with kids’ clubs, communal pools, playgrounds and easy beach access. Your little ones can play with other kids and enjoy poolside activities and games. Whatever time of year you visit Barbados you’re likely to find plenty of family friendly fun, with extra events going on over the main holidays like Easter and Christmas.

What wildlife am I likely to see when visiting Barbados?

Green monkeys can be seen all over the island, especially in the early morning. Small tropical birds are used to being fed around the resorts, so don’t be surprised if they show up on your balcony looking for crumbs.

The Barbados Wildlife Reserve is definitely worth a visit – go for the afternoon feeding sessions and get a close up view of green monkeys, giant turtles, armadillos and exotic birds such as parrots, flamingoes and pelicans. Watch your handbags though as green monkeys can be very cheeky thieves!

The animal that is often heard but rarely seen around the island are whistling frogs (also known as tree frogs) whose charming musical chirps can be heard all over the island.

attractions in Barbados

What’s the nightlife in Barbados like?

The nightlife in Barbados is very varied with an array of evening entertainment offerings including dinner shows, romantic cruises, bars, nightclubs, live bands and street parties. The Oistins Fish Fry is a regular Friday night knees-up in the fishing village of Oistins. This is a big street party which is enormously popular with both locals and visitors alike. You can eat fried fish, drink cocktails and beer, and watch live music on the main stage, right next to the beach.

There are an array of great cocktail lounges and beachside bars in the St. James area, and there’s a large-scale, open-air nightclub in Bridgetown called Harbour Lights which is quite touristy but with a lovely setting.

nightlife in Barbados

When are the best festivals?

There are so many festivals in Barbados that it would be hard to name them all here. When planning on visiting Barbados, try to stay during at least one island festival. You won’t regret it. The best ones are the Holetown Festival in February and the rousing Crop Over Festival, which attracts visitors from across globe. The Barbados Food & Rum Festival is also worth visiting if you’re on the island in November.

Barbados festivals

Tell me about the island’s pirate history?

Barbados is rich in pirate history with notorious figures such as Blackbeard, Henry Morgan and Sam Lord Hall once cutting a path of terror across the island. As the easternmost island in the Caribbean, Barbados was the port of call for treasure ships bound for Spain, and it was used as the first stop for European trade ships heading to the New World.

Sam Lord Hall was probably the most famous, and according to local legend he acquired his wealth by plundering ships which he lured into onto the reefs by hanging lanterns in coconut trees. Captains mistook these for the lights of Bridgetown and accidentally wrecked their ships on the reefs where the pirates were waiting.

The beautiful Sam Lord Hall mansion was built in 1820 and was ruined by fire in 2010. The remains are now a major tourist attraction in Barbados.

Barbados attractions

Is there anything I should know before I go to Barbados?

Customs aside, be sure to know these advisories when visiting Barbados. It’s against the law for anyone (including children) to wear camouflage clothing or to carry any items made of the same material. Authorities take this law very seriously.

Also make sure you drive on the left, and be aware that buses and cars can drive extremely fast. If you’re taking the bus anywhere, hold on tight! Other advice is keep your beachwear reserved for the beach or around the pool. And be careful not to step on sea urchins in shallow water as they can cause a nasty pain.

Where are the best places to stay in Barbados?

Accommodation options in Barbados span the gamut from small 1-bedroom villas to sprawling vacation homes in flashy resorts. Top Villas offers a wide range of condos and villas at top spots across the island. Homes typically boast beautiful indoor and outdoor living areas, private swimming pools and access to resort amenities. These villas are some of the best places to stay when visiting Barbados.

villas in Barbados

If you’re thinking of booking a Barbados vacation and you need advice on the best places to stay then contact us today. Additionally, our dedicated guest experience team can arrange any added extras you need such as great-value car hire. You can see all of our Barbados villas here.