Top 10 Things To Do In Nassau, Bahamas

Here are the top ten things to see and do in Nassau, Bahamas.

Tropical breezes, steel drum music, gourmet dining, and fabulous activities are just a few of the many highlights of Nassau. There's something for everyone in Nassau, and the Bahamas are easy to reach: They're about 30 minutes from Miami by plane, or a mere 2 1/2 hours from New York if you're eager to escape a chilly winter.

Imagine a destination that offers sultry days and beautiful starry nights, 365 days a year. That's the Bahamas, where temperatures average 70 to 80 degrees (F) daily, with a summer high of 90 and a winter low of 60.

Nassau is the capital city of the Bahamas, popular with visitors since pirates Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, and Anne Bonney made Nassau's sheltered harbor famous. Colonial architecture, friendly people, great shopping and attractions, and a welcoming climate make this an ideal vacation spot for couples, families, and individuals.

The Bahamas are famous for their beaches, with sugary pink and white sand. But, let's talk about the top ten things to do when you're not relaxing at the water's edge with a cold drink and the soft splash of gentle waves tickling your toes.

Nassau is easy to get around, no matter where you stay. Remember that Nassau developed under British rule, and cars drive on the left side of the road. You can rent a car if you like, but why bother? Most of Nassau's best attractions are in walking distance--or a quick taxi ride--from your hotel.

1. The Straw Market - Start your vacation at Nassau's Straw Market. It's in the middle of town, and it's very popular with visitors. Bahamian women started selling local crafts here when the native sponge business slumped. Today, this is a boisterous and varied market that always offers something new. Expect pushy vendors, a variety of dazzling handmade merchandise, plus loud and often hilarious haggling over every purchase. Halfway through negotiations, a competing vendor may interrupt and offer you a similar item at a much lower price. Think of this as street theater, and you'll have a great time. And, above all, never pay full price!

2. Bay Street - If you're looking for bargains on designer clothing and other luxury items, you'll be delighted with the duty-free prices in Nassau's prime shopping district. Dance your way from store to store, with music from the steel drums at the nearby Straw Market. Don't miss the bargain prices on classics such as Waterford and Wedgwood, as well as Gucci and Fendi items. But, watch for the gorgeous hand-batiked fashions made locally and sold at irresistible prices; they make ideal gifts for friends and family at home. Most of Bay Street's stores are open Monday through Saturday, nine to five; only drugstores and the Straw Market remain open on Sundays.

3. Ardastra Gardens - One mile west of downtown Nassau, you'll find one of the area's most enduring tourist attractions. Call ahead and the Ardastra Gardens staff will send a complimentary shuttle bus to pick you up at your hotel. The Gardens are small--just a little over 5 acres--but they're home for over 300 animals representing a wide variety of the Bahamas' natural inhabitants. At every turn, you'll be reminded that this is not a huge commercial enterprise, but a conservation center run by people who consider the animals--especially the flamingos--their companions, not pets. The Gardens' must-see attraction is their world-famous Marching Flamingo show which takes place three times daily. As their guide shouts commands, 30 or more flamingos perform in unison. No visit to Nassau is complete without a visit to this quirky site.

4. Fort Charlotte - While you're at Ardastra Gardens, visit nearby Fort Charlotte, the largest and most interesting of Nassau's three colonial forts. It features a waterless moat, a drawbridge, underground passages and even a dungeon. Be sure to look for graffiti etched in the walls by soldiers who were stationed here. Although this 18th-century fort isn't especially beautiful, you'll be glad that you brought your camera for the picture perfect views of Nassau Harbor. Admission to the fort is free, as are the regular guided tours. If you didn't travel to the fort on the Ardastra shuttle bus, the number 10 bus will take you back to downtown Nassau.

5. Queen's Staircase - While you're touring the town, be sure to climb the Queen's Staircase. With one step for each year of Queen Victoria's life, the top of this limestone staircase offers one of the best views of the area. Considered one of the world's top ten outdoor staircases, it's also a short walk from the top to Fort Fincastle, built in 1793. This is another spectacular lookout to capture Nassau's magnificent landscapes in photos.

6. Junkanoo - If you're in Nassau in December, get ready to party at the annual Junkanoo festival. This takes place on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Expect a wild and exuberant parade with colorful and intricate costumes. Junkanoo will remind you of Mardi Gras, but less overwhelming. The high point of the Junkanoo parade may be the drums, which follow a specific and meaningful sequence as they communicate to one another throughout the parade.

7. Underwater splendor - Snorkeling is one of the many ways to enjoy the crystal clear waters that are just outside your door in Nassau. Whether you're a beginner or a pro, you can rent snorkeling and diving equipment, take lessons, go on a guided underwater tour, or set out on your own.

If you're not a swimmer, you can still see the underwater landscapes that make Nassau so famous. Glass-bottom boats and a floating underwater observatory are just a few ways for you to see the many exotic fish and fabulous coral reefs in Nassau's tranquil turquoise waters. Trips vary from a couple of hours to a full day. Your hotel can recommend the best for your interests and schedule.

8. Shipwreck Cruises - For the ultimate adventure, hop a boat and sail to a deserted island for lunch, snorkeling, and exploring. Several companies offer exciting planned adventures for adults as well as families, with different destinations and themes. Whether you're interested in a leisurely cruise or a high-speed ride on a world-class powerboat, you'll find a wide range of water adventures waiting for you in Nassau.

9. Paradise Island - Cross the bridge or take a water taxi to Paradise for an unforgettable adventure. This island was originally the private home of Huntington Hartford, and he helped to transform it into a kind of "fantasy island." Gaming and gambling are one of many world-class attractions on Paradise Island, where the Atlantis' 800 slot machines pay out an average of $35,000 every hour. This casino is one of several in the Nassau area, and all feature games such as blackjack, baccarat, and poker in addition to the slots. Bahamians are not permitted to gamble, so everyone at the tables is on vacation as well. This is a great place to swap recommendations of other sights to see while you're in Nassau.

The Atlantis Resort also features 11 exhibit lagoons featuring more than 50,000 sea animals. This is the largest marine habitat in the world, outside of Nature itself. From piranhas to sea turtles and predators, you can spend a full day enjoying the marine displays.

However, one of the great attractions of the Atlantis is The Dig, a maze of tunnels, rooms, and displays exploring the 11,000-year-old history of the fabled lost island of Atlantis. As you wander through The Dig, you'll see fabulous art and evidence of legends. The high point is the final room in the attraction, where a spectacular Navigation Guide shows a representation of the city of Atlantis, while a terraced bronze map overhead shows the stars that Atlanteans might visit.

There are many other things to see and do as a day visitor to the Atlantis. Arrive early and plan to leave late. However, many guests decide to make the Atlantis Resort their vacation home while they're visiting Nassau. You can easily spend your entire vacation on Paradise Island, and still not see everything that it offers.

10. Versailles Gardens and Cloisters - These are part of the Ocean Club resort on Paradise Island, and are well worth seeing. The Cloisters are a wonderful example of the quirky side of Nassau. The Cloisters were originally in southern France. William Randolph Hearst bought the Cloisters and had it taken apart in the 1920s. In 1962, the structure was moved piece by piece to Nassau under the direction of Huntington Hartford, who was then owner of Paradise Island. Unfortunately, when the Cloisters were taken apart in France, nobody labeled the pieces so that they could be reassembled. As a result, when the Cloisters were rebuilt in Nassau, the design didn't look like the original. There's an air of wonderful whimsy about this new layout of the ancient structure.

The nearby Versailles Gardens are most noted for their deliberate landscaping and ornate classical sculptures. The long shadows of late afternoon add drama to the Gardens, and it's a fine way to conclude your day before stopping for dinner at any of Paradise Island's many gourmet restaurants.

The Bahama Islands are magnificent, and Nassau is their crown jewel. Whether you go there for the many attractions or simply to relax on a beach overlooking perfect turquoise waters, Nassau is an ideal place for your vacation.

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