When an island is as small as Barbados, the capital city becomes sort of a catch-all as a main point of reference. Bridgetown is Barbados' largest town and one of the best known capitals in the Caribbean island chain. Bridgetown has been instated, along with the nearby Garrison, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "The nomination was based on their outstanding universal value, authenticity and integrity." (See more about Bridgetown's nomination.)
Still Bridgetown should not be thought of as merely an old-world attraction; it is in fact a thriving centre where commerce meets culture, history meets modernity and mom-and-pop shops happily coexist with corporate movers and shakers. (See Country Facts for main hours of business in the city.)
As the central hub for the public transport system, it is true that "all roads lead to Bridgetown". Barbadians will speak of 'goin' town', meaning they are traveling into Bridgetown to shop, conduct business or connect to transportation to other parts of the island. There they mingle with visitors who have also been attracted to the city's high quality offerings in the form of duty-free shopping, souvenirs, restaurants, sailing and museums.
Broad Street is the main commercial street with department stores, malls and banks. At one end of Broad Street can be found the impressive Gothic-style Parliament Buildings, while the St. Michael's Anglican Cathedral sits proudly at the other end.
Surrounding streets house smaller stores, colorful street vendors, the law courts, the central police station and the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, one of the oldest Jewish Synagogues in the western hemisphere.
Bridgetown sits on the southwest coast of the island, providing a major sheltered port for cruise ships and cargo vessels. The Bridgetown Port or 'Deep Water Harbour' is an international shipping hub for the Eastern Caribbean, handles Barbados' main export and import activity, and was dredged in 2002 to accommodate some of the world's largest cruise ships. Cruise passengers to Barbados in 2010 exceeded 650, 000! The port's Cruise Terminal houses a variety of boutiques and specialty shops for cruise passengers to peruse. If you ever cruise into the Bridgetown Port, have a Banks beer at Millie's Snack Bar before making your way into town. It's walking distance, but you can grab a taxi or even a rickshaw ride into the main shopping area. There's also Brandon's Beach within walking distance where you can have a cool swim or a drink at Weiser's Beach Bar. Be sure to stop on your way in or out of the port at the Pelican Craft Centre if you want to find the best local souvenirs.
The Constitution River and the Careenage split Bridgetown into two parts, connected by the Chamberlain Bridge, a major landmark in the city. The Careenage was originally established as a safe harbor for inter-island schooners but today, along with the Shallow Draft on the outskirts of the city, it is used by fishing boats, catamarans and other pleasure craft. Sitting right on this marina is the Waterfront Cafe, where you can enjoy a scenic local lunch or return for a jazzy dinner. Just say MyDestination Barbados sent you!
Sitting just on the outskirts of Bridgetown on the western side can be found Kensington Oval - the state-of-the-art sporting and entertainment facility renovated to host the 2007 Cricket World Cup Finals, and the neighboring Cricket Legends Museum. Then there's the Mount Gay Visitor's Centre, home of world-famous Mount Gay Rum.
On the southern edge of the city are Queen's Park, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital - our main medical centre - and one of Barbados' most beautiful beaches, yet undeveloped for tourism. It starts at the heart of Bridgetown, just a stone's throw away from the Careenage and stretches out to meet the South Coast. Along this strip you can enjoy a fabulously casual seafood meal at Lobster Alive, try some watersports or rent a beach chair and umbrella at the legendary Boatyard Beach Club (also a great nightlife hotspot). Right now, it's just a lovely beach for a quick dip and some fun in the sun, but there are plans in place for a new 'super yacht marina' to be constructed along this gorgeous stretch of coastline, providing a place for yachters to own a berth on Barbados.
Along with the development of this marina, there are plans to reclaim some of the beachfront for luxury condominiums. Ironically for a commercial capital Bridgetown currently has no hotel within the city boundaries. The closest on the south side are just a stone's throw away and as you continue along both the South and West coasts, there is accommodation to suit every taste and budget.
With all that Bridgetown has to offer, no wonder it was the only city outside North America that former American President George Washington ever visited!