Barbados Travel Guide
Barbados is a popular holiday destination thanks to its countless golden beaches (700 square kilometres' worth) and the welcoming resorts that frame the island. But there's so much more to Barbados than that.
What you will find in this guide:
Getting around Barbados
Top things to do in Barbados
Where to stay in Barbados
What to eat in Barbados
Best beaches in Barbados
Barbados Dollar BBD
English and Bajan
Type A & B
Avg 9 hrs
Barbados is one of the smallest islands in the Caribbean Sea. Its tropical climate means you're guaranteed some serious heat most of the year, which you can soak up while relaxing on one of the many white sand beaches the island is famous for.
Barbados was mostly covered in dense rainforest and wild pigs before it was settled by the British in 1625. It remained a British colony until 1966, and still holds a lot of British influences including the language, education system and legal system, and until as recently as November 2021 Queen Elizabeth II was still the island's head of state.
There are two main seasons in Barbados - wet and dry. The hottest months tend to be May, June and August, with temperatures rarely dropping below 30C. Most people tend to prefer escaping the grey miserable months in the UK by visiting here from December to April. The temperature is a little cooler then, in the mid 20s, and there's less humidity than in the summer months.
Rainy season is from June to October, but that doesn't mean travelling during these months is a wipeout. Unlike the UK the rainfall is short and sharp, and is often a refreshing break from an otherwise hot and sunny day. Rainy season coincides with hurricane season in the Caribbean, but hurricanes usually tend to miss Barbados.
Barbadians use the Barbados dollar (BBD). Its rate doesn't fluctuate as it's fixed to the US dollar (USD) at $2 BBD to $1 USD. Bear in mind though that the rate does fluctuate on a daily basis between the USD and the pound!
Tipping is discretionary, but if you feel the service has been good, a tip of 10-15% is appreciated. Some restaurants include this in the bill though, so be sure to double check.
The island is inhabited by almost 300,000 people, with English being the official main language. The local dialect is Bajan, which is a combination of English and West African languages.
Bear in mind...
- The tap water is perfectly safe to drink.
- Only the armed forces are allowed to wear camouflage - if you break this rule you may have your items confiscated or face a fine.
- You may spot trees with tape stopping you from standing near them - these are manchineel trees. They may look harmless but it's the most dangerous tree in the world, causing skin blisters if you stand below it when it's raining. Be sure not to eat its apple-looking fruits either!
- The island is friendly, but as with anywhere crime does occur. Be vigilant and keep your valuables safe.
- Homosexuality is illegal in the country, but the law is rarely enforced. The country's prime minister recently publicly welcomed same-sex couples on the island in an attempt to move to a more modern-day, accepting environment.
How easy is travelling to Barbados?
You can take a direct flight to Barbados from the UK and the flight time is around 8.5 hours. The island is split into 11 parishes and overall is pretty small - its circumference is around 100km so you can drive round the whole island in around 3 hours. So you won't ever have too far to go from the airport to your location.
Getting around Barbados
You can get anywhere you need to on the island by bus, and they run frequently. There are three different types:
- Government-operated public buses - these are usually big and blue, with a yellow stripe. These travel all over the island, and you'll need the exact money when you get on board, as they don't provide change.
- Privately-operated minibuses - these are usually medium sized yellow buses, with a blue stripe. Often you hear these buses coming before you see them, as reggae music is blaring from the speakers - it can be quite the experience!
- Individually-owned minivans - these will have 'ZR' on the license plates and are white. These can be a little more "care-free" and the driving styles may not suit everyone, but they are great for driving around the narrower streets.
Taxis are readily available throughout the island and licensed ones will have 'Z' on the license plate. The fares don't work on a meter, so try to negotiate a good price before you get in.
If you do decide to hire a car, we've done the hard work for you and compared all the best choices. Head to our car hire page to take a look.
The majority of hire cars on the island have a steering wheel on the right, but Barbadians drive on the left like us Brits. Most of the roads are easy to navigate, but if you're heading to Bridgetown be aware of the tricky one-way system. And take extra care in the evening, as often cars can be driving without lights.
There are plenty of petrol stations around the city, but they are a bit more sparse the further out you go. If you do need to fill up there's no need to get out of the car - one of the team at the station will fill up for you!
As is the case in the UK, the use of mobile phones while driving is banned. And while there isn't an alcohol limit you can exceed while driving, driving carelessly is illegal - it's best not to take that risk anyway.
Of course, we think the best way of getting around is to explore on foot. There are plenty of walking trails, hills and hikes you can explore. Make sure you're sensible though - be mindful of the midday sun and ensure you are hydrated and smothered in sun block.
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Top places to visit in Barbados
The port town of Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, much to the islanders' delight. It signifies Barbados once being the centrepiece of the British Empire's trade, for sugar especially, in the Caribbean and the Americas.
Because of its commercial importance, plenty was done to protect the town, which was built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and is the reason it's so well-preserved today. You can explore for yourself the garrison and its numerous historic buildings, or wander around the parliament buildings by taking a guided tour.
Harrison's Cave Eco-Adventure Park
Found in the central uplands, Harrison's Cave is one of the island greatest wonders. The crystallized limestone cave has flowing streams, deep pools and towering columns. The cave has a stream system that's at least 2.3km long, and the stalagmites are still growing.
Take the tram tour and explore the caves with a guide - then maybe even head back and try some rum!
Mount Gay Rum Distilleries
With a company deed dating back to 1703 Mount Gay Rum is the world's oldest commerical rum distillery. You can join a distillery experience and explore the grounds of this historic site - plus of course find out how the famous Mount Gay Rum is made.
Don't forget to pick up a bottle to bring home, so you can relive the caribbean from your couch!
Best things to experience in Barbados
St. Lawrence Gap
Located in the parish of Christ Church, this 1.3km stretch of road is famous for its lively nightlife. There are nightclubs, bars and pubs to let loose in. Experience for yourself why Barbados is nicknamed "Rum Island"!
Cricket is the country's national sport and the island hosted the Cricket World Cup in 2007. Kensington Oval is the most famous of all the cricket grounds on the island and you can watch a game at a decent level almost any time of the year.
Crop Over festival
Starting in June until the first Monday in August, this is a traditional harvest festival which was originally celebrated to mark the end of a successful sugar cane harvest, when Barbados was the world's largest producer of sugar.
As the sugar industry declined, so did the festival, until its end in 1940. In 1974 it was revived and is now more of an extravaganza than ever, with a carnival, markets, music and live entertainment. It's a spectacle not to be missed and a big part of Bajan culture.
What to eat in Barbados
Flying fish and cou cou
Locally caught flying fish, seasoned with herbs and spices, fried or steamed with a rich gravy - it's the Barbadian equivalent of our Sunday roast! Served with cou cou, which can be described as a savoury porridge made from cornmeal and okra.
Pudding and souse
A savoury rather than a sweet dish, it's made of pickled pork and steamed sweet potato.
A dish which doesn't actually include eggs! These are in fact sea urchins, which are a true Bajan delicacy. They are an acquired taste but can be fried, stewed or eaten raw.
Top beaches in Barbados
Not only is this one of the best beaches in Barbados, it's actually known as one of the best beaches in the world. The beach is backed by impressive clifss, and it's is renowned for it's soft pink sand.
It's by no means a gentle swimming beach, as it is buffeted by the rolling Atlantic waves. What it lacks in swimming it makes up for in jumping inw aves, body boarding and general good fun!
Perhaps just as beautiful as Crane Beach, Bottom Bay is a little more seculuded and commerical. You won't tend to find rows of beach chairs here - so bring a towel.
Again, the beach is a little too wavey for swimming - but that makes it perfect for playing in the waves and for watersports.
Recommended for surfers because of the Atlantic waves, this bay hosts regular local and international surfing competitions including the well-known Soup Bowl, as it gets the best conditions all year round. Bathsheba is a small fishing village on the east coast and it's here you'll spot one of the more recognisable landmarks on the island, Bathsheba Rock - a formation broken away from an ancient coral reef.
Looking for something a little calmer, head to the popular Payne's Bay (make sure you get there early!). The water here is calmer, perfect for a relaxing dip and a break from the sun bathing. If you're lucky you might even see turtles.
The beach is also a short distance to Sandy Lane, an exclusive area with beach-side hotels and houses owned by the rich and famous, including Barbadian-born pop star Rihanna.
This small natural harbour is the hoem of Bridgetown and it's one of the most popular spot on the island for scuba diving - largely due to the historic detritus from the ships that used to frequent the bay.
The bay is also home to the famous Needham's Point Lighthouse.