People equate Nassau in the Bahamas with cruise ship crowds, and it's true the shiploads of passengers that disembark here shape the port's ambiance. But besides the duty-free and souvenir shops, resorts, and chain restaurants, you can find Georgian-style buildings, sugar-white beaches for water sports, and (if you look hard enough) a nugget of authenticity. Here are our top picks for what to do in the port of Nassau:
1. Atlantis Water Park
This massive water park, a wow-inspiring 141 acres, is a great place to cool off from the island heat and get your adrenaline-powered thrills: Plunge into lagoons, slip and slide on tube rides, and traverse waterfalls into an underground lair, where alligator gars and other fish lurk. One of the top highlights? The harrowing 60-foot vertical drop off a faux Mayan temple, appropriately called “A Leap of Faith.”
Just consider yourself warned: It's a giant amusement park-style resort, and moments of quiet are hard to come by. Plus, it does seem like everything costs extra here, and some passes the cruise lines sell don't even include access to the pool area.
2. Cabbage Beach
This palm-fringed beach is on Paradise Island, one of the most famous of the Bahamian islands. It’s connected to Nassau by a bridge, and it's exactly what you’d expect from a Caribbean beach: turquoise water, soft white sand, and bars and restaurants for ordering ice-cold cocktails and crispy conch fritters. You can also snorkel at an offshore cay.
3. National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
At this art institution, located in a neoclassical mansion, the galleries brim with national pride. The collection comprises works of prominent Bahamian artists, from the Junkanoo-themed paintings of Brent Malone to the colorful biblical and floral scenes of Amos Ferguson.
4. Clifton Heritage National Park
When you want a break from the cruise ship crowds, this national park is the right escape. Once home to plantations, today it bears shaded hiking trails, rocky beaches that harbor turtles, and the crumbling ruins of a slave village.
5. Pirates of Nassau Museum
Kids will love this interactive museum, which spotlights the pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries. Explore the treasure trove of exhibits, including displays of flintlock pistols, medallions and swords, and histories of some of the most notorious swashbucklers on the seas — Blackbeard included. There's also a replica of a pirate ship, and you can expect to hear, "Ahoy, mate!" shouted from the decks.
6. Fort Fincastle
In this 18th-century stronghold built by the British captain Lord Dunmore, you can get gorgeous views of Nassau and Paradise Island from the highest point on New Providence. That alone is reason to climb the 66 limestone steps of the Queen's Staircase, but you'll get fresh sea breezes, too.
7. Straw Market
Located on bustling downtown Bay Street, between duty-free and souvenir shops, this gem of a traditional market is the place to go for authentic local crafts. Weave in and out of the stalls, admiring woven baskets and hats, colorful clothing and jewelry, and wood carvings such as turtle figurines. Be prepared to haggle — it's part of the experience.