Nassau is home to the world’s fifth-largest cruise port — which recently underwent a $300 million renovation — and millions of folks flock here every year in search of fun in the sun. Savvy travelers looking to steer clear of the crowds can find plenty of ways to explore the city (and the island it occupies, New Providence) like a local: dining at mom-and-pop restaurants, seeking out hidden-gem shops, discovering under-the-radar beaches and cultural sites. Whether you’re here for a few hours in port or spending a few days at Atlantis or another of the Nassau area’s resorts, here are a few of our favorite underrated things to see, do, eat, and drink when in town.
1. Admire local works at the National Art Gallery.
An easy 15-minute walk from the cruise port, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas offers a vibrant look into Bahamian culture with its impressive collection of local works. Take a moment to admire the colorful colonial-era structure: The bright yellow Villa Doyle dates to the 1800s. Also onsite: an outdoor amphitheater with harbor views, site of frequent concerts, and a vibrant sculpture garden, the art installed among native dogwood, agave, and bougainvillea. Two highlights: Nick Austin’s intricately carved copper Queen of Junkanoo and the aptly named Sculpture for Plants, a combination of steel, wire, cement, pigments, and plants by Alex Timchula.
2. Imbibe Bahamian spirits and brews.
Right around the corner from the art museum is John Watling's Distillery, whose complimentary tours start with what might be the best piña colada we’ve ever had. The 18th-century estate produces small-batch rums made from hand-cut sugarcane molasses that is fermented, distilled, charcoal-filtered, and aged in the tropical Bahamas heat. Post-tour, sip on signature cocktails like rum punch, hand-shaken daiquiris, Bloody Caesars featuring the company’s pink sand-filtered vodka, and, of course, those aforementioned piña coladas — all under one of the centuries-old black olive trees. The resident roosters clucking nearby are descendants of a line of birds that have lived here for centuries.
If you prefer beer to rum and vodka, head to Pirate Republic Brewing, the Bahamas’ first craft brewery. The tap room is just steps from the cruise terminal, but it’s worth joining the frequent crowds for sips of specialty beers like Take No Quarter, an American-style IPA with notes of citrus, pine, blackberry, and pepper, and the spice-kissed, toasty Long John Pilsner. The Bahamian-style pub grub — conch fritters; cracked conch sliders — is tasty, too.
3. Embark on your own food tour at Arawak Cay.
Also known as the Fish Fry, Arawak Cay is lined with small, colorful, casual eateries — and you know it’s good because you’ll actually spot locals dining here. You can easily stroll in and out of the bars and restaurants to create your own personal food tour. All the restaurants here serve delectably fresh seafood at truly affordable prices; that said, we love Oh Andros and Curly’s for staples like chowder, conch salad, and fried snapper. The latter also offers tasty plantains, burgers, and curry chicken for the non-fish eaters. Pro tip: Arrive early to try a cup of Sky Juice, a local favorite that blends gin, coconut water, condensed milk, and spices — and tends to sell out fast.
4. Stay (or just eat and drink extremely well) at the Graycliff Hotel.
If staying on the beach isn't a priority — or if you want to indulge in world-class wine and cuisine — check out the historic Graycliff Hotel. The 18th-century colonial mansion turned luxury boutique hotel in downtown Nassau has hosted notable guests from Winston Churchill to The Beatles. But most visitors today come for the wine: The cellar houses the world’s third-largest collection of vino, with some 250,000 bottles from across the globe, including an 1865 Château Lafite and the 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein, one of the oldest and most expensive bottles of wine in the world. A tour and tasting are essential for oenophiles, or splurge on a two-hour wine luncheon, which adds a five-course seasonal meal paired with wines. Still hungry? The onsite chocolatier offers factory tours and chocolate-making classes. To finish, stop by the Graycliff Cigar Company to watch master torcedores at work or take a cigar rolling lesson yourself. Those staying overnight can retreat to one of the 20 rooms, whose antique furnishings exude old-world charm and offer views of the hotel’s gardens and the beautiful blue-tiled pool.
5. Shop for authentic, hand-made souvenirs.
Don’t settle for cheesy tee-shirts or overpriced snowglobes. The Nassau Straw Market, while touristy, is a good source for locally made wood carvings and conch shell jewelry as well as hand-woven straw hats, bags, and dolls. Take a little time to hunt and peck for hidden treasures (don’t be afraid to barter, either!). The rest of Bay Street is a hodgepodge of big-name luxury brands, duty-free watches and jewelry, and more of those cheesy tee-shirts — with one exception: A. Baker & Sons. A traditional haberdashery that dates to 1894, it feels like a trip back in time, with items like specialty bibs, lace doilies, and suspenders — plus fedoras and traditionally styled clothing for ladies and gentlemen. Bahama Hand Prints, with several Nassau locations, is a great source for preppy-ish, beach-inspired clothes and accessories — dresses and sarongs, pillows and tea towels — all made with colorful hand-printed fabrics with tropical motifs. A bit further east, Craft Cottage, located on the grounds of the contemporary art gallery Doongalik Studios, sells eclectic jewelry, bath products, hand-painted glassware, and more — all made by local artisans.
6. Snag a serene spot in the sand.
Spoiler alert: Nassau has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and astonishingly clear blue water. Let the crowds jostle for space at Cable Beach and Junkanoo Beach, and venture off the beaten path to discover some unspoiled — and virtually uncrowded — stretches of coast. Low-key Saunders Beach, near Goodman’s Bay (about a 15-minute drive from the cruise terminal), is known to locals for its calm, clear waters ideal for swimming, but remains undiscovered by the masses. Cave Beach, about 25 minutes from the terminal, feels like your own slice of paradise: a crescent-shaped sliver of sand edged by otherworldly limestone caves. Love Beach, on the island's northern side, is a favorite for snorkeling: Nearly 40 acres of protected coral reefs — thronged by angelfish, striped parrotfish, and sea urchins — beckon right offshore; rent snorkel gear (along with lounge chairs and umbrellas) from Nirvana Beach Bar. You’re unlikely to spot a shark at Jaws Beach, located in Clifton Heritage National Park: Rather, it served as a location for 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge (1987). In fact, the protected, mostly untouched beach has shallow waters that are perfect for families; post-beach, take a scenic hike on one of the park’s winding trails.
7. See where British (and American) history was made.
Nassau, founded by the British in 1670, is rich in fascinating historic sites — which make for an ideal way to take a break from the beach. Three centuries-old make for fun exploring, especially for kids. The largest, Fort Charlotte, dates to 1787 and features 42 cannons plus postcard-worthy views of the harbor and Paradise Island. Fort Fincastle, built to defend the island from Spanish invaders, is located at the city’s highest point. It’s best known for the Queen’s Staircase, 66 steps that were hand-carved out of solid limestone by hundreds of slaves over 15 years. (The landmark was named for Queen Victoria, who abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1837.) Fort Montagu, the island’s oldest, was built in 1741; it was the site of the U.S. Marine Corps’ first battle in the Revolutionary War, back in 1776.
8. Stroll through enchanting gardens.
The tropical flora and fauna of the Bahamas are on colorful display in several gardens across New Providence island. The Retreat Garden deserves its name: Despite being just a 10-minute stroll from the cruise port, the 11-acre private estate turned botanical garden feels worlds away from the crowds. Meandering pathways lead past tranquil ponds, babbling streams, beautiful blooms, and more than 90 species of palms from as far away as Madagascar and Indonesia (open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only). Part zoo, part wildlife conservation center, part garden, Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Centre is abundant with orchids, bougainvillea, and hibiscus — plus tropical trees heavy with mangoes, breadfruit, coconut, and sapodillas. Parrots, swans, macaws, furry rodents called hutias, and African servals (a wild cat) are in residence; don’t miss the thrice-daily flamingo shows. Finally, the 18-acre Nassau Botanical Gardens is a tranquil oasis with more than 600 species of tropical flora, including the yellow elder, the country’s national flower.
9. Drink and dine alfresco — and admire sweeping ocean vistas.
While many of Nassau’s waterfront bars and restaurants are busy with out-of-towners and/or located in big resorts, travelers can also find a less-sceney, more authentic (and usually less expensive) way to sip a cool drink and have some local cuisine with a view of the ocean. Upscale Sunset Beach Club is directly across from the water on the western end of Nassau, a great perch for unwinding with a glass of rosé sangria or a frozen cocktail and a dish of shrimp and lobster ceviche. Blue Sail serves up Bahama Mamas, Goombay Smashes, and other local specialties on its open-air terrace on Sandyport Beach; the extensive food menu includes everything from pizza to sushi, to a handful of vegan eats like lentil burgers and quinoa salads.