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The Americas & Caribbean

Bishops’ Residenz

About Antigua & Barbuda

Boasting a rich past as a naval outpost of the Royal Crown, the nation of Antigua & Barbuda is blessed with a privileged location in the Eastern Caribbean Sea. Turquoise, crystalline waters bathe pristine shores while its natural harbors host sailboats and yachts. The country is composed of a multitude of islands; Antigua and Barbuda are the largest.

When Christopher Columbus sailed past in 1493, the islands were already populated by the Carib people. He named the largest island after a revered cathedral in Spain, Santa Maria la Antigua (St. Mary the Ancient). Europeans were slow to colonize the islands because fresh water was dangerously scarce. It wasn’t until 1632 that the British established themselves at St. John’s, today’s bustling capital.

Sir Christopher Codrington arrived in 1684 to try his luck at growing sugar in Antigua. He succeeded, and with the expansion of the sugar industry came the importation of African slaves. The laborers brought with them their own cultures. The majority of modern-day citizens are of African descent and the traditions of their ancestors remain a vital element in island life.

Perhaps the islands’ most famous resident hailing from London was Admiral Horatio Nelson, sent here to command the fleet in 1784. Nelson’s Dockyard, one of Antigua’s major sites, was named for him. The islands remained a part of the British Empire until 1981, when they gained their independence as part of the Commonwealth of Nations. While Queen Elizabeth II maintains a symbolic role, the country has a democratically elected prime minister.

Antigua & Barbuda Lifestyle and Culture

Centuries of British rule have left their mark on the culture of Antigua & Barbuda. It is one of the Caribbean’s most British nations. English is the country’s official language, and cricket is the most popular sport. Christianity is the dominant faith.

The sea has always played a central role in island life. Sailing is popular, and visitors can enjoy this rich maritime heritage during the annual Antigua Sailing Week. This world-famous event features yacht races that can be observed from shore or from spectator boats.

Locals say there are 365 beaches on Antigua - one for every day of the year. Guests looking to relax and enjoy the sea breeze will find plenty of opportunities to do so at scenic beaches like Fort James in St. John’s. The less-developed Barbuda also has a stunning coastline well worth visiting.

Antigua & Barbuda Sights and Landmarks

In the capital of St. John’s, the towers of St. John’s Cathedral rise above the city’s skyline, long a beacon for worshippers. The present cathedral was built in 1845; two previous structures fell after devastating earthquakes. The interior’s dark pine furnishings provide a compelling contrast to the white stone of the exterior.

The island’s English Harbor once hosted the ships of the British fleet. A key structure on the harbor was its dockyard, now restored to its Georgian-era appearance. Nelson’s Dockyard, as it is called today, is the last remaining one of its kind still in use. These waters are frequented by luxury yachts, rather than by ships of war.

Sugar was the main cash crop on the island of Antigua. Visitors can still see the stone windmills that processed sugarcane in the 19th century. The finest example can be found at Betty’s Hope, the remnants of Sir Christopher Codrington’s plantation.

The island of Barbuda is sparsely populated and stands as a pristine example of a natural Caribbean ecosystem. The Frigate Bird Sanctuary is home to a diverse population of avian residents, and pink-sand beaches offer plenty of room to relax. Among the ruins dotting this lush landscape is Highland House, former home of the Codringtons. The British-built Martello Tower, too, provides a brief glimpse into the island’s colonial past.

Antigua & Barbuda Entertainment and Activities

First put to use in 1745, Nelson’s Dockyard is an important focal point of island history. Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded the British fleet from here. Long after his death, the dockyard was abandoned in 1889 and today is a restored historical museum. Nearby, ascend to Shirley Heights, where remains of an 18th-century fortress provide magnificent views and fascinating insight into the past might of the British. Closer to St. John’s, you might visit Fort James; standing guard at the harbor entrance, it was built by the British in the 18th century.

Step into the old colonial St. John’s Court House to view artifacts from the island’s history, including a life-sized Arawak house and colonial sugar plantation models. The host building was built in 1747 and is the island’s oldest structure still in use. At the Museum of Marine Art, view a collection of 10,000 seashells and recovered items from various English shipwrecks.

Antigua & Barbuda Restaurants and Shopping

Seafood features heavily in the local cuisine of Antigua & Barbuda; cod and lobster are favorites. Rice, corn and sweet potatoes are also popular. However, outside culinary influences have brought diversity to the diets of many islanders. Visitors will find opportunities to sample local dishes such as ducana, a dumpling containing sweet potatoes, sugar, coconut milk and other delicious ingredients.

For a real local experience, stop by Papa Zouk in St. John’s, a Creole establishment where Antiguans flock for fish soup and most any flavor of rum you can imagine. For a more upscale experience, head out of St. John’s to Dutchman’s Bay and Cecilia’s High Point Café. Amid the lush setting, savor carefully prepared eclectic cuisine.

The streets of St. John’s are home to high-end boutiques, fine restaurants and shopping centers. Head to Redcliffe Quay on the water’s edge to browse shops and galleries tastefully linked by courtyards and manicured pathways amid restored 19th-century buildings. Should you visit on Friday or Saturday, browse the Public Market for limes, mangoes, bananas and some local produce you’d likely never find back home. Peruse craft stalls, interact with locals and enjoy the Antiguan way of life.