To help support the expenses of hosting this blog, some of the links on this website are “affiliate links.” This means that, if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive a small commission from the seller; there is no added cost to you.
This Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide (Nassau Purple Guide) provides information about the best things to do on a cruise to Nassau and ensures that you will be Making Memorable Moments on a relaxing vacation in Nassau.
The information on this page and much more (google maps locations, more reviews, website links, etc.) is available in our Cruising the Caribbean Guide.
Nassau is the capital of The Bahamas and it is located on the island of New Providence in the Caribbean. The total population of The Bahamas is approx. 391,000 and about 274,400 of those live in Nassau.
Nassau was founded in 1670 by the British under the name Charles Town. In its early years, there were frequent battles with the Spanish and one of them led to Charles Town being burned to the ground in 1684. After it was rebuilt in 1695, it was renamed to Nassau in honor of the House of Nassau to which the king of England, Ireland and Scotland at that time, King William III (also know of King William of Orange) belonged to. Nassau is a city in Germany.
Lacking an effective government, the city became a pirate stronghold from 1713-1718. It is said that at one time there were more than 1,000 pirates in town while there were about 100 regular non-pirate people. Notable pirates that lived in Nassau were: Edward Teach ("Blackbeard"), John Rackham (“Calico Jack”), Anne Bonny and Mary Read (two of the most famous female pirates in history), Thomas Barrow (self-declared "Governor of New Providence"), Charles Vane and Benjamin Hornigold.
Nassau has a tropical climate. The wet season runs from May through October and the dry season from November through April. Here is an over view of the average temperatures and rainfall that you can expect:
Junkanoo Beach can be easily reached from the cruise port on foot in just 10 minutes or by taxi.
Due to its proximity to the cruise port, you will share this beach with many other cruise passengers. Mornings are often OK, but afternoons can get real busy especially when 2 or more cruise ships are in port.
The beach has white sand and turquoise water. It is good for swimming, but not for snorkeling. There are multiple food vendors and some restaurants nearby.
Nassau is a popular cruise port. Please also check out Rudy's Cruise Guide for Berginners & Others.
Nassau offers a large amount of activities – some are free and others are paid excursions. My Makring memorable Moments favorites are:
There are, of course, many more activities. The list below contains activities that are tailored for cruise ship passengers. Be advised that cruise lines and third party tour companies typically bundle several activities for their excursions/tours:
Snorkeling, Diving and other Water Activities that may get you wet
Nassau has lots of beaches; not as many as the 365 beaches of Antigua, but more than you will likely ever visit.
While most beaches are too far away and you will need a taxi, Junkanoo Beach is an easy 10-15min walk from the cruise port. Click here for a map that shows you how you can walk to Junkanoo Beach.
This map shows where the beaches are located – the TOP 5 FREE BEACHES are shown in red with a yellow center.
1 = Junkanoo Beach
2 = Junkanoo beach (Western Esplande Beach) TOP 5 FREE BEACH
3 = Cruise Port (Prince George Wharf)
4 = Colonia Beach
5 = Paradise Beach
6 = Cove Beach
7 = Atlantis
8 = Cabbage Beach TOP 5 FREE BEACH
9 = Arawak Beach
10 = Smugglers Beach
11 = Paradise Island Beach
12 = Salt Cay/Blue Lagoon Beach TOP BEACH BUT WITH ADMISSION
13 = Montagu Beach
14 = Aqua Beach
15 = Winton Beach
16 = Yamacraw Beach
17 = Coral Harbour Beach
18 = Adelaide Beach
19 = South Ocean
20 = Jaw's Beach
21 = Captain's Beach
22 = Love Beach TOP 5 FREE BEACH
23 = Cable Beach TOP 5 FREE BEACH
24 = Goodman's Bay Beach
25 = Saunder's Beach TOP 5 FREE BEACH
For Pinterest users, here are pins that you can use:
Nassau has some of the best snorkeling that I have ever seen. There are many snorkeling tours that you can join. After reading reviews on how busy snorkeling on the large tours is and how little time you may spend in the water, we decided for a small third party tour operator (Blue Hole Watersports) on two different cruises and could not be happier. Our tour was only us, 6 other customers and the crew. We stopped at 2 different reefs and, as our group was so small, we got into and out of the water in no time, greatly extending our snorkel time compared to big boats with 50 or more passengers. On the way to the snorkeling sites, our tour boat drove by some of the gigantic mega yachts and our tour guides always had good stories to tell.
The main attractions of Nassau can be seen on a self-guided walking tour. The tour outlines below will require you to walk for 2-3h or longer if you visit the fort of museum. You can shorten this tour by skipping some destinations which can easily be done as they are all fairly close to each other.
1 = Rawson Square
2 = Parliament Square
3 = Nassau Public Library and Museum
4 = Nassau General Post Office
5 = Queen's Staircase
6 = Fort Fincastle
7 = St. Andrew's Presbyterian Kirk
8 = Government House
9 = Graycliff Hotel
10 = St. Francis Xavier Cathedral
11 = British Colonial Hilton
12 = Christ Church Cathedral
13 = Straw Market
1. Rawson Square
This is the first square you will see when exiting the cruise port. Here you will find the Churchill Building which is used by the prime minister and some government ministries and the statue of Sir Milo Butler, the first governor of The Bahamas after its independence from Britain in 1973.
2. Parliament Square
Across from Rawson Square is Parliament Square. Here you can see the statue of young Queen Victoria and several Bahamian government office buildings, and the House of Assembly, which is the oldest governing body in continuous session in the Americas and the Bahamian Senate building.
South of Parliament Square you will see the Supreme Court building.
Bay Street, just off the cruise port, is Nassau’s main shopping street. You will find tons of souvenir, clothes, art stores and restaurants. Not as busy, but a main walk-though street to Junkanoo Beach and other attractions is Woodes Rodgers Walk which is the street that the cruise port is located on.
The Straw Market, a must-dee for souvenir and local art hunters, connects Woodes Rodgers Walk and Bay Street.
If you ask people what they think of first when they hear Nassau, most will likely tell you about the Atlantis resort with its iconic architecture and its mesmerizing bridge between the towers.
Some may also tell you that staying in the bridge costs you a mere US$15,000 per night with a 3 night minimum.
Yes, Atlantis is a fabulous hotel, but it is actually a lot more than this. First of all: it was built around the “Aquaventure”, a 154 acre (62 hectare) waterscape with pools, water slides, river rides and a Marine Habitat with 14 fresh- and saltwater lagoons with 8 million gallons of ocean water, more than 50,000 animals belonging to approx. 250 aquatic species. Here, you walk under or next to huge glass walls and see sharks, rays, barracudas, piranhas, eels, colorful tropical fish etc. in natural caves, coral formations and underwater ruins.
There are also a golf club, a Marina and Marina Village, and a variety of boat rides are offered for guests.
On top of all that, there is the 14 acre (6 hectar) Dolphin Cay, the first rehabilitation center in the Bahamas that provides care and rehabilitation to rescued dolphins, sea lions and rays.
Atlantis guests can get first-hand interactions and experiences with some of these animals. The dolphin encounters (in shallow water, by swimming and snorkeling, by paddle boarding and by kayak) are especially popular.
Can there be more? Absolutely!
There is fantastic beach relaxation, a casino, fine and casual dining, beautiful architecture inside and outside, and entertainment.
The multitude of different rooms and locations ensure that there is a room for every budget and not just the US$45,000 bridge for 3 nights.
3. Nassau Public Library and Museum
Built in 1797, this building used to be the Nassau jail. It was converted into the public library in 1873 and, what makes it real interesting is, it still contains small prison cells which are outfitted with books these days.
4. Nassau General Post Office
Are you collecting stamps? Then this is a good place for you to go and buy some colorful Bahamian stamps. When I went there, they had a fairly big collection of stamps, many of which I had never seen before and I purchased quite a few.
5. Queen's Staircase
This staircase is a landmark that is not really that impressive, but nevertheless it is something that many visitors have somehow heard about. It was built in 1793 by slaves who cut the 66 steps into the sandstone. It leads to Bennet's Hill and Fort Fincastle.
6. Fort Fincastle
Fort Fincastle was built in 1793 by Lord Dunmore (John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore), governor of The Bahamas, in the shape of a paddle-wheel steamer to protect Nassau from pirates. As no pirate attacks came, it was converted into a lighthouse and used as such until 1817, when the lighthouse at Paradise Island replaced it.
The tower rises 197 ft (60 m) above the sea and provides a panoramic view of Nassau and its harbor.
7. St. Andrew's Presbyterian Kirk
Simply called "the Kirk" by the locals, this church was originally built in 1810 but has been remodeled and enlarged several times. This church is notable for having the first non-Anglican/Episcopalian parishioners in the Bahamas.
8. Government House
The Government House is the official residence of the Bahamian governor-general who is the queen's representative to The Bahamas. Today, the prime minister is head of the government, so this position is mostly a ceremonial position.
9. Graycliff Hotel
This Georgian-style hotel was built in the 1720s and changed hands several times. In the 1920s it was run by Polly Leach who had connections to Al Capone. After it came under royal ownership, notable guests included Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
10. St. Francis Xavier Cathedral
Built in 1886, this was the first Catholic church in The Bahamas.
11. British Colonial Hilton
Built in 1923 on the site of Fort Nassau, it was the most famous hotel in the Bahamas until the Atlantis Resort was built. In 1999, it was purchased by the Hilton group.
You will most likely walk by it again should you plan to go to Junkanoo beach. Our snorkeling tours started in the back of the hotel and it was amazing to walk through this historic luxury hotel.
A notable fact is that the hotel was filming location for several James Bond movies.
12. Christ Church Anglican Cathedral
This Gothic Episcopal cathedral that you see today replaced a wooden church in 1754 using locally quarried limestone; it was modernized and expanded several times over the years. The limestone blocks are being held together for the most part only by their weight.
It is the “Mother Church” of all Anglican churches in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Other sites in Nassau
At 100 acres, Fort Charlotte is the largest fort in New providence island of the Bahamas. It sits on a hill overlooking the western end of the harbor and affords great views of Nassau, the harbor and nearby Paradise Island.
The fort was built in 1788 by Lord Dunmore, who named it after Queen Saharia Charlotte who was the wife of King George III. When you visit the fort, you can explore the moat, dungeons and underground passageways. None of the 42 cannons have ever been fired in any battle or war.
This is an interactive museum in the heart of Nassau's old town. It has interesting information for adults, but I believe it would be more interesting with older kids who are into pirates and reading the information provided. Plan to spend an hour here.
Built in the 18th century, likely before 1769, this building served as a place where traders could sell their goods at Public auctions. Besides selling cattle and imported goods, this was also a place where slaves were sold or auctioned off.
The house was converted into the port office in 1890 and has changd owners a couple of times. Modernization took place in 1913 and the second story was added. Nowadays, the building houses the Pompey Museum.
Pompey was a slave at Exuma who, in 1830, led a group of slaves to defied the plan to move them to Cat Island. Hiding in the bush, he and his followers stole a boat to petition the British governor to stop the move. While he did not make it to Nassau, the governor heard about it anyway and disallowed the transfer, making Pompey a hero upon his return.
This event is seen as a milestone in the Bahamian fight for emancipation in the Bahamas, which occurred in August 1838, by showing for the first time, that people could not be moved like property against their will.
This beach is located east of the resort area of Cable Beach. It is popular with visitors and locals. When we were there, we saw more locals than tourists and quite a few older cars parked there. Therev are now upgraded restrooms and changing rooms with showers.
The beach is lined with tropical trees and has beautiful views.
It is hard to believe, but in 1875, Charles King-Harman, the future governor of Cyprus, purchased this island which used to be known as Salt Cay from the British Crown for only £35. Since then, it has had multiple owners.
Salt cay is a relaxed beautiful island which seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of Nassau which is only 3 miles (5 km) away.
Here are some more photos taken from various places in Nassau:
13. Straw Market
The Straw Market connects Bay Street and Woodes Rodgers Walk and, due to its proximity to the cruise port, is popular with cruise ship passengers. You will still find straw products there, but the majority are all types of souvenirs and gifts manufactured elsewhere.