Explore Nassau on Foot
By Marcia Levin
When your cruise ship docks at Prince George Wharf in Nassau Harbor, get off the ship and explore this Bahamian city on your own instead of booking a shore excursion. For those who want to get a feel for Nassau and its history, the following self-guided walking tour will take a little more than two hours and will provide an overview of New Providence Island.
Water, sturdy walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen are necessary. Watch for traffic – Bahamians drive on the left – and be aware that Nassau’s sidewalks are often patched or broken and are rarely level.
Festival Place and Rawson Square
After disembarkation, all passengers are directed through colorful Festival Place at the end of the pier.
Upon exiting the complex, you will pass a hair-braiding pavilion. Turn left just past the pavilion into Festival Place’s patio.
Note the poignant statue of a Bahamian woman and child, indicating love and devotion of the country’s women who “sustained the nation” until Independence from Britain on July 10, 1973. The monument was dedicated in 1974.
Heading straight into Rawson Square (which is more oval than square), walkers will find two more statues. The first, on your left, is of Sir Milo Butler, the first Bahamian Prime Minister, serving from 1973 to 1979.
Facing Sir Milo – on the other side of the square – is a marble statue of Queen Victoria, erected in 1905.
Behind the Queen stands the nation’s most important buildings: the pink-and-white Houses of Parliament.
A right turn from the statue leads to the Lower House, where the Assembly meets. Next door is the Senate or Upper House. When the doors are open, peek inside at the portraits of Bahamian prime ministers, elected for five-year terms. The Bahamian Parliament is the third oldest in the British Commonwealth.
Continue straight ahead on Parliament Street to the Supreme Court building. Behind it is the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to those who died overseas in World Wars battles.
Just past the garden is the octagonal Nassau Public Library(242-322-4907), located between Bank Lane and Parliament Street on Shirley Street. It was built from 1798 to 1799 as a prison. The library offers Internet service.
Cross Shirley Street. The building on the left was originally the Royal Victoria hotel, a center of smuggling/bootlegging during the American Civil War. Fire destroyed it in 1991. The hotel’s garden boasts some of the oldest trees in the Bahamas.
Jacaranda, Queen's Staircase and Fort Fincastle
Staying on Parliament Street, look to the right at Jacaranda, home of the Duke of Windsor. The Duke became the Governor of the Bahamas after he abdicated as King of England. He held the post until the end of World War II. Built in 1840, it has been home to only eight families and is now owned by an heir of Sir Milo Butler.
Continue ahead on Parliament Street. Take a left on Shirley Street and then a right on Elizabeth Avenue to the 66-step Queen's Staircase. Slaves carved the stairs from rock. Two hundred men worked 16 years to complete them.
At the top, you will find Fort Fincastle, built in 1793 and shaped like an old-fashioned steamboat. This fort, one of several on the island, is shown at left.*
Nearby is the Water Tower, the highest point on the island at 123 feet tall and 216 feet above sea level.
Head back down the stairs and turn left through Princess Margaret Hospital’s parking lot, moving west on East Hill Street. Bear right onto Peck Slope, heading back toward the port.
Look left to Government House at the top of Peck Slope. It is home to the Queen’s representative in the Bahamas. The house sits on 10 acres and is open to the public every second Saturday of the month. Changing of the guard takes place at 10 a.m. daily.
Cross Princes Street, and then turn right onto Market Street. Wait for the light. On the right hand corner is St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, which dates to 1810. It boasts a storied past, used both by the Church of England and later by the Church of Scotland.
Continuing on Market Street toward the port, you’ll come to Balcony House (242-326-2566) on Market Street at Trinity Place is the oldest house on the island. It was built of cedar pine and wood from old shipwrecks. It is temporarily closed, with no reopening date set.
Stroll further along on Market Street, and turn left at King Street. Cross Cumberland Street to the venerable British Colonial Hotel, (242-322-3301 or www.hilton.com), No. 1 Bay St.. Built on the site first occupied by Fort Nassau, it’s a great spot to stop for a cold drink.
Just head for the snack bar. Then exit the hotel by the side door – the port will be on your left – and meander back to the ship by way of shopper-friendly Bay Street.
Don’t miss the touristy Straw Market. The original burned down in 2001. This one is temporary, but it’s a great place to bargain for straw goods, tee-shirts, gifts and tacky souvenirs.
Next door is the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation (242-326-2566).
On this historic site sales were auctioned in the 18th century Vendue House. The house is seen to the left.*
Continue eastward along Bay Street, where shops such as John Bull (242-302-2800), Solomon’s Mine (242-356-5920 or www.solomons-mines.com), Pipe of Peace (242-322-3908) and Beauty Spot (242-325-3649) have been selling fragrances, liquors, and jewelry and watches to visitors for 50 years.
At Royal Palm Trading Company, check out the Androsia fabrics: shirts, cover-ups, hats, bags and dresses in uniquely Bahamian prints.
Lunchtime? Try Athena Café (242-326-1296), on the second floor of the building at Bay Street and Charlotte Corner. Mix cultures with conch fritters and a traditional Greek salad.
Exiting the restaurant, turn right at Charlotte Corner and walk toward the cruise dock.
Turn right at Woodes Rogers Walk, and turn right again into the Nassau International Bazaar. Throughout this walking tour, you'll have a chance to buy Bahamian handicrafts and souvenirs at many stops along the way, like this ground stand at right.*
You’ll find Internet access at the second-floor Iguana Café (242-322-3119) so you might check your e-mail (at a cheaper rate than many vessels charge) before heading back to the ship.
Want more Nassau options?
Contact 800-BAHAMAS or 242-302-2000. Or, visit www.bahamas.com.
Marcia Levin is a travel writer based in South Florida. She specializes in writing about Florida, the Caribbean and cruising. She is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Bahamas Office of Tourism. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.