Nassau is beloved by cruisers for its white sandy beaches, which makes it stand out from other Caribbean destinations. Known for having the world’s third largest barrier reef, this tropical island is truly a sea lover’s dream. And while one of the top attractions in Nassau is the iconic Atlantis Resort, there are so many more things to do in Nassau, Bahamas that make it worth getting off the ship in port.
Nassau is the capital of a tiny island in the Bahamas, about 100 miles east of Florida. It’s known for being a slice of paradise—but our guess is you probably already knew that! What you might not be aware of is that Nassau is a major port and center for international banking, tourism and commerce.
The first known settlers in the Bahamas were the Taino (later known as the Lucayans) who set out from Hispaniola and Cuba to the Bahamas in dugout canoes around 700 AD; they were later joined by a group of Bermudians in 1666 before the island started gaining the interest of Britain.
In 1706 Nassau was taken over by pirates who began using it as a base for their operations; the island was a perfect cover to ambush passing merchant ships, and the waters were well suited to the pirates’ nimble boats. By 1713 the Bahamas had become a pirate haven known as New Providence with more than 1,000 pirates in residence who proclaimed the island a pirate republic. The British quickly put a stop to that and changed the city’s name to Nassau.
Nassau continued to change hands between the United States, Spain, and Britain before reverting back to the inhabitants for self governance. Slave revolts were common, and later there was a tug of war between the islands’ political parties. Finally, the formal Commonwealth of the Bahamas was established in 1973.
While the city has a remarkable and storied history behind it, nowadays it’s known for being a relaxing vacation spot with plenty of beaches and things to do.
Fun Facts About Nassau and the Bahamas
- Some of the most famous pirates called Nassau home, including Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, Anne Bonny, Calico Jack Rackham, and the notorious Blackbeard (Edward Teach)
- Nassau prospered with the Prohibition in the United States (1920s – 1930s)
- Nassau has also prospered from the movie industry over the years: Casino Royale, Pirates of the Caribbean, Into the Deep, and many more movies have been filmed here
- The town’s Public Library and Museum is housed in a former colonial prison, with the prison cells now holding charts, books, and artifacts instead of prisoners
- The waters around Nassau are so crystal clear that it’s possible to see the sea floor up to 200 feet below
When to Visit?
If you’re looking for hot weather and lots of sunshine, then June through September is a good time to go. Keep in mind this is also hurricane season, so if you’re not interested in dodging storms, then plan to visit another time. Also, it is frequently humid.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then January through April is your best bet. It might get a little chilly at times, but the shorter lines and smaller crowds may be worth it.
Nassau and some of its famed beaches are a short walk from port. If you want to further your explorations, then cars, scooters, and bicycles are available to rent. Taxis are an easier way to get around, but are not metered — so you’ll need to settle on the price beforehand. Jitneys are a better alternative; these small, private buses are a cheap way to get around the island.
What You Can’t Miss While in Nassau
What to do while in Nassau, Bahamas? We have some ideas!
For the Beach Bum
When you think of the Bahamas, what comes to mind? If you said the beaches, you are in good company — and the best beaches in Nassau are definitely worth the trip.
Saunders Beach, located on Paradise Island, is known for its golden sand, swaying palm trees, and clear waters. It is also a hot spot for celebrities. Stretch out on the sand and listen to the waves or hit the water for some swimming or snorkeling.
Cable Beach, with two miles of coastline anchored by some of Nassau’s luxury resorts such as the Bahia Mar, is the perfect place for those who love water sports. Need a break from the sun and fun? There are a variety of shops and restaurants close by.
Junkanoo Beach is close to the port and famous for its mangroves, which stretch across the sands to kiss the sea. A favorite of visitors and locals alike, this quiet beach has colorful tiki stalls with ice-cold cocktails and mouth watering Bahamian cuisine.
Cabbage Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Nassau, thanks to its pearly white sand and clear blue water. It is also steps away from the island’s more tony resorts, including Atlantis Resort and the Four Seasons Ocean Club. Take note that the water can be a little rougher here.
For the History Lover
A walking tour is a great way to see a lot of a city and learn its history and culture, and Nassau is a perfect place to do this! There are many important buildings and landmarks to see, such as:
Fort Fincastle — This historic fort was built by the British in 1793 to protect the capital of Nassau before later serving as a lighthouse. While here, walk up the Queens Staircase; 66 limestone steps high, this staircase carved out of a limestone wall by slaves was named in honor of Queen Victoria, and connects the fort to the city.
Fort Charlotte — this fort is the largest one on the island, yet was never used in battle. Take a tour and see its moat, dungeons, and 42 cannons as you learn about what life was like for soldiers here in the 18th century.
The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas —nestled inside an 1860s-era mansion is a stunning collection of Bahamian and expat artwork. Here you will find paintings, sculptures, photography and the like from such notables as Amos Ferguson and Winslow Homer. There is a small gift shop onsite as well.
Pompey Museum — this museum inside the historic Vendue House sits on the site where slaves were sold right along with other commodities. Named after a slave who led one of the slave uprisings, this museum has acclaimed exhibitions detailing this period in the Bahamas.
Parliament Square — this iconic 19th century square in the heart of downtown is flanked by the striking pink Colonial style Senate Building, House of Assembly, and the Supreme Court of the Bahamas. You will also find a marble statue of Queen Victoria.
For the Thrill Seeker
Grab your snorkeling gear and get ready to see the vibrant corals and colorful tropical fish just below the water’s surface as you explore the spectacular reefs. On the way you’ll enjoy a breezy Catamaran sail while your boat captain takes you to the best spots of the day.
Free swim with the sharks, then observe a wild shark feeding as you kneel in wonder on the ocean floor. Watch in amazement as the sharks swim up and around thisclose to you! This dive requires two-tank certification to join in, and is well worth it. For shark lovers, it doesn’t get any better than this!
For the Lovers
Let’s face it: Nassau is full of charming places to share with your special someone. Idyllic beaches, pampering treatments, and romantic dinners are just the beginning. Click here for some fun ideas.
For the Families
At the interactive Dolphin Encounter you and your kids will have the chance to go nose-to-nose with a Bottlenose Dolphin. Learn about these intelligent mammals and how they are trained, then enter the sunken platform in waist-high water to pet a dolphin and maybe even receive a kiss!
Board a pirate ship and make like Blackbeard as you ply the waters and hear pirate tales. You will see the forts that protected the island from you scalawags, then be treated to an interactive pirate show.
Want to see tropical fish but not have to strap on snorkeling gear to do so? Not a problem! Climb aboard a glass bottom boat for a scenic harbor cruise like no other. You get to admire Nassau’s undersea water world while simultaneously enjoying a different view of the island’s landmarks and attractions from the water.
For the Foodie
Nassau is home to succulent seafood and an abundance of tropical flavors, especially pineapple. While in town, seek these delectables out:
- Conch fritters — crunchy, golden balls of fried battered conch (a type of mollusk) that are typically served with a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce
- Bahamian Fish Chowder — hearty potatoes and fish in a warm, creamy soup base
- Souse — this hot, spicy, soup-like dish is protein packed and a Bahamian breakfast staple
- Johnny Cake — a dense breakfast bread that is used to sop up souse (sometimes it can be slightly sweet)
- Pineapple Tart — a traditional dessert consisting of sweet pastry with caramelized pineapple on top
- Guava Duff — guava jelly sandwiched between two pieces of bread or cake
- Bahama Mama — a twist on the classic Daiquiri recipe, this cocktail adds coconut milk to make it extra rich
- Goombay Smash — this rum-based cocktail is loaded with tropical fruits like mango, papaya, and pineapple juice, and is popular with locals and visitors alike
Get a taste of these favorites — and more — with a walking cuisine tour. Stroll down Nassau’s tree lined streets with stops at various eateries to get a first-hand taste and feel of the island’s food and culture. Along the way your guide will make sure you are in on the latest festivals and social gossip in the city.
Things to Do In or Near Nassau, Bahamas’ Port
You don’t have to go far from the port to experience the fun and flavor that Nassau has to offer! Consider these options:
Pirates of Nassau — this family-friendly museum with its interactive exhibits including a full-size pirate ship is a great introduction to the history behind the island’s famous swashbucklers.
Straw Market — this buzzy waterside market is the perfect place for you to practice your bargaining skills and get great deals on handcrafted items. From straw hats and wood carvings to tee shirts and trinkets, you are sure to find some great souvenirs here.
John Watling’s Distillery — learn the art of distilling spirits, then sample a variety of delicious small-batch rums as you gaze out over the harbor. This distillery is housed in the popular Buena Vista Estate — a two-acre venue with lush landscaping, a courtyard, a tavern, and a long reservation list for weddings and other events.
Local Tips & Tricks
- Locals drive on the left side of the road in Nassau
- Driving around and parking can be a challenge with all the detours and construction going on
- The official currency is the Bahamian dollar, however US dollars are accepted in most places
- There are many places to access free wifi while on the island
- Plan to have a little cash on you, as credit cards are not accepted in some places
- English is the official — and primary — language here, although most residents speak more than one language
- The drinking age in Nassau is 21, and alcohol is not permitted on the street or at the beach
- The tap water in generally safe — that being said, if your stomach gets sensitive when you travel, be safe by sticking with bottled water
- When choosing a beach, check the nearby hotels and resorts — some sell Day Passes while others allow you to use your hotel points to access the facilities and amenities. As a last resort, you might be able to reserve a room for the day if you really want to hang out at the beach in comfort and style
What to Pack
As with many island locales, plan on wearing lightweight, loose clothing. Add in a lightweight jacket or long sleeve shirt for the cooler nights in the fall or winter. Good walking shoes are a must if you want to do a lot of exploring on foot.
The Bahamas tend to be conservative, so plan on dressing modestly. Save the swimsuits, short shorts, and tank tops for the beach and surrounding area. Opt for Bermuda shorts or a nice sundress around town and you won’t go wrong.
And, of course, bring your camera, sunglasses, a hat, and plenty of reef-safe sunscreen.
Whether you are new to Nassau or a repeat visitor, this island is like the gift that keeps on giving — there is always something new to do or see! It’s no wonder Nassau is a favorite among cruise ports. Let us help you make your (next) visit one to remember.