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Food stall in Dickenson Bay, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Dickenson Bay, one of the beaches in Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

6 Best Reasons to Get Off Your Cruise Ship in Antigua

Food stall in Dickenson Bay, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Dickenson Bay, one of the beaches in Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Jorge Oliver

Last updated
Apr 26, 2024

Read time
5 min read

Located in the heart of the Lesser Antilles, the island of Antigua is an increasingly popular stopover for Eastern Caribbean cruises as well as an occasional embarkation/disembarkation port for many a Caribbean itinerary.

From stunning beaches to duty-free shopping, the 108-square-mile island offers all the major attractions commonly associated with Caribbean destinations. But Antigua is also home to many unique highlights that set it apart from neighboring islands and warrant repeated visits.

Here are Cruise Critic’s top reasons to get off your cruise ship and go ashore in Antigua.

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1. Discover St. Johns Beyond the Duty-Free Shops

View of St. John's, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
St. John's is the capital city and main cruise port in Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

If your cruise is calling in Antigua, chances are you’ll be docking on the island’s biggest port and capital city: St. John’s (not to be confused with St. John in the nearby US Virgin Islands or St. John’s all the way in Newfoundland, Canada). The Antiguan capital’s most obvious attraction is Heritage Quay Complex, where you’ll find a smattering of duty-free shops and restaurants.

But venturing beyond the confines of Heritage Quay yields rewards for curious travelers, who get to experience a real glimpse of Antiguan culture.

One obvious attraction is the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, showcasing the history of the dual island nation. The building itself is a relic; the museum is housed in the former Court House, which dates to 1747 and is the city’s oldest structure still in use. Inside you’ll find a comprehensive collection of exhibits tracing the island’s history, ranging from artifacts of the native Arawak culture to the cricket bat of Sir Vivian Richards, Antigua’s most famous athlete.


St. John's Cathedral, Anglican church in St. John's, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
St. John's Cathedral is one of the architectural highlights in St. John's, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

St. Johns Cathedral is another standout of the Antiguan capital. Visible from just about anywhere thanks to its promontory location, the building is a fine example of Baroque architecture. The present Anglican cathedral was built in 1845, with previous incarnations dating all the way back to 1683.

Closer to the pier, the Public Market Complex at the end of the aptly named Market Street is another highlight of St. Johns. This site is a bustling hotbed of activity, and the most authentic spot to get a heaping dose of local Antiguan and West Indian culture. Keep your eyes peeled and tastebuds ready for local produce like sorrel (hibiscus), black pineapple (not quite black but exceptionally sweet) and sugar apples, a fruit similar to the soursop.

2. Savor Antigua’s Creole Cuisine

Dish with Antiguan cuisine staples (Photo: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism)
Antiguan cuisine (Photo: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism)

Speaking of food, another great reason to venture beyond the confines of St. Johns’ cruise port is to sink your teeth into the island’s rich culinary heritage. Antigua’s cuisine is a vibrant melting pot of cultures and influences ranging from West Africa, Britain and Western Europe to the Middle East, China and India. Must-try dishes include ducana, Antigua’s answer to tamales; goatwater, a stew that’s surprisingly typically served for breakfast; or johnnycakes, fried cornmeal dumplings that can accompany any meal.

If you must settle for only one, go for the national dish: fungee and pepperpot. The former ingredient has nothing to do with mushrooms; instead, it’s a cornmeal and okra mash similar to polenta, while pepperpot is a hearty vegetable and meat stew.

In the drinks department, you can’t go wrong with a rum cocktail, preferably prepared with locally-produced brands like Cavalier or English Harbour.

3. Visit a Beach… or All 365 of Them

Antigua (Photo: BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock)
Antigua (Photo: BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock) (Photo:loca4motion/Shutterstock)

This one may seem all too obvious, given that beaches are among the most popular reasons to visit the Caribbean. But even in this crowded category, Antigua stands practically on a league of its own. Thanks to its irregularly-shaped coastline that adds up to 54 miles, the island claims to offer 365 beaches – one for every day of the year. We’re not sure if that’s an accurate number, but there’s no doubt you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Some of the highest-rated beaches in Antigua include Dickenson Bay, Ffryes Beach, Hermitage Bay, Hawksbill Bay and Jolly Beach. But venture beyond this list to find an option that best suits your needs, from long stretches of powdery sand to tiny, tucked away coves.

4. Travel Back in Time by Visiting Antigua’s Forts

Cannons in Fort James, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
The ruins of Fort James sit at the entrance of St. John's Harbour, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

While Antigua lacks the massive fortifications of other Caribbean destinations like San Juan, Cartagena, or neighboring St. Kitts, the island still held enormous strategic importance during colonial times. Proof is found in the numerous forts and batteries that dot the coastline – such as Fort James, Fort Barrington, Fort George and Fort Berkeley – that were tactically positioned to defend England’s colonial interests.

Time and neglect has taken a toll on most of these sites. But the ruins offer a different dimension to these relics of the past, and you can embark on unique excursions – like Segway tours or horseback riding trips – to discover Antigua’s forts.

5. Check out Nelson’s Dockyard and Shirley Heights

Maritime museum in Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)
Nelson's Dockyard in the southern coast of Antigua (Photo: Jorge Oliver)

If Antigua’s once mighty forts have succumbed to a haunting state of disrepair, Nelson’s Dockyard on the island’s southern coast represents the opposite end of the spectrum. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that began life as a naval ship repair station, this 18th century open-air museum has been lovingly restored to a mixed-use attraction that boasts a museum, hotels, restaurants, shops and a marina. In fact, the site is considered the world’s only continuously-working Georgian Era dockyard.

Just outside Nelson’s Dockyard in the Shekerley Mountain’s you’ll find Shirley Heights, another worthwhile attraction. The panoramic views alone atop the 490-ft hill are worth the trek. But the site’s Dow’s Hill Interpretation Center also offers a robust exhibit where you can learn more about the history of Antigua.

6. Visit Barbuda, Antigua’s Sister Island

Pink sand beach in Barbuda (Photo: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism)
Barbuda's famous pink sand beach (Photo: Antigua and Barbuda Tourism)

Just 30 miles north of Antigua lies Barbuda, the other half of this dual-island Caribbean nation. And while Antigua may seem like a laid-back destination, it feels downright frantic when compared to Barbuda’s sleepy pace.

Smaller and sparsely populated (only 1,500 people call Barbuda home), this island is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Barbuda’s main claim to fame is its Pink Sand Beach, a coral-hued stretch of coastline that isn’t replicated in any of Antigua’s 365 beaches.

Getting to Barbuda requires a ferry, so this option may only be feasible if your ship spends more than a day in Antigua or if you’re embarking or disembarking on the island and can add a pre- or post-cruise stay to your visit.

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