Popular Antigua Shore Excursions
Public Market Complex: In the morning, check out the goods at the junction of Market Street, Valley Road and All Saints Road, to the south (or right, if you've just gotten off a ship) of Heritage and Redcliffe Quays; take the right-hand fork at the striking monument of first Antiguan Prime Minister V.C. Bird. There's a separate fish market, then farther along you'll find a hall selling fresh produce. Farmers fill the bins by 5 a.m. with the bounty from Antigua and surrounding islands. Ask for one of Antigua's small "black" pineapples (they're actually dark green when ripe). Next to the fruit market is the small crafts market with beaded and shell jewelry, leather sandals and other goods. Unlike many markets, where crafts are just resold, artisans work there.
Historic Nelson's Dockyard: The only continuously working Georgian-era dockyard in the world is located in English Harbour, a natural "hurricane hole." Nelson's Dockyard was a major repair port for the British Royal Navy as far back as the early 18th century. Architectural remnants of the dockyard and its buildings rest side by side with impressive sailboats and yachts visiting from around the globe. The idyllic site is home to boutique hotels, restaurants, shops, galleries and a museum, all in tastefully repurposed historic structures. Placards describe how the buildings were originally used and provide a picture of life in the dockyard's heyday, when British naval legend Horatio Nelson was stationed there (it wasn't named after him until modern times, though). From St. John's, you have to cross the island to reach the dockyard; allow 30 minutes by taxi. You can negotiate with your driver to wait or grab another cab when you're ready to leave. The No. 17 bus also will get you there and back from downtown St. John's (see Getting Around).
The Dockyard Museum: Located in the naval officers' quarters, this is a fascinating collection of artifacts and memorabilia from throughout Antigua's history. You'll learn about the life of sailors, including the importance of their daily rum ration; the various dockyard jobs; sneaky ways women had of getting into the dockyard (they were banned, aside from the six wives allowed per 100 men); the fascinating life of Horatio Nelson; and the island's sugar economy. Don't miss the signboard with a list of rules, such as the one stating wives and families "are not to be allowed to straggle about the yard or to be on shore therein at improper hours." (268-460-1379; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission included with Nelson's Dockyard ticket)
Shirley Heights: From Nelson's Dockyard, take a taxi up the hill to the ruins of the former lookout fort of the Royal Navy. You can have lunch while taking in the most spectacular vista in Antigua -- a panoramic view of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour. Nearby, the Dow's Hill Interpretation Centre offers a multimedia show and a viewing platform to admire the vista. (268-481-5045; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission included with Nelson's Dockyard ticket)
Betty's Hope: This partially restored 17th-century sugar plantation offers a glimpse at what a working plantation was like in colonial times. You'll see ongoing restoration and archeological digs. A visitor center, housed in a former storeroom, features a small museum of estate plans, pictures and maps. The site is best visited with a guide who can interpret the buildings and help explain how the site functioned -- including the history of the slaves who toiled there. (Pares Village road; 268-773-1630; open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
Take a Hike: Stretch your legs and get some great views. A number of trails can be found around English Harbor, some of which lead you along beaches and up to Shirley Heights -- such as Carpenters Rock Trail.
Harmony Hall: For a taste of Italy in Antigua, head across the island (about a 45-minute drive) to this Italian-owned hotel, art gallery, bar and restaurant. Harmony Hall is partially housed in the buildings of an old sugar mill, and the gallery features local artists, as well as a selection of Italy's Deruta pottery. The restaurant spices up Italian fare with a Caribbean flair. Enjoy panoramic views, a small sandy beach and catch a boat to uninhabited Green Island for swimming and snorkeling. (Brown's Bay at Nonsuch Bay, near Freetown; 268-460-4120; lunch 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily; reservations strongly recommended)
Barbuda: Hop onboard a catamaran for a day trip to Antigua's sister island. Barbuda is 28 miles from Antigua, and it's about a 90-minute trip each way (though rough seas can extend the journey). Barbuda is famous for its unspoiled beaches and frigate bird sanctuary. Ferries only make the roundtrip once per day (with no sailings on Mondays or Wednesdays), so be sure the schedule is a fit with your ship's all-aboard time.
Best for Peace and Quiet: Arguably the most beautiful beach on the island, Valley Church Beach has white sand, sparkling clear water and just one beach bar. The shallow slope also makes it good for children. It's located south of Jolly Harbour, off Valley Road (look for a sign advertising the Nest), about 20 minutes from St. John's.
Best for Hanging with Locals: Pigeon Point Beach, near English Harbour, has showers, restrooms, a playground and a beach bar serving casual food. It's also not a bad spot for snorkeling. No wonder residents like to hang there.
Best for Active Sports: Jabberwock Beach is a great place for wind surfing and kite surfing; wind conditions always seem to be ideal, and lessons are available. Or just lie on the beautiful mile-long strip of white sand and watch the aerial acrobatics of those surfers.
Best for a Lively Scene: If you like your beaches complete with restaurants, bars, resorts and hair-braiders, Dickenson Bay is your spot. It's about 15 minutes north of St. John's.