Flour-soft white sands, leafy green palm trees swaying gently in the Caribbean breeze, pastel-hued chattel houses sitting pretty on the roadside. Barbados might not be the most perfect island paradise on this incredible earth, but it comes pretty close if you know where to look. Along with its undeniable beauty, this island offers untold riches in the form of hidden historic treasures and buckets of soul, from its food to its people. One of the absolute best things you can do is explore it, in all its dilapidated, natural beauty – the real Barbados sits outside the picture-perfect tourist resorts, though I can promise you’ll find picture perfection elsewhere.
Hire a car for the day and set off clockwise. Most of the interesting sights can be seen with just a slight detour off the main road that runs around the outside of the island – here’s the road trip we took, starting out from our hotel on the south coast, near the St Lawrence Gap. Our highlights of the trip were most definitely the Harrison Point Lighthouse, Animal Flower Cave and Cherry Tree Hill – take a look below to check out my ultimate Barbados road trip!
(Here’s the short version: Bridgetown – Paynes Bay – Speightstown – Harrison’s Point Lighthouse – Animal Flower Cave – North Point Surf Resort – St Nicholas Abbey – Cherry Tree Hill – Morgan Lewis Windmill – Bathsheba – Codrington College – Cranes Beach – Foursquare Rum Distillery / Oistins.)
Bridgetown – Paynes Bay driving time: 15 minutes
This little itinerary starts just north of Bridgetown, on the jaw-dropping west coast, arguably home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the island, and some of the most opulent resorts, too. Cruise up the coastal road and admire those spectacular sands and twinkling waters. You could stop off and take a wander along Paynes Bay or Sandy Lane beach, then hop back in the car and carry on north (be sure to take a sneaky peek at Rihanna’s house as you drive past – One Sandy Lane).
Paynes Bay – Speightstown driving time: 20 minutes
Up next on the list is Speightstown. Though it might seem a little run down at first glance, this town has a lot of character and a lot of history. Colonial buildings rub shoulders with more modern architecture, and you’ll see fisherman unloading their daily catch, or fishing off the pier, which has a dilapidated charm that you’ll see permeating the island. Enjoy the sea views from the boardwalk, and stop off at the Speightstown Mural; a homage to the beauty of Barbados.
Speightstown – Harrison’s Point Lighthouse driving time: 15 minutes
Keep cruising north, in the direction of Harrison’s Point Lighthouse. This is one spot you won’t find on most of the maps, but it’s a really cool sight – if a little tricky to get to. You’ll drive onto a single track road, and past what we assumed was some kind of military training area (we drove into it accidentally, but it was full of abandoned buildings so we figured we were heading the wrong way). The road you want is a dirt track, which definitely doesn’t look like the right way but it is, promise! Since it’s completely abandoned, this lovely lighthouse is your playground; you can climb all the way to the top and gaze out at the ocean. See if you can spot our carving – a little A + R at the top of the stairs!
Harrison’s Point Lighthouse – Animal Flower Cave driving time: 12 minutes
Animal Flower Cave was hands down one of our favourite stops on this little adventure, maybe even our favourite. The name ‘animal flower’ comes from the anemones that grow in the cave, and it’s possible to go inside and see these fascinating creatures for yourself, as well as watch the waves crash on the rocks and even take a little dip in one of the deeper pools. If you don’t fancy going inside or want to keep your road trip low budget (Barbados is expensive, yo) walking around was enough for us, and you can get some really awesome pictures from the viewpoints – in winter, you might even get lucky and see some humpback whales in the distance.
Animal Flower Cave – North Point Surf Resort driving time: 5 minutes
We didn’t actually go here, but if you’re into a bit of urban exploring, there’s an abandoned hotel south of Animal Flower Cave called North Point Surf Resort – visitors say its super eerie and decrepit, and some even say it’s haunted – I wish we’d known about it when we went.
From your stops on the North Coast, I recommend heading inland a little bit. There are a few places to visit here, though I would pick the two that most appeal to you if you’ve taken your time thus far.
North Point Surf Resort – St Nicholas Abbey driving time: 20 minutes
The first of your potential stops is St Nicholas Abbey, a slice of Tudor and Elizabethan architecture nestled in the lush, palm-tree strewn inner jungle of Barbados. This former plantation house was built in 1658, and its white-washed gables, decorative chimneys and bougainvillaea-filled gardens have more than withstood the test of time. The house isn’t the only wondrous sight here; 400 acres of sugar cane fields, tropical forests and landscaped gardens make for quite the wander, and if you’re a fan of rum, don’t miss out on a visit to the estate’s very own distillery.
If you decide to visit St Nicholas Abbey, or even if you don’t, Cherry Tree Hill’s impressive hilltop views, which sit within the abbey’s estate, are an absolute must-see. Drive to the top and take a few minutes to quietly admire the undulating hills and rugged coastline, with the azure waters of the North Atlantic Ocean glittering in the distance.
While you’re in the area, the Morgan Lewis Windmill is worth a drive-by. You can also scale the inside of the windmill (wearing a rather fetching hard hat), but it would have been enough for us just to see it from the outside.
Morgan Lewis Windmill – Bathsheba driving time: 25 minutes
The foamy white waves crashing against imposing rock formations, emerald palms and smooth sandy shores undoubtedly make Bathsheba one of the most picturesque beaches in Barbados. While we were here there was a smidge of a seaweed problem, which unfortunately curses the east coast every few years, but it was a beautiful all the same. If the beach had been seaweed free we definitely would have stopped for a while and had a little picnic or maybe even a swim in the sea. On your way out of the town heading east, you’ll see a little place to pull in as you turn the corner – stop here to for another amazing view from the very edge of the cliffs, looking out over Bathsheba.
Bathsheba – Codrington College driving time: 25 minutes
Yet more awe-inspiring views lie ahead at Codrington College, a fully functional school and the oldest theological college in the western hemisphere. The school’s drive is a beauty in itself; a long, straight path lined on either side with towering palm trees. Constructed from coral stone, the magnificent main building opens out onto expansive lawns speckled with native Bajan flora which lead down to the ocean. Elsewhere on the property is a peaceful lilypad pond and the land’s original plantation great house, now used as the college’s library.
Codrington College – Cranes Beach / Foursquare Rum Distillery driving time: 17 minutes
From here you have a couple of options, depending on how much of the day you have left. You could either head down to Cranes Beach for a walk over their seaside stepping stones or drive over to the Foursquare Rum Distillery to end your day with a cheeky bit of Barbados history combined with an even cheekier rum tasting.
Hot tip: If you happen to be doing your road trip on a Friday, be sure to make your way to Oistins for the world-famous weekly fish fry – this is an absolute must-do when in Barbados. Grab a seat family-style with a mix of locals and tourists alike, and sample some of the best (and most authentically Bajan) food you’ll find on the island while you enjoy the sights of locals dancing, playing dominoes and performing in the streets.