History, sights and cultural activities in Barbados

Barbados gained independence from Britain in 1966 and is probably best known for its Caribbean beaches, the sugar cane industry, superstar Rihanna, and thanks to the island’s colonial history, cricket. That’s not a bad line-up considering the island is just 34 kilometres by 23 kilometres.

But with 97 kilometres of wonderful coastline almost entirely enriched by coral reefs, it’s perhaps not surprising that tourism, not sugar, is now the dominant industry in this picturesque country. Apart from relaxing on the stunning tropical beaches, exploring wonderful marine life or taking part in many of the watersport opportunities, what are some of the top cultural offerings of this sub-tropical island?

Musical heritage and the Crop Over Festival

In the month of July 85,000 people from all over the world descend on the most popular event in Bardados. Revellers line Spring Garden Highway in Bridgetown to watch the Grand Kadooment Carnival Parade, which is the finale of the annual Crop Over Festival. This is the culmination of a month of carnivals, live bands, music competitions and more throughout the area.

The sugar cane industry - a tour down memory lane

On a trip to Barbados you’ll no doubt taste the locally produced rum in many traditional drinks and cakes. To enjoy a tour of a fully functioning rum facility, head to the world famous Mount Gay Rum Distillery in Bridgetown.

In contrast to the rum industry, the sugar cane industry has seen major decline, leaving behind a residue of grand properties that are a must visit. The parish of St Peter is home to St Nicholas Abbey, which used to be at the heart of a huge sugar cane plantation and small refinery.

The beautiful house, built in 1658, is one of the few original Jacobean style houses in the Western Hemisphere. Explore the inside and manicured gardens, which even include an old windmill. The owners screen an interesting family film from the 1930s showing the sea voyage to Barbados from England, and life on the former plantation.

Also in St Peter is Farley Hill National Park, once the grounds of a rich plantation house, which was reduced to a shell after a fire. The remains are nestled among flowers on the picturesque hillside garden, which is surrounded by a 17-acre park filled with a forest of mahogany trees. Stand behind the house to enjoy the wonderful views of the ocean and rolling palm-covered hills.

Explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Barbados' capital city - Bridgetown

Take a wander around lovely Bridgetown, an area dominated by colonial architecture indicative of its British heritage. The main duty free shopping area, Broad Street is in the centre, but once you’ve satiated the desire to buy, there’s plenty more to see.

Also in the centre sits the Jewish Synagogue. Built in the 17th century, this pink-coloured temple is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere, and is a Barbados National Trust protected site. It has an important history as in 1660 saw the arrival of 300 Jewish people from Brazil, who were fleeing persecution from the Dutch. Skilled in the sugar industry, they pioneered the crop, passing on their knowledge to Barbados landowners.

The UNESCO protected Parliament Buildings are another must see. Two spectacular neo-Gothic-style structures made of coral limestone house a gallery and museum. Here visitors can learn about the Island’s history from the early days of settlement to Independence. Entry includes a tour of the Parliament Buildings.

Just three kilometres from here is the Garrison area. It’s dominated by a historic racecourse and features many historical buildings that housed the regiment units of the British Garrison, including the now home of the Barbados Museum. This is also where the Barbados flag was raised to usher in independence from Britain.

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