The first time I saw Bermuda was on purpose. I watched the sun rise over its famous pink beaches as my cruise ship approaches its shore, excited for the boat to dock so my family and I could explore the destination we selected for our vacation. We had planned our visit for months, and when two days proved to be an insufficient amount of time to see the islands we promised each other we would return as soon as we could.
The second time I saw Bermuda wasn’t planned at all. My parents and I booked a transatlantic cruise with scheduled stops in the Caribbean, but when Hurricane Irma devastated our ports of call our itinerary replaced St. Maarten and St. Thomas with an overnight in Bermuda. We had promised to return, and we did—much sooner than expected.
Bermuda is a wonderful destination in itself. With direct flights from several major cities on the USA’s east coast (as well as London: Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory) it’s an easy trip. It’s also a popular cruise destination, which has benefits and drawbacks: cruising in itself is a lot of fun, but your time at most ports of call is limited. During our first trip to Bermuda we planned to have three full days on the island but ended up with just two when pouring rain kept us on the boat.
Whether you plan for a long weekend, a full week, or just a day or two during a cruise, here are three of the top places to visit during your trip to Bermuda!
BEST FOR: shopping, sightseeing, beaches
If you are looking for a central point to jump into your Bermuda vacation, consider Hamilton, its capital city. Hamilton exudes Caribbean vibes despite its location in the North Atlantic Ocean; situated on the Hamilton Harbour, a walk along Front Street will introduce you to the restaurants, nightlife, and shopping housed within the pastel buildings dotting the road. During our second trip we spent just half a day visiting Hamilton, and we loved the sightseeing.
What to See in Hamilton, Bermuda:
► Cabinet Building
The Cabinet Building serves as the meeting place for the territory’s top officials as well as the primary office for the Premier, who is the head of the island’s government. It is possible to tour the building’s interior during most weekdays, although during our visit we were treated to a special surprise: the island was celebrating the U/17 Women’s National Football Team’s recent victory over Haiti. We had a chance to see both the motorcade that escorted the team to the Cabinet Building as well as a special ceremony where the team was recognized by Premier David Burt. Getting a chance to stand just 10 feet away from the Premier and celebrate the team’s achievement was a lot of fun—without question a very local experience and proof that you never know what your travels might have in store for you!
More Information: BerNews.com
► Gosling’s RumOne of my favorite mixed drinks is the Dark and Stormy, which combines rum and ginger beer (and a lime wedge) to create a perfect beach drink. My favorite rum is Gosling’s Black Seal, a Bermuda establishment that has been distilling and selling rum since the early 1800s. Their store on Front Street sells rum and souvenirs, and it’s worth a stop if you are also partial to a good cocktail.
More Information: GoslingsRum.com
► Bermuda War Memorial
Recognizing the Bermudians who served in World War I and World War II, the Bermuda War Memorial opened in 2010 and lists close to 3,000 names on polished black stone tiles. The names surround a large granite orb that represents the world. Situated on the Cabinet Building’s grounds, it is a touching tribute to those who served.
► Sally Bassett Statue
Sarah “Sally” Bassett is an iconic figure in Bermuda’s history. A slave owned by a Bermudian family, in 1730 she was burned at the stake after being convicted of poisoning the family that enslaved her. Surrounded by palm trees and standing opposite from the War Memorial on the Cabinet Building’s grounds, Sally’s statue is the first to memorialize a slave in Bermuda and is a sobering tribute to her life.
► City Hall and Arts Center
A lovely indoor stop is the City Hall and Arts Center, just a few blocks from Front Street. It’s home to Bermuda’s national art gallery and collections, and a separate section in the City Hall area features spaces where the Royal family and visiting dignitaries meet when they are in town. It’s a great place to get a deeper sense of Bermuda’s history and culture.
More Information: BermudaNationalGallery.com
► BeachesWhile there aren’t beaches directly in Hamilton, you won’t be far from some of the most famous beaches on the island. Horseshoe Bay is the quintessential pink sand beach, and if you are staying in Hamilton it’s about 30 minutes away from the city by bus. Elbow Beach is another great option if you are looking for a beach that isn’t quite as touristy but still boasts a similar experience.
You will find no shortage of shops if you are looking for the perfect souvenir or a new outfit. Shops specialize in everything from clothing to home décor, and it’s worthwhile to look up and down the side streets for additional stores. Be prepared, though: most of the shops have high price points, so you may leave empty handed (as we did).
Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda
BEST FOR: cruise travelers
If you are coming to Bermuda by ship, there’s a good chance you will dock at the Royal Naval Dockyard. Located on the northwestern corner of the island, the Royal Naval Dockyard is a destination in itself. With access to a public beach, plenty of shops and restaurants, and transit to other parts of the island, it makes for a great home base during your stay in Bermuda.
What to See in Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda
► Snorkel ParkThe closest beach to where most boats dock, I spent an hour during the first morning of my return to Bermuda watching fellow cruisers funnel off the ship and directly to Snorkel Park. In addition to the beach there is also a bar and nightclub, both of which are easy to access. Snorkel Park is a good stop to make if you won’t have time to visit the other, more iconic beaches; we found this one to be rockier, dirtier, and less relaxing than other places we explored, and if you are serious about your beach time you would be better served outside of the Royal Naval Dockyard at Horseshoe Bay or Elbow Beach.
► National Museum of Bermuda
If you are looking for a solid introduction to Bermuda, the National Museum is a great item to add to your itinerary. Spanning 500 years of history, the museum has a great deal of information about its discovery, famous shipwrecks, and even the island’s tourism industry.
More Information: NMB.bm
► Dockyard Glassworks and Bermuda Rum Cake Company
One of the more fun stops in the dockyard, Dockyard Glassworks and the Bermuda Rum Cake Company share a building and combine to create a very entertaining experience. Local artists and trained apprentices create inventive glass artwork every day, and it’s common to stumble upon a demonstration during your visit. If you are still thinking about a Dark and Stormy, you’ll be glad to try rum cake during your visit, too; cakes are baked daily and use Gosling’s rum, so every bite is authentically Bermudian.
More Information: DockGlass.com
► Frog and Onion Pub
Remembering that Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, the Frog and Onion Pub feels like a real British experience. The pub offers a full menu and live music, but we especially loved the beer from Dockyard Brewing Company. My dad is partial to the amber ale, which he proclaimed to be one of the most authentic English pints he has enjoyed outside of the UK. I really liked the Black Anchor Porter, which was deep and rich yet refreshing on the humid day we visited.
More Information: FrogAndOnion.bm
► Clocktower Mall
You won’t be able to miss the Clocktower Mall, and within it you’ll find more than 20 different stores selling clothing, souvenirs, and local crafts. The mall is often crowded as tourists look for a couple of gifts or mementos from their trip, so for basic shopping it’s a good stop.
St. George, Bermuda
BEST FOR: history lovers, off-the-beaten-path seekers
St. George is my favorite part of Bermuda. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, St. George is where Bermuda got its start when its founder Sir George Somers shipwrecked off the coast. Don’t be concerned by its location; although it’s far from Hamilton and the Royal Naval Dockyard, it is well-connected by public transportation options, which means as most tourists head toward the main beaches you just might have St. George to yourself!
What to See in St. George, Bermuda
► Fort St. Catherine’sOriginally built as a wooden fort in the exact spot where Sir Somers landed after his shipwreck, Fort St. Catherine’s has been renovated numerous times in its more than 400-year history. Today the stone fort stands surrounded by a dry moat overlooking Achilles Bay, and within its walls is a museum that provides history about the area as well as an interesting antique weapons display. Wandering around the exterior walls you will encounter both historic cannons and incredible views of the northernmost pink sand beaches and turquoise waters on the island.
More Information: Bermuda-Attractions.com
► St. Catherine’s Beach
By far my most favorite beach in the world—and certainly in Bermuda—St. Catherine’s Beach is a tranquil spot. We discovered it only because we visited the fort; during our first trip to Bermuda we lost out on a beach day because of rain, but we gained it back when we set up on the beach for a while after exploring the fort. Our family had the entire beach to ourselves when we were there, and with no one else around my young niece was able to run and play while the rest of us enjoyed the sunshine and postcard-style view. We weren’t there long since we weren’t planning on a trip to a beach and needed to catch a ferry back to our boat, but we absolutely loved the time we had there.
► Bermuda World Heritage Center
Learn about Bermuda’s history in the spot where it started with a visit to the Bermuda World Heritage Site. The building was once a supply facility for cargo ships, but it has been converted into a lovely museum with informative, interactive exhibits. It’s a nice starting point for a day in St. George, and since it is located close to the ferry terminal it is also easy to find.
Tips for Visiting Bermuda
Thinking of booking a trip to Bermuda? Here are a few final thoughts to round out your vacation plans!
► Use Public Transportation
Taxis are very expensive, and even shared shuttles were a bit out of budget for us. To get to both Hamilton and St. George we used the hourly ferries that run from the Royal Naval Dockyard. They are only $5 USD each way (a bit less expensive if you purchase a token in advance, but cash in the exact amount is also accepted on board). Our boat to Hamilton was completely packed and a bit uncomfortable, but the ferry to St. George was much less crowded. Both journeys are scenic and short—just 20 minutes to Hamilton and 45 minutes to St. George. The local buses are also worthwhile; we took the number 7 bus from Hamilton back to the dockyard to see more of the coastline and felt like we had a really lovely ride that provided a great orientation to the island. Buses run regularly, and many routes run as frequently as every 15-20 minutes.
► Pack Some US Currency
Bermuda widely uses the US dollar, so don’t be surprised to receive change in the USA’s currency instead of local currency. Although Bermuda does have its own currency, US citizens do not need to worry about exchanging their currency in order to make transactions on the island. Bermuda’s dollar is tied to the US dollar in a 1:1 ratio, so put your currency converters away during your trip—if a product is listed as 10 BMD it is also $10 USD.
► Be Prepared for Steep Prices
Bermuda is an expensive place to go—I was a bit surprised when two pints of beer cost my father and I more than $20 USD! Take prices into consideration when you plan your visit to avoid sticker shock and a major hit to your wallet. Since we arrived by cruise ship, we were careful to plan our day’s excursions between meal times so we could avoid paying for meals at restaurants. During our trip to St. George we had lunch at a very local, off-the-beaten-path restaurant while waiting for our ferry and found the prices to be comparable to what we found at home in the United States, so take a few steps off the main streets to uncover some more affordable but equally delicious meals.
Are you planning a trip to Bermuda? Have you already visited Bermuda? Let us know! We would love to hear what you think of the island and its unforgettable pink sand beaches!