The 100 square miles of beautiful coastline, green jungle, vibrant culture and history of Antigua are a great choice for a Caribbean holiday.
This small island has a long and diverse history and today boasts a unique island lifestyle that many travelers visit in search of slow relaxing days and occasional wild evenings.
Antigua is known for its spectacular, white sand beaches, which are arguably some of the most pristine in the whole Caribbean.
The water is crystal clear in places and perfect for snorkelers wanting to experience the marine life, with the chance to bump into turtles and rays in the shallows.
The interior is a lush jungle, with ecotourism and adventure tours beginning to hit it off in the dense canopies, while anyone with an interest in history will find much to discover on the old plantation and amongst the streets of the capital St John’s.
For a small island, there’s a lot to see. To help you to plan your Caribbean escape, here are the best things to do in Antigua.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Caribbean Islands (Travel Guide)
Top 8 Things to do in Antigua
There are a lot of things to do in Antigua, from sunning on the beach and snorkeling in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea to zip-lining through the humid canopies of the jungle-strewn interior.
Here’s the best that Antigua has to offer.
1. Enjoy St John’s
Although most visitors to Antigua will breeze through the capital, St John’s is still the best place to start to begin to be acquainted with the island.
There are some interesting museums displaying the island’s the Caribbean and colonial history, as well as plenty of shops, colorful streets and even casinos if you wish to indulge.
Get the perfect introduction to the history and scenic beauty of Antigua during this 3.5-hour tour of its top attractions. During your visit you’ll stop by a colonial-era naval base and renowned yachting location, take some time to browse the area’s unique shops and art galleries, then stop by the picturesque Blockhouse Ruins and finish your day with panoramic views from Shirley Heights.
2. Visit the English Harbor
Located at the southern end of the island are English Harbor, a beautifully scenic area, and home to one of Antigua’s best natural harbors.
It’s also the site of Nelson’s Dockyard, a historic and protected Royal Navy dock, named for the famous Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, best known for his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
He spent many of his early years in the Royal Navy based in Antigua. As well as the dockyards themselves, the surrounding area has many important colonial forts which can all be explored, as well as some simply stunning natural scenery.
3. Go to the Shirley Heights Lookout
Found in the vicinity of English Harbor, Shirley Heights Lookout is supposedly the best vantage point on the entire island.
Originally part of the military fortifications that defended the harbor below, today the lookout is a firm favorite amongst locals and tourists looking for incredible views out over the island and the ocean. It’s particularly busy at sunset.
4. Hang out at Falmouth Bay
Antigua’s second deep-water harbor is found at Falmouth Bay and these days, it’s the haunt of yachts and nightlife. There’s beautiful stretches of white sand to be enjoyed, verdant green scenery surrounding the bay and a lively atmosphere in the area.
Visit Pigeon Point, just nearby for a quieter stretch of sand, that’s stunningly beautiful.
5. Soak up the sun at Jolly Bay
Sheltered on the eastern side of the island and halfway between St John’s and English Harbor, Jolly Bay is a favorite choice of beach for many visitors to Antigua.
Lots of hotels are found in this area, because quite simply, the sand is pure bliss, and many travelers will end up basing themselves here for the entirety of their stay.
6. Snorkel at Half Moon Bay
Most of Antigua’s best and most visited beaches are found on the much more sheltered western side of the island, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Half Moon Bay is a noticeable exception, however, being located on the eastern side, facing out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Half Moon Bay has a beautiful stretch of beach, that’s protected from the ravages of the Atlantic by a natural reef just off the shore.
This means it’s also one of the best spots on Antigua to walk in off the beach to snorkel. It is recommended that you rent snorkel equipment or bring your own prior to traveling to Half Moon Bay to ensure you’re able to have gear once you’re at the beach.
Don’t forget: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Caribbean
7. Learn the history at Betty’s Hope
Betty’s Hope is an interesting piece of colonial history to be found on the island. This is the site of one of Antigua’s first sugar cane plantations and the only remaining structures are two stone windmills. It’s a historical place, that played an important role in the island’s long development.
8. Take an Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour
Away from the beaches and coastline, Antigua has plenty of pristine, verdant jungle to explore and one of the most exciting ways to experience the natural beauty is to join a canopy tour. These exhilarating trips involve high ropes and zip lines and it’s an excellent way to immerse yourself in the jungle.
Take a thrilling ride through the skies above Antigua on this 4-hour aerial adventure across zip lines, suspension bridges, and rope challenges.
Strap on your helmet and follow your guide as you tackle the park’s numerous aerial obstacles, zooming above the beautiful scenery of mossy boulders, fruit trees and gorges below.
Antigua Travel Planning Guide
Location and How to Travel to Antigua
Antigua is the largest and most developed island of the small nation of Antigua and Barbuda, with neighboring Barbuda being just 30 miles away.
This nation is found in the Eastern Caribbean and historically was an important British colony, due to its incredible natural harbors, which are still today used by many cruise liners and yachts.
Antigua is well connected to Europe, the Americas and the rest of the Caribbean. The VC Bird International Airport – named for the nation’s first Prime Minister – is found just north of the capital of St John’s.
This airport is served by a multitude of airlines arriving from a variety of destinations. Being a former British colony, there are regular direct flights to UK cities and many more charter flights in peak season bringing vacation-goers over.
There are also many direct flights across to US cities, particularly Miami and New York, and inter-island services to many of the former West Indies islands nearby.
Many travelers will also arrive via cruise ship, as Antigua is a popular stop on the Caribbean circuits. Cruise ships dock in the large, deepwater port in St John’s.
St John’s is the transport hub of the rest of the island, and there are cheap, local buses running from here to most other points, although schedules may not always be accurate, or indeed ever kept to. There are also many taxi drivers looking for passengers in the capital, but ensure you agree on a price before taking a ride.
Tour companies can also arrange private or group excursions to the island’s major tourist sights, and St John’s is a good place to arrange all of this.
Check out this guide if arriving by cruise ship: Fodor’s Caribbean Cruise Ports of Call
The Best Time to Visit Antigua
Antigua is beautifully warm all year round, with its location in the Caribbean offering it very consistent temperatures. The island does, however, experience a wet and dry season.
The wet season occurs between May and November, and towards the end of this season during the months of September to November, the hurricane season hits.
As recently as 2017, nearby Barbuda was hit hard by a storm, and this period of the year can be unpredictable. Prices are much lower but think carefully before booking a bargain.
The most popular time of year to visit coincides with the dry season, between December and April, with Christmas time being a particularly popular period on the island, as visitors arrive looking for winter sunshine. Prices during the dry season are considerably higher of course, but the weather is much, much more stable.
We visited Antigua during our college break in January, right after Christmas. It was very quiet despite it being high season. So don’t be afraid to visit in those ‘busy’ months.
Where to Stay in Antigua
Antigua is very much developed for tourism, so there is a wide range of accommodation available on the island, catering to most standards. The best hotels and resorts are found on the eastern coastline, where the beaches are best and the water is calmest and clearest.
St John’s has a few accommodation options, however, most visitors choose to spend their time on the island away from the city. No matter where you stay, there is a place for every budget, from luxury hotels like Hermitage Bay and Pineapple Beach Club Antigua – All Inclusive to more budget-friendly accommodation like Paige Pond Country Inn.
Is Antigua Safe?
Antigua has a reputation for being home to a fun-loving, friendly island community, so worrying about your personal safety whilst visiting is perhaps unwarranted.
Most of the people you meet will be more than happy to help if you are in trouble, although of course, as with anywhere in the world, common sense always prevails. Be careful with your belongings and be careful late at night.
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