Nassau Paradise Island boasts a rich and colorful history that’s been recorded for hundreds of years. When Christopher Columbus traveled to the New World, The Bahamas was his first landfall, and while the lack of gold here meant the Spaniards quickly focused on other parts of the Caribbean, our islands housed plenty of other interesting characters over the following centuries.
In 1629, The Bahamas were claimed by Charles I of England, and in 1666, Nassau was first established as Charles Town. Rechristened Nassau in 1695, the city soon became an outlaw settlement. Lights were shone onto the reefs to lure ships to their doom, where they were quickly plundered – the beginnings of the piracy that would become a huge part of Nassau Paradise Island’s history through the early 1700s.
During the early 1800s, many slave ships bound for America were intercepted by the Royal Navy in The Bahamas and the captured West Africans onboard were freed here. By 1834, roughly three-quarters of the Bahamian population was from West Africa.
Throughout the American Civil War years, The Bahamas again became a lively, if somewhat unlawful, destination – smuggling liquor into Southern ports, an activity that continued throughout Prohibition.
Finally, in 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party was formed, and 20 years later The Bahamas voted for independence from England. Today, The Bahamas maintains close ties with the UK, remaining part of the Commonwealth and declaring allegiance to the Queen.
If you’re intrigued by Nassau Paradise Island’s history, we’ve got good news for you: there are plenty of fun, educational opportunities to learn more when you visit! From tasty tours to interactive museums, learning about Bahamian history can be an enjoyable part of your vacation in Paradise.
Here are five of our top picks for activities to help you step back in time in The Bahamas.
1. Tour the forts of downtown Nassau.
Dating back to the 1700s, the three forts of downtown Nassau – Fort Charlotte, Fort Fincastle, and Fort Montagu – once protected Nassau Harbour from all kinds of threats. Today, they offer spectacular views and fantastic photo ops.
2. Visit the Educulture Junkanoo Museum.
Junkanoo is a big part of the history of The Bahamas, and you can immerse yourself in the culture, music, and energy of this celebration at the interactive Educulture Junkanoo Museum. Try on a Junkanoo costume and learn how to make Bahamian music!
3. Drink up during the Rum-Runner’s Passage tour.
Hear fascinating tales of The Bahamas’ rum-running era as you sample authentic Bahamian rums and delicacies at historic sites throughout Nassau, such as Hillside House, Graycliff, and John Watling’s Distillery. During the Rum-Runner’s Passage tour, you’ll even get to see how rum is made!
4. Climb (or descend!) the Queen’s Staircase.
In the late 1700s, a staircase was hand-carved by approximately 600 slaves using pickaxes and hand tools in order to provide a direct access route to Fort Fincastle in case of attack. The 102-foot Queen’s Staircase, which still stands today and welcomes visitors every day, was cut into a hill of solid limestone and took more than 16 years to complete!
5. Eat your way through history.
Sure, a Tru Bahamian Food Tour is packed with delicious Bahamian food and drink, but it’s full of history, too. Your tour will take you through Nassau’s historic downtown, where you’ll discover some of the city’s key historical sites and learn plenty about Bahamian history and culture.
For the ultimate historical experience in Nassau Paradise Island, why not stay at one of our historic hotels as well? The charming Graycliff Hotel dates back to the 18th century and has housed guests including Sir Winston Churchill, Aristotle Onassis, and The Beatles. The British Colonial Hilton, built on the site of Old Fort Nassau, offers a stunning representation of the best of The Bahamas’ past and present. Both of these hotels are located within easy walking distance of some of downtown Nassau’s top historical attractions.