Historic Sites and Museums to Explore in Nassau
The Capital city of The Bahamas, Nassau, was founded in 1670. It is surrounded by breathtaking beaches and has been a popular port of entry and export since the very beginning. Because of this, Nassau Paradise Island is full of fascinating and vital history. It’s home to a mix of Colonial and Old World architecture and bursting with world-class restaurants, incomparable shopping, exciting tours, and museums. And that’s only the beginning!
If you’re not the kind to spend an entire vacation by the beach sipping cocktails, or you love immersing yourself in the history and culture, today’s your lucky day! We’ve put together an exciting guide to help you explore Nassau Paradise Island’s rich history.
Christ Church Cathedral
This Gothic-Style Cathedral is the first church built in Nassau Paradise Island. Dating back to 1670, it’s considered “The Mother Church of all the Anglican churches in The Bahamas”. Throughout the 1600s and 1700s, Christ Church Cathedral was destroyed several times by Spaniard troops and subsequently rebuilt by Bahamians. It was last updated in 1754, and since then, has remained the Gothic-Style building we know today.
Fun Fact: The latest iteration of the Cathedral is made of local quarry cut limestone blocks, which are held together primarily — though not entirely — by their size and the weight of gravity rather than by cement.
National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) is housed in the historic Villa Doyle, a mansion originally built in the 1860s as the home to the first Chief Justice in The Bahamas. After adding a new wing in the 1920s, it became one of Nassau’s prized stately homes.
The NAGB aims to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret historical and contemporary Bahamian art. The gallery boasts four different exhibition spaces that feature permanent collections and rotating exhibitions of contemporary Bahamian art.
The NAGB is a must-see for art lovers and, with the added bonus of guided tours and children’s programming, it is a family-friendly destination perfect for all ages.
Fun Fact: Villa Doyle was abandoned for many years and some Bahamians argued for its demolition. However, Dr. Gail Saunders, founding chairman of the NAGB, led a campaign to save the mansion, arguing that by using the space as an art gallery, the colonial history that came with it could be recognized, unpacked, and interpreted rather than buried. As a result, Villa Doyle was restored in the 1990s and officially became the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.
John Watling’s Distillery
Named after a 17th-century pirate who landed on San Salvador Island and promptly renamed it after himself, John Watling’s Distillery, located on the Buena Vista Estate, proudly serves small-batch rums made from sugar cane. Since The Bahamas doesn’t actually have a sugar cane industry, this ingredient is sourced from two Caribbean suppliers.
The historic Buena Vista Estate dates back to 1789, it boasts not only a breathtaking view of the harbor, but it has also been the place for hosting gatherings and events for well over 200 years. Today you can tour the Estate and sample the rums crafted and aged onsite using a tried-and-true process perfected over 150 years.
Fun Fact: The Buena Vista Estate is also the home to several roosters, hens, and an array of exotic island birds! The Estate has been in partnership with The Bahamas National Trust and Society for the Preservation of the Flamingo since the 1940s, when the decorated antique dealer and natural explorer, Arthur Stannard Vernay, moved to Nassau and co-founded the society. Vernay also lived on the property to the West of the Buena Vista Estate called Los Cayos. So, when you are sitting and sipping rum underneath the centuries-old trees that thrive on the property, you can hear — and might even catch a glimpse of — the different birds that roam about John Watling’s Distillery.
Pirates of Nassau Museum
Did you know that Nassau Paradise Island was the preferred base of operations for pirates during The Golden Age of Piracy? Well, it’s true! Because of our position as a historically important seaport, pirates saw the opportunity to ransack merchant ships in the harbor. You can learn more about this — and all the infamous pirates that sailed our waters — at the Pirates of Nassau Museum. This interactive museum is absolutely kid-approved, but the tours are guaranteed to keep anyone in the family entertained. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t dreamed about finding a hidden treasure?
Fun Fact: Okay, this fact might be more amazing than fun, but the First Governor of The Bahamas, Captain Woodes Rogers, was once shot in the face during battle and survived! Before becoming Royal Governor, he was a privateer, and is widely known for being the captain of the vessel that rescued marooned Alexander Selkirk, whose plight is generally believed to have inspired the tale, Robinson Crusoe.
Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Centre
Founded and envisioned by Jamaican horticulturist Hedley Edwards in 1937, Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Centre has been described as an oasis in the middle of paradise. Ardastra comprises more than four acres of lush tropical gardens inhabited by a wide variety of animal species, including the national bird of The Bahamas, the Caribbean flamingo.
Edwards wanted the exotic gardens to be a nature preserve. So, he brought the endangered flamingo from the island of Inagua in the 1950s and developed what would eventually become a highly successful flamingo breeding program. Today, thousands of visitors marvel at the tranquil, restorative gardens annually. You can enjoy close encounters with over 135 animals while you’re here, and admire the long-legged flamingo beauties National Geographic has called “Ballerinas in Pink”.
Fun Fact: The founder of Ardastra Gardens named them after the Latin phrase Ardua ad astra. Roughly translated, this means “striving towards the stars”. He envisioned that the gardens would illustrate a utopia of peace, beauty, and tranquility.
The Queen’s Staircase, also referred to as the 66 steps, is a 102-foot staircase that was hand-carved using pickaxes to cut through solid limestone. Taking over 16 years to complete, it was built to act as a quick access point to Fort Fincastle. These steps were later named in honor of Queen Victoria, who, upon her ascension to the throne, signed a declaration abolishing slavery.
Fun Fact: The Queen’s Staircase has an impressive water feature. Along the side of the stairs, there is water cascading to a pool below. At the bottom of the steps, there is a walkway that goes between high stone walls, tropical plants, and native trees. It feels like stepping back in time!
Clifton Heritage Park
Clifton Heritage National Park is a historical and cultural landmark. It has been archaeologically determined to have been inhabited by many cultures that eventually settled The Bahamas, including Lucayan Indians, Africans, and Europeans.
The park offers various guided tours, such as the Heritage Tour, for all history buffs out there. There’s also the snorkeling tour, where you can visit Sir Nicolas Nuttal’s Underwater Sculpture Garden, breathtaking coral reefs, and a plane wreck from the James Bond movie, Never Say Never Again.
Fun Fact: Jaws 4: The Revenge was filmed on one of the park’s beaches!
Unique architecture, luscious gardens, and breathtaking views, what’s not to love? The Cloisters are the remains of a French Monastery that dates back to the 1200s! The ruins are surrounded by tropical flora such as purple blooming bougainvillea and lush palm trees. It’s a unique backdrop and a popular destination for weddings and events! The gardens extend approximately a quarter of a mile from the Ocean Club to the southern edge of the island, overlooking the waters of Nassau Harbor.
Fun Fact: This 12th-century cloister built by Augustinian monks in France was hastily dismantled for shipment and reassembled in The Bahamas stone by stone. The problem was, the parts were not properly numbered, and they all arrived unlabeled on Paradise Island. It took over 2 years for The Cloisters to be reassembled by sculptor Jean Castre-Manne!
Nassau Paradise Island has so much to offer — from stories of rum runners and pirates, to art and nature conservation, to gorgeous architecture and historical landmarks. Use this guide to plan the perfect adventure for your family and friends! If you need more ideas or planning tips, head over to our guide to family vacations, and be sure to check out more kid-friendly ideas! After that, visit our deals page and get packing — Nassau Paradise Island is waiting for you!