Visiting St Johns - What to See and Do
(Antigua VC Bird International Airport ANU, Antigua and Barbuda)
With its weathered wooden homes that seem custom designed to represent that classic Caribbean scene, Antigua's capital of St. Johns is a rather quaint capital for an island where the yachting scene over at Nelson's Dockyard (on the other side of the island - a half-hour trip) boasts the most expensive flotilla of private yachts in the Caribbean.
There isn't exactly an abundance of attractions or activities in St. Johns. However, being the main city of Antigua and Barbuda, this is where most of the action takes place. In-town sightseeing involves wandering its colourful lanes and stopping for lingering looks at St. Johns Cathedral, poking around Fort James and checking out the action down at the harbour.
The capital is also home to Antigua's two best museums, which are well worth a look to get a sense of the heritage of this island. The Saturday Morning Market is another great sight not to miss, while cricket fans should stop by the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium to admire the pitch. There's plenty to occupy most visitors to St. Johns, and when you need a rest, pop into the Botanical Gardens off Independence Road for a shady respite.
Ten things you must do in St. John
- The Saturday Morning Market is the main event in St. Johns every weekend. Soak in the colour of local West Indies products and their photogenic sellers who hawk everything from tropical birds to local handicrafts. The action starts early, but don't take photos of anyone without asking first - it could lead to conflict.
- To get a sense of the rich heritage of Antigua and Barbuda, pay a visit to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda on Market Street. The building itself was built by the English in 1750 and is one of the island's oldest attractions. Inside, visitors travel the timeline from prehistoric days through the colonial era and up to the island's independence in 1981.
- The most iconic structure on Antigua is St. Johns Cathedral, an Anglican church right in the heart of town. First built in 1683, the church is on its third incarnation thanks to hurricanes and earthquakes. Its twin white baroque towers dominate the capital's skyline.
- British-era forts line the coast of Antigua, built to ward off pirates and other unwanted guests. Fort James guards the entrance to St. Johns harbour, being flanked by Fort Barrington on the southern side of the water. Several other wonderfully crumbling forts are within striking distance of the capital, and all are free and open to the public.
- Nelson's Dockyard National Park is roughly 18 km / 11 miles south of St. Johns. It is a major attraction in the West Indies and shows just how much power the British fleet exerted in the region during its heyday. Akin to a living park, this place really recreates the atmosphere of 18th-century naval life, with its museum and restored buildings.
- Head down to Heritage Quay to enjoy Antigua's hottest spot for shopping, dining and drinks. More than 40 duty free shops cater to the cruise ships that pull up regularly, but this sprawling complex is just as fun without the cruiser crowds.
- Wander along St. Mary's Street and High Street to do some serious window shopping. These two streets are the heart of the local boutique shopping scene in St. Johns and have an eclectic range of businesses that aren't quite as touristy as the shopping complexes down by the docks.
- Try your luck at the Grand Princess Casino in Jolly Harbour, the slickest gambling venue on Antigua. Covering three floors, this popular casino has much more than just slots and gaming tables. There is also a superb restaurant, a Vegas-style lounge show and a buzzing nightclub.
- Take a cruise around St. Johns harbour aboard a tiny sunfish sailboat, a Hobie catamaran or a relaxing motorised yacht. There are several companies that arrange cruises of all kinds. Especially popular are the rum-fuelled booze cruises from the Pirates of Antigua.
- If the tropical sun of St. Johns wears you down, head to the Botanical Gardens for a relaxing stroll in the shade. The park is a small one, but its gazebos and benches are just the thing to escape the relative bustle of Antigua's capital.