SELF GUIDED WALKING TOUR OF NASSAU
This self-guided walking tour provides an excellent way to discover the architecture, history and culture of the City of Nassau.
Start: Festival Place Welcome Center
Finish: Straw Market
Best times: Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm
Number of attractions: 19
Time: 2 to 3 hours or more depending on the time spent at each attraction
1) Festival Place Welcome Center
The Festival Place located on Prince George Wharf (the cruise ship terminal) portrays the architectural style of a traditional Bahamian village with its vibrant colors. There are over 40 stands selling Bahamian made souvenirs, tempting island treats, and craft items such as fish scale and conch shell jewelry. There is also a tourist information desk and this is a good opportunity to pick-up a free city map for your tour and ask any questions you may have.
2) Rawson Square
The heart of historic Nassau, Rawson Square lies directly across from Prince George Wharf. Look for the half body bronze bust of Sir Milo Butler, a National Hero who played a key role in the independence of The Bahamas in 1793, and who became the first Governor-General.
Across Bay Street is:
3) Parliament Square
The three buildings were constructed in 1815 by Loyalists who came from North Carolina. They are modeled after the Tryon Palace in New Bern, the first permanent capital of North Carolina. These pink government buildings are excellent examples of the Georgian style architecture of Old Nassau. In the middle of the square lies the statute of Queen Victoria. To the left of it is a court building, behind it is the Senate, and to the right is the House of Assembly the New World's oldest governing body in continuous session dating from 1729. Behind the square is the Supreme Court of The Bahamas. Further south is a cenotaph in the Garden of Remembrance in honour of Bahamians who died in the two world wars.
4) Nassau Public Library
Behind the cenotaph is an octagonal shaped public library built between 1798-9 to originally serve as a prison. At the first and second floors a central area opens onto vaulted space which were formerly small prison cells, but now are used to house books and reading niches. A gallery surrounds the top floor from which a bell was hung to summon members of the House of assembly to meetings and you can get a view from the top. Admission is free. Library hours: Mon- Thu 10-5:45 pm. Fri 10-4:45 pm. Sat 10-3:45 pm. Sun & Holidays Closed.
5) Royal Victoria Gardens (remains of the Royal Victoria Hotel)
Across the street from the library is what remains of the first luxury hotel in The Bahamas. It opened at the beginning of the American Civil War and quickly became a meeting place for Confederate army officers and Blockade Runners. The hotel closed in 1971, burned down in 1991 and was replaced by a parking lot. Only a few annex buildings and trees remain with what used to be the gardens.
Walk east (on your left from the library) on Shirley Street until you reach Elizabeth Avenue. At the corner is:
6) Bahamas Historical Society
This small museum has an on-going exhibition displaying the history of The Bahamas from Arawak Indians (pre-Columbus) to present. Admission is free although donations are welcome. It is usually closed during the months of July and August. The museum is open Mon-Fri 10:00-4:00 pm and closed on weekends and national holidays.
Walk straight up Elizabeth Avenue along Princess Margaret Hospital, until you reach the:
7) Queen's Staircase
This stairway built in 1793-94 by African slaves who carved the 66 steps from solid limestone, provides direct access from the city of Nassau to Fort Fincastle. It is named in honour of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the British Empire for 63 years. The 102 feet tall staircase is now covered with bricks to make the strairs more stable and to protect them from erosion.
8) Fort Fincastle
The fort built from cut limestone is located on Bennet's Hill, the highest point of New Providence overlooking the city of Nassau, Paradise Island and the eastern approaches to the island. Construction began in 1793, during the governorship of Lord Dunmore (1787-96) and was named from his second title, Viscount Fincastle. It is shaped like a paddle-wheel steamer and originally carried two 24-pounder, two 32-pounders, two 12-pounders cannons and a Howitzer. Open seven days a week from 8:00-4:00 pm (except on holidays), admission is $1.08 per person.
From the Fort walk down to the parking of Princess Margaret Hospital to Sands Road. Turn left and head west until East Street, and then turn right. When you come to East Hill Street go left in direction of the post office (large yellowish building on top of the hill). At the end of East Hill Street, just before the entrance of Government House down the staircase is:
9) Gregory Arch
The arch was built in 1852 to allow easy access to working-class black Bahamians to come and go downtown from “Over-The-Hill”. The road over the arch leads to Government House.
Go back-up the stairs to:
10) Government House
This is the official residence of the Governor-General, the Queen's representative to The Bahamas. The mansion is recognized as one of the foremost examples of Georgian Colonial architecture in The Bahamas. Initially constructed in 1803-06 the building was rebuilt in 1932, after it was badly damaged by a hurricane. A statue of Christopher Columbus was added to the front of the house in 1830.
A path for visitors takes you from the eastern entrance to the western entrance. Upon exiting the residence continue on West Hill Street and you will see:
This famous Georgian-style hotel and restaurant was built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, on the ruins of an Anglican church that has been destroyed by a Spanish raid in 1703. Captain Graysmith a feared pirate amassed a considerable fortune by plundering Spanish galleons laden with gold and silver. Most of the present structure probably dates back to the mid nineteenth century. The house is built of stones and wood in the traditional Bahamian colonial style. Upon leaving Graycliff you'll see embedded on the outer wall, a plaque that commemorates the spot where the church once stood.
12) Heritage Museum of The Bahamas
Mountbatten House located across from Graycliff is renowned for the famous people such as Lord Mountbatten and Prince Charles, who stayed there. The house was recently renovated and transformed into a historical museum. Each phase of Bahamian history is presented through an impressive collection of artifacts and historical documents. Admission is $10.75 and is open Mon-Sat 9-5 pm.
13) Heritage Village Artist Studios
Housed in the former Sisters of Charity Convent are various Bahamian artists showcasing their artwork in small rooms surrounding an open courtyard. Here you can meet the artists, see them at work and purchase unique items such as coconut jewelry, photographs, tire belts, framed prints, ceramics, straw items, and more.
Walk until the end of West Hill and on your left is:
14) The Bahamas National Art Gallery
The art gallery is housed in a restored 19th century colonial mansion, on a beautiful property with several sculptures on display. The works of art are contemporary and include paintings, sculptures, photography, collages, murals and multi-media. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and free for children under It is open from 10-4pm Tue-Sat, and from 12-4pm on Sun and closed on Mon and Public Holidays.
15) St. Francis Roman Catholic Church
Constructed between 1885 and 1886, it was the country's first Roman Catholic church. New York's archdiocese raised the funds to construct it. The church was elevated to the status of Cathedral in in 1960.
Walk down Wset street to Marlborough street and turn right:
16) British Colonial Hilton
The hotel is constructed on the site of the former Fort Nassau (built in 1695) and the earlier Hotel Colonial (built in 1899 and destroyed by fire in 1922). The Hotel Colonial was rebuilt in 1923 and purchased in 1939 by Sir Harry Oakes a rich Canadian tax exile, who renamed it the British Colonial Hotel. The lobby entrance is worth a peek for its a majestic feel with its marble tiles, palm trees, grand staircase and skylight ceiling. At the entrance of the hotel is the statute of Woods Roger, the first Royal Governor of The Bahamas 1718-21 and 1729-32, who put an end to piracy in Nassau.
Walk east past the Malborough square until George Street and on your right is:
17) Christ Church Cathedral
This Gothic style cathedral had to be rebuilt three times, twice after Spanish raids and once after termites destroyed an earlier wooden edifice. It is made of locally quarried cut lime-stone blocks which are held mostly by gravity rather than by cement. The walls bear memorial tablets describing the trials Nassau citizens endured over 150 years ago and beautiful stained-glass windows depict the crucifixion. As you enter the cathedral look to your left at the baptismal font and see if you can spot a tiny church mouse carved into the wood.
Continue north on George Street in direction of Bay Street, where you see:
18) Vendue House
Initially a one story open arcaded building dating back to 1760, Vendue House served as an auction market where everything, including slaves and salvaged goods by ship wreckers were sold. “Vendue” is French for sold. During the early twentieth century a second floor was added and the arcades were filled for the use of the Telegraph, Telephone and Electrical Departments. In 1992 it was converted in a public museum about slavery and emancipation. It was named Pompey in honor of a slave who led a revolt in the 19th century. Admission $5.38 for adults and $2:15 for children. Open Mon-Wed-Fri-Sat 9:30-4:30 pm: Thurs-9:30 am to 1 pm (Closed Sun and Holidays). Next to Vendue House is Pompey Square with a small seating area and an interactive water feature in the center of the square.
Cross the square until Wood Rogers Walk and turn right where is:
19) Straw Market
The Straw Market has long been a favourite of tourists looking for a souvenir to bring back home. You'll find a large variety of straw products, wood carvings, trinkets, and the usual selection of tourist T-shirts and ball caps. This is one of the few places where you can actually bargain for goods, so be prepared to haggle. Opening hours are daily from 9am to around 5pm.