There are hundreds of islands in the Bahamian archipelago but Nassau is not one of them. New Providence island has fallen into a case of mistaken identity over the years because Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas and New Providence has grown in such significance. The city where unruly English royalty found sanctuary and love, where English plantation owners played menacing politics, and shady rum runners docked their ships hiding barrels of liquor en route to Florida, has now come to define the entire island of New Providence and is most known to those seeking a Bahamas vacation.
And yet, most visitors never truly get to know Nassau with any degree of intimacy. They only get to know the adjoining Paradise Island, home of the intriguing Atlantis Resort with its AquaVenture paradise or the colonial heart, Downtown, Nassau, site of the largest port of entry for millions of cruise ship passenger. So much is said about Nassau and yet so little is known by those who enjoy a Bahamas vacation.
When you truly get to know Nassau you will discover a spirit of festival that moves the people, from Goombay to Regatta to Junkanoo, and everything in between, we fill the streets with an Ecclesiastical fervor. We decorate ourselves in colorful crepe paper costumes with larger than life cardboard figures and parade down Bay Street every Christmas and New Year’s to the sound of goat skin drums, conch horns, cow bells and brass melodies.
Feel that spirit in the music we make when you hear live Rake & Scrape bands in clubs and hotel bars, or jazz at Jacaranda House, or rock ‘n roll at Bay Street nightspots. And taste it in the food we cook, from traditional dishes at the local Fish Fry, to high art Japanese at Nobu, or gourmet French at Café Martinique, and soul satisfying Italian at Luciano’s of Chicago. For such a small place, Nassau is large in spirit and it shows in everything we do, especially our politics.
The Parliament of The Bahamas is located in Downtown, Nassau, smack in the middle of Bay Street. With it brings a complex mix of statesmanship and raucousness that defines both contemporary politics in the Bahamas and our colonial history. The famous Rawson’s Square houses the bust of the first Governor-General of an independent Bahamas Sir Milo Butler, an astute politician and leading merchant. His monumental stance has him unfortunately clasping a Bible looking up to a statue of Queen Victoria. She sits grandly across the road in Parliament Square. Both sites serve as popular photo opps against the weighty backdrop of history and politics.
As the urban centre of the Bahamas, Nassau is the most densely populated of all islands. Half of the country’s entire population lives in Nassau. Over-the-Hill in the North, where Grants Town and Bain Town are located, provided harbour for free and enslaved Africans from the time of the early settlement, and remains the cultural and community heart of Nassau. The best beaches are located on the north shore: Take your pick of Goodman’s Bay, Saunders Beach, Junkanoo Beach and the exclusive Old Fort Bay Beach. Bay Street, also in the North, is filled with dozens of stores, including duty free high end jewellery, leather goods, linen, common souvenirs and the famed Downtown Straw Market.
In the West you will find Lyford Cay, a private residential community where the wealthiest Bahamians, winter residents and celebrities hide away. They flock to the area like curious and colorful birds hibernating at winter. Cable Beach, also in the West, is the site of Baha Mar, a stunning resort campus billed as the Bahamian Riviera.
The South is the fastest growing area of the island. Carmichael Road is a busy metropolis; Cow Pen Road is scattered with farms and informal migrant settlements. Yammacraw in the East is home to Her Majestys Prison; Montague houses the modest Fort Montague, which overlooks the harbour. Along Eastern Road you’ll find The Hermitage, home to the Catholic Archbishop of the Bahamas, built by Lord Dunmore in 1787. Off Village Road, the Bahamas National Trust Retreat – a surprising natural reserve where trails offer nature lovers an experience of 11 acres of native coppice and one of the largest private collections of palms in the world.
Nassau doesn’t often speak for itself, because it is outgunned by the ubiquitous promotion of the Atlantis Resort and Bay Street, but there is so much more that the island has to offer.