Discover secret things to do in Nassau, Bahamas, with a bright and bold serving of culture in the sun. Build your three day Nassau itinerary and fill it full of colour, character and cuisine.
Alternative Things to do in Nassau, Bahamas
Why You Should Visit Nassau, Bahamas
Just a short flight from Miami, the clear waters and soft sands of the Bahamas attract plenty of beach loving visitors. But the islands themselves contain hidden history, warm hospitality, striking art and more besides.
As the capital of the Bahamas and frequent cruise port stop, Nassau on Providence Island has all the bling you’d expect: casinos, world-beating restaurants, shopping centres and the like.
But you’ll also find plenty of secret things to do in Nassau, from dining with locals to chatting with artists. We even talk about those swimming pigs with sun lotion.
The Best Time to Visit Nassau, Bahamas
The best time to visit Nassau is between November and April, although that is the peak season when costs will be higher. The hurricane season runs between June and November.
What to Know Before You Go
I’d highly recommend splitting your time between Nassau and one of the outer islands, like Green Turtle Cay, where the pace of life is completely different.
Nassau has more in common with the US than any other Caribbean island I’ve visited and you can expect plenty of stag and hen/ bachelor and bachelorette parties at certain hotels and venues.
Disclosure – I visited the Bahamas as a guest of the Bahamas Tourism Board. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise there’s just no point! If you book or buy through any of the links on this page, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers! Right, let’s get on with it! Secret things to do in Nassau await!
Nassau and the Bahamas: Background
The earliest known inhabitants of today’s Bahamas were the Lucayans, an Arawakan-speaking people with links to South America and the neighbouring Caribbean Islands.
However, written and recorded history begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, who named the islands San Salvador, before heading further west on his first “voyage of discovery.”
By 1648, the first European settlement began and by the 18th century, the notorious triangular slave trade was in full flow: kidnapping people from western Africa and forcing them to work on the land in the Bahamas.
The Pirate Republic
The history books show plenty of struggles between the various European governments at the time – at one point, they all gave up and stepped away. This ushered in the era of pirates and privateers, a Blackbeard reality tougher than the movies make out.
While Britain lost the American War of Independence, it somehow gained the Bahamas in the process and a group of loyalists to the American-British cause set up a new settlement in New Plymouth in the Abacos. You can still visit today and feel as though you’re in a slice of Caribbean New England.
Elsewhere, the historic architecture is predominantly Victorian British, while the modern malls and gas stations have an All-American vibe.
But the Bahamas have their own identity, of course. And you can step on and off the standard tourist trails and start to uncover the depth behind the Bahamas with these secret things to do in Nassau.
Where to Stay in Nassau: Baha Mar
Baha Mar is a vast complex of three hotels in one. And, truthfully, as a lover of boutique hideaways, I probably wouldn’t have chosen it myself.
However, the place won me over with its rich cultural touches, like the art gallery and hidden walkways in the gardens. If you’re looking for loud casinos and rows of sun-loungers, you can find those too. But you’ll also find an understated elegance and an astonishing array of excellent restaurants and bars all in one place.
Staying at Baha Mar makes life easy when it comes to airport transfers and dining and so it’s perfect for travel with young children. Once checked in and freshened up, you can always leave the resort to find the secret things to do in Nassau.
Secret Things to do in Nassau, Bahamas
Your 3 Day Nassau Itinerary
I’ve designed this Nassau itinerary to form part of a week long trip, with half your time in Nassau and the other half elsewhere in the Bahamas.
If you’re visiting Nassau from a cruise ship, pick one day from this itinerary, unless you have more time on shore.
Day One – Arrive in Nassau
Most international flights arrive in Nassau Lynden Pindling International Airport. If staying at the Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, there will be a seamless transfer waiting for you (and possibly a singing pirate.) If not, arrange transport to your hotel or vacation rental.
Alternatively, if you’re wondering what to do in Nassau on your cruise, then focus on day two of this itinerary as that’s likely all you’ll have time for. Most cruises disembark onto Bay Street near the Straw market if that helps you to plan your route.
- If you’d rather a pre-booked transfer, then you can book on your mobile with Get Your Guide here and cancel up to 24 hours in advance.
Day Two – Rum, Crafts & History
If staying at Baha Mar, today’s the today to soak up the faux-French beauty of Café Madeleine, with fresh croissants and hot coffee for breakfast.
Then, to explore Nassau, it helps to have a driver but you can take individual taxis or book yourself onto a tour or excursion.
I’ve given a rough overview of times but these clearly aren’t rigid. In the Caribbean, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, it’s OK to go slow.
Bahama Hand Prints
Bahamian designed and made, the line of clothing and accessories at Bahama Hand Prints brings a sense of joy to its showroom. Be prepared for gorgeous colours in bright, enticing linen with links to the sea and the local community.
You’ll find it at the foot of the Paradise Island Bridge in the Island Traders Building. The shop is open on most days but if you’re lucky, you can take a tour of the small factory on weekdays and see how the prints are made.
John Watling’s Distillery
If 11 o’clock is too early for rum for you then never fear, the John Watling’s Distillery is an historical attraction more than anything else.
Imagine tropical gardens and century-old black olive trees and you’ll have an idea about the Buena Vista Estate in Downtown Nassau.
To give you a sense of time, the John Watling’s Distillery began construction in the same year that George Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789.
Guided tours take visitors around the house, showing antiques and prints that date back more than 300 years. There is also, of course, the chance to try the distillery rum.
As a poignant reminder of the years of brutality that took place, you can see a 200-year-old water well, carved out of the solid limestone by enslaved people.
A visit here is not one of the most unique things to do in the Bahamas but it is a kind of hidden treasure. Beneath the well-oiled visitor machine, you’ll find heart amid the history (although that could be the rum talking…hic!)
12:00 pm Lunch at Wild Thyme
For a beautiful place for a bite to eat, head to Wild Thyme, a restaurant with a sense of humour. Run by Lucia and Alex, Wild Thyme opened in 2017 and combines fresh organic food with cakes baked every day in house.
It’s light, airy and I’d suggest you eat outside in the fragrant south-west facing garden. Plus, if you can’t make it here for lunch, they also serve breakfast and dinner as well. Take your time, though. Nothing here runs fast!
Pirate Republic Craft Beer Brewing Company
Pirate Republic is the first and only craft brewery in The Bahamas. What began with a homemade 5-gallon brewing system in a kitchen became one of the best secret things to do in Nassau.
Inside, you’ll find talking pirates and enthusiastic owners. Take your time studying the ins and outs of the brewing process on the tour – or else just order a tasting line-up and chat with the pirates.
The Straw Market
You’ll find straw markets across the islands of the Bahamas, especially in the Family Islands, Paradise Island and Cable Beach, but the Straw Market in Nassau is one of the biggest and best organised. Weaving with straw is one of the oldest industries in the Bahamas. Straw weaving is considered one of the country’s oldest industries and you can find crafts and souvenirs to take home here.
Expect to bargain, though, and bargain hard. This isn’t a place where people enjoy browsers and photographers.
Fort Fincastle is another one of those secret things to do in Nassau that links to pirates. Built on Bennet’s Hill, the fort was constructed from cut limestone in 1793 and its cloudy grey appearance was designed to protect Nassau and her harbour.
Governor John Murray oversaw the project, an unusual design in the shape of a paddle-wheel steamer.
If you’re visiting from Europe and running short on time, I’d recommend skipping the fort to make sure you leave time for the rest.
The Queen’s Staircase
The Queen’s Staircase, hewn out of limestone rock by 600 enslaved people between 1793 and 1794, connects Fort Fincastle to Nassau city and some believe it formed an escape route.
The nickname comes from Queen Victoria, who reigned as the head of the British Empire between 1837 and 1901, and notably during the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Perhaps coincidentally, the 66 steps correspond with the number of years she reigned.
Dinner: The People-to-People Experience
Ah, this surely has to be one of the best things to do in Nassau! It is the absolute tonic to over-processed tourism and synthetic malls with plastic, packaged tat!
So, what is it?
Well, it’s the chance to meet locals and have dinner in their home as a sign of hospitality.
“Bahamians love any excuse for a party,” says one ambassador, and that;s the kind of thinking I love.
We met Mr and Mrs Lightbourne in their home, surrounded by lush tropical gardens, chirruping night crickets and starlight.
Henry, 67, showed us photos of his daughter and told tales about how his aunt had met the queen.
We ate conch salad appetisers (a kind of ceviche in a shot glass) and garden salad with grilled lobster, fried grouper and coleslaw, peas and rice.
“We have a lot of influences from the Deep South,” said Henry. “After a lot of people fled to the Bahamas after the war.”
In between courses, we walk through the garden of fresh coriander, pineapple, coconut, spearmint, mulberry and spring onions.
And then the finale: guava cake and a Bahamian coconut duff.
The People to People Project
The People to People project is run by the Bahamas Tourist Office and is completely free as a way to promote understanding and connection between locals and visitors.
Or in other words: the real meaning of travel.
Day Three – Art, Education and Beaches
Even if you’re not staying in one of Baha Mar Grand Hyatt’s 1800 rooms, it’s worth visiting either here or Atlantis Paradise Island to witness the scale of ambition when it comes to hotel design here. These are villages, rather than hotels, with restaurants and cultural offerings to match.
Baha Mar has two offerings among many that I’d like to highlight for this list of secret things to do in Nassau: the activities for children and the Current Art Gallery.
Local Art Gallery: The Current
The Current Gallery & Art Centre is one of my favourite secret things to do in Nassau, Bahamas. It’s one of the best hidden gems, if you’ll excuse the cliché.
The Current runs artist residence programmes, provides a performing arts space, hosts art exhibitions where guests can chat with artists and has a permanent and variable art collection throughout the gallery and three hotels.
And it focuses on local art and artists, encouraging both tradition and innovation.
As you can probably tell, I loved it!
The Kids’ Club
Now, I’ve seen many a kids club in my time as a travel writer but nothing that comes close to this. The Baha Mar Kids club offers cooking lessons, art lessons and marine biology exploration with starfish, flamingoes and more. There’s an aviary and a conservation and education centre and movie theatre. I mean, seriously! This is better than my entire childhood!
Dinner at Carna
Dario Cecchini, the world-famous butcher from Tuscany, believes that good butchery can make meat-eating sustainable. When cooked properly, nothing is wasted and everything is delicious: a premise he has championed since he took over his father’s family business in Italy in 1976.
These days, he converts a steakhouse into a poetic, gastronomic feast in Carna and I can honestly say it’s the best steak I’ve ever tasted.
Day Four: Day trip to Rose Island & Swimming with Pigs
Hey! So, first off, let’s talk about swimming pigs. If you haven’t heard of it before, it doesn’t take long to realise that this a thing in the Bahamas.
Pink-snouted photos in turquoise water fill the airport arrivals hall and immigration queue – and every Nassau itinerary after that.
Yet the practice is not without its controversies, as most animal-related events are.
The most popular place to swim with pigs is in Exuma on Pig Beach, not Nassau. But, you can take a day trip to Rose Island with Sandy Toes and swim with pigs there.
I had a chat with the owners and the staff who work there and the pigs (Babe, Wilbur, Pumba, Larry, Mo, Ginger, Pepper and Spice) do seem to be very well looked after. The team apply sunscreen to the pigs and take care of their nutrition and health with regular vet visits and so on. They also limit the number of visitors who swim with the pigs at any one time and ask guests to treat them very gently.
If you’re having trouble imagining how all this works, it happens like this:
The Sandy Toes Excursion
Sandy Toes take a boat full of around 40 people from Paradise Island Ferry Terminal to Rose Island, where there’s a private beach with space for everyone. The boat journey takes around 25 minutes and there’s quite a party vibe with fruit punch and youthful enthusiasm.
Once there, people spend the day on the beach and in the surf, with a BBQ and toilets provided.
If you want, in groups of around 10, you can meet the pigs on the sand. If they go in the surf to swim, you can join them, but if they don’t, the staff won’t force them.
In the end, I decided against it. Pigs are pretty big and not all that toilet trained! It’s one of the first times in life I didn’t try something just to see what it was like, and you can make of that what you will!
Cocktails and Canapes
If you’re heading back to Baha Mar, don’t miss the sunset at the fabulous open-air Sky Bar. I’d also recommend dinner at Shuang Ba, which serves high end Chinese cuisine fused with fresh Bahamian produce.
Think braised “black-gold” abalone and Chaozhou-style dumplings in ornate, darkwood-and-scarlet booths. Keep an eye out for the central marble masterpiece, too. It was quite the operation to bring it here from China!
Day Five: head to the other islands
If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I would really recommend spending time on the other islands in the Bahamas. Nassau is really well connected and you’ll discover a whole new view of life in this part of the Caribbean.
I travelled to the Abacos and you can check out the account of Green Turtle Cay here. Other popular spots are Blue Lagoon Island, Eleuthera, Long Island and Cat Island.
More time in Nassau? Some more ideas…
Clifton Heritage National Park
Through cliffs, dunes and rocky coastlines, the walking trails of Clifton Heritage National Park introduce visitors to more than just stunning landscapes. Here you’ll find heritage and education about three different groups of people who profoundly influenced the history of the Bahamas: the Lucayans, Loyalists and Africans.
Non-touristy things to doi n Nassau Bahamas at a Glance
Explore Nassau off the beaten path and go where locals go in Nassau.
- Enjoy dinner and conversation with the People to People experience.
- Visit the Bahama Hand Prints company.
- Take in an exhibition and talk to local artists at The Current.
Junkanoo Beach and the Western Esplanade
Junkanoo Beach (also know as the Western Esplanade) merges into Arawak Cay and Long Wharf, the closest beaches to the cruise ship dock. As a result, it’s fair to say that the area receives its fair share of partygoers when the cruise ships are in town.
But the rest of the time, you can also find locals with their families, horse rides and pony rides and the sight of those might ships heading in to dock.
Free things to do in Nassau Bahamas
Explore Nassau off the beaten path and go where locals go in Nassau.
- Enjoy dinner and conversation with the People to People experience.
- Visit the Nassau Straw Market.
- Head to Junkanoo Beach.
- Visit the Bahama Hand Prints company
Anywhere not to go?
Fish Fry and Over The Hill
It’s a matter of opinion, but the US travel advisory says this at the time of publication:
“Exercise caution in the area known as “Over the Hill” (south of Shirley Street) and the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay in Nassau, especially at night.”
Walking Tours in Nassau
It’s reasonably straightforward to visit all of the top attractions in Nassau by either walking or taking a taxi.
But sometimes walking tours bring life to a destination.
In Summary: Secret Things to do in Nassau, Bahamas
Everyone knows that the Bahamas are beautiful. But this collection of secret things to do in Nassau brings out the traditions, history and modern-day life of this extraordinary capital city. And the Bahamas itinerary helps you to organise your time.
Enjoy your trip to the Bahamas!
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