Exploring Downtown Nassau’s 10 Most Iconic Landmarks 2016
Sometimes, street signs just don’t cut it when you’re trying to find your bearings in an unfamiliar city- and as much as we all love Google Maps, even it has its limitations. Here in The Bahamas, the best way to journey through the islands is by landmark, and in Nassau, many of these iconic spots happen to be some of the oldest, most intriguing sites in the country. From legendary forts, monuments of political vestiges, and charming colonial architecture, downtown’s landmarks are rich in historical and social value. We suggest making it a point to visit these stellar photo-opps during your visit, because in addition to learning the history and culture of the city, you’ll also learn how to maneuver your way around the city in the process! You’ll love that you can explore the majority of these sites on foot since each spot is located within 2 mile radius of Downtown Nassau’s neighbourhood core. And best of all: almost all of these Nassau landmarks are free and open to the public during most hours of the day. #Winning.
If you’re a history buff looking to delve deeper into the colourful culture of our island city and you’re equally as curious about traditional Bahamian food- you will go ga-ga over our Bites of Nassau Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tours! We lead entertaining, informative and delicious small-group walking tours that provide in depth commentary on many of these amazing locations- and give your bellies something to smile about too!
Queen Victoria Statue In Parliament Square
Directly next to the cruise terminal, just past Festival Place at the Prince George Wharf, Rawson Square sprawls across two sides of Bay Street in Downtown Nassau, and represents the juxtaposition of two worlds. On one side, sits the great Queen Victoria, a royal that represents The Bahamas’ colonial past, while on the opposite side of the street sits the bronze bust of the country’s first Governor General, Sir Milo Butler, a symbol of independence and progress. These grounds are situated beneath the House of Parliament, and have become a platform for social movements, cultural exhibitions, and public forums countrywide. Rawson and Parliament Squares are places for political inquiry and social change, but it is also a great starting point to meet with family and friends and learn more about The Bahamas!
Rawson Square provides wonderful photo-op, and it almost always has some cultural display going on, whether it’s an exhibition of the Family Islands, or an exposition on Bahamian icons. Rawson Square is also the best place to watch our Junkanoo Festival during the Boxing Day and New Year’s holidays, but until then, you can enjoy the site and anchor your bearings as you make your way around Downtown!
Address: Parliament Street & Bay Street
Hours: Mon-Sun, 24/7
Nassau Public Library
Credit: The Bahamian Photographer
This unique library is housed in one of The Bahamas’ oldest standing buildings, and, interestingly enough, in what was the country’s first prison! Completed at the turn of the 19th Century, this four-story, octagonal, limestone building served as the country’s jail for three quarters of a century. However, in 1873 when a new prison was built, the building was converted into a library, where books now line the cells that once held convicted criminals! The Nassau Public Library is a historical reference point, archiving documents of Bahamian history as far back as Colonial times.
From a chaotic prison to a tranquil place of study, the Nassau Public Library is definitely worth a walk through. It’s ancient walls house books for kids, adult novels, historical documents, old journals, postcards, and family lineages! You can explore the old dungeons or pull up a chair and explore the history of the country instead. It’s the ideal stop for history aficionados!
Address: Shirley Street
Hours: Mon-Sun, 9:00am-5:00pm / Sat, 9:00am-1:00pm
Phone: (242) 322-4907
Fort Fincastle & The Water Tower
Credit: Bahamas Finder
This former military site has a whole lot to offer in the realm of both history and sightseeing. Not only do visitors get to explore the famous Fort Fincastle, but also the 126-ft water tower at its rear, which stands as the highest structure on the island! Erected at the top the tallest vantagepoint on New Providence, Bennet’s Hill, in 1793, this fort was built in the shape of a ship’s bow, providing a most formidable sight to say the least for onlooking marauders! Perhaps this feature is responsible for why the fort, like it’s cousin Fort Charlotte, never fired a single cannon!
On a less combative note, the fort did serve as a lighthouse during the 19th Century. Fort Fincastle was named after Lord Dunmore, or rather his second title, Viscount Fincastle, and was used mostly as a lookout point to spot encroaching pirates. Now the fort is a wonderful place to admire the view of Nassau Harbour and Paradise Island from. Thrillseekers can climb even further up the Water Tower, which was built behind the fort in 1928. From the top of this 126-ft tower, you can view the entire island of New Providence! With 216 steps to mount, this site offers a climb that could double as your cardio for the day!
Address: Prison Lane off East Street
Hours: Mon-Sun, 8:00am – 4:00pm
Fort Entrance: $1 (plus tax)
Phone: (242) 322-7500
The Queen’s Staircase
Credit: Travel Blog
Another amazing Nassau landmark to check out when you’re visiting Fort Fincastle is the Queen’s Staircase, otherwise known as the “66 Steps” (especially among locals), which is a 102-foot staircase carved entirely out of solid limestone. In fact, the same limestone debris was used to make portions of Fort Fincastle! Because Fort Fincastle was located so far atop the limestone cliff from which it perches, a direct-access route was needed in order for soldiers to reach the fort in case of an attack on the city. Pretty smart huh?
To create this staircase, over 600 slaves hand-carved each step from the limestone cliff, a process that took 16 years to complete. Decades later, the staircase was named in honor of the 65-year reign of Queen Victoria, who had signed a declaration to abolish slavery on her ascension to the throne in 1837. Today, the Queen’s Staircase still acts as both a passageway to Fort Fincastle and a shortcut to Bennet’s Hill, but the walls of vines, shady trees and overhanging brush create a majestic rainforest scene that’s perfect for family photo-ops and weddings too.
Address: Elizabeth Avenue
Hours: Mon-Sun, 24/7
Phone: (242) 356-9085
Credit: Flickr Hive Mind
Step onto the grounds of Jacaranda House and travel back into the final hour of Colonial life here in the Downtown Nassau. This old colonial mansion was originally built in 1840 by Sir George Anderson, but has passed through many hands over the last two centuries. Today, it is owned by the Oakes family and though it has been renovated and modernized to some extent, it still retains the beauty of its original form. Complete with lush gardens, an elegant guest house and tiled pool, Jacaranda House exudes sophistication. It’s a wonderful venue for art exhibitions, theatrical performances, weddings, and cocktail parties, giving any event a vintage feel. However, your only opportunity to get in on the opulence is through private soirees or public performances!
If you’re interested in live music during your next trip to Nassau, then Jacaranda House is a great place to take in some soulful jazz here in the Downtown area! The first Sunday of every month, Jacaranda House hosts a Jazz at Jacaranda event featuring local jazz artists like Adrian D’Aguilar and the Jazz Etcetera group, Anuschka Wright, and even guest performances from our very vocal food tour guide, Sara!
Address: Parliament Street & East Street
Hours: Grounds open during public events only
Fee: Cover charges vary, event depending
Phone: (242) 322-2275
Credit: Red Bubble
One of the more noticeable but lesser known landmarks in Downtown Nassau is Gregory’s Archway, an overpass leading directly into the grounds of Government House. The archway was built in 1852 and was named in honour of the then British Royal Governor of the country, John Gregory. The archway became a symbol of class division in Nassau, following the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1806 as Gregory’s Archway was the conspicuous dividing line between the opulent, mostly white-merchant class neighborhood in Downtown Nassau and the African villages on the southern side of the island.
During the 19th Century, this archway provided a path to financial stability for farmers, who would bring their produce from Farm Road on the southern side of the archway to Market Street on the opposite side, heading into town. In the early to mid 20th Century, the archway was a party hub and acted as a gateway to down home Bahamian clubs and bars. Today, the archway reminds us of old Bahamian traditions, and offers a good look at the diversity of the island, the town utterly transforming as you pass under the archway in either direction.
Address: Duke Street & Market Street
Hours: Mon-Sun, 24/7
Christopher Columbus Statue At Government House
Atop Mount Fitzwilliam, you will find the prestigious Government House, along with the carved Christopher Columbus statue. Situated at the harbourside entrance of the building, the 12-foot-tall representation was placed in front of Government House by Governor James Carmichael Smyth in 1830, but onlookers often marvel at the sheer size of the statue and its swaggering, piratical features that do not match up very well with portraits of the adventurer. The statue is imposing, which only accents the noble Government House.
Built in 1737, Government House’s 10-acre estate has undergone many renovations and reconstructions over the last few centuries, but has always been home to the Queen’s representative, the Royal Governor pre-independence, and the Governor General post-independence. However, it has always been a beautiful representation of Loyalist architecture, including elegant columns and broad circular drives, along with traditional Bahamian facets like its flamingo pink walls and louvered wooden shutters.
Every second Saturday of the month around 11:00am, the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band play Bahamian classics during the Changing of The Guard ceremony, and on the last Friday of every month between 3:00pm and 4:00pm, a public tea party is hosted by the People-To-People program. No matter when you come, though, you’ll always have a beautiful scene to take in and an impeccably dressed guard available for photo!
Address: Duke Street
Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Phone: (242) 322-1875
Christ Church Cathedral
Credit: Nassau Beaches
As the state church of The Bahamas, Christ Church Cathedral steals every eye in Downtown Nassau, which is why we start our Bites of Nassau Food and Cultural Walking Tour here! Of all the churches in Downtown Nassau, this parish is among the oldest in the country, having been established in the 1670s (although the current cathedral on George Street was opened 1841). Built from locally-quarried limestone, and furnished with mahogany ceilings and granite-tile floors, the Gothic architecture is a beauty to behold.
The church also features two grand pipe organs and stained-glass windows dating back to the 1930s. Christ Church Cathedral is the perfect place to rendezvous with friends and family after a long day of shopping, and meandering down Bay Street. Oftentimes guests are treated with a melodious tunes from the church’s choir or pianist, and is always open for visitors to take in the elegance of this historical site!
Address: George Street & King Street
Hours: Mon-Fri, 8:30am – 5:00pm / Sat, 8:30am – 4:00pm
Phone: (242) 302-2621
Credit: Tru Bahamian Food Tours
Balcony House is the oldest standing wooden residential structure in all of Downtown Nassau, built originally in the late 18th Century. The picturesque pink manor acts as a true testament to Loyalist architecture and how it changed to fit the Bahamian climate, including a mahogany staircase constructed from the remnants of an old shipwreck, shuttered windows, an old slave kitchen at the rear of the home, and the grand overhanging balconies which give the house its name. Balcony House housed many highly respected Bahamian locals including Stephen Dillet, the first man of colour to represent the city of Nassau in parliament, and even international celebrities like Sir Ian Fleming, the writer of the James Bond novels.
“007” fans and curious visitors alike are welcomed to tour the home and revel in the many artifacts and furnishings of its past owners, for now it stands as a museum equipped with enthusiastic guides to take you on a trip through the centuries. This house is chocked full of history, perfect for wanderers searching for some old-era Bahamian culture and a better sense of the city!
Address: Market Street & Trinity Place
Hours: Mon-Wed & Fri, 9:30am – 4:30pm / Thurs, 9:30am – 1:00pm
Fee: Free! (donations graciously accepted)
Phone: (242) 302-2621
Vendue House at Pompey Square
Pompey Square is a festive site in the Downtown area surrounded by restaurants, bars, and shops, but just quiet enough to catch a breath in after a long day of exploring. The square is located directly adjacent to the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation, to which it pays homage. Pompey was a famous slave in Bahamian history who led a slave revolt in 1830 on one of the outer Bahamian islands, Exuma. The museum, once a public market and slave auction lot called Vendue House, was converted into a museum for the study of slavery in 1992 and named after the brave man. The museum, reopened following renovations in late 2014, offers interactive exhibitions depicting slavery in The Bahamas.
Today, the square is always alive in colour and culture, featuring local artisans and musical bands who are joyfully serenading guests. The square also has a water fountain for kids (and adults) to splash about in, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, Creative Nassau Marketplace hosts an art village in the square selling authentic Bahamian crafts items, conch jewelry, straw bags and hats, and paintings. You’ll also find us at Pompey Square on Saturday mornings as the park provides a shaded meeting point for our Authentic Bahamian Cooking Class & Lunch Experience!
Address: Bay Street
Square Open: Mon-Sun, 24/7
Square Fee: Free!
Museum Hours: Mon-Wed & Fri-Sat 9:30am – 4:30pm, Thurs 9:30am – 1:00pm
Museum Admission: Adults $3.00, Seniors $2.00, Locals $2.00, Children 6-12 $1.00, Children 5 and under free
Phone: (242) 356-0495