A weekend in Nassau
The laid-back island has lots to discover beyond the resorts
Sunset on Cable Beach. Photograph: Damon Winter/The New York Times
A chef prepares a conch salad at waterfront restaurant Twin Brothers in Nassau. Photograph: Damon Winter/The New York Times
A moped zooms by a colorful downtown backdrop. Photograph: Damon Winter/The New York Times
A conch merchant pulls out a haul out of the sea at Potter's Cay seafood market. Photograph: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Most tourists arriving in the capital city of the Bahamas head straight across the bridge to the aptly named Paradise Island, where a glitzy resort scene is anchored by the Atlantis mega-development, known for its water park rides, casino and celebrity chef restaurants. While the sensory appeal there is undeniable, those looking for a cultural allure that’s subtler than, say, a 200-foot water slide, would do well to venture beyond the resorts. In addition to serving as port of call for cruise lines (and as a rowdy hub for spring breakers), at its heart Nassau is a laid-back island town. European influences blend with centuries-old Bahamian traditions here, anchored by an innovative dining scene, unique small hotels and, of course, miles of white sand beaches.
1. First Things First
Between Paradise Island and the Bahamas’ more secluded outer isles, the title of best beach in this country is up for endless debate. But if the goal is reaching the most pristine aquamarine ocean water in the least amount of time, it’s difficult to top Cable Beach. Just under three hours from Kennedy Airport and a 10-minute taxi ride from Nassau airport, the main island’s most popular strip offers powder-fine white sand, see-through blue-green water, and – post-spring-break anyway – plenty of beach blanket space. Enjoy this relatively crowd-free stretch while you can; the sprawling Baha Mar resort is scheduled to open here next winter.
2. Fish Fry
Taxi drivers and hotel concierges inevitably cite Arawak Cay as the go-to spot to dine like a local which, of course, means that the simple seafood shacks here are now filled mostly with tourists. Move past the identical colourful stands, all the way to the strip’s western edge and the tiny, no-frills King Restaurant and Bar, where a local crowd sips Sands beer ($3/€2.17) while playing backgammon and dominoes. There’s no printed menu, but Styrofoam plates are piled high with the catch of the day (fried snapper, most likely) alongside heaps of rice and beans, sweet plantains and (very) thick wedges of mac-and-cheese ($12/€8.71). (The US and Bahamian dollar are at par; either can be used on the islands.)
3. Rum Runners
The only locally owned distillery in the Bahamas, John Watling’s, opened last year on a grand 1789 estate in downtown Nassau. Friday nights find a buzzy crowd sipping Bahama Mamas ($10.35/€7.51), or going straight for the good stuff: the five-year-aged Buena Vista rum ($10.80/€7.84). Take home a bottle for $55/€39.93, it’s not available anywhere outside the country.