The two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda lies at the meeting point of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. First colonized by English settlers in the 17th century, the islands are now independently governed, albeit with nominal ties to the British crown under a constitutional monarchy. Though they have a shared history, government, and climate, the islands offer distinctly unique experiences: Antigua, home to the capital city and main cruise ship port, is more well-known and populous, while Barbuda is quieter and more secluded (it comprises just three percent of the islands' combined population). With only 25 miles (40 km) separating the two destinations, it's easy to bounce from one to the other by a short plane or ferry ride, so don't feel obliged to pick just one. That said, there are approximately 400 beaches between them (not to mention countless other natural landmarks), so it helps to arrive with a sense of the top sights to zero in on. Luckily for you, we've done just that — keep reading for the ultimate list of things to do in Antigua and Barbuda.
Likely the first stop of your trip, St. John's is the nation's bustling capital on the northwest coast of Antigua. Though the duty-free shopping district near the Redcliffe and Heritage Quays draws the most visitors, the real gem in this colorful harbor city is St. John's Cathedral, a baroque twin-towered church perched on the hills.
Built as a strategic naval base in the 18th century for Admiral Horatio Nelson, the famed British Navy hero, this Georgian-style dockyard is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overlooking the narrow bay of English Harbour, this protected settlement is a popular landing spot for yachters and features a plethora of shops, art galleries, and museums to explore beyond the marina.
Shirley Heights Lookout
Located a short distance from Nelson's Dockyard, Shirley Heights is a restored military lookout point with stunning views of Antigua's rocky coastline and secluded bays. Pack comfortable shoes to hike to the 492-feet- (or 150-meter-) high summit; alternatively, you can ride a taxi to the top.
Pigeon Point Beach
A short drive from Falmouth Harbour on the south coast, Pigeon Point Beach is a peaceful oasis of calm, shallow waters surrounded by sea grape and palm trees. Surprisingly quiet considering the suite of amenities — including a restaurant, showers, bathrooms, and a playground — this beach hits the rare combination of comfortable and secluded.
Pink Sand Beach
Barbuda is famous for its pink-tinged sand, and Pink Sand Beach is the most striking example of it. With eight miles of pink sand to sink your toes into, you likely won't run into many other visitors — making the oceanfront feel like your own private getaway.
Martello Tower (a.k.a. "River Fort")
Built in the early 19th century as a British military base, Martello Tower is the island's last remaining defense fortress. Though much of the interior structure has crumbled away, the outer walls are sturdy enough to scale (exterior stairs remain at the base of the tower) for sweeping views of the southern coastline.
17 Mile Beach
As its name would suggest, 17 Mile Beach is a sweeping expanse of pink-tinged sand that separates the Barbuda lagoon from the Caribbean Sea. Facilities are few and far between (as are visitors), so come prepared with any supplies you need to enjoy a sunkissed afternoon alongside sparkling blue water.
Frigate Bird Sanctuary
Located at the lagoon in Wa'Omoni Beach Park, the Frigate Bird Sanctuary is arguably the top attraction on Barbuda. Home to over 150 bird species, including the spectacular red-throated Fregata magnificens, it is one of the world's largest bird sanctuaries and a delight for birders and non-birders alike.