The thing I wasn’t expecting about Bermuda, and the thing that most impressed and excited me, was the sheer number of attractions, activities and hidden gems there are to discover. There’s truly something for everyone — plus plus. Traveling with an adventurer? Go cliff diving into the turquoise sea off of Admiralty House Park, the ruins of a former naval residence. Want to explore the island on foot? Head to the 18-mile Railway Trail, built on the old train tracks that run from St. George’s all the way across the island straight up to Somerset Village. History Buff? Visit the town of St George’s, a UNESCO Heritage site that once served as the island’s capital (it was moved to the more centrally located city of Hamilton in 1815) and is home to St Peter’s Church, the Unfinished Church and Fort St. Catherine. Sun Seeker? There are beaches galore, and each has its own feel, from the cliffs of Jobson’s Cove to the calm waters of Tobacco Bay and miles and miles of pink sand in between. And this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Bermuda. My list is long and unfinished. I guess I’ll need to go back again — and again and again — if I want to see to see it all. But here’s my list in progress.
Rent a Twizzy. I’m starting with this because it’s the best way to navigate all 22 miles of Bermuda. Thanks to their Clean Air Act, each Bermudian household is allowed only one car, and car rentals are not permitted on the island. That leaves taxis (which can be pricey), bicycles (not for everyone) or mopeds (not the safest mode of transport for those unfamiliar with the island roads) and now, the Twizzy. At the end of 2016, the Government approved the use of these sort of open-air, moped-golf cart-electric smart car hybrids that are ridiculously fun to drive and are, in my opinion, the best way to get around the island. You can rent them at the Hamilton Princess from Current Vehicles (Ask for Somers – he’ll hook you up and let you know how to download the Maps.Me app that will show you the locations of charging stations around the island).
Get a Driver. I know I just said you should rent a Twizzy, and you should, but you should also hire a driver for at least one day to get a real feel for the island and all of its incredible history. But don't get just any driver. The one you want is Larry Rogers (+44 1 734 8024 email@example.com), and you’ll need to book him in advance. Larry’s a born and raised Bermudian with a keen sense of humor and a knowledge of the island that rivals Wikipedia. He also has ins at a few places that are off limits to tourists (ask him to take you to Palm Grove Gardens, the private residence of the Gibbons family that has some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll ever see). I found him most helpful in going from Hamilton to St George’s as the roads in that direction aren’t quite as pretty as the ones to the South, and being in a car saved some time getting to this side of the island. And if a Twizzy isn’t your thing at all, I’d say get Larry to take you around as much as possible. And make sure to ask him to throw in some life lessons, or “Larryisms” as he likes to call them. #priceless.
Visit a Farm. This one is unexpected for sure — a farm visit might not be at the top of your list of things to do on an island vacation, but I implore you to give it a chance, because Wadson’s Farm is so much more than your average farm. Tom Wadson started farming in 1976 with one acre and he’s grown it to over 40 today. With everything from curly kale to strawberries to hydroponic lettuces, not to mention chickens, ducks, hogs and sheep that are harvested on site, this is farm to table at its best and most authentic. No middle man, no mass distributor — just Tom’s partner, Marty Hattfield, going door to door to the island’s restaurants offering the week’s harvest. And it’s Marty who will show you the farm and give you quite a lesson in horticulture while he’s at it. Wadson’s Farm 10 Lukes Pond Road, Southampton, Bermuda +1 441-238-1862.
Check out The Naval Dockyards. Hop in your Twizzy and follow the South Road along some of the island’s most beautiful beaches, including Astwood Park, Horseshoe Bay and Elbow Beach. Take it all the way to the Northwest tip of the island, where you’ll find some amazing sites at the Naval Dockyards like the National Museum of Bermuda which houses more than 75,000 artifacts of Bermudian history, and the Clocktower Mall which is pretty much the only place you’ll be able to find any tourist trinkets to bring home.
Give yourself time, though, because there’s a ton to see on the way. I highly recommend a stop for lunch at Bella Vista Bar + Grill (Port Royal Golf Course, 5 Port Royal Drive, Southampton SB03, +441 232 0100) located at the top of Port Royal, one of the island’s only public golf courses. The food isn’t the draw here — it’s the view that will stop you in your tracks. Perched high above the sea, it’s the only place you’ll get to see the ocean from this vantage point and it is so, so worth it. Have a glass of rosé, a salad and take it all in. Moving on, swing by Glass Beach, a tiny bit of shoreline located near an old bottling factory that has now become a beach made almost entirely of sea glass. Be warned, though: It’s illegal to take anything away with you, so make sure you bring your camera. Back on the road, you’ll drive over Somerset Bridge, the world’s smallest drawbridge which connects Sandy’s Parish to Somerset Island. And I know you just finished lunch, so you may want to wait until after you’ve visited the Dockyards, but whatever you do, make a pit stop at Woody’s (1 Boaz Island, Somerset Village, Bermuda) for the best fish sandwich on the planet: Perfectly fried Grouper or Wahoo served on raisin bread (yes, you read that right) with coleslaw, cheese, tartar sauce and hot sauce. I know what it sounds like, but trust. I promise. And I’ll give you your money back if you disagree.
Note: The other option is to take a ferry from Hamilton to Somerset, which is a beautiful way to see the island, but in my opinion, you miss out on some good sightseeing. Unless of course you have time to try it both ways, then I say definitely do that.
Hit the Beach. The topography of Bermuda is so varied that it’s as likely to feel like the South of France as it is the Bogs of Ireland, and the island’s 75 miles of coastline are no exception. From the rocky cliffs of Admiralty to the gentle surf at John Smith Bay, there’s a beach for everyone and every activity. Tobacco Bay on the North Side near St George’s is known to be a great spot for snorkeling and has a beachside café with a bar and live music, making it a popular spot for the Sun Seeking generation. Horseshoe Bay, on the South Side is, and always has been, the most popular beach on the island; and Cooper’s Island, on the Southeastern tip, which was once occupied by a NASA space tracking station, is 45-acres of mostly unspoiled terrain that boasts miles of beautiful beaches alongside one of the world’s most impressive bird sanctuaries. And there are dozens of others worth discovering as well: Elbow Beach, Jobson’s Cove, Warwick Long Bay, Church Bay, Turtle Bay and Mermaid Bay to name just a very few. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Drew’s Bay in St George’s, which a local beach for two. Yes, only for two people. That's it. It’s an unwritten Bermudian rule, so be sure to change course if you arrive and find the sliver of beach already occupied.
But regardless of the beach you choose, rest assured it will be a slice of heaven, complete with crystal clear turquoise waters, beautiful pink sand, and an abundance of sunshine.
Get Out On the Water. Whether it’s paddle boarding on the North Shore where the waters are calm, taking a JetSki tour around the island from the Hamilton Princess Beach Club or snorkeling around Tobacco Bay, the waters around Bermuda are about as clear as you will ever see.
Go Underground. The limestone caves that run beneath Bermuda are almost as awe-inspiring as the scenery above ground. And while there are tourist spots like the more commercial Crystal Caves and Fantasy Caves ( 8 Crystal Caves Road, Hamilton Parish CR 04, +1 441-293-0640 ), which have perfectly choreographed and scripted group tours with a modern infrastructure that takes you 120 feet below sea level, my suggestion is to find those caves that are a bit further off the beaten path. Try the Cathedral Cave at the Grotto Bay Hotel, where you can actually take a swim through the cave’s crystal clear waters, or Green Bay Cave in Harrington Sound, which is the longest cave in Bermuda, with more than 2 km of underground tunnels.
Take a Walk Through History. The original capital of Bermuda, St George’s, was founded in 1906 accidentally when Admiral George Sommers’ ship carrying 150 passengers was swept off course. It was a happy accident, though, because today St George’s is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and carries with it a rich and storied history. You could simply spend an afternoon walking the streets of St George’s, which is a wonder in itself. The architecture of Bermuda really shines here, but you really need at least a full day to explore everything St. George’s has to offer. St. Peter’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church in the Western Hemisphere; The Unfinished Church which was originally constructed to replace St Peter’s but was abandoned; Somers Garden where the heart of the town’s founder, George Somers, is buried; and Fort St Catherine, a seaside fort that was used first by Bermudian Militia and then by regular Royal Artillery units from 1612 into the 20th Century, are just a few of the places you must see. Add in a visit to The Bermudian Heritage Museum (29 Water St, St.George's, +1 441-297-4126), which celebrates the history of Bermuda’s African American heritage. In fact, the first slaves were brought to Bermuda in the 1620s and the slave trade wasn’t outlawed on the island until 1807, so it informs quite a bit of the island’s story. The museum was opened in 1998 with the goal of researching, collecting, preserving, displaying, and promoting this 400-year history, and it does it with incredible pride. It's a tiny building that you would likely walk right by, but don’t. Instead take a step inside, introduce yourself to Marion at the front desk, and ask her for a brief tour. It’s another example of the uniqueness of Bermuda, and a reminder that it really is so much more than just your typical vacation spot.
Follow the Scent. Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone took over The Bermuda Perfumery (Stewart Hall 5 Queen Street, St George's GE05, +1 441-293-0627), a ridiculously charming fragrance shop in 2004, and her passion for scent is literally intoxicating. Her perfumes, which are all hand crafted on site (on site! By hand! Not in a factory!), are meant to capture the essence of the island: the botanicals, the beach, the railway trail, the cuisine and the music. And they do just that. My personal favorite is South Water, a unisex scent that perfectly captures the pink sands and turquoise waters that surround the island. And as with the rest of Bermuda, there’s history here, too. Ask Isabelle to show you the original bottle of perfume that was recovered from the 1864 shipwreck of the Marie Celestia, and then smell the scent she was asked to recreate. You can also take an afternoon to create your own fragrance in the shop: On Tuesdays and Thursdays in the slower months (and by appointment the rest of the year), Isabelle offers workshops that let you in on the secrets of scent-making. You can also swing by on Wednesdays and Fridays for a spot of tea with Paula, the perfumery’s on-site Pastry Chef who bakes confections almost as delightful as the shop she serves them in.
Catch a Sunset. Sunsets in Bermuda are an event that shouldn’t be missed, and luckily there are some prime spots from which you can witness nature’s greatest show. Harborfront (40 Crow Lane at the BUEI, Pembroke HM 11, +1 441-295-4207) has a terrace perfect for a sunset cocktail; The Pompano Beach Club (36 Pompano Beach Road, Southampton SB 03, +1 800 343 4155) has the distinct honor of being considered the best place to snap a selfie during sunset and the Beach House at BlackBeards, right outside of Fort St Catherine on Achilles Bay, never disappoints with its views or its cocktails.
Pack a Picnic The one thing Bermuda lacks is outdoor dining. To remedy that, I’d suggest you head to Miles Market (96 Pitts Bay Rd, +1 441-295-1234), pick up a baguette or two, some prepared salads, a bottle of wine and make yourself a picnic. There’s almost nowhere on the island that isn’t picture-perfect, but some of my selects for picnic spots are the cliffs above the sea at Astwood Park on the South Shore, Admiralty House on the North Shore where you can spend a lazy afternoon diving off the Amalfi Coast-like cliffs into the turquoise waters; and Barr’s Bay Park, next to the Hamilton Bermuda Yacht Club where you can lay on the grass and watch the sailboats drift by.
Go Gallery Hopping. There’s a good amount of art to see in Bermuda, both local and foreign. See the landscape of Bermuda through the eyes of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Winslow Homer at Masterworks Museum of Bermudian Art ( 183 South Rd). The Bermuda National Gallery of Art (17 Church St, Hamilton) is another showstopper located inside Hamilton’s City Hall, full of local work that spans centuries. If you’re a modern art lover, don’t miss a tour of the Hamilton Princess (76 Pitts Bay Road, HM08, +1 441 295 3000) where the owners rotate the pieces from their private collection, which is massive and rivals any modern art museum you’ve ever been to. We’re talking Warhol, Damien Hirst, Magritte and De Kooning, and that’s not even a fraction of the list.
Get High. There are two lighthouses in Bermuda, and both are worth a visit. The Gibbs Hill Lighthouse (Lighthouse Road, St Anne's Rd, Cross Bay SN 01, Bermuda), was opened in 1844 and soars 114 feet high. Climb all 185 steps to the top for a great photo op. St. David’s Lighthouse, located on St. David’s Island overlooking the South Shore isn’t quite as high, but the views are equally as stunning.
Commune With Nature. Every inch of Bermuda exudes perfect, natural beauty, so it makes sense that the island is also home to miles and miles of nature reserves, botanical gardens and national parks. The Bermuda Botanical Gardens (169 South Road in Paget Parish DV 04, +1 441-236-4201) are 26 acres of everything from rose and hibiscus gardens to aviaries and greenhouses. There’s also an incredibly fragrant Garden for the Sightless full of flowers and aromatics, designed for the blind. Tom Moore’s Jungle (aka Walsingham Nature Reserve, Walsingham Ln., Harrington Sound Rd., Hamilton Parish) is a 12-acre reserve in Hamilton parish named for the Irish poet who spent most of his time in Bermuda, and along with lush greenery, you’ll find several natural swimming holes (Blue Hole is the most famous) as well as Tom Moore’s Tavern, the oldest eatery in Bermuda which dates back to the 17th century. Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve is surrounded by water on the Southeastern tip of Bermuda and provides access to a number of public beaches, including Clearwater Beach at Annie’s Bay, one of the island’s most pristine spots. There’s also a wildlife observation tower, which is a great place to spot whales in the spring. And if you’ve ever wondered what a rubber tree looked like, wonder no more: The Southlands Estate is home to the largest grove of rubber trees in Bermuda.
Drink It In. Last, but definitely not least, is my favorite activity: Drinking. Just kidding. Sort of. Seriously, though, you cannot and should not visit Bermuda without a quick (or not so quick) stop at The Swizzle Inn ( 3 Blue Hole Hill, CR 04) where, thanks to their potent Rum Swizzles (the official drink of Bermuda), you’ll “Swizzle In and Swagger Out.” And if it’s nightlife you’re looking for, take a stroll down Front Street in Hamilton. Stop into The Pickled Onion for a Dark & Stormy (another local fave) or the newly opened Astwood Arms, a Victorian style pub with great drinks and even better music. If it’s local flavor you’re after, make your way to Bermuda Bistro for great pub food and even greater live entertainment.