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Beyond the beach, Barbados offers a wealth of dining and nightlife options, culture, and historic and natural attractions

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Barbados, the easternmost Caribbean island, located in the Lesser Antilles just northeast of Venezuela, has always been known for its top-notch resorts, tropical weather and beautiful beaches. But there is much more to a Barbados vacation. The island offers a full range of options for those interested in food, nightlife, culture and history, natural attractions and shopping.

 

On the dining front, Barbados is the first and only island in the Caribbean to have its own Zagat restaurant guide. One top-rated establishment is The Cliff (246-432-1922, www.thecliffbarbados.com), located in Derricks, St. James, ranked No. 1 on the island for its eclectic, French-influenced food and decor. Champers Wine Bar (246-434-3463, www.champersbarbados.com), a highly rated restaurant in Rockley, Christ Church, features Caribbean fare in an oceanfront setting. The Tides (246-432-8356, www.tidesbarbados.com), located in Holetown, St. James, is known for its seafood and oceanfront setting.

 

The Restaurant at Southsea (246-420-7423, www.therestaurantatsouthsea.com), located in St. Lawrence Gap, Christ Church, is known for superb service, eclectic fare and a superb wine list. Voted best value in the Zagat survey, Flying Fish (246-418-9772, www.yellowbirdbarbados.com), at the Yellow Bird Hotel in St. Lawrence Gap, features Caribbean fare, curries and steaks. The Elbow Room (246-432-1927), in Holetown, St. James, offers “do it yourself” dining. Guests can choose from an array of raw, pre-seasoned beef, chicken and fish, then grill it on a hot lava stone. Finally, Oistins Fish Fry, which takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings in Oistins, Christ Church, offers food, music and an introduction to the island’s folk culture.

 

Unlike some Caribbean islands that close down at night, Barbados has an extensive and accessible nightlife. If you are interested in a night of cabaret, head to Lexy Piano Bar (246-431-0260), near the Mango Bay Resort in Holetown, St. James. Voted the island’s most popular nightspot, Harbour Lights Nightclub (246-436-7225, www.harbourlightsbarbados.com) features drinks and dancing on the beach in Bridgetown, St. Michael. The Mews (246-432-1122), a popular nightspot in Holetown, St. James, features live music and dancing with a New Orleans feel. Lawrence Gap, the hip strip in Barbados, offers several clubs located side by side.

 

If shopping is on your agenda, visit Broad Street in Bridgetown, which offers tax-free purchases to those who present a passport and an airline ticket. Stores include Cave Shepherd, the island’s largest department store, and Harrison’s, a haven of tax-free clothing and luxury items. Madison’s Duty-Free, at West Coast Mall, Sunset Crest, is a boutique featuring everything from linen outfits to cocktail dresses, gowns, shoes, handbags and jewelry. Heather Harrington Jones, in Holetown, St. James, offers handcrafted jewelry and gold. Earthworks Pottery, an artist’s studio in St. Thomas, features a collection of designs reflecting a tropical feel.

 

The cultural and natural attractions of Barbados can best be understood by visiting its museums. The Arlington Museum offers an interactive look into the lives of the island’s early citizens, and explains the story of colonization and sugar cane as well as the history of the slave trade. It also showcases the island’s history as a leading port. The Nidhe Israel Synagogue Museum explains the role of Jewish culture on the island. (The original Jewish settlers build a synagogue there in the 17th century.) Visitors can learn about the 10 national heroes of the Barbados at the National Heroes Gallery, recently added to the west wing of the Parliament buildings. There, too, are handcrafted sculptures, murals, artifacts and scriptures by local artists.

 

Harrison’s Cave, the island’s most popular visitor attraction, is full of stalactite and stalagmite formations, and now offers fleet of new trams as well as the Cave Interpretive Center, which features a multimedia presentation. Visitors interested in Barbados’ spectacular tropical flowers can get their fill by visiting Andromeda Gardens, Flower Forest and Orchid World.

 

You can also hike through Wenchman Hall Gully, a national park full of tropical vegetation, birds and nature trails. Arbib Heritage and Nature Trail, a winner of Islands magazine’s ecotourism award, offers the gullies and natural attractions of Speightstown. Walks must be pre-booked through the Barbados National Trust; call 246-426-2421. An island safari tour takes visitors to off-the-beaten-path natural attractions. One of the best views on the island’s east coast can be had from the top of Cherry Tree Hill. Another great view of the island’s southern half is from the top of the Gun Hill Signal Station.

 

For more information, call 800-221-9831 or visit www.visitbarbados.org.--James Shillinglaw

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