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Nassau

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Downtown Nassau.

Nassau is the capital of The Bahamas, a member of the British Commonwealth. It is the largest city in the Bahamas and its low-rise sprawl dominates the eastern half of New Providence Island.

For other places with the same name, see Nassau (disambiguation).

Understand

Founded around 1650 by the British as Charles Town, the town was renamed in 1695 after Fort Nassau. Due to the Bahamas' strategic location near trade routes and its multitude of islands, Nassau soon became a popular pirates' den, and British rule was soon challenged by the self-proclaimed "Privateers Republic" under the leadership of the infamous Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. However, the alarmed British soon tightened their grip, and by 1720 the pirates had been killed or driven out.

Today, with a population of 200,000, Nassau contains nearly 70% of the population of the Bahamas. However, it's still quite low-rise and laid back, with the pretty pastel pink government buildings and the looming giant cruise ships that dock daily.

Orientation

Orienting yourself in central Nassau is fairly easy. Bay Street, which runs parallel to the shore, is the main shopping street, filled with an odd mix of expensive jewelry boutiques and trashy souvenir shops. The hill that rises behind Bay St contains most of the Bahamas' government buildings and company headquarters, while the poor residential Over-the-Hill district starts on the other side.

Get in

By air

Nassau's Lynden Pindling International Airport (IATA: NAS, ICAO: MYNN) is the largest airport in the Bahamas. Most major U.S. airlines (with the notable exceptions of Northwest and Southwest) have flights to Nassau. Limited service from Toronto and London also exists.

The airport itself has seen better days, but the free drinks occasionally served on arrival and the live band serenading the Immigration hall help set the tone. No public transport is available at the airport, but there's a list of fixed taxi fares posted at the exit. It's about US$25 and 10 mi (16 km) to most hotels in central Nassau.

On the way back, note that there are three terminal concourses: domestic and charter flights, flights to the US, and non-US international flights. US Immigration/Customs preclearance can be very time-consuming, so show up at least two hours before your flight. Security for other destinations is considerably more laid back, and an hour should suffice.

By sea

Nassau is a favorite port of call for the many cruise ships plying the Bahamas. Up to seven cruise ships can dock at the Prince George Wharf Cruise Terminal adjacent to downtown Nassau.

Get around

By water taxi

A water taxi service is an available alternative to a taxi to get to Paradise Island from downtown. It is picked up under the bridge and costs $6 round trip. The water taxi stops operating at 6PM.

By minibus

Minibuses (locally know as jitneys) act as the bus system of Nassau city and New Providence island. Jitneys are found on and near Bay Street. The famous #10 Jitney to Cable Beach loads passengers on George & Bay Streets (in front of McDonalds, across from the British Colonial Hilton). Other jitneys are located on Charlotte & Bay Streets. A bus will typically wait until it's full before departing. Understanding the various routes can be complex. Many have destinations painted on the bus, but there is no standard as they are run by multiple companies and individuals. Ask around for your destination. Note that there is no jitney that goes to Paradise Island (Atlantis Resort).

Journeys cost $1.25 per person, per ride. A round trip, even if not getting off the bus (ie: sightseeing), is counted as two rides. Payment is received by the driver when disembarking. No change is given, and there is no transfer credit for changing busses.

The Jitney is definitely a very inexpensive way to enjoy the local culture. Be aware that the jitneys stop operating between 6 and 7 PM. The only way back to downtown after 7 PM is by taxi which can be quite expensive.

By taxi

Taxis, often minivans and always identifiable by their yellow license plates and little Gothic blackletter "Taxi" lettering, roam the streets of Nassau. They're equipped with meters but will usually refuse to use them, so agree on the fare in advance. Expect to pay $15-$20 for even the shortest of trips from downtown to Cable beach.

By car

You could also rent a car. All major U.S car rental shops are in Nassau. Worthy of note for travelers from the UK is the very British feel of the roads. Unlike the nearby US, the Nassau roads are left hand drive, have UK road signs and even the odd roundabout.

By scooter

Scooter (small motorcycle) rental is also popular in Nassau.

By bike

Bicycle rental is not popular and not recommended as traffic is bad, there are many blind corners in the old streets of Nassau, and cars drive recklessly and on the left side of the road, which you may not be used to.

By foot

Within downtown Nassau, you could walk around. Distances are very short and a walking tour is a pleasant way of exploring downtown Nassau.

See

Parliament House
  • Take a walk around Old Town, an interesting mixture of abandoned buildings and bright Caribbean structures. It doesn't take long to get away from the over-scrubbed tourist areas in the very center. Walk ten minutes uphill to the pink Parliament Building, which still has a statue of an enthroned Queen Victoria out front.
  • Ardastra Gardens, Zoo & Conservation Center, 242-323-5806 (, fax: 242-323-7232), [1]. 9AM-5PM. Visit the Bahamas' only zoo. See the marching flamingo shows. Let the parakeets land on you as you feed them. $15.
  • National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, West & West Hill Streets, 1-242-328-5800, [2]. Tu-Sa 10AM-4PM. Opened in 2003, this showcases Bahamian art from the precolonial era to the present. The quality of art is rather uneven to say the least, but the renovated building — once the residence of the Chief Justice — is a sight in itself. Adults $5, Students/seniors $3.
  • Pirate Museum, 1-242-356-3759 (), [3]. M-Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 9AM-noon. Recreations of a pirate town, a pirate ship and a pirate battle, with a few real artifacts mixed in. Cheesy, but fun. Try to catch a guided tour. $12.
Fort Fincastle.
  • Fort Fincastle, [4]. A small fort built in 1793 which overlooks the city of Nassau from a small hill south of town. Several cannons are on display. Tours are conducted Monday through Sunday, 8am to 3pm.

Do

The bus tours are pretty interesting. They'll drive you around, and tell you about the local government, tell you about different points of interest, and take you to old forts, and to Paradise Island, to see the famous Atlantis hotel resort and its stunning aquarium.

Buy

  • Straw Market, Bay St. Originally a locals' market, this is now devoted to touristy bric-a-brac. If you are in the market for some souvenirs, this is the place to come. Don't be discouraged by the initial price of things, as this is the only place you can barter for a better one. You don't have to worry about exchanging any money either, as US currency is accepted universally.
  • Potters' Cay, under the Paradise Island bridge. Best known for its fish market, and there are plenty of stalls that prepare fresh conch salad, conch fritters and other Bahamian seafood delicacies, but there's plenty of other exotic tropical produce available too.

Eat

Get out of the hotel and try real Bahamaian fare. You can get greasy fish, sides and desserts at one of the holes-in-the-wall in downtown Nassau for around $8. On the upscale side, there's no shortage of waterside seafood restaurants where it would be easy to part with $50 for an excellent piece of lobster. Sbarros, McDonalds and Chinese restaurants are mixed in to satisfy the budget diner or someone who has had enough conch.

Mid-range

  • The Shoal Restaurant and Lounge, Nassau Street, 323-4200. Sa-Th 7:30AM-11PM, Fri 7AM-7PM. If the tourist crowds are getting you down, take a taxi out to where the locals eat. Enjoy fish that falls off the bone, friendly service, and a dessert of guava duff. $10-$20.

Splurge

  • Cafe Matisse, Bank Lane (behind Parliament Sq, off Bay St), 1-242-356-7012, [5]. Tue-Sat noon-11 PM. Tucked away on a quiet lane, Matisse serves excellent Italian food with fresh local ingredients. Reservations recommended; try to get a seat in the delightful garden courtyard, which is shady by day and lit up at night. "Proper" dress (no shorts or sandals) required for dinner. $50-70.

Drink

Nassau isn't a spring break mecca for nothing. The club scene is nightly and rowdy. Some popular establishments:

  • Señor Frogs, (242) 323-1777, [6]. 11AM-3AM. right next to the cruise dock. Situated next a stinky sewer pipe, check which way the wind is blowing before you order. Doesn't serve Kalik.
  • Club Waterloo, East Bay Street, [7]. 8PM-4AM. on the north side of the island, about two miles from the dock.
  • Cocktails and Dreams, West Bay Street, (242) 328 3745. draws a sketchier crowd, although it is on the beach. Come here in a group.
  • Club Fluid. draws a very local crowd. you will get lots of recommendations from Bahamians you meet but it is not a tourist club at all. It is in a dark, dirty, basement. There is nowhere to sit and the dance floor is concrete. The drinks are terrible and watered down.

Cover charges average $20, although all major hotels sell "passes" for $5. With a pass, cover charge is only $5, so you actually pay $10. Cover charges on weekends can climb up to $45, so it's a good idea to get a pass from your local taxi driver/hotel desk.

You can also opt for an all-inclusive entertainment pass, which will include a schedule. Expect to follow this itinerary with at least 5,000 other co-eds. (It might be a good idea to pick up this schedule even if you don't plan on participating. It will give you a good idea of places to avoid on certain nights.)

Drinks in clubs can get expensive, depending on the club and its location. Most locals "drink up" before going out, to defray this cost... That or they can be found in the parking lots with a cooler ;) Expect to pay at least $4 for a beer and $5 for a cocktail. The one exception is rum, which is cheap and plentiful. Cocktails with rum at a club, will be strong.

Sleep

Many of Nassau's hotels are located outside the city core on Paradise Island or Cable Beach.

  • British Colonial Hilton Nassau, One Bay Street, +1 (242) 322-3301 (fax: +1 (242) 302-9010), [8]. A hotel catering more to business travelers than package tourists. Occupies the site of a historical landmark (Fort Nassau), and has its own private beach, from which you get a fantastic view of the cruise ships going into, going out of, and berthed at the docks. Step out of the hotel and you're right downtown on Bay Street's shopping attractions.
  • Quality Inn Nassau Bahamas, West Bay & Nassau Street, +1 (242) 322-1515 (, fax: +1 (242) 322-1514), [9]. checkin: 3PM; checkout: 11AM. Located across the street from Junkanoo Beach, this hotel offers stunning views of white sandy beaches and the crystal-clear blue water of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Sunrise Oceanfront Cottage (www.hostelworld.com), Eastern Point, Nassau, Bahamas (Eastern Road travelling East, pass Prince Charles Drive T-junction on your right, beach on the left, after the 3rd house on your left, turn left, straight ahead yellow cottage on the ocean), 001-242-324-0105, [10]. $50.pp.

Stay safe

Colonial wreck, Over-the-Hill

The "Over-the-Hill" area south of downtown is the poorest part of Nassau, and tourists might want to be wary. It is, however, much nicer than "slums" in the Third World, and indeed, parts of the United States.

Some criminals target restaurants and nightclubs frequented by tourists. The most common approach is to offer victims a ride, either as a "personal favor" or by claiming to be a taxi, and then robbing and/or assaulting the passenger once they are in the car. Take care to ride only in licensed taxis, identifiable by their yellow license plates.

Be wary of the natives offering goods and services. They will tell you anything to get you jet-skiing, on booze cruises, etc.

Locals may solicit tourists with offers of marijuana, hairbraiding services, or a taxi ride. It gets monotonous but a friendly "no thank you" and moving on will keep both you and the local happy.

Most Cuban cigars for sale in Nassau are counterfeit. Only buy from reputable dedicated tobacconists. See warning on main Bahamas page.

Cope

Embassies

Get out

  • Paradise Island Located just across a bridge from Nassau, it is home to the lavish Atlantis hotel and resort.



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