Home to over half of the Bahamian population, Nassau brings to mind many things to many people. To some, it is the fine sand that ribbons the coast—so pure that it makes some think of baby powder, how smooth and white it is. To others, gambling comes to the fore, as the Bahamas are known for their world-class casinos. Others dream of their retirement in a colonial island paradise whose government increasingly recognizes that its inherent beauty is its economic strength. Yet for others, thoughts turn back to the 1980s, the days of the illegal substance cowboys exemplified by Don Johnson, Phillip Michael Thomas and the TV show "Miami Vice,"—the modern-day smugglers in high-speed chases from the American mainland to The Bahamas, as well as romance on the high seas. All this makes for a plethora of water sports and activities, superb shopping, excellent historic sites and a hopping nighttime scene.
But of course, the island of Nassau is so much more, it is an antidote for people needing relief from the day-to-day hassles and stress of life in the "real world", where the concern is not which reef to visit but which bill to pay. So the question is, "where do you go to best enjoy all these things?"
Downtown is the hub of activity in Nassau. Thousands of people visit daily, to shop, dine, sightsee and enjoy the bustling atmosphere of this port city. While the busiest part of Downtown is the Bay Street thoroughfare and the Woodes-Rodgers Walk, located across the street from the port and parallel to Bay, the area actually extends for several blocks in each direction. It starts at West Bay, around the Junkanoo Beach area. A few hotels and restaurants are located on West Bay, most notably Compass Point , Holiday Inn and Chez Willie . The next landmark is the British Colonial Hotel , which marks the beginning of Bay Street proper. Pirates of Nassau Museum is just across from the British Colonial Hilton. Just across the street from Pirates lies a duty free shopper's paradise. The next few blocks of Bay Street are wall-to-wall boutiques, with a few restaurants and clubs interspersed throughout the retailers. Famous historical landmarks are all around, including Vendue House and the Christ Church Cathedral . Although the tourist part of Downtown peters out after about seven blocks, smaller, more local stores are found all the way down Bay Street, to the foot of the Paradise Island Bridge. At this point, Bay Street becomes East Bay. There used to be nothing here, but recently an enclave of decent restaurants has sprung up. The Red Carpet Inn , one of Nassau's best budget hotels, is located on East Bay.
The pace in this district is busy, so it is frantic at times. Without a doubt, it gets the most foot traffic on the entire island. This place is perfect for recreational shoppers, sightseers and first-time visitors.
If Downtown Bay Street is known for its shopping, Cable Beach is the recognized hotel district. Five enormous hotels—two of them all-inclusive—are located on this strip. The area is also known for its dining options, the magnificent Crystal Palace Casino , and of course the golden sands of Cable Beach itself. Most of the area's restaurants are located either in the hotels or across the street. BBQ Beach , Androsia and Capriccio are three of the best dining options on Cable Beach, offering unique decor, a serene atmosphere, and distinctive cuisine. There is little to no nightlife. People frequent this place during the daytime hours, relaxing at hotel pools or on the beach. There is a bit of shopping; most of it located in the Marriott Crystal Palace . Two small arcades are in this hotel. One is above ground and one is in the walkway between the Marriott and the Radisson.
This is a quieter, calmer place then Downtown. It's harder to walk from one place to another, and no one really wants to bother. It's much nicer to relax at a pool bar or splash in the waves. If things get boring, it's easy to catch a cab or a Number 10 bus and go to Bay Street.
Nothing can prepare one for the sight of the Atlantis, an enormous hotel/resort/aquarium/ water park modeled after the legendary sunken city. The rest of Paradise Island isn't at all shabby either. In fact, it is a veritable man-made oasis, built over what used to be a lackluster patch of ground known as Hog Island. The first resort to draw people to the island was the venerable Club Land'or. While this tiny club is very much in the shadow of the Atlantis, it still has many loyal fans. Golfers should check out the Clarion South Ocean Resort and Golf Club, while wealthy travelers desiring quiet will appreciate the Sheraton . Shopping on Paradise Island is either very expensive or not very interesting. The Crystal Court in the Atlantis features a dozen of the world's best and most expensive designer boutiques. On the other end of the spectrum, Paradise Plaza and Hurricane Hole have a number of shops that sell inexpensive beach gear and souvenirs. Fine dining is everywhere, most notably at the Blue Lagoon and at Fathoms . For a family dinner, Anthony's is a good choice. Choosing a daytime activity is easy: the beach is everywhere, and it's gorgeous. Many aquatic excursions depart from the Paradise Island Port instead of (or in addition to) Nassau Harbor.
Paradise Island is stunning in some parts, lovely in others, and in some...well, it's not finished yet. There is constant construction and even more constant renovation as hotels strive to match up to the world-famous Atlantis. This is easily the most expensive and tourist-oriented place in all of the Bahamas, but no one would deny that it's a lot of fun. There's no bus over the Bridge. Drive, or take a cab or bus to the foot and walk.
There are many other parts of Nassau, however, they are strictly for locals; so there's nothing in the way of attractions, and very little interesting shopping. Anyone looking for a stereo, a pair of jeans or some inexpensive groceries can hop on a number 18 bus from the transit center and head to the Marathon Mall .
However, for sheer energy, activity and entertainment, a visitor could remain in the main three districts of Nassau for an entire vacation without ever getting bored.
As both the capital of the Bahamas and a world-famous vacation destination, Nassau boasts a wide variety of dining and entertainment options. Many of the island's restaurants and bars keep to a tropical theme in terms of ambience and cuisine, but a more eclectic dining scene is beginning to flourish, and different kinds of night spots are also beginning to crop up. One can find Chinese takeout, European bistros and Italian trattorias throughout downtown Nassau and Paradise Island. Gourmet rooms and upscale cocktail lounges are also scattered throughout the island, with a few restaurants making the "Top Ten" list in gourmet publications and trade magazines.
However, people don't come to Nassau to eat Chinese food or French food. They come to Nassau to drink rum and eat conch—that deliciously chewy sea creature rumored to have extraordinary libido-boosting properties. Spring Breakers visit the island for the inexpensive liquor and the thumping reggae and calypso music, while entire families can enjoy Junkanoo parades and inexpensive local seafood. The quintessential Nassau dining experience includes chipper Calypso music, fresh fish or lobster, friendly service and a view of the sea. One can find all of these qualities at dozens of restaurants in Nassau and Paradise Island.
Downtown-Bay Street Dining options on Bay Street aren't quite as plentiful as one might expect. The street is primarily a shopping area, and there are just a few restaurants interspersed with the stores. Most restaurants are located on side streets, a short distance from the thoroughfare. At the beginning of Bay Street, the majestic Colonial Hilton offers several dining options, all of them expensive. The Wedgwood Room is a perfect choice for very special occasions, say anniversary dinners or 50th birthdays. Portofino Italian Cafe , located on the ground floor of the Hilton, is less formal than the Wedgwood; it's appropriate for business lunches or dinners.
Fine dining choices don't stop at the Hilton, however. A number of gourmet restaurants are located within a few blocks of the landmark hotel. Graycliff and Chez Willie are known around the world for ambience and cuisine.
Although Nassau boasts a high number of world-class gourmet rooms, especially given its diminutive size—it has plenty of less formal options. Across the street from the Hilton is an extremely popular, extremely touristy restaurant, Conch Fritters . This place blatantly panders to drunken tourist families and bored businessmen, but in spite of its kitschiness, it has a certain appeal. Prices are relatively low and portions are large. It's a great place to try conch for the first time; it's also a perfect spot for daquiri-downing. Two doors down, the dingy Imperial Cafeteria offers authentic Bahamian fare. Only the bravest tourists venture in here, but locals flock to the counter day and night. Skans Cafe is smack dab in the middle of Bay Street. Busy and informal, it does a brisk lunchtime business. On a side street of Bay, the Brussels Brasserie serves delectable brunch and lunch dishes in a casually cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Most of Nassau's nightlife is located downtown. Bahama Boom, the latest hot spot, also claims the distinction of being Nassau's first techno club. Waterloo is a popular dance club, featuring all kinds of music and an outdoor patio. The Drop Off is famous for its intriguingly seedy mixed crowd and its late-night food service.
East Bay While it's not known for much else, the area around the foot of the Paradise Island Bridge has become a sort of restaurant district. Several popular restaurants, including the jazzy Pink Pearl and legendary Poop Deck , are clustered here, near Nassau Harbour. The recent addition of two popular restaurant franchises, the Outback Steakhouse and Hooters, makes this an even more popular dining destination.
Cable Beach This part of Nassau is known for its world-class hotels, but it has plenty of fine independent restaurants as well. BBQ Beach , a newcomer to the Nassau dining scene, features nouveau barbecue. Androsia Steak and Seafood is famous for its pepper steak and its fresh seafood.
Each of the major hotels on Cable Beach boasts a full complement of restaurants, and while the all-inclusives ( Sandals , Breezes ) don't allow outside guests, the other hotels are quite welcoming. The Marriott Crystal Palace has the fabulous Seaside Buffet, a casual restaurant by the name of Goombay Mama and a wonderful coffee shop and pastisserie, Crystal Sweets. Fine dining options—Italian, Chinese and Continental—are located on the second floor of the main building. One of Nassau's most popular local restaurants, Cafe Johnny Canoe , is located next to the Nassau Beach Hotel; eat here if you want to try conch or listen to calypso.
Paradise Island If you're in the mood to splurge, Paradise Island is the place to go. Dozens of restaurants are located on this tiny patch of Paradise— most of them within the gigantic Atlantis Resort. Over half of PI's restaurants are pricey and semi-formal. Highlights of the Paradise Island fine dining scene include Fathoms at the Atlantis and beloved Blue Lagoon at Club Land'or .
Finding mid-range or inexpensive restaurants on Paradise Island can be quite a challenge. However, there are a few options, although none of them are located at the major hotels. Anthony's Caribbean Grill , located in the Paradise Shopping Plaza , offers large, inexpensive tropical drinks and a laid-back atmosphere. The News Cafe is a great place to sip a cappucino in the morning or evening. Each of Paradise Island's shopping centers has its own deli, where tourists can buy sandwiches and chips for a few dollars.
Around the Island Some of Nassau's best and most unique dining options aren't located in any specific area, but manage to flourish by drawing customers away from the main drag. Foremost among these restaurants is the famous Sun and.. . Not only is its name enough to catch the eye over and over again, its cuisine is sufficient to draw rave reviews from the world's toughest critics. Seashells, the only restaurant on tiny Crystal Cay, offers stunning ocean views and a unique atmosphere. For genuine Bahamian cooking at low prices, dine at Traveller's Rest . It's far off the beaten path, but the restaurant often runs specials to make the drive worthwhile.
Nassau is a fun city for dining and drinking. With the exception of a few five-star gourmet rooms, the prices are not prohibitively expensive, and the cuisine is often inventive and flavorful. There are dozens of places to get a mixed drink for a few dollars, and the atmosphere at restaurants and bars is usually pleasant. Whether you're a student on Spring Break or a millionaire on a pleasure cruise, you're sure to find something that suits your palate and wallet.