Located 1050 kilometers (650 miles) off the coast of North Carolina is a 55 square-kilometer (21 square-mile) island dotted with pastel-colored houses, pink sand beaches and narrow winding roads. As a self-governing British colony, Bermuda is comprised of 181 small islands and islets connected by bridges and causeways that resemble a fishhook from the air.
Bermuda is divided into nine parishes or "tribes," as they were called back in the 1600s when the island was first surveyed. The original eight tribes, named after prominent shareholders in the Bermuda Company, included Sandys, Southampton, Warwick, Paget, Pembroke, Devonshire, Smith's and Hamilton, and were divided by narrow lanes. While some tribe roads are remnants of the past, others exist today as shortcuts to major roads and footpaths found during walks around the island. St. George's, considered public land back in those days, is the island's ninth parish.
Each parish is unique. St. George's captures the island's past with structures dating back to the 17th Century - now they are modernized, and pastel-colored buildings make up the government and shopping destinations in the city of Hamilton and Pembroke Parish. Nature reserves and scenic bays can be found in Sandys.
St. George & St. George's Parish
Situated on Bermuda's East End, St. George's houses the island's first capital, the town of St. George. Founded in 1612 when the Sea Venture was shipwrecked off the coast, the Town has experienced little change in the past 400 years and illustrates what life was like in past centuries. A current revitalization project - ensuring not to jeopardize the Town's unique historical character - will restore cobblestone streets, monuments and structures, as well as add a new Heritage Visitor Centre, waterfront promenade and boardwalk. In November 2000, the town of St. George was named a World Heritage Site.
Also found in the Parish is Fort St. Catherine ; it is Bermuda's most impressive fortification dating back to 1613. Tucker's Town, in southern St. George's, is home to the most expensive luxury homes in Bermuda as well as the Natural Arches, a unique arrangement of caves and rock that united to form archways, sometimes called the "ninth wonder of the world" by Bermudians. St. George's also houses L.F. Wade International Airport .
Centrally located, Pembroke houses capital city Hamilton, which replaced the Town of St. George as capital in 1815. Known for its shopping, international business and culture, Hamilton is home to the island's governmental system and Parliament.
Front Street, lined with rows of distinctive, pastel-colored buildings, houses the main ferry terminal, department stores, banks, restaurants and is where parades and other local happenings can be found. During high season, from April through October, cruise ships can be seen docked in Hamilton Harbour, along the street.
Outside of the capital to the northeast is Fort Hamilton , which was originally designed to overcome any city attack and is now home to a garden moat lined with flora. Spanish Point is a scenic parkland and residential area that is off-the-beaten tourist path, while Admiralty House Park offers a scenic beach with magnificent ocean views, hiking trails and a park.
The westernmost of all Bermuda's parishes, Sandys is the furthest away from the island's airport. While an expensive taxi ride, the parish is served by four ferry stops, as well as the island's buses.
Attractions on the West End tend to be natural such as Mangrove Bay, Ely's Harbor and Springfield and Gilbert Nature Reserve ; however, the big draw is the Royal Naval Dockyard , a British naval shipyard abandoned in the 1950s, and Maritime Museum . Somerset Village houses the world's smallest drawbridge - the 81-centimeter (32-inch) plank Somerset Bridge barely provides enough room for a sailboat's mast.
East of St. George's, Hamilton runs from the North Shore to the South Shore and is best explored by moped, bicycle or taxi. The area has deep limestone caves, including Crystal Caves and Cathedral and Prospero's Caves. Hamilton Parish surrounds Harrington Sound and is also home to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo , located in Flatt's Village, Holy Trinity Church, the Bermuda Perfumery & Gardens , and several parks and nature reserves.
Smith's sits between Hamilton and Devonshire, running from the North Shore to the South Shore and overlooking part of Harrington Sound. The island's three main roads—North Shore Road, Middle Road and South Shore Road - pass through Smith's, each offering scenic views from narrow and winding roads.
Smith's includes Devil's Hole , a natural aquarium that was once an ocean cave, Spittal Pond—Bermuda's largest bird sanctuary stretching nearly 25 hectares (60 acres), and the popular beach, John Smith's Bay. In addition, Verdmont Historic Manor House , built in 1716, exemplifies early Georgian architecture and houses a collection of Bermuda cedar furniture and valuable mahogany.
Devonshire runs from the North Shore to the South Shore - set between Smith's to its east, Pembroke to its northwest and Paget to its southwest. At one time, the parish housed the British Army headquarters with the majority of the land used for military purposes. Today, the only remnants of base are a former hospital, now a government ministry headquarters, a graveyard, and the Officers Mess - now the Police Recreational Club.
Nature can be seen throughout the parish at the nine-hectare (22-acre) Arboretum , full of tall trees, open meadows and palms, and the Edmund Gibbons Nature Reserve - a small walking area with local flora, fauna and migratory birds. Palm Grove is an estate with gardens, a tropical bird aviary, moongate and an island map set in a pond.
To Devonshire's west is Paget, extending from Hamilton Harbour on the North to the South Shore. Best for exploring, the Parish is home to the Bermuda National Trust headquarters at Waterville and other historic houses.
The parish features the 15-hectare (36-acre) Bermuda Botanical Gardens , which exhibits flora that thrives in the island's sub-tropical climate, as well as Camden House , the official residence of Bermuda's Premier. Also of note is Paget Marsh, Bermuda's second largest nature reserve that features palmetto and cedar trees, as well as a mangrove swamp.
Set between Southampton and Paget, Warwick spans from the Great Sound to the South Shore. The parish is the most densely populated of all parishes and is famous for its South Shore beaches.
South Shore Park extends from Chaplin's Bay, a scenic public beach, east passing over Stonehole Bay and Jobson's Cove . The stretch ends at Warwick Long Bay , Bermuda's longest length of unparalleled beach.
Southampton is the second-most western parish sitting between Sandys and Warwick, overlooking the Great Sound. Due to the long distance, getting to the parish from the airport is an expensive taxi ride.
Gibbs Hill Lighthouse and park, just under four hectares (ten acres), is a prominent Bermuda landmark and one of the oldest iron lighthouses in the world. Horseshoe Bay stretches for a quarter of a mile and is shaped like a horseshoe of pink sand beach fringed by limestone cliffs. Another popular public beach in Southampton is Church Bay Beach , which is known for swimming and snorkeling.
Codfish cakes, spiny lobster and fish chowder are some of the local seafood dishes that whet Bermudians palettes; while rum swizzles and the famed dark-and-stormy - a mixture of local Black Seal rum and ginger beer - are the drinks that quench their thirst. While Bermuda does not have a distinctive cuisine of its own, certain local delights await tourists and are definitely worthy of a taste while visiting. Most specialty dishes and drinks are available at local restaurants and can also be found on the menu at hotel dining establishments.
Once a staple food, codfish cakes are still enjoyed throughout the island, especially during traditional Sunday brunches, while Cassava Pie, whose authentic Bermuda recipe dates back to the 1600s, is a Christmas tradition. Bermuda's fish chowder, a spicy soup made with either rockfish or snapper - flavored with local black rum and sherry peppers sauce - is a national dish.
Bermuda has over 100 restaurants scattered across the island for visitors to choose from, with something to please just about every budget and food craving. Reservations are recommended for dinner and Sunday Brunch, especially during high season, and most restaurants automatically add a 15 percent service charge to the bill instead of a tip.
Dining facilities range from small roadside cafes to smart casual eateries to formal posh dining rooms; and most types of cuisine can be found, including Italian, Indian, Chinese, French and Mexican - to name a few; however, Jewish visitors should note that there are no kosher restaurants on the island, nor are there any vegetarian-only dining establishments. In addition, while there are fast food restaurants in Bermuda, there are no popular chains such as McDonald's and Burger King (but you will find only one KFC).
Most hotels throughout the island offer on-property dining. Many small hotels and cottage colonies have one dining room, while resort hotels normally have several restaurants for guests to choose from. Poolside and outdoor dining options as well as lively buffet barbeques are popular at hotels, mainly occurring during high season. Optional meal plans of daily breakfast and dinner can be purchased at most properties. As the expense of eating off-property at various restaurants, which can be costly, purchasing the meal plan can be of good value. In addition, certain hotels that offer meal plans also provide guests with exchange privileges to dine at other hotel restaurants. If money is a concern, guests should consider the optional all-inclusive package at Grotto Bay Beach Hotel , where meals and drinks are included or the Harmony Club Hotel , which is the island's only all-inclusive hotel.
St. George's Parish
In the town of St. George, visitors should stop by San Giorgio Ristorante. Located on Water Street, this waterfront Italian serves Mediterranean cuisine and has been called one of the island's best. Guests can choose to dine either indoors or out, overlooking St. George's Harbour. Dress is smart casual and prices are moderate.
Also popular is Freddie's Pub , overlooking King's Square, where traditional fish and chips and other English fare is served in a restored 18th century building. Dress is casual at Freddie's and prices are moderate.
The Swizzle Inn at Bailey's Bay is a must for all new visitors to Bermuda. Named in honor of Bermuda's popular Rum Swizzle, the inn features a relaxed atmosphere and an eclectic menu of local pub food that attracts both Bermudians and visitors alike. Dress is casual and prices are inexpensive.
On the more elegant and formal side, Tom Moore's Tavern , on Walsingham Lane, is a former 17th century private residence featuring limestone walls, wooded beams and fireplaces. Guests dine on continental specialties including Bermuda lobster when it's in-season (from September through March). Jacket-and-tie is preferred, and prices are moderate.
Located on Bermudiana Road in Hamilton, Portofino is a popular restaurant featuring Italian cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere where locals and visitors alike gather. Dress is casual and prices are inexpensive to moderate. Reservations are recommended.
If a good steakhouse is calling your name, then the Colony Pub Steakhouse at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess is a must. A short walk from the city, this restaurant is accented by a cedar-paneled bar and a favorite of locals. Guests can expect huge portions of an entree of their choice, from the steaks and lamb chops to the baked potatoes and onion rings. Dress is smart casual and prices are moderate. Paget Parish
The highly acclaimed Fourways Inn restaurant is located in a restored private home that was built in the 1700s. International cuisine and seafood delights are served in a setting of old-world decor and charm. Jacket-and-tie is required and prices are expensive. Reservations are necessary.
Situated dockside overlooking the Little Sound, the Waterlot Inn at the Fairmont Southampton Princess (The) was once a 17th century private home. Mediterranean cuisine is served in an intimate atmosphere captivated by candlelight and elegance. Jacket and tie are required and prices are moderate to expensive. Reservations are necessary.
European cuisine is the specialty at Henry VIII , named after the oft-married King of England. Guests dine in one of four rooms, all of which are decorated in rich oak paneling to create an English and pub-like setting. Jackets are required and prices are moderate.
A perfect family restaurant, Beethoven's Restaurant & Bar is located at the Clocktower Centre at the Royal Naval Dockyard. Local yet sophisticated delights are sure to be a hit in this cozy and intimate setting. Dress is casual and prices are inexpensive.
Sunday Brunch is a popular meal in Bermuda, but it tends to be a bit on the expensive side. Although pricey, there's always a huge selection of foods, ranging from hot, cold and spicy to fish, fowl and seafood, to choose from. Restaurants offering Sunday brunch are listed in the Saturday edition of the Royal Gazette newspaper.
Considering its British background, there is no wonder why traditional afternoon tea is an everyday occurrence in Bermuda. Most hotels offer free afternoon tea with scones to their guests, while visitors to the Lighthouse Tearoom at the Gibb's Hill Lighthouse in Southampton can enjoy an English tea for about USD 6.
When it comes to walking tours in Bermuda, the options are endless. There are pink sand beaches, beautiful parks, vibrant gardens and nature reserves that welcome visitors and encourage exploration. In addition, the City of Hamilton, the Town of St. George and the Royal Naval Dockyard are great areas to discover on foot. Each area offers weekly-guided tours that are free, as well as self-guided walking routes that are highlighted in brochures available in tourist centers.
Bermuda Railway Trail
Tracing the route of island's only train that was once called the "Old Rattle and Shake," the Bermuda Railway Trail is a scenic public walkway and bridle path. The trail stretches for nearly 21 miles and is made up six sections of varying length, starting in Sandys Parish and traveling east across the island to St. George's Parish. While no motor vehicles are permitted on the trail, certain sections do not meet up and require other means of transportation in order to connect the two. A guide highlighting the Railway Trail routes is available at tourist centers. In 2000, the Railway Trail was named a National Park and is currently undergoing a major renovation. Current areas where the trail ends prematurely will eventually be revised, and private parklands will be linked.
Nature and Scenic Walks
Treks through Bermuda's Nature Reserves and National Parks are a great way to get up-close-and-personal with the island's native flora and fauna, as well as sample some splendid scenery.
Bermuda Explorers Program
The Bermuda Explorers Program is a collection of guided tours aimed at providing visitors with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the island's cultural and heritage offerings. Ranging in price from $20 to USD 35 per person, the tours can be arranged through the participating program contacts, hotels, or local tourist centers. Tours in the Bermuda Explorers Program include:
Arts and Architecture Walk
A self-guided tour of Hamilton's local art galleries, beginning with a before-hours look at the permanent collections of Bermuda National Gallery led by a museum curator. Stops include the Bermuda Society of the Arts, the Regal Gallery, the Windjammer Gallery and the Bermuda Archives, where gallery owners and representatives will be on hand to answer questions.
Led by longtime Bermuda resident Jo Cook, this flexible walking tour explores areas of the island that are off-the-beaten path and not normally known to tourists. Participants gain special insights into the island that can only be learned from a local.
Native Adventure Tours
Photographer Tarnell Simons combinations photography with nature walks in this tour, which is individualized to create a unique experience, as well as a picture postcard photo album. Participants will learn about the aspects of history and culture behind each stop, as well as receive tips on how to capture the beauty of each location.
Bermuda Lectures and Tours
Walk through areas that are off-the-beaten path and ways from the normal tourist traps, such as tribe roads, railway trails, quiet lanes and National Park and reserves. Led by a qualified educator, weekly tours include an educational lesson into the island's flora and fauna, geology, history and architecture.
Cultural nature walks are led by a historian and explore the story behind the Caribbean Junkanoo dancers and the group's link to Bermuda's Goombeys. Various island plant life and plant uses are also discussed.