GEORGE TOWN is generally dense with tourists from visiting cruise ships, with as many as five ships docking daily year-round. The numerous cigar and gem shops – which though duty- and tax-free are still no bargain – keep shoppers busy but otherwise George Town is a fairly quiet little place with businesspeople in suits tending to the financial trade. Driving the congested streets can be tricky and parking is limited to metered spots on the street.
The Cayman Islands National Museum on the bay at Harbour Drive and Shedden Rd (Mon– Fri 9am–5pm, Sat 10am–2pm, closed first Mon of every month; US$5; Tel:345/949-8368) is a good spot to start a walking tour and to get oriented on Cayman history. The 170-year-old building has served variously as a courthouse, a church and a jail and was refurbished as a museum in 1990, with the former jail converted into a gift shop. At press time, the museum was undergoing renovations from damage done during Hurricane Ivan; call for details. From the museum, walk a few blocks north along the water on Harbour Drive to the small Elmslie United Memorial Church, built in 1920 by architect-shipbuilder Captain Rayal Bodden and bearing his signature design: a ceiling that mimics the upturned hull of a schooner. North to Fort Street, and then right heading east, you'll come upon Heroes Square, reconstructed in 2003 to commemorate the islands' quincentennial, with a palm-tree framed fountain, murals depicting significant milestones along the Wall of History, and a Wall of Honour recognizing 500 islanders who have significantly contributed to Cayman's development. Cross over to the east side of the square to the public library, which like the church has an upturned hull ceiling. Continue south along Edward Street to the columned post office, built in 1939, where you'll find nearly three thousand post boxes – there is no home mail delivery on the islands.
To get back to the bay, head west along Cardinal Avenue, which is flanked by sparkling duty-free shops. At Eden Rock's small beach just off South Church Street you can rent snorkel/scuba gear and swim out to one of the island's finest snorkelling reefs. If you prefer to stay dry, Atlantis submarines will shuttle you down 100 feet in air-conditioned comfort. You can't miss the store, which has a yellow model submarine right on South Church Street. Tours last a little over an hour (daily 8.30am–3.30pm, depending on cruise ships; US$89 per person, Tel:345/949-7700) and advance booking is recommended.