Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas. Located on the island of New Providence, it is the largest city in the island chain and the most populated. Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit there, along with its sister, the former Hog Island, now known to the world as Paradise Island. Cruise ships departing from Miami and other U.S. ports dock in the city's downtown piers, dropping off tourists who flock to sandy beaches, peruse duty-free jewelry stores, or explore the city's attractions.
Though most South Floridians find themselves taking fast ferries to Freeport or Bimini, Nassau, just a quick 45 minute plane ride, offers much to do. The city, rich in both pirate and colonial history, is more than the all-inclusive playgrounds of Paradise Island or shopping on Bay Street. Just a short walk from the center of town lie some great food-focused adventures like a chocolate factory, a fishing village, and a secret pirate's lair filled with potable booty.
If you're looking for history, charm, and a bit of pirate talk, there's no better place to go than Graycliff mansion. The house was originally built in 1740 by John Howard Graysmith, a true Pirate of the Caribbean. His dungeon has now been converted into an expansive wine cellar. The collection of rare vintages, valued at around $30 million, boasts about 275,000 bottles and has won Wine Spectator's Grand Award yearly since 1988.
Michael Burrows, one of only seven keyholders to the wine cellar, says that even Graycliff's sommeliers don't have access to this room. The wines, from 17 different countries and over 400 vintners, are all bar coded, so when a guest makes a selection from the 106-page wine book, the bottle can be easily found.
The list ranges from affordable wines to a 1927 half bottle of Rudesheimer Apostelwein from Bremen Ratskeller, which will set you back $200,000. If you do pony up the price of a condo on that bottle, you're on your own, says Burrows — that particular wine comes with a no refunds caveat. Guests can opt to dine privately in the wine cellar for an additional $1,000, or can eat in the main dining room. Though the wine cellar is closed to the public, tours and tastings can be arranged for serious aficionados and guests of Graycliff.
The mansion's grounds are also home to cigar and chocolate factories, which host daily tours. A walk through the chocolate-making facility costs $10.75 and includes a truffle to try. A 45-minute interactive tour allows you to make your own chocolate bar, truffles, and turtles and costs $49.95 for adults, $34.95 for kids. Beer lovers can also enjoy a beer garden on premises, along with a churrascaria.
Arawak Cay's Fish Fry is the most popular place to go for casual dining. The area, a short taxi drive or 15 minute walk from downtown, is basically a series of small restaurants, bars, wooden huts, and food trucks. The offerings vary — from a simple cart selling Bahama Mamas or freshly made conch salad to full-out restaurants offering full menus. Though some, like Twin Brothers, tout being featured on television shows, Fish Fry remains a place where both tourists and locals can enjoy freshly caught fish.
It's best to dine progressively, experiencing a few places in one evening. Conch fritters at Big Yard are a good way to start the evening.
The Anchorage Market and Seafood Haven restaurant has a nice waterfront patio. The restaurant serves a spicy conch chowder, along with a massive, shareable seafood platter that consists of cracked conch, lobster, and shrimp, served with two sides ($26).
Though there are quite a few Bahamian cocktails like the Bahama Mama and the Goombay Smash, Sky Juice is king at Fish Fry, with a bevy of bars dedicated to the potent blend of coconut water, condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, gin, and rum. Of course, there are riffs on the basic recipe — like the Take Your Clothes Off Sky Juice, which adds some Amaretto to the mix. The drink is served in a large economy sized cup over ice, and costs about $8.
You'll find Potter's Cay under the bridges that connect Nassau to Paradise Island. It's a great place to purchase fresh fish, conch, and vegetables.
Potter's Cay also has a host of small restaurants and bars serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and many will clean and cook your catch if you successfully tried your luck at fishing.
Though most bars sell the usual Kalik and Sands, opt for Nassau's own local craft beer. Pirate Republic brews up some really superior beer with kitschy names like its IPA (Island Pirate Ale) and Long John Pilsner. The brewery and tap room is open daily and conveniently located directly across from the cruise ship docks.
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If you're looking for an alternative to island seafood, Shima at the brand new Island House hotel is worth the trip. The resort hired Australian chef David Rodgers to create a menu featuring flavors from Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The chef was working at Thai restaurant Chin Chin in Melbourne, Australia, when he was given the opportunity to move to Nassau. "Six months later, Here I am". Chef Rodgers serves up some hot curries ($24-34) (the heat index of the dishes are represented by the number of peppers next to its name), but the standout dish are crispy soft boiled eggs that are flash fried and served over hot chili jam and sweet tamarind sauce ($8).