a harbour base named Charles Town, NASSAU is the modern-day face of the Bahamas,
visited by most everyone who comes down this way, not least for its service as a
transport hub. Though dingy in parts, enough historical flavour has been
preserved to make such a stop here worthwhile. Much of this atmosphere comes
from its development during the so-called Loyalist period from 1787 to 1834,
when many of the city's finest colonial buildings were built. Before this
build-up, Nassau had largely been a haven for pirates, privateers and wreckers,
situated as it was on key shipping routes between Europe and the West Indies.
But it was really the development of the tourist industry here that put
Nassau firmly on the map. After alternating periods of decline and prosperity in
the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the spike in trade and construction
that followed World War II led directly to Nassau's emergence as a global centre
for tourism and finance . By the mid-1950s, with the dredging of the harbour and
the construction of the international airport, Nassau began to host more than a
million visitors a year, and a decade later, after the construction of the
Paradise Island Bridge
and the development of Cable Beach, the city was
receiving twice as many more.
With its centrally located historic area of no more than six square blocks,
Nassau is great for walking. Taxis are also readily available throughout the
city, with Bahamas Transport and the Taxi Cab Union (tel 242/323-5111 or
323-4555) as the most reliable companies. Any driver can be enlisted to give
informal tours , with the cost usually running about US$60 for three people and
two hours of sightseeing. Nassau's jitneys are almost always 32-passenger
vehicles with a double row of seats along the driver's right side, and a single
row on the other. All #10 jitneys leave from the main stop at Frederick and Bay
streets, or from a stop outside the McDonald's restaurant across from the
British Colonial Hotel , and connect to Sandy Point, Orange Hill and Compass
Point. Try to catch an " express " jitney if you can. Eastbound lines go from
downtown to the Paradise IslandBridge and can be accessed on Bay Street east of
the Straw Market. Another good way to reach Paradise Island, ferries run from
Prince George Wharf across the bay (daily 9am-6pm; US$2). For travellers staying
on Cable Beach, a free shuttle operates up and down the strip.
If you're renting a car , Avis has four locations in Nassau and Paradise
Island, including one office at the airport, while Budget, Hertz and Dollar have
two each and National has one airport location. Local operator Orange Creek Car
Rentals is located on West Bay Street.
Most hotels offer bike rentals , though you can also rent a scooter at
Knowles Scooter and Bike Rental, located just outside the British Colonial Hotel
, or take a 25-minute surrey ride . Surrey masters congregate near the wharf
gangway at Rowson Square and, for US$10 per person, will take you on a
horse-drawn tour past the Bahamian Parliament and other major sights of old
If you're touring New Providence, Majestic Tours (tel 242/322-2626) is one
the best options for historical, snorkelling and boating expeditions, and has
booths in many of the major hotels in Nassau, as well as Cable Beach and
Paradise Island. Other tours are advertised in the tourist magazine What's On ,
available almost everywhere in town.
The heart of historic Nassau is bustling Rawson Square on Bay Street, just
across from Prince George Wharf, where the major cruise lines dock. The square
is a small but authentic crossroads of old Nassau, where tourists, government
workers, hawkers and musicians congregate - especially during Christmas Junkanoo
festivities, when up to 30,000 onlookers arrive.
Just west and north of the square, the Hairbraider's Centre features Bahamian
women braiding hair for about US$1 a strand. Across Bay Street, just south of
Rawson Square, Parliament Square is the centre of Bahamian government, with
buildings from the early 1800s and including the Opposition Building, House of
Assembly and Senate, where a statue of Queen Victoria looks down sternly from
the steps. Behind the Senate is the Supreme Court building, and its lovely
Garden of Remembrance honouring Bahamian casualties of two world wars.
Back on Bay Street, a few blocks west of Prince George Wharf, is Nassau's
justly famous Straw Market . Filling much of a square block, the open-air
squeezes in 150 vendors peddling everything from beads, totes and T-shirts to
shark-tooth necklaces and expensive hand-carved wooden turtles. Just behind the
market, the waterfront area is bounded by Woodes-Rogers Walk , worth a quick
stroll for the view of the teeming harbour.
Just west of the Straw Market, the Pompey Museum , on the corner of Bay and
George streets (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm; US$1; tel 242/236-2566), is located in a
former bank called Vendue House, later renamed to honour a rebellious slave who
hid out on Exuma during the 1830s. One of the city's oldest buildings, it houses
a collection of artefacts and documents tracing the history of Bahamian slavery.