Whether you visit St John’s Antigua on a cruise ship or if you’re staying in other places on the island of Antigua, it’s worth stopping by this capital city to explore a little. There are several things to do in St John’s Antigua which make it worthy of your attention – you can explore the history of the island nation in the Antigua and Barbuda museum, see the fading glory of the famous cricket ground and even see some of Antigua and the West Indies Cricket team! We cover where to eat local, see the local markets – we’ll explain what to buy and the local hot sauce that you can’t miss. Come on over and explore Antigua’s capital city of St John’s.
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Antigua’s Cruise terminal is located in downtown St John’s Antigua. This is a purpose-built facility where the St John’s Antigua Cruise Port provides for lots of shopping, bars, and an easy way to get around the island of Antigua.
Take a Tour of the Island of Antigua
If time is short and you don’t want the expense or hassle of renting a car, then the easiest way to see more of the island is to take an Antiguan Island tour. You’ll likely visit the historic and still working Georgian dockyard down at English Harbour, take in the views of Shirley Heights, perhaps visit the natural stone bridge of Devil’s Bridge and explore the history of slavery and plantations at Betty’s Hope. Here are some suggestions
Hike Antigua on a Tour
Get a unique perspective on Antigua and see her natural beauty. You’ll be picked up from your hotel, apartment, or the cruise port for this 3.5-hour experience, which includes all transfers and National Park fees. You don’t have to be an experienced hiker as your guide will tailor your route to the group. You’ll also be provided with bottled water for your hike. Check out your options for taking a Hiking Tour of Antigua here.
Guided Tour of St John’s Antigua
If you like to see cities through the eyes of a local, then this 3-hour tour is for you. You’ll get to see the ins and outs of the markets and the town center, plus understand the local history of St John’s and Antigua. You’ll be collected and dropped off at either your hotel or the Cruise Port. Reserve your place now.
Take an Island Tour of Antigua
You’ll explore the island of Antigua in this 3.5-hour tour that includes pick up and drop off from the cruise port or your hotel (and it’s backed by Viator’s guarantee to get you back for your departure time!). You’ll visit the historic Nelson’s Dockyard National Park and see the ruins of the blockhouse and see the stunning views from Shirley Heights over some of the world’s most stunning yachts. This tour includes private transportation, your guide, and all the entrance fees to the National Park area. Reserve this tour now!
See another side of Antigua with this cultural tour
You’ll start the tour at the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda and then stop at St John’s Cathedral – explore a farm where the famous Antiguan Black Pineapples are grown. Your final stop is where you’ll have lunch and entertainment and then chill out on one of Antigua’s fabulous 365 beaches. Check your options now!
How to Visit the Old Rec Cricket Ground – the Old Recreation
The beloved old cricket stadium of the Recreation Ground is still standing, although it’s in a state of decaying glory. We entered from the entrance on Factory Road, as the gates were open. The square was now a muddy puddle and there is football played here, but the location is just incredible.
Our rental car lady remembered cutting school to see West Indian cricket legend Sir Brian Lara score centuries here. Everyone we spoke to recalled the atmosphere of games here, the exuberance of the crowd and players alike, and famous faces and personalities such as Gravy.
It was here that Sir Viv Richards scored the fastest test match century off 56 balls in 1986.
There’s no security here, and it’s possible to walk around the ground, climb up the somewhat rotten structure of the original scoreboard, and wind on some of the remaining numbers there.
You’re in for a real treat if you head for the entrance/exit that’s opposite St John’s prison on Coronation Avenue. Usually, locked, but you might find an informal “guard here”, and entrance to the area where you can still see the original hall of fame boards, noting Lara twice set the record for this highest individual Test innings, with 375 in 1994 and 400 not out in 2004 – both times against England.
You’ll be asked for a “donation to the repair of the ground”, but we all know that it’s a tip for the guy letting you in, we gave him EC$5 between us because seeing this remarkable piece of history was worth it for us.
The new world-class cricket ground, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, was built for the 2007 World Cup (although delayed for 2 years in its usage). It’s located out on the road towards the airport, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There’s also a smaller cricket ground actually at the V. C. Bird International Airport, where if you’re delayed waiting for a flight, you can watch a few overs.
West Indian cricketing legends, Sir Vivian Richards and Sir Curtly Ambrose still live in Antigua, and you’re just as likely to bump into them in the supermarket or at their favorite restaurants, but read on for how you can meet Sir Curtly Ambrose and Sir Ritchie Richardson.
Take a photo of St John’s Cathedral in Antigua
We’d love to say explore St Johns Cathedral Antigua, but it’s under restoration. Built in 1845 replacing the previous earthquake destroyed cathedrals of 168 and 1745, this Anglican Church sits on a hilltop in St John’s Antigua. It’s under renovation at this time (and appears to have been for a long time) but holds a prominent position in the city of St John’s that gives great views of the city and cruise port. The best place to take a photo of Antigua’s St John’s Cathedral is on Newgate Street. You cannot, however, enter the grounds there, there is one gate open and that’s on Long Street.
Visit St John’s Markets
You’ll always find the true heart of a city in her markets and ST John’s have 3 markets for you to visit. You will, however, want to go early (like 0600) and the BEST day to go is on a Saturday. The market is closed on Sundays and on public holidays – see details here for public holidays – In St John’s Fruit and Vegetable Market look for sorrel – a red flower used to make a variety of teas, ice creams, and more.
Plus the star of the show here is the Antiguan Black Pineapple, which is grown mainly in the Old Road southern area of the island. These pineapples are renowned as being the world’s sweetest and rarely if ever make it to export. If you’re unable to buy one from St John’s Market, then head to roadside stalls in the Old Road area of the island (and you’ll need a rental car or a tour to get there easily).
The fish market of St John’s is across the road from the fruit and vegetable market. Again you’ll need to go early to get the best view and the best options if you’re in the market for fish. The meat market can be found two buildings along (towards the cruise port) from the fish market. Local meats include goat and chicken, virtually all other meats are imported from Australia.
You’ll always find stalls on the roads surrounding markets and St John’s is no exception. Fruits vegetables, and pretty much anything you want here.
Heading outside of St John’s? Check out our guide of what to see and do in Antigua – plus where to stay, how to get transport around the island and what to eat!
Try an Antigua Black Pineapple
The Pineapple was introduced to Antigua by the Arawak People and cultivation began in the 17th century on the south coast of the island. Antiguan Black Pineapples are still cultivated mainly on southern farms in the Old Road area of the island – spot a sign for Cades Bay Agricultural Station and you’ll know that you’re in the right place.
If you want to take a tour of Antigua that includes visiting a pineapple farm, then this is the tour for you.
Consumption is primarily local, there are very few if any that make it to export as they’re all consumed on the island. The fruit isn’t, despite the name, black.
Antigua Black Pineapples have a higher sugar content and a lower acidity than most other pineapples. You’ll most likely find them at the St John’s Market or on roadside stalls in the Old Road area of the island.
If you can’t find an Antiguan Black Pineapple during your stay in St John’s be sure to look out for the Antiguan coat of arms, as the black pineapple of Antigua is found there.
Buy some of Susie’s Hot Sauce Antigua
A cottage business that has international renown, Susie’s Hot Sauce has been in production since 1960. Since Susie’s Original from Antigua Hot sauce a variety of flavors and heat levels have been introduced, always using red habanero and scotch bonnet chillis. The founder, Susannah Tonge – known as Susie, died in 1990 and the business was taken on and grown by her daughter, Rosie McMaster. You’ll find bottles of Susie’s Hot Sauce available pretty much everywhere – from Shirley Heights Lookout to the Cruise Terminal. You’ll pay considerably less for a bottle in a supermarket or store though.
Eat Lunch at a Local Restaurant
If like us, you like to try local food and local places to eat when you’re visiting, then you’re in for a treat. The main meal in Antigua is eaten at lunchtime. There are several places within easy reach of the city center to try for lunch. Here’s Where to Eat in Antigua. These are all restaurants in St John’s Antigua – not the rest of the island.
TouLouLou /the Louv – this great little place moved premises recently and provides a buffet lunch with a plate full of sides – you get 2 sides which are usually vegetables or fried rice and fries. There’s an Asian slant to the food, so you can expect some great combos here. Check their Facebook page for daily specials.
Head to V&C restaurant and bar – and try local dishes like Rice & Peas – a combination dish of rice with local Pigeon peas usually served with “provisions” – the local name for cooked root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and the like.
Hemingways Caribbean Café, close to the cruise port is an excellent stop for lunch, the Caribbean café is located in an 1800’s building that used to be a hotel called Jardines. Sit on the first floor and enjoy the breezes. You’ll get genuine Caribbean food and a great friendly atmosphere.
Take an Antiguan Cooking Class in St John’s
You will need to take a taxi to this fabulous way to learn a lot about Antiguan food (and there are different options available as to what you can learn to book. You’ll cook and enjoy a 3-course lunch – starter, main, and sides as well as dessert. Your host, Nicole, will also answer all your questions about life in the West Indies. This cooking course will focus on seafood, and it will be influenced by the catch of the day from the local waters. You can also elect to cook West Indian curry and other dishes too!
You’ll start your cooking class with a typical local cocktail, the Rum Punch, and then get going on the food. This is an awesome way to experience a local event on Antigua.
Go to the Antigua & Barbuda Museum
Located in the courthouse built in 1750, this museum reviews Antigua’s history from its origins to when it opted for independence in 1981. You’ll find narrow gauge locos once used to transport sugar cane, some original Arawak pottery, and Sir Viv Richard’s cricket bat.
Drink a Rum Punch or a Wadadli Beer
There are two alcoholic drinks of choice here in Antigua. For cocktails, you’ll want a rum punch. There are 2 local rums distilled on the island, Cavalier and English Harbour and you can buy them in most stores and supermarkets. There are no rum Antigua distillery tours though. If you’re taken on an Antigua rum distillery tour from the cruise port you’ll likely be taken for a TASTING, not a tour and this will most likely be at a local restaurant.
Mind you, Antiguan Rum punch is pretty darned good anyways!
Your second drink of choice is locally brewed Wadadli. At 4.8% and in 250 ml (8.5 fluid ounces) bottles it’s a refreshing lager-style beer in the heat of Antigua.
Take a Trip to Barbuda
If you’ve got a while in Antigua, then why not take advantage of visiting Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda. You can take a day trip from the Nevis Port area of the cruise terminal on certain days of the week. Barbuda Day Tours depart every day apart from Sunday.
Day tours from Antigua to Barbuda leave at 0700 from St John’s on Tuesday and Thursday, you can also arrange a pick up at Jolly Harbour at 0800. There are also tours on Wednesday and Friday, these start at 0600 from St John’s only. The trip to Barbuda takes around 90 minutes. Your tour includes collection by a local guide, a visit to Codrington Village, a tour of the largest Frigate Bird Colony in the western hemisphere and then you’ll go onto the open caves at Two Foot Bay. You’ll get lunch on Pink Sand Beach and then take a swim on Princess Diana beach before returning to the ferry. This tour costs US$159 per adult and US$100 for children from 2 to 12 years. Book directly with Barbuda Express.
Don’t forget your Caribbean travel insurance – we’ve got full details about it here.
Go and Listen to the Spirited Band
If you’re in St John’s on a Friday night you’re in for a treat. Following his retirement from West Indian Cricket, the fast bowling legend Sir Curtly Ambrose who was born in Antigua now plays as bass guitarist in with old teammate Sir Richie Richardson. The band plays on a Friday night at the casino in St John’s from 2230 until 0100. The Spirited Band also plays at various venues throughout the island and you can find their schedule here.
Get out of the City of St John’s
Once you venture outside of the cruise port area, it’s pretty hard to see how St John’s Antigua could be described as pretty. There are small streets, and lots of traffic and it’s a pretty utilitarian city. We seriously advise that you head for a beach, although it depends on how much time in St John’s Antigua you have as to where you’ll go. There are a variety of different ways to explore things around St John’s Antigua and we’ll cover them here.
Take a Local Bus in St John’s Antigua.
There are 2 bus stations in St John’s Antigua. The St John’s West Bus Station and St John’s East Bus Station. You’ll find the west bus station by the market (see our ST John’s Antigua map), and the east bus station is just down from the old Recreation Ground Cricket Stadium. Local buses in Antigua are minivans, seating 12-15 people. They have set routes, cost from EC$2.5 to EC$4 EC Dollars, and don’t run to a set timetable, so this might be a challenge if you have limited time in St John’s. However, you can take a bus to English Harbour, or to Dickenson Bay. You’ll need to be sure you have plenty of time for this option, as buses tend to set off when full and if one comes past and is full then you’ll be waiting for the next one to arrive.
There are full details of the Antigua local buses here. Note that the maps are pretty hopeful, but it’s really easy to ask someone at the bus station. This, however, detailing which buses leave from which bus station is useful.
Take a Taxi from St John’s Antigua
The easiest place to find a taxi is by the cruise terminal. There’s a taxi stand here, even when there’s not a ship in this is a good place to find a taxi in St John’s. Antigua operates a set price for taxis to locations around the island, although the most up-to-date pricing we could find (which actually seems to be valid is this one here)
Plan your route with your taxi driver, and be aware that you’ll be paying for waiting time if you ask him to wait. If you’re taking a taxi to a beach by a fancy resort, then you will easily be able to pick up a return taxi from the stand there later in the day.
Antigua Car Rental in St John’s Antigua
If your time is limited in Antigua and you want to explore more of the area outside of St John’s and you have specific destinations in mind, then your best bet is to rent a car in Antigua. All the major car rental companies have representation in Antigua.
Antigua Car Rental is best organized prior to your arrival. Most people will collect their cars at the Antigua Cruise Terminal. There are specific car rental offices at Antigua’s cruise terminal, but you’ll be met.
None of the car hire companies has specific offices at the cruise terminal in St John’s but will arrange to meet you there at a local café. (Hertz Car Rental in St John’s meets at the Java to Go Café in the Nevis Pier part of the cruise ship terminal).
If you are staying somewhere else on the island or outside of St John’s most rental car companies will come and collect you or deliver a car to you, your challenge might just be giving them an appropriate address, so look for landmarks close by! You can also do one-way drop-off (pick up in St John’s and drop off at the Antigua International Airport) for no extra charge with most companies. The rental car building at the airport in Antigua is the old departures terminal which are you drive around the airport is the building AFTER arrivals and departures (it feels like you’re leaving the airport)
Rental cars in Antigua are in pretty poor condition. Most drivers take full CDW and SLI and so don’t worry about any damages. Our Antiguan rental car had had a hard life, but had great A/C and ran well around the island. Book a rental car in St John’s Antigua here.
The one thing that you absolutely will need to rent a car in Antigua is a local driving license. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you need to take a test (although I can think of some interesting skills you might need to acquire in order to pass if you did!), your rental company will provide it for you. To obtain a local temporary Antiguan driver’s license you’ll simply need to provide your home driver’s license, and a credit card and pay for it. This is simply a governmental revenue-generating exercise and each driver will cost US$20 or EC$60, so you might want to stick to having a single driver if there are a few of you.
Final words on visiting St John’s Antigua
For us, visiting St John’s Antigua was a must – the chance the stand inside “the Rec” and even climb the old scoreboard was fabulous. Exploring a capital city and her markets always give you a great feel about the vibe of a country and while St John’s Antigua isn’t the prettiest of cities, everyone we met was friendly – the only pushy tour operators were those on the edges of the cruise terminal and we felt completely safe here. We hope you’ve found our things to see in St John’s Antigua useful!
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