Fort de France, Martinique’s capital city is the point of entry for all visitors to this French Caribbean island. Many visitors to Martinique arrive at Fort de France’s ferry port, the island’s airport is just outside the capital and this is also where the ferries between Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique dock too. There has been a port at Fort de France since 1638 but the city only became the capital of Martinique in 1902 following the devastating effects of the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee over the old capital of Saint Pierre in Martinique’s north. Today’s Fort-de-France provides a transit system, great accommodation options and some interesting historic elements. Don’t just skip on through, here are the best things to do in Fort-de-France Martinique’s oft missed capital city.
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You can skip through most of Fort-de France’s attractions in a day unless you have some specific interests (we’ll cover those), but she’s worth a visit to understand some of the history here. Fort-de-France was originally called Fort Royal and was established in 1673. By 1681 Fort Royal was still the administrative, military and political capital of Martinique, but Saint Pierre, with a much better harbour, was the commercial capital of Martinique. Fort Royal was named as the capital city of Martinique in 1692, but commerce remained in Saint Pierre. The city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 1839 and on the establishment of the French Second Republic in 1848, Fort Royal was renamed Fort-de-France.
It wasn’t until 1902, when the earthquake destroyed Saint Pierre and the four banks of Martinique that were based there were all destroyed, that the commercial capital of Martinique became Fort-de-France. Today, locals still call the city “Foyal” – short for “Fort Royal” and they’re often known as “Foyolais”
All the Top Things to Do in Fort-de-France
We imagine that you have a day or less in Fort-de-France – and that’s what this guide envisage. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Martinique, then our guide here will help you. Plus if you’re visiting Martinique on a cruise, then you’ll want to check out our guide to visiting Martinique on a cruise – and what to do in Martinique in a day.
Take a Walking Tour of the Sights of Fort-de-France
The history and legends of a place are always so much more interesting when they’re related by a local. This 2 hour downtown Fort-de-France walking tour covers the history of the capital of Martinique and takes you around the key landmark of the city. You’ll get to see the Old Courthouse, the St. Louis Cathedral and La Savane Park. It’s a great way to see the main sights in the city! Get more information and book your tour here.
Explore the Food and Culture of Fort de France
The best way, I always think, to understand the culture of a location is to eat the food. On this food tasting and history tour of Fort-de-France, you’ll start at a neighbourhood market and kick off the tour with some local delicacies. This tour takes you through the history of Fort-de-France and includes food tastings (vegetarians and vegans can be catered for too). Groups are limited to 10 people so you’ll always get great personal attention. Check reviews and book this tour now.
Visit the Jardin de Balata
You’ll find Jardin de Balata about 10 kilometres from Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France. Martinique’s botanical garden has been wowing visitors for more than 50 years and unless you time your visit with a cruise ship tour you’ll find a glorious peaceful escape. There are winding paths and rope bridges among the pals, ferns and bamboos. You should allow about 90 minutes to visit Jardin de Balata, the trail is around 1 kilometre and the canopy walk will take you 15 metres into the bamboo forest. While the garden is open from 0900 to 1700, 7 days a week, it’s recommended to visit Jardin de Balata in the afternoon for the best garden experience. Tickets for adults cost 14 euros. You can prebook your tickets to Jardin de Balata here.
Shop at the Grand Marche in Fort de France
There’s a spice market on every Caribbean Island and Martinique is no exception. Martinique’s Spice Market can be found at the Grand Marche in downtown Fort-de-France. Pick up all the fresh and dried spices you want to take home, plus heaps of incredibly fresh and tasty fruits. A local speciality is “Bois Bandé”. This is the bark of the Riceria Grandis tree. Here in the Caribbean, it is legendary as an aphrodisiac. The name translates as wood (from the French,bois) and to have an erection (bander). Use at your own risk…
Taste Unique Rhum Agricole in Martinique
Regular rum is distilled from fermented sugarcane products, which can be molasses or beet sugar. Regular rum can also be made anywhere. Following the collapse of Martinique’s refined sugar market in the mid 19th century – primarily because of cheap rums from South America – financial necessity drove the invention of Rhum Agricole right here in Martinique.
Rhum Agricole is different from regular rum. Rhum Agricole is distilled directly from pressed cane sugar. It usually (but not always) comes from the French Caribbean. Rhum Agricole can be made anywhere, but to attain the status of Rhum Agricole AOC Martinique it must be distilled from fresh press cane sugar in Martinique. You can book rum tours in Martinique that include that all-important transportation to and from your accommodation (or cruise ship), or you can head to any of Martinique’s supermarkets and pick up some of the well-known brands. There are 12 brands distilled on Martinique. This awesome tour gives you lunch as well.
Check our Fort Saint Louis in Fort de France
Fort Saint Louis is easily the best attraction in Fort-de-France and dates from 1640, although much of what you see was added after that date. You’ll find it on the far side of La Savane. You’ll get great views over Fort-de-France if you head to the roof. The fort is still a working French Naval Base, so you can only visit certain parts of the fort, no photographs may be taken of military personnel and a guided tour is both fun and informative. A tour lasts one hour and 15 minutes and there are a maximum of 20 people per tour. Be sure to book early if a cruise ship is in town, or if you’re on a cruise ship. You’ll need to be able-bodied, the tour doesn’t cater for those of limited mobility. Guided tours take place from Tuesday to Saturday – 0900 to 1200 and then from 1400 to 1600. The fort is closed from mid-September to mid-October. Buy tickets to Fort Saint Louis at the information desk in the place de la Savane.
Explore La Savane, Fort-de-France
This five-hectare park at the base of the Fort Saint Louis headland has been a meeting place in Fort-de-France for centuries and its where the Fort-de-France carnival takes place in February. Also here you’ll find a headless statue of the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, later Empress Josephine, was born in Martinique, to a wealthy sugar cane plantation owner in 1763. Her family plantation was, at that time, staffed by slaves. It’s something that her supporters say that she struggled with dreadfully in her later years. Opponents who accused her of supporting slavery vandalised the statue by decapitating it in 1990. They also poured red paint over it. The red paint is renewed each year. Slavery was abolished in France in 1789, however, less than 10 years later, when Napoleon took power in France slavery was reinstated. You can visit Empress Josephine’s birthplace, which is now a museum – there’s more about it here in our guide to Martinique.
Visit the Beach in Fort de France – La Francaise Beach
This small beach alongside the edge of La Savane Park and in front of Fort Saint Louis is a popular place for cooling down within a short walk from the city. The beach is clean and within easy reach of the cruise port – it won’t take you long to walk here from anywhere in Fort-de-France. If you’re staying longer on Martinique, then our guide to Martinique’s best beaches is here.
If you do spend the day on the beach be sure to secure your valuables. We use and recommend portable travel safes – here’s our guide to the best travel safes.
Visit the St Louis Cathedral in Fort de France
This Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Louis was built in 1895 – it is the sixth version in this location, the first being built-in 1657. The cathedral was designed by Gustave Eiffel – his creation of a cast iron frame which is reinforced by concrete walls was architected to survive the hurricanes and earthquakes that had destroyed the previous iterations of the cathedral. The bell tower rises to 58 metres and is covered with a bronze aluminium scale.
Explore the Schoelcher Library in Fort de France
This art deco era building was designed by French architect, Henri Picq, built in France in 1889, dismantled and then shipped to Martinique. It was built as a monument to Victor Schoelcher. Schoelcher, born in Paris, was a French politician and abolitionist. From the age of 22, he devoted his time almost exclusively to advocating for the abolition of slavery. He also devoted much of his fortune to establishing and promoting societies for the benefit of slaves. He was an active participant in the creation of the abolition of slavery decree in France. In 1883 Schoelcher donated more than 9,000 books and 250 musical scores to the people of Martinique on the condition that they be placed in a public library and accessible by all. And so the Schoelcher Library was created. It is beautiful, both inside and out.
It’s still a working library, accessible by all, so you’ll have to be quiet when visiting, but it’s a glorious place to stroll around.
Final Words on the Best Things to do in Fort de France, Martinique
Whether you’re just passing through Martinique or whether you’re staying on the island for a while Fort-de-France is worth a visit. It’s a laid back capital, that is a transport hub for other islands with some interesting spots to visit. WE hope you’ll enjoy stopping off in Fort-de-France on your trip to Martinique.