7 reasons to visit Antigua, a winter sun favourite

Antigua is every bit the Caribbean idyll writ large: swathed in tropical greenery, alive with all manner of exotic sights and sounds, and with a brilliant necklace of dazzling white sand beaches fringing much of its coastline, it's a dreamy paradise for holidaymakers.

Reasons to visit Antigua for winter sun
Reasons to visit Antigua for winter sun - photo courtesy of Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority

Antigua is, of course, no stranger to tourism, which ensures facilities are second to none with a slew of first class luxury hotels, a wealth of great restaurants, and plenty to see and do if you can pull yourself away from those epic beaches. We're talking loads of history and a rich bounty of wildlife, through to superb shopping and a hop across to Antigua's near neighbour, Barbuda.

It's also hugely accessible with Virgin Atlantic offering fabulous fares to Antigua direct from London Heathrow. So, slip on your sandals and sunglasses as we take a tour of this deeply special Caribbean island.

1. Hit the beach

The local tourist slogan really feels like it rings true on Antigua: "a beach for every day of the year", and we're not just talking about any old beaches either. We're talking seriously stunning strips of puffy white sand tinged at sunrise and sunset with a pink hue, the type you might imagine only exist in the glossy brochures.

One of many beautiful beaches on Antigua
One of many beautiful beaches on Antigua © Henrik Winther Andersen - Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

The (very) good news is that the beaches in Antigua really are that spectacular. A reef handily protects the gorgeous strip of sand in Half Moon Bay, which is ideal for snorkelling. For watersports, Dickenson Bay fits the bill with sailing and windsurfing the most popular activities. If the sands here are too busy for you however, just take your towel to aptly named Runaway Beach next door.

2. Treat yourself to the lap of luxury

Antigua is home to some seriously jaw-dropping hotels. If it's views you're after Sugar Ridge Resort is spot on with its epic vistas, not to mention its rainforest location and the island's only Aveda Spa.

Carlisle Bay, a member of the ultra exclusive Leading Hotels of the World organisation, set between rainforest and the white sands, is a slick five-star retreat complete with an award-winning spa.

Sugar Ridge Resort, Antigua
Sugar Ridge Resort, Antigua - photo courtesy of Sugar Ridge Antigua

Meanwhile, if you fancy the serenity of an adults-only playground then Galley Bay Resort & Spa tempts right on the beachfront. The spa is on hand with a treatment for two if child-free chilling isn't quite enough, while many watersports are free. Handily all rooms have their own private plunge pool.

Jumby Bay Island Resort is one seriously luxurious place to stay. You have plenty of space here as the resort reclines on a 300-acre private island. It's said to be a favourite of Mariah Carey and Paul McCartney, and I can certainly see why!

3. Explore Antigua's rich history

As well as a vibrant cultural scene today, Antigua has a fascinating if dark story of British colonial history to delve into. The star attraction is Nelson's Dockyard, the only Georgian dockyard in this part of the world that has lived, breathed and worked ever since it was built. Named after the famous admiral this mighty 18th-century stronghold deserves its place on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

Part of Nelson's Dockyard, now a hotel, Antigua
Part of Nelson's Dockyard, now a hotel, Antigua - photo courtesy of The Admiral's Inn, Dockyard Hotel

They've done a great job of revamping it with visitor facilities like a marina and restaurants, but it still boasts bags of character and you can learn more about how it originally looked, not to mention its questionable role in the slave trade, at the excellent Dockyard Museum.

Afterwards make sure to nip to Fort Shirley and Fort Berkeley to continue the trail and enjoy the sweeping views. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda tempts in St. John's, the capital. It's dramatically housed in the old courthouse and weaves many strands of the island's colourful and not-so-colourful history together.

4. Enjoy a foodie treat

Not all islands in the Caribbean are spot on with their food and drink offer, but you can't have many complaints about Antigua with myriad restaurants and some excellent hotel eateries too. Hemingway's Caribbean Café is set in a characterful old house in St. John's - the Antiguan saltfish comes recommended, as do the prime American steaks.

Sheer Rocks Restaurant at Cocobay Resort, Antigua
Sheer Rocks Restaurant at Cocobay Resort, Antigua - photo courtesy of Cocobay Resort, Antigua

If it's lobster you're after head to Dennis Cocktail Bar and Restaurant, which serves up plump lobster simply cooked to go with your view of the sunset. There's often live music here too. Sheer Rocks meanwhile, as the name suggests, enjoys a spectacular location. Taste some seriously good tapas by day (you can relax on a daybed or take a dip in the pool) or head there for delicious local seafood after dusk.

5. Undergo retail therapy

It's no surprise that many people aboard cruise ships flock ashore in search of one thing - shops. There are some great venues for retail therapy around the island. In St. John's, if it's malls you prefer there's a brace handily within reach of the cruise ship terminal.

Heritage Quay is a modern option that works for many people, but I prefer Redcliffe Quay where the shops are housed in converted old warehouses. Also in St. John's you will find little souvenir shops, craft boutiques and even wee art galleries. You'll find similar small scale locally-run operations dotted around the island.

6. Meet the locals

There are many ways of interacting with the local wildlife, but none more fun than a trip to Stingray City. Here, you come face-to-face with these surprisingly - given their fearsome reputation - friendly creatures. Hundreds arrive every day to feed in the crystal clear waters.

Stingray City, Antigua
Stingray City, Antigua © Anthony DeFreitas - Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

You can just stand and watch, help feed them or, if you are feeling brave, even snorkel with these gloriously graceful locals. Frigate Bird Sanctuary on neighbouring Barbuda is well worth a visit too with the largest colony of frigate birds in the whole of the western hemisphere. The reserve is also home to countless other bird species.

7. Hop over to Barbuda

On that note, Barbuda is a must for any visit to Antigua. Some people tend to think of Barbuda as a tiny wee adjunct to Antigua that isn't worth visiting but if you don't go, you'll miss out on a great island that makes for a perfect day trip.

One of the highlights is legendary 17 Mile Beach, which does what it says on its glorious white-sand-laced tin. Forget about fancy facilities and plush hotels however; here, it's all about chilling out appreciating the sort of world-class beach you came to this part of the world in search of. A real Caribbean castaway experience.

Ready to go to Antigua? If you fancy experiencing these top picks and more, check out the latest fares to Antigua with Virgin Atlantic*, which whisks travellers to the island from London Heathrow in just under nine hours. You can also check out the weather in Antigua and see when we think is the best time to go.

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Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie is a Scottish travel writer, author and broadcaster. He has visited over 100 countries and regularly writes about Scotland and the Canary Islands. As well as frequently contributing to Weather2Travel.com, Robin writes for publications including The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times and Wanderlust, and has authored more than 30 guidebooks.

Article updated on Wednesday 1st September 2021 in: Beach Caribbean Culture Virgin Atlantic Winter sun

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