Going to the Bahamas but want to experience Nassau without cruise excursions? I’m here to help!
I went on an incredible trip with some of my closest friends from college as we celebrated our graduation. The first leg of the trip was a four night Royal Caribbean Cruise that set sail from Miami – overall the cruise was a great deal (~$100 a night which included the pool, hot tub, entertainment, unlimited breakfast, lunch, fancy three course dinner, and 2am pizza…) but that definitely didn’t mean I had cash to spare.
If you’ve ever been on a cruise before though, you’ll know this…it is very, very, very hard not to spend extra money. Cruises are sneaky!!! One big reason behind this is that cruise ports, where generally not just your cruise line stops, but ten other cruise lines as well, become the dreaded tourist trap.
See below for my day through Nassau without cruise excursions, and my top 7 things to do on the island!
1. Make it into Nassau without buying anything
In Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, you basically have to walk through a quarter mile of people heckling you to buy their tours and their wares and whatever else before you get from the cruise port to the actual city. Do not buy into it! It’s a trap!
Anything you buy before you get into the actual town is a rip-off, and those cute wood workings? They were undoubtedly made in a sweat shop in China, so put your wallet away before someone sows you a tale about how their brother carved it from a palm tree that saved his life.
2. Queen’s Staircase
After the overwhelming entry into the city of Nassau, we opted to visit the more remote Queen’s staircase first. Located a few blocks back from the main street of Nassau, you have about a 10-15 minute walk from downtown through some more residential areas until you reach the site.
The stairs are at the end of a long corridor with high stone walls on either side, covered in plants. Because of the stone, it’s quite cool in here and the perfect place to cool off from the unceasing Bahama sun. Also, because of its more remote location, there are a lot less tourists and it’s more relaxing to meander through the site.
People from Nassau also refer to the stairs as the 66 steps. They were originally built by slaves as a monument to Queen Elizabeth, so although this is a historical landmark just remember when you visit that it’s also a landmark of the oppression of the Bahamian people.
The 66 Steps is FREE! Usually there is at least one person staked out at the top of the stairs giving free tours as well, so make sure to tip!
3. Fort Fincastle
This famous fort is located right at the top of the Queen’s Steps, so combine your visits! It also offers the best viewpoint to see all of Nassau. The Water Tower right behind the fort is the highest point on the island. Fort Fincastle is unique because of its shape, as it is built to resemble a ship. It is $2 to tour here, and you need to bring small change with you.
4. Grab a drink at Bahama Rock Cafe
Since you’re here already at Fort Fincastle, stop in to the Bahama Rock Cafe, located right between the top of the Queen’s Steps and the Fort. It’s cute, locally owned, colorful, and the drinks (and food!) are plentiful and cheap.
For more details on my experience at Bahama Rock Cafe, you can check out my post on the best Nassau bars for a cruise stopover.
5. Drink a Coconut by the Ocean
Okay, this one is definitely a tourist trap, but it’s worth it!!! Who wouldn’t want to see a coconut chopped open in front of them and then drink the sweet and salty coconut water out of it on a hot, blue day by the Bahamian beach?!
Liz and I paid $5 total to share a coconut from a stand on the Bay Street walk from the cruise port to Junkanoo beach. It was definitely enough for me as I loved the novelty more than the actual taste.
There are tons of people selling coconuts though, especially from stands along Junkanoo beach, so I’d say wait and don’t buy the first one you see if you’re looking for a cheaper deal! We were just too excited…
6. Junkanoo Beach
I wholeheartedly recommend Junkanoo beach because it is 1) the closest beach to the cruise port 2) free, and 3) not too crowded. Believe it or not but a lot of the other beaches in Nassau are NOT free, so don’t get tricked into taking a cab ride across the island just to pay more money to go to the beach.
Simply walk west down Bay street past the cruise port and you will end up with crystal clear turquoise water, coconut and massage stands, soft sand, beautiful shells, and long piers to walk out and look at the water.
Junkanoo beach is also connected to West Esplanade beach which seemed a little quieter. In any case, neither beach was too crowded or boisterous. We could’ve spent all day just staring at that water…
7. Fat Tuesday: lunch, drink deals by the beach, and night life!
While Fat Tuesday might be a chain, the Nassau Fat Tuesday didn’t feel like it. With ocean views (the restaurant/bar is literally over the ocean), tons of locals frequenting it day and night, and amazing daiquiri deals, it felt very Bahamian.
You can read my post here about my experience with the Nassau Fat Tuesday, including free drinks, afternoon sun break, and a night out!
Thanks for reading! Have you ever been to Nassau? If you have any other suggestions for things to do in Nassau, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Thanks for the recommendations! My family and I are heading on our first cruise to the Bahamas in February and I’ve been looking for things to do in Nassau that aren’t cruise excursions.
Allison, I’ve just seen your comment! I hope my post was helpful and that you enjoyed your cruise 🙂
Fat Tuesdays is gone! Taken over by some big condo called the Pointe. Sad.
Oh noooooo!!!! That makes me SO sad – it was perfect there! It didn’t feel artificial at all, the way a lot of the super touristy spots in that area do. I will have to edit this post this week to say that 🙁
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. As a first time cruiser this April, I feel this has already helped to steer me away from the “tourist traps”.
We have been to Nassau several times and never really enjoyed it. Going back in a week with your recommendations, I think that will change! Thank you!
Hope it helps! This post is from a couple years ago so do comment again if you notice any changes! I really enjoyed my time there.
Husband and I are not huge excursion fans, so I was really looking for recommendations! I am totally going to try your suggestions. Any thoughts other than Fat Tuesday, since it’s not there anymore??
Ugh yes, I need to update this post regarding Fat Tuesday!
Bahama Rock Cafe looks like it’s still open, it’s a much smaller chiller vibe than Fat Tuesday and not directly on the water, but locally run and a lot of fun. Please let me know if that’s closed too!
Some waterfront bars I’ve seen good reviews of are:
Tiki Bikini Hut (14 min walk from cruise port)
Daiquiri Shack (14 min taxi)
The Crew Pub (1 min walk, I worry with something that close it might be too overpriced?)
Senor Frogs (6 min walk, chain but then again so was Fat Tuesday and I loved it!)
***Lukka Kairi Waterfront Bar and Grill (7 min walk, right over the ocean – this one looks like a pretty good replacement for Fat Tuesday!)
Hope that helps! Enjoy your trip.
How safe is it to venture out without a guide?
We felt very safe and even went out again after dark to get drinks. Just take normal precautions like you would in any city, don’t flash your valuables, etc.!