Are you looking for a quick getaway – why not escape to the pretty island of Bermuda? Just a couple hours’ flight from Toronto, with only a time difference of one hour, Bermuda is easily among the most accessible of the beachy North American islands. Most would assume it is part of the Caribbean, but it’s not. It is a tiny island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, close to North Carolina.
Take advantage of securing yourself a window seat because as your plane descends into Bermuda you will be treated with beautiful views of the deep turquoise waters and limestone cliffs. The island’s beauty is definitely a natural draw with its pink sand beaches and pretty pastel coloured buildings, making this a great romantic couples’ getaway.
To get a lay of the land and discover all the best things to do, let’s explore it through the island’s three regions. There is St. George’s in the East End, the capital city Hamilton in Central Bermuda, and the Royal Naval Dockyard in the West End.
St. George's and the East End
St. George’s was established by English settlers in 1612. With its rich architectural and military history, it has earned a spot among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here are some of the top things to do in this area.
St. Peter's Church
This is reportedly the oldest continually operating Anglican church outside Britain itself. St. Peter’s Church was established at the same time as St. George’s in 1612. The grave yard which surrounds the church has been filled for centuries with two notable exceptions, the Governor (equivalent to Prime Minister or President), Sir Richard Sharples and his executive aid, Captain Hugh Sayers, where buried after their 1973 murders. An area to the west was reserved for burying black slaves.
This Gothic ruin is all that is left of the building that begun in 1874. The church was never finished for various reasons, mainly because of a disagreement of funds to build this one or restore St. Peter’s Church after it was badly damaged by a storm.
When a hurricane in 1926 destroyed the roof and floor, the work stopped and it was left as is; as a preserved historic monument. Today, this picturesque ruin is closed off, but you can still peer in to see those amazing limestone archways.
Historic town of St. George
Wander through the historic town, home to cute little shops, cafes and restaurants. Stroll through Somers Garden, where you will find my favourite moongate. Moongates are of Chinese origin and thought to bring good luck to those who pass through them. You will find moongates all over the island, but this was my favourite.
Lili Bermuda Perfumery
Visit the historic Stewart Hall where the perfume is made on-site since 1928 from the island’s flowers. Here you can take a tour and learn how the perfumes are made. Twice weekly, on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, Stewart Hall hosts a classic English high tea. Why not indulge in a quintessential British pastime of enjoying the tiered trays of finger sandwiches, tiny cakes and petits-fours, plus scones with clotted cream, honey, and jam. Click here for more information.
During the Ice Age, 1.6 million years ago, much of the earth’s oceans froze, sea levels dropped and rainwater seeped into Bermuda’s limestone, creating hidden caves.
The legend goes that in 1907, a pair of young boys were playing cricket and lost their ball. When one went to retrieve it, he found himself inside an expansive underground grotto. In 1908, Mark Twain was reportedly the first to visit Crystal Caves, named for the rock formations lining its walls.
Join the tour, where you will walk along a boardwalk suspended over the clear waters while your guide explains the geologic history of the site. Then, they’ll turn out the lights so you can see just how dark it might have been in 1907.
Blue Hole Park
Next to the Walsingham Nature Preserve, and just around the corner from Grotto Bay, is the Blue Hole Park. It’s known as a great destination for swimming, cliff-jumping, and cave exploring. This is a secluded spot known mostly to the locals.
Hamilton and Central Bermuda
Hamilton, the island’s capital city, or referred to as simply the “town” by the locals, is the business and financial hub of Bermuda. Aside from tourism, the island’s biggest industry is finance and insurance.
The downtown is where you will find the nice boutique shops in pretty pastel coloured buildings facing the waterfront. Grab a coffee or a rum sizzle and go for a stroll. If you are looking to bring back something from Bermuda then there is no better place to go than the Island Shop. Choose from ceramics, textiles and linens, glassware, and melamine printed with the signature island-inspired designs, usually in lime green and royal blue.
A highlight not to be missed is visiting the pretty pink Hamilton Princess & Beach Club Fairmont Hotel, where inside this contemporary hotel is full of artwork, including curated pieces from some of the legendary names of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and René Magritte. The hotel almost operates as a large gallery space, where you can roam the interior and gaze upon the Pop to Post-Modernist artwork. While there, why not dine at one of their three stand-out restaurants: 1609 bar and restaurant, Crown and Anchor or Marcus’ – any foodie of course will recognize the name, Top Chef’s very own Marcus Samuelsson.
In the middle of the “town” a must-dine at is the hipster all-day café and restaurant Devil’s Isle. Although Bermuda is not known for its domestic roasters, and trust me, the hunt for a good coffee brought us to many places, Devil’s Isle definitely draws a coffee crowd. It does serve up a menu of ramen, bowls, salads, crêpes and shareables that won’t disappoint any foodie.
Another highlight in this area is visiting the 36 acres in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Established in 1898, as part of an effort to protect and cultivate native and endemic flora, like the Bermuda palmetto and cedar trees. Wander through the exterior grounds through the rose and hibiscus gardens. You will also find it is where the locals bring their dogs to walk on the extensive grounds.
The Dockyard and the West End
The Royal Naval Dockyard was the UK’s largest naval base in the Atlantic until it went out of use in 1995. Today, it’s home to shops like Dockyard Glassworks and the Bermuda Rum Cake Company, Dolphin Quest and Snorkel Park, all a bit too touristy for me. The West End is really why everyone comes to Bermuda, it’s where you will find the iconic pink sand beaches. And, it didn’t disappoint.
Horseshoe Bay Beach
One of the island’s most iconic beaches, with its long stretch of pale pink sand against the deep turquoise water is definitely a vision. As you walk the coastline you will come across dramatic rock formations and secluded coves.
This area offers some of the best snorkeling or deep ocean dives. Some estimates put the number of shipwrecks along the reef surrounding the island at around 300; with new ships being continually discovered. Click here for Blue Water Divers to learn more.
Gibb's Hill Lighthouse
The best part of heading up to the lighthouse is for the view. Built in 1844, it offers panoramic views of the entire island, and out to the Atlantic Ocean. I’m sure the view from top of the lighthouse would be even better, but it was closed the day we were there.