Antigua's largest city and the capital of the country, St. John's can be rather shabby in spots, but it's still a great place to visit. Plan a full day to see the sights, some of which date to the 1600s.
One must-see is the Public Market. You may not recognize some of the tropical fruits and vegetables for sale, but don't hesitate to buy and sample anything that appeals to you. (You may want to ask if it needs any preparation first.) The market is particularly lively on Friday and Saturday mornings.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Church Street (look for the twin spires) is an Anglican baroque cathedral dating from the 1800s. Its pine interior includes lovely carved figures. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, located in the 18th-century Court House, has period portraits of King George III and Queen Caroline, as well as pre- and post-Columbian findings. It's also possible to sift through the museum records and to do a computer search for relatives who might have lived or died on Antigua. While you're there, check to see if the museum has any environmentally oriented hikes scheduled during your stay.
Other sights include the Botanical Gardens, located next to the Parliament Building, and the Antigua Distillery on Friars Hill Road where Cavalier Rum is made—if you call ahead, a tour can be arranged.
St. John's Harbour extends to the west of the city. Two forts guard the mouth of the harbor: On the north side are the remains of Fort James, which was constructed in the 1600s and 1700s, and on the south is Fort Barrington, built in the 1700s. McKinnon's Salt Pond, north of the capital, is a good place to watch seabirds during summer and fall.
St. Peter's Church, in the village of Parham (about 5 mi/8 km east of St. John's), is also worth a visit. The unusual octagonal structure is surrounded by red-blooming poinciana trees, making it one of the prettiest churches in the Caribbean. Parham, by the way, was Antigua's first British settlement and its original capital.
If you have time, be sure to see Betty's Hope Estate, a restored sugar plantation in Pares, about 7 mi/11 km east of St. John's on the way to Long Bay. The estate, which enjoys a peaceful, rustic setting, was Antigua's first and largest sugar plantation: Established in 1650 by the Codrington family, it was owned by this same family for almost 300 years. At any given time during its history, about 85% of the island's residents worked on Betty's Hope. One wind-powered sugar mill is now operating, and restoration of the slave quarters and cistern complex is under way. A second, nonoperating mill is also located on the estate. You'll also find displays and photographs about the plantation in the museum. It's free to visit and open Tuesday-Saturday. Phone 462-3946.
Waves from the Atlantic Ocean have, over the centuries, carved out Devil's Bridge, a natural rock arch. Some archaeologists believe Devil's Bridge was the site of the first Amerindian landings centuries ago. You'll find it at the extreme eastern tip of the island, an approximately US$30 taxi ride from St. John's.
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