Bermuda Travel Guide
Background and History
Located 665 miles off the coast of North Carolina, Bermuda is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Throughout history, Bermuda has been both a key asset to the Royal Navy and a favorite travel destination of Mark Twain, among other prominent figures. Today, it is one of the most desired travel destinations of both the US and the UK.
“Here there is no rush, no hurry, no money-getting frenzy, no fretting, no complaining, no fussing and quarreling; no telegrams, no daily newspapers, no railroads, no tramways, no subways, no trolleys, no Ls, no Tammany, no Republican party, no Democratic party, no graft, no office-seeking, no elections, no legislatures for sale….”
-Mark Twain on Bermuda
Despite covering just over 20 square miles, this island offers many amazing opportunities for relaxing and adventure alike.
Over its 400 year history, Bermuda served as a shipbuilding colony, a naval base, a British army garrison during the American revolutionary period, and later, a center for tourism and international business. Similar to the Cayman Islands, Bermuda has no corporate income tax, making it a favorable location for many international companies and banks to route their profits. This, along with the vibrant tourism industry, put Bermuda among the top countries in the world when ranked by GDP per capita.
Bermuda uses the Bermudan dollar as currency, which is fixed to $1BMD = $1 USD, so US dollars are universally accepted as currency as well. There’s no need to exchange currency, but you’ll typically receive change in Bermudan dollars when making purchases.
I traveled to Bermuda in early March, which is the tail end of Bermuda’s “winter”. Even so, temperatures were in the mid to upper 60s (°F) nearly every day, with the only thing keeping it cool being occasional passing rain showers and partly cloudy skies. From March onward it is warm enough for shorts on a daily basis. I talked to the locals a bit and they told me it gets hot and humid in the summer (high 80s), but being surrounded by ocean, there are plenty of opportunities to cool off.
Nearly every single building in Bermuda has the same terraced-style limestone washed roof, which collect rainwater. This highly-sustainable solution for an island with no lakes, rivers, or streams not only provides drinking water for the entire population, but also provides a uniform architectural style that is observed throughout the entire island. These white roofs paired with a seemingly mandatory palate of pastel colored exteriors, create a highly tropical atmosphere despite the sub-tropical latitude (32° 17′ N) Bermuda is situated at in the Northern hemisphere.
In addition to the iconic sloped roofs, houses are constructed of limestone blocks, and are by law designed to be hurricane proof in 100+ MPH winds.
I took a direct flight from Boston, which surprisingly was just about an hour and a half of flight time. Upon arrival, you will find that the L.F. Wade International Airport (KBDA) is quite small, and you’ll de-board directly onto the tarmac via mobile stairway.
Bermuda is served directly with from the following airlines / cities.
- Air Canada: Toronto
- American Airlines: Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Washington
- British Airways: London
- Delta: Atlanta, Boston, New York
- JetBlue: New York, Boston* (seasonally)
- United Airlines: Newark
- WestJet: Toronto
You’ll find some good deals on rum and other spirits at the duty free shop in the airport, with prices being about 50% cheaper than the same bottles sold in other stores on the island.
Bermuda is also the finish line for the famous Newport-Bermuda race, so plenty of sailors arrive by boat every summer.
Additionally, Bermuda is a stopover on many cruises. Cruise ship docks at the Royal Navy Dockyard and downtown Hamilton provide access to the island. Be forewarned however, in the summer this can likely mean big crowds all hitting the same few blocks of stores, restaurants, and bars at once.
You won’t find any rental cars on Bermuda, because they are actually outlawed by the government. In fact, only residents may own or drive cars. Taxis therefore, are the standard way for tourists to get to point A to point B. They are pretty much everywhere on the island, and you can easily call and arrange a pickup from wherever you may be. You will need to take a cab from the airport, but there is no need to arrange one in advance, plenty will be waiting upon the arrival of every flight in. A cab fare from the airport to downtown Hamilton will cost around $30 + tip.
Mopeds are also very common, and these can be rented by tourists. I drove one around for a bit, and it was quite fun. At the same time however, you should know that like England, Bermudans drive on the left-hand side of the road. It takes some getting used to, as your instincts tell you to do the opposite. You’ll want to wear a helmet, crashes are reported among the most common injuries, especially among tourists.
Depending on where you stay, a lot of things will be accessible just by walking. It’s not a big island, after all. A word of warning though: the streets of Bermuda are narrow and many have virtually zero shoulder, with numerous twists, curves, and blind corners. Be cautious while walking and traveling!
Lastly, the public transportation on Bermuda is quite good. You can get to nearly every major beach and destination by way of bus. The major routes have fairly frequent service as well (every 15 minutes at best). It’s also the cheapest way to get around, as a one-way fare is only about $2-3
Horseshoe Cove Beach
The beaches were hands down my favorite aspect about Bermuda, and were truly some of the most beautiful I’ve ever visited in my life.
The clear turquoise water, the pink sand, and massive natural rock formations which form many small private coves, create an unbelievable experience. A variety of tropical fish can be seen swimming right by the shore, making it a fantastic snorkeling destination as well. You can easily reach the beaches by bus from Hamilton. Bring sunblock!
Gibbs Hill Lighthouse
The highest point on Bermuda is the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, towering 354 feet above the ocean. It costs $2 to climb up, but it’s absolutely worth it for the spectacular views at the top. Built in 1844, the Gibbs Hill lighthouse is one of the first in the world to be constructed from cast iron.
The Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo is a great little excursion, and was actually pretty entertaining. The aquarium/zoo is home to seals, an American alligator, lemurs, and plenty of other exciting creatures you’ll get to see up-close.
The Royal Navy Dockyard
The Dockyard is one of the more tourist-centric areas of the island, and is where many of the cruise ships arrive and allow passengers access to the island. Here you will find a large number of shops and restaurants, including the Frog & Onion. The Bermuda Maritime Museum is also located here, along with other destinations such as Dolphin Quest (swim with a dolphin) and the Clock Tower shopping center.
Perhaps most importantly however, the Dockyard will be come to the 2017 America’s Cup. The teams have already begun building their facilities here, and the entire time leading up to the big event, the Dockyard will be home to some of the best sailors in the world. As a result of hosting the upcoming race, the entire area is undergoing a huge amount of construction and development. See the video below for a taste of Bermuda in 2017.
The Dockyard is easially accessible by ferry from Hamilton, which gives you a nice view of the harbor.
The Railway Trails
One of my favorite things on the island were the trails which crisscross the peaks of Bermuda’s hills, but more importantly, the wide open vistas of ocean. These trails follow the same path of the historic Bermudan railway, which ran from 1931 to 1948. While not technically challenging hiking, these trails provide miles of breathtaking views, and a real feel of “seclusion” on an otherwise small island. For a full day, pick up on one end, and hike all the way to the other.
Bermuda has some spectacular underground caverns, deep beneath the limestone core of the island. If you have a couple hours to spare, I highly suggest taking a tour at the caves. The pools you see below actually extend all the way to the ocean, and represent a combination of fresh water floating atop tidal saltwater. One can actually swim underwater from the cave below, all the way out to the ocean, assuming you are a world-class professional cave diver, of course.
The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club
Located in Hamilton, The RBYC is the co-host of the Newport Bermuda race, the oldest continually running ocean race in the world. In addition to moorings, it hosts private functions and hosts numerous smaller regattas during the year.
If you have the chance to do so, one of the best way to see Bermuda is of course, by boat. I had the opportunity to ride along on a RIB from Hamilton all the way to St. George’s, on the far east end of the island. From the water you can truly appreciate the size of the island, and the clear waters just offshore. Commercial excursions are available if you don’t have a boat handy, but buying a $5 ferry ticket and standing up on the open top deck is another great way to experience the harbor.
The center of commercial activity on the island, Hamilton is where you will find the majority of the shops and restaurants (see below). Given the small size of the city, you can easially cover the majority of the stores and shops in a couple hours, with plenty of places to grab a drink or a bite to eat surrounding. Some recognizable landmarks include the Bacardi World Headquarters, and the Gosling’s family store, where you can pick up Dark n’ Stormy fixings, as well as apparel items. There is certainly a market for luxury items as well, and in downtown Hamilton you’ll find authorized dealers for Rolex, Omega, and other brands of high-end watches. As a side note, don’t expect to smuggle one back in your luggage without declaring it to customs, as they inspect luggage fairly thoroughly at the airport.
Bermuda is well known for its unique style and attire. Bermuda shorts in a wide array of pastels were made famous here, and with the influx of insurance and investment banking, the average citizen on the streets of Hamilton is quite well dressed. As such, Bermuda is home to more than a couple really cool stores that cater to trad clothing tastes
The English Sports Shop
The English Sports Shop claims to be the original destination for Bermuda shorts. Stepping inside one can see why, as they have an entire wall lined with the vibrant colored shorts and high cut socks. A variety of regimental and emblematic ties can be found here for a pretty good price, considering they are Italian made.
A.S. Cooper Men’s
A.S. Cooper’s is the largest department store on the island, and the men’s upscale clothing section certainly does not disappoint. It was interesting to see the official America’s Cup apparel items at the location where the event itself will take place next year. When I went, they also actually had a surprising volume of merchandise on sale, probably due to it being between seasons. For the ladies, they have an even larger store catering to both European and American fashion tastes.
Among the brands offered here you will find:
- Brooks Brothers
- Vineyard Vines
- Smathers and Branson
- Polo Ralph Lauren
- Castaway Clothing
Where to Stay
With tourism as one of the largest industries, Bermuda is home to a number of gorgeous hotels and resorts. As I was staying at a guest house, I didn’t get a chance to see too many of the hotels up close, with the exception of the Princess.
The Hamilton Princess & Beach Club is one of the most well known and highly regarded hotels, and features beautifully maintained grounds, pools, and a private beach / marina.
Where to Eat
As nearly all the food consumed on the island must be imported, it is fairly expensive compared to even US cities. Both dining and groceries
will be far costlier, so expect to pay at least $10-15 a meal if cooking, and $20+ if dining out (not including drinks). Since I was staying in a rental house, we did a lot of cooking at home, but I did get to have a bite at a couple of the local restaurants as well.
- The Frog and Onion Pub
- Dockyard Brewing on tap
- The Swizzle Inn
- Home to the Rum Swizzle, another famous Bermudan cocktail.
What to Drink
The most beloved drink on Bermuda is The Dark n’ Stormy, which you can learn all about here. The key ingredient to a Dark N’ Stormy is Goslings Rum, which you guessed it, is made right here on Bermuda, since 1824. The other half of a good Dark n’ Stormy, Barritts ginger beer, is also made right on the island.
Dockyard Brewing Co, the sole craft brewery on the island, produces a line of beers which were quite delicious as well. You can find them on tap at various bars in Hamilton, or at their home restaurant, the Frog & Onion at the Dockyard.
Lastly, one should not leave Bermuda without trying a rum swizzle (of Swizzle Inn fame). This tropical cocktail served up in a pitcher, contains:
- 4oz. Black Rum
- 4oz. Gold Rum
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 5oz. pineapple juice
- 5oz orange juice
- 2oz. Bermuda falernum
- 6 dashes Angostura Bitters
Bermuda isn’t so much a party destination as it is a remarkably beautiful relaxing getaway. You won’t find the spring breakers of Cancun and Key West, but you will find a place where you can think, breathe, and not really worry about anything for a few days. A friendly, welcoming local population are happy to point you in the right direction, and some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting make this a great destination for a week-long escape from city life, or the perfect off-the-radar spring break destination for those who prefer a quieter, more secluded beaches than what you will encounter stateside.
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