Nassau, Bahamas Travel Tips: What You Need to Know

Check these must-know travel tips before you visit Nassau, Bahamas. Not just for cruise ship visits but anyone spending time there.

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Located on the island of New Providence, Nassau Bahamas is the capital of this island archipelago. It’s a popular port of call for cruise ships and a top tourist destination in its own right. With white sandy beaches and warm clear waters, it’s a true tropical paradise for swimming, snorkeling, and watersports. 

We cover all you need to know when visiting Nassau, Bahamas including the cost of living, getting around, staying safe, enjoying local food and drink and spending a day (or longer) at the luxury Atlantis Resort.

Where is Nassau Bahamas?

Nassau is on the north coast of New Providence, between Eleuthera and Andros Islands. It is 184 miles southeast of Miami and is a popular port of call on Caribbean cruises.

Quick Overview of Nassau History

Part of the British Commonwealth, the Bahamas was a British colony until independence in 1973. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus around 1492. Known as Charles Town, Nassau was later burned to the ground by the Spanish in 1684.

Occupied by pirates for a time, it was settled in the late 17th century by British colonists who built several defensive forts that are local landmarks.

With over 250,000 residents, the bustling port city of Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas. It is located on New Providence which by far the largest and most populated island. It is 21 miles long and 7 miles wide with some swamps and lakes inland. The busy cruise port in Nassau welcomes almost 3 million cruise passengers every year.

Tourism makes up more than 50% of the economy and accounts for over half the jobs, so you’ll get a warm welcome from locals.

Climate in Nassau, Bahamas

The Bahamas has a hot, wet summer season with some short but heavy afternoon showers. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the islands enjoy warm dry winters. It’s a popular sunshine vacation destination almost year-round with a high season from December to April.

Tropical storms and hurricanes may affect these low-lying islands in late summer/fall but direct hits are a rare occurrence.

Transport and Getting Around Nassau, Bahamas

Most visitors to Nassau arrive by cruise ship or fly into Lynden Pindling (NAS) International Airport. It is 8 miles west of Nassau in northwest New Providence.

The best way to get around in the Bahamas is using local buses known as jitneys. They are affordable and run regularly, transporting both locals and visitors around the main destinations. There are plenty of bus stops. Most local trips around Nassau cost $1.25 with longer trips outside the city costing up to $3.50.

Transport in Nassau
Photo Credit: Eric Glenn / Shutterstock.com

After dark, a taxi may be a safer option, especially if you are outside the hotel zone. Official taxis have yellow license plates and most only accept cash.

For longer visits you can rent a car or motorcycle to get around the island. Don’t forget – they drive on the left in the Bahamas, being part of the British Commonwealth.

Nassau Bahamas Cost of Living

The Bahamas is listed by Numbeo as the third most expensive country to live in the world. However, if you’re visiting on a cruise or enjoying a sunshine vacation in paradise, there are some ways to save money.

The high cost of living in Nassau, and the Bahamas in general, is due to the fact that most food and resources must be imported into this island nation. The Bahamian government does not have an income tax system; it makes its money from import duties and sales tax.

Nassau Bahamas
Photo Credit: dnaveh / Shutterstock

When goods arrive in the Bahamas, the government adds import duty and vendors then add VAT when goods or services are sold. One exception to this is high-end luxury goods that are sold tax-free to non-Bahamian residents.

Ways to manage costs include eating onboard your cruise ship before or after visiting the sights and shops in Nassau. Cruise ships dock right in downtown Nassau so it’s easy to return to the ship for a meal or drinks.

If you’re staying longer, opt for an all-inclusive hotel package. That way you will know exactly what you will spend on accommodation, food and drink so there are no nasty surprises.

Worth Reading: IDEAL Things to Do in Bimini, Bahamas

Shopping in Nassau

The best areas for shopping in Nassau, Bahamas are within easy walking distance of the cruise port.

Festival Place is an area of local shops and stalls that cruisers must walk through to get from the ship to the downtown area. Traders and taxi drivers can be persistent here.

Keep walking and you’ll quickly reach Bay Street which is lined with shops selling souvenirs, T-shirts and rum cakes. You’ll also find some familiar luxury brands such as Cartier, Rolex and Tiffany. They sell duty-free goods that can represent quite a discount.

Look for stores with the Pink Flamingo symbol. This means they are government approved and only sell authentic brands.

Nassau Straw Market
Nassau Straw Market (Photo Credit: Jadesada / Shutterstock.com)

For tax-free shopping on high-value goods (generally over $25), look for shops displaying the Global Blue Tax-Free signage where you can get an immediate refund of VAT (currently 12%).

The famous Straw Market is a great place to find local handicrafts and trinkets made from seashells. Shopkeepers are friendly and will beckon you and call out. A simple “no thank you” will work, so don’t be put off by all the attention. It’s a great shopping experience in Nassau!

Food and Drink

From gourmet chains and celebrity chef restaurants to local mom and pop eateries and US chains, there’s something for all budgets and tastes in Nassau.

Prices for eating out are generally at least 25% higher than in the USA. In some cases, you might pay double for a decent breakfast or lunch in the Bahamas.

On top of that, a 15% gratuity is added as a tip, by law! Breakfast or lunch for two will cost between $25 and $55 and a sit-down dinner for two is likely to be well over $100.

Beers range from $5-10, depending on the location, and cocktails are at least double that price. Ouch! Opting for local rum is always cheaper than top shelf brands.

Chain restaurants such as Wendy’s KFC and McDonalds will charge more than US mainland prices but are generally more affordable than hotel restaurants. 

You’ll probably want to experience some local cuisine during your stay in Nassau, Bahamas. Conch (pronounced konk) fritters are a tasty local specialty, served hot with a spicy dip. Cracked Conch and Conch Salads are popular ways to serve this meaty shellfish.

Bahamian Fish Stew is a tasty alternative or try the local staple – Pigeon Peas and Rice and a side of Johnnycakes (like cornbread). For drinks, try the Yellow Bird, a fruity concoction of orange and pineapple juices, rum, apricot brandy and banana liqueur.

Why Visit Nassau?

There are several notable historic attractions in downtown Nassau, Bahamas within easy walking distance of the cruise port and waterfront. The main attractions in Nassau are the local beaches, the historic Straw Market, forts and colonial buildings. They are just a short stroll from your cruise ship!

Also Read: Best Beaches in Nassau, Bahamas for Cruise Visitors

After exploring the waterfront shops and snagging some tax-free bargains, head to nearby Junkanoo Beach for the day. Alternatively, hop across the bridge to Atlantis (you’ll need a Day Pass) and enjoy the calm kid-safe waters of Lagoon beach.

Parliament Building, Nassau
Columbus monument (Photo Credit: PixieMe / Shutterstock)

History lovers and those who appreciate colonial architecture should visit the Bahamian Parliament Building, one of several pretty pink colonial buildings in Parliament Square. Built-in 1815, it overlooks a white statue of Queen Victoria.

Take a look inside the octagonal building nearby. It’s the Public Library which was built as a jail! There’s also Government House which is also in Pink and features the Columbus monument overlooking downtown.

Further on, the Queen’s Staircase is a flight of 66 steps hand-carved by slaves out of solid limestone. The steps lead up to Fort Fincastle, built-in 1793 on Bennet’s Hill. It offers stunning views over Nassau.

Another Nassau landmark is Fort Charlotte, the largest fort on New Providence with a moat, dungeons and 44 canons. Kids will enjoy exploring this real-life “castle” along with the family-friendly Pirates of Nassau Museum.

Atlantis Resort on adjoining Paradise Island is the ultimate destination for watersports with a mega waterpark and amazing marine-life encounters.

For more information, there’s a full guide of Things to Do in Nassau, Bahamas featuring even more attractions.

What to Expect at Atlantis, Nassau

Atlantis, Bahamas is a mega-resort complex on well-named Paradise Island. It’s connected to Nassau Harbour and New Providence by two bridges. This luxury resort has five miles of beautiful private beaches to enjoy.

Worth Reading: IDEAL Nassau, Bahamas Hotels for Cruise Visitors

The big draw is the 140-acre water park with 11 pools, Mayan Temple Shark Lagoon Slide, Rapid River rides and unique marine attractions. Atlantis also has a huge casino, theater, shopping center, 21 restaurants and 19 bars. These include gourmet chains and celebrity chef restaurants such as Nobu, Olives, Seafire Steakhouse and Carmine’s.

Atlantis, Nassau boasts the largest open-air marine habitat in the world. It includes 14 lagoons, 8 million gallons of ocean water and more than 50,000 aquatic animals from over 250 marine species.

The viewing panels into this vast aquarium are amazing! It’s a great opportunity to see a range of marine animals and explore the Marine Habitat during your visit.

Atlantis Hotel in Nassau
Atlantis Hotel in Nassau (Photo Credit: FotosForTheFuture / Shutterstock)

Staying at this five-star resort is the best way to enjoy all the amazing facilities. There’s a choice of six hotels including The Beach and The Cove for sand and sea lovers and Harborside Resort overlooking the Marina.

However, if you’re visiting for the day as part of a cruise, or if you are staying somewhere cheaper in Nassau, you can purchase a day pass for around $150 for adults and $50 for children aged 4-12. This includes lounge chairs, pool towels and access to Aquaventure water park,  beaches, resort shops and restaurants.

If needed, you can actually book a transfer to Paradise Island.

There’s an additional fee for exclusive activities such as Swim in Wonder (deep-water encounters with bottlenose dolphins), Playtime with Sea Lions, Dip ‘n’ Discover interactive encounters, Kayaking with Dolphins and Trainer for a Day experiences.

Tips When Visiting Nassau, Bahamas on a Cruise

  • Take cash and a credit card when you go exploring. Local restaurants, buses (jitneys) and taxis all operate only on cash (US dollars are widely accepted).
  • Tipping is expected after a meal (15% minimum), when someone handles your bags, and if anyone gives you directions or takes your photo. Carry plenty of dollar notes!
  • English remains the official language in Nassau, Bahamas although you may hear  locals speaking creole.
  • Prices are in Bahamian dollars (B$) which is currently pegged to the US$. Both currencies are widely accepted.
  • Take a ride on a local jitney – it’s a fun experience for a couple bucks!
  • Whether you’re driving or just crossing the road, remember they drive on the left in the Bahamas.
  • Official taxis have yellow license plates and most do not accept credit cards.
  • Dress in loose cotton clothing and carry sunscreen, sun glasses, a hat and a bottle of water with you when you go exploring. The heat and humidity can take their toll.

FAQs

Is Nassau, Bahamas safe?

Nassau Bahamas is a relatively safe place for tourists to visit with a strong police presence to ensure everyone’s safety. Most serious crime is in the local “Over the Hill” area south of Shirley Street, which should be avoided.

Like all tourist destinations, visitors should take sensible precautions to avoid petty theft. After dark, officially licensed taxis (with yellow license plates) are the safest way to get around.

Do you need a visa to go to Nassau, Bahamas?

Residents/ citizens of USA, Canada, UK and other most countries of the British Commonwealth do not need a visa for tourist travel to Nassau, Bahamas. Citizens of Pakistan, Ghana, Nigeria and India, although Commonwealth residents, will need a tourist visa to enter Nassau, along with other nationalities.

Is Nassau Bahamas expensive?

The Bahamas is the third most expensive country in the world to live, according to Numbeo. As an exclusive island nation, everything has to be imported and attracts import duties as well as VAT, which leads to a higher cost of living. Expect to pay up to $10 for a beer in a hotel bar. Dining out is around 25% more expensive than mainland USA.

Nassau Bahamas
Gillian Birchhttps://www.cruisehive.com/author/gillian

Gillian Birch is a full-time travel writer and author of 12 travel books. British educated with a diploma in journalism she has traveled the world, writing about her experiences with wonderful clarity and eyewitness detail. She uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many cruise experiences around the Caribbean, Mediterranean, trans-Atlantic, Norwegian Fjords, Panama Canal and South America including Cape Horn.

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