Founded around 1650 by the British as Charles Town, the town was renamed in 1695 after Fort Nassau. Due to the Bahamas' strategic location near trade routes and its multitude of islands, Nassau soon became a popular pirates' den, and British rule was soon challenged by the self-proclaimed "Privateers Republic" under the leadership of the infamous Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. However, the alarmed British soon tightened their grip, and by 1720 the pirates had been killed or driven out.
Today, with a population of 260,000, Nassau contains nearly 80% of the population of the Bahamas. However, it's still quite low-rise and laid back, with the pretty pastel pink government buildings and the looming giant cruise ships that dock daily.
Orienting yourself in central Nassau is fairly easy. Bay Street, which runs parallel to the shore, is the main shopping street, filled with an odd mix of expensive jewelry boutiques and souvenir shops. The hill that rises behind Bay St contains most of the Bahamas' government buildings and company headquarters, while the residential Over-the-Hill district starts on the other side.
Nassau's Lynden Pindling International Airport is the largest airport in the Bahamas. Major U.S. airlines have flights to Nassau. Limited service from [wiki=948ce72be6c871b84f6d0dab24f209ed]Toronto[/wiki] and [wiki=59ead8d1e124ccfb79f3ace06f43e703]London[/wiki] also exists.
The two most popular Fixed Based Operators (FBO) located at Lynden Pindling International Airport are Executive Flight Services and Odyssey Aviation. Air taxi and air charter companies such as Jetset Charter [http://www.jscharter.com] fly a variety of private charter aircraft and jets, from charter luxury Gulfstream's down to economical piston twins for small groups and individuals into and out of Nassau.
For many years, travelers complained about LPIA's rundown and overcrowded passenger terminal. A new passenger terminal was finally completed and opened in 2011. LPIA is one of the few airports with jetbridges that can connect to airplanes of nearly every size (including smaller aircraft for which most airports use airstairs), so visitors arriving on long-distance flights from colder climates don't have to worry about descending airstairs and crossing the tarmac in the tropical heat.
The free drinks occasionally served on arrival and the live band serenading the Immigration hall help set a lively tone for arriving travelers. No public transport is available at the airport, but there's a list of fixed taxi fares posted at the exit. It's about US$25 and 10 mi (16 km) to most hotels in central Nassau.
On the way back, note that there are three terminal concourses: domestic and charter flights, flights to the US, and non-US international flights. Nassau is one of the few airports that offers US immigration and customs preclearance. This means that US-bound passengers are always processed in Nassau before entering the secure terminal area, US-bound flights are treated as domestic upon arrival with no additional formalities required, and US-bound baggage can be checked through directly to all US destination airports reachable on the same airline, codeshare alliance, or airline alliance.
Historically, preclearance was notoriously slow and it was widely recommended that U.S.-bound travelers show up at least two hours before their scheduled departure time or even three or four hours in advance on major U.S. holidays. However, the new U.S. passenger concourse has multiple security lines and the U.S. immigration and customs process has sped up dramatically with the introduction of a kiosk-based system in 2014. The main bottleneck is now the check-in counter for your airline and whether they have multiple full-size passenger jetliners with departure times scheduled too closely to each other on your departure date (which means you need to check your airline's published schedule for LPIA). Otherwise, it is now possible, even on the busiest holidays, to go from curb drop-off to entering the secure area for U.S. passengers within one hour, which means that arriving two hours in advance of your departure time should be more than sufficient.
Security for other destinations is considerably more laid back, and arriving an hour in advance of your scheduled departure should suffice.
Nassau is a favorite port of call for the many cruise ships plying the [wiki=6dbefdc38954fc54ea0c697d0c6ec0a7]Bahamas[/wiki]. Up to seven cruise ships can dock at the Prince George Wharf Cruise Terminal adjacent to downtown Nassau. Water taxi and yacht charter companies, such as Bahamas Boat [http://www.bahamasboat.com], offer a variety of private crewed charters, in and around Nassau for small groups and families.
By water taxi
A water taxi service is an available alternative to a taxi to get to Paradise Island from downtown. It is picked up under the bridge and costs $6 round trip. The water taxi stops operating at 6PM.
Minibuses (locally know as jitneys) act as the bus system of Nassau city and New Providence island. Jitneys are found on and near Bay Street. The famous #10 Jitney to Cable Beach loads passengers on George & Bay Streets (in front of McDonalds, across from the British Colonial Hilton). Other jitneys are located on Charlotte & Bay Streets. A bus will typically wait until it's full before departing. Understanding the various routes can be complex. Many have destinations painted on the bus, but there is no standard as they are run by multiple companies and individuals. Ask around for your destination. Note that there is no jitney that goes to Paradise Island (Atlantis Resort).
Journeys cost $1.25 per person, per ride. A round trip, even if not getting off the bus (ie: sightseeing), is counted as two rides. Payment is received by the driver when disembarking. No change is given, and there is no transfer credit for changing busses.
The Jitney is definitely a very inexpensive way to enjoy the local culture. Be aware that the jitneys stop operating between 6 and 7 PM. The only way back to downtown after 7 PM is by taxi which can be quite expensive.
The buses (also called Jitneys) are 32-seaters and travel to many parts of the Island. They operate from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, except on Sundays when there is limited service. The basic fare is $1 per person and $2 for areas on the outskirts of town. Exact fare is required. The schedule is as follows:
From Bay Street (opposite Parliament Street) to the Eastern end of the Island (including foot of the bridge to Paradise Island) and return -- Bus Numbers: 1, 9, 9A, 9B, 19, 21, 21A, 23
From Bay Street (opposite Market Street) to the Marathon Mall and return -- Bus Numbers: 1, 1A, 3, 19, 21
From Frederick Street (Bay Street) to Town Center Mall and return -- Bus Numbers: 4, 4A, 5, 5A, 6, 6A, 11A, 12, 15, 15A
From Bay Street (George Street) to Cable Beach and return -- Bus Numbers: 10, 10A
Taxis, often minivans and always identifiable by their yellow license plates and little Gothic blackletter "Taxi" lettering, roam the streets of Nassau. They're equipped with meters but will usually refuse to use them, so agree on the fare in advance. Expect to pay $15-$20 for even the shortest of trips from downtown to Cable beach.
Here are some of the rates:
$4 (per person, $11 minimum) from Paradise Island to Downtown.
They will often try to change the rate in the car. They used this tactic twice on me while I was there before I learned.
You could also rent a car. All major U.S car rental shops are in Nassau.
Worthy of note for travelers from the UK is the very British feel of the roads. Unlike the nearby US, cars drive on the left side of the road, have UK road signs and even the odd roundabout.
Scooter (small motorcycle) rental is also popular in Nassau.
Bicycle rental is not popular and not recommended as traffic is bad, there are many blind corners in the old streets of Nassau, and cars drive recklessly and on the left side of the road, which you may not be used to.
Within downtown Nassau, you could walk around. Distances are very short and a walking tour is a pleasant way of exploring downtown Nassau.
Take a walk around Old Town, an interesting mixture of abandoned buildings and bright Caribbean structures. It doesn't take long to get away from the over-scrubbed tourist areas in the very center. Walk ten minutes uphill to the pink Parliament Building, which has a statue of an enthroned Queen Victoria out front.
* Visit the Bahamas' only zoo. See the marching flamingo shows. Let the parakeets land on you as you feed them.
* Opened in 2003, this showcases Bahamian art from the precolonial era to the present. The quality of art is rather uneven to say the least, but the renovated building - once the residence of the Chief Justice - is a sight in itself.
* Recreations of a pirate town, a pirate ship and a pirate battle, with a few real artifacts mixed in. Cheesy, but fun. Try to catch a guided tour.
*A small fort built in 1793 which overlooks the city of Nassau from a small hill south of town. Several cannons are on display. Tours are conducted Monday through Sunday, 8am to 3pm.
The bus tours are pretty interesting. They'll drive you around, and tell you about the local government, tell you about different points of interest, and take you to old forts, and to Paradise Island, to see the famous Atlantis hotel resort and its stunning aquarium.
Straw Market, Bay St. Originally a locals' market, this is now devoted to touristy bric-a-brac. If you are in the market for some souvenirs, this is the place to come. Don't be discouraged by the initial price of things, as this is the only place you can haggle for a better one. Americans don't have to worry about exchanging any money either, as US currency is accepted universally.
* Potters' Cay, under the Paradise Island bridge. Best known for its fish market, and there are plenty of stalls that prepare fresh conch salad, conch fritters and other Bahamian seafood delicacies, but there's plenty of other exotic tropical produce available too.
Get out of the hotel and try real Bahamaian fare. You can get greasy fish, sides and desserts at one of the holes-in-the-wall in downtown Nassau for around $8. On the upscale side, there's no shortage of waterside seafood restaurants where it would be easy to part with $50 for an excellent piece of lobster. Sbarros, McDonalds and Chinese restaurants are mixed in to satisfy the budget diner or someone who has had enough conch.
If the tourist crowds are getting you down, take a taxi out to where the locals eat. Enjoy fish that falls off the bone, friendly service, and a dessert of guava duff.
Tucked away on a quiet lane, Matisse serves excellent Italian food with fresh local ingredients. Reservations recommended; try to get a seat in the delightful garden courtyard, which is shady by day and lit up at night. "Proper" dress (no shorts or sandals) required for dinner.
Nassau isn't a spring break mecca for nothing. The club scene is nightly and rowdy. Some popular establishments:
* right next to the cruise dock. Situated next a stinky sewer pipe, check which way the wind is blowing before you order. Doesn't serve Kalik.
* on the north side of the island, about two miles from the dock.
* draws a sketchier crowd, although it is on the beach. Come here in a group.
* draws a very local crowd. You will get lots of recommendations from Bahamians you meet but it is not a tourist club at all.
Cover charges average $20, although all major hotels sell "passes" for $5. With a pass, cover charge is only $5, so you actually pay $10. Cover charges on weekends can climb up to $45, so it's a good idea to get a pass from your local taxi driver/hotel desk.
You can also opt for an all-inclusive entertainment pass, which will include a schedule. Expect to follow this itinerary with at least 5,000 other co-eds. (It might be a good idea to pick up this schedule even if you don't plan on participating. It will give you a good idea of places to avoid on certain nights.)
Drinks in clubs can get expensive, depending on the club and its location. Most locals "drink up" before going out, to defray this cost... That or they can be found in the parking lots with a cooler ;) Expect to pay at least $4 for a beer and $5 for a cocktail. The one exception is rum, which is cheap and plentiful. Cocktails with rum at a club, will be strong.
*John Watling's Distillery - JOHN WATLING’S rum, the “Spirit of The Bahamas” offers complimentary tours at its home, the Buena Vista Estate, in Downtown Nassau. The historic Estate, founded in 1789 and overlooking the harbour, is the site where Bahamians hand-craft JOHN WATLING’S small-batch Pale, Amber and Buena Vista rums. At the Estate, John Watling’s features a museum-like tour, shopping and signature Bahamian cocktails at its Red Turtle Tavern. Within walking distance from the cruise ship port in Downtown Nassau, John Watling’s Distillery is located on Delancy Street and is open from 10am-6pm, seven days a week and on Friday's until 9pm.
Many of Nassau's hotels are located outside the city core on [wiki=3821fdd433804316809cb0f0f727d252]Paradise Island[/wiki] or [wiki=89f6ac513c5165f54dc1ec22b3be341b]Cable Beach[/wiki].
* A hotel catering more to business travelers than package tourists. Occupies the site of a historical landmark (Fort Nassau), and has its own private beach, from which you get a fantastic view of the cruise ships going into, going out of, and berthed at the docks. Step out of the hotel and you're right downtown on Bay Street's shopping attractions.
* Located across the street from Junkanoo Beach, this hotel offers stunning views of white sandy beaches and the crystal-clear blue water of the Atlantic Ocean.
Another option for lodging is to use priceline.com to bid on hotels in the area of cable beach. The Sheraton that normally charges around $232.00 a night or more can sometimes be had for $100.00 a night by bidding on rooms. Obviously the cost would depend on availability and also bidding several months prior to your visit. Similar deals can be found via www.hotwire.com though the locations are only revealed after purchase.
The "Over-the-Hill" area south of downtown is the poorest part of Nassau, and tourists might want to be wary. It is, however, much nicer than "slums" in the Third World and, indeed, parts of the United States.
Some criminals target restaurants and nightclubs frequented by tourists. The most common approach is to offer victims a ride, either as a "personal favor" or by claiming to be a taxi, and then robbing and/or assaulting the passenger once in the car. Take care to ride only in licensed taxis, identifiable by their yellow license plates.
Be wary of the natives offering goods and services. They will tell you anything to get you jet-skiing, on booze cruises, etc.
Locals may solicit tourists with offers of marijuana, hairbraiding services, or a taxi ride. It gets monotonous but a friendly "no, thank you" and moving on will keep both you and the local happy.
Most Cuban cigars for sale in Nassau are counterfeit. Buy only from reputable dedicated tobacconists. See warning on main Bahamas page.
There is a high crime rate in Nassau at the moment. US Dept of State has labelled New Providence "Critical" and Grand Bahama "High". Crime previously among drug-related groups has now moved toward armed robberies of tourists. Recent local news reports suggest this is not abating.
You always hear about the murders on the Paradise Island Bridge; it doesn't look very safe and who walks there at night anyway? If you happen to be there just don't go out walking late at night and you'll be ok. If you do want to go somewhere late at night just use a reliable taxi company. Be careful when crossing the roads as well, as Bahamian people drive like crazy. Watch out especially for the pick-up truck drivers.
[wiki=3821fdd433804316809cb0f0f727d252]Paradise Island[/wiki] Located just across a bridge from Nassau, it is home to the lavish Atlantis hotel and resort.
[[Category: New Providence]]