Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

English Harbour Shore Excursion Fills Day with Sightseeing

English Harbour Antigua
View of English Harbour from Shirley Heights. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

An English Harbour shore excursion offers plenty of sightseeing for anyone with an interest in New World history. It’s also one of the top attractions on Antigua.

This historic district was built as a base for the British navy in the 1700s and remained in use until 1889.

English Harbour is now part of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, which covers 15 square miles, and ranks among the best Caribbean historical attractions. It is the only Georgian dockyard left in the world and still supports visiting yachts and other ships today.

The dockyard is named after Horatio Nelson, the legendary British vice admiral who was best known for a major victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars. The battle cost Nelson his life, taken by a French sharpshooter.

Nelson was 26 during his early years at the naval base and commanded the frigate H.M.S. Boreas. It was sent to Antigua to enforce British laws in the colonies, according to National Parks Antigua.

The dockyard has many 18th and 19th century buildings that still house shops, hotels and other businesses. Points of interest include Clarence House, a home built for the future King William IV (1765-1837) when he served under Nelson as captain of the H.M.S. Pegasus.

Access to the dockyards is $8 U.S. and includes access to all sites plus Shirley Heights and Dow’s Hill.

An excursion from a cruise ship usually takes anywhere from three and a half to five hours. Prices are $65 or higher per person depending on the season, excursion operator, amenities and ticket availability. Some excursions go to English Harbour exclusively and others include a stop there during a tour of the best attractions on the entire island.

Outside of the dockyard, plenty of shopping is available as well as many shops near the dockyard and Falmouth Harbor Marina.

About a dozen restaurants are around the district including Abracadabra, Admiral’s Inn, Bumpkins Beach Bar, Calabash Restaurant, Caribbean Taste Restaurant, Le Cap Horn French, Mad Mongoose Bar & Restaurant, Mainbrace Pub & Restaurant, Pizza Oven, The Gallery, The Inn at English Harbour and Trappas Bar.

Antigua photo
Nelson’s Dockyard; photo courtesy Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office

Shirley Heights

Shirley Heights is above the harbor and has partly restored fortifications from the colonial era with scenic views of the surrounding area.

The heights get especially active with a 30-year tradition of barbecues and live bands on Sunday afternoons and evenings. The AMP Halcyon Steel Orchestra begins performing at 4 p.m., while party bands perform from 7 to 10 p.m., according to the Antigua tourism ministry.

A Thursday barbecue with entertainment begins at 4 p.m. and provides a more subdued experience.

Anyone wanting to visit Shirley Heights on other days and times will find dining at the outdoor Lookout Restaurant, which is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily except Mondays when it closes at sunset.

Shirley Heights are accessible by Lookout Trail, a nature walk through a forest of trees.

Dow’s Hill Interpretation Center is located along Lookout Trail and offers a multimedia exhibit of Antigua’s history along with observation decks of the harbor.

Beaches Near English Harbour

Antigua is known for having 365 beaches or one for every day of the year. For anyone visiting English Harbour with extra time, there are nearby beaches to fill the rest of the day.

Carlisle Beach lies 25 minutes west of English Harbour on the southern coast. It is known for clear water that appeals to snorkelers and divers. It also is relatively uncrowded.

Galleon Beach is just outside of English Harbour on the east side of Freeman’s Bay. It is accessible only by car or water taxi.

Pigeon Beach is a 20-minute walk west of Nelson’s Dockyard.

Getting There

English Harbour Location Map

English Harbour is on the southeast coast of the island by the much larger Falmouth Harbour.

Cruises usually stop at St. John’s, the capital of Antigua, on the northwest coast of the island. The distance from St. John’s to the harbor is about 19 kilometers or about 11 miles.

It is accessible by taxi, rental car or excursion bus. For a taxi, expect to pay about $24 one way for one to four people to go from St. John’s to English Harbour. Renting a small car is likely to cost less, especially if rented in advance.

Note that taxi rates are set by the government, but drivers sometimes will negotiate different rates. Be sure to ask for rates before getting into the taxi.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
March 11, 2023