Nassau is the best-known city in the Bahamas, but can you name the island on which it is located? New Providence is the island home of Nassau, and it is located in the middle of the Bahamas archipelago of over 700 islands. These islands start within 50 miles of Miami and stretch hundreds of miles to the northern coasts of Haiti and Cuba. Only about 35 or so are populated, and Nassau, Freeport, and Paradise Island get most of the tourists. About two thirds of the population of about 260,000 live on New Providence.
Recorded Bahamian history starts with a date familiar to many of us--October 12, 1492. Christopher Columbus made landfall in the New World on an island in the Bahamas that he named San Salvador. Neither Columbus nor the explorers who followed him ever found gold or riches in the islands. European settlers first came to the Bahamas in 1648, but the late 17th century found the Bahamas full of pirates such as Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Henry Morgan. The British managed to bring the islands under control by hanging many of the pirates, and the Bahamas became a colony of Great Britain in 1728.
The islands are still part of the British Commonwealth of nations, and British culture and traditions are seen in Nassau. There is a statue of Queen Victoria in front of the Bahamian Parliament, and the Queen's Staircase was built to honor Queen Victoria's 65-year reign. Edward, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne of England for the woman he loved, was governor of the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945.
Since the Bahamas are so close to the United States, they have played an interesting role in the history of this country. In fact, the American captured Nassau and held it for two weeks during the Revolutionary War. The Bahamas also were involved with the United States during two storied eras of our past--gun-running during the War Between the States, and rum-running during Prohibition.
The relationship between the Bahamas and the United States may not be quite as exciting anymore, but Americans invade the islands each week via cruise ship or airplane bringing welcome tourism dollars into the Bahamian economy.
Many tourists believe that Nassau is the best of both worlds. It is modern enough to have the tourism infrastructure work well, the economic conditions are better than much of the rest of the Caribbean, and nothing in the city is so "unfamiliar" to make less well-traveled tourists uncomfortable. At the same time, Nassau has just enough of the exotic side to make you realize you're not at home anymore. When you step off the ship and see the police, dressed in their "bobbie" uniforms and directing traffic that is driving on the left, you will immediately realize you've left home! The old colonial sites, the lilt of the British language influence, and the West Indian people and festivals help make Nassau a fascinating destination.
Nassau is stretched along the northern coast of New Providence. The city is compact and easy to leisurely explore on foot. As you stroll the city, absorb the colonial history and allow time to look for bargains in the shops and straw markets. Cruise ships usually offer a shore excursion of Nassau and the famous Ardastra Gardens. This tour includes a walk down Bay Street to the Queen's Staircase and a visit to Fort Fincastle and Fort Charlotte before concluding at the Ardastra Gardens.
Outside of Nassau on New Providence Island
New Providence Island is only 21 miles long and 7 miles wide, so it is easy to see in a few hours via bus, car, or moped. Shore excursion tours often combine a tour of Nassau, some sightseeing, and time at the beach. A visit to the famous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island is also a popular activity. If you have spent time in Nassau before, you might want to take an excursion outside the city, which can be booked on your cruise ship or in Nassau.