This fun-loving and friendly island is the perfect place for a night out. The Bajans know how to enjoy themselves and their laid-back, sociable, partying ways are as infectious to visitors as the ubiquitous steel pan calypso and soca soundtrack.
The carnival spirit is never far away, with sequinned and feathered dancers often adding colour and glamour to proceedings. And ‘liming’ – the Bajan term for hanging out, eating, drinking and socialising with friends – is a national pastime, so there’s always a good excuse to go and enjoy yourself.
It’s possible to come to Barbados and spend every night dancing with a rum punch in hand. But there’s also a more demure side to the island embodied by the chic yet laid-back Daphne’s restaurant on the island’s upmarket west coast. Here’s my selection of top Barbados nightspots to help you get the most out of your time in this warm and carefree Caribbean paradise.
Oistens Friday Night Fish Fry
The delicious smells, the smoke, the ebullient atmosphere and throngs of locals, Oistens is clearly a favourite liming spot for Bajans and attracts plenty of tourists too. As night falls on the weekends, painted clapboard shacks serve up the day’s catch in this authentic Barbadian fishing enclave. You can tuck into traditional battered flying fish and rice and peas at any number of picnic tables arranged under canopies and palms at the Bay Garden.
As with most Bajan social gatherings, there’s music – 1950s dancehall, reggae and soul – as well as local soca sounds, dancing and revelry, cold rum punch, fresh coconuts and local Banks’ beer. As Barbados’ main fishing port, Oistens has a bustling fish market by the beach during the day and is a great place to get a sense of local life. The prime time to visit is over Easter weekend when Oistens has its official fish festival with fishing and cooking competitions, music, dancing and fun activities.
Harbour Lights, Bridgetown
Barbados’ capital, Bridgetown, is a lively city with a plethora of bars and clubs to eat, drink and dance the night away. One of the best open-air hangouts is Harbour Lights, set on a stretch of sand behind Carlisle Bay, and attracting a mixed crowd of locals and tourists. The long bar area serves up fast-flowing cocktails, including delicious frothy rum sours, and overlooks a stage, dance floor and dining area right on the sand.
Most nights feature live music and barefoot dancing in the sand to the sounds of steel pan and soca. Later on, DJs and carnival girls keep the party going and the rum punch flowing. On Monday and Wednesday nights, high-energy dinner shows feature fire eaters, stilt walkers, costumed acrobats and even a limbo queen showcasing her skills under a fiery stick. There’s live soca and calypso music while a chattel hut offers simple barbecue food, which you can tuck into at the picnic tables around the stage.
Daphne’s, West Coast
Part of Elegant Hotels and a replica from the original in London, this beautiful west coast beach restaurant embodies laidback seaside chic with a simple elegant interior opening onto an after-dinner drinks deck sitting right on a serene stretch of fine golden sand.
It’s perfect for a relaxed evening with friends or a romantic date enjoying the finest food that the island has to offer from sizzling hot piri piri prawns to gourmet pasta dishes. It’s a rather pricy option favoured by many celebrities who visit the island, so come here only if prepared to really splash some cash. For further tips on where to go on a night out on Barbados, check out Elegant Hotels’ free nightlife guide.
The Boatyard, Bridgetown
Considered a really cool liming spot by locals and tourists alike, the Boatyard is right on the dramatic and wide sweep of fine sand that graces Carlisle Bay. The bar staff are friendly, fun and accommodating and there are live bands on the beach stage on Fat Tuesdays when the entrance fee covers unlimited drinks for the night.
If you fancy a bite to eat, you can order tasty grilled jerk chicken and a range of other snacks from the kitchen and dine at the picnic tables lining the beach. Most nights see DJs spinning local tracks and international hits with plenty of room for dancing under the stars. During the day, the Boatyard is a popular hangout spot too with its own pier and rope swing, water trampoline, jetskiing, and beach volleyball among an array of enjoyable outdoor pursuits.
Visiting a rum shop is an absolute must if you want to experience something of local life. These colourful clapboard shacks are dotted everywhere across the island and are the Bajan equivalent of a little local pub where people gather to drink, share stories and laughs, play games and basically lime. Mount Gay Rum is the local favourite that comes from the oldest rum distillery in the world not far from Bridgetown.
The Extra Old rum, aged in oak whiskey barrels, is particularly good, and all varieties are ordered by the shot, flask or bottle along with a bottle of mixer and a bowl of ice. Rum shops come in different shapes and sizes but all offer a warm welcome and the best ones sell food and have outdoor seating. Tasty cutters – salt breads filled with fish, meat or cheese – are sold at lots of rum shops. On my first visit, I was immediately greeted and told to pull up a chair by some friendly and curious locals.
Best of the rest
Island nightlife is by no means limited to the spots I’ve mentioned above. Barbados is chockfull of places where you are guaranteed to have a good night and a few fantastic festivals add to the entertainment offering. St Lawrence Gap, known locally as simply ‘the Gap’ is the nightlife capital of the south with a laid-back atmosphere, happy hours galore and a smattering of smart oceanfront restaurants. Whether you enjoy chilling to reggae, watching a live band, singing along to international hits or dancing in an Ibiza-style nightclub, you’ll find a place to suit you there. As the locals like to put it, this is a town that is truly ‘keeping the spirits together’ with a church and rum shop sitting right next to each other.
For calm ambience, cool jazz and a well-stocked bar, the low-key Waterfront Cafe in Bridgetown is definitely worth visiting, while music enthusiasts can find live acts every night and memorabilia-covered walls at the Limelite Cafe. If you like the idea of dinner and dancing on a lively party boat under the stars, the Harbour Master Sunset Catamaran Cruise promises a wonderful evening on the water. The catamaran drops anchor in the west coast’s calm clear Caribbean waters, and some cruises begin in the late afternoon, giving you time to snorkel with sea turtles. There’s a tasty informal dinner of chicken, rice and peas as the sun goes down, when the volume goes up and the flow of rum punch is seemingly limitless.
In terms of nightlife, Barbados’ west coast is much quieter than the south, though there are some great restaurants in stunning locations. For a more relaxed evening of music, dining and drinking in a scenic spot, it’s worth stopping by the Surfside Beach Bar in Holetown, with tables on the sandy beach and steel pan on Sunday nights.
Nightlife turns up the heat a notch when the Crop Over Festival sweeps the island from June until August. As well as carnival parades during the day, by night you’ll find lively calypso, soca, rum-drinking and dancing events at venues across the island. In my opinion, January is one of the best times to visit Barbados, when the internationally-acclaimed Jazz Festival fills the warm air with sweet sounds to banish any trace of January blues. Experiencing some traditional live jazz against the backdrop of a palm-fringed beach on this laid-back island is the epitome of cool, making the cold grey winter of the UK seem very far away indeed.