Bermuda by boat: an itinerary for 48 hours in port

Horseshoe Bay on Bermuda's South Shore is one of the island's most popular beaches for visitors. It offers coves perfect for snorkeling.
Horseshoe Bay on Bermuda's South Shore is one of the island's most popular beaches for visitors. It offers coves perfect for snorkeling. (Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, Baltimore Sun)

It's an island that measures only 21 square miles, about the size of Manhattan.

But instead of skyscrapers packed in like sardines, imagine miles and miles of sparkling cerulean water and pink-glittered sand.

Replace the honking yellow cabs with pastel pink buses nimbly navigating hairpin curves. Trade boroughs for parishes and skip Queens in favor of King's Wharf.

Finally, jettison North America and set up shop in the Atlantic Ocean.

Welcome to Bermuda.

Whether you come by plane — new nonstop flights from Baltimore can get you here almost as fast as you can get to New York — or by boat — Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines offer seasonal sailings to Bermuda — is up to you. The longer you can stay, the more you'll see.

But if you have only a weekend — or if you have just two days in port, like I did when I took the Carnival Pride on a seven-day cruise to the island this year — it's going to take some planning to hit the highlights.

I've come up with an itinerary for spending just a couple of days in Bermuda. It's perhaps tailored more aptly for the cruise traveler, but those on a weekend getaway might also find it helpful.

I hewed fairly closely to this schedule on my visit in April, but full disclosure: It's a sightseeing trek and not a relaxing stroll.

Also, pick up a map and bus/ferry schedule before you start out. If you prefer a slower pace, then pick one destination to explore fully and linger at the beaches. If you have more than a couple of days in Bermuda, break it up; spending a day in St. George, a day in Hamilton and another day at the beaches would be ideal.

Day 1: St. George and Hamilton

Visitors could easily spend an entire day in St. George — keep that in mind as an option if you feel rushed. Also, Bermuda is on Atlantic Time, about an hour ahead of the U.S., so set your watch accordingly. Here's our itinerary:

•Take the morning ferry, the SeaXpress, from the Royal Naval Dockyard to the historic town of St. George, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The town is St. George, the parish is St. George's.) It's about a 45-minute trip on the high-speed vessel as you take in lovely views of Bermuda's coastline. Sit on top and enjoy the salt spray — but hold onto your hat. Purchase a bus/ferry combination ticket: $12 for a one-day pass or $20 for a two-day pass.

•Exit the ferry into King's Square, the heart of St. George. Take a quick tour of Ordnance Island to view a replica of the Deliverance, a British ship that played a role in the founding of the town in the early 1600s. Take a short walk through the square to St. Peter's Church, first built in 1612. (It's been rebuilt a few times since then, most notably after a hurricane in 1712.) The day we were there, the priest was consulting with a wedding party. It's still an old tradition to be married here. After visiting the interior take a stroll through the church's small, historic graveyard.

•Across the street is the Bermuda National Trust Museum, originally the Globe Hotel. Nearby is Temptations, a place to stop for a sweet treat. For sweet smells, pop around the corner to the popular Bermuda Perfumery, which offers custom scents.

•Set out on foot along Duke of York Street for Tobacco Bay beach, a 30-minute walk from the town's center. Along the way, stop at Somers Garden, a tropical oasis, to admire the traditional Bermuda moongate. Walking through one of the circular stone structures is said to bring good luck.

•Exit the garden through the alley and onto Duke of Kent Street. Take a right and walk around the curve, passing the "Unfinished Cathedral" as you continue toward Tobacco Bay.

As you're walking, take in the lovely pastel colors of the island cottages. Be careful, since streets in Bermuda are narrow with very little clearance and few sidewalks. It's not a long walk to the beach —a mile at most — but much of it is uphill.

What awaits at Tobacco Bay is well worth the hike. The beach is a gorgeous swimming cove with coral rock formations and shallow aqua waters, perfect for snorkeling. A snack bar offers drinks and more. If you continue walking past the beach, you will come across Fort St. Catherine with its tunnels and ramparts dating to the 1800s. The fort houses a museum with displays of weapons and replicas of the British Crown Jewels.

Tobacco Bay could easily be your final destination for the day. But if you want to continue sightseeing, spend only an hour or so and then flag down a cab to take you back to the bus stop near the town square.

•Back in town, hop on bus No. 10 or 11 headed toward Hamilton. Tell the driver you're going to the Swizzle Inn, a restaurant known for its signature rum swizzle, and he'll make sure you get there. The lunch is superb — try the fish chowder, a Bermudian favorite — and a swizzle. The restaurant's motto is "Swizzle Inn, Swagger Out," but your day isn't over, so you might want to take it easy on the swagger.

•If you manage to save room, there's an ice cream shop across the street in a lime green building. You can't miss it. Bailey's offers a selection of homemade flavors, including honey vanilla and cappucino swirl.

•When you're done munching, get back on the bus toward Hamilton. Ask the driver to drop you off at Shelly Bay beach, the perfect spot for an afternoon siesta. If you have kids, they will enjoy the playground out front. We enjoyed having the beach all to ourselves in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. The water was calm, shallow and sparkling, even if the beach was a bit, well, shelly.

•Once you've grabbed a nap on the beach, it's back on the bus for the trip into Hamilton, Bermuda's capital. (Check the bus schedule. We ended up waiting longer than we expected. Also, schoolchildren — perfectly polite — often crowd the buses in the afternoon.)

In Hamilton, take your pick of sites, from historic buildings to shops to restaurants. We opted for shopping along Front Street, which faces the harbor and offers an array of boutiques, jewelers and other vendors. The prices seemed close to those in the U.S., but there are no taxes. A visitor's center next to the ferry terminal can be your guide.

No matter what you chose to explore, keep in mind the ferry schedule, which changes by season. Plan to take the ferry back to the Dockyard and make sure you don't miss the last one, and keep in mind, it may be crowded.

Day 2: Hamilton and South Shore

Tailor the day to your interests. For couples, consider a day trip to a spa for the gals and a round of golf for the guys. The Elbow Beach Bermuda Resort offers a day spa package, where you can relax while your significant other hits the links. Rendezvous for lunch at the resort and an afternoon on the beach.

For families, take the bus from Hamilton to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, a popular destination for travelers with kids.

Whatever you do, you can't go wrong starting out in Hamilton. From here, you can get just about anywhere using public transportation. Here's our itinerary:

•Take the ferry into Hamilton and hit those places you didn't get a chance to see the day before because you were a) tired or b) afraid of missing the ferry. Stop in at the City Hall & Arts Centre on Church Street and explore its portraits, exhibits, antiques and art galleries, including the Bermuda National Gallery.

•After running around the city, it's time to cool off. Bermuda's South Shore is known for its concentration of pink-sand beaches. Take the No. 7 bus to Horseshoe Bay or Warwick Long Bay. Both offer lovely coves and aquamarine waters.

We chose Horseshoe Bay, considered Bermuda's most famous beach, and we weren't disappointed. It's full of possibilities, from snorkeling in a private cove perfect for little ones to climbing coral rocks to simply sunning on the beach. (A lifeguard is on duty from May to September.) It's also hot, so you'll be grateful for the small snack bar with cold drinks and sandwiches. The beach has an outdoor shower and restrooms for changing.

•When you're all sun-soaked, hop the bus again for the 30- to 45-minute trip back to the Dockyard. The scenery is lovely along the road, despite the hairpin turns. You'll see beautiful views of the Port Royal Golf Course and seaside neighborhoods and ride over the world's smallest drawbridge.

•If you're so inclined — and we were not — ask the driver to let you off near the Gibb's Hill Lighthouse. Visitors can climb the 185 steps to the top for what I'm told is the most stunning view of Bermuda.

•Back at the Royal Naval Dockyard, which is a highlight even for those not taking a cruise, you can rent scooters and jet skis, take a horse-drawn carriage ride or swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Quest. There's also a small beach for snorkeling and several restaurants. A shuttle is available to ferry visitors around the Dockyard. We realized too late that we'd spent too little time at this destination.

•The Clocktower Mall building, flanked by 100-foot towers, is a hard-to-miss landmark at the Dockyard and provides a delightful setting for souvenir-hunting, offering everything from T-shirts to crafts to the world's smallest kite.

•Explore the nearby Bermuda Clayworks and Dockyard Glassworks shops that feature local artisans at work. If there's time, take a self-guided tour of the National Museum of Bermuda.

•Finally, enjoy dinner and live music at The Frog & Onion, an English-style pub offering microbrews and traditional dishes such as cod cakes, pasties, fish and chips, and cottage pie.


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