Layover: St John’s, Antigua

Its location near the northern end of the Leewards makes Antigua an important hub for Caribbean travel. Our guide to exploring the island when time is tight

Photo by Eric Baker / Shutterstock.comPhoto courtesy CecIlia’s CafePhoto by Alessandro Lai / shutterstock.comPhoto by ATGImages / Shutterstock.comPhoto by Lawrence Roberg / Shutterstock.comPhoto courtesy Key Properties

At just over one hundred square miles, and famous for its reputed 365 beaches — one for each day of the year — Antigua is both a popular holiday destination, home to some of the Caribbean’s most luxurious resorts, and a common hub for intra-regional travellers. It’s also just small enough for you to get out of the airport on a long layover and enjoy a taste of the landscape and culture, before you board your connecting flight.

The nice thing about island airports: sometimes there’s a beach practically on the terminal doorstep. Like Dutchman’s Bay, a few minutes’ drive from V.C. Bird International Airport, where the popular Cecilia’s Café offers not just delicious food and drink, but a changing room with showers, where you can slip into and out of your bathing suit. Why spend hours inside the airport when you could be having a swim?

History buff? Also within easy reach of the airport are the restored windmills of Betty’s Hope plantation, now run as a museum. The interpretive centre tells the story of the island’s sugar industry, run for centuries using the labour of enslaved Africans. Also in the vicinity: the historic churches of St Peter and St George.

A Saturday morning in St John’s before your afternoon flight? Head to Market Street, where Saturday vendors offer everything from famously sweet Antigua black pineapples to home-grown herbs, souvenirs, and tasty street food. It’s a chance to pick up some bargains and some local gossip at the same time.

A day to spare on a business trip? Head out of St John’s to English Harbour on Antigua’s south coast, and explore a historic site that was once the main Royal Navy base in the West Indies. Alongside the Nelson’s Dockyard Museum buildings, you’ll find a yachting marina, restaurants, and nightspots. Where better to taste the Antiguan rum that once helped Britannia rule the waves?

Or, with a whole afternoon to while away, head into the capital, St John’s, and to Redcliffe Quay, where a cluster of historic Georgian buildings on the waterfront have been converted to restaurants and quaint shops offering local goods. Lunch and a spot of shopping? Why not?