Nelson's Dockyard National Park is a place to connect with the history of Antigua and follow in the footsteps of the famed explorer Admiral Horatio Nelson. Built at English Harbor in the 1720s, the site was essential to the British Navy and the sugar trade. Today, the Navy yard is home to a museum exploring the different cultures who have lived on Antigua over the centuries. If you're looking for an alternative to the beaches, Nelson's Dockyard National Park tours are a good way to spend an afternoon.
English Harbor looks much like it did during the years when the sun never set on the British Empire. Today, it's the main historic district in Antigua, fifteen square miles filled with elegant historic buildings, gathering places for sailing enthusiasts, and beautiful views. The national park site is home to a wide variety of things to do and see, including Shirley Heights and the Admiral House museum.
During the golden age of oceanic exploration, the British set sail for the New World, drawn by the promise of land, sugar, wealth, and power. The harbor on Antigua served as a base for operations in all of the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean in the 1770s, the same turbulent time when America was becoming a nation. Admiral Nelson expanded the Navy base. However, it's been years since the Royal Navy last used the dockyard, in fact, more than 100 years have passed since the colonial government took control, later turning Nelson's Dockyard into a national park.
The carefully preserved and restored historic district is the only example of a Georgian-style dockyard left in the world. The exhibits are now located at the Admiral House in English Harbor, explaining the whole story of the site, from the Native people who first used the harbor through the rise and fall of the British Empire and the creation of the national park. This elegant home is representative of Georgian-style architecture, incorporating symmetry, columns, and boxy windows.
While Admiral Nelson did not live in the house, traces of his time in Antigua are still evident. On Nelson's Dockyard National Park tours, you'll have the chance to see some of his possessions, including a tea caddy and telescope. Exhibits also detail the real pirates of the Caribbean and more about the island's diverse history.
Outside of the Admiral's house, displays and plaques help to the tell the story of the various buildings, explaining how they were essential to the operations of the working Navy Yard. If you're really interested in learning about the various historic buildings, guides are available to give Nelson's Dockyard National Park tours. Whether you explore with a docent or on your own, this museum is an interesting addition to all types of vacations.
Some visitors take an hour to see the exhibits, while others spend a few hours on their tours. Others spend an entire morning walking and hiking through the national park. Nelson's Dockyard is also home to nature trails that wander through groves of mangrove trees and succulent plants, leading directly to the beautiful sandy beaches overlooking English Harbor. There's also the chance to see some archeological ruins, some dating back 2,000 years.
The trails are open for explorers all day, while the museum and other historic buildings are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's quite lovely to linger a bit after closing time and watch the sun set.