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English Harbour, Antigua's graceful and evocative historic district, is focused on the fifteen square miles of Nelson's Dockyard National Park. Developed as a base for the British Navy in the great age of sail, the harbour served as the headquarters of the fleet of the Leeward Islands during the turbulent years of the late 18th century. Although the dockyard was greatly expanded at that time by Horatio Nelson, it was gradually abandoned in the nineteenth century and was closed in 1889. Today Nelson's Dockyard has been completely restored, and it is now the only Georgian dockyard in the world.
Almost all of the park's other sites of interest overlook the harbour. The closest of these is Clarence House, a residence built for the future King William IV (1765-1837) when he served under Nelson as captain of the H.M.S. Pegasus. Further above the harbour, at Shirley Heights, are the partially-restored fortifications of the harbour's colonial observation post; the view from Shirley Heights extends out over the harbour and far across the Caribbean to Montserrat and Guadaloupe. On Sundays the vista is enhanced by barbeque and live music at the bar there (Steel Band music from 3-6 pm & reggae from 6-9). Shirley Heights can be reached via Lookout Trail, a nature walk that rises from the harbour through a forest of trees--descending the trail is not advisable after dark or barbecue revelry.
Along Lookout Trail and near Shirley Heights is Dow's Hill Interpretation Center, at which visitors can watch an impressive multimedia presentation of the richness of Antigua's history, from its initial settlement to independence. Observation decks at Dow's Hill provide another fine view of the harbour, as do the ruined fortifications of Fort Berkeley, located on the far side of the bay and reached by a walk around its perimeter. All of these points, as well as the park's convenient beaches, become especially popular spectator positions during Sailing Week.
The skyline of St. John's, the capital and largest city of Antigua and Barbuda, is dominated by the magnificently evocative white baroque towers of St. John's Cathedral. Built in 1845, the church is now in its third incarnation, as earthquakes in 1683 and in 1745 destroyed the previous structures. The towers are the first sight of Antigua for about half of the island's visitors each year, many of whom arrive by boat. With its recently completed cruise ship dock and several hotels, St. John's is a lively hub for shopping and dining.
For those interested in the early history of the island, there is the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, housed in the colonial Court House (1750). The museum displays both Arawak and colonial artifacts recovered on archaeological digs on the islands. It also features a thought-provoking, life-size replica of an Arawak house, models of sugar plantations, etc.
On Friday and Saturday mornings, be sure to visit the vibrant farmers market on the southern edge of the city. Folk crafts, colorful tropical fruits, and a buzzing crowd make for a lively morning.
Sailing has been a central part of Antigua's culture for centuries, ever since the British under Horatio Nelson made English Harbour their Caribbean base. Today, the stately Georgian architecture of Nelson's Dockyard hosts a more pleasure-seeking fleet--the international racing boats, recreational yachts, and classic sailboats of Antigua's annual Sailing Week. With such a rich marine tradition, its no surprise that boats of all sorts can be hired in Antigua. Most hotels have Sunfish or Sailfish, and a number of companies hire yachts.
Antiguans are more than a little devoted to cricket. The island has historically been a very strong contributor to West Indian and international cricket, and the Antigua Recreation Ground is one of the finest places in the Caribbean to take in a local, regional, or international match. Devotees of the game can visit the Antigua and Barbuda Museum for a look at the infamous cricket bat of Vivian Richards, native Antiguan, former captain of the West Indies Cricket Club, and one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Matches can be found almost anywhere on the island, at almost any time.