AARP’s Guide to Bermuda
Visit this colorful British island rich with history and beautiful pink-sand beaches
There may be no better place to dip a toe back into post-pandemic international travel than Bermuda. At only about two hours from most East Coast cities, the British Overseas Territory is remarkably convenient for a quick weekend trip, and its thoughtful and diligent COVID-19 policies have kept its rate of infection low throughout the pandemic.
The odd mix of British colonial history and lush island setting makes for some only-in-Bermuda sights (Bermuda shorts with knee socks anyone?), and the dark rum is as plentiful as the sunshine. While it only takes a few days (and a few dark ’n’ stormies) to get on Bermuda’s slowed-down wavelength, you’ll want to keep coming back to immerse yourself in the culture, the sailing legacy, the nature and the cuisine. Here is our guide to the most colorful and fun-loving island in the North Atlantic.
All adult visitors to Bermuda must be fully vaccinated and show proof of a negative PCR test (no more than four days before arrival) or supervised antigen test (no more than two days before arrival). Visitors must also fill out and submit a Travelers Authorization (TA) form, which costs $40 to process.
How to Get There
Bermuda is not located in the Caribbean but in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, about 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina. That location makes it especially convenient for travelers from the East Coast. In fact, you can reach Bermuda’s L.F. Wade International Airport from New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., in about two hours. The airport is served by American, Delta, JetBlue, United, Air Canada and WestJet.
Visitors might be surprised to learn that not only are rental cars not an option on the island, but residents are allowed only one automobile per household. More adventurous types can rent motor scooters, but if you’re nervous about navigating the curving roads on a two-wheeler, Bermuda also has a fleet of two-seat electric vehicles. They’re very compact — essentially just enclosed, eco-friendly golf carts — and you can rent them at a few different spots around the island. For instance, Current Vehicles’ Twizys, which can go 55 miles before needing a recharge, are available at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club. Remember that cars drive on the left side of the road, and the maximum speed limit is just 22 miles per hour. If you’d rather avoid driving, taxis are a safe bet, with prices regulated by the government, though they can get quite expensive. In addition, 11 bus and four ferry routes serve the island.
Where to Stay
One of the most stunning hotels to open recently is the beachfront St. Regis Bermuda Resort, which debuted last May in the shadow of Fort St. Catherine on the island’s East End. The original St. Regis in New York is the 1934 birthplace of the Bloody Mary, and each subsequent location has its own regional spin: The one available at the sunny lobby bar is called the Gates Bay Mary, made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum, Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers (a local hot sauce), lemon juice and a fennel-heavy signature spice blend. The new-build hotel, complete with a spa and a golf course, is an homage to Bermudan vernacular architecture, yet you’ll still find the brand’s trademark “rituals” here, such as Champagne sabrage out on the deck. Even if you don’t stay at the St. Regis, it’s worth visiting for a drink.
Elsewhere on the island, more affordable options include The Oxford House, a 1938 bed-and-breakfast in downtown Hamilton that got a complete refresh last year; the family-run Greenbank Guest House & Cottages, which features subtropical gardens and a two-century-old main building; and the Fourways Inn, a poolside “cottage colony” managed by one of the finest old-school restaurants in Paget Parish. If you’re one of the many Americans who love pickleball, consider staying at the Pompano Beach Club, which converted three of its clay tennis courts into pickleball courts in spring 2020.
AARP Membership -Join AARP for just $12 for your first year when you enroll in automatic renewal
Join today and save 25% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
What and Where to Eat
Bermuda’s answer to the po’boy or the Philly cheesesteak is its own humble, messy, bread-based signature dish, the fish sandwich: battered and fried fish (usually snapper, wahoo or grouper) with tartar sauce and coleslaw on raisin bread (yes, you read that right!), plus add-ons like hot sauce, cheddar, lettuce, tomato or grilled onions. Every resort and restaurant has its own take, but you should make the pilgrimage to off-the-beaten-path Art Mel’s Spicy Dicy, on the north shore, or the Seaside Grill, where your fish was probably caught that morning.
Another old Bermuda standby is its tomato-based fish chowder, which is often served with two tiny shakers of black rum and sherry pepper sauce so you can doctor the recipe to your liking. Favorite spots in Hamilton include The Lobster Pot, Wahoo’s Bistro & Patio (which also sells takeout chowder by the gallon) and Harry’s, on the waterfront.
Other standouts in the “big city” of Hamilton include Bolero Brasserie, a neighborhood tapas bar serving dishes like ham and octopus croquettes and rabbit leg with chickpeas; Pearl, whose sashimi offerings include thinly sliced rockfish usuzukuri as well as octopus carpaccio with dried cranberries and pistachios; and Devil’s Isle, a café with a creative menu that includes beer-battered rockfish tacos and excellent single-origin coffee.
For pure ambience, it’s hard to beat Tom Moore’s Tavern, which occupies a private home dating back to 1652. The restaurant has served such famous folks as Prince Charles, and its fine-dining menu includes such dishes as duck breast pan-roasted with sticky fig and nut compote, and baked garlic escargot. For a very different kind of ambience, don’t miss the no-frills Swizzle Inn, Bermuda’s oldest pub, which is known for its rum swizzle, a dangerously drinkable punch invented 90 years ago that’s made with Gosling’s Black Seal and Gold Seal rums, orange, pineapple and lemon juices, fruit liqueurs and falernum. As their unofficial motto goes, “Swizzle Inn, swagger out.”
Things to Do
For nature lovers: Bird-watchers won’t have to go out of their way to spot some of the island’s nearly 400 species, including the white-tailed tropicbird (or longtail), which can often be seen floating elegantly over the surf — and can always be seen on the back of the Bermudan $50 bill. If you’re extremely lucky, you may be able to catch sight of the Bermuda petrel (or cahow), which was thought to be extinct for 300 years before it was rediscovered in 1951. Otherwise, the island is dotted with fantastic spots for nature-watching, including Spittal Pond Nature Reserve and Walsingham Nature Reserve (also called Tom Moore’s Jungle), a mix of mangrove forests, caves and drowned sinkholes.
Crystal and Fantasy Caves are filled with otherworldly stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors explore them via a series of floating pontoons over an underwater lake. Back up on dry land, you can cover the most ground by foot, bike or even horseback on the 18-mile Railway Trail, which follows a defunct rail bed.
For history buffs: The territorial capital of Hamilton is home to its fair share of historic buildings, but to truly immerse yourself in Bermudan history, head to the East End town of St. George’s. Founded in 1612 after the wreck of the Sea Venture (an event that was said to have inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest), it’s the oldest surviving English town in the New World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highlights include the whitewashed St. Peter’s Church, the oldest Anglican church outside the British Isles (it was rebuilt after a devastating hurricane in 1712, but its 1612 Communion table and 1660 cedar pulpit are still used today); narrow cobblestone passages with names like Shinbone Alley and Silk Alley; the 1752 Tucker House Historic House and Museum, which is filled with antiques and artifacts found during an archaeological dig; and the open-roofed Unfinished Church, where construction began in the 1870s and, well, you can probably guess the rest.
St. George’s is also home to the bookstore Long Story Short, which offers a number of themed guided tours around the island, including one called “Resilience: Bermudians of African Descent” that traces the history of slavery and emancipation in Bermuda.
For golfers: When it opened last year, the St. Regis resort came with a bonus: A refurbished golf course in St. George’s that had been sitting unplayed has been reborn as the Five Forts Golf Club. As its name suggests, the course’s 18 holes dip in and around five historic forts, teeing off from Fort Victoria, which was built in 1842.
The incredibly scenic Tucker’s Point Golf Course celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Buffeted by challenging, changeable coastal winds, the hilly course offers views of the surrounding sea. Nearby, the Mid Ocean Club is a private members’ club, but visitors can play midweek, based on availability. The golf course opened in 1921, and the club has earned a place in history as the site of summits between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and two British prime ministers, in the 1950s.
If you’re looking for a totally new type of golf experience (or simply don’t want to lug or rent expensive clubs), the Turtle Hill Golf Club at the Fairmont Southampton is pioneering a new sport called FootGolf, which involves kicking a soccer ball across the course and into oversize golf cups. It will most definitely make you feel like a kid again.
For beach lovers: Famed for their pink sand (the result of single-celled organisms called foraminifera), Bermuda’s beaches are beautiful year-round — though locals don’t get in the water until the unofficial Bermuda Day kickoff on the last Friday in May. There are stretches of sand for all kinds of beachgoers: sweeping Horseshoe Bay Beach for sunbathing, Warwick Long Bay for snorkeling among parrotfish, West Whale Bay Beach for spotting humpbacks breaching off shore. One of the most impossibly photogenic places on the whole island is Jobson’s Cove, a pocket-sized beach set among jagged rock formations that’s accessible via a trail from Warwick Long Bay. It’s so serene and hidden in plain sight that we almost hesitate to let the cat out of the bag.
A day at the beach doesn’t have to involve simply sitting in the sun: More adventurous options include diving among the island’s famed shipwrecks, catching air on a kite board with Upwind Sports, going on a guided kayak tour with BDA Watersports or catching a bioluminescent display on a full-moon, glass-bottomed boat cruise with the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.