With a permanent resident population of 1,500 households, Hamilton doesn’t qualify as a major metropolis. Yet it has enough stores, restaurants, and offices to amp up the island’s energy level. Moreover, it has a thriving international business community (centered on financial and investment services, insurance, telecommunications, global management of intellectual property, shipping, and aircraft and ship registration), which lends it a degree of sophistication seldom found in so small a center.
The central parishes cover the large area of Paget, Warwick, and Devonshire. These parishes are much sleepier than Hamilton and provide great nature and beach respites when you tire of city life. Convenient bus and ferry connections connect the parishes, so trips outside of Hamilton are easy and a fun way to get off the tourist track.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Every Wednesday night in summer Front Street hosts a free street festival featuring Bermudian artists, crafts, Gombey dancers, and face painting. Harbour Nights encompasses most of Hamilton: Front Street and Queen Street are closed to traffic, stores stay open later, and throngs of locals and visitors alike sample local art stalls, bouncy castles and rides, food vendors, and live music. It’s a great time to try local cuisine like fish cakes, fresh fish, fried chicken, meat pies, and Portuguese deep-fried doughnuts. Make dinner reservations at a restaurant with a balcony overlooking Front Street for a bird’s-eye view of the action.
Former Windjammer Gallery manager Danjou Anderson has created his own purpose-built commercial gallery space showcasing top Bermudian artists. Over 60 artists are represented including many well-known names such as Otto Trott, Sharon Wilson, and Christopher Marson.
It’s always a pleasure to watch sailboats and passenger ferries zigzag around the many islands that dot Hamilton Harbour. For a ringside seat to the show, grab a bench beneath the trees at Albuoy’s Point, a small waterside park. Nearby is the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, founded in 1844 and granted the use of the word “Royal” by Prince Albert in 1845. Today luminaries from the international sailing scene hobnob with local yachtsmen and business executives at the club’s 1930s headquarters. If you’re around between April and November, you might even catch one of the many club-sponsored racing events.
Running along the harbor, Hamilton’s main thoroughfare bustles with small cars, motor scooters, bicycles, buses, and the occasional horse-drawn carriage. In past years some have lamented that it also bustles with hordes of tourists, particularly during the cruise-ship season. But the fact that only occasional callers will now be docking in Hamilton should help alleviate any overcrowding. As for actual attractions, the prime ones here are the high-class low-rise shops that line the street. (Don’t overlook small offshoots and alleyways like Chancery Lane, Bermuda House Lane, and the Walkway, where you’ll stumble upon hidden-away boutiques.) The Visitor Information Centre, next to the Ferry Terminal at No. 8 Front Street, is a good place to strike out from when you’re ready to explore the rest of Hamilton. Open Monday through Saturday 9–4, it’s the place to go for pamphlets, maps, and to have your questions answered. It also has brochures for self-guided city walking tours.
To some, this rather austere 1840s structure is simply a place to mail a letter. To stamp collectors, on the other hand, the Perot Post Office, named for Hamilton’s first postmaster, is a veritable shrine. William Bennet Perot was certainly a genial fellow: he would meet arriving steamers, collect the incoming mail, stash it in his beaver hat, and then stroll around Hamilton to deliver it, greeting each recipient with a tip of his chapeau. But it was his resourcefulness that made him most famous among philatelists. Tired of individually hand-stamping outgoing letters, Perot began printing stamps in 1848. Of the thousands he produced, only 11 still exist—and several of those are owned by Queen Elizabeth. If you’d like to get your hands on one, be prepared to dig deep. In June 2005 a Perot-era one-penny stamp sold at auction for a record-breaking $244,000.
This eye-catching Italianate edifice, erected in 1819, is where the House of Assembly (the lower house of Parliament) and the Supreme Court convene. The Florentine towers and colonnade, decorated with red terra-cotta, were added to the building in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower made its striking debut—albeit a few years late—at midnight on December 31, 1893. Bermuda’s Westminster-style Parliament meets on the second floor, where the speaker rules the roost in a powdered wig and robe. (The island has approximately 14 times as many politicians per capita as Europe or North America, so maintaining order is no small feat.) Sartorial splendor is equally evident downstairs in the Supreme Court, where wigs and robes (red for judges, black for barristers) are again the order of the day. You’re welcome to watch the colorful proceedings: bear in mind, though, that visitors, too, are required to wear appropriate attire. Call first to find out when parliamentary sessions and court cases are scheduled.
Bermuda’s National Trust (the nonprofit organization that oversees the restoration and preservation of many of the island’s gardens, open spaces, and historic buildings) has its offices in Waterville: a rambling estate overlooking Hamilton Harbour. Waterville was home to the Trimingham family for seven generations. In fact, their much-loved (and still dearly missed) department store started out here in 1842. The drawing and dining rooms, both laden with art and antiques donated by the family, are open to the public during business hours. Also worth seeing is a superb showcase garden planted by the Bermuda Rose Society.
Established in 1898, the Botanical Gardens are filled with exotic subtropical plants, flowers, and trees. The 36-acre property features a miniature forest, an aviary, a hibiscus garden with more than 150 species, and collections of orchids, cacti, fruits, and ferns. In addition to these must-see sights is an intriguing must-smell one: the Garden for the Sightless. Designed primarily for the blind, it has fragrant plants (like geranium, lemon, lavender, and spices), plus Braille signage. Weather permitting, free 60- to 90-minute guided tours of the Botanical Gardens begin from the Visitor’s Information Centre at 10:30 Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The 40,000-square-foot Ocean Discovery Centre showcases local contributions to oceanographic research and undersea discovery. Guests can ogle the world-class shell collection amassed by resident Jack Lightbourne (three of the 1,000 species were identified by and named for Lightbourne himself); or visit a gallery honoring native-born archaeologist Teddy Tucker to see booty retrieved from Bermudian shipwrecks. The types of gizmos that made such discoveries possible are also displayed: including a replica of the bathysphere William Beebe and Otis Barton used in their record-smashing 1934 dive. (Forget the Bermuda Triangle: the real mystery is how they descended a ½ mile in a metal ball less than 5 feet in diameter!) A more modern “submersible,” Nautilus-X2, lets wannabe explorers take a simulated seven-minute trip to the ocean floor. Special events, like lectures, glowworm cruises, and whale-watching trips, are available, too, for an added fee. If all that activity makes you hungry, the Harbourfront restaurant is a lovely choice for lunch. Pedestrians may access the facility by following the sidewalk on the waterside of Front Street. Motorists must drive out of town on Front Street, round the traffic circle, and exit at the lane signposted for the BUEI, because it’s only accessible to inbound vehicles.
Next to the Perot Post Office is the Queen Street entrance to Queen Elizabeth Park (there’s another entrance on Par-la-Ville Road), which was officially renamed in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Queen Elizabeth II. Once Perot’s private garden, it has winding paths, luxuriant blooms, plentiful benches, and a photogenic Bermuda moongate. Long popular with people-watchers, it now attracts art lovers, too. Return visitors will notice that the Bermuda National Gallery has created a Sculpture Garden in the park by installing several major outdoor works.
Take a walk on the wild side at Paget Marsh: a 25-acre tract of land that’s remained virtually untouched since presettlement times. Along with some of the last remaining stands of native Bermuda palmetto and cedar, this reserve—jointly owned and preserved by the Bermuda National Trust and the Bermuda Audubon Society—contains a mangrove forest and grassy savanna. These unspoiled habitats can be explored via a boardwalk that features interpretive signs describing the endemic flora and fauna. When listening to the cries of the native and migratory birds that frequent this natural wetland, you can quickly forget that bustling Hamilton is just minutes away.
Set back from the street, City Hall contains Hamilton’s administrative offices as well as two art galleries and a performance hall. Instead of a clock, its tower is topped with a bronze wind vane—a prudent choice in a land where the weather is as important as the time. The building itself was designed in 1960 by Bermudian architect Wilfred Onions, a champion of balanced simplicity. Massive cedar doors open onto an impressive lobby notable for its beautiful chandeliers and portraits of mayors past and present. To the left is City Hall Theatre, a major venue for concerts, plays, and dance performances. To the right are the civic offices, where you can find souvenirs such as pens, T-shirts, and paperweights showing the Corporation of Hamilton’s logo. A handsome cedar staircase leads upstairs to two upper-floor art galleries. (An elevator gets you there, too.)
This imposing moat-ringed fortress has underground passageways that were cut through solid rock by Royal Engineers in the 1860s. Built to defend the West End’s Royal Naval Dockyard from land attacks, it was outdated even before its completion, but remains a fine example of a polygonal Victorian fort. Even if you’re not a big fan of military history, the hilltop site’s stellar views and stunning gardens make the trip worthwhile. On Monday at noon, from November to March, bagpipes echo through the grounds as the kilt-clad members of the Bermuda Islands Pipe Band perform a traditional skirling ceremony. Due to one-way streets, getting to the fort by scooter can be a bit challenging. From downtown Hamilton head north on Queen Street, turn right on Church Street, then turn left to go up the hill on King Street. Make a sharp (270-degree) right turn onto Happy Valley Road and follow the signs. Pedestrians may walk along Front Street to King Street.
Mark Twain admired the giant rubber tree that stands on Queen Street in the front yard of this Georgian house, formerly owned by Postmaster William Bennet Perot and his family. Though charmed by the tree, which had been imported from what is now Guyana in the mid-19th century, Twain lamented that it didn’t bear rubbery fruit in the form of overshoes and hot-water bottles. The library, about which he made no tongue-in-cheek comment, was established in 1839, and its reference section has virtually every book ever written about Bermuda, as well as a microfilm collection of Bermudian newspapers dating back to 1784.
To the left of the library entrance is the Historical Society’s museum. The collection is eclectic, chronicling the island’s past through interesting—and in some cases downright quirky—artifacts. One display, for instance, is full of Bermudian silver dating from the 1600s; another focuses on tools and trinkets made by Boer War prisoners who were exiled here in 1901 and 1902. Check out the portraits of Sir George Somers and his wife, painted around 1605, and of William Perot and his wife that hang in the entrance hall. The Museum recently began offering limited edition prints from their vast photographic archives allowing people to have a little slice of Bermuda. Prints can be purchased from the Museum for $60. Don’t forget you can also pick up your free copy of the letter George Washington wrote in 1775; addressed to the inhabitants of Bermuda, it requests gunpowder for use in the American Revolution.