A subtropical paradise a mere 650 miles off the coast of North Carolina, Bermuda is often mistakenly thought of as part of the Caribbean. The 21-square mile island group actually lies in the Atlantic and its cool climate far north of the Caribbean reflects that more northern latitude.
Bermuda (official travel site) is renowned for its postcard-perfect pink sand beaches and the distinctive business attire of its men, Bermuda shorts worn with knee socks, a blazer and tie. It also once had an eerie claim-to-fame as home to the “Bermuda Triangle,” a myth about mysterious disappearances of aircraft and ships in nearby waters, which has been debunked.
Bermuda’s modern history started in 1609 when the British ship Sea Venture wrecked off of St. George’s Island in a violent storm on its way to help starving settlers in Jamestown, Va. The entire crew miraculously survived. A few stayed on to claim the island as an English colony, which it remains today. Bermuda is composed 181 islands, some barely big enough for a house, and eight of them linked by bridges and causeways.
Cruise passengers step right off their ships at three ports, St. George’s, King’s Wharf and the capital city of Hamilton. But it doesn’t matter where their ship calls: Bermuda is so small, just two miles across at its widest spot, that visitors can easily see the main islands in a couple of hours thanks to a system of causeways and bridges.
King’s Wharf has become the primary port for the larger ships. Passengers are immediately immersed in Bermuda history: they find themselves in the early 19th century Royal Naval Dockyard, where they can climb 200 steps up to the top of the lighthouse, see old shipwreck treasures at the Maritime Museum and wander artist studios in converted naval warehouses. Within walking distance are restaurants, golf courses, shopping and those stunning pink sand beaches for which Bermuda is known.
Hamilton, a lovely port town of pastel-colored buildings where constables direct traffic in their trademark Bermuda shorts uniforms, draws the most visitors because of its many attractions, including the 36-acre Bermuda Botanical Gardens, the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo and the Underwater Exploration Institute.
Visitors can sample a thoroughly British tradition at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess where tea is served at the Heritage Court, a ritual here that dates back to the early 1800s. Two crescents of pink sand beaches lie just outside Hamilton, Elbow Beach and Horseshoe Bay, both idyllic spots for snorkeling Bermuda’s coral reef or simply relaxing by the glittering water’s edge.
St. George’s, the second oldest English settlement in the New World after Jamestown, is utterly charming. Narrow lanes beckon for exploration, including streets with intriguing names: Featherbed and Shinbone alleys among them.
Several museums are devoted to Bermuda’s rich history, including the National Trust Museum, built in 1700, which housed the offices of the Confederacy during the Civil War. St. Peter’s Church, which dates from 1612, is the oldest Anglican church in continuous use in the western hemisphere.
Some of the best beaches in Bermuda are nearby, including Tobacco Bay and Achilles Bay Park, where shallow waters tempt snorkelers with easy access to underwater marine life, including large parrotfish, groupers and a myriad of other colorful fish that swim among limestone rocks and corals reef.