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  • Writer's pictureJude

A shindig at Shirley Heights

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

Attending a party at Shirley Heights is one of the unmissable highlights on a holiday to the Caribbean island of Antigua. At 490 ft above sea level, this fun packed activity takes place at a former military lookout offering some of the best views on the island.


View from Shirley Heights Lookout, Antigua

The history of Shirley Heights

The lookout was named after Sir Thomas Shirley, the Governor of the Leeward islands during the late 18th Century. He was responsible for strengthening Antigua's defences to protect its main industry of sugar production and the dockyard at English harbour. This large, secluded waterway was sheltered and an ideal location for repairing ships.


Shirley Heights was first used during the war of American Independence. It was a base for communicating with other areas of Antigua should danger approach the harbour. Alarms were raised by way of flags during the day and gunfire at night.


UNESCO World Heritage Site

The lookout now forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Clarence House, where Princess Margaret spent the first night of her honeymoon and Nelson's Dockyard, named after Lord Admiral Nelson following the few years he used it as his naval base.


English Harbour

Transport

If travelling to the party by foot, consider hiking the Carpenter trail from English Harbour's Galleon Beach. It is approximately 1.5 km though bear in mind it is steep in places. Alternatively bump along the dirt track by taxi or hire car. Parking is readily available close to the ticket booth and there is no need to book in advance.


How much does it cost?

The entrance fee for non-citizens to Shirley Heights party is US$ 10 and free for those under 12. Food and drink is an additional cost.


Alternatively, purchase a one day pass for Nelson's Dockyard National Park for US$15 which also includes entry to Shirley Heights and The Dow Information Centre where you can learn a little about the history of Antigua. Within the park itself there are several restaurants, shops, bars, walks and beaches to explore. You will also find a museum within the dockyard, Nelson's former home, explaining the history of the naval base and exhibits of some interesting artefacts found in the local area.


Nelson's Dockyard Museum


The party

The party at Shirley Heights has been running on a Sunday night for over 40 years and is suitable for families, couples and solo travellers. The weekly event is one of the top activities when visiting Antigua due to the positive vibe, delicious food and drink, lively music and spectacular views. More recently an additional party takes places here on Thursdays, Reggae Heights, though it is more low key than on a Sunday.


Aim to arrive around 4pm and expect to enter via a bustling bar selling an assortment of soft and alcoholic drinks including lemon and lime bitters and the quintessential fruity rum punch. With drink in hand, navigate through the crowd to the outdoor area. The 360° degree views are incredible. The sky appears to merge into the yacht filled harbour, an ombre of blues, separated in places by undulating hillsides.


View of Shirley Heights just before sunset

Follow your nose to a smokey barbecue area with aromas from an array of sizzling dishes. Choose from spicy jerked chicken, beef, veggie or fish burgers, lobster or a salad. Sides include fluffy rice and peas and corn on the cob. Those with a sweet tooth can tuck into pecan pie or cheesecake. Prices are reasonable with main courses starting from US$10.


Barbecue food at Shirley Heights party on Sundays

You will be hard pushed to find a seat in the covered area so instead eat standing up and sway to soothing sounds of the house steel band.


Steel band performance at Shirley Heights lookout

Souvenirs

Vendors attract attention shaking maracas for sale. A local craftsman takes orders to make bamboo hats or baskets. If you're lucky he will give you a rose or angel fish for free. A rose as you are an English rose he says... an angel fish as you are an angel ...Browse pop up stalls buckling under the weight of jewellery, Caribbean topsy turvy dolls, miniature steel drums and other trinkets to take home as souvenirs.


Vendor selling maracas

As the night draws in golden hues form over English and Falmouth harbours. On a clear night it is possible to see as far as the neighbouring islands of Montserrat and Guadalupe, the latter being a 20 minute flight away to put its distance into perspective. As the stars come out a guest band joins them. The volume is ramped up and tourists and locals alike dance the night away to vibrant music, a mixture of reggae hits and well known international favourites. The party continues until 10pm.


Band performing at Shirley Heights Sunday party

For more information about this area, read through my post on how to spend a few days in English Harbour. It is a great place to stay for a couple of days, a week or even longer. Accommodation is in abundance and there are plenty of things to do in Antigua in addition to Shirley Heights together with a variety of excellent restaurants in English Harbour and further afield. The area is a popular destination for couples, families and solo travellers.








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