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  • Writer's pictureJude

Discover the history of Antigua's charming Nelson's Dockyard

Updated: Jan 24

Nelson's Dockyard National Park

Nelson's Dockyard National Park

Nelson's Dockyard National Park is approximately 16 square miles bursting with scenic nature trails, historic buildings and fortifications, white sand beaches, natural pools and rock formations. It is also the world's last remaining working Georgian dockyard.

The area of outstanding beauty was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Park in 2016 and is one of Antigua's top visitor attractions. Day passes cost US$15, Entrance fees to the 'must visit' Shirley Heights bi-weekly reggae party and Clarence House are extra. Alternatively stay longer and reside at one of the two historic buildings that have been sympathetically restored and converted to boutique hotels. Both are highly recommended for couples, families and solo travellers and are a great base to explore other places of interest that Antigua has to offer. Click on the link for some of the recommended things to do in Antigua.

English Harbour was initially used by warships in 1725. Construction commenced some years later in 1740 after the French tried to attack British trade. The dockyard was then closed by the Navy in 1889 as ships became too big to sail with ease through the narrow waterways. It reopened as an historic site in 1961.

Grounds of Nelson's Dockyard

Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour

Meander around the lush gardens at leisure and learn about the dockyard's history via informative signage throughout the grounds. Alternatively book a guided tour via the front desk whereby a knowledgeable member of staff will tell you stories of the dockyard while accompanying you through the grounds.

Clarence House

Clarence House, Antigua

Book a tour with a knowledgeable guide to visit the eye catching Georgian building, Clarence House. It was built in 1804 for the Navy Commissioner to impress Royals, Captains and Admirals. Roam the well manicured gardens and listen to stories about the timeline of past events. View a selection of rooms laid out with exceptional locally made replica and antique furniture, creating an insight as to what life was like historically.


Today Clarence House is a museum and space for events and weddings.  Click on the link to check availability and to book a tour of Clarence House.

Rum in the Ruins

Sunset from Dow's Hill Fortification

At 5pm on Friday nights during high season, don't miss the opportunity of heading up to Dow's Hill for the Rum in the Ruins tour organised by Antigua & Barbuda National Park. Relax with a couple of rum punches and listen to around an hour or so of captivating and humorous storytelling. Stories are told amongst the ruins of Dow's Hill Fortification dating back to 1789. The views from here during sunset are arguably the best in Antigua.

Click on the Rum in the Ruins link to check availability and to book a tour.

Dockyard Museum

Dockyard Museum

The dockyard museum was once home to Lord Admiral Nelson. In addition to learning about his arrival in 1784, the timeline of events displayed at the museum's entrance dates back to 1671 when the 'Dover Castle' first used English Harbour as a hurricane shelter. Other dates documented are the building of the guard house at Shirley Heights in 1791 and Queen Elizabeth II's visit in 1966. She planted a palm tree that now towers above the Copper & Lumber Store. Other points of interest within the museum are artefacts exhibited from excavations that have taken place at nearby Galleon beach. Items such as iron coffin nails and mother of pearl buttons are just some of the findings.

Attractions within the grounds of the dockyard

Look out for ...

An anchor weighing 7000 lbs...

7000lb anchor within Nelson's Dockyard


Capstans within Nelson's Dockyard


Carronades within Nelson's Dockyard

Dockyard Bakery

The onsite dockyard bakery still cooks for the workers with the original ovens.

The historic Dockyard Bakery within Nelson's Dockyard

Within the grounds of the dockyard you will also find gift shops, a mini supermarket and a few bars and restaurants.

Shirley Heights

Shirley Heights sunset

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 bbq 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. Browse souvenirs from the stalls, order some food and marvel at the 360° degree views. They really are incredible.

Fort Berkeley

Fort Berkeley

Take a scenic hike up to Fort Berkeley, the oldest fortification built to protect English Harbour in 1704.  As well as spotting a variety of flora, lizards and swooping pelicans, if you are an early riser, on a clear day you can expect to see stunning sunrise reflections over the water. 


View from Fort Berkeley

Step inside the former Guard House, for soldiers on duty and the bomb proof Gunpowder Magazine. Take a photo beside the last remaining cannon, then admire the breathtaking views of the harbour, yachts and Galleon Beach.

Last remaining cannon at Fort Berkeley

Admiral's Inn

Bar area at Admiral's Inn

Admiral's Inn is one of the dockyard's boutique hotels. The main building's upper floors were once offices used by engineers working within the dockyard whilst downstairs, turpentine, pitch and lead were stored. Upstairs has been tastefully converted to a selection of stylish rooms for guests. Downstairs is a cosy lounge area with plush sofas and a 'warri' game to play. Adjacent is a well stocked bar, behind which is an eye-catching plan of Nelson's ship, HMS Boreas. Read more about Admiral's Inn by clicking on the link.

Copper & Lumber Store

Courtyard at Copper & Lumber Store

Olde-world charm meets modern at historic Copper & Lumber Store, the other boutique hotel within the grounds. The Georgian building has been sympathetically restored and as the name suggests, it once stored lumber to repair wooden warships and copper, to cover the wood extending its lifespan. The upper floors were used for sailors' sleeping areas. There is a picturesque courtyard with atrium that provided ventilation to the timbers stored here. Click on the link to read more about Copper & Lumber Store.

Seamen's Galley

Seamen's Galley within Nelson's Dockyard

The Seamen's Galley contains ovens and fireplaces where seamen and yard workers cooked. It is a now a bar/restaurant and a popular place for yachties, tourists and locals to meet for food and drink.

Walking Trails

There are several scenic walking trails within the National Park ...

  • Middle Ground Trail

  • Jones Valley Trail

  • Lookout Trail

  • Carpenter's Rock

Further Reading

Recommended hotels in Antigua

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