Whether you seek exclusive resorts or seaside shacks, this coral island offers plenty to fill a short break.

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Travel essentials

Why go now?

A visit to Barbados in the rainy season (June-November) is not the damp squib it might sound. The showers, when they come, are a refreshing break from temperatures that are still swelteringly tropical.

Nor do they come with nasty shocks attached: at the south-eastern edge of the Caribbean, Barbados is (largely) outside the region's hurricane belt.

The island is also quieter at this time, because the cruise ships return only with the dry season in December.

Touch down

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com) both fly daily non-stop from Gatwick to Barbados, while Virgin also flies from Manchester, once a week.

Grantley Adams International airport (1) is close to the south-east corner of the island, eight miles east of the capital, Bridgetown (2). The Barbados Tourism Authority ( visitbarbados.org and barbadostourism.org) has an office in the arrivals hall (001 246 428 5570), open from 8am until the last inbound flight has disgorged.

Fares for taxis from the airport to most places are clearly listed on a board next to the baggage carousels; a trip to Bridgetown costs 46 Barbados dollars (B$46/£15). The island's bus network is also extensive and reliable. Fares on the blue public services are a basic B$1.50 (50p) per journey. But 12p will take you from the airport via the south-coast hotels to Bridgetown from the bus stop on the far side of the airport car park. Schedules at transportboard.com.

Get your bearings

One of the Lesser Antilles, Barbados sits some 100 miles south-east of St Lucia – and only 250 miles north-east of Venezuela. Unlike many nearby islands, Barbados is a mostly flat, coral island, rather than a volcanic outcrop, and measures 21 miles in length, up to 14 miles at its widest.

Its south and west coasts are the main accommodation zones, the latter tending to offer more exclusive hotels on a much-coveted slice of shoreline where the waves tiptoe to land – in marked contrast to the rugged east, where the open Atlantic pounds the rocks.

Barbados spent more than 300 years under British rule – a fact that is seen in everything from red pillar boxes to the remnants of the sugar plantations that made it a valuable colonial possession.

Check in

Southern Palms Beach Club, at St Lawrence Gap (3) on the south coast (001 246 428 7171; southernpalms.net), is a family-friendly resort with a lovely beach – doubles start at US$227 (£147), not including breakfast.

The House (4), on the west coast at Paynes Bay (001 246 432 5525; thehousebarbados.com), is a swish honeymoon hideaway – from US$532 (£344), including breakfast. The NewEdgewater Hotel (5) is a rare east-coast option, at Bathsheba (001 246 433 9900; newedgewater.com) – from US$88 (£57), including breakfast.

All three hotels can be booked as part of a holiday package with Virgin Holidays (0844 557 5825; virginholidays.co.uk). Tropical Sky (0845 543 2187; tropicalsky.co.uk) and Trailfinders (0845 054 6060; trailfinders.com) offer similar deals.

Day one

Take a hike

Bridgetown (2) was founded by the English in 1628 (although Amerindians had already settled in the area). The closest thing that Barbados has to a city, Bridgetown is the heartbeat of the island. Start a walk in Independence Square (6), which has a statue of Errol Barrow, the first prime minister of the independent Barbados.

Cross the Careenage (an inlet where boats have long docked) via the Chamberlain Bridge (7) – a 2006 edition of the structure that gave the city its name – into National Heroes Square (8).

Until 1999, it was named Trafalgar Square; Nelson stands marooned on a plinth at one end. Admire the coral-stone turrets of the Barbados Parliament (9), which dates to 1639, before forging east to St Michael's Cathedral (10) on St Michael's Row (001 246 427 0790, 6am-4.30pm daily), where the dark pews and mighty pipe organ are redolent of colonial times.

Window shopping

Broad Street, Bridgetown's main shopping avenue, is now devoted to outlets for cruise passengers. One of the more interesting retail options is Cave Shepherd & Co (11), a department store that opened in 1906 (001 246 227 2121); a litre of Bajan Mount Gay Rum costs B$22 (£7.10). It opens 8.30am-5.30pm daily except Sunday (extended to 6.30pm on Fridays, but only to 4pm on Saturdays).

Continue down Broad Street to Cheapside Public Market (12) (7am-6pm daily except Sunday, to 8pm Friday and Saturday), where islanders buy fruit, fish and spicy sauces. Or try Swan Street, parallel to Broad Street, where there is a similar local vibe.

Lunch on the run

The Waterfront Café (13), on the dockside (001 246 427 0093; waterfrontcafe.com.bb), is a good spot to try Caribbean favourite Bul Jol (salted cod with lime) for B$20 (£6.40).

Cultural afternoon

Head to the Garrison district, south-east of central Bridgetown. St Ann's Garrison on Bay Street was the British base on Barbados. The one-time military prison is now the Barbados Museum and Historical Society (14) (001 246 427 0201; barbmuse.org.bb), an institution that covers everything from the arrival of Amerindian tribes to the hatching habits of turtles. It opens 9am-5pm daily (except Sundays, 2-6pm), admission B$15 (£4.80).

An aperitif

The gaudy seafront strip of St Lawrence Gap (3) is the nightlife heartland. Sweet Potatoes (001 246 420 7668) is a lively bar-restaurant ideal for the sipping of a Banks beer – a Bajan favourite– at sunset.

Dining with the locals

Pisces (001 246 435 6564; piscesbarbados.com) is the best restaurant in St Lawrence Gap (3), and serves line-caught yellowfin tuna for B$69 (£23). Champers (15) at Skeetes Hall (001 246 434 3463; champersbarbados.com) boasts a veranda built on sea-lashed rocks. Parmesan-crusted barracuda is B$59.50 (£20). Daphne's, at The House (4), does salt-baked snapper for B$86 (£29). But for a true Bajan experience, hit the south-coast town of Oistins (16), where, each Friday and Saturday night, locals eat flame-fried fish at beachside shacks. Uncle George – where a huge marlin steak costs B$25 (£8) – is the pick.

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

Resplendent on a hilltop near Pot House in the east of the island, St John's Church (17), with its sturdy clocktower, is unmistakably British. The current 1836 version replaced earlier buildings destroyed by hurricanes. It opens 6am-6pm daily (001 246 433 5599).

Take a ride

Realistically, you will need a car to explore the east and centre of Barbados.

Courtesy Rent-A-Car (001 246 431 4160; courtesyrentacar.com) has an office at the airport (1) and will deliver a vehicle to your hotel. Prices from US$73 (£48) per day, from US$361 (£234) for an entire week.

Chart an anti-clockwise route around the island, starting at Sunbury Plantation House (18) (001 246 423 6270; barbadosgreathouse.com), an atmospheric 18th-century sugar mansion stuffed with Victorian memorabilia. Curiously, it also hosts a collection of antique cameras. Open 10am-5pm daily, admission B$18 (£6).

Move on to Hunte's Gardens (19), a delightful leafy oasis, laden with orchids, in the village of Castle Grant (001 246 433 3333; huntesgardensbarbados.com). It opens 9am-4pm daily, admission B$20 (£7).

Then drive west to Harrison's Cave (20) at Welchman Hall (001 246 417 3700; harrisonscave.com). This is a dramatic labyrinth of caverns where stalactites hang like sharks' teeth. Tours 8.45am-3.45pm daily, admission B$60 (£20).

Out to brunch

Pause at Sand Dunes Restaurant (21), a defiantly down-to-earth east-coast eatery on Ermy Bourne Highway just outside the village of Belleplaine (001 246 422 9427). Demolish a hearty plate of flying fish with peas and rice – the national dish – for B$20 (£7).

A walk in the park

The word "park" is misleading, but the beauty of Barclays Park (22) is hardly in question. This is a picnic area deposited alongside one of the most picturesque beaches in Barbados: a three-mile crescent that curves along the east coast from Lakes Beach to Bathsheba. The ocean is too fierce for swimming, but you can admire daredevil surfers as they ride the breakers, and meet Bajan families picnicking.

Take a view

Resume your drive into the remote north of the island, ascending to the 850-ft summit of Cherry Tree Hill (23). You look south to the Scotland District, so called because its rocky contours were said to remind Scots settlers of home, with the east coast ebbing beyond.

From here, the road winds to St Nicholas Abbey (24). Despite the name, this is not a monastery but another 18th-century plantation house (001 246 422 8725; stnicholasabbey.com) – that still produces rum. It opens 10am-3.30pm daily except Saturday, admission B$30 (£10).

Return to the west and follow the coast road south, through the photogenic second "city" of Speightstown (25), with its brightly painted clapboard houses, and the smaller (but still pretty) Holetown (26).

Finish your day at Brandons Beach (27), where Weisers On The Bay (001 246 425 6450; weisersbeachbar.com) is perfect for a sunset tipple; it opens 9am-7pm daily (to 10pm Friday and Saturday).

Icing on the cake

Check in early for your flight home, to allow time to visit the Concorde Experience (001 246 420 7738; barbadosconcorde.com) at the airport. Open 9am-5pm from Tuesday to Saturday, admission B$30 (£10).