Although St George’s is Bermuda’s oldest community, Hamilton became Bermuda’s capital more than a century ago. Rapidly filling up with unsightly office blocks ― none of which, fortunately, are allowed to be higher than Hamilton’s impressive cathedral, which dominates the skyline from its hilltop site ― the city is losing its once-considerable charm. The government’s policy of restricting driving licences to residents means all tourists and visitors must use scooters, taxis or Bermuda’s frequent and cheap buses if they want to travel by road, but despite this, Bermuda’s roads (and Hamilton’s in particular) are becoming very clogged with cars and scooters.
Nevertheless, Hamilton is still a pretty port city with a beautiful, sheltered harbour. Smaller cruise liners dock right next to Front Street, the city’s main shopping and restaurant thoroughfare. Hamilton offers good duty-free shopping and high-quality general retail (including an excellent Marks & Spencer’s) and dining. But be warned: most of Bermuda’s shops and nearly all its restaurants are quite expensive.
Nearby, ferries fast and slow leave from Hamilton’s bustling little ferry terminal every few minutes for local slips and for the 15-minute trip west through the Great Sound to the tourist shopping and entertainment mecca at the former Royal Naval Dockyard on Bermuda’s northwest tip. There are few nicer ― and cheaper ― pleasures in Bermuda than taking trips on its ferries, which ply Hamilton Harbour and the Great Sound and provide wonderful views of many of Bermuda’s islands and sumptuous homes.
After calling at Dockyard ― which dates back to Nelson’s time and is the only dock in Bermuda deep enough to take the biggest cruise ships ― some ferries make the pleasant, hour-long trip through open sea along Bermuda’s north coast to St George. Ferries usually arrive at St George from the east, through the narrow Town Cut passage. Though the Town Cut is just wide and deep enough for smaller cruise ships, which regularly dock at St George, its currents are often tricky enough in high winds and tides to divert them to Dockyard or Hamilton instead.
Although throughout the 1990s and early 2000s Bermuda suffered a slow decline in tourism (the result of high prices and sometimes indifferent service), its hotel industry has revitalised somewhat due to Bermuda’s growing status as a financial centre and because of the current Premier’s pro-tourism policies. Voted by the majority PLP party in November 2005 to replace the previous incumbent Sir Alex Scott, Dr Ewart Brown (a US-trained medical doctor) was previously Bermuda’s Tourism and Transport Minister. During his tenure, Brown attracted new air service to Bermuda from carriers such as JetBlue, American, United, Northwest and USA 3000. Brown has retained his tourism portfolio and hopes to attract more low-cost and European airlines to further Bermuda’s air service development.
Bermuda’s three main business hotels are the elegant and storied Fairmont Hamilton Princess, on the water at the western edge of Hamilton; the Fairmont Southampton across the Great Sound to the southwest, with its own 18-hole golf course and full conference facilities; and the Elbow Beach Hotel, a Mandarin property about a 15 minutes’ drive out of Hamilton in Paget Parish on Bermuda’s south coast. Further east, near the airport, the recently and beautifully refurbished Grotto Bay Beach Resort with its Raffles-like colonial bar and terrific Sunday roast buffet lunch is recommended. In Southampton Parish on Bermuda’s south coast, the Reefs Hotel and the Wyndham Bermuda Resort & Spa have glorious beach-side locations and good food.
For holiday-makers who want to relax thoroughly, Horizons and Cottages in Paget Parish is well worth considering. Situated on a hilltop and featuring its own 9-hole golf course, Horizons and Cottages is Bermuda’s loveliest cottage colony, a style of accommodation unique to the islands. Over half of Horizons and Cottages’ bed-and-breakfast business comes from repeat guests.
It offers a variety of cottages, each with maid service and accommodating anywhere from two to eight guests. Breakfast is provided in the dining area and terrace of the main building, which is set at the top of the hill above the cottages and has a beautiful swimming pool and showering/restroom area. The main building at Horizons & Cottages also has an independently owned and operated restaurant, Splendido, which is run by the chef of Horizons and Cottages’ former sister hotel in Hamilton, the Waterloo House.