White sand, crystal clear blue waters, waving palm trees and guaranteed warm weather: no wonder millions of holidaymakers travel to Barbados every year.
And while flying and flopping is all well and good, this Caribbean island's appeal goes far deeper than sun, sea and sand. Steeped in history, architecture and wildlife, and with arguably the friendliest locals in the region, Barbados is a fabulous place for the explorer as well as the beach bum.
The best thing about a holiday here is that you can't really get bored (unless you want to, of course. And there's really nothing wrong with lounging on the beach all day complaining that the ice in your cocktail has melted). With so much to see and do, the challenge is to fit it all in so that you feel you've got a real taste of the place
As one of the Caribbean's safest islands, the last thing you should do is lock yourself away in your resort. If you do decide to get off the beach while you're there, check out our definitive list of must-dos, below.
Ten wonderful things to do in Barbados
Top ten things to do in Barbados
This island takes its arts and crafts very seriously: in recent years, many talented and enterprising craftspeople have emerged. The Pelican Village on the outskirts of Bridgetown in St Michael is a great shopping village selling everything from batik to rum cakes, straw figures to pottery. And of course, when you're on the beach there are plenty of opportunities to avail yourself of some of the local crafts, on sale from licenced vendors.
All beaches on Barbados are public, which means you can take some seriously long paddles along the coast should you wish. The rugged Atlantic side offers particularly excellent walks, many through little fishing villages. The energetic should try the 16-mile walk from the lighthouse at Ragged Point to Pico Tenerife, breaking up the journey with a stay at Bathsheba en route. The Barbados National Trust runs organised walks every Sunday at 6am and 3pm.
The west coast has shallow, calm waters which are perfect for snorkelling, scuba diving, jet skiing sailing, windsufing, kitesurfing... you name it, you can do it! Many hotels offer free watersports facilities. Surfing dudes should head to the south of the island or to the east coast for some of the best waves in the Caribbean, including the famous Soup Bowl, site of the annual Reef Classic Barbados international surf contest held in November.
Barbados is home to a healthy population of hawksbill and leatherback turtles, which are protected throughout the island. These sociable creatures tend to follow a steady routine and like to stay in the same place, which is rather handy if you're hoping to find some to take a dip with. Locals will be able to tell you where to swim. Alternatively, take one of the many catamaran or sailboat tours such as those offered by Tiami which offer snorkelling and picnics on board.
The wild, windswept coast of Bathsheba, on the east of the island, provides a stark contrast to the flat, calmness of Platinum coast. The green rocky landscape jutts into the water, where foaming Atlantic waves smash onto this sandy beach, which is dotted with boulders that are said to resemble the bath of Bathsheba. Watch the surfers at weekends as they battle with the waves. Beware though: many of the beaches along this coast are too dangerous for swimming, so always heed the warning signs.
Barbados is bursting with blooming flowers, and there's no better place to see them than Andromeda Botanic Gardens in the parish of St Joseph. Wander through six acres of magnificent begonias, hibiscus, bougainvillea, cacti, and many more exotic flowers and trees, all in a beautiful setting with streams and waterfalls overlooking the windswept east coast.
The sunsets, best seen from the west coast, are magnificent and definitely one of the real spectacles of a stay in Barbados. They're different every night, but the colours turn the sea and sky into a tropical kaleidoscope. Look out for shooting stars after dusk, and make the most of happy hour at one of the many beach hotel bars such as the Tamarind, or take a walk along the beaches at Heywoods, Paynes Bay and Mullins Bay. Remember your camera.
One of Barbados' greatest wonders, Harrison's Cave, deep below the earth in the central uplands, is an incredible crystalised limestone cavern, dotted with deep pools of glassy water, majestic columns and tumbling waterfalls. Tour options include a tram ride, a bat tour for children, and a four hour eco-tour. Visit harrisonscave.com.
For a proper night out Barbados-style, head to the vibrant town of Oistins in the south, which holds a Fish Fry every Friday night. Locals flock here from all over the island to let their hair down, and it's popular with tourists too. Take a stroll on the pier to see the sun set, then gorge yourself on fresh local food, which includes everything from lobster to flying fish - and it's all cooked on the spot. Dancing is the order of the day - watch or join in - think loud calypso and caribbean old-time favourites (Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley).
This is without doubt one of the best ways to see the off-the-beaten track parts of Barbados. Full and half-day tours are organised by companies such as Island Safari who'll transport you across the landscape as they ply you with nuggets of information as well as the odd glass of rum. Take in the sugar plantations, rum shacks, chattel houses, river forests, remote beaches and much more. If you're lucky you might also spot a Barbados green monkey or two...
Barbados' most famous hotel is famous for a reason. Its over-the-top price tags, relentless pampering and astonishing facilities (which include a huge Romanesque spa and three of the island's best golf courses) mean that big names are attracted here like bees to honey. A-listers you're likely to bump into here include Rhianna, Elton John, the Rooneys and er, Simon Cowell...