With a permanent resident population of 1,500 households, Hamilton doesn't qualify as a major metropolis. Yet it has enough stores, restaurants, and offices to amp up the island’s energy level. Moreover, it has a thriving international business community (centered on financial and investment services, insurance, telecommunications, global management of intellectual property, shipping, and aircraft and ship registration), which lends it a degree of sophistication seldom found in so small a center. The central parishes cover the large area of Paget, Warwick, and Devonshire. These parishes are much sleepier than Hamilton and provide great nature and beach respites when you tire of city life. Convenient bus and ferry connections connect the parishes, so trips outside of Hamilton are easy and a fun way to get off the tourist track.
Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity
After the original Anglican sanctuary on this site was torched by an arsonist in 1884, Scottish architect William Hay was enlisted to design a replacement. True to his training, he set out to erect a Gothic-style structure in the grand European tradition. Mission accomplished. Inside, the clerestory in the nave is supported by piers of polished Scottish granite; soaring archways are trimmed in stone imported from France; and the choir stalls and bishop's throne are carved out of English oak. The pulpit, meanwhile, is modeled on the one in Hay's hometown cathedral (St. Giles in Edinburgh), and the whole thing is crowned by a copper roof that stands out among Bermuda's typical white-topped buildings. Yet for all the European flourishes, Bermuda Cathedral still has a subtropical flair. After all, the limestone building blocks came from the Par-la-Ville quarry and one of its loveliest stained-glass windows—the Angel Window on the east wall of the north transept—was created by local artist Vivienne Gilmore Gardner. After sauntering around the interior, you can climb the 155 steps of the church tower for a heavenly view of Hamilton and its harbor.
City Hall & Arts Centre
Set back from the street, City Hall contains Hamilton's administrative offices as well as two art galleries and a performance hall. Instead of a clock, its tower is topped with a bronze wind vane—a prudent choice in a land where the weather is as important as the time. The building itself was designed in 1960 by Bermudian architect Wilfred Onions, a champion of balanced simplicity. Massive cedar doors open onto an impressive lobby notable for its beautiful chandeliers and portraits of mayors past and present. To the left is City Hall Theatre, a major venue for concerts, plays, and dance performances. To the right are the civic offices, where you can find souvenirs such as pens, T-shirts, and paperweights showing the Corporation of Hamilton's logo. A handsome cedar staircase leads upstairs to two upper-floor art galleries. (An elevator gets you there, too.)
Bermuda National Gallery. On the first landing, in the East Exhibition Room, the Bermuda National Gallery is home to Bermuda's national art collection. The permanent exhibits include paintings by island artists as well as European masters like Gainsborough and Reynolds; African masks and sculpture; and photographs by internationally known artists, such as Bermudian Richard Saunders (1922–87). The fine and decorative art pieces in the Bermuda Collection reflect the country's multicultural heritage. Temporary exhibits are also a major part of the museum's program, and on any given day you can see a selection of local work along with a traveling exhibit from another museum. For a comprehensive look at the collections, join one of the free docent-led tours offered Thursday at 10:30 (private ones can be arranged on request). Lectures and other special programs are listed in the gallery's online calendar. Parents should note that some of these are targeted specifically at children. Furthermore, drawing stations where they can create their own artwork are available within the gallery. A branch of the National Gallery has recently been opened at Bridge House in St George's.
Bermuda Society of Arts Gallery. Farther up the stairs, in the West Wing, the Bermuda Society of Arts Gallery displays work by its members. Its frequently changing juried shows attract talented local painters, sculptors, and photographers. Art collectors will be pleased to learn that many pieces may also be purchased.
This imposing moat-ringed fortress has underground passageways that were cut through solid rock by Royal Engineers in the 1860s. Built to defend the West End's Royal Naval Dockyard from land attacks, it was outdated even before its completion, but remains a fine example of a polygonal Victorian fort. Even if you're not a big fan of military history, the hilltop site's stellar views and stunning gardens make the trip worthwhile. On Monday at noon, from November to March, bagpipes echo through the grounds as the kilt-clad members of the Bermuda Islands Pipe Band perform a traditional skirling ceremony. Due to one-way streets, getting to the fort by scooter can be a bit challenging. From downtown Hamilton head north on Queen Street, turn right on Church Street, then turn left to go up the hill on King Street. Make a sharp (270-degree) right turn onto Happy Valley Road and follow the signs. Pedestrians may walk along Front Street to King Street.
Museum of the Bermuda Historical Society/Bermuda National Library
Mark Twain admired the giant rubber tree that stands on Queen Street in the front yard of this Georgian house, formerly owned by Postmaster William Bennet Perot and his family. Though charmed by the tree, which had been imported from what is now Guyana in the mid-19th century, Twain lamented that it didn't bear rubbery fruit in the form of overshoes and hot-water bottles. The library, about which he made no tongue-in-cheek comment, was established in 1839, and its reference section has virtually every book ever written about Bermuda, as well as a microfilm collection of Bermudian newspapers dating back to 1784.To the left of the library entrance is the Historical Society's museum. The collection is eclectic, chronicling the island's past through interesting—and in some cases downright quirky—artifacts. One display, for instance, is full of Bermudian silver dating from the 1600s; another focuses on tools and trinkets made by Boer War prisoners who were exiled here in 1901 and 1902. Check out the portraits of Sir George Somers and his wife, painted around 1605, and of William Perot and his wife that hang in the entrance hall. The newest exhibit is a selection of portraits of prominent Bermudians painted in the 1970s. Don't forget you can also pick up your free copy of the letter George Washington wrote in 1775; addressed to the inhabitants of Bermuda, it requests gunpowder for use in the American Revolution.
Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI)
The 40,000-square-foot Ocean Discovery Centre showcases local contributions to oceanographic research and undersea discovery. Guests can ogle the world-class shell collection amassed by resident Jack Lightbourne (three of the 1,000 species were identified by and named for Lightbourne himself); or visit a gallery honoring native-born archaeologist Teddy Tucker to see booty retrieved from Bermudian shipwrecks. The types of gizmos that made such discoveries possible are also displayed: including a replica of the bathysphere William Beebe and Otis Barton used in their record-smashing 1934 dive. If all that activity makes you hungry, the Harbourfront restaurant is a lovely choice for lunch. Pedestrians may access the facility by following the sidewalk on the water side of Front Street. Motorists must drive out of town on Front Street, round the traffic circle, and exit at the lane signposted for the BUEI, because it's only accessible to in-bound vehicles.
Take a walk on the wild side at Paget Marsh: a 25-acre tract of land that's remained virtually untouched since presettlement times. Along with some of the last remaining stands of native Bermuda palmetto and cedar, this reserve—jointly owned and preserved by the Bermuda National Trust and the Bermuda Audubon Society—contains a mangrove forest and grassy savanna. These unspoiled habitats can be explored via a boardwalk that features interpretive signs describing the endemic flora and fauna. When listening to the cries of the native and migratory birds that frequent this natural wetland, you can quickly forget that bustling Hamilton is just minutes away.
Swimming and bodysurfing are great at this beach, which is bordered by the prime strand of sand reserved for guests of the Elbow Beach Hotel on the left, and the ultra-exclusive Coral Beach Club beach area on the right. It's a pleasant setting for a late-evening stroll, with the lights from nearby hotels dancing on the water, but the romance dissipates in daylight, when the beach is noisy and crowded. Groups also gather here to play football and volleyball. Protective coral reefs make the waters some of the safest on the island, and a good choice for families. A lunch wagon sometimes sells fast food and cold drinks during the day, and Mickey's Beach Bar (part of the Elbow Beach Hotel) is open for lunch and dinner, though it may be difficult to get a table. Amenities: parking (free); water sports. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.