Nassau in the Bahamas has long been a favoured stop for cruise ships, helped by its proximity to the Florida coastline, and a contrasting collection of attractions that range from quaint colonial to unashamedly commercial.

On the one hand, the capital of the Bahamas is famous for its lively atmosphere and lavish, extravagant casino resorts, duty-free shopping, restaurants and bars.

But aside from this are the pretty pastel pink buildings, old forts and historic monuments that bear testament to the country’s rich history of piracy, colonialism and slavery.

Bahamas

What to see & do

Take a horse and carriage or “surrey” ride around Nassau, departing from Woodes Rogers Walk through the centre and into “old Nassau” where the historic Georgian buildings are located (www.bahamas.co.uk).

Bay Street is the main hub and just a few minutes’ walk from the cruise port. This is where you’ll find duty-free shops and boutiques, plus the famous Straw Market, full of hand-made crafts.

Enter the world of skulduggery at the Pirates of Nassau museum (www.pirates-of-nassau.com) which takes visitors back to the “golden age of piracy” in the 1690s with its replica of notorious pirate ship Revenge.

For a taste of history, visit the 18th century Fort Charlotte; admire the fabulous views from Queen Victoria’s hand-carved staircase; and see the tropical fauna in the Nassau Botanical Gardens (www.nassauparadiseisland.com).

Where to drink

Nassau isn’t short of lively bars. On Paradise Island, the extravagant Atlantis Resort (www.atlantisbahamas.com) offers a host of watering holes, including Bimini Road in the Marina Village where Junkanoo carnival bands perform. Alternatively try Cable Beach and the Wyndham Nassau casino resort with its Junkanoo Bar (www.wyndhamnassauresort.com). Downtown is Senor Frogs (www.senorfrogs.com) in Bay Street where music and dancing spices up the Mexican atmosphere.

Where to eat

For fine dining, try the Mesa Grill restaurant by American celebrity chef Bobby Flay at The Cove, Atlantis (www.mesagrill.com) or the restaurant at the historic Graycliff hotel (www.graycliff.com) in Nassau with its world-renowned wine cellar of 250,000 bottles. For mid-range try the Bahamian fare at the Cool Spot Restaurant (www.cornerhotelbahamas.com) at the Corner Hotel on the edge of downturn Nassau or The Poop Deck restaurants (www.thepoopdeckrestaurants.com). There are two of them and both are know for their Bahamian seafood specialities. For cheap and cheerful try Goldies at Arawak Cay in Nassau, popular with locals and tourists.

Where to stay

The huge Atlantis resort (www.atlantisbahamas.com) on Paradise Island comprises several hotels set around the world’s largest manmade outdoor waterscape, with The Cove being the most upmarket. Graycliff (www.graycliff.com) is just as classy but more traditional. There are all-inclusive resorts with the likes of Sandals (www.sandals.co.uk) and SuperClubs (www.superclubs.com) plus quirky individual retreats such as Compass Point (www.compasspointbeachresort.com); and the Marley Resort & Spa (www.marleyresort.com) formerly the reggae star’s holiday home.

Day Trips

Meet the fun-loving inhabitants of Dolphin Encounters (www.dolphinencounters.com), located at Blue Lagoon Island; catch the local flora and fauna at the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Centre (www.ardastra.com); or escape the bustle of the city and explore Nassau’s natural side on bike and birding excursions.