Amid the tropical scenery of Barbados are survivors of a colonial past: vast plantation homes, sugar-cane fields, rum producers and period townships.
And then there are the beaches. The Atlantic-battered east coast is legendary among surfers, while the beaches of the west play home to millionaires and movie stars.
St Nicholas Abbey is one of the oldest plantation houses in the Caribbean. The grounds are simply gorgeous and the rum and sugar museum houses historical artefacts, including slave records and ledgers (00 246 422 8725; stnicholasabbey.com; Cherry Tree Hill, St Peter; 10am-3.30pm; £9).
The George Washington House was the home of the US president and his brother Lawrence during their stay in 1751. It now houses a museum bringing 18th-century Barbados to life (00 246 228 5461; georgewashingtonbarbados.org; Bush Hill, Garrison; 9am-4.30pm Mon-Fri; £6).
The heart of Oistins is its large, bustling seaside fish market. On Friday and Saturday it hosts the island's best party, with soca, reggae, pop and country music, vendors selling barbecued fish and plenty of rum drinking. It's roughly 80 per cent locals, 20 per cent tourists, and rocks till 2am.
Few people follow the coast south of Bathsheba. They should. Look for signs for Martin's Bay, where you'll find a sliver of beach and a little rum shop. After about two more miles, a steep road leads down to Bath Beach, empty on weekdays and crowded with laughing families on weekends.
Speightstown, with its battered façades and local characters, combines old colonial charm with a down-to-earth vibe. Drop in to Arlington House, which is home to a heritage museum run by the National Trust (00 246 422 4064; Queen St; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat; £8).
Eat and drink
On the Speightstown waterfront, the Fisherman's Pub is a local institution that serves up fish from the boats floating off the back deck, with steel-pan music on Wednesdays. Try the national dish of cou-cou (cornmeal and okra) and flying fish (00 246 422 2703; Queen St; lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily; mains £3-£5).
David's Place is a very romantic spot overlooking St Lawrence Bay. Waiters glide about with seafood platters and Creole curries (00 246 435 9755; davidsplacebarbados.com; St Lawrence Gap; dinner Tue-Sun; mains £10-£15)
The popular Roundhouse Restaurant overlooks the world-famous reef break known as Soup Bowl. There's banana bread at breakfast, sandwiches and salads at lunch, and specials such as breadfruit soup at dinner (00 246 433 9678; roundhouse barbados.com; St Joseph, Bathsheba; breakfast, lunch and dinner; mains £10-£15).
Ragamuffins , in bustling Holetown, specialises in Caribbean dishes with attitude: the blackened fish with aioli is pure joy. On Sunday there's a drag show (00 246 4321295; ragamuffins barbados.com; 1st Street, Holetown; dinner; mains £14-£15).
The much-loved Brown Sugar is a tropical paradise. The West Indian buffet is popular and the Bajan bread pudding is a rummy delight (00 246 4267684; brownsugarbarbados.com; Bay Street, Bridgetown; lunch Sun-Fri, dinner daily; lunch buffet £12, mains £10-£20).
Built in 1883, the Atlantis Hotel is a solid wooden building facing out to sea. Colonial-charm rooms feature teak furniture and beds draped in mosquito nets. Fabled Bajan author George Lamming is often in residence (00 246 433 9445; atlantishotel barbados.com; Tent Bay, Bathsheba; from £80).
Peach and Quiet is an unpretentious seaside inn with 22 spacious suites, all with bedroom and lounge. Rooms have tiled floors, bright bedcovers and large picture windows, and there's an oceanside bar. The owner, Adrian Loveridge, leads excellent walks across the island (00 246 428 5682; peachandquiet.com; Inch Marlow, Silver Sands; from £80).
Sea-U Guest House is a charming plantation house with a pretty veranda that looks out to sea from the Bathsheba hills. Cottages and a restaurant pavilion round out the verdant site. The seven bedroom units have kitchen facilities and non-clichéd island decor (00 246 433 9450; seaubarbados.com; Tent Bay, Bathsheba; from £90).
Sleep One of the most characterful choices on the south coast, Little Arches was once a Mediterranean-style mansion, and now has 10 rooms with tropical decor, terracotta floors and local pottery. Privacy is at a maximum (00 246 420 4689; littlearches.com; Enterprise Beach, Oistins; from £160).
The family-owned Coral Reef Club comprises 88 luxury rooms set amid 12 acres of landscaped grounds. The main house is a gingerbread fantasy; inside is an eclectic mix of English country-house fabrics and furniture and local artworks (00 246 422 2372; coralreefbarbados. com; Holetown; from £280).
When to go
Although July is the wettest month, it is also sugarcane harvest time, when the island holds its biggest festival, the three-week Crop-Over. March and April have perfect weather; avoid Christmas peak prices.
How to go
British Airways and Virgin fly direct to Barbados from London (from £700), Manchester (from £728) and Edinburgh (from £760). Grantley Adams International Airport is 10 miles from Bridgetown.
You can get everywhere by public bus for a fare of 50p. Independent car rental agencies operate on the island, prices vary little and most will deliver a car to the airport or your hotel (£50 per day; barbados cars.com). Most hotels will arrange bikes too (£30 deposit).
The article 'Mini guide to Barbados' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.