Like the old town of St. George’s in the East End, the Royal Naval Dockyard on Bermuda’s western point is crucial to understanding what shaped the political and social history of Bermuda. It’s also loads of fun to visit.
The 24-acre area—the largest and best preserved of Bermuda’s fortifications—in Sandys Parish is a functioning community with shops, restaurants, a marina, and working boatyards.The 24-acre area—the largest and best preserved of Bermuda’s fortifications—in Sandys Parish is a functioning community with shops, restaurants, a marina, and working boatyards. It also embodies the fascinating maritime history of the island, including its 150-year Royal Navy connection. “Dockyard,” as it’s simply called by locals, sits on Ireland Island North, the westernmost of Sandys’s five islands, its tip forming the entrance to the main shipping channel into the Great Sound. Towering stone pillars stand at its entrance on Pender Road, where the notorious—and now abandoned—Casemate Prison also looms. As Bermuda’s primary cruise ship port, Dockyard’s waterfront is a hive of activity through the summer months, with ferries coming and going, tourists pouring off ships at King’s and Heritage Wharves, and charter fishing, snorkeling, sailing, and glass-bottomed boat operators at the ready.
Two outlets of the Island Tour Centre now located near Dockyard’s ferry stop make planning an action-packed itinerary a one-stop breeze—from scuba to Jet Ski, horseback riding to flyboarding, whale-watching to ecotours—and you can book activities offered by more than 20 vendors islandwide. Dockyard’s sheltered marina is packed with local yachts and other pleasure craft, and myriad marine businesses operate out of historic former military buildings. Public washrooms and ATMs are located in the distinctive Clocktower Building, the air-conditioned home to a plethora of shops, a restaurant, and an ice cream bar.
There are three Visitor information Centres, at both cruise ship wharves (open only when ships are in port) and near the ferry dock, along with various means of transport—rental scooters, tour trains, Segway tours, buses—for exploring the area. Special evening festivals are held throughout the summer, with live musical entertainment, parades, gombey performances, vendors, and food and drink stalls. The 35th America’s Cup event in 2017, along with its early-stage events in 2015, spurred plans for a massive land-reclamation project in the Dockyard, where Bermuda’s government pledged to build a spectator complex and athletes’ village inside the South Basin’s existing breakwater on Cross Island. The project promises to revitalize the entire West End, not to mention the rest of the island.
Getting to the Royal Naval Dockyard
Bus service to Dockyard has suffered its share of challenges, as the system has faced a quantum leap in the number of visitors after Dockyard became a port for mega-ships. But when it’s working properly, the bus system is efficient and frequent—it’s also scenic if you take route 7, which goes via the South Shore beaches (route 8 also travels between Hamilton and Dockyard via Middle Road). Buses leave Hamilton every 15 minutes for the West End. The 14-zone journey ($4.50) takes about an hour. Bus stops are located in front of the National Museum of Bermuda and in front of the Clocktower Mall. For more information, contact the Department of Public Transportation (tel. 441/292-3851).
The Sea Express (tel. 441/295-4506) Blue Route operates regularly between Hamilton and Dockyard from morning (8:30am) to night on weekdays (the last ferry leaves Dockyard at 9pm), with less-frequent service on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. The service runs every half hour throughout most of the day. Most runs are Hamilton-Dockyard direct (both ways).
Along the way, you’ll see: Front Street’s facade; the lavish harborfront mansions of Pembroke’s Fairylands and Point Shares neighborhoods; landmark Two-Rock Passage, where the liners come through; and the islands of the Great Sound. The breezy ride takes just 20 minutes; sit up on the sunny top deck (which features a salt spray on very windy days), or escape the heat in the main air-conditioned cabin. Cash is not accepted on ferries; buy tokens, tickets, or cost-effective one-day or multiday passes from the ferry terminal or Visitor Information Centres in Hamilton, St. George’s, or Dockyard. Regular one-way fare to Dockyard is $4.50 adults, $2.50 children 5-16, kids under 5 free.
Another fun option that’s also useful for getting around the area is Oleander Cycles (King’s Wharf, Royal Naval Dockyard, tel. 441/234-2764, 8:30am- 5:30pm daily), which rents single- and double- seater scooters, as well as mountain bikes. Standard or deluxe (two-person) scooters can be rented by anyone aged 16 or older. Rates ($55 standard/$65 double for one day, $225 standard/$266 double per week, $17/$21 per day after seven days) include scooter delivery and pickup (or hotel pickup), first tank of gas, helmet, lock, basket, $30 third-party insurance, and islandwide roadside service for breakdowns (24-hour helpline). Pedal cycles can be rented for $40 per day, or $175 per week.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Bermuda.