Welcome to the New Bermuda

Big changes are afoot on this tiny Atlantic Ocean paradise 

It may be the world’s oldest British overseas colony, but lately, Bermuda has been embracing the new. This Atlantic Ocean island, with its pink-sand beaches, myriad golf courses and low-key vibe, has long been favoured by golfers, divers and honeymooners—most of them in search of serenity in one form or another. 

The island’s famous quietude is here to stay, thanks in part to building restrictions that prevent the condo-crammed waterfronts found in so many seaside destinations. But the buzz of revitalization is still impossible to miss: a top American chef is planning an ultra-hip restaurant, the island’s first full-service marina has opened and the local arts scene just keeps getting better. 

Amid these new developments, Bermuda remains like its old, charming self—only with more reasons to visit. Here’s how to balance the time-honoured with the timely. 

Find Inspiration 

Tiny as it is, Bermuda has played a pretty big role as a creative muse. For one, its beauty is said to have inspired John Lennon when he visited with his family in 1980. So the story goes, this is where Lennon overcame his five-year-long bout of writer’s block and drafted the songs for his final album, Double Fantasy—the name of a flower he encountered in the island’s Botanical Gardens

Take a stroll through the gardens (located just outside Hamilton) to luxuriate in the scents and wonders of Bermuda’s flora, then stop in at the on-site Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. This state-of-the-art museum honours Lennon’s legacy with a modern sculpture out front. Inside are rotating exhibits featuring works by Bermudian artists, as well as artists inspired by the island, from Georgia O’Keeffe to Mark Twain, who was so infatuated with Bermuda, he made it his second home. 

For more art immersion, the historic town of St. George’s, a World UNESCO site, has a number of art galleries and pretty shops along Water Street that deal in tasteful, transportable souvenirs like colourful ceramics and small prints. A real find is the newly established Saltwater Jewellery, which specializes in necklaces, bracelets and other adornments made from materials—like semi-precious stones or Bermuda Sea glass—found along the shoreline. A three generation, family-run business, the shop creates one-of-a-kind mementoes.

Visit a Classic

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This year, the island’s “grand dame” of accommodation, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, marks its 130th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, the hotel, affectionately nicknamed the “Pink Palace,” has been undergoing a US$90-million facelift. The sprawling resort and conference centre now boasts updated rooms fitted with modern decor and seaside hues, a saltwater infinity pool and cutting-edge wireless amenities that keep you online throughout the property. 

The hotel’s renovation has also brought a wider addition to the island: a brand-new marina, the first full-service one of its kind here. Named the Princess Marina, it is one of the most exciting new arrivals in Bermuda, which has long been a hot spot for competitive and amateur boaters. Just opened last fall, the marina took years of planning and offers 59 berths that will accommodate everything from small pleasure craft to super yachts. But non-boating visitors are welcome, too. 

Check out the marina’s floating docks and dramatic breakwater, visit the new dockside eatery called 1609 Bar & Restaurant or rent a jet ski or kayak for some on-the-water fun.

Get Active

Visitors to Bermuda have long been prohibited from renting cars (even locals are limited to one car per family). As a result, scooters and mopeds are an immensely popular way to get around the island’s winding, narrow roadways. 

For something a little less noisy and a little more active, rent a bicycle and meander along the Bermuda Railway Trail, which follows the island’s short-lived rail line. You’ll get a peek at how the locals live as you crisscross backyards, churchyards and the island’s collection of picturesque villages. You’ll also get a sense of Bermuda’s topography and discover that Bermuda is not, in fact, a single island, but a string of 181 islands that bob together like a line of buoys in the ocean. 

Those looking for an edgier adventure can head to King’s Wharf in the Royal Naval Dockyard to try flyboarding, the latest water-sport craze. This adrenaline-pumping experience sends you into the air—literally—via a water-propelled jet pack strapped to your feet. The sport, not even five years old, arrived in Bermuda about a year ago, and Coconut Rockets operator Michael Swan intends to make his flyboarding operation a leader in the budding industry. Judging by the enthusiastic yelps of the thrill-seekers swooping and flipping just above the surf, Swan is well on his way.

Dine Well 

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Home to a variety of independent and resort-based restaurants, Bermuda offers an eclectic dining scene. Throughout the island, you can enjoy all kinds of global cuisines (Italian, Portuguese and Chinese are all popular here), while still getting to sample local specialties like fish chowder and mussel pie—ideally while sipping the island’s signature cocktail, the Dark and Stormy (prepared with dark rum and ginger beer). In 1998, the Bermuda government banned all foreign fast-food chains, maintaining their presence would harm the area’s old-world allure. So, with the exception of one pre-ban eatery (a KFC in Hamilton), the dining options here are unique to the island, with exciting new restaurants popping up frequently.

Among the most exciting of these new establishments is a soon-to-open restaurant helmed by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson (the man behind the celebrated Harlem restaurant Red Rooster, among others). Coming this spring, the eatery, located in the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, will offer a modern menu that fuses Bermuda-born inspirations with Samuelsson’s Ethiopian heritage, Swedish upbringing and American life. 

For another contemporary dining experience, head to Wahoo’s Bistro and Patio in St. George’s. Run by Austrian-born chef Alfred Konrad and bartender Geza Wolf, this fun spot serves hearty and affordable dishes. Try the grilled Wahoo tacos or the signature dish, Rockfish Picasso, pan-fried rockfish with a mosaic of fresh fruit and spiced with ginger. A true taste of Bermuda. 

Getting There: WestJet flies to Bermuda three times a week from Toronto.