In addition to beachful beaches and a range of cultural, heritage and outdoor attractions, there is a long list of annual Barbados festivals and significant events that help to attract tourists to the island known as the land of flying fish and birthplace of great rums. In fact, approximately 1.5million people visit the Caribbean island of Barbados each year; 45% are stay-over tourists, and 55% are cruise ship passengers.
So what are the major Barbados festivals that help to attract tourists to the island? Well, they are a mix of cultural, culinary, musical and sporting events that provide entertainment along with showcasing Barbados’ rich history. Below are ten annual Barbados festivals to consider for your next visit.
Month When Typically Held: February
The first Holetown Festival was initially held in 1977 to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the first English settlement in the Holetown area of Barbados. Now, 40+ years later the Holetown Festival starts with a reenactment of this historical event and proceeds with a range of other events to showcase Holetown’s unique culture. There are nightly concerts featuring gospel, classical, Tuk band and calypso music. There is also a range of day tours and cultural events including the Holetown Dooflicky and Bajan Carnival, Vintage & Classic Car Parade, Grand Floodlit Tattoo, 7K Road Walk & Run, Street Fair & Parade and Queen of the Festival Pageant.
Month When Typically Held: March or April
The Oistins Fish Festival which started in 1977 commemorates the signing of the Charter of Barbados and celebrates the importance of fisheries and fisherfolk to the island. The annual event which now attracts over 30,000 people is held over the long Easter weekend in Oistins, a scenic fishing village located on the south coast of Barbados. Attendees can sample a range of delicious fish dishes and also watch events like the crab and boat racing competition, fish boning competition, and the fish cake eating competition.
Month When Typically Held: April
The Barbados Reggae Festival initially held in 2005 now attracts well over 25,000 people during the four-day event and features a range of top local, regional and international reggae acts. There is also typically a Reggae Beach Party, Vintage Reggae Show and Dance, Reggae Party Cruise and the favorite Reggae On The Hill which takes place at the historic Farley Hill National Park.
Month When Typically Held: May
The Barbados Gospel Festival launched in 1993 is now one of the premier international gospel music and arts festivals. The event has grown from strength to strength and has featured hundreds of leading local, regional and international gospel artists from all across the globe including Alvin Slaughter, Candi Staton, Donnie McClurkin, Harrella Goodwin, Kirk Franklin and Tramaine Hawkins.
Month When Typically Held: May
The Barbados Celtic Festival began in the early 1990s and celebrates the links between the Gallic regions in Europe and Barbados and the Celtic Countries of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Nova Scotia. Beyond the festive folk music concerts, there is typically a wide variety of Celtic culinary experiences including the opportunity to taste Bajan haggis made with local ingredients including the black belly sheep. Other Celtic dishes with a Barbadian flavor to taste include the Caribbean cranachan, a take on the Scottish version with cream, coconut, mango, and rum replacing whiskey, oats, and raspberries.
Month When Typically Held: June
Sol Rally Barbados started out as a one-day racing event in 1990 with 30 local competitors and has now grown to attract over 100 local, regional and international drivers with their crews. Now the most significant motor sporting event in the Caribbean, Sol Rally Barbados includes a whole week of racing and social activities featuring Scrutineering and the immensely popular Flow King of the Hill ‘shakedown.’
Month(s) When Typically Held: Early June through the first Monday in August
Barbados Crop-Over Festival formerly known as Harvest Home began around the 1680s on sugar cane plantations. The event which featured singing, dancing and feasting was a celebration for the successful conclusion to the sugar cane harvest. Sugar cane is no longer produced on a mass scale in Barbados, but Crop-Over has evolved into Barbados’ largest festival rivaling carnivals on other Caribbean islands like those held in The Bahamas, Grenada, and Trinidad. Barbados Crop-Over Festival now last for six weeks, and the schedule is packed with arts and craft markets, culinary street fairs, calypso and beauty queen competitions, calypso reggae and soca parties and a colorful street parade on Grand Kadooment Day.
Month When Typically Held: October
Launched in 2014 by soul-jazz saxophonist Elan Trotman, the Barbados Jazz Excursion is typically held over the Columbus Day Weekend showcasing some of the most prominent contemporary jazz and R&B musicians. Beyond the musical performances, there is also a schedule of island excursions and a golf tournament. This event is an alternative to the Barbados Jazz Festival launched in 1993 but canceled by the organizers in 2011 due to budgetary reasons.
Month When Typically Held: October
Launched in 2009, the Barbados Food & Rum Festival is a celebration of Barbados’ rich culinary and rum history. With top local, regional and international chefs, the Barbados Food & Rum Festival is a mecca for foodies that want to see a variety of cooking demonstrations and also sample the best of Barbadian food. There is also the opportunity to learn more about rum from paying a visit to distilleries like Mount Gay founded in 1703 and thought to be the oldest rum found anywhere in the world. Other rum distilleries to visit in Barbados including St Nicholas Abbey, Foursquare Rum Factory and Heritage Park and the West Indies Rum Distillery. Note that this year’s Barbados Food & Rum Festival will actually be the highlight for a year of culinary experiences in Barbados.
Month When Typically Held: end of November or early December
Barbados Run is a weekend festival with a range of running events. Launched in 1983, Barbados Run has grown and now includes a midnight fun mile run and walk, 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon. The start and finish for the races which loop is the picturesque Bay Street Esplanade, opposite the Prime Minister’s office and overlooking the magnificent Carlisle Bay. In addition to these running events which wind their way through the streets of capital city Bridgetown, there are also other festive events Barbados Run is typically held around Barbados’ Independence Day – November 30th.
Barbados Family & Friends Club
The mix of tourists for these Barbados festivals includes regular tourists not familiar with the island as well as members of the Barbadian diaspora currently living in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and further afield. And seeking to leverage the power and influence of its growing diaspora, the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. has relaunched it’s Barbados Family & Friends Club which incentivizes members of the Barbadian diaspora and friends to earn cash rewards for recommending Barbados as a vacation destination.
Becoming ambassadors for Barbados, members of the Barbados Family and Friends Club earn points for each person who vacations in Barbados for a minimum of three nights based on their recommendation. Points are awarded for both airfares and approved accommodations which can then be redeemed for cash. For more more information and to sign up, visit the website for the Barbados Family & Friends Club.