A world-class destination for visitors, Royal Naval Dockyard in the West End will amaze you with all its offerings.
What once operated as the largest British naval base outside of the United Kingdom, Royal Naval Dockyard — simply called Dockyard by locals — is a living historic and cultural landmark that’s now one of Bermuda’s top entertainment destinations.
Much of the fort’s limestone, Georgian-style architecture has been preserved and is a sight to see in its own right. But what was once a military bastion has been successfully converted into a modern entertainment hot spot — very nearly a village of its own — in recent decades. And a visit here to Bermuda’s West End promises history, culture, adventure and family fun in a compact, pedestrian-friendly locale. But before we get into the modern attractions that draw tourists and locals to Dockyard today, it’s worth stepping back in time for a brief history of the place.
Dive into History
After losing the American War of Independence in 1783, and with no American ports at their disposal, Britain sought a port in the mid-Atlantic, between Halifax and the West Indies, from which it could face off America and France and also easily access its interests in the Caribbean. Bermuda’s central geographic position, as you might guess, made it a prime choice.
In 1809, slaves laid the first local stones that would become Royal Naval Dockyard’s foundation, and convicts from Britain followed as the next wave of labourers after emancipation. From the War of 1812 until just after World War II, Royal Naval Dockyard and the base played an integral role in strategic defence for Britain. It wasn’t until 1951 that the Royal Navy officially pulled out from Bermuda. And in the first years after the Bermuda government purchased Dockyard in 1953, the area saw little use and began to fall into disrepair. But soon enough, plans were set into motion to preserve Dockyard as a public gathering ground and park.
Explore 500 years of history at the National Museum of Bermuda, housed within the island’s largest fort. The 15-acre property includes British military buildings of the Keep citadel and the award-winning Commissioner’s House. Inside its limestone walls, learn about Bermuda’s links with the West Indies and the Azores; trans-Atlantic slavery; and the island’s defence through two World Wars. Don’t miss artist Graham Foster’s 1,000-square-foot Hall of History mural. On the lower grounds, visit Shipwreck Island, an exhibit showcasing Spanish gold and other artefacts. Kids will love the Museum Playground, complete with a slide and 70-foot moray eel. Open April through November from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4 p.m.); December through March from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last admission at 3 p.m.) Free for children under 16.
One of the most entertaining ways to learn about Dockyard’s fascinating history is the free Historical Re-enactment and Walking Tour. Offered every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. from May 5 through October 3, you can experience this amazing look into the past.
A Modern Draw
Development of Royal Naval Dockyard has been guided by the West End Development Corporation (WEDCO), with a variety of events and amenities for adults and families in mind. WEDCO’s goal, says Joanna Cranfield, business development manager, is to continue developing in Dockyard “a world-class destination built proudly on the past but looking firmly to the future.” Testament to WEDCO’s success: The challenge for most visitors is choosing what to do first. Various entertainment is available during the summer months in the evenings, and numerous free evening events are planned each year, the details of which are available on the WEDCO website or Facebook page.
The Dockyard Visitor Information Centre is conveniently located in the gazebo adjacent to the cruise ship pier and bus and ferry stops. The Visitor Centre offers up-to-date information on Bermuda events, attractions, tours and transport. You can also pick up your public transportation passes for the buses and ferries. Wi-Fi and phone cards are also available for purchase.