Local traditions and culture in Bermuda

  • Watergate from outside 2011
    Watergate from outside 2011
    by grandmaR
  • Watergate from outside 2007
    Watergate from outside 2007
    by grandmaR
  • Postcard of Gombey Dancers
    Postcard of Gombey Dancers
    by starship

Most Viewed Local Customs in Bermuda

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    Water Gate

    by grandmaR Written Jan 20, 2012

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    Bermuda has a REAL Water Gate The watergate is an actual gate over the water. There is a canal or slip and the gate (above) cranks down across it. This enclosed waterway once served to transport ordnance stores from ships anchored in Grassy Bay to storage houses within the Keep, safely allowing for ship repairs or refitting in the outer Dockyard.

    The sea gate enabled gunpowder and shot to be lightered out to the waiting warships with minimal risk of explosion occurring.The canal goes from the watergate to the keep pond on the inside of the Naval Base. The hanging portcullis gate operated by pulleys and a winch maintained security.

    The Keep Pond is now the residence of the dolphins of Dolphin Quest. (UGH)

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    Moongates

    by grandmaR Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Moon gates are round limestone gates through which honeymooners walk and make a wish to ensure a lifetime of good luck. If you are not a honeymooner - make a wish anyway - can't hurt!!

    This one is near the Historical Society/library and the Par-La-Ville Gardens in Hamilton. I have a picture of another in my Hamilton travelogues - I'm not sure where that one is but there is a sign on it.

    According to Fromers "..the moon gate was introduced to Bermuda around 1920 by the Duke of Westminster's landscape architect, who got his inspiration from such gates in China and Japan"

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    Reefs and Lighthouses

    by grandmaR Updated Mar 23, 2009

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    We saw the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse many times, but did not get out to St. Davids or see the other Bermuda lighthouse on either of our first two visits to Bermuda. It wasn't until we arrived by cruise ship in 2004 and went into the harbor at St. George that we saw the St. David's light for the first time. Then on our 2007 visit, we took the bus out to St. David's and saw the lighthouse from the bus (photo 5) The lighthouse is at the end of Texas Road on Lighthouse Road at Mount Hill.

    Built in 1879 of Bermuda limestone and periodically refurbished, it still serves as a beacon for mariners. Its fixed while light enabled navigators to take cross bearings with the flashing beacon emitted by Gibb's Hill lighthouse in Southampton Parish. The object of the lighthouse was to defeat the activities of the local wreckers and salvagers who would put lights in other locations to lure ships onto the reefs. When the lighthouse defeated their illegal activities, they became fishermen and excellent pilots.

    LIGHTS CHARACTER REMARKS
    St. David's Island Lighthouse
    32° 21.8'N 64° 39.1'W Fixed red and green sectored light below a group flashing white (2)every 20 secs.
    Red sector:

    * 135°T-221°T
    * 276°T-044°T
    * 044°T-135°T

    Green Sector:

    * 221°T-276°T

    (Bearings from seaward)
    Height 212 ft. Range - red and green
    sectors 20 miles. White flashing light 15 miles.

    Between 044°T-135°T both lights partially obscured by land.

    Formerly all white, the lighthouse is now painted white with a broad red band in the center. The keeper's house is occupied by resident caretakers. The tower is open daily May through September It is operated/managed by the Bermuda Department of Marine and Ports Services.

    From the lighthouse's balcony, 208 feet above sea level, there are panoramic views.

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    A shorts haberdashery tip

    by 850prc Updated Sep 3, 2007

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    Most everyone is familiar with the term "Bermuda shorts". And, far from being a tourist thing, Bermudas are widely worn throughout the island.

    Most places in the world would consider short pants to be casual wear, no matter how natty or expensive the tailoring or material might be. Not so in Bermuda, where it's not at all uncommon to see a businessman wearing top-notch Bermuda shorts as "formal wear". Formal presentation of Bermuda shorts usually shows just a bit of the knee, and couples them with tall socks and dress shoes. And unlike many other types of shorts, Bermudas usually include a dress belt. They're "shorts", but only a bit of the knee shows in the most formal setting. Bermuda shorts are pretty much standard dress for local bankers, businessmen and government leaders.

    For visitors, these dapper shorts have great appeal. If you'll look at my intro photo on my Bermuda page, you'll see my dad all decked out in his Bermuda shorts back in 1959, when we lived there. Back then, few adult males would have been seen in public, back in the US anyway, wearing short pants. As you can see, the Bermudas had already conquered the fashion fort on this island.

    Inspired by British soldiers' wear in hot climates, they certain serve a function on an island where a desire for conservative dress can sometimes run head-on into stifling heat.

    If you'd like to get yourself a pair or two, don't look in the tourist shops... you'll need to visit more formal clothing stores. Remember, these are serious habiliments in Bermuda. :)

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    Pub Grub...put it on YOUR menu

    by 850prc Written Aug 25, 2007

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    Bermuda, as is the the case for the mother country, loves their pubs. There are a large number of English-style pubs all over the island. And if you've been following my restaurant tips, you'll know that we spent plenty of time eating pub grub.

    In a pricey place like Bermuda, eating in pubs is more than just "local flavor", so to speak. It's a way to stretch your travel budget while having a good time. Different pubs have different specialities, but most are good for sandwiches, burgers, soups, and of course... drinks.

    There are certain dishes that are considered "standard pub fare", and you should give them a try. These include...

    Fish and Chips... an English classic, featuring hot, beer-battered fish, fried to a golden perfection, sided by hot and crispy "chips". Trad English fish and chips usually means north Atlantic codfish, and quite a few of the pubs in Bermuda featured the cod. However, other fish and chip menus included other whitefish(es) such as grouper...an excellent choice.

    Bangers and Mash... my favorite. I'm a big fan of a tasty sausage, that's why I enjoy visiting Germany so much. Bangers are basically a big and nicely seasoned pork sausage that is pan-sizzled with a bit of water or milk and butter/oil. Mash is "mashed potatoes", a favorite of kids and grown up kids everywhere. It seems as though several of the Bermuda Pubs feature a "garlic mash", ie garlic mashed potatoes, and that's great too.

    Steak and Kidney Pie, or perhaps Shepherd's Pie... Basically a meat + vegetable pie served with a thick and hearty gravy. In the case of the steak and kidney, we're usually talking more of a pastry crust on top, whereas shepherd's pie is traditionally covered in mashed potatoes, finished off to a golden brown under the broiler. Personally, I like Shepherd's Pie, but usually pass on the Steak and Kidney... I"m just not a big fan of organ meats. (I know, I know, God knows WHAT is in a sausage, wasn't it Bismarck who once said something about not wanting to see sausage made)

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    Pick a perfect name for your home

    by 850prc Written Aug 21, 2007

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    Back when I lived in Bermuda (in the 1950s), our address consisted of "our house name". We lived at Alabama House. In the years since, traditional addresses have followed, but it's still an island tradition to give your home a very special name.

    And, you then need to purchase a nice custom-painted house sign for your front wall.

    If you'd like to buy one yourself and have it sent to YOUR own home back home, they were available for purchase out at Dockyards. I'm sure there are other places to make a buy as well. All YOU have to do is think up a name.

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    Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain

    by 850prc Written Aug 17, 2007

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    Visitors always seem to like the tidy white rooves evident on almost all Bermuda houses. And while the view is pleasant, it's also functional. You see, Bermuda has, because of its isolated status in the middle Atlantic, always had an issue supplying its residents with enough potable water. You know the old saying of the sailor... water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

    The island does have reverse osmosis water (desalinized) water now available, but a great amount of the usable fresh water on the island still comes from the clouds. Bermudians have specially designed and maintained rooves to capture, purify and store rainwater. The water that falls onto the roof goes over a series of grooves and over a bleached limestone surface, eventually finding its way to a storage tank for each residence. The b&b we stayed at had a 38,000 gallon tank. And, this collected rainwater goes a long way towards meeting the islanders' need for fresh water, both for drinking and service.

    As you'd guess, Bermudians consider North Americans and Europeans to be terribly wasteful of water, and compared to them we certainly are. For me, it's refreshing to see an old idea (collecting rainwater), tested practice (collection rooves) and continually updated technique (purification practice and the mix with reverse osmosis water) serve the needs of a growing 21st century population on Bermuda. Very interesting.

    BTW, one of my earliest memories from my childhood in Bermuda was hiking to a ridge with my dad to check a rain collection tank. We'd been having a drought and people were very concerned about the lack of water.

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    Gombay Dancers

    by 850prc Updated Aug 13, 2007

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    Gombay dancing is supposedly unique to Bermuda. A rhythmic and colorful blend of West African tribal music, British martial custom and tunes, Christian influence AND even a bit of native American dancing practice and culture, Gombays are energetic entertainment should you be fortunate enough to enjoy them.

    The Gombays consist of both older and younger dancers...I'm told they're called "the crowd". The young boys in the group are "the warriors". They wear short capes and carry tomahawks. Older boys in the troup are called "the Indians" and they carry bows and arrows. The older, head males are called "The Chiefs" and they wear long capes, carry whips and command the performance.

    I found the accompanying drummers (mostly snares and a tom-tom style drum) to be a feverish and never-ending rhythm that really gets your heart pumping. Apparently, the dances tell all sorts of stories, including some versed in biblical lore. I have to admit that I didn't quite see "Jesus Christ Superstar" within the Gombay's moves in Hamilton.

    The Gombays dance each year for Boxing Day (Dec 26) and New Year's Day. During the summer, they almost always appear at Wednesday evening's summertime "Harbourfront Nights" in Hamilton.

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    Sloppy dress is not often welcome

    by 850prc Updated Aug 12, 2007

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    Unlike many of the island nations further south in the Caribbean, Bermuda is NOT all about informality. In fact, Bermuda and Bermudians are actually more akin to protocol than are your average Americans.

    In the USA, towns near the beach are filled with people in swimwear. There's often a fair amount of partying that goes on 24/7 in beach towns throughout Florida and the Caribbean. But NOT in Bermuda. This is a place where the better restaurants expect still expect gentlemen to wear jackets to dinner. Unless you're talking of a simple pub, dinner is generally no place for blue jeans. And although Bermuda Shorts are high-fashion throughout Bermuda, they're strictly a daytime habiliment. Come sundown, wearing shorts out to eat, even pricy Bermuda shorts, just isn't done.

    APPARENTLY, it's illegal in Bermuda for women to wear bikini tops more than 25 yards from a beach area without a cover-up garment. But, I have to tell you, I did see a few felons committing this offense. :)

    Click on the photo below and read the riot act being read to patrons of a Hamilton night club.

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    Cerveja and all things Portuguese

    by dlandt Written Jul 13, 2007

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    I was shocked to see how much Portuguese influence seems to be woven into the island's day to day affairs. Although there is not a single Portuguese restaurant on the island, you can buy Portuguese or portuguese style foods in any grocery store. Sausages, cold cuts, bread, wine, cookies etc. are on every shelf. Most surprisingly, I found Portuguese beer.

    Never having had Portuguese beer, I decided to try it not in the least due to the $6 price difference. To me, the Portuguese brands were the only reasonably priced lines on the shelf. The Super Bock had a bit more flavor than the much lighter Sagres, but neither impressed me. they are about on the level with American macrobrews, but with the hot weather, went down pretty well, good in the way we drink Mexican beers in summer.

    I was also surprised, upon using an ATM, that I had a choice of two languages, English and Portuguese. This shouldn't have struck me as odd being that people of Portuguese descent make up over a quarter of the island's population. Not a few local people struck me as being of Portuguese appearance, and I saw Portuguese names in newspapers and other local postings.

    If they had a couple of wine shops and at least one or two restaurants, the Portuguese aspect of the island would be complete!

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    Bermuda Chowder

    by dlandt Written Jul 12, 2007

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    Bermuda chowder is common on the island. it is a fish cownder made with what seemed to be a vegetable broth. The taste (and therefore the recipes) seemed ot vary from place to place, but it seemed consistently good. I always had it served with a side of rum-sherry-pepper sauce (shown in the background) that is unique to the island and kind of reminded me of A1 or Lea and Perrins with a kick. You mix some of that sauce with the chowder to spice it up. I heard, but never experienced, that you get a shot of rum to mix in as well.

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    Gosling's Black Seal Rum

    by dlandt Written Jul 12, 2007

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    Black Seal is the rum of choice in Bermuda. Locally made, it is used in most of the mixed drinks and can be found on the shelves of any supermarket. If you like trying different spirits, don't miss this one. You can't buy rum on Sundays with one exception; duty free, which is where I recommend you buy it. Liter bottles retailed for $26+ out on town, but cost only $12 in duty free. The rum itself is of the preferred, dark and thicker variety, with a hint of sweetness with the warmth of the spirit, comparable to the high end rums of the Caribbean. Salut!

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    The Gombeys

    by dlandt Written Jul 11, 2007

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    Bermuda had no indigenous population at the time of European discovery. The gombeys, like so much of Bermuda's underlying culture, come from the West Indies through immigration. The Gombeys echo the Bully Roosters (West Indian troops temporarily transitting the island en route to the Boer War) and elaborate carnivals of the islands. The Gombeys can be seen in Hamilton, especially on festival nights.

    Although they smile in the picture, they acted kind of annoyed when approached. Maybe they were on their break (playing hackeysack) or maybe they just suffer from picture-itis, but no sooner did the flash fade than they went back to what they were doing without so much as a word.

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    Wednesday night festivals

    by dlandt Updated Jul 11, 2007

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    Every Wednesday the city of Hamilton supports a festival on Front St. I thought it was shy of food and heavy on crafts, but it made up for that with extra music. A little bit of Latin Swing can go a long way towards soothing the frustrations of an airline flight. In the shadow of cruise ships, with the scent of roasted meat in the air and the cool salt air on your skin, this was a great way to start the trip.

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    Pop By! Flags & Ambassadors

    by TheTravelSlut Written Jan 25, 2007

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    The Pop By! Flag is an invitation to visitors to interact with locals and discover first hand what makes Bermuda one of the world’s friendliest destinations.

    If you see a Pop By! Flag displayed at any beach, pub or attractions, you are invited to visit with a local resident, share experiences, and learn more about Bermuda.

    Also, if you see a Pop & Sizzle Ambassador in a pink shirt, they will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have or point you in the right direction. It is Bermuda’s way to welcome you to enjoy what the island has to offer.

    They are doing this to make your vacation or holiday safer and more enjoyable so be sure to take advantage of this.

    The Pop By! Program is sponsored by the Bermuda Department of Tourism.

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