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Music plays a big role in many Barbadian events. As well as reggae, calypso and soca, genres include jazz, gospel, techno and pop. And as this is the home of Rihanna, there is even a street named after her. Jazz/reggae saxophonist Arturo Tappin hails from the island, while Bajan Alison Hinds is the Queen of Soca.
One of the bigger music events is the Barbados Reggae Festival (22-29 April), which includes beach party, a reggae cruise, vintage reggae and Reggae on the Hill in Farley Hill National Park.
Soca and calypso are integral to Crop Over, which marks the end of the sugar cane harvest and includes talent showcase parades, band competitions and food feasts. The island’s biggest festival kicks off with Mega Cavalcade in May, and concludes in style on Grand Kadooment Day on 6 August.
There’s a new festival this April (4-8) in the form of the Vujaday Music Festival, focusing on house and techno music, with top DJs performing at outdoor venues.
Something very different takes place from 24-27 May. The Barbados Celtic Festival celebrates the island’s connection with Ireland, Wales and Nova Scotia. Expect bagpipes, folk music and a Bajan version of haggis.
Also in May (19-27) is Barbados Gospelfest, featuring local and international artists, with dance and drama as well as inspirational choirs. You’re too late for this year’s Naniki Jazz Festival (11-15 January) but if you’re planning ahead for next year, put it in your diary. This year featured Canadian icon Oliver Jones and Grammy award-winning singer Chrisette Michele.
Turning to food, the most exciting event is the Barbados Food & Rum festival in October. The most talented chefs from the island and overseas – Britain’s Tom Aikens guested last year – join this celebration of the quality of Bajan cuisine and the historic role of rum in local life. There are cook-offs, gastronomic dinners in top restaurants and dazzling mixology demonstrations.
If you’re heading to Barbados soon, the Sugar & Rum Season runs from 1 January-15 April, with experiences including a mixology roadshow. On 1 April, there will be a pop-up village and street party in St Lawrence Gap.
Fusing food and music is Oistins Fish Festival on the Easter weekend. Oistins is on the south coast and a lively place to be on Friday nights, but it becomes riotous at this giant party when the island’s fishermen are commemorated with parades, dancers, steel-pan bands, greasy-pole climbing… and a feast of fish.
It’s a more heritage-focused story at the Holetown Festival (11-18 February – if you miss this year’s, it occurs every February). This west coast town is the setting for street parades, concerts and exhibitions to commemorate the first settlement by the English in 1627.
Sports fans have plenty to put in their diaries. On 1-3 June it’s time for the Sol Rally, the Caribbean’s biggest motorsport event. Drivers roar around 22 stages, with a King of the Hill contest to seed the running order for the main race.
The Caribbean’s premier horse race is the Sandy Lane Gold Cup (3 March) at the historic Garrison Savannah racecourse. You can watch from the grandstand or from the lawns.
Footballers aged over 40 or 50 can enter teams for the International Masters Football Festival (18-21 May). Some 32 teams are expected this year; past participants have come from England, Argentina and even Qatar.
Dive Fest, from 4-8 July, celebrates the island’s turquoise waters and reefs with environmental talks, scuba diving and free diving demonstrations, lion fish hunting and tasting, and more.
In September, the Barbados Cycling Festival – an inaugural hit last year – returns with competitions for road and mountain bike riders. The six-day festival has a 100km round-the-island challenge as its signature event.
It’s too late to catch Barbados Sailing Week (16-24 January), but make a note if you want to be a part of it in 2019. Commanding international attention are the Mount Gay Round Barbados race and the Ocean Passage Race to Antigua.
Also attracting competitors from around the world is Run Barbados in December, with a programme of marathons, half-marathons and shorter races along the coast.
Barbados’s most relaxing event is a new one – the Beach and Wellness Festival at the Hilton (2-3 September), featuring workouts, massages, beach yoga, healthy eating and crafts.