Things To Do In Fort-de-france
The island of Fort-de-France is the heart and central capital of the commercial, cultural, tourism, and political activities of Martinique, one of the biggest archipelagos in the West Indies that is still under French territory. While it plays host to the mercantile and trading activities on its busy port, the Fort- de France is also the hub of commercial shopping centers and a breath taking fort with a huge wealth of historic information about Martinique. Most travelers find it hard to resist its natural charm for it is worth devoting a couple of hours to discover its historic sites, museums, gardens, natural parks, iconic monuments, and sacred cathedral. It is a must to include a tour of the Fort-St. Louis to learn about Martinique’s past, plus, the view over the bay of Fort de France from its observation point is truly stunning.
When To Go:
Two seasons can be experienced all throughout the year; the summer season that runs in the middle of December and April when the climate is dry and humid with intermittent rainstorms and temperatures of around 27°c, and the rainy season in the middle of June and November with dark clouds, temperatures of around 30°c and constant heavy rains. Avoid going around Fort-de France on these months. Hurricanes and strong storm surges are critical threats in the months of September and October and usually occur on the eastern coastal side of the island. The ideal time to enjoy a hassle free vacation is between December and April.
Listed below is the rundown of the top attractions and things to do in the islands of Fort-de-France:
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Fort St. Louis
The Fort St. Louis is a historic site that enabled the construction and development of Fort de France. For awhile the Fort St Louis was partially accessible to visitors, but this is not the case now because it is still operated by the Navy (except Heritage Days). It also houses several buildings and offices of the Navy. Nevertheless, the architecture of this monument remains interesting. On ascending the heights of FDF, you can have a nice view overlooking the fort. So when visiting Fort de France, do not hesitate to take a walk around the fort (just off the Savannah) and with just a little luck, you will see the iguanas at the top of the fortified walls, which were the inhabitants of the fort for a long time.
It overhangs the entrance to the harbor of Fort de France and is located less than 5 minutes from the cruise terminal. It is interesting to see and visit the fortifications. However, because of the presence of the Navy forces, some parts are not allowed to be visited. The architecture is classified as a typical Vauban style and design.
The Fort Saint-Louis is a military zone, which depends on the French Navy. Visits are therefore requested. It is essential to enjoy Heritage Day, where it becomes open to all. This is the last place on the island where you can still come across iguanas which were endemic before colonization. With a little imagination, a visit evokes the history of Martinique at the time when this fort was awarded to the Navy and became the first general headquarters of their huge fleet.
Jardin de Balata
Jardin de Balata is a very pleasant ballad that must not be missed when in Fort-de-France. This botanical garden is beautiful, well maintained and it really is worth seeing. It is perfect for a relaxing time with friends, family or even alone. To better understand the history of this botanical garden, avail of the audio guides that are available in multiple languages. It provides a great time and wonderful reflection of the beauty of Martinique. It is certainly one of the best attractions of the enchanting island.
A visit to Martinique is not complete without a visit to Jardin de Balata. A beautiful N-road takes you there. At the start, you will be led to the cottages are where you will be greeted by dozens of hummingbirds. The route through the gardens allows you to enjoy the splendor and nature of Martinique. There is a wide variety of special flowers, trees, plants, you name it. The rope ladder (tree climbing) adventurous journey through the trees is very nice and exciting. It also offers beautiful views. The tour can be done within two hours or more and at the end you can visit their gift shop filled with souvenir items about Jardin de Balata. Schedule an early visit to avoid the heat of the sun and the crowds. Bring sufficient drinking water if you’re making a tour during summer.
The Schoelcher Library is one of the most beautiful buildings in Fort de France. It is located near the Park Savannah. It is made of iron (armature), glass (bubble), and the façade is unique. Its architect is Pierre-Henri Picq (the same architect who made the St Louis Cathedral which is also located within the city). This library is composed of a magnificent building that was created by assembling various styles such as Art Nouveau, Byzantine, and Moorish. It is a stunning art deco style building that enjoys a huge number of curious visitors everyday not just because of its architecture but also because of its huge range of books kept on its collection.
It is the best option for book lovers. If you cannot access the stage to flip through old books, simply try the modern racks and the beautiful canopy. The library provides a good symbolism for the works of French abolitionist writer, Victor Schoelcher.
The exterior part of the building is awesome in its beauty and certainly impressive. This library is open to the public and no admission fee is required. You should definitely come here, and look at the well-preserved old books neatly arranged at the antique racks. You will feel like being in a different era the more you explore its antiquity and learn about its history from the resident staff of the library. Upon entrance, you get to the first room which is often used for book exhibitions and cultural events. Don’t forget the mandatory picture taking at the beautiful façade of this large library.
St. Louis Cathedral
The St. Louis Cathedral is an all metal frame religious structure that draws the faithful and its pilgrims every Sunday and on Christian days of obligation. It has a beautiful appearance and interesting reflection of the building's facade in glass mirrors of the building facing it. Dating back to 1895, this elegant building of modest size differs from within by its metal structures and glass windows. It is within the vicinity of the Park Savannah, another beautiful example of the iron architecture (the common style of architecture in Fort de France) the Schoelcher Library. Both buildings are the magnificent combination of iron and glass crafted by the same architect; Pierre Henri Picq.
The original building, dome and colorful facade gather the mix of various and unusual Art Nouveau styles. A tragedy in 1839 (earthquake and fire) lead to its all iron construction making it safe to withstand fire, cyclones, earthquake, and hurricanes. It is one of the must-see places of memory and history with an architecture that is absolutely interesting for visitors as well as the natives. The sacred place invites you to moments of calm, serenity, and meditation. If you have enough time, try to hear the Holy Mass and you will not be disappointed by the acoustics as the choir sings.
Parc Naturel Regional de la Martinique
The Parc Naturel Regional de la Martinique is located near the village of Tartary, towards the Castle of Dubuc .To access it; you can opt for a walking trail in the nature reserve of the peninsula of caravelle. To enjoy your tour, wear good shoes, bring enough drinking because temperature is always hot and you can plan a little picnic if you want to make your stay in Fort –de-France more memorable. There is ample parking space and it is all free. For the trail, you have a choice between two marked trails; the great trail which takes about 5 hours to traverse and the small trail that takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Another great option is to visit the lighthouse, the highest point in the island that can be reached by a 30 minute walk from the nature park. Discover a splendid view of the entire island and its surrounding mountains and ocean. At the observation deck you will come across some panel boards that detail the rich flora and fauna of Martinique. This tropical forest is overwhelmingly beautiful; make sure you have enough space in your digital camera’s memory card as it is hard to resist taking pictures or filming every corner of this breathtaking natural park.
Musee Departemental de la Martinique
The Musee Departemental de la Martinique is a small museum but it is truly worth knowing. While inside take time to read understand the content about the natives, before the settlers and slaves, and before the coming of the French and Indians on Martinique. Visit is free on the last Saturday of each month. You will enjoy a pleasant visit and get a warm welcome form its competent staff who will lead you to the early times of Martinique, to see the beautiful pieces of furniture and national costumes.
It is an informative place that you can visit and you will not be disappointed. Do not miss the station near the Museum of Ethnography and you will know all about the first Native American occupants of this island with pottery found during the archaeological excavations on the island. A tour is a worthwhile experience and must not be bypassed when in the islands of Fort-de-France.
La Savane (Park Savannah)
The La Savane (Savannah Park) is a lush green space near the waterfront that is well preserved and maintained for historical purposes. The main attraction of the park is the decapitated and covered in blood statue of Josephine who is famous for pushing the restoration of slavery in Martinique.
It is a nice park and an ideal place to stroll especially in the afternoon and perfect for families with children. There are playgrounds designed for kids, lots of bistros, restaurants, and a good ice cream parlor that kids will surely delight with. In general it is very pleasant and serene; the only downside is the fenced and covered part of the park that is constantly under reconstruction.
Marche aux Fruits et Legumes
The Marche aux Fruits et Legumes is the right place to discover the French Creole culture. A walk on this market’s aisles will lead you to the scent of spices, vanilla; colorful stand of local fruits and vegetables, Creole fabrics, handicrafts local art, in short it is an excursion to learn and get closer to the Creole culture. If you have enough free time to explore the islands of Martinique, be sure to drop by its fairly typical market, for you will not only discover their local products but also have social interaction with the native residents of Fort-de-France.
You can shop for souvenirs here and they are priced in a budget friendly way plus you can haggle up to the last price allowed by the trader. The market itself has nice memories and where you can taste authentic Creole cuisine from its food stalls.
The quaint market is noteworthy for anything that is unusual and things that can only be found on the island. It is entertaining enough to spend about 40 minutes to an hour there. There are expensive and cheap things and it depends on what each eager guest is looking for. It is highly recommended to go there while in Fort –de-France.
Les Grands Ballets de la Martiniquais
The Les Grands Ballets de la Martiniquais is a nice and entertaining show to discover and understand the folklore attached to the periods of slavery and work in the cane fields during the early times of slavery in Fort-de-France. It offers the pretty pictures, pretty costumes, dancers and fun behind a historic part of the island. Explanations and translations are made all throughout the show.
It is a spectacle that must not be missed and not tiring to watch. You will be amused by the story, the performers, and the brilliant and colorful costumes that they use. Mr. Loyal (the owner and presenter of the group for more than 35 years) holds so much insight and creativity in making their guests understand what Martinique culture is all about.
Palais de Justice
The former courthouse called the Palais de Justice now serves as the cultural center of the island. The architecture of the building, the adjacent garden, and the main hall which now allows cultural exhibits and events is a must see during a visit to Fort-de-France. Entrance fee is waived for locals and tourist, just show your passport to the entrance guard and you will be allowed access to this beautiful building. It includes activities such as Indian dance, introduction to percussion, guitar lessons and so much other choices. The Courthouse and City Hall next door are two buildings of the colonial era built in Neo-colonial design. In front of these two structures is a nice square which operates a small market twice a week. It is not hard to miss when in Fort-de France because it is centrally located and very interesting to see because of is beautiful structure. The adjacent square offers a small garden and lots of benches to sit on while waiting for the cultural center to open. The two story building was built since 1906 and the best option when looking for a place of recreation in the island of Martinique.
Fort de France stands on the island of Martinique and located in the Eastern Caribbean. Martinique is a Mecca for tourists attracted by its stunning and natural beauty. It is lined with volcanic landscapes with plantations of sugar cane, palm, banana and pineapple that reach the white sandy beaches. It offers a mixture of French cultures and its trademark Caribbean influences in arts, music, and entertainment. It still preserves a particular culture; French Creole, which is present in the second language spoken there, the tasty cuisine, and the delicate architecture of the houses.
It is also interesting to mention the cheerful and receptive people on the sidewalk and the locals you will meet in the market. It is amusing to see the ladies from Fort-de-France with their traditional costume of flowered calico selling ice cream and souvenirs like handmade coconut purses and bags. Take time to visit the magnificent indoor market that offers a thousand local products, same with the cultural center (which used to be a courthouse), the Schoelcher Library (built in 1885 and now comprises more than 130,000 books in their care), the Saint Louis Cathedral (built in 1671 but destroyed several times), the Fort St. Louis and its preserved ramparts. It is a wonderful island and you just need to keep your mind and eyes open to the beauty that it offers. You will certainly enjoy your stay Fort de France.