Around the Queen’s Park Savannah
Occupying approximately 260 acres of land, the Savannah is the oldest recreation ground in the West Indies and, reportedly, the world’s largest roundabout. It was originally part of the Paradise Estate owned by the Peschier family. In 1817, then governor Sir Ralph Woodford bought it and turned it into a city park. A portion of land in the centre of the Savannah, though, is a burial ground for members of the Peschier family.
Today, the Savannah is like the lungs of the capital city and the concert capital because it is the venue for most big music concerts. At almost any time of day or night, there’s sure to be something going on there. Locals can be seen jogging, cycling and walking their dogs. On the weekends and after 4pm during the work week, the Savannah comes alive with football and cricket games, even more jogging, and couples and families talking strolls or having picnics. You can watch matches from the shade of one of the Savannah’s magnificent old trees: a spreading samaan, perhaps, or a scarlet flamboyant, or maybe a fairytale pink poui.
It is home to coconut vendors whose trucks line the street on the western side. Other vendors sell roasted corn, oysters, pholourie, and there’s a huge and highly contested conflagration of food vendors of every description in a paved area opposite the Memorial Square and National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) on the southeastern end. On the Savannah’s southern flank, the grounds host the cultural shows and competitions that take place throughout the year.
The southeastern and southern ends
The National Museum & Art Gallery
A stroll around the Savannah’s perimeter, starting from the top of Frederick Street at its southeastern end, takes you past the National Museum on your left. Among its collections are paintings by Trinidad’s first major artist, Michel-Jean Cazabon (1813-88), and exhibitions of Carnival arts, natural history, life during World War II, and the energy industry. The national art collection on the upper floor features work by leading local artists. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. T: 623-5941.
Opposite the National Museum, the Park’s cenotaph is in honour of nationals who served and died in military service. There’s an annual wreath-laying ceremony on Remembrance Day.
The National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA):
This new building, opened in November 2009 for the Summit of the Americas, houses a 1,200 seat main auditorium (the Aldwyn Roberts, Lord Kitchener Auditorium); with additional stages, practice halls and teaching rooms in the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) part of the building.
As the road begins heading west past the huge NAPA compound, the foreign ministry can be seen on the left, sited in one of the city’s finest old houses. You then pass the modern regional headquarters of British Petroleum (bpTT), and the Anglican parish Church of All Saints (1845).
Occupying the block between Chancery Lane, Dundonald Street and Albion Lane, this is another heritage building which has been beautifully restored within recent years (2011). Originally designed and built in 1904 by Taylor & Gillies for William Gordon, its structure features imported yellow bricks and hand hewn local limestone, with Italian marble on the ground floor veranda, plaster of Paris on the ground floor ceilings, and a magnificent interior staircase built from Guyanese purple heart wood. In June 1956, Kowsley was purchased by the government of Trinidad and Tobago for use as offices for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The “Magnificent Seven” (northwestern end)
Along the northwestern side are seven extravagant mansions nicknamed The Magnificent Seven. They date back to around 1900 and display a dizzying range of colonial fantasy. Many are marked for national heritage preservation.
The most southerly is Queen’s Royal College (1904), whose most famous alumni include the architect of its present building (Daniel Hahn, also the designer of the Red House and the National Museum’s current home), the nation’s first Prime Minister, Eric Williams, and Nobel Prize winning author V.S. Naipaul.
Hayes Court (1910) was the residence of the Anglican Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago and is still the property of the Anglican Church. It is currently under renovation. Next door is Mille Fleurs, which was built in 1904 for the Prada family. It was bought by the government in 1979 and has benefitted from significant restoration work.
Roomor (1904), originally known as Ambard’s House, was commissioned by a cocoa merchant. It is the only one of the seven still functioning as a private residence. Just three doors down from the Anglican bishop’s residence is the home of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain (1904). The building has been renovated and is used by the church.
Whitehall (1907) was, until 2008, the office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago since shortly after independence. It has also received significant restoration work, with plans for it to be used as a Protocol House for visiting dignitaries.
The northernmost of the seven, Killarney or Stollmeyer’s Castle (1904). Partly modelled on Balmoral Castle in Scotland, it remained the property of the Stollmeyer family until the 1970s and was eventually bought by the government in 1979. It has recently been refurbished.
After Wild Flower Park and the turn-off to Maraval and Maracas Bay at the Savannah’s northwest corner, the road along the northern side of the Savannah meets Lady Chancellor Hill on the left next to the newly refurbished zoo, which leads up to a lookout point above the city, and is a popular route for joggers.
The Emperor Valley Zoo
The zoo opened in 1952 and was recently renovated. When it opened, it consisted of 2.5 hectares of land, 10 cages, 127 animals, one gatehouse and a kiosk. Today, it is home to hundreds of animals; visitors can refresh themselves at an outdoor café, and there are paths for animal viewing. It is probably the most extensive collection of local and foreign animals in the Caribbean. The macaws are always welcoming, and the big cats, monkeys, tropical fish and reptiles are popular with children. Open daily 9.30am to 6pm with a modest admission fee
The Botanical Gardens
These lovely grounds are a favourite among locals for post-zoo picnics, and general exercise and relaxation. Their 25 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds spread back from the Queen’s Park Savannah toward the President’s House. Governor Ralph Woodford and botanist David Lockhart, who is buried in a small cemetery in the Gardens, established them in 1820, making it one of the oldest gardens and oldest collections of exotic plants and trees in the western hemisphere. More than 200 species grow in the Orchid Display House. The Gardens are especially popular on weekends and public holidays when school groups, families, couples and strollers come out to take in their ambiance and charm. Open daily 6am–6pm. Admission free.
Along the northern flank, the Botanic Gardens and the Zoo adjoin the stately and recently refurbished President’s House — fronted by its own manicured gardens — and Queen’s Hall and Prime Minister’s Residence & Diplomatic Centre on the left as you enter St Ann’s.
The roundabout beyond gives access to the suburbs of St. Ann’s and Cascade (left) and the Lady Young Road which snakes over the foothills to join the highway out of the city heading east. You can see the Queen’s Hall, Trinidad Hilton, and Carlton Savannah [rebranded as the Brix as at early 2018] from the roundabout beyond the President’s House.
The eastern side
Along the eastern side of the Savannah, more renovation and construction are taking place, with banks, restaurants, and government ministries. This end is also where you can enter the eastern suburbs of Belmont, and Laventille further south past Memorial Park.
More in our round-the-island Trinidad tour:
- Touring Trinidad: A walk around the capital, Port of Spain
- Touring Trinidad: the Port of Spain suburbs
- Touring Trinidad: Chaguramas & the northwest peninsula
- Touring Trinidad: Heading north: the north coast & northern range
- Touring Trinidad: Heading northeast: the East-west corridoor & northeast coasts
- Touring Trinidad: The east coast: Mayaro & Manzanilla
- Touring Trinidad: Central & the west coast
- Touring Trinidad: The second capital: San Fernando
- Touring Trinidad: Trinidad’s southwest: the “deep south”