Things to Do in St Thomas
With more than 40 major beaches lining St Thomas’ shores, how do you decide which to visit?
One of the most popular is Sapphire Beach, located on the east end of the island. This area of St Thomas is known for its laid-back atmosphere and is home to some of the best views of neighboring St John. With a mix of red-tiled roof homes and commerical buildings, the area is anchored by Red Hook, a popular spot for boating enthusiasts and where the historic center of Charlotte Amalie is located.
Sapphire Beach, an ideal stop for cruise ship passengers exploring St Thomas for a day, features about 35 acres of fine white sand beaches and is also a great choice for families. The waters are calm and good for snorkeling, while the sea grape trees on the right end of the beach provide some shade for beach goers. The left side, however, is ideal for sunbathing. Keep your eyes open for ducks and iguanas wandering the shores.
At the nearby Sapphire Beach Resort, visitors can rent lounge chairs and snorkeling equipment, or opt for other water activities, such as windsurfing, kayaking, jet skiing and sailing.
Thanks to its curving arc of white sand and its bright blue water, Magens Bay is St. Thomas’ most popular beach. The area is surrounded by forests and palm trees, and the bay offers calm waves for swimming and kayaking. For stunning views of the bay’s unusual rectangular shape and mile of beach, head to the nearby Mountain Top lookout.
Perched on a set of cliffs overlooking Caribbean waters, Mountain Top is considered the oldest and tallest attraction on the island. With an elevation of 2,100 feet above sea level, it provides visitors with some of the best views on St Thomas. More than 20 neighboring islands can be seen from the top.
The views from Mountain Top are so renowned thatNational Geographic Magazine hails the spot as one of the Top 10 Scenic Views in the world. The site wasn't always accessible, however; it was occupied by the United States during the 1940s as a strategic communications location called Signal Hill.
Today, the site is also considered a shopping mecca and known as the birthplace of the banana daiquiri.
Even so, it's a toss-up as to whether visitors like the site's views or shopping better. A shopping mecca, this is where people come to check out a range of unique souvenirs and handicrafts. Shops selling everything from T-shirts to Cruzan Rum are at Mountain Top, along with international brands like Tommy Bahama, Reef, Guy Harveyand Panama Jack.
If you are a fan of banana daiquiris, Mountain Top is the place to be. As the self-proclaimed birthplace of the beloved tropical drink, Mountain Top legend has it that in 1953, a British sea captain by the name of George Coule was sailing from his native Barbados in search of the perfect Caribbean cocktail. He tried Guava Gimlets in Guadeloupe, Soursop Sodas in Saba and Mango Margaritas in Martinique, but when he arrived on the highest mountain in St Thomas, he found the banana daiquiri.
Coki Beach is considered St. Thomas’ party beach and is always full of families, revelers, and vendors. Snorkelers and scuba divers love the clear water and sea creatures here, while beach-goers enjoy the white sands, sunshine, and wandering vendors who offer drinks and snacks, souvenirs, sunscreen, and hair braiding.
Secret Harbour Beach Resort is located on St Thomas’ East End, at Nazareth Bay near Red Hook and the popular beach of Vessup Bay.
The resort is situated on prime island real estate with its gorgeous shoreline and crystal clear waters. Some visitors opt for a variety of water sports and activities such as kayaking, paddle-boarding and snorkeling, while others choose to simply relax on the beach and take in the mesmerizing views. The secluded cove creates a shelter that allows very calm waters to reach the seashore and makes the spot safe for children. Secret Harbour also has an onsite PADI dive shop with rental equipment of all kinds.
The resort features several spots for grabbing a drink or a bite to eat, including the ever-popular Cruzan Beach Club, offering a number of cool Caribbean-inspired cocktails and fusion cuisine. The tiki-style bar is quite casual and welcoming to visitors looking for that barefoot experience. A bit more upscale is the Sunset Grille, an American-style restaurant with traditional culinary classics that have a touch of Caribbean influence.
Those with a goal of not leaving their beach chair can order Cruzan Beach Club tropical drinks and some menu items right from their beach chair or hammock.
Water Island is the smallest of the main US Virgin Islands, and that’s what gives it its charm. Rather than shops and restaurants, it’s the thatched cabanas and lazy vibe of idyllic beaches like Honeymoon Beach that are its main draw.
Away from the beach, you can tour the underground tunnels and watchtowers of Fort Segarra, built during WWII. Getting around the island by bicycle is highly recommended.
Around 160 people are fortunate enough to live on Water Island, but the volcanic island remains undeveloped. Facilities are limited to a few food outlets, dive shops and charters, a beach bar, fishing operator and ferry dock.
The US Virgin Island’s so-called fourth island, Water Island only joined the group relatively recently, in 1996, and so far it’s kept its low-key atmosphere and local character.
One of the top family-friendly attractions in the US Virgin Islands, Coral World Ocean Park combines both indoor and outdoor observation facilities which showcase the region’s diverse and plentiful marine life. Highlights include the hermit crab, starfish, and sea cucumber touch pool and the 50,000-gallon Deep Reef Tank, home to moray eels, tarpon, and plenty of sharks.
For one of the best views on St. Thomas, make the drive to the mountaintop perch at Drake’s Seat. Here you can keep lookout over Magens Bay and the British Virgin Islands, just as Sir Francis Drake was said to do from this very spot in order to catch pirates, privateers and invading naval ships approaching from the north via Drake’s Passage, also bearing his name. Today, this lookout point sports a stone platform with a bench atop it, and it’s a popular top for tour groups. The crowds mostly disperse by evening however, making Drake’s Seat an ideal spot to take in the sunset.
Wandering the marina at Yacht Haven Grande to marvel at some of the stunning megayachts that call St Thomas home is an elite experience in itself. The near 50-slip marina is the premier facility for these beautiful ships, some over 450 feet long.
The area's Yacht Haven Grande can also keep you occupied with duty-free shopping and plenty of places to grab a bite or just relax with a cocktail or two.
Upscale brands are plentiful at Yacht Haven Grande, which was rated “Best Shopping” for three years by the Virgin Island Daily News Reader Poll. Recognizable international brands such as Bebe, Bulgari, Coach, Ferragamo, Gucci and Louis Vuitton are among the designer stores, and the site also has a wealth of jewelry shops. Unique stores catering to pets, Caribbean crafts, cigars and electronics are all in the line-up too.
If you are looking for dining options, consider Fat Turtle, a hip spot featuring Caribbean flavors with a touch of fun–how can you not smile with a rubber ducky floating in your cocktail? There's also Grande Cru, an upscale wine bar offering tasting flights and interesting cocktails created by mixologists. Look for Mediterranean-inspired tapas plates.
The marina also hosts various events throughout the year including a local farmer’s market, performing arts, yoga and more.
A historic fortress built in the history-rich St Thomas town of Charlotte Amalie, this Danish-built fortress has been a cultural highlight here since 1672 and so acts as one of the finest treasure troves of ancient artifacts in the small Caribbean island’s long history.
Fort Christian serves as a beautiful example of Dutch-Caribbean architecture, built in the Gothic-Revival style. It once successfully repelled foreign invaders from a bygone era, but today, the fortress stands as a monument to colonialism and exhibits the history of the Caribbean from the Stone Age to the present, while also offering a fine display of Dutch antiques.
More Things to Do in St Thomas
Known also as Blackbeard’s Castle, the Skytsborg Historic Park is one of St. Thomas’s most beautiful landmarks. The park contains, alongside life-sized bronze pirate statues, some of the most beautiful architecture and ocean views on the island. Situated scenically on a hilltop overlooking the harbor and surrounding sea, the park sits on five acres and includes multiple manor houses dating back to the 17th century. The houses collectively contain the largest display of authentic West Indian mahogany furniture, which is all handmade. The Villa Notman, Haagensen House and Hotel 1829 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Marked paths allow for self-guided walking tours that tell the history of the area. The Skytsborg Tower is of particular interest, having been a 17th century Danish defense tower built to protect the harbor. There are also three pools, many terraces, and tropical gardens to explore throughout.
In the old days of Imperial Empires and the early colonization of the Caribbean, tall ships would set their ballasts with huge stones and offload them when filling up with spices and other exotic Caribbean goods, leaving the stones as a reminder of their visit. Intrepid residents of Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas have since decided to use these stones as a stairway up the city’s hills, which serves to remind residents of their colonial roots.
What makes the 99 Steps (there are actually 103; 99 Steps has a better ring to it) an attraction, however, is the lush foliage on either side of the stairway and the spectacular view from high atop the mountain once you make the climb. At the top you'll see Black Beard’s Castle. Innovative explorers have learned that a cab can be taken up to the top to avoid walking up 103 stairs. It’s easy, however, to take the 99 Steps downward at a leisurely pace.
Hull Bay is all about snorkeling the neighboring reef, swinging in a beach hammock and unwinding at a cool little beach bar.
There’s fishing off nearby Inner and Outer Brass Cays, and the Atlantic whips up waves off the beach for some of the island’s best surfing.
Hull Bay doesn’t attract the crowds of nearby Magens Bay, so the vibe is more laid-back and off the beaten path. Trees provide some welcome shade, and there’s even a nearby sushi bar for when you get hungry. Better yet, you can bring your dog along to friendly Hull Bay.
Finally opening its gates in February 2015 after a 20-year-long construction, the Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden offers a unique collection of tropical plants, spread over a 2-acre plot. The scenic gardens stretch along a mountain ridge at 1,100 feet, with viewpoints offering impressive views across Magens Bay and Tortola, and the paved walking trails dotted with benches and gazebos to relax in. The real highlight is the plants themselves – a colorful collection featuring over 1,000 orchids, plus hundreds of palm trees, bromeliads and heliconias, creativity arranged and marked with information boards.
Located on the western edge of St Thomas’ harbor, Hassel Island was once part of a peninsula. But the Danish government decided that separating it from St Thomas would create better water circulation in the harbor, so in the 1860s Hassel Island was born. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers widened the channel again in 1919, further separating the island from St Thomas.
Today, it is primarily a national park and a popular spot with visitors to St Thomas. Hassel Island is best explored via a kayaking, hiking or snorkeling tour, all of which give visitors a combination of a history lesson and an eco-adventure. And although it is primarily governed as a national park, there are several private estates on the remaining land, including a 10-acre compound with three houses totaling 15,000 square feet.
The historic district encompasses the entire island and includes ruins from early 19th-century English fortifications and 19th-century shipping and coal stations. Important ruins of note include Shipley’s Battery (Fort Shipley), a key reminder of Britain’s presence and rule during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s, and the Creques Marin Railway remains, built in the 1860s.
Hassel Island was home to a U.S. naval station from 1917 until 1932, when the island was purchased by a family to provide water for its distilleries. By the 1940s, the family owned 125 of the 135 acres and was receiving (and turning down) hefty offers from Korea and Germany to purchase the island. It was ultimately sold to the Virgin Islands National Park in 1978, preserving it for visitors today.
Please note: Official tours to Hassel Island have been temporarily halted due to damages incurred during hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Estate St. Peter Greathouse and Botanical Gardens is perched 1,000 feet above sea level on the volcanic peaks overlooking one of the most majestic spots on St. Thomas. Offering views of more than 20 islands and islets, the site's mountaintop location enchants visitors. Sights to see from the observation deck include Hans Lollick, an uninhabited island between Thatched Cay and Madahl Point.
St Peter Greathouse features Western Indian architecture and a beautiful botanical garden, complete with waterfalls and local plants and fruits. The site is about 20,000 square feet and serves as a popular site for private parties and corporate events. With air-conditioned banquet halls that can hold up to 500 guests, the venue has become a hot spot for destination weddings.
Gardeners, botanists, photographers and all-around nature lovers rave about the gardens, which many call a “museum of living plants.” The collection extends beyond varieties found only St Thomas with more than 50 families and 200 genera of plants represented. There are tropical flowers, fruits and other plants found from tropical regions across the globe. As if the collection isn't impressive enough, the backdrop is unrivaled. With meandering streams and waterfalls overlooking the Caribbean Sea, it’s no wonder photographers flock to the estate. Don’t miss the birdhouse with macaws and the koi fish in the lily lake.
The Blue Orchid, the site's signature restaurant, is open Monday through Saturday for dinner and cocktails. Look for freshly caught seafood, Caribbean-inspired dishes, handcrafted cocktails and an extensive wine list.
Please note: The St Peter Greathouse is currently closed due to storm damage.
Vessup Bay is one of the more interesting and beautiful beaches on St Thomas. Located in the island’s East End district, the area offers a relaxed and tranquil experience and is also near the well-known Red Hook, a popular spot for boating enthusiasts.
Despite its reputation as one of the prettiest beaches in St Thomas, Vessup Bay is not often visited. The quiet atmosphere, gentle flowing waters and white sand beach make the area ideal for a day of sunbathing and swimming, a morning run or a family outing. The beach is mostly undeveloped, giving visitors a chance to experience St Thomas at its best. A wide variety of sea grape trees, rock outcroppings, plants and even cacti have been spotted along Vessup Bay’s shoreline.
Vessup Bay’s proximity to East End makes it an ideal beach for travelers who want to mix up their day with some relaxation on the beach followed by lunch or some shopping time. East End is home to a wide variety of dining options, including scenic beachside cafes. If you are looking for something upscale, head to the East End's Ritz Carlton.
Set offshore from St Thomas on a tiny isle known as Water Island, Honeymoon Beach is a peaceful cove characterized by a long, soft stretch of sand that curves against the sea, framed by palm trees and lush greenery. A popular swimming and snorkeling spot, Honeymoon Beach provides a respite from busy Charlotte Amalie and serves as a good alternative to St Thomas' popular Magens Bay. Travelers will find restaurants, bars and bathrooms set conveniently adjacent to the beach, which is accessible via trails.
High above Charlotte Amalie is Skytsborg (“sky tower”), a round defensive tower built by the Danish in 1679 to watch for enemy ships which might attack Fort Christian and other harbor settlements. While there was a real pirate called Blackbeard (Edward Teach) who prowled nearby waters, his association with the site owes more to tradition than history.
And anyway, who needs a history lesson when you have one of the great Caribbean views laid out before you. The visual feast encompasses dramatic green slopes, bobbing yachts, hulking cruise ships and outlying islands. Facilities at the site include a swimming pool and snack bar.
St. John might have the lion’s share of the Virgin Islands’ natural attractions, but the extraordinary concentration of flora and fauna in St. Thomas’ Mangrove Lagoon makes it a top eco-tourism destination.
Small kayak groups thread through the lagoon’s tiny red mangrove islands, with guides pointing out the huge diversity of birds they attract, including herons, egrets and ducks.
The route takes you to deserted Cas Cay island, where hermit crabs dart about among mangrove roots. On your gently-paced travels you’ll see young fish darting around this natural breeding ground. Low-impact snorkeling will get you even closer, and you’ll spot rays, eels and jelly fish as well as a host of colorful tropical fish.
Crown Bay Marina on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands bustles with activity as the landing location for pleasure craft and mega yachts, as well as serves as the departure point for the ferry to Water Island and other boat excursions. This full-service marina is also home to plenty of nearby attractions that you can enjoy while waiting to embark.
Ride the aerial tramway to the top of Paradise Point, for some of the best views of St. Thomas and Charlotte Amalie harbor you’ll see. The views of the twinkling lights of Charlotte Amalie are especially terrific at sunset.
At the top, snap a photo of the cruise ships docked below, take in views of the island and harbor, and browse the souvenirs in the surrounding gift shops.
If you’d like to stay on longer, the relaxed restaurant here serves terrific terrace views with the island’s signature Bushwacker, a particularly potent, coffee-flavored rum cocktail. There’s also some toe-tapping music from a local band.
The West India Company Dock (Havensight) serves as a cruisers’ gateway to St. Thomas and the rest of the US Virgin Islands, a hugely popular stop on Eastern Caribbean cruises. With great shopping, sightseeing, and beach water sports within easy reach of the cruise terminal, the capital city of Charlotte Amalie and the rest of St. Thomas offer everything you need for a perfect day ashore.