The British Virgin Islands exemplify the Caribbean’s remarkable—yet rarely celebrated—diversity. Visitors here will find the usual white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and sunny skies, but they’ll also discover a wide range of natural, cultural, and culinary treasures.
Within a ferry ride of one another, the four main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke have something for every traveler. Explore a few in one day and you’ll enjoy classic beach bars, world-class snorkeling, fresh local seafood, and hikes with sweeping views of the islands.
You’ll also notice the BVI offer somewhat of a throwback Caribbean experience. Instead of sprawling resorts, hotel towers, and chain restaurants, there’s a tranquil, easygoing atmosphere—exactly the stuff of which travel dreams are made. Read on for the best things to do in this beautiful place and get busy planning a trip.
Sip a Painkiller at Soggy Dollar Beach Bar
There are more than a few beach bars in the BVI, but the most popular—and typical of the territory—may be the Soggy Dollar Beach Bar, which bills itself as “a sunny place for shady people.” The waterfront bar is reachable via ferry to Jost Van Dyke, though it doesn’t have a dock so you’ll have to wade in from your ride. (That fact earned the bar its name, since waterlogged guests end up paying for their drinks with “soggy dollars.”) Once you make it to dry land, you’ll find an open-air oasis, fronted by a broad stretch of white sand and hammocks slung from palm trees. Head straight for the bar and order a signature Painkiller cocktail, which was invented here in the 1970s and features rum, pineapple and orange juices, cream of coconut, and a sprinkle of nutmeg.
Wade around the Baths on Virgin Gorda
The BVI’s most Instagrammable spot is also its most distinctive natural wonder. On Virgin Gorda’s north shore, the Baths National Park encompasses rock pools hidden in the shadows of massive granite boulders along the beach. Formed by molten rock seeping up into the existing volcanic rock layers, the boulders reach up to 40 feet in diameter and make for a beautiful playground—or photo shoot background. Hop from one pool to the next, pausing to bask in the shafts of sunlight filtering through the rocks, then follow the steps and handrails along the outcropping to the sandy stretch of beach at Devil’s Bay, where you can swim and snorkel the rest of the day away.
Go snorkeling at Norman Island, Virgin Gorda, and Marina Cay
The BVI’s pristine waters and mild temperatures create the ideal environment for year-round snorkeling among the territory’s vibrant coral reefs, underwater caves, tranquil grottoes, and extraordinary shipwrecks. To help you find the perfect spot, book a guided snorkeling excursion with BVI Scuba Co., which offers group and private trips to Norman Island, Virgin Gorda, and sites surrounding Marina Cay.
Off of Norman Island, the Indians site features an exceptional rock formation with a variety of corals that jut 10 to 50 feet up from the seabed. For something slightly more adventurous, go instead to Virgin Gorda’s Long Bay, where 60 feet down rests the Kodiak Queen, a former navy fuel barge that was submerged in 2017 as part of an underwater art installation. An 80-foot-long sculpture of a sea monster accompanies the ship, with its tentacles wrapped around the hull. At Marina Cay near Scrub Island, you’ll find coral-covered boulder formations surrounded by abundant aquatic life.
Cast away at Willy T’s Floating Bar and Restaurant
Time travel back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when the BVI was a notorious pirate haunt, at Willy T’s. The buccaneer-themed bar and restaurant occupies a converted cargo ship near Norman Island, reachable by private boat or water taxi. Enjoy open-air dining and a top deck for sunbathing—or dive into the clear, blue water below, as many guests do after a drink or two. In addition to ribs, mahi mahi sandwiches, and chicken roti, a slightly raucous good time is always on the menu.
Taste your way around Tortola
The BVI is filled with exceptional local restaurants and food trucks serving specialties like conch, spiny lobster from Anegada, roti, and pate (pita bread stuffed with spiced meat, seafood, or vegetables). To get a taste, head to Tortola, where you can start your food tour at J Blakx Jerk BBQ. The popular food truck, which parks in Road Town, is a local favorite for its Caribbean-inspired barbecue dishes like jerk chicken, smoked pork ribs, and spicy shrimp. Also in Road Town is Maria’s by the Sea, a popular spot for standbys like conch fritters and shrimp in curry sauce. Finally, there’s D’Coal Pot on Carrot Bay, which serves fresh seafood, such as blackened yellowfin tuna, fried red snapper, and grilled wahoo in lemon-butter sauce.
Hunt for cacti in Prickly Pear National Park
Designated a national park in 1988, Prickly Pear is actually a 243-acre island full of gently sloping, cacti-dotted trails that descend to pristine beaches. The highlight is a path created by the National Parks Trust that leads from the SandBox bar to the top of a hill, where hikers can enjoy cool Caribbean breezes from the shade of a tamarind tree. Along the way, look out for exotic birds like American coots, black-necked stilts, blue-winged teals, white-cheeked pintails, and Wilson’s plovers, as well as such cacti as Turk’s cap, pipe organ, and prickly pear. When you’ve reached the end of the hike, cool off with a swim or snorkel at scenic North Beach.
Hike in Sage Mountain National Park
A gift to the local government from financier and conservationist Laurance Rockefeller, six-acre Sage Mountain National Park on Tortola is the highest point in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands at 1,716 feet. Visitors here can choose from 12 separate hiking trails laid out in a circular route; a handful of them go to the top of the mountain.
For some light adventure, take the one-mile loop lined with wildflowers and mahogany trees that leads to the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens, a four-acre reserve filled with indigenous plants. Equally fun is the loop through 80-foot-high bullet wood trees and enormous elephant ear vines, where you may spot exotic birds like killi-killis, pearl-eyed thrashers, and turtledoves (the official bird of the BVI).
Explore the all-coral island of Anegada
Anegada may be the third-largest island in the BVI, but it’s still just a scant 15 square miles. It’s also the archipelago’s only all-coral island, with its highest point reaching a mere 29 feet above sea level. Get here via a one-hour ferry ride or 10-minute charter flight from Tortola, then spend the day snorkeling or scuba diving in the brilliant blue waters, home to an intricate network of reef mazes, tunnels, and drops filled with needlefish, bonefish, stingrays, parrotfish, and other colorful marine life.
Divers can also explore the wrecks of Spanish galleons and American privateer ships just offshore, while sun worshipers will want to head straight for Cow Wreck and Flash of Beauty beaches, known for their calm waters and lovely sunsets. There’s even great hiking on the Bones Bight nature trail, where you can work up a sweat alongside rare rock iguanas, frangipani trees, wild orchids, and patches of lavender.