The Best Things to See and Do in St. Thomas

Charlotte Amalie is the capital of St. Thomas, and Frenchtown is a settlement just to the west of the capital. The name St. Thomas is rooted in the Dutch word Taphus, meaning “beer halls”—stemming from this once notorious port’s reputation as a lair for pirates and scoundrels. The name still fits these days, albeit not so scandalously, in Charlotte Amalie.

St Thomas 00802, USVI
Once a peninsula connected to mainland St. Thomas, Hassel Island became an island when the Danish government, the colonial power running things in the Virgin Islands at the time, separated the two, the better to improve water circulation through St. Thomas harbor and stop the spread of cholera and malaria. These uncommon beginnings to its status as an “island” are par to the course of Hassel Island’s entire history, though. For a small landmass (135 acres), Hassel has seen more than its fair share of wars, pirates, one rather infamous murder, and various other notable historic events. History buff that I am, of course, I’m fascinated by Hassel Island, especially since it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that any effort was ever made to make its historical treasures accessible to the public! The National Park Service administers Hassel Island these days, so you’ll want to get with them to gain access to the island, as well as info/maps on hiking trails to the various historic points of interest. Active excursions combining kayaking, hiking, and snorkeling in and around Hassel Island can also be arranged via Virgin Islands Ecotours.
3525 Honduras St, St Thomas, VI 00802
Owners Bryan Lewis and Eric Gaspard recently opened the Twisted Cork Café, a wine-focused restaurant located in the historic Frenchtown district of Charlotte Amalie. The neighborhood, which is busy with cruise passengers during the day, slows down to a more mellow island speed in the evenings. Daily specials, which often feature just-caught fish and produce from an on-site garden, are recommended.
Lille Taarne Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00802, USVI
Yo, ho, ho and oh, my! Up on Government Hill, this watchtower, built circa 1678, is known as Blackbeard’s Castle and is literally the stuff of legends. Although it’s open for debate whether the notorious pirate ever used the five-story tower as a lookout, one thing is for certain: Its views are tops. Nearby the flower-lined 99 Steps (technically there are 103), built in the 18th century of ship-ballast brick, lead from historic Kongens Quarter to some more terrific views of the island.

5600 Royal Dane Mall, Suite 9, St. Thomas 00802, U.S. Virgin Islands
Because it’s a major cruise port there are plenty of tacky restaurants on St. Thomas, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get under the skin of the island and find places where the locals eat. One such restaurant, Gladys’ Cafe, serves up traditional Caribbean fare and is known as one of the best on the island. Skip the a la carte menu and instead get one of the lunch plates including curried chicken or goat served with red beans and rice, mac and cheese and fried plantains.
9343+5FQ, Saint Peter, St. Thomas 00802, U.S. Virgin Islands
Sometimes you have to be a tourist to enjoy the great pleasures that travel offers. That’s why a visit to Mountain Top on St. Thomas is a must-do activity for any visitor. In 1949, a British restaurateur began a mission to develop the best Caribbean libation. He finally settled on the now-famous banana daiquiri, which he first mixed on St. Thomas. The drink is still served up daily using the original ingredients at Mountain Top, an emporium of souvenirs and kitsch. Just walk through the mountains of t-shirts to enjoy both the drink and, honestly, one of the best views on the island.
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00801, USVI
This intimate synagogue, built in 1833, is considered the oldest U.S. in continuous use (a hundred families still worship here). Visit the National Historic Landmark to find mahogany pews, ornate domes, and scrolls that survived a fire. The most famous feature is the sand floor, which symbolizes the Jews’ journey across the desert to find the Promised Land.

Coki Beach, St Thomas 00802, USVI
Small and picturesque Coki Beach is a favorite for its soft white sand and calm, crystal-clear water. While there’s only limited shade here, umbrellas are available for rent, as are beach chairs, Jet Skis, diving and snorkeling equipment, and floats. Several snorkeling and dive sites nearby include a rocky reef near shore. Beachside eateries serve up picnic-table fare including burgers, sandwiches, and local dishes. The beach can get crowded when cruise ships are in port, so ask at your hotel whether there are ships docking that day before planning a visit.
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00801, USVI
Whether you prefer oil paintings or pastels, photography or wood carvings, metalwork or ornamental items, you’ll find excellent locally made samples at this large gallery in Charlotte Amalie. The wood pieces by Avelino Samuel are particularly attractive. The painted calabashes by Daniel Mead are unique to the region. Prices run the gamut, too, so there’s something for every budget.

Charlotte Amalie West, St Thomas 00802, USVI
Those looking for some island spirits may be surprised to find that the liquid concoctions at this historic outpost are body products, not liquor. Invented in 1838, the signature blend of bay leaf oils and island-made rum hydrates and nourishes skin. The unisex bars and tonics are infused with various spices, including lime, cinnamon or orange blossom.

Dronningens Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00801, USVI
Formerly the headquarters of the U.S. District Court in these parts, the low-slung brick building on the central waterfront now houses the island’s best handicrafts display. The maze features 150 artisans selling everything from handmade dolls and quilts to note cards and wooden serving items. There are also food vendors on site.

33F+44Q, Route 37, St. Thomas 00802, U.S. Virgin Islands
One of the island’s best lookouts, Drake’s Seat offers a panoramic view of Magens Bay and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands to the east. The site is named for Sir Francis Drake, who is said to have kept watch over the harbor from this vantage point. (Was Drake benevolently watching over his own fleet or looking for ships to plunder? The answer will depend on whether you subscribe to the British’s regard of him as a celebrated explorer or to others’ belief that he was a brutal privateer.)
21-22 Kongens Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00804, USVI
Constructed in 1867 as the meeting place for the Danish Colonial Council, Government House is used today as the office for the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Several works by Impressionist master Camille Pissarro, a native of St. Thomas, is one highlight of a visit. The building, open to the public on weekdays, is a five-minute walk from the center of historic Charlotte Amalie.
Hull Bay, St Thomas 00802, USVI
Hull Bay Beach—on the north shore of St. Thomas, west of Magens Bay—has the wave action surfers crave. When there’s a northern swell, the beach is considered the best surf spot on the island. The rest of the time you’ll find snorkelers, local families, and fishing boats bobbing out in the bay. The beach bar is a popular island spot.
Brewers Bay Beach, St Thomas 00802, USVI
Quiet, hidden beaches that once defined the Caribbean are still favored by discriminating travelers. Serene and blessed with a few basic facilities (including parking, restrooms, and changing areas, as well food trucks), Brewers Bay Beach offers visitors an easily accessed, languid, sweeping shore. It’s an ideal spot for grabbing a towel, relaxing, and watching the sun set. With shallow, calm, clear, and reef-protected waters, the beach is popular with families, who can enjoy the gentle surf. Snorkeling is also popular, and the beach is home to stingray and turtle communities. Despite its secluded feel, Brewers Bay Beach is located near the University of the Virgin Islands campus and Cyril E. King International Airport.
The friendly vibe at Delly Deck makes island eatery an ideal spot for celebrating special occasions or just grabbing breakfast or lunch with friends and family. Considered by locals to be a landmark (it’s been around for 40 years!), Delly Deck has a solid breakfast menu, with a range of omelet choices and standard but tasty lunch selections such as sandwiches, wraps, salads, and burgers. Cocktails—frozen and not—as well as beer and wine are on offer, though you probably can’t get into too much trouble before the 4 p.m. closing time.
Red Hook Rd, Red Hook, St Thomas 00802, USVI
Duffy’s calls itself a “bar that serves great food.” Its brand of fruity tropical cocktails (some served in ceramic skulls) and casual fare seems somehow perfect for a relaxing Caribbean vacation. The restaurant claims to have hosted “pirates, debutantes, nerds, and rock stars.” From the outside, Duffy’s looks unassuming, but inside the colorful tiki bar decor features standard elements, such as bamboo-pole siding, spruced up with maritime mementos from around the Caribbean.
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00801, USVI
Modest in keeping with the sometimes understated influence of its namesake, the Camille Pissarro Gallery is a rare treat in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. One of the original French Impressionist painters, Pissarro was born on the island in 1830. The gallery is located in his childhood home, the loft section of a merchant’s building at 14 Main Street. Several of Pissarro’s Caribbean-inspired works are on display at the gallery, along with those from about two dozen other artists, including Jenine Wesselman and Sylvia Kahn.
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