The easiest of the U.S. Virgin Islands to reach, St. Thomas is both the gateway to St. John and St. Croix and a beloved vacation destination in its own right. Tourists primarily flock to this popular Caribbean paradise for its beautiful beaches and world-class snorkeling. It’s also steeped in maritime history and pirate legends, which make for some interesting attractions.
The frequency of international travelers has left a mark over the years. As a result, St. Thomas exudes a cosmopolitan atmosphere, especially in the bustling capital of Charlotte Amalie, which is brimming with Danish colonial architecture, duty-free shops, and cultural landmarks.
A busy port for cruise ships, the island swells when big boats dock. Given St. Thomas is only 32 square miles, you can see many major sights and relish some beach time all in a few hours. However, many people prefer to spend a couple of days or more on the island to cover more sun-soaked ground and splash in the turquoise tides.
St. Thomas is the most accessible of the U.S. Virgin Islands. American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, and United all operate direct flights from major East Coast airports, including New York, Boston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. From takeoff to landing, it’s only about four hours (of course, this varies slightly depending on the departure point). Upping the convenience factor even more? Americans get to enjoy the ease of domestic travel — online check-in and not needing a passport — as the island is an unincorporated U.S. territory. St. Thomas is also easy to reach via plane or boat from other Caribbean destinations, making it a requisite stop on any island-hopping holiday.
St. Thomas has a treasure trove of sandy stretches with dozens of beautiful beaches. Postcard-worthy and popular Magens Bay on the north coast is ideal for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Those wanting to avoid the crowds will find quiet places like Lindquist Beach, part of the 21-acre protected Smith Bay Park, situated on the island's eastern end.
With some of the clearest water in the world and tons of tropical fish, it’s no surprise that snorkeling is one of the main draws here. Families especially love the calm bays that make swimming and exploring fun and safe for kiddos. Some of the top spots to see magnificent marine life include Coki Point Beach, Secret Harbour, and Brewers Bay. It’s also highly recommended to join a boat excursion to Honeymoon Beach on lesser-known Water Island.
Charlotte Amalie is a vibrant hub for shopping, entertainment, and history. There are more than 100 duty-free stores, including many jewelers. (Some travelers even report bringing an extra suitcase dedicated to carrying back souvenirs.)
Keen on learning a bit more about the island's past? Check out the eye-catching 17th-century Fort Christian, which showcases a central clock tower and on-site museum. St. Thomas is also home to the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The Pirates Treasure Museum brings the legends and lore of deep-sea escapades to life through interactive exhibits.
For a workout and superb panoramas, climb the 99 Steps. Colloquially referred to as “step-street,” it’s a staircase built from bricks brought over by 18th-century Danish ships. Another high-altitude must, the Skyride aerial tram climbs 700 feet above Charlotte Amalie to Paradise Point.
Budding botanists of all ages should take a trip to Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, while art fans won’t want to pass up the chance to visit the childhood home of French impressionist Camille Pissarro. Nightlife enthusiasts can hit the lively beach bars and clubs.
Perfect for family vacations and group getaways, Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove features spacious villas with two or three bedrooms, living and dining areas, fully equipped kitchens, and patios. The hillside property also treats guests to ample amenities — including an infinity pool with a waterslide — and activities, as well as gorgeous vistas of Pacquereau Bay.
Located on the quieter east end of St. Thomas, Secret Harbour Beach Resort is a favorite among families and couples looking for a relaxed escape that doesn’t skimp on fun outdoorsy activities. Besides snorkeling, scuba diving, and tennis, guests rave about the renovated condo-style units that are just steps from the sand.
A luxury resort that very much caters to families, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas sits on a beautiful sandy beach and has a slew of kid- and parent-approved amenities, ranging from a top-notch kids’ club to a pool with a waterslide. There are four restaurants, 180 revamped guest rooms, and the famous sunset catamaran cruises.
For a boutique stay with a central location, At Home in the Tropics provides a laid-back vibe that feels more grown-up than many of the area’s larger resorts. Housed in a lovely historic Danish building overlooking the harbor, the bed-and-breakfast offers a pool, four coastal-inspired guest rooms, and equally breezy common spaces.
Pangea Terra Table focuses on farm-to-fork fare made with seasonal organic ingredients served in a lovely alfresco setting with a lively bar. Beyond the delicious food, the restaurant’s sustainability initiatives — which include an on-site garden, using zero plastic, and composting — are admirable.
The perfect spot for a leisurely lunch on Water Island, Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill serves flavorful fish tacos and strong rum cocktails to day-trippers. Grab a shaded table on the deck and soak in the sparkling views until your food arrives.
Craving a fancier dinner — perhaps one that involves leaving the kids with a babysitter back at the hotel? Prime at Paradise Point is a special-occasion-worthy choice, with indulgent dishes like local lobster, tomahawk steak, and truffle mac and cheese.
Hungry shoppers who need to refuel between duty-free purchases can head to Side Street Pub for slow-cooked pulled pork tacos, homemade salsa, and Caribbean chicken sandwiches. It’s a family-owned hidden gem in Charlotte Amalie, with friendly service that’s well worth the effort to find.
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