St. Thomas gets a lot of traffic from cruise passengers, so you should come here expecting plenty of activity and souvenir shops to cater to the crowds. Fortunately, the island also offers a wide variety of activities, including everything from cultural and historical sites as well as beach-oriented fun. In addition, the gateway to the U.S. Virgin Islands still bears vestiges of its Danish heritage: In the capital of Charlotte Amalie, colonial buildings stand within stone’s throw of white sand beaches and a gorgeous harbor with a bustling waterfront, with plenty of remnants of the island's pirate history. Want to know where to start? Here are seven top things to do in St. Thomas.
1. Pretend you're a pirate at Blackbeard Castle.
St. Thomas’ most recognizable national landmark is a single turret made of stone. Formerly a Danish watchtower, it was allegedly used by Edward Teach (otherwise known as the treacherous pirate Blackbeard) as a lookout for scouting out ships to attack and plunder. Although the site is part of a hotel and restaurant, you can still get fantastic views of the harbor and Charlotte Amalie from the castle’s elevated location.
2. Take a trip underwater.
There are thousands of marvelous creatures that swim in the sea around St. Thomas, and Coral World Ocean Park offers a fantastic setting to showcase marine biodiversity. You can peer at a growing coral reef at an underwater observatory built 15 feet below sea level; scour for scorpion fish and peacock flounder in their natural habitats; and feed stingrays straight from your hand at a lagoon lush with mangroves.
3. Relax on a quintessential Caribbean beach.
Much-photographed Magens is a horseshoe-shaped bay fringed by palm trees and towering green slopes that harbor turquoise waters. The calm cove is prime for paddle boarding and kayaking, and nearby there’s a hiking trail on a preserve that's run by the Nature Conservancy.
4. Tour the Government House.
This neoclassical white mansion is home to the offices of the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Though it’s still a working building, you can tour the first and second floor, taking in the mahogany staircases and paintings by St. Thomas-born artists such as Camille Pissarro.
5. Climb the 99 Steps.
There are actually 103 steps in this Charlotte Amelie landmark, but who’s counting? Built out of ship-ballast brick during Danish colonial times, the stairs will likely elicit some huffing and puffing as you ascend, but the reward is a fantastic view of St. Thomas and beyond from high above the port.
6. Explore Frenchtown.
This neighborhood on the western side of St. Thomas' harbor is home to French-speaking Huguenots, who originally came over from the nearby isle of St. Barts. Among the wooden houses, some of which are now restaurants and bars, you'll find the French Heritage Museum, whose collection of artifacts (fishermen's nets, accordions, photographs) illustrate history dating back to the 18th century.
7. Have a cocktail with a view.
It might be a tacky tourist attraction, but the Mountain Top Bar is legendary for one thing: its signature banana daiquiri, which you can order in a brightly colored souvenir glass. After you take in frosty gulps of the rum-based potion, you can browse around the enormous shop and soak in island views from the observatory deck.