The three islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands -- St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix -- all have lush tropical foliage, pristine beaches, and Caribbean flair. But each has its own distinct personality. Here's how to choose.
Best for: Shopping, upscale dining, and nightlife.
Popular with cruise ships, St. Thomas is the busiest and most commercialized of the three islands. It also has a reputation for being more upscale, with plenty of duty-free shopping, high-end dining, and golf. And, unlike the other islands, St. Thomas has a hopping nightlife scene after dark.
There’s plenty to do during the day too, of course. Board the St. Thomas Skyride and take it to a point 700 feet above the island’s capital of Charlotte Amalie for dramatic views of the Caribbean. Or, swim with sea lions at Coral World Ocean Park. You can also tour Bluebeard’s Castle, a Danish fortress built in 1689; visit the Haagensen House, home of Danish banker Hans Haagensen; and climb the 99 Steps (there are actually 103 of them). And we can't forget the beach. Don’t miss Magens Bay, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in the world. For snorkeling or diving, head to Coki Beach instead.
Best for: Hiking, nature watching, and solitude.
You won’t find crowds on St. John. That’s because the island doesn’t have a major airport -- most people take a ferry from St. Thomas, roughly three miles away -- and because nearly two-thirds of the island is protected as a national park. Once you get there, there isn’t much in the way of public transit, shopping, or dining options, either.
But if you’re looking for a tucked-away outdoor adventure or a romantic getaway, St. John is it. Hike the trails from beach to mountain top, snorkel the underwater trail at Trunk Bay, or explore the remains of sugar plantations in Virgin Islands National Park. Fishing and diving are also popular activities. Plus, once you get there, staying can be pretty affordable.
Best for: Culture, history, and food.
Although it’s the largest of the three islands, St. Croix sees the fewest tourists, making it a great destination if you want a less commercialized Caribbean experience. We recommend basing your visit out of Christiansted, where you can tour the historic fort and catch a boat to nearby Buck Island for snorkeling at one of the only three underwater national monuments in the United States. St. Croix is also home to Cruzan Rum and Captain Morgan Rum (both of which offer tours and samples) and the Estate Whim Plantation Museum. You’ll also want to set aside one evening to kayak the Bioluminescent Bay.
If you’re a foodie who likes to explore the local offerings, St. Croix is home to Harvey’s, reported to be basketball star Tim Duncan’s favorite restaurant when he comes home to the island. Another option for traditional fare is Cast Iron Pot. For a quick bite, try one of the smaller roadside restaurants serving chicken or roti (curry wrapped in a flat bread).