Sure, it’s hard to tear yourself away from the beach when you’re on St. Thomas. Yet, we urge you to explore the Caribbean island’s storied history, starting with spectacular Blackbeard’s Castle. Known as the “Williamsburg of the Caribbean,” the five acres on which the castle stands include several National Landmark properties, as well as manor houses dating back to the 1600s. Not only do you get to step back in time to learn about the island as it once was, but you’ll gain some of the most beautiful views in the entire region. Here’s our guide to Blackbeard’s Castle and other top attractions in St. Thomas that you won’t want to skip. We’ve included some of the vest views in St. Thomas, the best beaches and which neighborhood to stay in, depending on your travel style.
What Can I See at Blackbeard’s Castle?
The best way to explore the Blackbeard’s Castle site is by walking tour. Your guide will enthrall you with tales of the island’s pirate lore as you visit the castle (also known as Skytsborg Tower), which stands above Kongen’s quarter in Charlotte Amalie. Climb the spiral staircase and snap a few photos of the harbor from here – you won’t get a better view on the island. Take a refreshing dip in one of the estate’s three pools, then explore the adjacent Villa Notman, which has served as a private home, bed-and-breakfast and a restaurant. The tower is in the middle of the courtyard, along with a 14-foot-tall bronze statue of Blackbeard.
Your tour includes three handsome manor houses: Villa Notman, Haagensen House and Hotel 1829, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Villa Notman is one of the Caribbean’s most striking villas. It was built in 1860 and showcases a white cast-iron balcony, yellow-brick exterior, impressive exterior details and the native stone, Augite Andesite (or “Blue Bit”). Explore the fragrant garden full of bay leaf trees, plumeria and frangipani.
Visit the coral-and-white Hotel 1829-Rumopurium, just a block from Charlotte Amalie’s historic Main Street. Notice the staircases that frame the famous Amber Waterfall fountain, made of more than 12,000 pieces of Amber jewel. On the second floor, you can visit the Rumopurium museum to learn more about rum making on the island and taste test a few samples.
Continue to the restored, 19th-century Haagensen House, originally a Danish banker’s residence and believed to have one of the most beautiful interiors on the island. From the grand wrought-iron balcony of the stunning white-and-green estate, you can take in the whole of Charlotte Amalie harbor. Within the sitting room, find handcarved mahogany furniture and antiques, while on the first floor, you’ll see 19 life-sized pirate statues, including Black Bart, Blackbeard and Captain Morgan.
Finally, continue your walking tour through tropical gardens, terraces and water fountains to the famous 99 Steps landmark, and to Main Street and the historic shopping district of Charlotte Amalie.
What Are the 99 Steps?
Be prepared for walking up and down countless staircases in Charlotte Amalie – the town is famous for them. Originally called frigangs (by the Danes), the steps originate from the mid-1700s. The 99 Steps are the most well-known (and is actually 103 steps). Look for the pretty staircase with color flowers running up and down the sides. The bricks that were used to craft the steps were brought from Denmark as ballast in ships’ hulls.
What Else to See and Do on St. Thomas
1. Magens Bay
Ready for the beach? Head to Magens Bay, considered one of the world’s most beautiful beaches by notable travel magazines. Swim, sunbathe, kayak, stand-up paddle board, rent a sailboat and even hike the nature trail. There’s a bar and restaurant, a shop for renting beach chairs and buying necessary sundries and more. It’s really the quintessential USVI beach experience.
2. Coral World Ocean Park & Undersea Observatory
Get to know the local marine life at Coral World Ocean Park & Undersea Observatory. This is a particularly good choice for those who would prefer not to snorkel or scuba dive, but still want to see the stunning and colorful tropical fish for which the Caribbean is known. Within the undersea observatory, you can view a coral reef. At the shark pool, you can feel a shark or feed a stingray. Get up close and personal with lorikeets. If you do want to get wet, you can swim with sea lions or attempt a Sea Trek Helmet Dive.
3. Drake’s Seat
Want the best view n town? Head to Drake’s Seat, where you’ll get a eye-catching panoramic vista of Magens Bay, as well as the USVI and British Virgin Islands to the east. The light is particularly nice for photographs in the late afternoon. The story of the “seat” tells us that British privateer Sir Francis Drake used this spot to spy on enemy Spanish ships coming through Drake’s Passage.
4. Mountain Top Views
OK, perhaps we spoke too soon! Truly, St. Thomas is full of incredible vantage points. Head to 1,500 feet above sea level to Mountain Top, from which you can see the US and British Virgin islands – National Geographic has ranked this as one of the best views in the world. Plus there’s a bar that is said to be home to the banana daiquiri – give it a try!
5. Explore Charlotte Amalie
Be sure to carve out time to shop along Main Street – arguably the best shopping stretch in the Caribbean. There’s everything from designer clothing to jewelry – and it’s all duty free. Late morning and early afternoon are the busiest times.
French immigrants from St. Barthelemy arrived on St. Thomas in the late 1800s until the mid-1900s and left their mark on the fishing village of Frenchtown. Today, the town retains its heritage, a place where you can watch the fishermen pulling back into harbor or selling their catch-of-the-day at the Quetel Fish Market. Check out the French Heritage Museum for more history and be sure to stick around for a cocktail or dinner at one of the many eateries and bars.
7. Coki Beach
Hoping to swim with rainbow-hued fish while you’re in St. Thomas? Head to the translucent waters of Coki Beach, right next to Coral World Ocean Park on the island’s northeast shore. There’s a lively atmosphere here, thanks to live music nearby and vendors selling a variety of goods and eats. Look for the stalls selling small bags of fish food, which you can feed to the fish while you’re snorkeling. Snorkeling equipment rental, bathrooms and other modern amenities make it a perfect beach day for the whole family.
8. Grand Beach
Near Coral World on the north side of the island, Grand Beach is a favorite of families and couples seeking a simple, beautiful beach. There are plenty of water sports options to keep you busy.
9. Paradise Point
Yet another outstanding view of the Charlotte Amalie harbor, Water Island and Puerto Rico, Paradise Point is accessible via a seven-minute aerial gondola ride (or car). The gondola is across the street from the Havensight cruise ship dock. Up top, there is a quarter-mile nature trail, a souvenir shop and an entertaining bird show.
10. Mahogany Run Golf Course
The golfers in your group won’t want to miss the Mahogany Run Golf Course – the island’s only golf course. The hilly course was designed by George and Tom Fazio and includes the famous “Devil’s Triangle” at holes 13, 14 and 15.
11. Beat the Heat with Magic Ice
Looking to cool off? Head to the Magic Ice gallery, which takes its cue from a similar ice sculpture museum in Oslo, Norway. Amongst the rotating sculptures, look for Blackbeard, marine creatures and more, carved by Lithuanian artists and complemented with colorful lighting. Don’t miss your complimentary shot of local Cruzan rum from the 40-foot-long ice bar.
12. Sightseeing by Zip Line
Set your sights “high” with St. Thomas’ new zip-lining course. Using a series of eight cables and two rope bridges, you’re able to zip down St. Peter Mountain, while taking is mesmerizing views of the Caribbean Sea, Magens Bay and the islands of St. John, Tortola and Jost Van Dyke.
13. St. Peter Great House
Explore this restored colonial plantation great house and estate, set on 11 lush acres above Magens Bay. The house was built in the early 1800s and features a 2,000-square-foot residence, with fine examples of West Indian colonial architecture. Tour the botanical gardens as well, with nature trails, waterfalls, fish ponds, a tropical bird aviary, and observation tower and more.
14. Take a Ferry Ride to St. John
It’s just a quick ferry ride to St. John – a nature-lover’s paradise. Two-thirds of the island is protected as the Virgin Islands National Park. Once you’ve landed in Cruz Bay – St. John’s main town – you can hop onto a safari surrey that will take you to the islands’ beaches (Trunk Bay is a favorite for its snorkeling trail). As you’re exploring, be on the lookout for donkeys, mongooses and sugar mill ruins.
15. Visit the East End Beaches
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16. More Beaches!
Also known as Frenchman’s Bay Beach, Morning Star beach is about 2 miles from Charlotte Amalie. Gay singles and couple’s make up much of the beach’s hip crowd. Take the cliffside elevator at Frenchman’s Reef to reach the sand. Also in this area, you’ll find the chic Limetree Beach. See an iguana? Feed it some of the hibiscus blossoms lining the sand. A bit more hidden is Vessup Bay at the end of Bluebeard’s Road near Red Hook. The surrounding landscape is dotted with cactus, agave plant and sea grape trees. Get to these beaches via taxi; there is no public transportation.
Where Should I Stay on St. Thomas?
Consider these neighborhoods of St. Thomas when reserving your stay. Each has its own personality.
Charlotte Amalie: Stay here for all the action – this is where cruise ships arrive to the island. There is plenty of shopping along Main Street, historic architecture and countless restaurants and bars.
Charlotte Amalie West: This Charlotte Amalie neighborhood by the airport is perfect for those who want the hustle and bustle of Charlotte Amalie, but at a lower price point.
Magens Bay: On the north side of the island, Magens Bay is great for families. It’s quieter and calmer than Charlotte Amalie and is the most famous beath on the island.
Frenchtown: For romance, consider Frenchtown between Downtown and Charlotte Amalie West. It’s more intimate here, but you’ll still have access to all the tourist amenities you need.
Red Hook: While not entirely raucous, Red Hook is the destination for those seeking nightlife. It’s on the far east side of the island.