Tips on What To Do in U.S. Virgin Islands
All of the U.S. Virgin Islands have magnificent stretches of sand and plenty of sunshine and foliage, but St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix each offer perceptively different experiences and attractions.
The history of the USVI is on full display on St. Croix, with plentiful sugar cane plantations, museums, forts and ruins. The Virgin Islands' natural beauty is best witnessed in St. John, where the Virgin Islands National Park maintains much of the landscape in the most unblemished state possible. St. Thomas captures the V.I's sociable spirit, with its bustling cruise terminal, brimming shopping plazas, and festive carnival season.
Any of the islands offers plenty of activities by the water. St. Thomas attracts sailors, St. John appeals to sunbathers and St. Croix shepherds watersports lovers.
- Keep in mind that everything in the U.S. Virgin Islands is duty-free. That does not mean that everything is an automatic bargain. If you're determined to do some shopping here, be sure you have a general idea what your target items would cost at home." -- About.com
- The widest selection of discount liquor for sale is found on the island of St. Thomas, at Al Cohen's Discount Liquors and A.H. Riise Gift & Liquor Stores. You can also buy Cruzan Rum straight from the source at the Cruzan Rum Factory on St. Croix." -- Concierge.com
- Moon Travel Guides
As the locale of the busiest cruise harbor in the Caribbean, St. Thomas is flush with things to do. Like many Caribbean destinations, the island has a nightlife scene, shopping opportunities and numerous beaches. But travel writers especially highlight the duty-free deals at the Havensight strip mall, or the swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing or scuba diving options at Magens Bay, Coki Point Beach or Lindberg Bay. Day sails or evening charters to the other U.S. and British Virgin Islands are also a favorite among travelers. Companies like Morningstar Charters and Big Blue Excursions are highly recommended.
St. Thomas also has popular attractions for active travelers and families with young children. Many advise you visit in the early spring to watch the sailboats in the International Rolex Regatta or the dance troupes in St. Thomas Carnival. Any time of year, you can enjoy a sunset from Drake's Seat, 18 holes of golf at Mahogany Run Golf Course, or an up-close encounter with the marine life at Coral World Ocean Park.
- The U.S. Virgin Islands are the shopping mecca of the Caribbean, mostly because there's no sales tax and shoppers can take advantage of the $1,600 duty-free allowance. St. Thomas's capital, Charlotte Amalie, is the nerve center of the shopping activity here." -- Frommer's
- Spend the day snorkeling, sunning or snoozing at a crystal clear cove ringed with a white sandy beach and palm trees, head down to the briny deep on a Scuba excursion, set sail to an offshore island, play a round at Mahogany Run Golf Course, or visit any of the historic sites in the main town of Charlotte Amalie and around the island." -- AOL Travel
- Don't Miss Sunset from Drake's Seat. Sir Francis Drake watched over his fleet from this St. Thomas promontory. Take in the view at dusk to start a romantic evening." -- Forbes Traveler
Ever built up your upcoming Caribbean beach time only to find cold, seaweed filled water and broiling hot sand? Not so in St. Thomas -- travel writers often refer to this island's beaches as the best in the region, especially Magens Bay on the north coast.
But be warned: Magens' sparkling blue water and cool smooth sand is accompanied with a small entry fee, and good word of mouth draws crowds. Try the Lindberg and Brewers bays by the airport if you're looking for a more quiet shore, or the East End's Lindquist Beach. You can also check out our U.S. Virgin Islands Towns & Neighborhoods section for more on St. Thomas' standout shores.
- Magens Bay is well-known, but you can find other places that are equally beautiful and perhaps less crowded. Coki and Lindbergh Beaches also get rave reviews. Pick the one that appeals to your interests, negotiate a cab ride with the nearest driver, and go. You'll be enjoying the best that these islands have to offer." -- About.com
- One step ahead of the masses is Sapphire Beach on the eastern end of St. Thomas. ... As beaches go, it has everything: Unlittered sand, few people, palm trees, sparkling blue water, a view of smaller islands, great snorkeling, cheap rental gear and, in the high season, a bar and restaurant." -- New York Times
- Several wreck and reef dive sites are accessible by boat from St. Thomas. Only Coki Beach has good diving from the beach. Offshore, divers can explore a number of wrecks along the island's southern coast." -- Moon Travel Guides
St. Thomas is a great place to purchase jewelry, liquor or perfume (all duty-free), but you should beware the prices quoted to you in the stores on Main Street, Charlotte Amalie. For better deals, guidebooks recommend Havensight mall by the cruise ship harbor, especially as many of the Main Street stores are also at this outdoor strip.
- If duty-free shopping is your religion, St. Thomas is your Caribbean Holy Grail. The shops of Charlotte Amalie are the major draw for teeming crowds from resorts and cruise ships that dock here daily." -- Concierge.com
- Main Street in downtown Charlotte Amalie is the original shopping district on the island, but recent additions are the mall at Crown Bay and the shops at Yacht Haven Grande. On the east end, Red Hook offers off-beat shops in a low-pressure environment." -- Moon Travel Guides
St. Thomas' nightlife isn't as varied or extensive as other spots in the Caribbean, but there are a handful of restaurants that moonlight as dance clubs after hours. As opposed to recommending neighborhoods, many writers specifically suggest The Green House in Charlotte Amalie or Duffy's Love Shack and the new Saint nightclub in Red Hook for dancing.
Rock City is also a great place to hear live music, specifically at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, which frequently schedule live reggae, calypso and soca performances.
- If there's one thing St. Thomas offers cheaply, it's vice. So you can safely assume your bar tab will be one of your smaller expenses. Night life ranges from quiet dockside bars to pulsing dance floors." -- New York Times
- The Green House is the first choice for many island residents looking for a night out. Its two-for-one happy hour is the first attraction, followed by live music on weekends. … Frenchtown is the home of the most sophisticated nightlife on St. Thomas. Many people gather at Oceana for lively after-work conversation at the stylish bar with nice views of the sea." -- Moon Travel Guides
At first glance, St. John is draped in nothing but sunshine, trees and sand. And that's just how regular visitors like it. As most of St. John is considered a national park, you'll find little development but plenty of relaxation-oriented activities on its 20 square miles. Many travelers who visit the U.S. Virgin Islands say St. John makes a good chartered daytrip from St. Thomas, as opposed to the extent of the vacation itself.
- Getting to St. John takes time, effort and money, so it's a bit of a budget travel splurge. … But if you love quiet beauty, it is an investment in a perfect day you're unlikely to forget." -- About.com
- When it comes to quiet St. John, entertainment is sort of a misnomer. … Nature reigns here and nightlife is augmented by magical moonlight, the melodic chirping of the coqui (tree) frogs, the sound of the sea lapping on pure white beaches and more." -- Travel Channel
Virgin Islands National Park
In 1956, conservationist Laurence Rockefeller donated 5,000 acres of St. John's verdant land and unblemished beaches to the United States National Park Service to preserve the serenity he treasured on his trips to the area. The end result is that much of St. John is just as it was 50 years ago, and the area houses travelers' favorite beaches (like Hawksnest Beach or Trunk Bay) and the island's most tranquil hotels (Caneel Bay Resort). Travel writers recommend you not only enjoy the beaches in the park, but also explore the wildlife.
- St. John's heart is Virgin Islands National Park, a treasure that takes up a full two-thirds of St. John's 20 square mi. … The park helps keep the island's interior in its pristine and undisturbed state, but if you go at midday, you'll probably have to share your stretch of beach with others, particularly at Trunk Bay." -- Fodor's
The itinerary for a St. John beach is simple: lie on the sand, maybe lounge in the waves; but certainly no heavy-lifting. For the best lounging locations, many suggest heading to Caneel Bay, a string of seven beaches on the island's west side. Trunk Bay, located in the north, is one of the most picturesque spots on St. John, but the beach can get crowded in the afternoons. Professional and leisure travelers alike suggest Hawksnest Beach, a cove between Caneel and Trunk bays, for ultimate seclusion. For details on St. John's best beaches, check out our U.S. Virgin Islands Towns & Neighborhoods section.
- When snorkeling, "start at Trunk Bay on St. John, where a snorkel trail features markers on the sea floor explaining what you see. … Off St. John is Waterlemon Cay, an atoll surrounded by foot-long starfish, multitudes of fish and the occasional nurse shark." -- New York Times
- Overrated. Trunk Bay. Yes, it's consistently ranked one of the top 10 beaches in the world, but during the day the cruise ships turn Trunk Bay into Coney Islands. Try Gibney Beach or Hawksnest." -- Forbes Traveler
Shop on St. John first before hitting Main Street on St. Thomas; that way, you won't be disappointed that the area isn't as developed or ritzy. The harbor area at Cruz Bay has plenty of quirky shops for crafts and souvenirs. You might also score a better bargain.
- St. John's shopping is eclectic, with many stores carrying locally made items. The island has a few shopping centers, but savvy visitors poke around the Virgin Islands National Park's Visitor's Center and hotel gift shops for unusual knickknacks, clothing and books." -- Sherman's Travel
Though it doesn't have St. John's reputation for natural beauty nor St. Thomas' for shopping, St. Croix pleases those looking for the Virgin Islands' history. Main attractions include tours of the Danish architectural ruins and sugar cane fields dotted throughout Twin City, or visits to the well-preserved Fort Christiansvaern in the east. One of the most intriguing sites on St. Croix is the castle atop Mountaintop Eyrie on the east. Off limits to the public and owned by a very private socialite, the castle of "The Contessa" is host to much speculation about its interior design and mysterious resident.
There's also the trappings of an idyllic Caribbean vacation spot. Mornings are best enjoyed splayed on a beach towel on Sandy Point, afternoon recreation could consist of a tour of the Cruzan Rum Distillery, and nighttime burns brighter beside the Vegas-like tables and slots at the Divi Carina Bay Casino on St. Croix's east side.
- While sunning and swimming are the main reason people visit St. Croix, the island offers myriad of other activities to round out a vacation. It's home to two national park facilities with land and sea activities, several interesting museums, three golf courses, numerous dining option, and the territory's only casino." -- Sherman's Travel
Any of St. Croix's beaches are good for stretching out on the sand, but recent visitors to St. Croix recommend the western Frederiksted beaches (like Rainbow Beach) for their proximity to dining and beachside bars. They also like northern Christiansted beaches like Cane Bay for diving, snorkeling and windsurfing.
If you're particularly interested in marine life, most suggest a weekend trip to Sandy Point Beach. Located in Frederiksted, Sandy Point is the largest beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands and a protected nesting area for sea turtles. Or, you could take a two mile-trip off the coast of northern Christiansted to snorkel or scuba dive at Buck Island Reef National Monument, home to natural flora and fauna, as well as brown pelicans and Hawksbill turtles. You can also find information on St. Croix's best beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands Towns & Neighborhoods section.
- Stretching north and south from Frederiksted, West End has lovely beaches dotted with restaurants that are perfect for lunch or dinner on your around-the-island tour." -- Sherman's Travel
- The biggest beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sandy Point lies in the southwestern part of St. Croix. ... Its waters are shallow and calm. Because the beach is a protected reserve and a nesting spot for endangered sea turtles, it's only open to the public on weekends from 9am to 5pm." -- Frommer's
- To visit one of St. Croix's nicest beaches, take a day sail or Scuba trip to Buck Island Reef National Monument. … Watch fish dart about the undersea coral garden that surrounds the island, hiking up an easy trail for spectacular views and lazing about in the sun or shade can fill an entire day." -- Travel Channel
Steeped in Carib, Arawak and Taino history that mingles with that of Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, Malta and the United States, the island of St. Croix is a monument to a colorful and oftentimes contentious past. In Frederiksted specifically, travelers suggest you learn about slave history and revolts at the well-restored Estate Mount Washington Plantation or Fort Frederik.
- Out in the countryside, over 100 ruins of sugar cane mills and grand plantation homes dot the island. … Some plantations have been restored as private homes, guest houses and museums. Whim Plantation Museum, just east of Frederiksted, is filled with antiques and is open daily for tours." -- Travel Channel
- [The Estate Mount Washington Plantation of Frederiksted] is the island's best-preserved sugar plantation and a highlight along the St. Croix Heritage Trail. ... The on-site private residence is closed to the public, but you can go on a self-guided tour of the 13 acres at any time of the day you wish ..." -- Frommer's