World Facts Index > Virgin Islands > St ThomasThe busiest of the three US Virgin Islands ' now marketed by the US as "your islands" ' St Thomas at first glance appears to be a shopper's paradise, but it is so much more. Whether you want to snorkel, scuba dive, hike, sail, or lay about on the beach (there are 44 individual beaches), this small island (about the size of Manhattan) can accommodate you.
The island brims with a colorful history that dates back hundreds of years that includes Indians, Pirates, European settlers, slave trading, and remnants of all of these chapters in the islands history can be seen today. In the mid-1600s, the Danes settled the island and placed a permanent mark on its style. Wonderful examples of Danish brick and stonework and architecture make St Thomas, particularly the capital city of Charlotte Amalie, a delight to visit.
St Thomas is designed to be a tourist's haven, not only for the overnight visitor, but also for the thousands who pass through the island regularly on the huge cruise ships.
The passengers of the ships, which dock in the colorful harbour of Charlotte Amalie, find a shopper's paradise, with hundreds of duty-free shops, packed with jewelry, designer clothing, cameras and electronics, alcohol and art work. Their first contact with the island is at Havensight Mall, where many stores found in the capital have a second location. Passengers can complete their shopping here and return to the ship, but others will venture into the town to see Charlotte Amalie's historic charm.
Operating from the mall is the well-known Atlantis Submarine, a pricey but worthwhile trip on a submarine (US$72 for adults and less for children) that takes passengers into out to see a mile of reef life -- a wonderful choice for those too timid to try scuba diving!
Right across from this mall is the Paradise Point Tramway, where for US$10 visitors can get a spectacular view of the harbor below from a vantage-point of 700 feet above. There's also a bar, restaurant, gift shop, and short hiking trail up top.
Those visitors not on a cruise ship may want to avoid the town on the days when cruise ships arrive. The streets can be jammed with shoppers and flooded with vendors hawking their wares, competing to woo visitors into their shops. Without the ships, Charlotte Amalie returns to its normal business tempo, making visiting more pleasant.
Not to be missed are the delightful brick alleyways that separate what were originally old warehouse buildings, but now provide attractive places for stores. Royal Dane Mall and A.H. Riise Alley are two of the nicest of these shopping hideaways in the town. Another 'must see' is the Pissarro Building, the birthplace and childhood home of impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, now an art gallery.
Many frequent St Thomas because of its shopping, but its historic attractions should not be ignored. Populated by Danes until the early 20th century, this lovely town wraps around and decorates the harbour with its many beautiful buildings. The bright red Fort Christian near the waterfront, once the fort that protected the island, now houses the Virgin Islands museum, open daily except Sunday. Across from it is a lime-green structure, which is the Virgin Islands Legislature Building, open to visitors during the week. Nearby is the Emancipation Garden, built to commemorate the freeing of the slaves in 1848. Today many important civic and cultural events are held here around the central gazebo.
It's important to make the climb up the hilly streets to see the government buildings and two unique museums, Seven Arches Museum and Haagensen House as well as the famous 99 Steps, which traditionally everyone must count. A visit to this part of Charlotte Amalie is not for the faint of heart.
But, up in these hills, there's a wealth of history, including the Hotel 1829, which is right near the steps, a good place for a rest stop and a cold one. Along that same street is the Government House, a grand structure built in 1867 which visitors can enter during the week.
While in town, check out the digs of the island's two notorious pirates, Blackbeard and Bluebeard, who left legacies of fascinating folklore and two castles that today form the basis of lovely resort hotels. Both Blackbeard's Castle and the Bluebeard Castle Hotel are in the hills overlooking the harbour, the windmill-like "castles" their obvious points.
Along the waterfront, there are two offshore islands -- Water Island and Hassell Island'that can be visited by ferry from the Crown Bay Marina.
A tour around the island will include a stop at Tillett Gardens, a little artist colony outside of town, built around a garden and restaurant. Then there's Red Hook at the east end of the island where beautiful views of the islands of St. John and the British Virgin Islands beyond can be seen. A busy shopping area as well, Red Hook attracts the yachting set with its many marinas, provisioning markets, and more nautical-style eateries. It's convenient while you're here to pay a visit to the Virgin Islands National Park headquarters, which sells books and has brochures on the flora and fauna of these islands.
Many beautiful beaches are located on the eastern coast, where most of the finer resort hotels are located.
You'll be close to Coral World Marine Park, an attraction that was reopened after extensive renovations several years ago. The park has a reef tank and three levels of underwater observations. You can be there for shark feedings. A good snorkeling area is near there at Coki Point.
Heading up into the hills, an essential stop is the Estate St. Peter Greathouse and Botanical Garden, a new facility that was built to look like an old great house. Aside plants (including an orchid jungle), birds and artwork, the site affords stunning views from 1,000 ft. above sea level of 20 offshore islands and atolls.
While up in the hills, another popular vantage point is Drake's Seat, actually a granite seat taking in the same views that supposedly were seen by Sir Francis Drake looking over the US and British Virgin Islands. You won't see the seat from the road, but you will see a gaggle of T-shirts vendors, waiting there for your arrival.
Another place for spectacular views is Mountain Top, which is at 1,500 ft., and known for its banana daiquiris. While in the neighbourhood, a round of golf at the Mahogany Run Golf Course would be on par at the 18-hole course (par 70), designed by Tom and George Fazio.
Back to sea level on the north coast is the popular and lively Magen's Bay, the best-known St Thomas beach and one of the most photographed in the Caribbean. Many bars, shops, restaurants line this beach which is the perfect spot for swimming, sunning, and particularly for people-watching on the island.
Not far from it is Hull Bay, used more by locals than tourists, therefore its quieter and less commercial. The water, however, is rougher, so it's popular with surfers.
For a variety of reasons, St Thomas has not been without crime, and visitors are warned to take the normal precautions when coming here. Keep cars and rooms locked and don't walk around at night. Hotels encourage guests to take taxis to and from restaurants in the evenings.
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