Colorful and busy, St. Thomas is a tourism hub for people traveling by air and sea. The two cruise ports — Havensight and Crown Bay — are on the island’s south side. Taxis, excursion vans and tour guides await in designated areas, ready to whisk cruisers away for a day of adventure. So to help you determine which spots to see, here are 10 of the most popular attractions in Charlotte Amalie and beyond.
One of St. Thomas’ top attractions, Coral World has something for visitors of all ages, but little ones especially will be amazed all day by the wide variety of animals they can meet and befriend. Special activities include turtle encounters and sea lion swims, ocean-floor Sea Trek walks and SNUBA (similar to diving except the air comes through a long hose from tanks on rafts on the surface and you can get down to 20 feet with the help of light weights). Excursions usually offer one or two of the activities as part of a package. However, plenty of exhibits are available with a general admission ticket ($19 per adult, $10 per child), including Stingray Lagoon, the undersea observatory tower, and the popular touch pool.
This beach is absolutely iconic on St. Thomas, and in spite of its reputation for being crowded (especially when cruise crowds descend), Magens Bay consistently ranks among the top-three-selling excursions, according to Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC and other lines. If you choose to skip a ship excursion and go on your own, you can take a taxi and pay a $4 entrance fee, plus the costs of food and drinks, and lounge-chair rental. Located on the north side of the island, it’s an estimated 25-minute ride from the port.
The highest point on the island, this landmark lookout offers a panoramic overlook of Magens Bay, all the way to St. John in the distance. The site also contains warehouse-style duty-free shopping and a bar known for its banana daiquiris. If you take an island tour (Sunny Liston Tours is a top pick by many cruisers), this stop is virtually guaranteed.
Also known as Dronningens Gade (Queen Street), this is the island’s main commercial artery, with a mix of duty-free shops and historic buildings, bars and religious houses. To escape the crowds, turn down a picturesque alleyway, follow the path of history on a step-street built from Danish bricks, plunder warehouses full of duty-free goods, or visit a fabled pirate’s lair. From Havensight cruise port, the heart of Main Street is about a 10-minute taxi ride.
The most famous of the step-streets, this picturesque climb leads from the residential area above Charlotte Amalie to Blackbeard’s Castle. The Danes created the step-streets to avoid walking the steep hills. This particular one is a nice way to do a little cardio while taking in the sights, including the tropical flowers and historic buildings that border the steps.
Get a bit of pirate culture with a visit to this five-acre national landmark. Popular photo ops include the tower, which was built in 1679 by the Danes; a 19th-century mansion containing 19 life-sized pirate statues; and the courtyard statue of Edward Teach, legendary pirate who was said to use this site as a base of operations in the early 18th century. A spiral staircase in the tower leads to a lookout over Charlotte Amalie and amazing views.
This site is at the top of 99 Steps, so many people bundle the two activities together. However, it’s not a requirement. If the steps are too strenuous, taxis and some sightseeing excursions will drive directly to the castle. Going by taxi at your own pace is recommended by the attraction itself. This may be the best route if you’d like to take a dip in the courtyard swimming pool, which is modern, well maintained and open to ticketed guests ($12.50 for ages 12 and up will get you access to the castle and the pool).
At first glance, this fort brings to mind toy forts of childhood. Probably one of St. Thomas’ top-five most photographed sights, this eye-catching red building is smack-dab in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Now a national landmark, construction began in 1672, making it the oldest-standing structure in the territory. It was the main fort on St. Thomas during the Danish rule, serving myriad purposes then and in later centuries (including as a place of worship, a government building, and even a prison). Most recently, it was a museum. However, it is now closed indefinitely due to stalled renovation plans, but the exterior photos to be had are worth making the visit.
Enamored by sea turtles? In Turtle Cove, you have a great chance at seeing these spectacular creatures (though do keep in mind that it’s not a guarantee!). This highly popular offshore area is right by the Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge (near St. Thomas, not St. Croix), so most Buck Island sailing outings will stop here — but so will most other sailing excursions. Fury Charters runs a catamaran tour to Turtle Cove and stops at popular snorkel spot.
Buck Island is a popular name in the Caribbean, so note that this is a different Buck Island than the one off of St. Croix. St. Thomas’ Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge includes a lighthouse that is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The shore is rocky, so neither boats nor people tend to get too close to the island itself. Boats anchor several yards out for snorkeling and swimming. The Castaway Girl catamaran from Cruise Ship Excursions hosts a popular day-sailing excursion for cruise lines like Holland America, with many turtle sightings reported.
Like many of the religious monuments and houses of worship on the island, this one ties together the past and present, tradition and modern community. It’s the oldest church on St. Thomas, sturdily constructed by the Danes in the 1790s to be the official Danish West Indies church. It still serves the community today. You’ll find it just uphill from the main shopping drag in Charlotte Amalie.