Just a few hours from the East Coast, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, is an ideal Caribbean getaway. The water is brilliant blue, the beaches are outstanding, and there is an incredible variety of good food options. From historic sites to dazzling views to activities that will get your adrenaline pumping, there are lots of fun things to do in St. Thomas.
We’ve visited St. Thomas several times in the past but always on cruises. We recently had the chance to explore the island in depth to see more of what there is to do in this beautiful place. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
See the view at Mountain Top
One of the most St. Thomas attractions, especially for cruise ship passengers, Mountain Top has several claims to fame. At 2,100 feet above sea level on the top of St. Peter Mountain, its most notable feature is the stunning views it provides. Visitors can see not only Magens Bay beach below, but views extend all the way to Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands.
Mountain Top also bills itself as the island’s largest gift shop. There are plenty of souvenir t-shirts, beach bags, and more, often at lower prices than other places on the island.
While you’re browsing and taking in the view, grab a banana daiquiri from the bar where it was invented in the 1950s. Giant signs overhead proclaim that over 7 million have been sold here, though it’s surely more than that.
Visit Emancipation Garden
Emancipation Garden commemorates the freeing of enslaved people in St. Thomas by the Danish governor on July 3, 1848, 15 years before the Emancipation Proclamation did the same in the US. A commemorative plaque and a bronze bust of a newly freed man blowing a conch shell mark the location, along with a small replica of the Liberty Bell.
Located near Charlotte Amalie’s waterfront, the park provides a shady place to take a break near some of the popular St. Thomas sites. Throughout the year, it is the location of special events, including the inauguration ceremonies for the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Emancipation Day festivities. During the Christmas holidays, the park is filled with lights and decorations, making it a must see during the holidays.
Climb the 99 Steps
The hills rising around Charlotte Amalie are full of step streets. Perhaps the most visited by tourists are the 99 Steps, which were built by the Danes in the 1700s.
Actually clocking in at 103 steps, the 99 Steps are one of the most well-known landmarks in St. Thomas. Not far from historic Fort Christian and the Emancipation Garden, they lead visitors to a nice view of the island and close to the foot of Blackbeard’s Castle, though that National Historic Landmark is currently closed.
Explore the bounty at the Pirates Treasure Museum
In its centuries of maritime history, thousands of voyages have started and ended on the shores of St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands, but not all of them have made it safely. Exhibits at the Pirates Treasure Museum include items recovered from nearby shipwrecks and educate visitors about the technology used to find and recover wrecks. There are plenty of engaging stories from survivors of doomed ships and lots of pirate lore to keep you entertained.
Relax at the local beaches
Visiting the island’s stunning beaches is one of the best things to do in St. Thomas. They range from a pristine park with white sand at Lindquist Beach to the tourist favorite Magens Bay Beach, which features rental chairs and a full beach bar and restaurant. Some spots like Coki Beach offer chances for great shore diving, or you can head to Sapphire Beach for snorkeling and gorgeous views. It’s hard to go wrong here.
Nearly very beach on St. Thomas offers a chance to see something unique just a few yards from shore, so it’s a great place to go snorkeling. Depending on how busy the beaches are and how deep the water is, plant and animal life varies, but there’s almost always something cool from sea urchins and brain coral to sea turtles and stingrays. We have the most flexibility traveling with our own snorkels, but a few of the beaches offer hourly snorkel rental for those who want to explore.
To dive into a bit deeper water, check out some of the catamarans that offer snorkel tours from the island. We went with the VI Cat, which offers several snorkel and beach excursions.
Zip line above the trees
If you’re looking for a little adventure, head to Tree Limin’ Extreme ziplining, the first zipline park in the Virgin Islands. This experience isn’t for the faint of heart, as you zip up to 35 miles per hour above the trees.
Tree Limin’ has six ziplines and two sky walks that will get your adrenaline pumping and provide incredible views of Magens Bay, Jost van Dyke, Tortola, and beyond. It’s a must do in St. Thomas for kids or anyone looking for a bit of a break from the beach.
See the plants at Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden
For over 20 years, the gardens at Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden have been cultivated to showcase orchids, bromeliads, tropical trees, and other Caribbean plants. Now open to the public, the garden educates visitors about the tropical plants and conservation methods.
As you wander through the 2-acre garden, there are lots of places to sit and appreciate the natural beauty. Some of the spots even have views of neighboring Tortola and St. John as well as the cruise ship harbor. With plants blooming all year long, there is no bad time to visit this lush location.
Visit Coral World Ocean Park
Right next to Coki Beach, you’ll find Coral World Ocean Park, an attraction dedicated to showing visitors the exciting world of the ocean. Its signature Underwater Observatory Tower goes 20 feet below the surface, giving people a chance to see sea life in a unique way.
Coral reef tanks and a giant aquarium also allow visitors to Coral World to see sea turtles, sea lions, lots of fish, coral, and sharks. Those interested in getting a closer look can try a sea trek experience–walking on the ocean floor with an oxygen-filled helmet. Note: we never endorse activities that involve interacting with sea life in a way they wouldn’t behave in the wild.
Visit Fort Christian
One of the most historic attractions in St. Thomas, Fort Christian was first built in the 1670s by Danish Governor Jørgen Iversen. Named after Danish King Christian V, the fort was designed to provide defense for the island.
Over the centuries, the structure and purpose of the fort evolved, and it became police headquarters of the Virgin Islands and a prison. Today, the red and white Gothic revival structure is a National Historic Landmark featuring a museum filled with period furniture and historic documents and photos that tell the story of the island.
See the St. Thomas Synagogue
The St. Thomas Synagogue—officially named Beracha Veshalom Vegimulth Hasidim, meaning Blessing and Peace and Loving Deeds—is the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The congregation started with just nine Sephardic Jewish families and dates from 1796.
The current synagogue was built in 1833 in the same location as previous buildings. On the regular tours, visitors can see its unique historic features, including its domed ceiling with European chandeliers, mahogany pews, and the Menorah, which dates from the 11th century. Uniquely, the building’s floor is covered in sand, symbolic of the desert where the Moses and the children of Israel wandered for 40 years.
Grab a drink in a parking lot
If you’re wondering what to do in St. Thomas at night, head to Red Hook, which is full of lots of great restaurants and fun places for going out. One of the most unique is Duffy’s Love Shack.
Duffy’s, a fun tiki bar that serves food, is set up in the parking lot of a strip mall right in the heart of downtown. You can eat outside in the parking lot or inside where you’re likely to find bubbles coming down from the ceiling and an animated shark moving around at least some time during your visit. It’s an experience not to be missed.
Explore the underwater world on a SCUBA Dive
Dozens of breathtaking dive sites line the waters off the coast. Whether you’re interested in getting SCUBA certified or are an advanced diver, there are lots of options from beginner’s classes to wreck dives.
We dove off Coki Beach and saw the most colorful coral we’ve seen anywhere in the world along with sharks, sea turtles, eels, and all kinds of fish. The scenery is gorgeous and the water is warm, so it’s hard to ask for anything more.
Shop in Charlotte Amalie
Some of the most popular places for visitors to shop in St. Thomas are just outside the cruise port at the Havensight Mall in Charlotte Amalie. There are lots of choices for jewelry and watches, souvenirs, duty free alcohol, designer goods, and more.
Have a pint at Leatherback Brewing
To sample some beer from the islands, head to Leatherback Brewing Company. Brewed with Caribbean grown ingredients, the beers at Leatherback are made both in St. Croix and in St. Thomas at Havensight Plaza not far from the cruise port.
A celebration of life in the Caribbean, the signature beers are Beach Life, Island Life, and Reef Life. With these beers and a selection of other ales, IPAs, hefeweizens, and more, Leatherback has a broad offering to please a range of palates.
See Frederick Lutheran Church
Founded in 1666, the Frederick Lutheran Church is one of the oldest institutions on the island. The current building, which was dedicated in 1793, has survived disasters and been repaired and remodeled over the years. It remains one of the oldest continually used structures in St. Thomas and is worth a stop when you’re downtown.
Take the Skyride to Paradise Point
Rising to 700 feet above sea level, the Skyride to Paradise Point provides sweeping views of the island. It’s a beautiful place to visit any time but is especially popular at sunset.
At the top, visitors will find the famous Bailey’s Bushwacker cocktail as well as PRIME at Paradise Point, a steakhouse that is one of the top restaurants on the island.
Grab a coffee at Virgin Islands Coffee Roaster
Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters is a small batch artisanal coffee roaster whose coffee ensures a delicious drink (and caffeine fix!) across the island. Their beans are roasted and packaged on St. Thomas for maximum freshness.
Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters has a cafe right near the cruise port where visitors can try their coffee alongside snacks like ice cream and Belgian waffles and other drinks like fruit teas and locally brewed coffee beers. If you can’t make it to the cafe, their beans are used at coffee shops and restaurants all over the island, so look out for their sign.
Visit Water Island
A 7-minute ferry ride from the Crown Bay Marina will take you to the shores of Water Island, the smallest of the US Virgin Islands. Much smaller (and generally quieter) than St. Thomas, a visit here feels like a getaway from your vacation.
Rent a chair, grab a cocktail from Dinghy’s Beach Bar, and settle in for a relaxing day among the waves. Sea turtles feed on sea grass just a few yards from shore, so bring your snorkel to watch them in their natural habitat.