The Virgin Islands is one of the most beautiful parts of the United States that has not been overrun by visitors. Many people discover St. Thomas during a port day on their Caribbean cruise. There are so many great things to do in St. Thomas during a port day that it may be hard to decide the best thing to do! We hope this guide inspires you to find your perfect activity during your port day in St. Thomas.
Though Hurricane Irma damaged some of the island in 2017, the islands are well on the way to recovery. It is a destination worth stopping on its own or selecting a cruise itinerary around. St. Thomas is an island with various things to do like beaches, duty free shopping, restaurants, and many other things. Here are the best ways to spend your time in St. Thomas if you’re on a cruise, or longer:
Best Things to do in St. Thomas: The Beaches!
More than 40 beaches dot the island’s 32 square miles. Which one is right for you? For soft white sand, head to Magen’s Bay. For your No Filter vacation pic, Sapphire beach boasts beach-towel views of St. John and the British Virgin Islands. Feel like getting away from it all? Little-known Water Island is only accessible by ferry.
Magens Bay Beach
If you are visiting for some days make sure to leave yourself at least a half-day for relaxing and sunbathing on Magens Bay Beach. It is noted as one of the most beautiful beaches of the world by both Conde Nast and National Geographic. There are lots of things to do besides swimming and sunbathing such as hiking the nature trail, kayaking, paddleboat, and sailboat rentals. A nice restaurant and bar also has a shop for suntan lotion, chair rentals, bathing suits, and much more.
To enter the beach, a park fee of $5 per person is due. The good news is that there are no vendors approaching you while you’re on the beach. Taxi rates from the port are $10 for a single rider or $8 per person. The word is out that this is one of the best things to do in St. Thomas, so expect large crowds on port days. Go early before the tour buses arrive!
A beach popular with locals is Coki Beach, next to Coral World. Unlike some of the other beaches, Coki Beach is lined with small or broken shells, rather than sand. The coast is rather narrow, limiting the amount of space for visitors. You’ll be approached by sales people of all kinds, from those hawking shell jewelry to beers. With several food vendors on the beach, you’re sure to find something to fill your belly!
The water is beautifully clear. However, because of all of the people, snorkeling is not great unless you’re willing to go closer to Coral World or the opposite end of the beach. With bars hovering just above the beach, Coki has a party atmosphere compared to Magens Bay and Sapphire.
Taxi rates from the port are $7 for a single rider or $6 per person. Once there, you can rent chairs, lounge chairs, and umbrellas. It certainly is a fun beach!
If the cruise ships are in port, opt for Sapphire Beach, where the views and water are spectacular, and the crowds are scarce. From your towel on the beach, you can enjoy beautiful views of nearby St. Johns and the British Virgin Islands. And the water — there is a reason that this beach is called Sapphire. The beautiful water in different shades of blue is absolutely mesmerizing.
Located inside a private development, the public is welcome to enjoy the white sand beach. You can rent a chair, lounger, and umbrella from one of the resorts, as well as buy beverages and food. Taxi rates from the port are $13 for an individual rider or $10 per person.
Open to the public, Bluebeards Beach is a peaceful, calm bay that is somewhat isolated, making it great for visitors who want to enjoy the waves without the buzz typically typical of beaches. Even though the environment is best for just laying back, taking a dip, and enjoying the scenery and climate, visitors will yet find a range of restaurants, hotels, bars, swimming pools, and shops on the walkways parallel to the water. Families will find it very accommodating if they are planning to spend the day at the beach with little ones. Bluebeards Beach is also quite famous among visitors who enjoy kiteboarding, kayaking, and windsurfing.
Best Things to do in St. Thomas: Historical Sights
One of the island’s best viewpoints, Drake’s Seat affords a panoramic picture of Magen’s Bay and the US and the British Virgin Islands strung out to the east. If you visit in the late afternoon, the light is particularly entrancing. British privateer Sir Francis Drake is said to have used this place to spy on enemy ships of the Spanish Fleet passing via what is now called Drake’s Passage. You will not be charged an admission fee.
Climb The 99 Steps
Charlotte Amalie the main city in St. Thomas, and home to the cruise port is built on steep hills, sort of like a smaller, warmer San Francisco. However, the Dutch who first built the city used stairs rather than streets to keep the city connected over the mountain. The longest staircase consists of 99 steps that cut through downtown. Made of bricks used as ship ballast in the 1700s, the steps are now flanked by flowers and make for a pretty exploratory path. The steps are a fun thing to do in St. Thomas.
Visit The Second-Oldest Synagogue In The Hemisphere
While someone would not immediately associate St. Thomas with the Jewish community, it is home to the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The sandy-floored synagogue dates to 1833 and served Dutch, French, and Portuguese Jews forced out of Spain during the Inquisition.
Blackbeard’s Castle is a collection of sites, national landmarks, and historical properties on 5 acres of land also called the Williamsburg of the Caribbean. It is one of the most famous destinations for visitors, whether they are history buffs or not. With some of the properties dating back to the late 1600s, visitors will enjoy all the popular sites on the hilltop. They can walk through the property and explore it on their own or take a guided tour filled with tidbits of history and information on the island’s pirate legacy. Some of the sites include Scottsburg Tower, Blackbeard’s pools, Villa Not man, Hogenson Home, and Hotel 1829.
Best Things to do in St. Thomas: Unique Sights
At an impressive height of 1,500 feet above sea level, Paradise Point offers a spectacular panoramic view of both the United States and the British Virgin Islands, a total of 20 islands in all. National Geographic has rated this view of Magen’s Bay as one of the ten best views in the world. It features a casual shopping area for browsing and a bar which is the birthplace of the wildly popular Banana Daiquiri. Just breathtaking. You can take the Skyride 700 near the cruise ship dock downtown. You don’t need any transportation as the entrance to Paradise Point is located just outside Havensight dock.
Tree Limin’ Extreme
Soar through the rainforest on a 2-hour zipline canopy tour. Take in the breathtaking views of Magen’s Bay and the BVI’s from eight aerial platforms, fly high through the rainforest on 6 exhilarating ziplines and soak up the sun on our 2 incredible sky bridges as your ACCT trained guides lead you through this experience of a lifetime. The grand finale is the world-famous Yo-Yo zip, where guests zip to the end of the line before gravity brings them back to the middle, where a guide takes them off from a removable platform. It is the only one of its type in the Caribbean. Tree Limin’ Extreme is one of the best things to do in St. Thomas if you’re looking for excitement!
Coral World Ocean Park & Undersea Observatory
Their slogan “Get up close and personal” could not be more appropriate. See a lot of marine life without getting wet. Learn about the beauty and magic of Caribbean marine life in a stunning setting. Visit the shark pool to pet a shark or hand feed a stingray. Visit with the Lorikeets which flock to your arm when offered a cup of nectar. And if you do not mind getting wet, bring your bathing suit so you can swim with the sea lions or try a Sea Trek Helmet Dive. When you’re ready to relax, have lunch at one of the restaurants and shop for a special souvenir at one of the unique gift shops. $5.00 from the Shark and Turtle Encounters go to rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Located next to Coki Beach, a visit to Coral World is often combined with a few hours of enjoyment at this famous beach.
St. Thomas is widely known as the nicest shopping spot in the Caribbean and one of the 10 top shopping places in the world. A lot of duty-free bargains are found at prices that are below stateside (no sales tax) making it worth your while to spend your vacation days perusing the shops in downtown Charlotte Amalie, Haven sight Mall, Red Hook, Crown Bay Center or Yacht Haven Grande. The duty-free allowance is $1,600 per person including children. So, a family of four can take back $6,400 worth of duty-free purchases.
Day Trip To Other Islands
Some of the fun things to do on surrounding islands involve the Dolphin Discovery which takes place on the British Virgin Island of Tortola, just a ferry ride away. Reservations should be made in advance and tell them you’re coming from St. Thomas. A passport is needed for this trip. You’ll swim with the dolphins in protected, shallow waters. Other activities include playing golf at the famous Carambola Golf course on St Croix (take the seaplane over) and visiting the unusual rock formations called The Baths in Virgin Gorda.
Best Things to do in St. Thomas: Watersports
Being on the water enjoying the sun, sand, and sea is one of the main reasons to visit this place.
There are dive shops that will take you to beautiful underwater dive sites. A highly recommended dive shop is the Aqua Marine Dive Center, the only SSI approved dive center in the United States Virgin Islands, and one of the very few to offer all PADI courses. Resort certification programs can help those needing to become certified. Rent an underwater submersible Scooter which needs no diving experience at all.
Charter a powerboat. Sized from small 25′ to the luxurious 45′ Sea Ray motor yacht, suit your budget and taste. Each includes lunch, drinks, and snorkel gear.
The Virgin Island waters have several records for the largest fish caught ever. Marlin, wahoo, shark, tuna, and dolphin are all found in these waters.
The waters of the Virgin Islands are called some of the best sailing waters in the world. Most sailing yachts leave from St. Thomas’ East End/Red Hook area. Most boats offer water toys, drinks, lunch, instruction, and snorkel gear. Some St. John companies will come to St. Thomas and pick you up. Or join the knowledgeable guides of Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort on a 3-hour snorkel sail, complete with music and bottomless rum punch.
Swim with Sea Turtles
Get some face time with your underwater neighbors at Buck Island, a known favorite hangout of sea turtles.
Look for wildlife while paddling through St. Thomas’ Mangrove Lagoon. St. John’s tours offer all the beauty and thrills of paradise. Paddle in hike tropical trails, turquoise waters, and snorkel over coral reefs keeping your eyes peeled for sea turtles.
Some Basic Facts About St. Thomas
St. Thomas is one of four islands in the United States Virgin Islands (U.S.V.I.). As a U.S. territory, visitors to St. Thomas from the U.S. do not need a passport, only proof of their citizenship. The other advantage for U.S. visitors is that English is the main language and the U.S. dollar is the principal currency.
If you’re only on the island for a day, consider whether to rent a vehicle or not. Island driving is its own special experience! The U.S.V.I. is the only U.S. territory where the drivers drive in the left lane, though the steering equipment remains on the left. This leads to a lot of confusion! Because there is a mountain in the middle of the island, the roads tend to have lots of twists and turns. And you don’t want to miss the ship’s departure!
If you’re planning on going downtown Charlotte Amalie, the principal city in St. Thomas, from the main port at Havensight, you can walk into town (only about a mile) or take the free shuttle bus.
A favorite with cruisers and Caribbean island lovers, St. Thomas should not be missed if you’re looking at Caribbean cruise itineraries. The beauty of having so many things to do in St. Thomas is that no two visits to the island will be the same – now you have an excuse to come back again and again!
You can find more information about other fabulous Caribbean destinations:
- Port Guide: Enjoying Antigua’s Beaches (and More!)
- A Guide to San Juan, Puerto Rico
- A Port Day in Barbados
- What to See in St. Kitts
- A Port Day in St. Lucia
Annick, The Common Traveler