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The Americas & Caribbean

About St. Thomas

The first of seven Danish colonies in the Caribbean, St. Thomas is a rich blend of colorful architecture, stunning beaches and intriguing island history. Today it is one of the US Virgin Islands, along with St. Croix, St. John and about 50 smaller islets, purchased by the United States from Denmark in 1917. The British Virgin Islands, a smaller group belonging to Great Britain, is clustered nearby. St. Thomas’s capital, Charlotte Amalie, was named after Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel, wife to King Christian V of Denmark.

Originally settled around 1500 BC by the Ciboney (part of the Taíno tribe), then by the Arawaks and later by the Caribs, St. Thomas was visited by Christopher Columbus in 1493. In 1666 it was conquered by the Danish. Their Caribbean outpost of the Danish West India Company prospered on the production of sugarcane. The British occupied St. Thomas on two occasions during the 19th century, but subsequently returned it to the Danish. Following the US purchase, tourism started to replace sugarcane as the most significant segment of the economy.

St. Thomas Lifestyle and Culture

The capital city of Charlotte Amalie boasts one of the world’s most beautiful harbors; a bustling port that is as important today as it was in the 17th century, it is a treasure trove of Danish colonial architecture and history.

Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro was born here in 1830 and his childhood stone house is nestled on Charlotte Amalie’s Main Street among the many shops selling silver and gold. In Pissarro’s day, a significant Jewish community flourished here.

The locals here are decidedly Caribbean, but many mainland Americans and Europeans also call St. Thomas home. As it is a US territory, American pop music and Florida oranges are just as ubiquitous as calypso music and coconuts. Fishermen sell their daily catch from small stands alongside large grocery stores. It’s a unique blend of American and Caribbean culture.

St. Thomas Sights and Landmarks

Most of St. Thomas’s sights are centered in Charlotte Amalie. Though the city’s harborside streets quickly rise up to climb the scenic hillside, it’s easy to see a number of them on foot. Start at Fort Christian, the oldest colonial building in the US Virgin Islands. Near the fort is Frederick Lutheran Church; its original Georgian design received some Gothic flourishes when it was refurbished in the 1800s. Climb the so-called 99 Steps (there are actually more than 100)—built by the Danes in the 18th century—up to the castle atop Government Hill. Constructed as a military installation, it offers breathtaking views of the harbor.

Nearby, a pair of remarkable homes were built using the yellow bricks carried here from Denmark as ship ballast. Haagensen House is a restored 19th-century banker’s mansion featuring a large tiled patio, beautiful mahogany furniture and a terraced garden. Villa Notman has also been restored, boasting a spectacular white cast-iron balcony. Another unique find in the Caribbean, St. Thomas Synagogue is a national historic landmark and the second oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

St. Thomas Entertainment and Activities

St. Thomas is home to some of the most spectacular beaches in the Caribbean. From quiet, laid-back coves to rugged shores to beachside shops renting water sports equipment, there is something here for every type of beach lover.

Lindbergh Bay (also called Emerald Beach), not far from Charlotte Amalie, is a quiet haven of shade-casting trees and calm waters. For water sports, visit multipurpose Morningstar Beach. A little farther afield is Lindquist Beach, on the eastern shore. One of the island’s most pristine stretches and part of a protected area, it is perfect for swimming. The famous Magens Bay is on the northern side of the island. Its mile of white sand is lined with coconut palms and calm waters.

Coral World Ocean Park offers a fine collection of exotic aquariums, marine pools and rescued animals.

Water Island is the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, and just a quick ferry ride from Charlotte Amalie. Limited residents, cars and shops give it a remote feel.

St. Thomas Restaurants and Shopping

Cuisine on St. Thomas is delightfully varied. Traditional Caribbean food is heavy on spice, owing to its Indian and African roots. Seafood naturally shows up on many menus, as well as tropical fruits such as mango, star fruit and soursop.

Popular dishes include fungi. Unrelated to mushrooms, this staple is a cornmeal cooked with okra and eaten with fish. Callaloo is a soup made from the callaloo leaf, meat and okra. Both of these Caribbean favorites can be sampled at local eatery Gladys’ Café in Charlotte Amalie. You can even take a bottle of Gladys’ homemade hot sauce home with you. Or try another local establishment, Cuzzin’s Caribbean Restaurant & Bar, for fresh seafood Creole style.

For upscale island-casual, Amalia Café serves Spanish cuisine on an inviting covered patio. Paella is its specialty, but the café also offers tasty tapas such as octopus in garlic sauce. Another high-end choice is Banana Tree Grill, where stunning views meet delicious international cuisine.

On the northern shore, Old Stone Farmhouse surrounds diners with thick stone walls, wood-beamed ceilings and views of the Mahogany Run Golf Course. Dishes rotate seasonally.

With more than 100 duty-free and souvenir shops, Havensight Mall has wide appeal, while Yacht Haven Grande on the waterfront focuses on higher-end boutiques and designer brands. The colorful Vendors Plaza near Emancipation Garden offers typical local souvenirs.