This Stunning Caribbean Island Is Easy to Reach From the East Coast — and It Has Beautiful Beaches and World-class Snorkeling

·6 min read
Sunset over the harbor of Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas in US Virgin Islands
Sunset over the harbor of Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas in US Virgin Islands

Steve Heap/Getty Images

The easiest of the U.S. Virgin Islands to reach, St. Thomas is both the gateway to St. John and St. Croix and a beloved vacation destination in its own right. Tourists primarily flock to this popular Caribbean paradise for its beautiful beaches and world-class snorkeling. It's also steeped in maritime history and pirate legends, which make for some interesting attractions.

The frequency of international travelers has left a mark over the years. As a result, St. Thomas exudes a cosmopolitan atmosphere, especially in the bustling capital of Charlotte Amalie, which is brimming with Danish colonial architecture, duty-free shops, and cultural landmarks.

Buildings on main shopping street on Dronningens Gade Street in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
Buildings on main shopping street on Dronningens Gade Street in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

A busy port for cruise ships, the island swells when big boats dock. Given St. Thomas is only 32 square miles, you can see many major sights and relish some beach time all in a few hours. However, many people prefer to spend a couple of days or more on the island to cover more sun-soaked ground and splash in the turquoise tides.

Getting to St. Thomas

A seaplane flying over Crown Bay, US Virgin Islands
A seaplane flying over Crown Bay, US Virgin Islands

eyfoto/Getty Images

St. Thomas is the most accessible of the U.S. Virgin Islands. American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, and United all operate direct flights from major East Coast airports, including New York, Boston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. From takeoff to landing, it's only about four hours (of course, this varies slightly depending on the departure point). Upping the convenience factor even more? Americans get to enjoy the ease of domestic travel — online check-in and not needing a passport — as the island is an unincorporated U.S. territory. St. Thomas is also easy to reach via plane or boat from other Caribbean destinations, making it a requisite stop on any island-hopping holiday.

Best Things to Do on St. Thomas

Idyllic beach at Magens Bay, Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
Idyllic beach at Magens Bay, Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

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St. Thomas has a treasure trove of sandy stretches with dozens of beautiful beaches. Postcard-worthy and popular Magens Bay on the north coast is ideal for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Those wanting to avoid the crowds will find quiet places like Lindquist Beach, part of the 21-acre protected Smith Bay Park, situated on the island's eastern end.

aerial shot of Coki Point, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
aerial shot of Coki Point, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

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With some of the clearest water in the world and tons of tropical fish, it's no surprise that snorkeling is one of the main draws here. Families especially love the calm bays that make swimming and exploring fun and safe for kiddos. Some of the top spots to see magnificent marine life include Coki Point Beach, Secret Harbour, and Brewers Bay. It's also highly recommended to join a boat excursion to Honeymoon Beach on lesser-known Water Island.

Charlotte Amalie is a vibrant hub for shopping, entertainment, and history. There are more than 100 duty-free stores, including many jewelers. (Some travelers even report bringing an extra suitcase dedicated to carrying back souvenirs.)

Interior of the Pirates Treasure Museum on St. Thomas
Interior of the Pirates Treasure Museum on St. Thomas

Courtesy of Pirates Treasure Museum

Keen on learning a bit more about the island's past? Check out the eye-catching 17th-century Fort Christian, which showcases a central clock tower and on-site museum. St. Thomas is also home to the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The Pirates Treasure Museum brings the legends and lore of deep-sea escapades to life through interactive exhibits.

The VI - Deck at Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, St. Thomas
The VI - Deck at Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, St. Thomas

Courtesy of Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden

For a workout and superb panoramas, climb the 99 Steps. Colloquially referred to as "step-street," it's a staircase built from bricks brought over by 18th-century Danish ships. Another high-altitude must, the Skyride aerial tram climbs 700 feet above Charlotte Amalie to Paradise Point.

Budding botanists of all ages should take a trip to Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, while art fans won't want to pass up the chance to visit the childhood home of French impressionist Camille Pissarro. Nightlife enthusiasts can hit the lively beach bars and clubs.

Best St. Thomas Hotels and Resorts

Secret Harbor sunset, St Thomas
Secret Harbor sunset, St Thomas

Robin Hill/Getty Images

Marriott's Frenchman's Cove

Perfect for family vacations and group getaways, Marriott's Frenchman's Cove features spacious villas with two or three bedrooms, living and dining areas, fully equipped kitchens, and patios. The hillside property also treats guests to ample amenities — including an infinity pool with a waterslide — and activities, as well as gorgeous vistas of Pacquereau Bay.

Secret Harbour Beach Resort

Located on the quieter east end of St. Thomas, Secret Harbour Beach Resort is a favorite among families and couples looking for a relaxed escape that doesn't skimp on fun outdoorsy activities. Besides snorkeling, scuba diving, and tennis, guests rave about the renovated condo-style units that are just steps from the sand.

The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas

The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas

The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas

A luxury resort that very much caters to families, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas sits on a beautiful sandy beach and has a slew of kid- and parent-approved amenities, ranging from a top-notch kids' club to a pool with a waterslide. There are four restaurants, 180 revamped guest rooms, and the famous sunset catamaran cruises.

At Home in the Tropics

For a boutique stay with a central location, At Home in the Tropics provides a laid-back vibe that feels more grown-up than many of the area's larger resorts. Housed in a lovely historic Danish building overlooking the harbor, the bed-and-breakfast offers a pool, four coastal-inspired guest rooms, and equally breezy common spaces.

Best St. Thomas Restaurants

Cocktails from Pangea Terra Table
Cocktails from Pangea Terra Table

Courtesy of Pangea Terra Table

Pangea Terra Table

Pangea Terra Table focuses on farm-to-fork fare made with seasonal organic ingredients served in a lovely alfresco setting with a lively bar. Beyond the delicious food, the restaurant's sustainability initiatives — which include an on-site garden, using zero plastic, and composting — are admirable.

Heidi's Honeymoon Grill

The perfect spot for a leisurely lunch on Water Island, Heidi's Honeymoon Grill serves flavorful fish tacos and strong rum cocktails to day-trippers. Grab a shaded table on the deck and soak in the sparkling views until your food arrives.

View from tables at Heidi's Hill Top Grill
View from tables at Heidi's Hill Top Grill

Courtesy of Heidi's Hill Top Grill

Prime at Paradise Point

Craving a fancier dinner — perhaps one that involves leaving the kids with a babysitter back at the hotel? Prime at Paradise Point is a special-occasion-worthy choice, with indulgent dishes like local lobster, tomahawk steak, and truffle mac and cheese.

Side Street Pub

Hungry shoppers who need to refuel between duty-free purchases can head to Side Street Pub for slow-cooked pulled pork tacos, homemade salsa, and Caribbean chicken sandwiches. It's a family-owned hidden gem in Charlotte Amalie, with friendly service that's well worth the effort to find.