Saint Thomas, which comprises one of the Virgin Islands along with St. John, St. Croix, and Water Island, is a popular holiday destination for visitors looking for sun, sand, and sea. The Caribbean island has a rich history that is visible in its people, food, and culture. Visitors will find so much to see and do other than spending a day at a pristine Caribbean beach; some of the most interesting sites include Blackbeard's Castle, Coral World Ocean Park, and the Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge. Here are the best things to do in Saint Thomas. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Aqua Marine Dive Center, Saint Thomas
© Aqua Marine Dive Center
Other than being the only SSI approved dive center in the US Virgin Islands, the Aqua Marine Dive Center is also the highest rated on Trip Advisor and one of the very few to offer all PADI courses. The tours start with center staff members gaining a better understanding of what the visitor would like to see and creating a diving experience based around that.
Each of the tours always focuses on safety and service and visits a range of sites from shipwrecks and coral reefs to turtle adventure tours and exotic underwater fish tours. They cater exclusively to small groups and private tours, and visitors can charter a yacht, get on their gear, and experience the many wonders of the sea with the Aqua Marine Dive Center.
Shoreline drive 100 USVI Us, St Thomas 00802, U.S. Virgin Islands, Phone: 340-642-8701
2.Blackbeard's Castle, Saint Thomas
© Blackbeard's Castle
Blackbeard’s Castle is a collection of sites, national landmarks, and historical properties on five acres of land also known as "the Williamsburg of the Caribbean." It is one of the most popular destinations for visitors, whether they're history buffs or not. With some of the properties dating back to the late 1600s, visitors will enjoy all the famous 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 Skytsborg Tower, Blackbeard's pools, Villa Notman, Haagensen House, and Hotel 1829.
1001 Blackbeard's Hill, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00802, USVI, Phone: 340-776-1234
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3.Bluebeards Beach, Saint Thomas
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Open to the public, Bluebeards Beach is a peaceful, calm bay that is somewhat isolated, making it perfect for visitors who want to enjoy the waves without the buzz usually typical of beaches.
Even though the environment is great for just laying back, taking a dip, and enjoying the scenery and weather, visitors will still find a range of restaurants, bars, hotels, swimming pools, and shops on the walkways parallel to the water. Families will find it very accommodating if they're planning to spend the day at the beach with little ones. Bluebeards Beach is also quite popular among visitors who enjoy kiteboarding, windsurfing, and kayaking.
Frenchman's Bay, St. Thomas, VI 00802
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4.Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge, Saint Thomas
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The Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge consists of 45 acres of land that was established in 1969. The location played an important role as it housed many species of migratory birds throughout the year. Visitors could explore the refuge on their own, but since there are no visitor services, it might be best to go with a local tour company.
That way visitors can see all the different things the land offers such as the Antillean skink, which is a reptile endemic to the Puerto Rico bank, tons of sea turtles at Turtle Cove, and a Danish lighthouse that was established in 1916. Visitors will enjoy going on a chartered boat trip on the surrounding waters so that they can enjoy the spectacular reefs; the location is highly popular with divers, boaters, and snorkelers.
3013 Estate Golden Rock #167, Christiansted, VI 00820, USVI, Phone: 340-773-4554
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5.Things to Do in Saint Thomas: Caribbean Buzz Helicopters
© Caribbean Buzz Helicopters
Based in the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean Buzz Helicopters offers the ultimate helicopter experience. Whether visitors are looking for heli-tours, charters, or airport transfers, flying over the islands with one of Caribbean Buzz Helicopter's knowledgeable pilots will be an amazing experience for the entire family.
Visitors will have the opportunity to take stunning aerial photography, take a detour to a deserted island, or even play aerial beach scrabble. The helicopter tours ensure that visitors really experience the beauty of the islands. Some of the tours include the 30-minute Helo Sunshine tour that goes east of St. Thomas, the Helo Sunshine - Doors Off tour, which has a similar route but is more adrenaline-filled, and a monthly Full Moon Tour that lets visitors see the islands by moonlight.
8202 Lindbergh Bay, St. Thomas USVI, 00802, Phone: 340-775-7335
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6.Things to Do in Saint Thomas: Coki Point
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Crystal clear waters lap onto warm golden sand at Coki Point beach, and it is within this beautiful scenery that visitors will have one of the most memorable experiences from their trip to the Virgin Islands.
Coki Point is one of the more popular beaches, as it is filled with facilities and amenities such as beachside eateries, street food carts, bars, and shops to buy wrap skirts, sunblock, and other beach necessities. Visitors can snorkel, go kayaking, or dive and explore the surrounding reefs. There's a lot of beach parties and nightlife at Coki Beach, as it is a common stop on island tour itineraries and there are many cruise ships that port nearby.
St. Thomas 00802, USVI
7.Coral World Ocean Park, Saint Thomas, Caribbean
© Coral World Ocean Park
Coral World Ocean Park is a guaranteed good time when visiting St. Thomas and the US Virgin Islands. The park is spread over five acres of land and boasts a variety of attractions and activities that visitors of all ages will enjoy.
Some of the attractions include outdoor marine pools, exotic aquariums, a butterfly garden, an undersea observatory, and miles of nature trails. It's also one of the very few places where visitors can safely feed stingrays, pet many sharks, hold a wild iguana, swim with sea lions, or walk the makeshift ocean floor with a Sea Trek Helmet Dive.
6450 Coki Point, St. Thomas, USVI 00802, Phone: 340-775-1555
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8.Fort Christian, Saint Thomas
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Built between 1672 and 1680, Fort Christian is a fort built in Saint Thomas as a defense point during the Dano-Norwegian government. The National Historic Landmark is now home to the St. Thomas Museum and is filled with stunning art and interesting artifacts from the island's' history.
There is an extensive range of Amerindian relics that visitors will enjoy. There have been many renovations and additions made to the fort, and what visitors see now is a one-story Gothic revival structure that has a three-tiered tower in the center.
Forte Strade, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas 00801, USVI, Phone: 340-626-9195
9.French Heritage Museum, Saint Thomas
© French Heritage Museum
The French Heritage Museum has had a long and interesting history; the building itself was built in the 1950s as a fire station and has, over the years, been a kindergarten and a health clinic. Hurricane Marilyn damaged the structure in 1995, but the Frenchtown Civic Organization lovingly restored and brought it back to its original glory.
Now, visitors can explore the public museum dedicated to the rich French culture and heritage found on the Virgin Islands. There are many displays and exhibitions of Virgin Island relics, French West Indian Crafts, and many other art and craft pieces preserved for visitors and future generations to enjoy.
P.O. Box 591, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands 00804, Phone: 340-714-2583
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Hassel Island was actually a peninsula, but it was separated from the mainland in the 1860s to create better water circulation. The National Park Service now maintains the 135 acres of land and aims to interpret and preserve the island's rich history.
There are several historic sites on the island for visitors to explore such as the Creque Marine Railway, the Leprosarium, and Shipley's Battery, a defensive fortification built in the 1800s by the British. One of the more unique attractions is the Garrison House, a building used as a Board of Ordnance Stores and to house weapons, ammunition, and military equipment.
11.Lindquist Beach, Saint Thomas, Caribbean
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Lindquist Beach is a small but beautiful part of a much larger Smith Bay Park. The beach is absolutely pristine with its breathtaking turquoise waters and warm white sands. Visitors will find the beach extremely family friendly as amenities include an on-duty lifeguard, bathrooms, and picnic tables.
It's a popular spot for picnics with family and friends, and there are even sheds available to rent for parties and events. Visitors of all ages will enjoy swimming in the clear waters, sunbathing on the sand, building sand castles, or taking a walk along the shore. More adventurous visitors can go snorkeling or explore the nearby coconut groves.
St Thomas 00802, USVI
12.Magens Bay, Saint Thomas
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Another one of St. Thomas' most popular beaches, Magens Bay is a one mile stretch of beach connected to a public park. This particular beach is a visitor favorite, especially if visitors are traveling with younger ones, as the water is extremely calm and the current is not strong. The lack of waves make it a perfect place for little ones to swim, float, and play around in the water safely.
Visitors can rent paddle boats, kayaks, snorkels, and floats from the many sports booths found on the beach. There are also sun lounges and beach chairs for rent to sunbathe and relax under the warm sun. Other facilities and amenities include beachside bars, restaurants, gift shops, hair braiding stands, walking and jogging trails, picnic benches, and lifeguards.
13.Ocean Surfari Fishing Charters, Saint Thomas, Caribbean
© Ocean Surfari Fishing Charters
Located in St. Thomas' Red Hook Harbor, Ocean Surfari Fishing Charters, offers incomparable ocean adventures that visitors will remember and cherish about their vacation to the Virgin Islands. The adventures can include half day or full day private deep sea or inshore sport fishing charters.
Though famed for their fishing charters, Ocean Surfari also has some amazing island excursions that include a private charter to various sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Activities can include island hopping and sightseeing, swimming and snorkeling, bar hopping, and exploring and discovering hidden beaches and coves throughout the many islands.
6100 Red Hook Road B2-4, St Thomas, VI 00802, USVI, Phone: 340-227-5448
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14.Things to Do in St Thomas: Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden
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Opened to the public only in 2015, the Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden has actually been in the making for the past twenty years. The vision of one woman, the botanical garden has developed into an amazing collection of tropical flowers and plants.
Visitors exploring the botanical gardens will gain awareness of and knowledge on the different plants, including orchids, bromeliads, aroids, palms, and succulents. The park-like setting is a great place for visitors to relax, walk along the paths, take a break on the benches and enjoy the surrounding beauty, or hang out on one of the decks or the gazebo. Visitors also have the opportunity of enjoying a snack or tropical fruit drink at the Tropical Treats inside the garden.
5 Lerkenlund Est, St Thomas, Saint Thomas 00802, Phone: 340-774-2916
15.Plantation Crown and Hawk Botanical Garden, Saint Thomas
© Plantation Crown and Hawk Botanical Garden
Situated 1,500 feet above Charlotte Amalie, Plantation Crown and Hawk Botanical Garden offers visitors a tour of lush tropical gardens. In addition to that, visitors will be able to see some amazing hilltop views and take great photos on the 5 ½-acre sugar mill plantation.
It’s perfect for a day excursion with the entire family, and even the drive getting to the gardens will be an adventure as it is surrounded by scenic vistas. There are walking paths throughout the gardens and a hike that extends out to the surrounding trails. There are so many different types of flowers and plants for visitors to enjoy as well as a plant maze.
2-A Estate Crown and Hawk, St. Thomas, USVI 00802, U.S. Virgin Islands, Phone: 340-776-0041
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16.Sapphire Beach, Saint Thomas
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Simultaneously great for laidback visitors looking to relax under the sun as well as adventurous visitors who want to participate in water sports, Sapphire Beach ensures that the entire family has a great day out. Toddlers enjoy spending time near the manmade pool next to the beach, as it is home to ducks and iguanas.
Adults head straight to the water sports booth to partake in wind surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, jet skiing, or parasailing. Activities such as beach volleyball are common at Sapphire Beach, and visitors can refresh and reenergize after with a drink or a meal at the open-air grill or other food and drink vendors nearby. Visitors who are looking to get a tan and just unwind by the beach will find some shade beneath the sea grape trees and can rent a chair from one of the booths nearby.
17.St. Johns Fragrance Company Factory Tours
© St. Johns Fragrance Company Factory Tours
The St. Johns Fragrance Company has been an integral part of the Virgin Island's history for nearly 200 years. Albert Heinrich Riise, a Danish chemist, realized that mixing St. John’s bay leaf oils, which had a unique smell because of the climate and rich soil, with fine Virgin Island rums created a delightful fragrance.
It was so good, it won him the Centennial Medal in 1876. Since then, the company has grown tremendously, and visitors are invited to explore the small batch fragrance factory and facility for no cost at all from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Visitors can walk away with exciting purchases such as colognes, aftershaves, soaps, and gift sets from the factory store.
9011 Havensight Mall, Warehouse #1, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Phone: 340-774-2166
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18.St. Peter Greathouse Estate & Gardens
© St. Peter Greathouse Estate & Gardens
St. Peter Greathouse Estate and Gardens is a scenic location that has been treasured from the 1700s and was originally a part of the 150-acre Plantation St. Peter. Visitors can explore the 2 ½ acre land that is filled with tropical fruits, plants, and exotic orchids among other things.
The plantation rests high on volcanic peaks that offer breathtaking views of the surroundings. There is an observation deck that allows visitors to take stunning pictures to remember their Virgin Islands holidays. Other than the botanical garden, visitors can also explore the natural trails, a streaming waterfall, fish ponds, and tropical bird aviaries.
3A-18 Estate St. Peter, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Phone: 340-774-4999
19.St. Thomas Adventure Tours
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Visitors can choose from an array of tours by St. Thomas Adventure Tours – they’re guaranteed to have a good time regardless of their choice, as each of them delivers an amazing experience to explore the coastlines, the lush tropics, and wildlife. One of the most popular tours is the Kayak and Snorkel Tour, where visitors can swim with sea turtles in their natural environment and see coral reef teeming with different species of fish.
Professional and experienced staff provide all the coaching and assistance needed for all tours so no experience is necessary. Other than an opportunity to get up close and personal with sea turtles, visitors will be able to kayak, snorkel, enjoy spectacular views, explore the reef, and visit beautiful beaches. Tours vary, but most include pick up and drop off, lunch, and photographs of your experience.
Airport Rd, St Thomas, VI 00802, U.S. Virgin Islands, Phone: 340-227-8383
20.St. Thomas Food Tours, Saint Thomas, Caribbean
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Giving visitors the opportunity to really get to know St. Thomas, St. Thomas Food Tours is the brainchild of one woman who knows that the island's delicious dishes is the best way to truly experience the Virgin Islands. Visitors not only get to try some of the most culturally rich dishes that the island is known for such as kallaloo, pate, dumplings, and johnny cakes, but they also get to know the history and the people behind them.
Visitors immerse themselves in local culture during a tour that will not only allow them to sample local eats, but also to uncover the island's history through architecture, art, and so much more. Visitors can even take up a cooking class taught by a local chef in one of the partner restaurants.
19 Crown Bay St. Thomas, Virgin Islands 00802, Phone: 340-642-1995
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21.St. Thomas Scuba and Snorkel Adventures
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The National Geographic Traveler stated that the St. Thomas Scuba and Snorkel Adventures was a "must do while visiting the Caribbean." Rightly so, as the company provides affordable tours that are varied, customized and private, and they cover the best of St. John, St. Thomas, and the British Virgin Islands.
Visitors can create a tour with the knowledgeable guides to ensure their experience is exactly what they are looking for. Activities include snorkeling in caves and secluded reefs, night snorkeling for a completely different experience, scuba diving in secret locations, hiking on hidden trails, and kayaking on the Caribbean waters. One of the more unique tours is meditation diving, which allows visitors to dive into the clear blue waters and have a meditation experience like they've never had.
10-1 Hull Bay, Estate Hull, St. Thomas, VI 00802, Phone: 340-474-9332
22.What to Do in St Thomas: Tree Limin' Extreme Zipline Park
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Whether 5 years old or 95 years old, a visit to Tree Limin' Extreme Zipline Park will be one of the best experiences for visitors in the Virgin Islands. The park was voted the "best tourist activity" in all the Virgin Islands, a well-earned accolade, as the adrenaline-filled zip line tours show a side of St. Thomas that can't be seen from a tour bus or a chartered boat.
It is situated in a lush rainforest atop St. Peter Mountain, and visitors get an opportunity to see stunning views - including a view that the National Geographic considered to be one of the "top ten island/ ocean views in the world". Soaring through the jungle at 35 miles an hour, visitors can rest easy that they are zip lining with one of the safest and most experienced zip lining teams in the VI.
7406 Estate St. Peter, St. Thomas, VI 00802, Phone: 340-777-9477
23.Virgin Islands Ecotours, Saint Thomas, Caribbean
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Virgin Island Ecotours offers family-friendly eco tours that introduce guests to the Virgin Islands in the most local and unfiltered way possible. The tours can include anything and everything from single or tandem kayaking to snorkeling, and they visit some of the most amazing places in the VI. These include Mangrove Lagoon, which is a wildlife sanctuary and marine reserve, Bird Island, a UNESCO world heritage site, and a href="https://vacationidea.com/caribbean/best-honeymoon-destinations-in-the-caribbean.html" target="_blank">Honeymoon Beach in St. John.
Visitors will be able to see stunning views of the sunset, learn about indigenous animals and plants, and explore unspoiled mangrove forests. One of the more popular tours is a night kayak tour of the mangrove lagoon that lets visitors see a spookier side of the islands with ghost stories, pirates, and much more.
6526 Estate Nadir #2, St. Thomas, VI 00802, Phone: 340-779-2155
25 Best Things to Do in Saint Thomas
- Aqua Marine Dive Center, Saint Thomas, Photo: Aqua Marine Dive Center
- Blackbeard's Castle, Saint Thomas, Photo: Blackbeard's Castle
- Bluebeards Beach, Saint Thomas, Photo: Courtesy of chasing moments - Fotolia.com
- Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge, Saint Thomas, Photo: Courtesy of BlueOrange Studio - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Saint Thomas: Caribbean Buzz Helicopters, Photo: Caribbean Buzz Helicopters
- Things to Do in Saint Thomas: Coki Point, Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Izzotti - Fotolia.com
- Coral World Ocean Park, Saint Thomas, Caribbean, Photo: Coral World Ocean Park
- Fort Christian, Saint Thomas, Photo: Courtesy of steheap - Fotolia.com
- French Heritage Museum, Saint Thomas, Photo: French Heritage Museum
- Hassel Island, Photo: Courtesy of jiawangkun - Fotolia.com
- Lindquist Beach, Saint Thomas, Caribbean, Photo: Courtesy of avmedved - Fotolia.com
- Magens Bay, Saint Thomas, Photo: Courtesy of avmedved - Fotolia.com
- Ocean Surfari Fishing Charters, Saint Thomas, Caribbean, Photo: Ocean Surfari Fishing Charters
- Things to Do in St Thomas: Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, Photo: Courtesy of oriolegin11 - Fotolia.com
- Plantation Crown and Hawk Botanical Garden, Saint Thomas, Photo: Plantation Crown and Hawk Botanical Garden
- Sapphire Beach, Saint Thomas, Photo: Courtesy of cnabickum - Fotolia.com
- St. Johns Fragrance Company Factory Tours, Photo: St. Johns Fragrance Company Factory Tours
- St. Peter Greathouse Estate & Gardens, Photo: St. Peter Greathouse Estate & Gardens
- St. Thomas Adventure Tours, Photo: Courtesy of yossarian6 - Fotolia.com
- St. Thomas Food Tours, Saint Thomas, Caribbean, Photo: Courtesy of nickola_che - Fotolia.com
- St. Thomas Scuba and Snorkel Adventures, Photo: Courtesy of BillionPhotos.com - Fotolia.com
- What to Do in St Thomas: Tree Limin' Extreme Zipline Park, Photo: Courtesy of aquatarkus - Fotolia.com
- Virgin Islands Ecotours, Saint Thomas, Caribbean, Photo: Courtesy of ftlaudgirl - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of oldmn - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: Blackbeard’s Castle
Located in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, Blackbeard’s Castle is a National Historic Landmark commemorating the former residence of notorious Caribbean pirate Blackbeard, open as a living history museum that has become one of the foremost historical sites within the United States Virgin Islands.
The historic structure that is now known as Blackbeard’s Castle was originally constructed in 1679, named Skytsborg, which roughly translates as “protection castle.” The 40-foot-tall tower structure, which stands overlooking the Kongen’s Quarter area of the city of Charlotte Amalie, was originally intended as a lookout tower to watch for enemy ships entering the city’s harbor. During the 18th century, the Virgin Islands area, particularly the port of Charlotte Amalie’s harbor, became a notorious hub for pirate activity in the Caribbean. During this period, the tower was overtaken by Caribbean pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, who used it as a lookout for his pirate activity. As an English pirate who operated throughout the West Indies during the early 18th century, Blackbeard remained an infamous figure until his 1718 death and has become the inspiration for pirate archetypes in popular culture and fiction today. Following Blackbeard’s death, the tower became part of a private residence until the late 20th century, when it was preserved as a historic site and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. In 1995, the tower was declared a National Historic Landmark, one of only five sites throughout the United States Virgin Islands to receive such a distinction. The site was shortly thereafter opened as a living history museum site. In 2017, the site sustained damage during Hurricane Irma and was temporarily closed, reopening to the public in the spring of 2018 after repairs and restorations.
Today, Blackbeard’s Castle stands as one of Saint Thomas’ most famous historical sites, open to the public as a living history museum site. The tower is situated on a hilltop overlooking the city of Charlotte Amalie, located within a five-acre attraction site commonly referred to as the “Williamsburg of the Caribbean” that also showcases several other National Historic Landmark properties dating back as far as the 15th century. 360-degree views of the city’s downtown area and harbor are offered at the site, along with a number of tourist attractions and amenities.
The original tower is preserved as a historic structure, surrounded by a courtyard featuring a 14-foot bronze sculpture depicting the 18th-century pirate. Visitors may access the tower and site from the downtown Charlotte Amalie shopping district via a 99 Steps historic step-street stairway, which was constructed in the mid-1700s as part of the region’s city planning and formerly known as the Store Taarne Gade. Taxi service is also available to reach the site from downtown Charlotte Amalie.
In addition to the historic tower and courtyard, three visitor swimming pools are offered, which have their origins in pools that Blackbeard and his crew used during their occupation of the site. An outdoor bar is featured at one of the pools, offering rum distilled on site and other snacks and drinks. Another prominent sculpture at the site, The Three Queens, depicts three female slaves who revolted against the Danish colonial government in 1878. Guided tours of the site are available, detailing the tower’s original history as Skytsborg and its legacy in popular culture depictions of pirates.
In addition to Blackbeard’s Castle, three manor houses are preserved as part of the historic site region, available for exploration as part of guided or self-guided tours. Villa Notman, originally constructed in 1860, features white iron-cast balcony detailing imported from New Orleans and serves as a prime example of the island’s colonial-period architecture. A large patio on the villa’s second floor overlooks the city’s harbor, while mahogany wood flooring and classic French doors showcase the amenities of the home’s time period. The historic Hotel 1829 property, originally constructed by French sea merchants, showcases a world-famous Amber Waterfall fountain and is home to the restored 1829 Bar. The Haagensen House, the restored home of a 19th-century Danish banking magnate, features a Pirate Gallery on its first floor which displays 19 life-sized statues of famous pirates. All three properties may be explored as part of walking tours, and admission to the facilities includes rum tastings and access to the facilities’ swimming pools.
For visitors looking to stay overnight at the site, The Inn at Blackbeard’s Castle offer 15 rental units as part of a historic pirate-themed property. Amenities at the inn include a terrace overlooking the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean and complimentary breakfast and rum tastings for all visitors. Free admission to the attractions of Blackbeard’s Castle is included in the price of all room bookings. A bar located on the inn property is also accessible to Charlotte Amalie tourists without paying hotel reservations.
Lille Taarne Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Phone: 340-776-1234
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Attraction Spotlight: Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden
The Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden is located on the island of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The garden is home to a wide variety of tropical plants and offers views of Tortola, Magens Bay and St. John. Over one thousand tropical plants found in the garden include palms of varying heights representing at least six different species.
Succulents include cactus, agave and euphobia. A variety of Aroids display large, leafy greens and include Philodendron, Dieffenbachia and Zamioculces. Aroids are known for their ‘inflorescence,’ which is sometimes refered to as a flower but is really a leafy, but colorful combination of the spathe and spadix. Among the more colorful offerings of the garden are the Bromeliads, and Heliconias, otherwise known as ‘lobster claws.’ Six different varieties of Bromeliads include Hohembergia, Neoregelia, Guzmania and Tillandsia. There are over 3,000 known species of Bromeliads. While some are found in West Africa, most are native to the tropical Americas. Perhaps the most popular of the garden’s residents are the orchids. Cattleyas are among the most popular and come in a variety of shapes and colors. Phalaenopsis, also known as Moth Orchids, are the easiest to grow in the home and the type most commonly found in retail florists. Dendrobiums span over 1,000 species of both soft and hard-caned varieties. Brassias are epiphytic varieties, meaning they hang from the trees, decorating the forest with color, and gather most of their moisture from the air. A list of what’s currently in bloom may be found on the Phantasea website.
Each of the plants is clearly labeled and displays reflect the garden’s mission to educate the public on tropical plants native to the Carribean and conservation efforts to protect them. Interpretive signage also points to the birds, butterflies and native lizards and other animals that come to enjoy the vegetation, including hummingbirds and the Bananaquit , the state bird of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also feeds on nectar. Benches and gazebos located throughout the garden offer visitors a place to relax and enjoy the surrounding flora. A Balinese gazebo underneath a large ficus tree is a popular area to sit and rest.
A variety of orchids are available for sale in the garden’s gift shop, along with books on tropical plants and island cooking, garden accessories, snacks, juices and teas.
History: Phantasea Gardens opened to the public in early 2015 after 20 years of construction. The entire project is the result of owner Patsy Breunlin’s vision. Breunlin wished to create a true botanical garden for residents and visitors to St. Thomas to enjoy. Bruelin moved to the island in 1987 in search of even warmer weather than her native North Florida. A plant lover all her life, she immediately went to work looking for a suitable location to return the plants she brought with her to their native soil. In 1995, she settled on a property on the north of the island that was overgrown with invasive species and vines, underneath which were spectacular old growth trees and some terraced areas and stone walls. Originally, Breunlin’s intention was to build the garden for her own enjoyment. When she realized the property was in an area zoned for a botanical garden, she set to work on a business plan and the construction of visitor facilities. At the garden’s public opening in 2015, over 20 years of hard work had come to fruition. The privately owned garden is supported through admissions fees and memberships, which include early admission to plant sales and events, as well as discounts on classes, workshops and gift shop items. In 2015, Phantasea Gardens won St. Thomas’ Woman Owned Business of the Year Award, and consistently receives top ratings on several travel sites.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Guided group tours are available for school groups, summer camps and other organizations. Tours lead groups along the garden path and educate students on the flora of the moist tropical forests through an interactive program. Educational tours emphasize the relationship between the plants and animals on the island, as well as the relationship between what occurs on land, and its impact on the surrounding ocean.
What’s Nearby: Phantasea Gardens are located on the north side of St. Thomas, adjacent to Fairchild Park, a public park run by the government. The park is named for Arthur S. Fairchild, a longtime resident of the Virgin Islands and a well-known philanthropist.
St Thomas 00802, USV, Phone: 340-774-2916
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Attraction Spotlight: St. Peter Greathouse Estate and Gardens
Located near St Thomas’ Magens Bay in the United States Virgin Islands, the St. Peter Greathouse Estate and Gardens preserves a historic colonial-era plantation great house facility as a living history museum, showcasing tropical garden spaces and offering a ballroom event venue for private special event rentals.
The land which now encompasses the St. Peter Greathouse Estate and Gardens facility was historically the home of a number of indigenous tribes, including the Ciboney, Arawak, and Carib indigenous peoples. In the 1800s, the St. Peter sugarcane plantation and estate was constructed on a 150-acre parcel of land overlooking Magens Bay. Throughout the area’s occupation by European colonial forces, the island of Saint Thomas became a famous hub for pirate activity, and local island legend recounts that the St. Peter estate facility served as a safehouse for escaped buccaneers from the shipwreck of Jean Hamlin’s Le Trompeuse. In 1938, following the purchase of the Virgin Islands by the United States and the decline of the islands’ sugarcane industry due to the abolition of slavery, the St. Peter estate was sold to Virgin Islands governor Lawrence W. Cramer for a price of $400. The Johnson and Johnson Corporation acquired control of the estate in the 1960s, developing it into a historic retreat and tourist attraction. In 1987, the estate was renovated as an ecotourism attraction by Palm Villa, Incorporated, which developed its grounds into a botanical garden facility. The attraction was severely damaged twice in hurricanes throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, first in 1989 by 200mph winds sustained during Hurricane Hugo and again during 2017’s Hurricane Irma. Restoration work on the facility was done in 2018 following Irma’s devastation, and the facility has been reopened to the public.
Today, the St. Peter Greathouse Estate and Gardens is operated as a historic living history museum and botanical garden facility, open to the public as a tourist attraction and private special event venue. A 2,000-square-foot estate house preserves the original look and feel of a colonial plantation great house, while gardens and visitor pathways provide areas for outdoor recreation and exploration. The 11-acre mountaintop facility overlooks the Magens Bay area, providing spectacular views from more than 1,000 above sea level of the nearby Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, as well as more than 14 other Virgin Islands and Cays.
The estate’s Great House is a classic example of West Indian architecture, restored to its original 19th-century historic condition. A 2.5-acre Botanical Garden facility is offered on the home’s grounds, which formerly housed the facility’s sugarcane plantation fields. Today, more than 150 species of native Caribbean plants and fruits are showcased throughout the gardens, which offer a nature trail, fish ponds, and an observation deck providing views of the surrounding Magens Bay area. Notable highlights of the botanical gardens and its adjoining facilities include an orchid jungle, a multi-level wooden walkway, an exhibit of caged toucans, and an art gallery displaying rotating exhibits of local artist works. Complimentary locally-produced rum punch is offered for visitors of legal drinking age, which may be consumed while strolling through the botanical gardens’ grounds.
An onsite restaurant facility, Blue Orchid, offers globally-inspired cuisine and panoramic views at a height of more than 1,200 feet above sea level. A nightly cocktail hour is offered on the restaurant’s observation deck, and full-service dining is curated by world-renowned sous chef Karl Foster, a Chaines de Rotisseurs inductee. Dining options include steak, seafood, and pasta dishes, and nightly specials are offered.
The great house’s ballroom facility may be rented for private special events, including weddings, receptions, and corporate events. Up to 400 guests may be hosted at the facility, and onsite amenities are offered as part of rental packages, including an indoor/outdoor bar, catered hors d’oeuvres, buffets, and full dinners. Wedding package amenities include ministry services, photographers and videographers, florist services, bands, DJs, and musicians. As the premiere corporate event rental venue in the Virgin Islands, the facility’s past corporate event client list has included international firms such as IBM, American Airlines, AT&T, and Ford Motors.
The estate’s sister facility, the Pirates Treasure Museum, was opened in 2017 as an interactive family museum center highlighting the Virgin Islands’ history as a hub for pirate activity. A variety of hands-on exhibits are presented, elaborating on historical accounts of area pirates and local legends and folklore based on actual events. A simulated shipwreck replica houses the museum, which offers family-friendly multimedia activities and personal historical accounts of pirate ship survivors.
St Peter Mountain Rd, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Phone: 340-774-4999
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