What are the five best things to see and do in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

Andrea Milam

The three main U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix offer endless activities and sightseeing opportunities. Here are the top five best things to see and do:
 
1. Approximately two-thirds of St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, and hiking trails wind through 7,000 lush acres, taking you through beautiful tropical forests, past historic ruins and to stunningly beautiful beaches. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ favorite trail is Lind Point — it’s manageable at just one mile long with moderate elevation changes, and the reward at the end is Salomon Beach, one of the most tranquil stretches of sand on the island.
 
2. The USVI is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, so a day at the ocean is a must-do when you come to this U.S. territory. St. John’s iconic Trunk Bay offers a pristine stretch of white sand; generally calm, clear turquoise waters; and an underwater snorkel trail. On St. Thomas, plan to spend a day at Magens Bay Beach, a full half-mile of pure, soft sand and serene, blindingly blue waters. The USVI’s biggest beach is also one of its most gorgeous: St. Croix’s three-mile-long Sandy Point offers calm, shallow waters, but because it’s a protected reserve (the endangered leatherback turtle nests here), it’s only open on the weekends.
 
3. It’s next to impossible to take a step in St. Croix without tripping over a piece of the island’s history. More than 150 sugar plantation ruins fill the sloping landscape here, and the best way to take it all in is with a Ruins Ramble, courtesy of the St. Croix Landmarks Society. Historians lead these monthly tours November through May, allowing you to get up close and personal with St. Croix’s colonial history.
 
4. The Virgin Islands’ calm waters and the numerous cays and islands that dot the seascape make for an ideal boating experience, and there’s no shortage of charter companies to help you experience it all. St. Thomas and St. John are the perfect jumping-off points, as they are mere minutes from picturesque sandbars, deserted cays and even the British Virgin Islands, an attraction in its own right.
 
5. St. Thomas is the undisputed shopping capital in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Head to Havensight, one of the island’s two cruise ship ports, for duty-free jewelry, liquor, electronics and more. Visit Yacht Haven Grande to peruse high-end shops like Coach, Gucci and Louis Vuitton in a picturesque setting along the water. St. Thomas’ capital of Charlotte Amalie boasts street after street of shops housed in historic buildings. No matter which shopping area you choose, you’re sure to find quality goods at great deals on St. Thomas.

  • On August 22, 2012
    Andrea Milam answered the question: Andrea Milam

    What is the best way to see the U.S. Virgin Islands in one day?

    Unfortunately, it’s impossible to explore all of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ three beautiful islands in one day, as St. Croix is 40 miles south and a plane ride away from St. Thomas and St. John, which are separated from one another by a mere 20-minute ferry ride. So here’s how to best explore the islands depending on which area you’re visiting.
     
    If you begin in St. Thomas, it’s easy to travel to St. John, so you can do both islands in one day. Start off in St. Thomas’ Charlotte Amalie, where some of the region’s best duty-free shopping can be found among historic buildings dating back to the 1600s. Once you’ve given your credit card a workout, it’s time to head to St. John to cool off, so hop on a taxi to Red Hook and catch an hourly ferry to Cruz Bay.
     
    When you arrive on St. John, you can easily hire a taxi driver. Ask him to take you on a tour of the island’s stunning north shore, whose beaches are part of the V.I. National Park and therefore remain in their beautiful natural state. Head out to Maho Beach, whose placid, gin-clear waters make this beach a favorite among families with young children. Then make your way back toward Cruz Bay, stopping at beaches along the way, like Cinnamon Bay and the famed Trunk Bay, which often appears on top 10 lists for its jaw-dropping allure. Once you’ve experienced the beauty of St. John’s north shore beaches, ask your driver to stop at the Cruz Bay overlook and watch the sun set over St. Thomas for the perfect ending to your day.
     
    If you begin on St. Croix — at 28 by 7 miles, the biggest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands — you can explore plenty of history and beauty. Start off in Christiansted, perusing the eclectic shops housed in historic Danish buildings and exploring Fort Christiansvaern, an 18th-century fort constructed by Denmark, which owned the Virgin Islands until 1917. From Christiansted, you can easily pick up a taxi. Ask your driver to take you along the island’s picturesque north shore, making time for a stop at Cane Bay, a beautiful beach where there’s always a good crowd of people looking to kick back and have some fun. From there, continue west along the vista-laden North Shore Road before heading south for St. Croix’s rainforest. Ask your driver to take you along Mahogany Road, where you’ll see the biggest trees and the lushest, most dense greenery on the entire island. Finally, stop in Frederiksted, a nearly 300-year-old town where you can amble among historic buildings, including the striking red and white Fort Frederik, built in the 1750s to stave off pirates. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants to check out before you make your way out onto the Frederiksted Pier, the ideal place to watch the sun set after your busy day of exploring.
  • On August 22, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

    From glitz and glamor with all the amenities to upscale accommodations evocative of a bygone era, the U.S. Virgin Islands know how to do luxury. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ top five picks for where to stay:
     
    1. Caneel Bay. The epitome of understated elegance on St. John’s iconic north shore, the resort’s beauty and ambiance is a throwback to the days of Laurance Rockefeller, who fell in love with this tiny Virgin Island and founded the resort with environmental preservation in mind. Come here if you’re looking to really disconnect — the guestrooms don’t have televisions or phones, and the resort boasts seven beaches you’ll never want to leave.
     
    2. The Buccaneer Hotel. One of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ finest hotels, The Buccaneer on St. Croix is the perfect blend of modern amenities and fascinating history. Hotel facilities including a spa, golf course, tennis courts and — of course — beautiful beaches exist in harmony along with the ruins of an 18th-century sugar plantation. Everything from the staff to the rooms to the food is refreshingly top-notch, exactly the way a luxury hotel should be.
     
    3. The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. It goes without saying that The Ritz-Carlton offers unparalleled luxury along with upscale, Caribbean-inspired décor. Located in the bustling city of Red Hook, the hotel is just minutes away from restaurants, shops and nightlife. And true to The Ritz name, hotel staff goes out of their way to make sure you feel welcome.
     
    4. Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort. Ideally located in St. Thomas’ Charlotte Amalie, the recently renovated hotel is a playground for grown-ups and kids alike. Between the fitness center, kids’ club, pretty Virgin Islands beach, infinity-edge pool, tennis courts and much more, you’ll have no trouble staying busy at this Marriott. Plus the resort is just minutes away from some of the best shopping in the region in Charlotte Amalie.
     
    5. The Westin St. John Resort & Villas.
    Forty-seven acres of fun. That’s what you’ll find at the Westin St. John, located just outside the island’s main town of Cruz Bay on its own private beachfront. Beautifully landscaped grounds are home to tennis courts, a playground, one of the island’s best restaurants and perhaps the hotel’s coolest feature: its giant, sprawling pool with a view of the ocean beyond.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Andrea Milam answered the question: Andrea Milam

    Where is the best shopping in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

    Each of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands offers its own shopping experience, but St. Thomas is the hands-down winner when it comes to variety. The island’s best shopping can be found in its capital, Charlotte Amalie, where you can find everything from cameras and jewelry to top-shelf liquors and perfumes in shops housed in charming historic buildings. St. Croix’s town of Christiansted is also home to shops in historic structures, albeit with a bit less variety. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend you stop at Sonya’s Ltd. and pick up an original hook bracelet; the shop was the first to create the handcrafted silver or gold bangles that have become synonymous with St. Croix. The best place to spend your money on St. John is Mongoose Junction, a menagerie of shops selling clothing, sunglasses, jewelry and more, all of which are spread out in delightful stone buildings with lush landscaping.
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  • On August 16, 2012
    Andrea Milam answered the question: Andrea Milam

    What are the five best things to do with kids in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

    From frolicking in the waves to exploring pirate lore, the U.S. Virgin Islands knows how to show kids a good time. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to do with your little ones in America’s Paradise:
     
    1. First and foremost, get your kids to the beach. At St. John’s Cinnamon Bay, rent windsurfers, Hobie Cats and other watersports toys, or tour the newly renovated Virgin Islands National Park museum, situated right along the shore. St. Thomas’ Secret Harbour Beach offers everything a family could want for a day of fun in the sun: calm, clear waters; plenty of shade; an onsite restaurant and beach bar; and snorkel gear as well as canoe and kayak rentals. At Chenay Bay on St. Croix, your kids will delight in discovering the starfish and conch that live on the beach’s grassy bottom.
     
    2. There’s lots of fascinating sea life to be found in the Virgin Islands’ waters, but it can be hard to visit multiple snorkel and dive sites, especially when your children’s schedule dictates the vacation itinerary. Enter Coral World Ocean Park on St. Thomas, where kids can observe fish in their natural environment from 15 feet below in an undersea observatory. They can even pet starfish and sea cucumbers.
     
    3. St. Croix’s beautiful landscape just begs to be explored, and one of the best ways to experience this tranquil environment is via horseback. Paul & Jill’s Equestrian Stables is kid-friendly, welcoming everyone from first-timers to more experienced riders. Trot through the rainforest or beach for an excursion your kids won’t soon forget.
     
    4. Ice sculptures are probably the furthest thing from your mind when you’re vacationing in the Caribbean, but one of St. Thomas’ newest attractions, Magic Ice, is one of those you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it types of experiences. Magic Ice offers both a respite from the island sun and some incredibly impressive works by world-famous ice sculptors. In this 10,000-square-foot former warehouse, you’ll find cool sculptures that highlight the Caribbean’s history, including shipwrecks and lighthouses.
     
    5. Your child will be fascinated by the history of pirates in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and one of the best places to experience the islands’ swashbuckling past is St. Thomas’ Blackbeard’s Castle. Walk among bronze and copper statues of pirates, learn about rum production and take in breathtaking views of the Charlotte Amalie Harbor.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Andrea Milam answered the question: Andrea Milam

    What are the five best things to see and do in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

    The three main U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix offer endless activities and sightseeing opportunities. Here are the top five best things to see and do:
     
    1. Approximately two-thirds of St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, and hiking trails wind through 7,000 lush acres, taking you through beautiful tropical forests, past historic ruins and to stunningly beautiful beaches. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ favorite trail is Lind Point — it’s manageable at just one mile long with moderate elevation changes, and the reward at the end is Salomon Beach, one of the most tranquil stretches of sand on the island.
     
    2. The USVI is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, so a day at the ocean is a must-do when you come to this U.S. territory. St. John’s iconic Trunk Bay offers a pristine stretch of white sand; generally calm, clear turquoise waters; and an underwater snorkel trail. On St. Thomas, plan to spend a day at Magens Bay Beach, a full half-mile of pure, soft sand and serene, blindingly blue waters. The USVI’s biggest beach is also one of its most gorgeous: St. Croix’s three-mile-long Sandy Point offers calm, shallow waters, but because it’s a protected reserve (the endangered leatherback turtle nests here), it’s only open on the weekends.
     
    3. It’s next to impossible to take a step in St. Croix without tripping over a piece of the island’s history. More than 150 sugar plantation ruins fill the sloping landscape here, and the best way to take it all in is with a Ruins Ramble, courtesy of the St. Croix Landmarks Society. Historians lead these monthly tours November through May, allowing you to get up close and personal with St. Croix’s colonial history.
     
    4. The Virgin Islands’ calm waters and the numerous cays and islands that dot the seascape make for an ideal boating experience, and there’s no shortage of charter companies to help you experience it all. St. Thomas and St. John are the perfect jumping-off points, as they are mere minutes from picturesque sandbars, deserted cays and even the British Virgin Islands, an attraction in its own right.
     
    5. St. Thomas is the undisputed shopping capital in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Head to Havensight, one of the island’s two cruise ship ports, for duty-free jewelry, liquor, electronics and more. Visit Yacht Haven Grande to peruse high-end shops like Coach, Gucci and Louis Vuitton in a picturesque setting along the water. St. Thomas’ capital of Charlotte Amalie boasts street after street of shops housed in historic buildings. No matter which shopping area you choose, you’re sure to find quality goods at great deals on St. Thomas.