See the Virgin Islands By Land

Shopping, Touring, Hiking and more Fun Things To Do on St. Thomas and St. John…Without Having to Get Your Feet Wet

While the most obvious attraction in the Virgin Islands is the magnificent turquoise sea, there is also plenty to do, see and discover on land.

Some activities like shopping and over-the-road tours are available to do on both St. Thomas and St. John, but these sister islands definitely have their own personalities. St. Thomas, being a commercial hub, has all of the big man-made fun, while St. John with 66% reserved as National Park has the overwhelming monopoly on nature activities.

 
Shopping Map Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas

Shopping on St. Thomas

For centuries, St. Thomas has been a shopping mecca. Downtown Charlotte Amalie packs an amazing number of shops in just a few blocks, and you can easily wind through the historic cobblestone roads and alleyways and still not encounter all there is to see.

This is a jewelry lover’s paradise with several high-end brands like Tiffany & Co, David Yurman, Pandora, and Rolex represented, just to name a few. There are also numerous smaller, family-owned jewelry stores vying for your business and willing to negotiate. If you are looking to invest in a piece of jewelry, the Virgin Islands is the place to do it. We offer duty-free shopping up to $1600 to US citizens returning to the mainland. There are also duty free exemptions on cigarettes and alcohol. (Vices are the few things that cost less in the VI than on the mainland.)

Of course, there are the traditional souvenir shops, but also art galleries, a Harley Davidson store, liquor, cigars and much much more.

Shopping Map Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas

If you’re up for it, you can walk from French Town to Havensight along the waterfront. Be sure to hydrate!

Just a mile or so down the waterfront is another shopping area called Havensight. This is where most of the cruise ships dock. Several of the stores represented downtown also have locations at Havensight, but not all are repeats. Havensight is slightly less bustling than downtown Charlotte Amalie, so if crowds are not your thing, but you still want to shop, you probably want to head here instead.

Yacht Haven Grande is located right next to Havensight. In fact, you can walk along the waterfront from Charlotte Amalie to Yacht Haven Grande to Havensight (or vice versa) and enjoy a wonderful view of the harbor on the way. Yacht Haven Grande is mostly home to upscale designer shops like Gucci and Louis Vuitton that cater to the yachting crowd.

Tucked into the Tutu Valley near KMart and Walgreens (where locals do their every day shopping) is Tillet Garden, a charming garden/artist enclave that feels miles away from any big box stores. There is a restaurant, Pistarckle Theater, and fun bohemian and artisan shops selling locally made goods among other unique treasures.

You can also get your retail fix in Red Hook, the easternmost neighborhood on St. Thomas where the ferry and car barge to St. John are located. Here you can find surf shops, dive shops, souvenir shops, and the only head shop/New Age store between the two islands.

Recommended For: couples, seniors, party animals (you can totally drink and shop, if that’s your thing)

 

Shopping on St. John

St. John, tiny as it may be, is also home to several truly irresistible retail establishments.

Caravan Gallery at Mongoose Junction on St. John

The ferry lands right next to Wharfside Village, home to several one-of-a-kind jewelry stores, surf shops and more. But, tempting as it may be, don’t blow your whole wad here! You also must check out the other charming shops in tiny bustling Cruz Bay, and take a 5 minute walk over to the enchanting shopping center at Mongoose Junction where you will find more uniquely St. Johnian places to pick up reminders of the Virgin Islands. There is more hand-made fine jewelry, gorgeous imported jewelry and masks, Caribbean-inspired home furnishings, art galleries and so much more.

If you have wheels and want to see more of the island, then head over to Coral Bay where you will find even more places to part with your money— several shops that curate their stores with love and thought. If you’re looking for generic souvenirs, this isn’t the place for it. If you’re looking for unique, St. John made and inspired items, then you’re in luck.

Recommended For: couples, seniors, party animals (you can totally drink and shop, if that’s your thing)

 

Road Tours on St. Thomas

If you have rented a vehicle on St. Thomas and you like to explore, there are a couple areas that are well worth checking out that you might not otherwise see unless you happen to be staying in a villa nearby.

We highly recommend heading out to the Western part of St. Thomas known as Bourdeaux, which is sparsely populated and feels more than just a few miles away from the busy-ness of town. This is where a significant portion of the island’s agriculture is based. Every January there is a wonderful weekend-long Rastafarian Agricultural Fest that includes locally grown produce, plants, honey made from local bees, jewelry and crafts, Rastafarian ital food, entertainment and more. Other events and markets also happen here throughout the year. You can checkout the We Grow Food Facebook page to find out what’s going on.

Local honey catching the golden hour light at the Bourdeaux Annual Rastafarian Ag Fest

Local honey catching the golden hour light at the Bourdeaux Annual Rastafarian Ag Fest

You’ll also want to drive through the lush, mostly residential Northside of St. Thomas where you’ll feel like you’re in the rainforest. If you’re lucky, you’ll find your way to Hull Bay beach – a long-time local favorite with adjacent beach bar & restaurant.

If you didn’t rent a vehicle, there are safari bus island tours available that will take you to the most popular lookouts while a local taxi driver fills you in on all of the fun details.

Recommended For: older kids, couples, seniors, athletic & adventurous, party animals (your passengers can drink and ride, but don’t be stupid)

 

Road Tours on St. John

If you have wheels on St. John, you definitely want to drive the North shore where you’ll find several lookout points between the many postcard beaches. From the North shore, head to Coral Bay the rural side of the island where you’ll find old salty sailors, donkeys, goats, sheep and gorgeous landscape.

The Maho Bay lookout on St. John's North Shore

The Maho Bay lookout on St. John’s North Shore

From the Coral Bay triangle, you can go to East End where the landscape becomes more arid and there are possibly more donkeys than humans. Return to the Coral Bay triangle and head in the other direction out to Salt Pond Bay and VIERS beyond. (Don’t try going to the Lameshure beaches or VIERS unless you have four wheel drive or you will get stuck!)

Return again to the Coral Bay triangle, and head back to town on Centerline Rd. Instead of making the turn off to the North Shore at the smoothie shop, keep going on Centerline, turn left past the clinic onto Gifft Hill Rd. and follow it as it turns into Southshore Rd and brings you back into Cruz Bay.

Give yourself several hours to complete this driving tour of St. John.

There are also safari bus tours of St. John available, but they cater to private groups and you would have to specifically request going very far past Coral Bay, which probably wouldn’t be worth the expense.

Recommended For: older kids, couples, seniors, athletic & adventurous, party animals (your passengers can drink and ride, but don’t be stupid)

 

History on St. Thomas

The history of the Virgin Islands is rich, deep and diverse from the native inhabitants who populated the islands before Colombus was even a twinkle in his mothers eye, to the thousands of slaves brought here from Africa to work the plantations to the several European nations that possessed the islands before being purchased by the United States from Denmark in 1917.

As we’ve said above, St. Thomas has been a regional commercial hub for centuries. Much of this history is still alive in downtown Charlotte Amalie, where the winding alleyways housed merchandise for import and export. If you take your time to wind your way up and down the alleys, you will find several plaques telling of the fascinating history.

The brutal history of slavery in the VI is also not forgotten in downtown Charlotte Amalie. Market Square, still a gathering spot and location of the popular Saturday morning farmers market, was used as a venue for slave auctions. Emancipation Garden is where the announcement was made that slavery would finally be abolished in the Danish colonies.

There are guided historic walking tours led by the St. Thomas Historical Society that will intrigue any history buff, or curious mind.

Read our brief history of St. Thomas here.

Recommended For: older kids, couples, seniors, athletic & adventurous

 

History on St. John

The history of St. John is still felt today any time you hike one of its many trails. Ruins from different eras of the island’s history still stand throughout the island. Some are quite obvious and easy to get to, others you have to search for.

History buffs are encouraged to locate a copy of Night of the Silent Drums to read the mesmerizing story of the slave rebellion that occurred in 1733. Even though the book is out of print, you can still get your hands on used copies. Not only is the novel meticulously researched and historically accurate, it is also very well written and hard to put down. You will experience a different St. John after this read.

The St. John Historical Society also offers historical tours and presentations, as does the National Park. The sugar mill ruins at Annaberg, Catherineburg, and at the bottom of the Reef Bay Trail are some of the key “attractions” on St. John.

Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins on St. John in the Virgin Islands

A small part of the Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins

Read our brief history of St. John here.

Recommended For: older kids, couples, seniors, athletic & adventurous

 

Attractions on St. Thomas

The term “attraction” for the purposes of this section generally refers to man-made facilities built to attract and entertain large crowds. These are pretty much all found on St. Thomas.

They often have an entrance fee with the exception of Mountain Top – which requires you to walk through their shopping mall before you see the view. These activities are more dependent on interest verses ability.

Coral World Ocean Park

Aquariums, touch pools, stingray and iguana feedings, tropical birds, nature trails, undersea observatory, restaurant, souvenir shop, located on the beach with lockers and showers. Stay all day!

Price: $10 kids, $19 for adults

Recommended For: young children, older children, couples, seniors

Bird on Ashley's head at Coral World on St. Thomas

Warning: In the aviary, birds may dig through your hair looking for food.

 

Butterfly Garden

This delightful place features a breathtaking tropical garden home to a large variety of butterflies. Take the guided tour, what you learn about these beautiful, ethereal creatures will astound you!

Price: $12 adults, $6 children, free for children under 3

Recommended For: younger children, older children, couples, seniors

 

Magic Ice Museum

Ice sculptures, cool lights, ice slide and full ice bar. Warm gear is supplied (hooded cape, gloves and leg warmers). Admission includes a free shot of cruzan rum and a souvenir glass. Stay as long as you can handle the cold.

Price: Adults $22

Recommended For: young children, older children, couples, party animals

 

Mountain Top

Huge viewing platform on the highest point of St.Thomas with vistas out to the BVIs and beyond, bar and souvenir shopping. Stay all day, the view just gets better.

Price: free

Recommended For: older children, couples, seniors, party animals

 

Skyride to Paradise Point

Tram ride whisks you 700 ft. above the town of Charlotte Amalie.  Bar, restaurant, views and shopping from the top. Unlimited rides all day long, free drink included in ticket price.

Price: Children $10.50, Adults $21,  Military free

Recommended For: younger children, older children, couples, seniors, party animals

 

Hiking on St. John

The only man-made attractions on St. John are crumbling vestiges of previous times, the island’s natural beauty being its most prized attraction. There are dozens of trails of all difficulty levels on St. John. Too many to detail in this article.

The most popular is the Reef Bay Trail. Don’t start this one in the afternoon, lest you want to get caught in the woods after dark! This trail features layered history. There are several residential ruins from various eras and the Sugar Mill Ruins at the bottom where you can see two eras of operation — donkey-fueled and steam-powered. And of course there are the petroglyphs, ancient spiritual inscriptions carved by the Taino Indians into the smooth gray rock above a reflecting pool at the bottom of a waterfall. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing.

Petroglyphs on the Reef Bay Trail on St. John

The petroglyphs are far more spectacular in person.  It’s totally worth the hike.

The Ram Head trail is probably the next most popular trail. It’ll take you almost 45 minutes to drive there from Cruz Bay, but if you like to hike, you don’t want to miss this one. If you have the opportunity to do it on a full moon, even better. The trail starts at Salt Pond Bay beach, takes you scrambling over rocks and up a not-too-steep incline to the top of Ram Head cliff.

If you’re only on St. John for the day and don’t have any wheels of your own but still want to hike, then the Lind Point Trail is perfect for you. It starts just behind the National Park Building in Cruz Bay. You can go to the top and look out over the Cruz Bay harbor and back toward St. Thomas, or take the path down to Solomon Bay Beach, which is gorgeous and generally less busy than the beaches you can drive to.

More info for you about things to do in the Virgin Islands:

 

Feeling uncertain? Contact us. Maybe we can help you plan your activities or even get you a good deal. We know most of the local operators and are happy to give you our expert opinion.

 

Do you have more questions (or answers) about fun things to do on St. Thomas and St. John by land?

Let us know in the comments below what we missed.

 

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