The best towns and resorts in the US Virgin Islands are spread out across the 3 main islands that make up this United States territory. It’s important to plan carefully as the biggest islands – St Croix, St Thomas and St John – are quite far from each other and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to visit all 3 during your trip.

    As one of the world’s great yachting destinations, the luxury resorts and marinas found here rival anything in the Caribbean and beyond. But there’s more to do here than just lounging on a beach or aboard a boat. With its long and complicated history, exploring the cultural aspects of the US Virgin Islands is often a surprising highlight of a visit, besides the beauty of the beaches.

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    Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas

    Explore the long and varied history of the US Virgin Islands

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    Charlotte Amalie is the capital of the US Virgin Islands and the biggest town on the island of St Thomas. This is where you’ll find the best shopping and dining, as well as all the major transport hubs. Charlotte Amalie is famed for its Danish colonial architecture and many historical landmarks like Blackbeard’s Castle and Fort Christian. Completed in 1680, Fort Christian is a Dano-Norwegian-built bastion that overlooks the Charlotte Amelie Harbour. The oldest standing structure in the US Virgin Islands, it once served as a government house and a point of defence against marauding pirates. Today, it hosts the St Thomas Museum.

    The deepwater harbour is one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean, welcoming cruise ships every week and surrounded by restaurants and boutiques. If you want an escape from the tourist hubbub, take a day trip to nearby Hassel Island – you can rent a kayak and paddle to the island at your leisure.

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    2

    Christiansted, St Croix

    Learn about the Danish heritage of St Croix Island

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    Christiansted is the largest town on St Croix Island, established in 1734 on the northeastern coast. The former capital city of the Danish West Indies, Christiansted has had a tumultuous history. It features unique African-Danish architecture that tells the story of slavery in the Caribbean. As well as the historical buildings and the Christiansted National Historic Site, scuba diving is a major draw here. There are several excellent dive sites just off the coast.

    Fort Christiansvaern is a well-preserved Danish colonial fortification established along Christiansted Harbour on St Croix Island. Built in the 1700s, the star-shaped fortress has served as a courthouse, a prison, and even as a church in its long history.

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    3

    Cruz Bay, St John

    The biggest town on St John Island has a variety of attractions to enjoy

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    Cruz Bay is a popular destination that features a good choice of dining, shopping, and nightlife entertainment options, including a casino. As the main town on St John Island, you will find a wide variety of tour operators here, offering anything from romantic sunset dinner cruises to a day of kayaking through mangrove forests.

    The main attraction of St John Island is the Virgin Islands National Park that covers an area of over 14,000 acres on the island and 5,500 acres of adjacent ocean. You’ll see an incredibly rich variety of wildlife here, with all kinds of lizards and exotic birds. Close to the town you’ll find Cruz Bay Beach, which is a busy stretch of coastline lined with bars and shops.

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    4

    Frederiksted, St Croix

    Danish colonial heritage on St Croix Island

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    Frederiksted is a town that sits at the western end of St Croix Island, the largest island of the US Virgin Islands. Named after the King of Denmark who bought the Danish West Indies in 1754, Frederiksted is home to a deep-sea port served by ferries and cruise ships. The town combines colonial heritage with some excellent beaches to relax on.

    Fort Frederik was built to protect the island from marauding pirates. The St George Village Botanical Gardens, built on the plot of an old sugar plantation, is covered with over 1,500 plant species within a 16-acre space. Rainbow Beach and Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge are some of Frederiksted’s other top attractions.

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    5

    Red Hook, St Thomas

    A small port town on the east coast of St Thomas

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    Red Hook is a port town on St Thomas, which has some of the best facilities for water sports enthusiasts in all of the US Virgin Islands. Book a scuba diving adventure out to St. James Marine Reserve or a day of sea fishing. One of the world’s largest blue marlin catches was caught off this very coast. As this is a working port town, the nightlife here is more varied, offering more than just cover bands. You can find a selection of beach bars popular with locals and visitors.

    There are several excellent beaches in the area, including Nazareth Bay, which has shallow, calm waters suitable for families, and Cabrita Point Beach. The views over Pilsbury Sound, with the islands of St. James Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in the background, is simply stunning.

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    6

    Smith Bay, St Thomas

    Relax on some of the finest beaches in the US Virgin Islands

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    Smith Bay is a relaxed coastal area on the east side of St Thomas, featuring 3 popular beaches: Sapphire Beach, Sugar Bay, and Lindquist Beach. The seclusion of the area is part of what keeps the beaches so pretty – Lindquist Beach, in particular, is one of the finest in the US Virgin Islands. There is a small fee to enter Smith Bay Park, but it's worth it. Bring a mask and snorkel as you can often spot turtles and even rays just off the coast.

    Visit CoralWorld Ocean Park, a marine park and aquarium at Coki Point on the tip of Coral Bay. The park has a breeding programme and displays baby sharks and rays until they are ready to be released into the wild. Smith Bay has a limited selection of nightlife – check out Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Even so, you’ll find more action in nearby Red Hook, 15 minutes’ drive south.

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    7

    Peterborg, St Thomas

    A secluded peninsula in the north of St Thomas

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    • Luxury
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    Peterborg is known mainly as a residential area on a secluded peninsula in the north of St Thomas. It’s all quite luxurious up here, with mainly gated communities and private beaches. There are several hotels and resorts to choose from, most of them with a private beach. It’s a great choice for a relaxing family vacation.

    Nearby, you’ll find Magens Bay Beach, which has a choice of water sports on offer, including kayaks and snorkels. For adventure away from the beach, enjoy a hike along Magens Bay Trailhead and end up at Drake’s Seat viewpoint at sunset. The panoramic view of the north coast is stunning.

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    8

    Punnett Bay, St Croix

    A quiet stretch of coastline that’s a snorkelling hot spot

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    Punnet Bay is a quiet stretch of coastline on the north coast of St Croix Island. There are several excellent beaches in the area, including Buccaneer Beach and little-known Mermaid Beach. The pick of the lot is probably Shoys Beach, a sheltered bay that’s a great place to enjoy snorkelling just a few yards off the coast. The beach is backed by mangrove forests, which gives it a secluded feel.

    Nearby, you’ll find Green Cay Marina, where you can charter a boat to go deep-sea fishing or a day trip to Buck Island. For golf fans, you can enjoy 18 holes at Buccaneer Golf Course, which sits on a headland between 2 beaches.

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    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller

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