What to do in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas
There’s plenty to do on this lovely Caribbean island.
The Skyride: This is a 7 minute cable car ride that takes you 700 feet up to Paradise Point. Once up there, you will have fabulous views across the Charlotte Amalie Harbour and the neighbouring islands. There is a signposted nature walk, beautiful shrubs and trees, and a big viewing platform. We’re informed that there is usually a bird show – although that was cancelled until further notice when we visited in December 2010. There is also a café & some souveneir shops.
Savvy Guides review: The cars are easy to get on and off – they keep moving (like the London Eye) but slowly and there was no attempt to overcrowd them when we were there. If you have mobility problems, the guys on the platform will stop the cars for you – just ask. The ride is very stable (Russell doesn’t like these things AT ALL – but he was ok on this one!)
It’s expensive at $21 per person, but if you don’t intend to explore the island beyond the shops, it’s worth doing for the wonderful views. However, if you plan to take an island tour, don’t do the Skyride, as you’ll get fabulous views from other vantage points.
Havensight Mall: If your ship docks at Havensight, then you’ll walk straight off and into the mall. It’s a big collection of 100 duty free shops, ATMs, a pharmacy, post office, souvenirs and tourist information. These are broadly the same shops as you’ll find in downtown Charlotte Amalie, but smaller. The prices are supposed to be the same – but that probably depends on how good you are at haggling!
You can also pick up taxis from here – you tell the organiser where you want to go and will be given a price per person. The taxis are generally big open sided trolley bus type vehicles. In December 2010 it was $4pp into Charlotte Amalie.
Savvy Guides review: Tourist information is great and the taxi organiser was great at giving us directions! The mall is a collection of shops – nicely presented, good variety and air-conditioned. We preferred to go into the main shopping centre as it’s more interesting, but if you’re on an excursion and don’t have time, then this is worth a wander round. Take your brolly though – tropical rain comes on fast and this is an outdoor mall!
Royal Dane Mall: Although we love shopping, that’s not all there is to this mall! The Royal Dane Mall is actually one of the oldest group of warehouse buildings in St Thomas. There are several large plaques that tell the history of the buildings from the time of the Danish West India Company. They are now occupied by a range of small art, craft and jewellery shops, along with restaurants and bars. (There are also some good public loos in there!) The mall runs between Main Street and the Waterfront Highway, at the Highway end, there is a tourist information booth where you can collect a card illustrating the Arches in the mall – see how many you can spot!
Savvy Guides review: Well worth a diversion. It was great to get some proper historical information about the buildings – they’ve been there since the early 1830’s and have survived hurricanes and earthquakes. It was a
It’s so refreshing to find small, independent shops rather than the usual Diamonds International etc. The lady at the tourist information booth was great at giving directions and telling us what to go and see.
Historic Charlotte Amalie: The main historic sites are very close together. Ask your taxi to drop you off outside the Frederick Lutheran Church, which was established in 1666, the same year that the Dutch West India Company took formal possession of St Thomas. The current building dates form 1826. In this area you will find:
o Seven Arches Museum – the arches refer to the 7 arches that support the staircase. This is a restored house that illustrates West Indian architecture and features antique furnishings. Entry charge is a small donation.
o 99 steps – made from the ballast bricks in the holds of trade ships, the Danes built these ‘step-streets’ as a way to manage the hills in the town. (There are actually 103 steps!) At the top you’ll find more stairs leading to Blackbeards castle.
o Haagensen House – Another restored home from the early 1800s
o Blackbeard’s Castle – your kids may be disappointed! This is a watch tower built by the Danes in the late 1600s.
o Government House – Official residence of the Governor of the Virgin Islands. Completed in 1867.
o Emancipation Park – Named to celebrate the emancipation of slaves on July 3rd 1848.
o Fort Christian Museum – The oldest building on St Thomas, built in 1666. It has defended the harbour, sheltered refugees during slave revolts and hurricanes and now is a museum that tells the story of the history of the Virgin Islands.
o The Legislature building – To be found on the waterfront. This is where the official transfer ceremony took place between Denmark and the US.
Further into town, by walking along Back Street, you’ll also find:
o St Thomas Synagogue – The 2nd oldest synagogue in the western world. The current building dates from 1833, but the original was built in 1796.
o Camille Pissaro Gallery – Be prepared for a bit of a climb up some external stairs! The gallery is at the top of the house on Main Street where Camille Pissarro was born (Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissarro) Art works for sale are exclusively from artists who were born in St Thomas, or who live in St Thomas. Not cheap, but some interesting pieces and worth a visit.
Savvy Guides Review: We had a quick look round, but were running out of time because of our trip on the Skyride and a planned tour (see below). However, it was very obvious that you could easily follow one of the walks suggested in the tourist information booklets and see most of the above in about an hour and a half. We did visit the Camille Pissarro gallery – it took a bit of finding and it’s a bit vague as to where it is – just keep heading upwards and you’ll get there! (Steep stairs and although very solid, quite narrow at times.) Worth a visit.
Charlotte Amalie has 3 main streets that are connected with a whole load of small side streets. This is a great town to explore – you can’t get lost because you’re never far away from the sea, which will enable you to get your bearings.
Island Tour: Our taxi driver dropped us off in front of the Lutheran church and we were immediately besieged by guys trying to sell us a taxi tour. The good news is that if you politely say no thanks, they’ll go away, but the even better news is that it’s actually a great tour!
The tours are about 2 hrs long and leave at 12 noon. The buses are open sided which means you always have a great view & the tour appears to be a standard one. The price is certainly standard – $25 per person (although the closer they get to 12, with places to fill, you may be able to do a deal). The driver is your guide and the guy we had was great – lots of history and information about plants and animals too. There were a few stops including a view over Charlotte Amalie plus history lesson, an estate with lovely gardens, a restored house, great views and banana daquiris, a beach stop (where you can arrange to be picked up 2 hrs later) and we were dropped at our cruise ship.
Savvy Guides Review: We were really glad we did this! Joe, our driver was great. The ship was running a range of tours from $25 to $47, so we might not have saved much money, but we weren’t crowded, had plenty of time, were able to hear everything and ask questions. The tour was much longer than 2 hours ( at least 2 and a half) and we liked the fact we could have chosen to stay on the beach – if we went back again we’d do this & be prepared!