Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, is the only town on the island. Its seaside promenade is called Waterfront Highway, or simply, the Waterfront. From here, you can take any of the streets or alleyways into town to Main Street (also called Dronningens Gade). Principal links between Main Street and the Waterfront include Raadets Gade, Tolbod Gade, Store Tvaer Gade, and Strand Gade.
Main Street is home to all of the major shops. The western end (near the intersection with Strand Gade) is known as Market Square. Once the site of the biggest slave market auctions in the Caribbean Basin, today it’s an open-air cluster of stalls where local farmers and gardeners—many from the Estate Bordeaux farms on the island’s West End—gather to sell their produce; Saturday is their big day. Go early in the morning to see the market at its best.
Running parallel to and north of Main Street is Back Street (also known as Vimmelskaft Gade), which is also lined with stores, including some of the less expensive choices. Note: It can be dangerous to walk along Back Street at night, but it’s reasonably safe for daytime shopping.
In the eastern part of town, between Tolbod Gade and Fort Pladsen (northwest of Fort Christian), lies Emancipation Park, commemorating the liberation of the slaves in 1848. Most of the major historic buildings, including the Legislature, Fort Christian, and Government House, lie within a short walk of this park.
Southeast of the park looms Fort Christian. Crowned by a clock tower and painted rusty red, it was constructed by the Danes in 1671. The Legislative Building, seat of the elected government of the U.S. Virgin Islands, lies on the harbor side of the fort.
Kongens Gade (or King’s Street) leads to Government Hill, which overlooks the town and St. Thomas Harbor. Government House, a white brick building dating from 1867, stands atop the hill.
Between Hotel 1829 (a mansion built that year by a French sea captain) and Government House is a stone staircase known as the Street of 99 Steps. Actually, someone miscounted: It should be called the Street of 103 Steps. Regardless, the steps lead to the summit of Government Hill.
West of Charlotte Amalie
The most important of the outlying neighborhoods to the west of Charlotte Amalie is Frenchtown. Some of the older islanders still speak a distinctive Norman-French dialect here. Because the heart of Charlotte Amalie can be less safe at night, Frenchtown, with its finer restaurants and interesting bars, has become the place to go after dark. To reach Frenchtown, take Veterans Drive west of town along the Waterfront, turning left (shortly after passing the Windward Passage Hotel on your right) at the sign pointing to the Villa Olga.
The mid-grade hotels that lie to the immediate west of Charlotte Amalie attract visitors who are seeking more moderate hotel rates than those charged at the mega-resorts that dot the gold-plated South Coast. The disadvantage is that you may have to depend on public transportation to reach the sands. The biggest attraction is that you’re on the very doorstep of Charlotte Amalie, filled with restaurants, bars, shopping, and other amusements.
East of Charlotte Amalie
Traveling east from Charlotte Amalie, along a traffic-clogged highway, you’ll see St. Thomas Harbor on your right. If you stay in this area, you’ll be in a tranquil setting just a short car or taxi ride from the bustle of Charlotte Amalie. The major disadvantage is that you must reach the sands by some form of transportation; if you want to run out of your hotel-room door onto the beach, look elsewhere.
The South Coast
This fabled strip, with its good, sandy beaches, has put St. Thomas on the tourist maps of the Caribbean. Many visitors prefer the full-service resorts on the South Coast and East End to the hustle and bustle of Charlotte Amalie, especially during the day, when it’s overrun by cruise-ship passengers. But if you feel the need for a shopping binge, cars, hotel shuttles, and taxis can quickly deliver you to Charlotte Amalie.
The East End
The East End is reached by traversing a long, twisting, traffic-clogged road east of Charlotte Amalie. Once you’re here, you can enjoy sea, sand, and sun with little to disturb you (the East End offers even more isolation than the South Coast). This is the site of such lovely beaches as Sapphire Beach and Lindquist Beach. This section of bays and golden sands is where you’ll find the the luxe Ritz-Carlton resort as well as a smattering of smaller, less-expensive resorts and condos. The settlement at Red Hook is a bustling community with raffish charm and lots of seaside bars and affordable eateries. It is also the departure point for ferries to St. John.
The North Coast
The renowned beach at Magens Bay lies on the lush North Coast. Be aware that the beach is often overrun with visitors, especially when cruise-ship arrivals are heavy. The North Coast has few buildings and not much traffic, but what it does have are scenic vistas, among the most panoramic on the island. Note that traveling the roads can be like a ride on a rollercoaster—the roads have no shoulders and can be especially scary for those not familiar with driving on the left. A lot of the northwest coast, especially at Botany Bay, Bordeaux Bay, and Santa Maria Bay, isn’t linked to any roads. Estate Bordeaux has some beautiful, rural stretches of lush mountain farmland, where farmers raise produce and livestock in the loamy green hills.