This Danish Colonial plantation was built in 1721 and produced sugar, rum and molasses. Today it's a museum where you can learn about all phases of plantation life and sugar production. You can tour the old slave quarters, factory, and windmill by following the marked historical walking trail. Spectacular views of the sea and other islands are visible from the plantation, which is located on the northeast side of the island, near Leinster Bay. An admission fee is charged, and there are often National Park staff on hand to provide information. After touring the ruins, consider a hike on the Leinster Bay trail, one of the most scenic on the island.
Karen's expert tip: In the cookhouse, try the Caribbean dumb bread, baked in the traditional method by Miss Olivia.
This wonderfully restored fort was built in 1774 to protect the city of Christiansted and its harbor. Admission to the fort also gains entrance to the Steeple Building Museum, the Old Scale House, and the Danish West India Company warehouse. Together, these waterfront buildings comprised the economic center of 18th and 19th century St. Croix. A variety of exhibits explains their historical significance.
Built in the 1700s to make climbing Government Hill a bit easier, this staircase is one of St Thomas's most famous landmarks. Some historians feel the stairs are making up for Danish engineers' lack of knowledge about the steep landscape of St Thomas – they had demanded the city be laid out in a grid format. Others feel that the stairs were a good way to use up the bricks that were ballast in the British and Danish ships, while making travel around the city easier.
Karen's expert tip: If you count, you will find there are actually 103 steps.
This lush, 17-acre botanical garden resides within the ruins of a 19th-century sugar plantation. The Premises also overlap an 1800-year-old Amerindian settlement. Over 1,000 varieties of plants are represented in the garden's innovative design, which recreates every ecosystem in St. Croix in miniature, from desert-like cactuses to rain forest vegetation. Tamarind and mahogany trees provide shade while you follow the self-guided tour, and educational displays describe the cultural and historical value of the plants as a source of food, medicine, fiber, color dye, and building material. The gift shop is a great place to buy flora-themed gifts and souvenirs for yourself or friends. (Note: the museum is open on weekends when a cruise ship is in port.)
Karen's expert tip: Look out for the once-a-month plant sales: proceeds benefit the educational programs at the garden.
Plan to spend at least 45 minutes strolling the grounds at this lavish estate and gardens, nestled in the hills high above the sea. Wander the gallery where local art is displayed, or peruse the old plantation house. It was built in the early 1800s, and it is a wonderful example of period architecture. Next, explore outside. The estate includes 11 landscaped acres and an aviary, so you can wander to your heart's content. The estate rests 1000 feet above Magens Bay, and the observation tower provides a panoramic view of the other Virgin Islands.
If you're intrigued by the island's history and what gave it prominence and status early on, this site provides clues. St. Croix's best-preserved sugar plantation occupies 13 acres and welcomes visitors to explore the grounds on self-guided tours. From 1780 to 1820, St. Croix was the second largest sugar producer in the West Indies, and this plantation illustrates what particular facilities and the sugar heyday were like. Posted signs explain the significance of various buildings and ruins.
The Virgin Islands National Park is St John's largest and most popular attraction. It covers 3/5 of St John's landmass and includes 12,624 land and marine acres that encompass pristine beaches, coral reefs, hiking trails, wild donkeys and 800 types of plants. There are also ancient artifacts from the pre-Columbian settlers and remnants of colonial sugar plantations. Twenty-two hiking trails cover more than 20 miles; the park visitor's center has maps. Guided walks are open to the public - ask at the visitor center for details. Rangers also offer evening sky watch programs where they teach you about the constellations at the Cinnamon Bay Amphitheater, then take you on a nighttime beachside sky tour.
Karen's expert tip: Boats are not allowed to anchor in the marine portion of the National Park.
Built in 1672 and named for Danish King Christian V, Fort Christian is the oldest standing structure in the United States Virgin Islands. Through the years this National Historic Landmark, designated as such in 1977, has been used as a jail, the town hall, a courthouse, a church and a governor's residence. Today the Virgin Islands Museum is located here. Displays of period furnishings, artworks and exhibits relating the islands' cultural and historical significance are free for the public to view. You can purchase souvenirs in the gift shop.
No one knows when Skytsborg Tower became known as Blackbeard's Castle. The tower was built in 1679, at the highest point on Government Hill, to serve as a watchtower for Fort Christian. It is rumored that Edward Teach – Blackbeard the Pirate – also used the tower as a lookout. It is the only 17th-century fortified tower in the Caribbean, and it is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Today the tower is part of a hotel complex, and the property and grounds are open to the public only as part of the Historic Walking Tour of St. Thomas. The tour costs $14 and includes stops at Villa Notman, Haagensen House, the 99 Steps, and Hotel 1829. From Dec 15 thru April 30 tours take place Monday thru Saturday from 9am to 2pm. From May 1 to Dec 14 tours happen on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday between 9am and 2pm.
A gondola located across the street from the Havensight cruise ship dock and shopping center whisks visitors high above Charlotte Amalie harbor to an entertainment center at the top of the 700-foot peak. From here you can see all the way to St. Croix, Vieques, and Culebra on a clear day. Sit at the bar and sample a famous Bailey's Bushwhacker (be prepared to shell out $$$ for this though), hike the quarter-mile nature trail, catch an entertaining bird show, ride the Ferris wheel, or shop for souvenirs. There is live music in the evenings, and Carnival-type games and activities throughout the year. The cable car only operates when cruise ships are in town, but you can drive up to Paradise Point on non-ship days if you want to see the view or have a drink at the bar. The road is directly adjacent to Shipwreck Tavern.