St. Croix is the largest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands with its 84 square miles (218 square kilometers) of rolling hills and sandy beaches, yet it receives fewer visitors than its sister islands of St. Thomas and St. John. The island is a pleasing middle ground between St. Thomas's focus on mass-market tourism and St. John's back-to-nature ambience. An occasional cruise ship calls in quaint Frederiksted, located at the western end of the island. The ship's passengers, along with hotel and vacation villa visitors, spread out across the island to enjoy beautiful vistas, boutique shopping and outdoor pursuits.
St. Croix is home to nearly 55,000 people, nearly the same as 28-square mile St. Thomas. With a refinery and other smaller industries providing employment, there is less focus on tourism than on the other two islands. Since the population density is low, it is rare to find crowded streets in the Christiansted and Frederiksted shopping areas. Parking can be a problem in Christiansted, however. The town serves as the seat of the island's commerce, and with minimal public transportation, workers usually drive to their downtown jobs.
Christiansted is usually the first stop for most visitors. A charming town with architecture that reflects the island's Danish heritage, many of the buildings are centuries old. Sitting at harbor's edge, the pastel blue, green and ochre buildings are trimmed in crisp white with red tin roofs. The abundance of ochre, or mustard yellow, comes from the Danish yellow brick brought over from Denmark as ship's ballast during the 18th century. The popular color predominates in the town's Fort Christianvaern and other
Lush green hills provide Christiansted's backdrop. Alleyways filled with unique shops lead off a waterfront boardwalk. The town has several small hotels, many cozy eateries, bars, and a number of must-see historic sites and museums. Your first stop in town should be the National Park Service's Visitor's Center, located in the historic Fort Christianvaern, which is part of the
The harbor, usually calm and turquoise, is home to about three dozen sailboats and a handful of charter boats that take visitors sailing, scuba diving or sport fishing. Seaplanes take off and land in the harbor on their trips to and from St. Thomas. A water taxi ferries people to
Frederiksted, St. Croix's other town, is more like a village. It takes 45 minutes to drive from Christiansted, and can be reached via busy highways, or if time permits, on a more leisurely trip through the rain forest. The town is home to
Out in the countryside, over 100 ruins of sugar cane mills and grand plantation homes dot the island. Many carry fanciful names such as Lower Love, Hard Labor and Work and Rest, all the legacy of some long-forgotten 18th or 19th-century planter. Some plantations have been restored as private homes, guest houses and museums.
The beaches pale in comparison to those in St. John and St. Thomas, but you won't have to look hard to find a sandy strand to take in some sun. Many hotels are located beachside, and there are public parks located at the east and west ends of the island. One caveat: Deserted beaches may entice you with their privacy but for safety's sake, it is best to visit beaches where you won't be alone. Ask the hotel or vacation villa staff for their recommendations. To visit one of St. Croix's nicest beaches, take a day sail or Scuba trip to
All of St. Croix is delightful to visit, but if you only have one day on this United States Virgin Island, plan a walking tour of historic Christiansted, the island's main town. With construction starting in 1735, the town's architecture is mostly 18th-century European in style. The streets slope gently uphill from the harbor, traffic is minimal and the sidewalks are wide.
Start with a stop at the National Park Service Visitor's Center, located in Fort Christianvaern, which is the centerpiece of Christiansted National Historic Site. This mustard-colored landmark has served as a sentinel over Christiansted Harbor since construction began in 1749. Park rangers answer questions, provide brochures and offer tours through the fort, an imposing edifice complete with dungeons, ramparts and cannons.
In front of the fort sits the Danish Customs House. It dates to 1734 and now houses National Park Service offices. The Scale House is nearby. It contains a scale once used to weigh incoming and outgoing goods. On nearby Company Street, the Steeple Building serves as a Christiansted National Historic Site museum depicting island history. Dating to 1753, the building was once a Lutheran Church.
The U.S. Post Office building, located along Company Street between Hospital and Church Streets, served as the Danish West India and Guinea Company Warehouse. It was built in 1749.
Protestant Cay sits just across the water from the fort. Once the burial ground for Protestants who were not allowed in the Catholic cemetery, the small island is home to Hotel on the Cay. It has a small beach, a water sports area and beachfront restaurant where all are welcome. A water taxi service runs day and evening from the Christiansted boardwalk to the cay.
Head up Company Street to Queen Cross Street, where you will find the historic Apothecary Hall Museum. It was once a pharmacy and gracious home set in a courtyard, but now offices, restaurants and shops have taken their place.
Further along Company Street at Prince Street, stop for a look at Holy Cross Catholic Church built in 1828 in the form of a cross.
Turn downhill on Prince Street to King Street. Heading toward the water, you'll see the recently renovated Government House. Now the local government seat, it was once two gracious homes built in 1747, its ascending staircases leading to a gated courtyard and ballroom.
In addition to the above landmarks and sites, the town teems with charming shops, duty free stores, places to eat, picturesque gazebos, and galleries.
Visitors often split their day in St. Croix into a morning of strolling and shopping and an afternoon of sun and snorkeling at Buck Island Reef National Monument. Sign up for a sail at your hotel or at water sports centers located in the towns and at marinas.
Day 2 and 3
If your plans allow more tour time, visit the cozy town of Frederiksted, located on the island's west end. Charming colonial architecture, tropical gardens and covered walkways lend themselves to an easy stroll around the town. Benches along the waterfront are the perfect spot to stop for a rest.
Begin your walking tour at Fort Frederik, an imposing structure built in the 1750s and adjacent to the cruise ship pier. Now a museum, it contains refurbished military quarters and stables. The waterfront Strand Street and King Street, located one block inland, are the main shopping and restaurant areas. St. Patrick's Catholic Church, located on the corner of Market and Prince Streets, was built in the Gothic Revival style using limestone and yellow bricks. The adjacent cemetery is fascinating with above-and below-ground caskets dating to the 1700s.
St. Croix's Rain Forest is only a 20-minute drive northeast from Frederiksted. Not a true rain forest, it is the home to centuries-old mahogany trees, samaan and silk cotton trees. There are also remains of former plantations and estates along Mahogany Road, the main road through the forest. A trip through the rain forest on the less-traveled and barely-improved Scenic Road–Route 78 or Creque Dam Road–Routes 58 and 78 requires a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Salt River National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, located along the North Shore off Route 801, has not been developed. However, it is fun to wander around the beach and inland areas. History tells us that Christopher Columbus skirmished with the Carib Indians at this location on his sail through the islands in 1493.
Visitors with more time have many other options. Active visitors may enjoy a half-day mountain bike tour outside Frederiksted, a kayak trip through Salt River National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve on the island's north shore, a horseback trip to the rainforest, or a scheduled hike to some remote location. Visit the St. George Village Botanical Garden—10 acres of beauty just off Centerline Road near Frederiksted or Whim Plantation Museum, located along Centerline Road outside Frederiksted. Of course, no tropical holiday is complete without some beach time and water sports activities. Reefs nearly encircle St. Croix, which makes diving and snorkeling one of the most popular activities. Try Cane Bay Beach, Northstar, Davis Bay, or Christiansted Harbor.
When it comes to nightlife, the offerings are as diverse as the population and what is hot one season may disappear by the next. In fact, the winter season always sees more to do than the summer. For the latest on entertainment events, pick up a copy of “St. Croix This Week,” available free at shops, restaurants and tourist attractions around the island.
Easy-listening piano music is popular at the hotel restaurants and more upscale eateries located around the island. Clubs near the Christiansted waterfront often have rock and roll or reggae bands. Indies Restaurant in Christiansted is the place to go for jazz on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights during the winter. In Frederiksted, the Blue Moon restaurant has jazz on Friday nights and at its Sunday brunch.
Cane Bay's Off the Wall beach bar and restaurant, located near Frederiksted, has blues or jazz Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
On Wednesdays when there is a cruise ship in town, downtown Frederiksted comes alive with a street party called Harbour Night.
The St. Croix Landmarks Society sponsors classical music concerts during the winter at its Whim Plantation Museum, located outside Frederiksted on Centerline Road.
Divi Carina Bay Casino has the island's only casino. Located on the island's east end across from the oceanfront resort, the casino attracts locals and visitors for a day or evening of gambling.
St. Croix is the perfect spot for history buffs. Both Christiansted and Frederiksted, have pasts worth exploring. The countryside is dotted with picturesque ruins, leftovers from the 18th- and 19th-century days when sugar and slavery fueled the economy.
Christiansted National Historic Site, part of the United States National Park system, is home to the huge yellow Fort Christianvaern, an old Danish Customs House, a Scale House and a museum located in the Steeple Building, formerly a Danish Lutheran Church. All are open daily.
Just west of Christiansted sits the Nature Conservancy's Little Princess Estate, an old plantation with windmill, rum factory and a slave village dotting its acreage that dates to the 19th century.
Fort Frederik sits adjacent to the Frederiksted cruise ship pier. Now a museum, this was the spot where Danish Governor Peter Von Scholten announced freedom for the territory's slaves on July 3, 1848.
Near Frederiksted, the restored Whim Plantation Museum provides a glimpse into plantation life. Its oval great house is filled with antiques.
St. George Village Botanical Garden, located near Frederiksted, has a glorious array of plants tucked in among 19th-century sugar plantation ruins.
Carl and Marie Lawaetz Museum, also located near Frederiksted, was until recently a working farm owned by the descendents of Danish family that arrived here in the late 1800s. It was built around 1750.
Christiansted boasts the core of the island's dining options. Most are tucked away in old buildings that date to the days when Denmark ruled St. Croix. Kendrick's sets the pace with creative cuisine such as Alaskan king crab cakes with a lemon and black pepper aioli sauce. Restaurant Bacchus boasts the largest wine list in St. Croix with a menu that matches its quality. Caribbean lobster heads the menu. Try Indies Restaurant for Caribbean-influence cuisine or Tivoli Gardens for seafood and steak. Denmark's only culinary legacy comes at the Top Hat, an upscale restaurant owned by Hanne and Bent Rasmussen. Frikadeller, a savory meatball dish in a tangy cocktail sauce, is just one of the Danish dishes on the menu. Locals love Tutto Bene for delicious Italian cuisine.
For pub fare with a sophisticated spin, try the Bombay Club. It is a clubby Christiansted spot complete with dim lighting, lots of rich wood, art and a lively mix of expats, locals and visitors.
Locals and visitors head to Harvey´s, a very casual eatery where owner Sarah Harvey dishes up local cooking that is always tasty. While classier bistros beckon, make an effort to stop here for local fare like fish cooked island style.
Morning Glory Coffee and Tea dishes up delicious breakfasts and lunches from its corner spot in Gallows Bay Marketplace. Fresh muffins and interesting sandwiches highlight the menu. Try Ice Cream Decadence, located near Gallows Bay on Route 75, for ice cream flavors with a tropical twist.
There are several fine dining options outside of Christiansted. The East End is home to the Great House at Villa Madeleine. As the centerpiece of an upscale condominium complex, this elegant restaurant features dishes such as roasted duck and fresh wahoo. Galleon (The), located dockside at Green Cay Marina, gets multiple stars for its imaginative pasta dishes. Piano music on most nights and a good view of the boats at anchor just below are both nice extras.
Breezez, located poolside at the Club St. Croix Condominiums just outside Christiansted, is the place to go for Sunday brunch as well as casual lunches and dinners. Frederiksted
In Frederiksted, Le St. Tropez provides a French accent with dishes like Croque Monsieur and onions soup in a courtyard setting. Blue Moon, located right across from the waterfront, is a tiny bistro with delicious food.
On the casual front, don't miss lunch at Turtle's Deli in Frederiksted for New York deli-style lunch on a small covered patio. The breads and cookies are fresh-baked and delicious.
Outside Frederiksted, try Off the Wall seaside at Cane Bay for drinks and casual fare in a low-key atmosphere. No shoes required, and your bathing suit with a cover-up will do for attire.