12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in St. Barts
Glamorous St-Barthélemy, better known as St Barts, exudes a seductive blend of European sophistication, natural beauty, and relaxed island charm. Blond sand beaches are the starring feature. Backed by rolling green hills, they beckon from secluded coves or sprawl along quaint coastal villages tempting tourists with clear waters and coral reefs. Visitors will not find large resorts here. Instead, boutique hotels and private villas peek from behind veils of tropical foliage. No wonder this sun-soaked island is a magnet for privacy-seeking globetrotters, movie stars, and moguls.
Although leased to Sweden in 1785 for 93 years, St Barts is predominantly French. A few Swedish legacies linger, including the red-roofed capital of Gustavia, a popular cruise port named after a Swedish king. Chic shops and galleries line Gustavia's streets and the town's gourmet restaurants fly-in continental delicacies. The pretty village of St Jean is also a popular tourist spot with posh hotels and yet another gorgeous beach. Apart from the charming towns and fabulous beaches, visitors can snorkel or dive wrecks and fish-filled reefs, many of which are protected in a marine reserve. Other adventurous things to do include kite surfing, kayaking, fishing, surfing, and sailing, while the island's packed calendar of festivals celebrate everything from movies and music to sporting events.
1 Saline Beach
Along the island's southern coast, secluded Saline Beach is one of St Bart's most beautiful stretches of sand and sea. From the parking area, visitors walk up and over a hill to reach this protected cove. Once through the sand dunes, the water beckons in shades of turquoise, teal, and cobalt blue. The sweep of blond sand is great for sunbathing, but bring an umbrella if you want shade.
When the wind is up, body surfers will enjoy the waves. Nudism, though officially forbidden in St Barts, is common here at the extreme ends of the beach. After a morning of beach basking, visitors can enjoy lunch at one of the two restaurants near the parking lot.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in St. Barts
Gustavia, St Barts' red-roofed capital, is a small harbor town lined with chic boutiques, duty free shops, gourmet restaurants, and galleries. In the harbor, rustic fishing boats bob beside mega yachts. Restaurants and luxury duty-free shops greet travelers disembarking from the many cruise-ships that call here. For beautiful sightseeing views, visit Fort Gustav (the most important fort during the Swedish period), or head to the top of the 29 m hill for vistas of Shell Beach amid the few remaining stonewalls of Fort Karl.
History buffs can learn about the island's past at Musée Territorial and the Wall House Museum, or by visiting the oldest building in Gustavia, the Vieux Clocher. Opposite St Bartholomew's Anglican Episcopal Church, built in 1855, is an English anchor identified as the type used by British warships from 1700 to 1825. This 10-ton anchor was unwittingly hauled into Gustavia's waters by a tugboat towing a barge. Shoppers will love the open-air market, Le Ti-Marché, where brightly dressed women sell arts, crafts, and fresh produce, plus locally made cosmetics.
3 Fort Gustav
The remains of 18th century Fort Gustav include the ruins of the stone ramparts, a sentry box, part of the old brick-floored bakery, cannons and a powder house. Recognizable by the red and white lighthouse that was built on the site in 1961, the fort is one of the best vantage points for viewing the harbor. Also on the grounds, a panoramic table identifies Gustavia's highlights as well as the neighboring islands.
4 Governor Beach
On the island's south shore, gorgeous Governor's Beach (Gouverneur Beach) is a secluded curve of soft white sand backed by green hills. This pretty beach is an island favorite but still seems pristine and private. Unlike some of the other beaches, the parking lot lies close to the sand. Those who prefer shade should bring a beach umbrella.
On the north coast, not far from St Jean, the charming village of Lorient is the site of the island's first French settlement. Today tourists will find attractions such as a 19th century Catholic church, a few shops, two flower-strewn cemeteries, and a fantastic surf beach. Built of local stone cut to size by women, the Lorient Church (Eglise de Lorient) uses conch shells as holy water basins. The far end of Lorient Beach has pounding waves that are prime surfing waters. The rest of this long beach is usually calm, quiet, and ideal for swimming.
6 Colombier Beach
The unspoiled Colombier Beach (Anse de Colombier), at the tip of the island, is accessible by boat or a half-hour hike down a goat path. Still called "Rockefeller's Beach" because for many years, David Rockefeller owned the surrounding property, it's a popular picnic spot with locals.
7 St Jean
In the heart of the island, the tiny village of St Jean is the most popular tourist area outside of Gustavia with fabulous restaurants, shopping plazas, and boutiques. Luxury villas peak out from tropical foliage on the hillsides and the island's only airport lies nearby. Only small aircraft are accommodated here, and only during daylight hours. Most flights servicing the island come from St Martin/St Maarten.
St Jean's Bay Beach, a delicious crescent of white sand, boasts great swimming and a natural coral reef. Shared by locals and day-trippers from nearby St Maarten, it's an ideal location for parents with children. Visitors will find several water sports centers renting snorkel gear, surfboards, windsurfers, and other beach toys. The beach is split in two by the luxury Eden Rock Hotel.
Along the island's western shores, the two-street fishing village of Corossol is sometimes called the "straw village," due to the women from established island families who create straw hats and crafts from palm fronds. The older women speak an old Norman dialect and wear a traditional style of dress featuring starched white sunbonnets called quichenottes (kiss me nots).
One of the main attractions here is the InterOceans Museum with a collection of more than 9,000 shells. The calm waters of Corossol Beach are a port of call for local fisherman.
9 Grand Cul de Sac Beach
The shallow bay and clear waters of Grand Cul de Sac are ideal for water sports. Kite surfers congregate here, and the nearby kitesurfing school offers lessons for those in need of a few tips. Windsurfing and kayaking are also popular in the lagoon. After skimming the water, visitors can relax at one of the restaurants fringing the narrow beach.
10 Flamands Beach
Flamands Beach is the island's widest beach and also one of its prettiest. Fishermen often cast their nets here and it's a great beach for swimming and surfing. Flamands is also one of the few beaches on St Barts with shade.
11 Nature Reserve of Saint-Barthélemy
Nature Reserve of Saint-Barthélemy is a marine reserve divided into five separate zones around the island in an effort to preserve the fragile marine ecosystems. Many of the island's best dive sites lie within the reserve's boundaries marked by white buoys. Divers may see turtles, spotted eagle rays, and reef sharks, as well as many colorful varieties of coral. Kayali is a superb 30 m wreck dive where lobster, conch, and vast schools of tropical fish can be spotted. In the reserve's high protection areas, diving and all forms of fishing are prohibited.
St Barts offers a packed calendar of festivals and events. Since 1996 St Barts' Film Festival has put the island on the map as a meeting place for regional filmmakers to screen and discuss their work. The festival is held near the end of April. In January St Barts' Music Festival features top-level musicians from around the world. Each year the festival grows in stature and importance. Ballet was introduced in 1988 and jazz in 1989. Also in January, Carnival celebrations include parades along the streets of Gustavia. Other popular festivals celebrate sporting events such as sailing and windsurfing.