12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in St. Barts
Glamorous Saint Barthélemy, better known as St. Barts or St. Barths, 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. You won't find high-rise resorts on this Caribbean beauty. Instead, boutique hotels and private villas peek from behind veils of tropical foliage, making this sun-soaked island a natural magnet for 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.
Popular things to do include kitesurfing, kayaking, fishing, surfing, and sailing, and you can snorkel and dive the wrecks and fish-filled reefs, many of which are protected in a marine reserve. The island also promotes a packed calendar of festivals celebrating everything from sporting events to movies and music.
1 Saline Beach (Anse de Grande Saline)
Along the island's southern coast, secluded Saline Beach (also known as Grand Saline) is one of St. Barts' most beautiful stretches of sand and sea and one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. From the parking area, you walk up and over a hill to reach this protected cove, and once you emerge from 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 enjoy riding the waves here. After a morning of beach basking, you 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 and the best place for shopping in St. Barts. Chic boutiques, duty free shops, and art galleries line the streets, luring passengers disembarking from the many cruise-ships that call here, and gourmet restaurants serve mouthwatering French-inspired cuisine. The town wraps in a U-shape around the harbor, where rustic fishing boats bob beside mega yachts.
For beautiful views, visit the ruins of Fort Gustave (the most important fort during the Swedish period) or head to the top of the 29-meter hill for vistas of Shell Beach amid the few remaining stone walls of Fort Karl.
History buffs can learn about the island's past at the Wall House Museum (St. Barth Municipal 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.
3 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 peek 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. Several water sports centers rent snorkel gear, surfboards, windsurfers, and other beach toys. The chic Nikki Beach Saint Barth restaurant also lies along this stretch, with white sun beds lined up along the sand. The beach is split in two by the Eden Rock St. Barths, a luxury hotel perched on a promontory overlooking the sea.
4 Flamands Beach (Anse des Flamands)
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, when the sea is calm. Surfing can also be good, when the conditions are right. Flamands is one of the few beaches on St. Barts with shade, so you don't need to lug an umbrella down here.
A couple of hotels fringe the sands here, including the luxury Cheval Blanc St.-Barth Isle de France, one of St. Barts' most exclusive hotels.
5 Gouverneur Beach (Anse du Gouverneur)
On the island's south shore, 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, and the water is typically calm and great for swimming. Unlike some of the other beaches, the parking lot lies close to the sand, although it's quite small. 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, the top things to see here include a 19th-century Catholic church, a few shops, 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.
7 Colombier Beach (Anse de Colombier)
The unspoiled Colombier Beach, at the tip of the island, is only 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. You won't find any facilities here, so take your own food and drinks and wear sturdy shoes if you are tackling the hike. Free moorings are available here for beach lovers arriving by boat.
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 Inter Oceans 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 Kitesurfing at Grand Cul de Sac Beach
The shallow bay and clear waters of Grand Cul de Sac are ideal for water sports. Kitesurfers 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, you can relax at one of the restaurants fringing the narrow beach.
10 Snorkeling and Diving the 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 and snorkelers may see turtles, spotted eagle rays, and reef sharks, as well as many colorful varieties of coral. Kayali is a superb 30-meter deep 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.
11 Fort Gustave
The remains of 18th-century Fort Gustave 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.
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, and each year, the festival grows in stature and importance. Ballet was introduced in 1988 and jazz in 1989. In February, Carnival celebrations kick off, with parades along the streets of Gustavia. Other popular festivals celebrate sporting events, such as sailing and windsurfing.
Other Must-See Islands in the French West Indies
Part of the appeal of St. Barthelemy is its French-influenced culture and cuisine. If you're interested in other islands in the French West Indies, see our pages on Guadeloupe and Martinique. The locals speak French and Creole, and both islands are rich in natural beauty, with hiking trails and picturesque beaches.