14 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 star attractions. Backed by rolling green hills, they beckon from secluded coves or sprawl along quaint coastal villages, tempting tourists with clear waters and coral reefs.
Although St. Barts is predominantly French, a few Swedish legacies linger, including the red-roofed capital of Gustavia. Chic shops and galleries line Gustavia's streets, and the town's gourmet restaurants fly in continental delicacies.
Popular things to do in St. Barts 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.
You won't find high-rise resorts on St. Barts. Instead, boutique hotels and resorts and private villas make this island a natural magnet for movie stars and moguls.
Read about the best places to visit on this alluring island with our list of the top attractions in St. Barts.
Gustavia, St. Barts' 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.
Foodies will also love tasting their way around Gustavia. Gourmet St. Barts restaurants serve mouthwatering French-inspired cuisine, from crepes to croissants and succulent, fresh seafood.
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 St. Barts 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.
If you feel like a dip, you can stroll to Shell Beach from town. This lovely little pocket of sand is the perfect place for a picnic, peppered with its namesake feature. Sun loungers and umbrellas line the beach, and you can order snacks and refreshments at one of the restaurants fringing the sand.
Other things to do in Gustavia, St. Barts include soaking up some island history, including its Swedish heritage, at the Wall House Museum (St. Barth Municipal Museum) and visiting the oldest building in Gustavia, the Vieux Clocher. This distinctive green-painted Swedish clocktower provides a picturesque photo op.
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.
Gustavia is also where you'll find the most happening St. Barts' nightlife.
2. Shell Beach
Shell Beach is one of the top tourist attractions on St. Barts. Whether you're a budding photographer hoping to snap a few unforgettable pics, or a parent looking to occupy your kids, you're in for a treat at this pretty beach in St. Barts.
Shell Beach is just a five-minute walk from the heart of Gustavia. It lies at the base of a rocky cove, and its unique beauty is enchanting. Take time to look closely at the glistening white sand, which consists of millions of crushed shells.
This beach was named for larger shells that once took up residence on its shore. Today there are fewer intact shells to be found, but that doesn't mean this isn't a haven for shellers and families with young fans of treasure hunts.
This popular beaches is also a romantic spot to watch the sun set, and luckily, it never seems to get too crowded. If you get hungry, there's a restaurant on-site.
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.
St. Jean Beach, a picturesque crescent of white sand, offers 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.
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.
4. Colombier Beach (Anse de Colombier)
Sometimes beauty comes at a price, and that's the case with Colombier Beach. This unspoiled slice of soft white sand and translucent waters, at the tip of the island, is only accessible by boat or a half-hour hike down a goat path. Literally, this is a goat path, and you might encounter some of these curious animals, as well as iguanas and tortoises, as you hike to the shore. But it's worth the effort. This beach is one of the most beautiful and least crowded on the island.
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.
5. 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. It's also 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, bodysurfers enjoy riding the waves here. After a morning of beach basking, you can enjoy lunch at one of the two popular St. Barts restaurants near the parking lot.
6. 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.
7. Kitesurfing at Grand Cul de Sac Beach
The shallow bay of Grand Cul de Sac is ideal for water sports. Kitesurfers congregate here, and the nearby kitesurfing school offers lessons for those in need of a few tips. Windsurfing, kayaking, jet skiing, and stand up paddleboarding are other popular things to do in the lagoon.
Swimming is also possible, but the water isn't as clear here as other beaches on the island. A big bonus is that you can often spot sea turtles swimming in the shallows.
After playing in the water, you can relax at one of the restaurants fringing the narrow beach.
8. 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 St. Barts' resorts fringe the sands of Flamands Bay, including the luxury Cheval Blanc St.-Barth Isle de France, one of St. Barts' most exclusive hotels.
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.
Along the island's western shores, Corossol is a tiny two-street fishing village that exudes a quintessential Caribbean feel. If you're looking for an authentic slice of local life, it's worth the drive to this sleepy village.
Corossol is sometimes called the "straw village," due to the women from established island families who create straw hats and crafts from palm fronds. You can purchase some of their creations in town to take home for souvenirs. The older women speak an old Norman dialect and wear a traditional style of dress featuring starched white sunbonnets called quichenottes (kiss me nots).
Seeking a less touristy beach? Picturesque Corossol Beach is a great place to visit. It's a port of call for local fisherman, and you can stake out a patch of sand here and watch them bring in their catch. Boats bob on the turquoise waters, and tiny crabs scuttle across the sand. You can also take a dip in the calm waters.
While you're wandering around town, stop by the Inter Oceans Museum to see a collection of more than 9,000 shells.
11. 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.
More than 80 species of birds are also found in the reserve.
12. Fort Gustave
Recognizable by the red and white lighthouse that was built on the site in 1961, Fort Gustave is one of the best vantage points for viewing the harbor. This is one of the top places to visit if you're on a sightseeing tour of Gustavia.
The remains of this 18th-century fort include the ruins of the stone ramparts, a sentry box, part of the old brick-floored bakery, cannons, and a powder house.
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 or beginning of May.
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 late February, the Carnival of St. Barths celebrations kick off, with parades along the streets of Gustavia. Other popular festivals celebrate sporting events, such as sailing and windsurfing.
14. Fort Karl
Along with Fort Gustave, Fort Karl is one of three forts that stood watch over Gustavia back when it was under Swedish rule (the late 18th century). The other two forts were Fort Gustave (mentioned above) and Fort Octav.
The sparse ruins of Fort Karl stand high above the harbor, near Shell Beach, and this historic spot remains one of the most visited points of interest due to its panoramic views. Here, you'll find cannons that were added later, and an observation platform primed for photo taking.
To get to the fort, expect a bit of a hike upwards. Stone steps lead from the town below. It will only take about five minutes to reach the top.
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, consider a visit to Guadeloupe or Martinique. The locals speak French and Creole, and both islands are rich in natural beauty, with hiking trails and picturesque beaches. Foodies will also love the French-influenced cuisine.