Our walking tour is based on one we found in the tourist guide to St. Thomas they pass out when you arrive at the airport. It’s a good one! If you can manage to time it to avoid the hordes from the cruise ships that so often dock in downtown Charlotte Amalie, the experience will be much nicer. The city was founded in 1666 and named after Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel, queen consort of Danish King Christian V. It’s got lots of notable Danish colonial architecture, pirate stories, an old synagogue and churches, markets, museums and art. Our suggestion is to park in the Ft. Christian public parking lot if you have a rental car. There’s plenty of space, and it’s only a dollar an hour. The parking lot is right across the street from Ft. Christian.
- Fort Christian: On our visit, the fort was closed for renovation. It’s a big, stone fortress with a clock tower, built in 1666, and is the longest-standing structure in the Virgin Islands. Over the years it has been used as a seat of government, jail, church and museum.
- The Legislature Building is directly across the street from the fort. This two-story, light yellow building is an 1874 reconstruction of the original wooden building from 1828. In 1917 the transfer of St. Thomas from the Danish to the US happened in the courtyard here.
- Back across the street to the west of Ft. Christian is Vendor’s Plaza. The stalls here sell mostly souvenirs, T-shirts and other clothing items and jewelry.
- Behind Vendor’s Plaza is Emancipation Park, named for the emancipation of slaves in the Danish West Indies in 1848. There is a bronze bust of a freed slave blowing a conch shell commemorating this anniversary. This quiet square also features a replica of the Liberty Bell.
- The Frederick Lutheran Church is a block north of Ft. Christian. The church is the oldest on St. Thomas, originally built in 1783. It features the traditional West Indian “Welcome Arms” staircase at the entrance.
- The Alvaro de Lugo Post Office is an interesting two-story building containing a couple of murals showing local life
- A set of stairs across from the Post Office to the east lead up the hill to Hotel 1829. The building was originally a private home belonging to Alexander Lavalette, a wealthy sea merchant. In the courtyard is a 20-foot amber waterfall. There is also some lovely Moroccan tile-work and some Tiffany glass. The building also houses the Caribbean World Amber Museum. Just down the road are the 99 Steps.
- The 99 Steps were created from ships’ ballast. Lined with colorful flowers and shrubs, the top of the stairs offers beautiful views of the harbor and the town below. You can also sneak a peek at a couple of restored historical houses on the way up. Tours of these are available as well.
- Blackbeard’s Castle is at the top of the stairs and to the east. Danish soldiers originally kept watch over the harbor and Ft. Christian below from this watchtower, originally named Ft. Trygborg. The views from here are spectacular. Blackbeard (Edward Teach) is said to have frequented the area, but it’s not known whether he ever really used the watchtower for his own purposes. There is a small hotel on the grounds, but the space is only open to visitors according to the cruise ship schedule, so we weren’t able to go in.
- Back at the bottom of the stairs, turn left and you’ll soon come to Government House, a pretty, white neoclassical building with intricate ironwork along its balconies. The lobby is open to the public and features the artwork of Danish-French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, whose childhood home is back in town.
- Once back down to Main Street, continue west passing all the Duty Free shops. Observe that the buildings closer to the water are long and narrow, formerly warehouses, while to north side of the street are more square, having been used as shops since they were built. The second floor was often used as a residence.
- The St. Thomas (Dutch) Reformed Church is on the corned or Nye Gade and Crystal Gade. It’s gates were getting a new coat of paint as we passed, and it looked fresh and inviting. The building is in the classical revival architectural style with large columns. The congregation has been worshiping here for 350 years, though the building only dates back to 1844.
- All the way at the end of the shopping district, Market Square was originally built as a slave market. A portion is under renovation, but you can get a good look at the area called The Bungalow, the now-roofed part that used to serve as the auction block. It later served as a produce market, with farmers from the north side of the island crossing the hills by donkey to sell their wares. It’s still an open air market on certain days.
- St. Peter and Paul Catholic Cathedral is further down the road, beyond the shopping district and into a more residential area. The building was constructed in 1806.
Walk back to Ft. Christian along the waterfront, passing tourist restaurants and more shops along the way.