Known for their Caribbean flair and holiday vibe, St. Thomas and St. John are both excellent islands for a dream summer vacation. Realistically, you can easily visit both islands on your trip. They're only a short ferry away from each other. You can take a cheap ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay and also take one from downtown Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay.
Despite their proximity to one another, there are notable differences between them. If you’re trying to decide on which island to stay at during your Caribbean vacation, carefully consider what each has to offer. Here is a comparison of these two beautiful U.S Virgin Islands islands and in what areas some one is better than the other.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Hotels & Other Accommodations
St. John is more or less a secluded island, which means you have fewer options for accommodation. Thanks to the limited number of available hotels, often found on arrival from the ferry, prices are higher here.
Here's another thing to consider — Saint John doesn't have an airport. The only way you can get into the island is to take a plane to the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas before boarding a taxi to get to the ferry from Red Hook in St Thomas to Cruz Bay in St John.
St. Thomas is your typical city, so you have widely available and inexpensive options for accommodation. If you're running a tight budget, staying in St. Thomas can help you save money on accommodation. For those who want to experience luxury, there are plenty of luxury hotels on the island like Marriott's Frenchman's Cove.
If you're on a tight budget you can still find less expensive but decent hotels like Bunker Hill and affordable rates on vacation rentals like AirBnb's. If you're staying in an area like Red Hook, you might need to pay more than if you're staying in an area like Charlotte Amalie.
Besides, St. Thomas has a local airport, which reduces taxi costs. If you weren’t aware, taxies charge you per person even if you’re going to the same destination. This means if you’re traveling solo, it might not be expensive, but it can quickly add up if you're bringing family along.
Verdict: St. Thomas.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Beaches
St. John is the uncontested winner in the natural landscape department. This is hardly surprising, as over two-thirds of the island is considered a national park. Saint John has some of best beaches, including Trunk Bay—an unspoiled beach with an underwater trail and crystalline sand. This also makes St. John one of the best places in the USVI to try snorkeling. You can find hauntingly crystal-clear water filled with colorful sea life and plants.
Leinster Bay and Haulover Bay are other great beaches you can check out in Saint John. Both are sparsely populated and offer the opportunity to find sea life. If you’re specifically looking for turtles, Maho beach, Honeymoon beach, and Francis Bay are great choices to explore. You can also spot them at Scott Beach, but it’s closed to visitors and can only be reached by signing up for a snorkeling tour.
We recommend visiting Maho Bay Beach as that’s where we saw numerous green turtles like the one down below:
St. Thomas also has a handful of gorgeous beaches. Magen's Bay is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the nation and world. Sapphire Beach is another fantastic place, and it’s close to many hotels. Brewers Bay Beach is close to the airport and is more hidden and less populated than others. It’s also where I proposed, so I highly recommend checking it out.
St. John is an obvious choice if you want a private getaway location for your next holiday. With miles of protected parks, this island is as secluded as possible. You won't be disturbed by anything during your stay, save for noises from the island's wildlife.
Saint Thomas is the commercial nerve of the USVI and features the typical noisy urban areas. While it costs less to stay here, the tradeoff is less privacy and serenity.
Verdict: Saint John. When it comes to the outdoors, you can’t beat St. John. Saint John also beat's Saint Croix in this category.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Activities & Attractions
Generally, the Caribbean is one of the best places to enjoy an outdoor experience with its warm weather and gorgeous landscapes. If you want solitude, St John is the best option.
Thanks to its sparse population, the island offers tucked-away outdoor adventures. You can hike trails that go through sprawling beaches like Honeymoon Beach and Cinnamon Bay Beach as well as mountains in the area. There is a lot of history, and you can even explore sugar plantations from the island's past. When snorkeling you can even wander through a underwater trail.
St. Thomas is much more populated, so nature inevitably takes a backseat here. There are still excellent natural attractions like the Phantasia Tropical Botanical Gardens, Mermaid's Chair, and Cow & Calf Rocks.
Neither island lacks attractions but Saint Thomas is more cosmopolitan, so it has more notable attractions. That's also one of the reasons why most cruise ships stop at their port. The island is home to Charlotte Amalie, the USVI capital city and a bustling cosmopolitan center with shops, restaurants, and bars.
A must visit is Tree Limit Extreme if you're up for an adventure. It's the only zip-lining course across all US Virgin Islands. The guides are friendly and make the course even more fun. Plus, you also learn a little information on the animals that inhabit the island.
Other must-see places in St. Thomas include the Emancipation Garden, a historic landmark built to celebrate the release of slaves in 1748. Travelers can finish off their visit with a trip to Frenchtown, a region famous for its energetic nightlife.
On the other hand, Saint John has Cruz Bay. This quaint district has that small-town appeal and loads of places to explore, including souvenir shops and restaurants. Apart from that there isn't much other than historical places like the Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins. Its main attraction are it's many beaches and hiking trails.
Verdict: Tie. St John slightly beats St Thomas if you’re into snorkeling, diving, and hiking. St Thomas slightly wins in activities and attractions for history and unique attractions like aquariums and zip lining.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Nightlife
St. Thomas is the go-to place to experience the famous Caribbean nightlife scene. Saint Thomas has numerous clubs, restaurants, and bars, given its big-city status.
Red Hook Marina is a local favorite among residents and visitors and something I would highly recommend. You can always find locals and tourists enjoying their night at Red Hook, a popular town on the east side of St. Thomas.
For more nightlife, you could try Frenchtown. Frenchtown is famed for its bars and restaurants, including the Amalia Cafe, Bella Blu, Banana Tree Grille, and more. Just be aware that most taxies stop driving around midnight, but there are night taxies so ask your hotel for their numbers.
Saint John does have quite a few bars you can frequent at night near Cruz Bay like the Beach Bar and Joe's Rum Hut. Both of those close pretty late at night and they’re also right next to the beach so you can get some beautiful views.
Verdict: St Thomas. It’s by far the best place for nightlife in the USVI.
St Thomas Vs. St John: History
History buffs will love Saint Thomas for its collection of historical attractions, some dating back to the 17th century. You can dive into the history of the US Virgin Islands with a visit to some well-appointed historic locations.
There's Fort Christain, a seventeenth-century fortress built by early Danish settlers. The fortress has housed prisoners, hosted town hall meetings, witnessed religious services, and welcomed court cases.
Crown House is another place to learn more about the history of St. Thomas. In its early years, this building was used by the governors-general. If you visit, look out for the chandelier reportedly transported from France to the Americas. There is also Blackbeards Castle, which the notorious pirate famously used.
While St. John has some history, it doesn’t have as many historical settlements as the other two islands but it does have plantation ruins.
Verdict: St. Thomas is the one to visit to see some historical artifacts and places. But between all three islands, St. Croix is above both St Thomas and St John in this category.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Cuisine
Options for food and drink are abundant on St. Thomas Island. Considering it's a tropical paradise, seafood is top-notch. Since there's more competition, restaurants charge patrons lower prices, which can make an impact on your wallet.
St. John isn't a bad choice for dining, although your options are limited. You'll find a cafe or the occasional restaurant that offers breathtaking views and great menus. The issue with finding places to eat in St John is that most of them are located at the ferry entrance.
When you head out, you might find some food trucks at famous beaches like Maho Beach, but that's about it. So if you’re hungry, get some food at the entrance before heading out deeper into the protected national park areas.
In terms of quality, neither is superior over the other. You can get some delicious and fresh food at both of these places.
Verdict: St Thomas. Both offer great food, but you'll have an easier time finding dining options in the main island.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Family-Friendliness
Both St. Thomas and St. John have excellent offerings for family-friendly fun. At Saint John, your kids can join you in snorkeling, paddleboarding, flyfishing, and kayaking. Horseback riding is common in these areas, so be sure to arrange a session for your family.
SNUBA diving is a lesser-known but equally fun activity for kids. This diving style doesn't require complex gear like scuba diving, nor does it demand extensive skills. If your kids like watersports, you should have them try it out.
Coral World Ocean Park in St Thomas is a five-acre marine park offering attractions like an underwater observation tower. Jump on the St. Thomas Skyride for an opportunity to see breathtaking views of the region from the sky. There is also the family friendly zip-lining course at Tree Limin Extreme.
Verdict: Tie. It depends on what activities your kids like. But there are fun things to do in St Thomas and St. John for kids.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Transportation
Regardless of which island you visit, the USVI's Vitran public transit system is excellent for moving around. Per regulations, seniors and disabled individuals can ride public buses in USVI for free.
Tourists have several options for transportation in St. Thomas. You can rent a car, use a taxi or bus. If you'll be traveling on water, a ferry to other places is a good idea. You can even take one to visit the nearby British Virgin Islands. The thing about rental cars is that people on the island drive on the opposite side of the road. So if you plan on getting a rental car, just ensure you dive carefully. It's very easy to get confused and their road infrastructure isn't exactly the best.
St. John is slightly less developed, making transit options fewer. Beyond the public bus system, you can still move around with rental cars and scooters, taxi, or bike. With trails connecting most of the island, hiking is a cheap way to travel.
Regardless, the primary type of transportation for tourists in both Caribbean islands is taxies. In St Thomas, you’ll find them all over the place, and you can get one to you in around 5-10 minutes no matter where you at on the island. In St John, you might just need to wait a bit longer.
Verdict: St Thomas has more taxies and transportation options available due to its infrastructure.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Shopping
The verdict is uncontested: St. Thomas is a paradise for shoppers. There are plenty of establishments selling at great prices to entice tourists like you. Some even offer duty-free shopping, allowing you to save money on purchases.
Charlotte Amalie, USVI's capital city, is a must-see location for shoppers. Downtown Charlotte Amalie has several shops selling everything from jewelry and antiques to art and souvenirs. Don’t be surprised if you see over 20+ jewelry stores upon entering the strip.
Another great place on the island is Havensight. Located close to the primary shipyard, Havensight comprises the Havensight Shopping Center, Port of Sale, and Buccaneer Mall. You can shop for just about everything, including electronics, jewelry, food, clothes, and other souvenirs.
If you don't fancy the prominent shopping areas, the island has smaller shopping areas scattered throughout the region.
In St John, shopping is limited as there are few places to buy stuff. Most shops operate out of Cruz Bay, with unique places like Mongoose Junction offering jewelry and pottery. There are also many gift shops around the area.
Verdict: St Thomas easily wins this one.
Both St. Thomas and St. John are great places in their own ways depending on what you want to get out of your trip. For upscale dining, shopping, and bustling nightlife, Saint Thomas. St. John is best for those who prioritize privacy, nature exploration, and outdoor recreation.
The weather patterns in St Thomas and St. John are relatively similar. A subtropical climate, light winds, and few changes in yearly temperatures are the main features of the weather in the two islands. The rainy season runs between June and November, bringing more rains but plenty of sunshine. Hurricane season starts at the end of summer and is the least ideal time to visit the USVI.
Overall, St Thomas is the better choice if you plan on visiting the USVI and want to experience everything they have to offer. It benefits from a more extensive collection of attractions and cheaper dining, accommodation, and transportation. Plus, you can also find amazing beaches.
St. John might be a better option for outdoorsy people who want to spend their vacation on the beautiful beaches, snorkeling, or hiking.