St. Thomas and St. John are part of a chain of islands that make up the US Virgin Islands. Known for their Caribbean flair and holiday vibe, St. Thomas and St. John are both excellent choices for a dream summer vacation.
However, your choice between the two islands depends on your likes and interests. Realistically, you can easily visit both islands on your trip. They are only a 15-25 minute ferry away from each other. The ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay goes out once every hour and only costs 6$ each way. You can also take one from downtown Charlotte Amalie, but that one has limited hours.
Despite their proximity to one another, there are notable differences between them. If you’re trying to decide on which island to stay at, you will want to carefully consider what each has to offer.
Here is a USVI guide that explores the features of each island and recommends the best location to stay at based on your interests.
St Thomas Vs. St John: 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 St Thomas, Red Hook to Cruz Bay, 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 at St. Thomas may help you save a few bucks on accommodation costs. For those who want to experience luxury, there are plenty of luxury hotels in St. Thomas like Marriott's Frenchman's Cove. If you're on a tighter budget you can still find less expensive but decent hotels like Bunker Hill (we highly recommend) 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, so just keep that in mind.
Besides, St. Thomas has a local airport, which reduces taxi travel costs. If you weren’t aware, taxies charge you per person even if you’re going to the same destination. So if you’re traveling solo, it might not be too expensive, but it can quickly add up if you're visiting with family.
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 nationally protected land since it’s considered a US 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. There, you'll find hauntingly beautiful water bodies 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 wonderful sea life. If you’re specifically looking for sea turtles, Maho beach, Honeymoon beach, and Francis Bay are great choices. Scott Beach is another excellent option to spot these sea creatures, but it’s closed to visitors and can only be reached by signing up for an adventure snorkeling tour.
We’d recommend visiting Maho beach as that’s where we saw numerous green turtles. That’s where we got this picture down below:
St. Thomas also has a handful of gorgeous beaches too. 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 propose, 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 hustle-and-bustle typical of 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 a satisfying outdoor experience. However, you want to go with St. John if you're going to explore the outdoors in solitude.
Thanks to its sparse population, St. John offers the opportunity for a tucked-away outdoor adventure. You can hike trails that meander through sprawling beaches and lead to mountains in the area. People can also explore sugar plantations from the island's past.
In St. John, the best places to experience nature include Scott Bay Beach, Honeymoon beach, Ram Head Trail, Cinnamon Bay Nature Trail, National Park Underwater Trail, and Trunk Bay Beach.
St. Thomas is a built-up island, so nature inevitably takes a backseat here. Still, you can find excellent natural attractions to explore—if you look well. You can visit Phantasia Tropical Botanical Gardens, Mermaid's Chair, and Cow & Calf Rocks.
Neither island lacks attractions. Saint Thomas is more cosmopolitan, so having more notable attractions makes sense. That's also one of the reasons why most cruise ships stop at their port.
Here, you can visit the childhood home of Camille Pissarro, one of the best French Impressionist painters in history. The island also houses 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 the entire USVI's. The guides are very friendly and make the course even more fun. Plus, you also learn a little information on the animals around 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. Finish off your visit with a trip to Frenchtown, a St. Thomas region famous for its colorful nightlife.
If you want to visit St. John, Cruz Bay should be part of your list of places to see. This quaint district has that small-town appeal and loads of places to explore.
The Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins is another worthy attraction to tour if you're in St. John. Built in 1740, the plantation once produced sugar, rum, and molasses. Today, it's a nationally-protected area under USVI law.
If you're interested in seeing more plantations, book a trip to Peace Hill. The now-defunct plantation was a thriving sugar production business circa 1718.
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. This place comes alive at night!
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. Red Hook itself is quite 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, Asolare, and more. Just be aware that most taxies stop driving around midnight, but there are night taxies. Ask your hotel for their numbers.
Saint John does have quite a few bars you can frequent at night, like the Beach Bar and Joe's Rum Hut in Cruz Bay. Both of those close pretty late at night. They’re also right next to the beach so you can get some beautiful night views.
Verdict: St Thomas. With it being more populated and receiving a higher number of tourists, 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.
While St. John has some history, it doesn’t have as many historical settlements as the other two islands.
Verdict: St. Thomas is the one to visit to see some historical artifacts and places. But between all three islands, St. Croix is above 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 is every food lover's dream.
St. John isn't a bad choice for dining, although your dining 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 you’ll have a lot more limited options. 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. Seafood and other options are amazing and as fresh as you can get.
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 out this activity.
Saint Thomas has equally excellent locations kids would love to visit. Coral World 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. Families can also check out Virgin Island history at Blackbeard's Castle, a Danish fort that opened in 1689. This island is also the only one with a zip-lining course, 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 more 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 move around with a rented scooter, taxi, or bike. With trails connecting most of the island, hiking is a cheap way to travel. Plus, you can always hitchhike—the island is small and safe.
Regardless, the primary type of transportation for tourists in both 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 better infrastructure.
St Thomas Vs. St John: Shopping
The verdict is uncontested: St. Thomas is a paradise for shoppers. Here, you'll find 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 shopping strip.
Another great place for shopping in St. Thomas is Havensight. Located close to the primary shipyard, Havensight comprises the Havensight Shopping Center, Port of Sale, and Buccaneer Mall. You can shop for electronics, jewelry, food, clothes, fragrances, music, and other souvenirs.
If you don't fancy the prominent shopping areas, the island has smaller shopping areas scattered throughout the region. Popular locations include Tutu Park Mall, Nisky Center, and Lockhart Gardens.
Although shopping is limited in St. John, you have a few options for buying stuff. Most shops operate out of Cruz Bay, with Mongoose Junction the top spot for buying handpainted jewelry, pottery, handwoven clothing, and other fascinating items. Still, there are plenty of gift shops around the area to bring something back home.
Verdict: St Thomas easily wins this one.
Both St. Thomas and St. John are great locations in their own ways, making each a great place to visit 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. You won’t find much of a difference in temperature and climate since both of these islands are so close in proximity to one another.
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 beaches, snorkeling, or hiking. Regardless, both of them are only one short 15-20 minute ferry away, making it easy to visit each other during your island vacation.