St. Barts is a land of jet setters and Francophone eateries, of haute cuisine and swish fine-dining joints set to the sounds of the lapping Caribbean Sea.
It’s a place of rugged cliffs and hidden stretches of postcard-perfect sand, where yachters and A-listers and naturists alike all coalesce between the coves and the dunes.
It’s a place of bubbling beach clubs touting pina coladas and potent rum punches, of shimmering whitewashed cruise ships, and hotels that take the meaning of luxury to all new and dizzying heights.
The stuff of Caribbean travel brochures, this little dot in the middle of the French West Indies rarely fails to impress.
So, touch down to explore the well-to-do streets of Gustavia and the likes of award-winning Colombier Beach, rub shoulders with film stars in the fashion boutiques, see rare frigatebirds, go boating atop sparkling coral gardens, enjoy croissants in the Caribbean breeze, watch the local rugby teams go at it – the list goes on!
Let’s explore the best things to do in Saint Barts:
1. Laze around on Colombier Beach
Colombier Beach is hailed as the seaside jewel of St. Barts.
Curved around the end of a headland on the extreme north-western edge of the island, it’s secluded, sun-kissed and home to a turquoise-blue bay that’s always peppered with bobbing yachts.
The sands themselves are powdered coral.
They glow white and come dressed in sporadic bouts of sea vines that crawl towards the salty shore.
What’s more, the route to the beach is nothing short of breath-taking, with a path weaving through cacti groves and over the rocky cliffs for 15 minutes before hitting the sands themselves.
2. Soak up the sun on Grande Saline Beach
Hidden away between the rocky hills on the southern coast of the island, Grande Saline is one of St Bart’s most secluded stretches of sand.
Backed by a wall of grass-topped dunes and green hills, the spot is hidden away from any significant developments and towns, with just a few cottages hiding into the palms and cacti above.
That means travelers who make the trek here can enjoy a certain level of isolation between Saline’s boulder-peppered shallows and rocky inlets.
It also means the beach is one of the most popular places for sunbathing nudists in St. Barts – you’ve been warned!
3. Retail therapy in Gustavia
With its famous trio of high-fashion shopping hotspots and oodles of bespoke design outlets and stores peppering its lanes and alleys besides, Gustavia is one of the undisputed shopping capitals of the Caribbean.
The center of the retail action surely has to be along the iconic Quai de la Republique, which rings the port of the town and offers up the likes of Bulgari and Hermes and more.
Then there’s the upscale Carre d’Or Plaza; the home of St Bart’s local brands and creative designers – think black Tahitian pearl necklaces and handmade beachwear.
Finally comes the La Savane Center, laden with high-street stores just across from the airport.
4. Cocktails and sun on Baie de St-Jean
The liveliest and most fun-loving beach on all of St. Barts is also a truly pretty tropical affair, arching its way along the northern coast just a stone’s throw from the runways of the island’s airport.
With the sparkling turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea as the backdrop, visitors here can hit the swells on a jet ski, rent boats, or simply do as most do: kick-back with a cocktail in the iconic cocktail joint of Nikki Beach.
This covered little cabana of a bar spills onto the sands in a medley of bean bags, tipis and loungers, serving up meticulously mixed fruit infusions and Caribbean cuisine.
At night, things can get wild, as Nikki hosts everything from toga parties to funk nights.
5. Enjoy the views from Fort Gustav
Raised way back in the early 18th century by St Bart’s onetime Swedish masters, this historic fort complex not only offers a glimpse at the island’s colonial past, but also some of the most breath-taking panoramas over the harbour of Gustavia.
Today, the site is recognisable thanks to the soaring whitewashed and red-tipped lighthouse that rises at its center.
However, there are still some interesting remnants of the citadel’s former glory, from the dilapidated baking house to the old cannon-studded bulwarks.
Visitors can stand atop and look down to where pirate ships and naval frigates would once have done battle in the seas.
6. See shells, shells and more shells at the InterOceans Museum
Housed in charming little Corossol village on the western haunch of St. Barts, the InterOceans Museum is one of the island’s more quirky and different exhibition centers.
Set up by passionate oceanographer Ingenu Magras, the collection spans a whopping 9,000 sea shells and countless other marine-related objects of interest.
Visitors can take a tour of the seabed of the Caribbean and see some of the curious creatures that lurk between St. Bart’s coral reefs and sand banks.
And after you’re done with learning, Corossol also has its very own secluded town beach to enjoy!
7. Chill out on Gouverneur Beach
Just around the rocky headlands from aforementioned Grande Saline Beach, this gorgeous little arc of ivory-white Caribbean sand is another contender for the most beautiful coastal spot in St. Barts.
The beach itself lies at the end of a little inlet on the south shore, glowing like a magnesium strip under the sun and augmented by the Greek-blue shallows, patched with the occasional shadowy coral bed below.
Gouverneur’s is also much-liked for its accessibility, and there’s a car park on offer to visitors just a couple of minutes’ walk to the sands.
8. Enjoy the pretty architecture
Away from the swish shopping malls and high-fashion outlets of Gustavia, St. Bart’s capital offers up a chocolate box of architectural treats.
Influenced by the Swedish, the English, the Carib and – of course – the French, the town is home to winding cobblestone streets and old mansions built in the style of Scandinavia.
There’s also the looming spire of a Gothic church high above the town, looking plucked straight from the villages of little England.
And then there’s the sun-splashed harbourside, replete with enticing cocktail joints and seafood restaurants, and primed for people watching (or yacht watching, whichever you prefer!).
9. Hit the swells
Unlike many other destinations in the Caribbean region, St. Barts is a veritable surfing mecca.
The island is blessed with some great swells that roll in off the Atlantic Ocean and onto the rugged bays of the north and west shores.
Spots like Lorient Beach, Anse des Cayes and Saint-Jean all have their own rollers, with swells that are perfect for every level of rider.
There are surfboard rentals and outfitters to be found right across the island.
Windsurfing is also a popular pastime with the locals, and good waves and breezes make for favourable conditions at accessible beaches like Grand Cul de Sac.
10. Sample Latin cuisine at Do Brazil
Highly-acclaimed Do Brazil sits perched on the rocks above postcard-perfect Shell Beach.
Owned by the former French pro tennis player Yannick Noah, the joint is part beach shack, part refined bistro, part cocktail bar.
Patrons can expect a medley of exotic mixed drinks to rub shoulders with mahi-mahi brochettes and Brazilian-style meat skewers on the menu, along with some casual foods like Angus burgers and cheeseburgers to boot.
Regular events add spice to the calendar and bring life to Shell Beach in the evenings too, with the frequent live music shows pumping out reggae and samba and Parisian jazz over the bay.
11. Find your inner French at Lorient
Fringed by its own gorgeous beach, the small and welcoming town of Lorient makes its home on the coastal hills that run along the northern edge of the island.
Famed for its pretty churches and handsome veneer, the town comes blooming with bougainvillea and tropical flowers.
It’s also got a series of charming little churches, like the Eglise de Lorient, raised in natural stone and looking like something out of northern France.
Add to the mix that long stretch of powdery golden sand that runs along the shoreline of the town, complete with sunbathing spots, French seafood joints and even surf swells, and it’s easy to see why Lorient remains such a popular stop-off for visitors to St. Bart’s.
12. Eat fresh and healthy at Maya’s
No two menus are ever the same at welcoming little Maya’s restaurant.
That’s because the chefs here have a passion for sourcing the freshest produce from across the island each day, forging new dishes and flavors from what’s available and in season.
That means patrons to this casual bistro on the edge of La Plage de Public can expect the likes of vegetable ceviche and fish carpaccio, packed full of flavor and served in a rustic and inviting manner.
The kitchen is run by a French-Caribbean local from the island of Martinique, and has been cooking up its colourful cuisine since way back in 1984!
13. Do watersports at Grand Cul de Sac
Jutting its way out to where the Atlantic Ocean fuses with the Caribbean Sea, Grand Cul de Sac Beach occupies the extreme eastern edge of St. Barts.
A wide bay of powdery sand that’s backed by its own brackish lagoon and washed over by frothy swells and sea breezes, the spot is perfect for any travelers eager to take to the water.
Windsurfing outfitters pepper the coast, while sea canoes and sailing are all also on offer.
Meanwhile, around the headland, pretty Anse de Marigot is the perfect place to stroll the coast and watch the yachts weaving in and out of the island’s headlands and coves.
14. Attend the St Barts’ Film Festival
If you’re lucky enough to be hitting St. Barts at the sunny and pleasant end of April (when the days are drenched in sunshine and the nights cooled by the Trade Winds), then be sure to make a beeline for the venues of the St Barts’ Film Festival.
Also known as the Festival of Caribbean Cinema, this five-day get-together of actors, directors, screenwriters and more focuses solely on the cinematic output of the region.
Attendees can enjoy screenings of independent movies on the beaches themselves and rub shoulders with some of the Caribbean’s most famous filmmakers to boot.
15. Go in search of Flamands Beach
Gorgeous Flamands Beach faces the rugged, rocky outcrops of Ile Chevreau on the northern shores of St. Barts.
Often overlooked by travelers in favor of the more popular sands of Colombier Beach in the west and Grand Saline in the south, this one offers seclusion and privacy like few coastal spots on the island.
The sands are coral-white and yellow, and come shrouded by sporadic groves of palm trees for shade, while there’s also the chiselled and ancient top of a volcano in the hills above (this can be accessed on a hiking trail from Flamands itself if you’re feeling particularly energetic!).