Explore our History, Heritage and Culture

Our carnivals immerse visitors in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ rich culture, celebrating everything that makes us unique. But beyond these seasonal events, you’ll find echoes of the past in our islands’ 18th-century Danish colonial architecture, as well as Danish street and estate names. Outside of our towns, the islands are carved into estates with colorful names like Neltjeberg, Fredriksdal and Marienhoj. Learn about local fruits and traditional dishes (gennips and kallaloo soup, anyone?) at farmers markets and family-run restaurants. And explore our heritage at plantation museums and ruins, massive forts and historic houses of worship.

Farmers markets

On Saturday mornings, visit Rothschild Francis Market Square in Charlotte Amalie, checking out local produce, crafts, and food such as Johnny cakes and whole fish that’s fried on-site in traditional coal pots. On St. John, head to Franklin A. Powell Sr. Park, conveniently located opposite the ferry dock.

Local Food

Our traditional dishes are comparable to the soul food of the U.S. South — delicious meals made with humble ingredients from recipes handed down through generations. Favorites include Kallaloo soup, with spinach and a mix of chicken, pork or mutton. Fish and fungi is a buttery stew that includes cornmeal cooked into a polenta-like consistency.

Carnivals

During these colorful festivals, each island shows off its own distinctive version of West Indian culture. Parade costumes celebrate the tradition of masquerading, and calypso lyrics often skewer local politics to a soca beat.

Forts

The oldest buildings on the islands are our forts, which were used by the Europeans as a defense against colonizing countries. Tour the museum at Fort Christian on St. Thomas, which was largely completed by 1680. St. Croix’s well-preserved Fort Christiansvaern dates to 1749 and now houses a museum that tells the history of the island.

Houses of Worship

St. Thomas

Marvel at the stone walls at St. Thomas Reformed Church, established in 1660. Take a tour of St. Thomas Synagogue, which is the second-oldest Jewish house of worship in the Western Hemisphere and features a sand floor (a now rare Sephardic-Dutch tradition).

Plantations

Across our islands, you’ll see the stone bases of former sugar windmills, reminders that sugar cane was once grown, harvested and processed on nearly every square foot of land. You can see a well-preserved operation at St. Croix’s Estate Whim Museum and explore ruins at Cinnamon Bay and Estate Annaberg on St. John.

Cultural Performances

Catch performances by the Caribbean Dance Company and Cruzan Dance Company, which teach ballet, modern and island styles. The Pistarckle Theater on St. Thomas and the Caribbean Community Theatre on St. Croix regularly take to the stage. Among our many talented musicians are the young pan players who are part of the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra. Try to be on St. Croix when St. Gerald’s Hall presents performances of the quadrille, a formal dance imported by Europeans that resembles a square dance.

Pre-Columbian History

Learn about the Amerindian people who lived here before the Europeans arrived. On St. John, hike to view petroglyphs — rock carvings created around 900 A.D. St. Croix’s Salt River is the spot where the Amerindians played ceremonial ball games and Columbus landed on his second voyage in 1493.

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