Things to Do in Philipsburg
Maho Beach is close to Saint Martin’s Princess Juliana International Airport—so close that planes coming in for a landing fly very low over the sand on the way to the runway. In fact, the planes cruise so low that it sometimes feels like they’ll take out the umbrellas.
Allow an easy, perfect day on the east coast of Sint Maarten to unfold at Maho Beach and Mullet Bay, two very different beach experiences within walking distance of each other. First, go to Maho to feel the thrill of swimming in the sea as incoming airplanes fly extremely low overhead, then walk to quiet Mullet Bay to sunbathe, snorkel, and play golf.
Front Street is the main street and activity hub of Philipsburg, St. Maarten’s Dutch-side capital. Running along the inside of the bay, Front Street (Voorstraat) is home to some the island’s finest restaurants and shopping—including duty-free jewelry, electronics, and cigars—as well as historic wooden buildings.
Divi Little Bay BeachResort is a secluded beach just outside Philipsburg on the western peninsula of St. Martin’s Great Bay. Postcard-pretty with soft, white sand and tranquil, turquoise water, the beach is popular spot for snorkeling and other watersports such as jet skiing, paddle boats, and parasailing.
Straddling the entire length of Philipsburg, Great Bay Beach is one of St. Maarten’s longest and widest beaches. Along its 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) stretch are lively beach bars, rum shacks, and street carts serving ice-cold beers and some of the capital’s best spots for dining and duty-free shopping.
Standing sentinel in the palm-lined Watney Square on Front Street, Philipsburg Courthouse is the centerpiece of the island’s Dutch capital. Built in 1793, the white wooden structure with crisp green trim has a bell tower topped by a pineapple—a classic Caribbean symbol for “welcome.” Once used as a jail, a post office, and a fire station, the building is currently a working courthouse.
Off the southern coast of St. Maarten, the diminutive and isolated island of Saba is a thriving sanctuary for tropical plant and animal life. Though Saba doesn’t have any beaches, the pristine volcanic island is a paradise for hikers and a world-class destination for scuba divers.
Step into the world ofStar Wars—and the mind of legendary Hollywood makeup artist Nick Maley who helped create many of the franchise’s most memorable characters—at the Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit in Phillipsburg. In the middle of a bevy of duty-free shops along Front Street, this museum and gift shop houses movie memorabilia, figurines, props, and holograms.
Happy Bay Beach is a beautiful, small, and secluded stretch of sand on St. Martin’s northwest coast. Since it requires a short hike to reach the beach, crowds tend to go elsewhere. The secluded nature of the beach makes it popular with clothing-optional sunbathers.
St. Maarten’s longest beach has all the ingredients of a perfect Caribbean paradise: soft white sand, clear and calm turquoise water, and gently waving palms. Though located just behind the Princess Juliana Airport, Simpson Bay is surprisingly quiet and unpopulated.
More Things to Do in Philipsburg
Built by the Dutch in 1631, Fort Amsterdam was the original colonial fort built and an important vantage point in the dispute over the island by the Dutch, French, and British. Located on a peninsula on the western side of Great Bay, the fort is now decommissioned, but ruins and 19th century cannons remain. It’s also a sanctuary for nesting pelicans.
Cole Bay Hill is the perfect perch for travelers to catch panoramic views of Philipsburg, St. Maarten’s Dutch capital, and nearby islands Saba, St. Eustatius, and Anguilla. In the mornings, sun glints off Simpson Bay Lagoon, the largest inland body of water in the Caribbean, and in the evenings, travelers flock here for sunset snaps.
Housed in a traditional 19th-century house, St. Maarten’s only museum is devoted to the history of the Dutch side of the island. Exhibitions at the small museum focus on the island’s indigenous cultures, geology, and colonial history, while archaeological finds on display date back as early as 500 BC.