Think of the British Virgin Islands and the conspicuous visage of the famous entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is never far away. His ultra-luxurious private retreat, Necker Island, is one of the region’s most iconic landmarks – and for good reason. Fusing man-made decadence with untouched natural beauty, it has helped put this pristine archipelago comprising 60 islands firmly on the map.
Indeed, visitors soon discover there is plenty more to the British Virgin Islands than one prominent island. One of the world’s finest sailing destinations, it is a mecca for recreational yachts as well as racing boats, thanks to its gentle trade winds and calm waters.
As for things to see and do, the list is plentiful. Whether it’s world class watersports, vibrant beach parties, or delicious local cuisine, there’s something to satisfy every taste and flavour. We’ve picked out 12 of the best.
1. Soggy Dollar Bar
There’s no shortage of beach bars in the British Virgin Islands, but few offer quite as much character as Soggy Dollar Bar. Nestled in White Bay on the popular party island of Jost Van Dyke, the bar has become a ‘must-visit’ landmark thanks to its pulsating atmosphere and its serving of a legendary drink known as the Original Painkiller, an exotic concoction of premium dark Rum, Cream of Coconut, Pineapple and Orange Juice topped with freshly grated Grenadian Nutmeg. Regular bar games add to the fun, but for those who prefer to relax, you can kick back and unwind on the beach, drink in hand, and enjoy the warm sea breezes while peering out over the pristine ocean.
2. Peter Island Resort & SPA
There’s no real point in visiting the British Virgin Islands unless you enjoy the finer things in life. Step forward Peter Island Resort & Spa, set on a 1,800-actre estate on a pristine private island. If you’re looking for somewhere special to stay, and are willing to really push the boat out, then you’ll struggle to find a better, more luxurious choice. With five beaches, swimming pools and an array of restaurants and bars, relaxation is very much the watchword here, but if you’re more active-minded, there’s also a ton of activities available including horticulture tours, hiking, cooking lessons and much more.
3. Aragorn’s Studios
Arts and crafts are a local tradition in the British Virgin Islands, with several shops stocking their own homemade treasures. One not to miss is Aragorn’s Studio, run by a local legend known only as Aragorn. From simple souvenirs to studio pottery, sushi sets and t-shirts, Aragorn’s Studios suits both travellers looking for a memento and art lovers seeking something different. It also hosts a farmer’s market, selling fresh and organic food sourced from around the archipelago. For those lucky enough to be there during a full moon, Aragorn hosts a Full Moon party, during which he lights up his famous metalwork with fire.
4. Sunny Caribee Spice Shop & Art Gallery
To recreate the taste of the Caribbean, you’ll need spices – and lots of them. Luckily, Sunny Caribee Spice Shop & Art Gallery has no shortage of them. With over 300 products, all made and designed in the West Indies, this shop is sure to awaken visitors’ tastebuds. As well as selling everything from spices to coffee and hot sauce, there’s also an art gallery which sources woodwork and artwork from West Indian artists. Staff will be happy to give you tips about using their spices or on how to make their famous Jerk Chicken Burgers or Magic Bloody Mary.
5.The Baths National Park
The British Virgin Islands’ volcanic history is the reason for its mountainous peaks and unique landscape, but this also created natural beachside anomalies, like the boulders seen at The Baths National Park. The boulders are made from granite – formed as a result of slow cooling of magma – and now line the beach in intriguing formations. While some are easily navigated by foot, other larger ones have settled over the water to create secluded baths, where swimmers can enjoy the water in the dappled sunlight.
6. Saba Rock Nautical Museum
When the Royal Mail ship, the HMS Rhone, left port in England in 1867, it was thought to be unsinkable. However, weeks later it ended up at the bottom of the ocean, off the coast of the British Virgin Islands, after sinking during a hurricane that killed over a 100 of its passengers and crew. The wreck has become a popular spot for adventurous divers, one of which was Bert Kilbride, who opened a museum to showcase the treasures he found. The Saba Rock Nautical museum is a great spot to see over 150-year-old artefacts from the wreck, many of which are personal belongings of those who didn’t survive.
7. Gorda Peak National Park
There is a place where it’s possible to see all of the British Virgin Islands at once. After a short hike in Gorda Peak National Park – through some of the archipelago’s most exotic flora and friendly wildlife – hikers will find themselves at arguably the best spot for photos. The Gorda Peak is 1,359 feet high, making it the most elevated point on the British Virgin Islands. To make getting to the top easy, the National Park staff have marked out two paths to the peak. Both routes take roughly half an hour, so are therefore achievable by even amateur hikers.
8. Soper’s Hole
Soper’s Hole marina is a nice mix of British Virgin Island charm combined with nightlife, shopping and watersports. The marina is where a lot of yachts come to dock, making it a hub of activity. Locals will recommend Pussers Landing for dinner or a drink while looking out over the marina. The house drink is known as the Painkiller: a tropical concoction made from rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and coconut water. For those coming by boat, the marina offers all the necessities before the next departure, including fuel, electricity and WiFi.
9. Virgin Islands Wartime Museum
The British Virgin Islands maritime history dates back to the 18th century, when entrepreneurs began to travel between Caribbean islands. The Tortola boat is one example of a typically British Virgin Island-style sloop, but it should come as no surprise that the art of boat building is something that is very much part of the culture. At H. Lavity Stout Community College, boat lovers can see just how a boat is constructed. The Maritime Museum features traditional boat building tools, artefacts from shipwrecks, two wooden seine boats and a photography collection that explains the relationship between boats and the islands.
10. Bamboushay Pottery
With all of the arts and crafts on the island, visitors might well be inspired to take part in an arts class to try and create their own masterpiece. Bamboushay Pottery operates as both a showroom, where visitors can browse the Bamboushay collection, and a pottery school where creative types can learn how to make their own works. Classes take place in an open-air studio, which has a kiln that heats to over 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that students, whether they are beginners or more advanced, can leave with their own creation, made in the Caribbean style.
11. Swimming With Dolphins
The British Virgin Islands are located right on the geographical line between the Caribbean Sea and the Indian ocean – an ideal place for swimming and interacting with marine life. The most popular of the marine life in the area are undoubtedly dolphins, which are known to swim in the waters off the island of Tortola. It’s for this reason that a few tour companies have set up facilities where tourists can interact with one of the sea’s friendliest creatures.
12. William Thornton Floating Bar
There are plenty of great bars in the British Virgin Islands, but the William Thornton Floating Bar offers guests the opportunity to enjoy a great night out at sea. On a barge that is only accessible by boat, the bar affectionately known as the “Willy-T’s”, is the place to head for a party. Bar food is available, but those who go to the Willy-T’s, come for the atmosphere. There is loud music and the opportunity to jump off the barge into the sea at night, and the party usually stretches until the early hours of the morning.