Pristine beaches and some of the best snorkelling and dive sites in the Caribbean make the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and US Virgin Islands (USVI) a great spot for water-babies of all ages. Throw in charming historic towns, fantastic duty-free shopping and a little American influence and you’ve got the perfect destination for winter sun family holidays.
Things to do with kids in the Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands
Start with Tortola, the largest island. Kids love exploring its old ruins, including Fort Burt, Fort Recovery and Mount Healthy Windmill, while Main Street in Road Town, the capital, has interesting shops and restaurants. As with many islands in the BVI, most of Tortola’s family-friendly activities are focused around beaches: head to Brewer’s Bay to snorkel with trumpet fish, barracuda and octopus, or visit Smuggler’s Cove at the northwest end of the island to find two impressive reefs just 30m offshore. Indulge in a Friday-night fish-fry on Apple Bay Beach. Cane Garden Bay on Tortola’s north shore is the best place for watersports, including boating, windsurfing, waterskiing and swimming; for grown-ups, it's also home to Callwood’s Rum Distillery and some of Tortola’s most popular bars and restaurants.
Move on to laidback Virgin Gorda, second most populous island in the BVI, for luxurious resorts, yacht clubs and fantastic snorkelling. Take a day-trip to Spanish Town from Tortola, or alternatively base yourself on the island to make the most of its pristine beaches: watch the sunset at Savannah Bay Beach and indulge little explorers with a visit to The Baths, a series of submerged grottoes protected by giant granite boulders.
Make a day-trip or overnighter to the unspoilt island of Jost van Dyke. At Great Harbour Beach, Jost Van Dyke Scuba offers eco-tours, snorkelling, horseriding, hiking, sea-kayaking and scuba-diving for over-10s. Beautiful White Bay Beach is also great for active families, with kayaks, jet-boats and mountain-bikes available from BVI Adventure.
If your family likes diving and snorkelling, don’t leave without visiting the remote island of Anegada, the only coral island in the BVI.
US Virgin Islands
Start with Charlotte Amalie, capital of the USVI, on bustling St Thomas. Kids of all ages love the St Thomas Skyride rising more than 200m above the city to the lookout at Paradise Point. Have fun climbing Charlotte Amalie’s famous 99 steps, take advantage of the city’s reputation as the hub of duty-free shopping in the Caribbean, visit the Danish-built Fort Christian, the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands, and escape to Coki Beach for fantastic snorkelling. Then explore the depths with a Submarine Adventure from St Thomas Harbour or head to the underwater observatory at nearby Coral World Ocean Park.
Head for more sedate St Croix to absorb the island’s Danish colonial history and walk amongst the colourful Georgian buildings in the town of Christiansted – where kids love the dungeons and battlements of Fort Christiansvaern. Then venture to Frederiksted to find Fort Frederik, built to protect the town from pirates, and the Cruzan Rum Distillery.
Take a boat ride to Buck Island Monument 8km off the coast of St Croix, for some of the best snorkelling in the Caribbean.
Visit the sleepy little island of St John, known for its pristine beaches and for St John National Park, offering 22 hiking trails as well as being home to Trunk Bay Beach, consistently voted one of the world’s top 10 beaches and home to a fantastic underwater snorkelling trail with underwater signs.
The Baths, Gorda.
Though the American influence has long dominated cuisine in the US Virgin Islands, West Indian specialties are now also a feature of buffets at large resorts. Outside hotels, try fresh fish such as red snapper and yellowtail and other local delicacies including spicy goat curries, Johnny cakes, and fungi, a cornmeal dumpling often served as a dessert with milk, sugar, cinnamon and raisins.
Boats at Jost Van Dyke.
When to go to the Virgin Islands
The British and US Virgin Islands have a subtropical climate, with warm conditions year-round: temperatures range from a balmy 25°C in winter to 28°C in summer, with humidity kept at bay by the easterly trade winds.
High season is Dec-May. Expect brief tropical showers Aug–Nov.
Kayaking in the US Virgin Islands.
Flights from the UK start at about £750. For two-week flight and accommodation packages, expect to pay upwards of £1,500 per adult.
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A local crab.
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Harbour in the British Virgin Islands.
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