The capital of Dutch St Maarten, is built on a narrow strip of sandy land between the sea and a shallow lake which was once a salt pond. It has two main streets, Front and Back, and a ringroad built on land reclaimed from the salt pond, which all run parallel to Great Bay Beach, perhaps the safest and cleanest city beach anywhere.
Front Street is full of shops offering duty-free goods. Back Street contains low cost clothes shops and low budget Chinese restaurants.
The St Maarten Museum at Museum Arcade on 7 Front Street, is a restored 19th century house, exhibiting the history and culture of the island. There is a museum shop. (1000-1600 Monday-Friday, 0900-1200 Saturday, closed Sunday). The historic Courthouse dating from 1793, on De Ruyterplein, better known as Wathey Square, faces the pier. In the past it has been used as a Council Hall, a weigh station, jail and until 1992, a Post Office. Now renovated, it is used exclusively as a courthouse.
The harbour is frequented by cruise ships and a host of smaller craft and the town gets very crowded when up to eight cruise ships are in port. For information on outdoor concerts, choirs, theatre and art exhibitions, ask at the Cultural Center of Philipsburg on Back Street (T22056).
There is a Zoo on Arch Road in Madam Estate, close to New Amsterdam shopping centre (difficult to find, ask for directions), with a small exhibition of the fauna and flora from the islands. (T32030, $10 for adults and $5 for children aged 3-11, weekdays 0900-1700, weekends 1000-1800).
There are several ruined fortresses, but not a lot remains of them. Fort Amsterdam was the first Dutch fort in the Caribbean, built in 1631 but captured by the Spanish in 1633 and partly pulled down before they left the island in 1648. It was still used for military purposes until the 19th century and as a signalling and communications station until the 1950s. Fort Amsterdam can be reached through the grounds of a private timeshare development. The guard allows visitors to park outside and walk to the fort.
Fort Willem has a television transmitting tower and there is a good view from the top. Construction was started by the British, who called it Fort Trigge, at the beginning of the 19th century, but the Dutch renamed it in 1816. Fort Bel-Air and Sint Peter’s Battery gave way to modern development although a few ruins are still visible near Great Bay Marina.
Find out more at Philipsburg (St Maarten) Information Restaurants, Hotels, Photos, and Map