The old town square and waterfront area of Christiansted, the old Danish capital, still retain the colourful character of the early days. Overhanging second-floor balconies designed by the Danes to shade the streets serve as cool arcades for shoppers. Red-roofed pastel houses built by early settlers climb the hills overlooking Kings Wharf and there is an old outdoor market.
Many of the buildings are being restored and the dock is being improved to take small cruise ships (the reef prevents large ships entering the harbour), but it is unlikely to be overrun with cruise ship tourism like St Thomas. Old Christiansted is compact and easy to stroll. The best place to start is the Visitors’ Bureau on 5A Company Street. Here you can pick up brochures. Starting in February for six weeks the St Croix Landmarks Society runs house tours every Wednesday, T7720598.
Across the way is Fort Christiansvaern, which the Danes built in 1774 on the foundations of a French fort dating from 1645. US$2. 0800-1645. See the punishment cells, dungeons, barracks room, officers’ kitchen, powder magazine, an exhibit of how to fire a cannon, and the battery, the best vantage point for photographing the old town and harbour. The fort and the surrounding historic buildings are run by the National Parks Service. In front of the fort is the old customs house, now the National Parks Service office.
The Steeple Building is a minute’s walk away. Built as a church by the Danes in 1734, then converted into a military bakery, storehouse and later a hospital, it is now a museum of the island’s early history. US$2. 0930-1200, 1300-1500.
The area here is a treasury of old Danish architecture, and many of the original buildings are still in use. The West India and Guinea Co, which bought St Croix from the French and settled the island, built a warehouse on the corner of Church and Company Streets in 1749 which now serves as a post office, Customs House and public toilets.
Across the way from Government House on King Street is the building where the young Alexander Hamilton, who was to become one of the founding fathers of the USA, worked as a clerk in Nicolas Cruger’s counting-house. Today the building houses the Little Switzerland shop.
Government House has all the hallmarks of the elegant and luxurious life of the merchants and planters in the days when ‘sugar was king’. The centre section, built in 1747 as a merchant’s residence, was bought by the Secret Council of St Croix in 1771 to serve as a government office. It was later joined to another merchant’s town house on the corner of Queen Cross Street and a handsome ballroom was added. It has been extensively renovated and was expected to reopen at the end of 2000. Across Queen Cross Street from Government House is the Dutch Reformed Church.
Queen Cross Street leads into Strand and the fascinating maze of arcades and alleys lined with boutiques, handicrafts and jewellery shops. Along the waterfront there are bars, restaurant pavilions, a boardwalk and an aquarium. US$3. Wed-Sun, 1100-1600. Just offshore is Protestant Cay (just called The Cay), reached by ferry for US$3 return for the pleasant beach, and the Hotel on the Cay with restaurants, pool, tennis, watersports.