Philipsburg - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Philipsburg


Philipsburg is the capital of Dutch St. Maarten and the only town of consequence on the island. It has two main streets, Front Street ( Voorstraat) and Back Street ( Achterstraat), connected by several bustling thoroughfares, and filled mainly with duty-free shops, cafes, hotels and courtyards overflowing with flowers.

The town has an unusual setting, sitting on a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay, on the south coast of the island, and the Great Salt Pond (a huge marsh). It is the port of call of hundreds of cruise ships, filling the primary need of the day-tripping passengers who come ashore mainly to shop for everything from Italian leather goods and Japanese cameras to native crafts. The town's nightlife is regarded as among the liveliest to be found in the Caribbean.

Architecturally the town, founded in 1763 by John Philips (a Scots captain in the Dutch navy), is quaint, with characteristic pastel-coloured West Indian houses lining the streets, and a few Dutch colonial landmarks, including Fort Willem, built in 1801, and Fort Amsterdam, constructed nearly 200 years earlier.

Information & Facts


The weather is sunny and warm all year, with some cooling from trade winds. Average temperature during the winter season is 80F (27C), while in the summer it is several degrees warmer and more humid. The average annual rainfall is 45 inches, most falling as occasional showers in late summer and early autumn.

Dutch and French are the official languages, but English is widely spoken. Locals commonly use a language known as Papiamento, a mixture of Portuguese, African, Spanish, Dutch and English.

On the Dutch side the currency is the Netherlands Antilles Guilder or Florin (ANG), where one guilder is divided into 100 cents, but US Dollars are also widely accepted and prices are usually quoted in Dollars as well as Guilders. On the French side of the island the Euro (EUR) is the local currency, although establishments will also accept US Dollars. There are numerous bureaux de change and banks throughout the island and ATMs in the main towns in both national sectors; travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted.

GMT -4.

The town of Philipsburg boasts the remains of two historic forts that bear witness to its strategic importance in days of old. Fort Amsterdam, the first Dutch military establishment in the Caribbean, was built in 1631 on a peninsula between Great Bay and Little Bay, but it was captured almost immediately by the Spanish. The Spanish later abandoned it, and the little fort returned to Dutch hands, being kept in use right up to the 1950s as a signalling and communications station. The other fortification, Fort Willem, lies to the west of downtown Philipsburg, topped with a television transmission tower. Both forts are worth the walk to visit, particularly for the views afforded from their elevated positions.

Front Street faces south onto the ocean, running about half a mile (1km) east to west, and is the main drawcard in Philipsburg for tourists. At its eastern end is Wathey Square, housing the tourist information kiosk, just a minute's walk from the semi-circular Great Bay Beach. On the north side of the square is one of the town's most impressive buildings, the white wooden courthouse topped with a cupola, built in 1793 and now serving as a post office. Just off the west of the square is the quaint Methodist church built in 1851. Further along Front Street is a group of elegant colonial houses, and at the far end is a small museum and two large marinas.

Dutch St Maarten's prime popular beach resorts extend as a series of sandy bays from Philipsburg along the southwest coast of the island, reaching a grand finale at the great spread of Simpson Bay, site of the international airport. From the headland at the western end of Great Bay stretches the secluded beach of Cay Bay, famed for being the spot where Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant was injured in battle against the Spanish. This quiet beach can only be reached by dirt road or a horse trail. Further west towards the airport is Simpson Bay Lagoon, surrounded by resort developments. There is a series of good beaches with fine white sand: Maho Bay is St Maarten's largest beach resort, well developed with facilities, a casino and its popular Sunset Bar. Mullet Bay, with its gentle surf and shady stretch of palm trees, is usually the most crowded beach. Cupecoy is favoured by nudists, and has dramatic sandstone cliffs and caves.

North of Philipsburg on Pondfill Road is the island's zoo and botanical gardens, situated in the Madam Estate area. The zoo is home to more than 250 animals of about 60 different species, including six on the endangered list such as Bush Dogs, Golden Lion Tamarins and Scarlet Macaws.

The tiny Simartin Museum in a century-old house on Front Street is a mine of information for those interested in the island's history, from Amerindian times through to the colonial period. Among the artefacts on display are pottery from the island's original inhabitants, the Arawaks, and cargo salvaged from a British ship that sank off the coast in 1801.

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