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Thanks to its numerous shops, cafés and hotels, Philipsburg is one of the liveliest places on the island of Saint Martin. Giant cruise ships and luxury yachts cast anchor in the azure blue bay which was discovered in 1493 by Columbus, even though Indians already lived here. Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch part of the island and is located on the beautiful white sandy beach of Great Bay.
In the 16th century, Dutch, Spanish and French sailors and pirates from the Caribbean region were all interested in this charming island. Not only did it have protected bays, it also had a large saltpan. At that time, salt was important for preserving meat and fish on board ships. John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy, founded the city of Philipsburg on the small strip of land between the sea and the saltpan in 1763.
The island boasts beautiful colonial houses in cheerful Antillean colours and an English church surrounded by palm trees. Together with the Oranjeschool in pastels and the old wooden courthouse, the 4 main streets of Philipsburg together form a colourful mix of Dutch, English and native influences. You can find all the stories and history at the charming little Saint Martin Museum on Front Street.
The island’s past can also be explored outside the city. At the end of the peninsula between Great Bay and Little Bay are the remains of Fort Amsterdam. It was built in 1631 as the first Dutch military fort in the Caribbean and can be reached by a footpath that starts at the Divi Little Bay Resort. Nowadays, only a few walls and rusty cannons remain but the breathtaking views of Great Bay and the neighbouring islands remain unchanged. The ruins are also situated amidst some lovely nature with tall cacti and brown pelicans diving for fish from the rocks.
In addition to the exotic local colour, Philipsburg is also known for its plentiful shopping options and nightlife. Front Street, the first street on the seaside, is a tax-free Valhalla of shops selling jewellery, perfume, luxury articles and souvenirs. The Guavaberry Emporium is also located here, a shop devoted to the liqueur made from the local guavaberry. You’ll also come across this liqueur in the numerous cocktail bars (the perfect place to try the guavaberry colada), as well as in the resorts, casinos and clubs of Philipsburg. A recommended spot is the Ocean Lounge at the Holland House Beach Hotel with its large outdoor sitting area and live music, located directly on the seafront at Great Bay.