Why Is Philipsburg the Capital of Sint Maarten?

Why Is Philipsburg the Capital of Sint Maarten?
Why Is Philipsburg the Capital of Sint Maarten?

Sint Maarten is one of the four constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This small nation takes up only about half of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, but what is its capital city?

The capital of Sint Maarten is Philipsburg. Philipsburg has been the capital city of Sint Maarten throughout the entire time that it was a separate constituent country, which began in 2010. The city itself is much older, however, having been founded in 1763.

In the rest of the article, we are going to learn a whole lot more about this small but incredible Caribbean city, including its history, where it is located, and what some of the best places you can visit in Philipsburg are.

Where Is the Capital of Sint Maarten Located?

Where Is the Capital of Sint Maarten?
Where Is the Capital of Sint Maarten?

The capital of Sint Maarten, Philipsburg, is located on the southern coast of the country, with the country of Sint Maarten itself taking up the southern half of the island.

Philipsburg is built on a tight piece of land that is nestled between the Great Bay to the south and the Great Salt Pond to the north. The Great Bay connects directly with the Caribbean Sea and by extension the Atlantic Ocean. The Great Salt Pond is completely inland.

A large part of Philipsburg is on Pond Island, which is within the Great Salt Pond.

Brief History of Philipsburg

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, cityscape at the Great Salt Pond.
Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, cityscape at the Great Salt Pond.

The town of Philipsburg was founded in 1763 when Captain John Philips of the Dutch navy set the foundations, but arguably, the history of the settlement predates even that.

Within walking distance of the modern Philipsburg is Fort Amsterdam. This fort was built by the Dutch in 1631 to defend their interests on the island. Although the fort was occupied by Spain for most of its first two decades, it was eventually returned to Dutch control and would solidify the Dutch Republic’s presence on the island of Saint Martin.

For much of Sint Maarten’s history, the economy was based on agricultural plantations worked by slave labor, with Philipsburg hosting the port that most of the trade would be funneled through. When slavery was banned on the other half of the island of Saint Martin by the French, this coaxed the Dutch into freeing the slaves of Sint Maarten earlier than in their other colonies.

While the freeing of the slaves improved the quality of life for many on the island, it led to a huge economic downturn for the port town of Philipsburg and the colony as a whole due to the region’s huge dependence on agriculture.

Philipsburg saw a turnaround in prosperity in 1939, when the entirety of Sint Maarten became a duty-free port, with Philipsburg being its biggest port city.

Starting in the middle of the 20th century, people began flocking to the city both as tourists and as immigrants. The region’s natural beauty brought in a lot of money through its tourism industry, and the population skyrocketed through the second half of the 1900s before stabilizing and dropping again.

When Did Philipsburg Become the Capital of Sint Maarten?

Sint Maarten has only been its own constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 2010, and Philipsburg has been its capital city since then.

Before this date, the southern half of the island of Saint Martin was a part of the Netherlands Antilles, which had their capital city in Willemstad, which is now the capital city of the separate constituent country of Curacao.

Why Is Philipsburg the Capital of Sint Maarten?

the Caribbean Sea and the sandy beach seen from the dock of the port of Philipsburg
the Caribbean Sea and the sandy beach seen from the dock of the port of Philipsburg

The largest city in Sint Maarten is Lower Prince’s Quarter, with a population of over 8,000 people, whereas Philipsburg has a population of less than 2,000 souls. So you might be wondering why Philipsburg is the capital of the Caribbean nation instead of Lower Prince’s Quarter or any other settlement there.

The reason for this is Philipsburg’s significance, both historically and contemporarily.

Philipsburg was an important trading settlement starting from the 1700s. It also sat alongside two very important Dutch military installations, namely Fort Amsterdam and Fort Willem, also known as Fort William. These factors cemented Dutch control over the southern half of the island and kept their power in the Caribbean.

In modern times, the port of Philipsburg continues to be an important part of the country. This port is not only significant for trade and shipping but also for cruise liners, which bring plenty of tourists to the country.

Best Places to Visit in Philipsburg

Philipsburg may be very small, but it has extreme wealth in all the things you can do and see when you visit. Let’s look at some of them.

The Beaches: Philipsburg lives up to its Caribbean reputation with beautiful and idyllic beaches. The main ones for the town are Great Bay Beach and Little Bay Beach, both of which give you all the wonder of a tropical vacation. If you want something a little more out of the way, there are at least five other beaches nearby to visit.

The Casinos: Philipsburg is dotted with casinos. They tend to be open every day of the week, and some of them even operate a full 24 hours a day. The casino atmosphere in Philipsburg is pretty casual, so you can just walk in off the street and try your luck whenever you fancy it.

Historical Philipsburg: Although most of the town is modern, you can find an assortment of buildings dating back, some by centuries. If you want to step a little bit outside of the main drag, the two old Dutch forts are a great destination to enjoy the history of the proud island.

The Boardwalk: If you just want to enjoy the view, the weather, and a nice drink or snack, a stroll down the boardwalk is a time-honored classic for Philipsburg.


We have learned today about Philipsburg, the capital of the constituent country of Sint Maarten. Although the town is tiny in both size and population, its rich history and beautiful geography more than make up for it.

See Also

Capital Cities 

Hi and welcome to my travel blog! Based in London, I work in investment banking in a quantitative field and although I am not part of the travel industry, I have a ton of passion for travel. My blog is a reference guide for my fellow travelers with the same passion as me. Hopefully the blog is easy to navigate and my aim is to bring the most relevant and interesting information before you begin your journey!