Home to some 62,000 people (more than a third of the island's total population), St Lucia's capital of CASTRIES on the northwest coast is a metaphor for contemporary West Indian urban culture: at times busy and congested, other times somnolent and peaceful, the town feels stuck between a centuries-old island lifestyle and a desperate push to modernize. Though the capital is easy to navigate on foot, it is not particularly blessed with museums, theatres or historical sights – your best bet to experience Castries is to enjoy its vibrant street life.
Due to extensive damage by fires between 1796 and 1948, only a few examples of colonial and Victorian architecture remain, and today's city is chiefly composed of unadorned modern concrete buildings. Despite its contemporary feel, Castries retains a certain unaffected charm, thanks to its setting more than anything else. The town wraps around the deep harbour of Port Castries where hundreds of cruise ships dock each year to unload tourists for a day of duty-free shopping. Recently the government unveiled plans to extend port development, which will create a vast shopping and hotel area à la Dubai or Aruba. How the rest of Castries fits into this remains to be seen, particularly downtown which spreads back from the harbour over a dozen or so blocks of noisy streets, shops, bus stands and general hustle and bustle of a local peoples' capital city.
Meanwhile the area around Castries is well worth exploring, and many sights are reachable without a car, although it takes a little effort to learn the bus system. Hills surround the capital to the east and south; the southern Morne Fortune range once provided a natural defence for the island's various occupiers, and the remains of several forts and batteries scattered throughout the area are worth a quick look. North of downtown and across the harbour is Vigie Peninsula, host to the island's largest duty-free complex, as well as the small George F.L. Charles Airport and a few waterfront restaurants.