This small little capital on the south side of St Martin was founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy. Philipsburg soon became a bustling center of international trade, which is no surprise given the large protected bay the town sits on. In fact, the town sits on a narrow strip of land between the beach, at the head of the bay, and a large salt pond (I will write about the pond separately). I found it interesting that the city flourished on this strip of land since it is barely 5-6 blocks wide. Now a days Philipsburg is set up almost exclusively for passengers of the many cruise ships to shop (there can be up to 9 ships at a time).
As you look at Philipsburg from the bay, the cruse ship dock is at the far right and the passengers must walk almost a mile (or take a water taxi to the pier in the middle of the beach for $7). If you arrive in your own vessel you will want to head to the northeast corner of the bay where you can anchor or take dock space. Interestingly my cruising guide says you are not allowed to anchor off the marina where it is calmest, but it seems like that is exactly where everyone was anchored and I did not get harassed at all when I anchored there also.
Philipsburg is very easy to navigate since there are really only five or so roads. The first is right off the beach, which is quite awesome and worthy of your time, and is called the Boardwalk even though it is a wide concrete walkway. Here you will find bars, stores, and places renting chairs & umbrellas. The next street in is called Front Street and is where you will find all the high end stores. If you want it I am sure it is here. The next street is called Back Street and is another shopping street, but this one is more local and mom & pop style stores.
Outside of shopping, I found a few things worth noting. First, is the local museum located between the Boardwalk and Front Street at the far right (east) side of town. It is ok, but I have seen better local museums in the islands, and is open from 10-1. Nearby is the Guavaberry store, which is the local rum brand. This rum is more of a rum liqueur mixed with the local fruit and sadly the store is just that and there are no tours. Mixed in here and there you will find some historic buildings (Court House, churches, etc) and casinos, which are smaller than I expected and only some have table games.
All and all I had a great time exploring Philipsburg even though it is basically a cruise ship shopping town. I think that is because of the beach that I played on with some friends and the sprinkling of history.