The island was first sighted by Christopher Columbus on 11 November 1493, but there was already an Arawak settlement there before his discovery. Philipsburg was founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy; the settlement soon became a bustling centre of international trade. Two historic forts bear witness to Philipsburg's strategic importance in St. Maarten's history: Fort Amsterdam and Fort Willem.
Philipsburg has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw), although it is drier than most parts of the northern or eastern Caribbean due to a rain shadow from the island’s mountains drying the northeast trade winds. The driest months are from January to July, and the wettest from September to November, when hurricanes are a frequent occurrence in the region.
The main shopping district, Front Street, is in the heart of the city. has a port that is visited by many cruise liners, ships like Celebrity Solstice, Crown Princess, Disney Magic, and since 2010, Oasis of the Seas & Anthem of the Seas.
World-famous for its close photographs of landing aircraft, Princess Juliana International Airport (IATA: SXM, ICAO: TNCM), west of Philipsburg, has become a tourist destination in its own right. Jet blast from departing aircraft is another 'attraction' as it creates artificial waves. However, jet blast is physically hazardous so viewers need to exercise caution; local authorities placed a warning on the airport's fence to alert people to the dangers of jet blast.