When you first think about the Caribbean, crystal clear waters and endless white sands fills your mind. While the small island of Curçacao has no end of beautiful beaches and delicious food it has so much more to offer. The pastel-colored colonial Dutch buildings in the historical Willemstad are full of rich culture and history.
Willemstad was named an UNESCO world heritage site in 1997. This beautiful and colorful city will blow your mind away. Here is a full list of the best things to visit around Willemstad.
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Travel Video of things to do Willemstad:
Get your walking shoes on and get ready to explore Willemstad, the capital of Curacao. The city has a small and dense historic district, with colorful neighborhoods stretched in every direction.
What to do in Willemstad Walking Map:
The best things to do in Willemstad, Curaçao:
1. Visit the Rif Fort
We began on the Otrobanda side of town at the Rif Fort, which was constructed in 1828 to help protect the island from invasion. This historic site is now a small mall with restaurants, cafes and several stores. Make sure to find your way up the several sets of steps to reach the top of the old fort walls.
2. Walk around the Brionplein
Down the street is Brionplein, a large open square, which often hosts public events and holidays. The plaza has a good selection of eateries as well. This is also where you will get the best photos of the colorful and iconic row of buildings, Handelskade, on the other side of the channel.
3. Visit the Kura Hulanda
Just a few blocks onward is Kura Hulanda, an upscale resort and spa, but more interestingly, an anthropological museum which houses the largest African collection in the Caribbean. The museum generally focuses on the predominant cultures of Curaçao.
4. Take a photo of the Queen Emma Bridge
The Queen Emma Bridge is a pontoon bridge across st. Anna Bay. It is a pedestrian only bridge that was built in 1888. The Queen Emma Bridge connects Punda and Otrobanda. It has 16 floating pontoon boats that support the bridge, and two powerful motors which allow the bridge to swing open and shut.
When the Queen Emma Bridge swings open it lets boats and barges through, there is a small ferry that brings pedestrians across the bay free of charge.
From the bridge you also the best view of the Queen Juliana Bridge, which is the road bridge crossing the bay and one of the tallest in the Caribbean to allow for tall ships to float underneath.
Handelskade is the most beautiful part of the historical neighborhood of Punda in Willemstad. The pastel-colored colonial Dutch buildings across the waters of St. Anna Bay is something that will take your breath away.
5. Visit the Fort Amsterdam
Across the bridge to the right is Fort Amsterdam, built in 1634 by the Dutch West India Company as their headquarters. It is now the seat of the government and governor of Curaçao. Inside the fort is the Fortchurch, with a museum to the rich history of the Protestant community on the island.
6. Walk around the Handelskade
If you see a photo from Curaçao, there is a good chance you are looking at the colorful waterfront buildings of Handelskade. The story goes that one of the first Dutch governors made it law that all houses should be painted in colors other than white because the reflection of the sun was too bright. This colorful tradition has been upheld to today.
There are many restaurants with waterfront seats lining the street. But beware of the higher prices as this is tourist central.
7. Buy something at the Curacao Floating Market
The Curacao’s Floating Market is located along the water in the Punda District. Due to the arid climate of Curaçao, fresh fruits (avocados, citrus, plantain, papayas and more) and vegetables are brought in from Venezuela every morning and sold in stalls right in front of the boats. Grab a fresh snacks to keep your adventures going.
8. Walk around the Scharloo Neighborhood
The Scharloo neighborhood is full of colorful houses and murals. A group of local artists and Fundashon Rebiba Skálo Abou (FRESA) started to improve the looks of the neighborhood to change the perspective of the area and bring businesses to this side of town.
9. Visit the New Market
Past the floating market is the New Market, located in a distinctive round building. The stalls include locally grown fruits, vegetables, fresh breads and some handicrafts from islands around the Caribbean.
10. Go to the Old Market
Just behind the New Market is the Old Market, also known as Plasa Bieu. The market has transformed into food stalls, filled with locals from 11:30am to 2pm for lunch, where you can try the local flavors of Curaçao at a locals price.
11. Take a photo of the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue
Walking back into the heart of the Punda district, our next stop was the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. It is the oldest surviving synagogue in the western hemisphere, with the community dating back to the 1650s and the building from 1730. The sand covered floor synagogue still holds weekly services and is open for tours during the week.
12. Have fun at the Queen Wilhelmina Park
Our last stop in town was the small Queen Wilhelmina Park. Most importantly for tourists, this is the location of the big Curaçao and Dushi sign. Dushi is from the native Papiamento language, with many meanings, but it mostly means sweet, nice or good.
13. Walk around Pietermaai District
The Pietermaai District used to be a residential neighborhood during the 18th century, but now it is home to many hotels, shops, and art studios. We had a blast walking around this side of town and taking many photos. It is by far one of the most photogenic spots in all of Curacao. Our favorite spot in the Pietermaai District is at the Scuba Lodge. Here you will find a row of blue, pink and yellow restored houses.
14. Go for a swim at Mambo Beach
Make your way 4km east of downtown Willemstad and you will find yourself at the best beach in the city, Mambo Beach. It is a 900 meter long beach with a two story mall, with restaurants and bars along the beach and stores on the upper floor, at street level.
If you are not up for the long walk, we would recommend taking the East Side Tour with Irie Tours, which includes a long stop at the beach.
15. Swim with Dolphins at the Curacao Sea Aquarium & Dolphin Academy
If you have always wanted to swim with dolphins, now is your chance. At the far end of Mambo beach is the Curacao Sea Aquarium and Dolphin Academy. Get up close and personal with the marine life of the Caribbean at the aquarium and take a dive with a dolphin at the Dolphin Academy.
Where to sleep in Curacao?
The Ritz Village Hostel
The best hotel to stay in Curacao is the The Ritz Village Hostel. It is located just a three minute walk from downtown Willemstad thanks to a new walking bridge. Its low prices and fantastic amenities make it the perfect stop for those budget friendly travelers looking to explore the Caribbean.
Walking down the street the hostel is on, Scharlooweg, you get the opportunity to explore the old Jewish district, where several of the houses remain in the same families, while many more are local monuments for its unique architecture and history.
➳ Read More: Complete Review of the Ritz Village Hostel
⇟ More articles from Curacao that might interest you:
➳ Read More: Exploring the East Side of Willemstad with Irie Tours
➳ Read More: Budget Friendly Stay in Curaçao: The Ritz Village Hostel
➳ Read More: Exploring the Caribbean island of Curaçao by car
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Monday 12th of December 2016
Love this post. When I travel I like to go places where I don't have to stay on the resort. I love to get out an explore a little bit. This looks like the perfect place. I am going to have to look into a trip to Curacoa this winter!
Travel To Blank
Tuesday 13th of December 2016
We totally agree, we travel to see a new place, not sit in a resort! Hope you can make it to Curacao this year.