Experience the magic of Willemstad! There’s just so much to see and explore, and I believe visiting this vibrant city is the best way to discover the real Curaçao.
Willemstad is the capital city of the Caribbean island of Curaçao. This Vibrant city is a melting pot of cultures, history, and art, with influences from Europe, Africa, and South America.
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Willemstad is the stunning architecture. The city is home to an array of brightly colored buildings that are sure to take your breath away. From the iconic Handelskade waterfront to the pastel-colored houses of Pietermaai, every street in Willemstad is a pleasant surprise.
Exploring the neighborhoods of Willemstad
Willemstad has a rich history that’s waiting to be explored. Take a stroll through the cobbled streets of the Punda district, where you’ll find historic landmarks like the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the round market, or the Dushi Curaçao sign.
For a taste of Curaçao’s unique culture, head to artsy Otrobanda, where you can explore one of the many murals and artworks in the streets near the Brionplein. The Queen Emma Bridge connects the districts of Punda and Otrobanda with each other. It’s just a few minutes walk from one neighborhood to the other and trust me, it will be a great experience!
Besides the districts of Punda and Otrobanda, you can also discover the adjacent Pietermaai and Scharloo. Both neighborhoods are connected to Punda and and are a true carnival of cheerful pastel colored buildings.
Willemstad has a lot to offer and in the next few paragraphs i will share some of my personal recommendations.
But perhaps the best thing about Willemstad is the laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. Locals are friendly and always eager to share their love of their city with visitors.
Strikingly vibrant colors adorn every building in Punda, with the iconic Handelskade waterfront as one of the main sights. The picturesque scene is a perfect blend of Dutch and Caribbean architecture, with a touch of Spanish influence that gives the neighborhood its unique character.
Punda has a lot to offer with a bustling market, local boutiques, and charming cafes lining its narrow streets. You’ll find everything from fashion to locally crafted souvenirs And when you need a break from shopping, you can grab a bite to eat at one of the many outdoor cafes and restaurants that dot the neighborhood.
As the sun sets over Punda, the neighborhood takes on a new life. The streets come alive with music and dancing as locals and visitors alike gather to enjoy the island’s vibrant nightlife during the weekly Punda Vibes event. The neighborhood is also a great place for dining with many restaurants to choose from.
The Waterfort boogjes are the place to be for romantic waterfront dining.
For the local experience, I recommend going to Plasa Bieu for lunch.
In terms of must-visit sights you can’t miss the Dushi Curaçao sign at the Wilhelminaplein.
Go to the Iguana café at the Handselkade, for the best iced cappuccino!
One of the first things that you’ll notice about Otrobanda is the eclectic mix of art and Curaçao culture that can be found throughout the neighborhood. In recent years, a great number of colonial-style buildings have been restored and their facades have been painted with typical Curaçao scenes.
Walking through the streets of Otrobanda, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the sounds and smells of daily life in Curaçao. The aroma of freshly-baked pastechi’s wafts out from local batido trucks, while the lively chatter of locals fills the air. You can find people playing a game of dominoes or selling hand painted souvenirs at the Brionplein.
Stop in at one of the batido trucks and enjoy a cup of fresh blended fruit juice while you take in the sights and sounds of this vibrant neighborhood.
Visit the Riffort where you can find an array of restaurants and souvenir shops. You can also climb the fort where you will have the best view over the Sint Anna Bay and the Handelskade.
The Kura Hulanda Museum is a must-visit when you want to learn more about Curaçao’s slavery history.
Nature lovers can indulge themselves at the Curaçao Riff Mangrove Park, where you can explore the flora and fauna of the local mangrove forest.
When walking through Pietermaai’s streets, you’ll be greeted by a kaleidoscope of colorful buildings that range from pastel pinks to bright oranges and blues. Each one tells a story, with their ornate balconies and intricate architectural details that have been carefully preserved and restored over the years.
Pietermaai is a lively hub of activity. With various boutique hotels, bars, and restaurants, there’s always something fun to do just around the corner.
One of the best ways to experience Pietermaai is by night, when the neighborhood comes alive with music and laughter. With a range of bars and nightclubs to choose from, you’ll find the perfect spot to dance the night away to the sounds of reggae and salsa.
Mundo Bizarro, for example, hosts a salsa night every thursday at their vintage cuban style restaurant.
If you’re looking for the best view over town, don’t hesitate to pay a visit to Cascade rooftop bar.
Those who like to spend their day relaxing at the pool, can go to Saint Tropez Ocean Club.
If you’re looking for a place to have dinner, make a reservation at Kome. This restaurant offers hands down the best cuisine in town.
Just like in other areas, striking architecture is the first thing that catches the eye in Scharloo. The buildings in Scharloo are an eclectic mix of styles, from Art Deco to Baroque, Dutch Colonial, with a dash of Caribbean flair thrown in for good measure. As you wander through the streets, you can’t help but feel like you’re walking through a living museum.
Scharloo is home to a couple of beautiful murals. You might recognize the facades from the travel magazines.
One of the most famous murals is ‘Three o’clock romance’ by Francis Sling. You can find it at the corner of Van Raderstraat and Bitterstraat.
A special piece of architecture is the Princess Amalia Bridge, a typical old-Dutch drawbridge that connects Scharloo with Punda.
Visit Willemstad: A full day itinarary
Whether you are visiting Curaçao for vacation or during a cruise, a exploring the city center of Willemstad is always a good idea. In the previous paragraphs, you were able to get acquainted with the four neighborhoods, now, I would like to present you an itinerary with all the highlights that you can visit during a full day.
We will start our day at Otrobanda. This is where the port of Curaçao is located, so if you’re visiting the island on a cruise, you’re right at the start location of our itinerary.
Insider tip: Park your car at the Riffort mall parking garage. It’s free of charge and there is plenty of space to park.
Option 1: Take a walking tour of the murals
Walk from the cruise port/ Riffort mall to the Brionplein. This will be the starting point of your self guided murals tour.
Willemstad’s streets are brimming with street art and murals that capture the essence of typical Curaçaoan scenes. The city’s narrowest alleys and most vibrant facades are a blank canvas for both local and international artists.
A significant number of these inspiring murals were brought to life through the Kaya Kaya event, a community-building initiative that centers on the beautification and cleaning of the Otrobanda neighborhood.
Kaya Kaya aims to foster Ser’i Otrobanda’s growth into a safe, attractive, and diverse space that appeals to residents and tourists.
More information and the exact locations visit our Otrobanda’s murals blog.
Option 2: Visit Curaçao Rif Mangrove Park
From both the cruise port and the Riffort mall, it’s just a 5- minute walk to the Curaçao Rif Mangrove park, a beautiful piece of nature and a true oasis in the Willemstad city center.
The Curaçao Rif Mangrove Park, a natural habitat of mangrove trees lining the Willemstad coastline, is a hidden gem in the Otrobanda district. The park’s impressive network of wooden pathways provides a great opportunity for visitors to observe the flora and fauna in this tropical ecosystem.
The observation tower provides an amazing overview of the park and you can also go on a kayaking tour.
Get to know more about the Curaçao Rif Mangrove Park.
Buy yourself a Batido
After your visit to the murals or the mangrove park, it’s time to treat yourself to an ice cold batido.
Batidos are freshly made shakes of fruit, milk, and crushed ice. They are often sold in food trucks and you can find one at the Brionplein in Otrobanda.
Walk the Queen Emma bridge
The floating pontoon bridge is one of Willemstad’s highlights and you need to cross the bridge, that carries the name ‘Queen Emma’, to continue your journey through Willemstad. You will walk towards the iconic Handelskade and the bridge is the perfect location to take some Instagram worthy pictures.
Is the bridge closed? No worries, you can access a free ferry to pass the St. Anna Bay. Just follow to flow of people.
Have lunch at the Plasa Bieu
For the local lunch experience, i recommend visiting the Plasa Bieu. The Plasa Bieu is a covered market hall featuring six open kitchens, each of which offers delicacies from the Curaçao cuisine. The establishment provides a great opportunity to become acquainted with authentic Curaçaoan dishes and taste our island cuisine.
More about the Plasa Bieu and its menu can be found in our latest blog.
Stroll around Punda
The neighborhood of Punda consists of a few street blocks, but there’s plenty to discover during a stroll around this vibrant district. These are a few places that are definitely worth visiting:
- Round Market (next to Plasa Bieu)
- Dushi Curaçao sign (Wilhelminaplein)
- The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue.
- Fort Amsterdam
- Waterfort arches
- Amalia bridge & Wilhelmina bridge
- The Punda Murals
- The Punda Love Heart (bring your own lock)
Besides all the nice sights that Punda has to offer, you can also find an array of open air café’s and shops where you can enjoy a cool drink or shop for souvenirs, fashion, electronics and jewelry.
When the sun starts to set it’s time to pay a visit to the Pietermaai district. This neighborhood is adjacent to Punda and is just a 5 minutes walk from the Wilhelminaplein. Pietermaai is the epitome of a colorful Caribbean environment, with vibrant colonial-style buildings that house bustling bars and some of the island’s best restaurants.
I would recommend you to have dinner at Kome, Mundo Bizarro, or Ginger.
Also, read our blog about the best restaurants in Willemstad for more suggestions.
Close the day with a drink at Cascade rooftop bar, De Heeren @ Sea or Saint Tropez Ocean Club. They all serve great cocktails and you will have a magnificent view over the water.
Weekly events in Willemstad
As the sun starts to set, you will see yet another side of the cultural Willemstad. There are several events throughout the week that attract many locals and tourists. Spoiler alert: You will dance the night away.
Punda Vibes & Salsa nights
The event of Punda Vibes on Thursdays has become a periodic gathering of local artists, creators, and groups to celebrate our culture.
Downtown Punda is the scene of folkloric dance, music, art, and you can find a market. During this evening you can enjoy specials in stores and restaurants. There are lots of activities for kids, special happy hours, fireworks, and more! Feel and experience it for yourself.
Thursdays are also for salsa dancing at Mundo Bizarro and at friday evening you can enjoy live music and salsa at the Riffort.