Exploring Willemstad in Curaçao: The capital’s 10 most popular sights

You can see the famous Handelskade directly on the water. This is a place of interest in Willemstad in Curaçao.

Willemstad is the capital of Curaçao and is located in the southwest of the island, right on the water. Due to its size and the numerous attractions that Willemstad has to offer, you will surely not miss visiting the island’s capital during your vacation in Curaçao.

This page contains affiliate links marked with an asterisk (*). If you decide to make a purchase after clicking on a link, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Things to Do in Willemstad in Curaçao

In addition to historical sites, interesting museums, and stunning architecture, Willemstad has even more fascinating attractions to offer. Below, we introduce you to the most important attractions that you must visit during your trip to Curaçao. If it’s your first vacation in Curaçao, it might be advisable to take a guided sightseeing tour. This way, not only will you get to know the most important attractions, but you will also receive tips from local guides.

#1 Must-See in Willemstad: the Handelskade

The Handelskade in Willemstad is a popular attraction in Curaçao. The pastel-colored row of houses in Dutch colonial style is a popular photo opportunity and considered a landmark of the island. During a walk along the waterfront promenade, you can admire the colorful houses and enjoy the special flair of the island’s capital. The typically colorful buildings, reminiscent of the Dutch colonial period, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

#2 Must-See in Willemstad: the Various Districts of the Capital

Willemstad can roughly be divided into two districts, Punda and Otrobanda. Punda is known for the historic old town and the Handelskade. Additionally, you will find numerous shops, restaurants, and attractions in this district.

Punda is connected to the opposite district of Otrobanda by the Queen Emma Bridge. The name “Otrobanda” translates roughly as “the other side”. In contrast to Punda, Otrobanda is the art center of the island.

In addition to numerous studios, you will also find stunning sculptures and modern street art there. Some museums, such as the Kura Hulanda Museum, are also located in Otrobanda.

During a guided tour through the districts of Punda and Otrobanda, you will learn about the history of the island. Additionally, you can admire the beautiful mural paintings and get to know other well-known attractions.

Although the popular Handelskade is in Punda, it also means that you get a great view of the beautiful row of houses from Otrobanda. By crossing the Queen Emma Bridge from the Handelskade and making your way to Otrobanda, you’ll enjoy a superb view.

Another worthwhile district is Scharloo, where numerous restored villas and other buildings can be found. It is sometimes even possible to visit these buildings.

Scharloo is connected to the Punda district by the Queen Wilhelmina Bridge. For culturally interested tourists, a visit to the Maritime Museum Curaçao is also recommended, which is also located in this small district and displays numerous historical maritime pieces.

Another important district in Willemstad is Pietermaai, which was formerly just a suburb of the island’s capital. From the Punda district, it only takes a five-minute walk to reach Pietermaai. The district offers a lovely selection of cozy cafes, highly-rated restaurants, and beautiful small shops.

Additionally, the district is particularly known for its thriving nightlife. Especially on Thursday nights (during the popular “Punda Vibes”), numerous live musicians perform, creating an unbeatable atmosphere with rhythmic sounds.

#3 Must-See in Willemstad: Kurá Hulanda Quarter & Museum

The Kurá Hulanda Quarter in Willemstad in Curaçao is a popular attraction and part of the historic old town. This area houses a variety of museums, artist workshops, and galleries. For history-minded vacationers, the Kurá Hulanda Museum by the harbor is a recommended destination.

A Dutch businessman founded the museum in 2001, which informs about the slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries. The impact of the slave trade on the Caribbean and particularly in Curaçao is highlighted through numerous exhibitions in the museum.

#4 Must-See in Willemstad: Queen Emma Bridge

The distinctive Queen Emma Bridge is among the most famous tourist magnets in Curaçao and is also an extremely popular subject for photographers. This unique swing bridge was constructed in 1888. Its extraordinary design, consisting of several floating elements, has gained worldwide fame.

These floating parts allow the bridge to move to the side, thus enabling ships to pass and enter the adjacent harbor. At the same time, the pedestrian-only bridge acts as a link between the districts of Punda and Otrobanda.

We recommend taking a short break during your crossing, as it offers a breathtaking view of the harbor as well as the pretty, colorful Handelskade.

View of colorful house fronts from the Queen Emma Bridge in Willemstad

In contrast to the Queen Emma Bridge, the Queen Juliana Bridge can only be crossed by vehicles. It also provides a connection between Otrobanda and Punda. Directly from the bridge, you have an excellent view of the water and the island.

#5 Must-See in Willemstad: the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue

The Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue is located in the historical center of Willemstad and was built and consecrated in 1732. From the outside, the light yellow building blends well into the colonial-style architecture. In contrast to the ornately designed interior, the floor of the synagogue is covered with sand. This symbolically reminds visitors of the crossing of the Sinai Desert, among other things. If you are already interested in touring the synagogue, we recommend visiting the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum afterward. Located across the street, it offers insights into the history and present of the Jewish communities of Curaçao.

#6 Must-See in Willemstad: Fort Amsterdam

Originally, Fort Amsterdam served to protect the entrance to Willemstad’s harbor. Today, the former fortress “Fort Amsterdam”, which is also the largest fort on the island, serves as the seat of government for Curaçao. While you can visit the fort itself for free, there is a small admission fee for access to the adjacent museum and the courtyard church.

Powered by GetYourGuide

#7 Must-See in Willemstad: Fort Nassau

Fort Nassau was built in the 18th century on a hill in Willemstad. Today, it is a restaurant that is especially popular among tourists. Besides a delicious selection of various dishes, Fort Nassau offers a stunning 360-degree view. From the restaurant, you have an excellent view over the entire island’s capital.

#8 Must-See in Willemstad: Landhuis Knip

Landhuis Knip, also known as “Landhaus Kenepa”, still reminds visitors of the slave uprising in 1795. The uprising at Landhuis Knip was led by Tula, who had to work on the plantation of the estate along with other slaves. To this day, Tula is considered a national hero of Curaçao, even though the slave trade in Curaçao was not officially banned until 1863.

Grim Past: Willemstad Through the Ages

The city was founded in the 17th century by the Netherlands, the then colonial power of the island. The harbor was not only a base for trade but also served as the largest hub for the slave trade in the entire Caribbean.

The resultant convergence of the most diverse cultures has left a mark that still characterizes the island today with African, European, and South American influences.

#9 Must-See in Willemstad: Renaissance Mall & Rif Fort

The Rif Fort with the adjacent Renaissance Mall is located right in Willemstad, in the district of Otrobanda, and is now a large shopping center. For a thorough shopping spree, you should definitely visit Rif Fort. In between or after your shopping day, you can relax in one of the many cafes and restaurants and watch the bustling activity.

#10 Must-See in Willemstad: Schottegat in Willemstad in Curaçao

Schottegat is the port of Willemstad, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, and remains the economic hub of the island today. Alongside trade ships, cruise ships frequently dock at the port, ensuring that there is always lively activity. It is just a few minutes’ walk from the port to the center of Willemstad.

Willemstad’s Coastal Gems: Discovering Nearby Beaches

In the west of Curaçao, there are numerous beaches perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing. However, some beaches can also be found in the east, near the capital.

The largest and most famous beach is Mambo Beach. The beach’s promenade stretches over two levels, hosting a plethora of restaurants, shops, and bars. This diverse offering makes the beach a highly sought-after destination for tourists.

The brilliant white sand beach is dotted with shade-providing palm trees and invites you to linger, while the crystal clear water provides a refreshing cool down.

A smaller beach, located only 2.3 miles from Willemstad, is Marie Pampoen Beach. Unlike Mambo Beach, this beach is much less crowded and lacks additional amenities such as loungers or showers.

This natural untouched setting is therefore especially popular among locals and tourists seeking peace and relaxation. Note that no entry fee is required here.

About 8 miles from the city center, Blue Bay Beach can be reached by car in about 10 minutes.

Because of the playground and the shallow access to the water, the beach is also ideal for families with children. Moreover, you will find a small beach bar offering food and drinks.

If needed, you can also rent a lounger with a shade-providing umbrella. For information on more beaches in Curaçao, even outside Willemstad, check out our blog post.

Wrapping Up: A Visit to Willemstad in Curaçao is Highly Recommended!

Whether you’re seeking art and culture, adventure and party, or beach and relaxation on your vacation, Willemstad has the right offer for every traveler. Educate yourself in one of the numerous museums, listen to Caribbean street music, browse through many little shops, or relax in one of the cute cafes. We’re sure you’ll enjoy your day in Willemstad.

Previous Post
Curaçao Diving Spots – A Caribbean Underwater Paradise
Next Post
Is Curaçao Safe?

Related Articles