Are you looking for a guide of the best Willemstad neighborhoods? Then I got you covered!
Willemstad is the colorful capital city of the Caribbean island of Curacao. It is also the largest city on the island and there are many fantastic things to do. Whether you are only on the island for one day with a cruise or for a longer vacation – Willemstad is worth a visit.
At first sight, it can seem hard to make sense of the city and find the best things to do in Willemstad. I have spent a lot of time in Willemstad in the past years, and I know all the great restaurants, cultural hot spots and picturesque alleys.
Naturally, I have included some cultural information and great tips for cruise guests coming from the Willemstad Cruise Port.
So, dive in and learn all there is to know about Willemstad, Curacao!
Table of Contents
- About the Neighborhoods of Willemstad
- Tourist Map Willemstad Curacao
- Top 20 Things to Do in Willemstad Neighborhoods
- Neighborhoods of Willemstad, Curacao Bucket List Things to Do
- The Neighborhoods of Willemstad
- Best Hotels in Willemstad, Curacao
- Best Restaurants in Willemstad, Curacao
- How Much Time Do I Need in Willemstad
- Is Willemstad Safe?
- Is Willemstad Bigger Than Oranjestad and Kralendijk?
- Conclusion: Best Willemstad Neighborhoods
- FAQ: Willemstad Neighborhoods
- About the Author
About the Neighborhoods of Willemstad
Willemstad is the biggest city in Curacao. It is also the biggest city in the Netherlands Antilles with about 125.000 inhabitants.
Willemstad was founded in 1634 by the Dutch, in need of a trading settlement. Before that, it used to be a small, natural harbor. Over the next few centuries, the town developed rapidly.
Nowadays, the town consists of several different districts, all of them defined by European urban-planning concepts. The houses show design influences from Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal.
Punda is the oldest part of the city. It was founded in the 17th century, on the eastern side of Sint Anna bay.
Three more districts were built in the 18th century, Pietermaai, Otrobanda, and Scharloo. Nowadays, these four districts make up the historical districts of Willemstad.
Over the years, the different influences not only from Europe but also from Africa, South America, and the Caribbean resulted in a vibrant and diverse environment.
It became a local tradition in 1817 to paint the fronts of the houses in different colors. Previously, houses were painted white, which reflected too much sunlight.
Early in the 20th century, the Shell oil refinery started sourcing on the island. A highway was constructed in 1960 and later connected with the famous Queen-Juliana-bridge in 1974. The city has been well preserved, apart from several fires that caused damage.
The historic area of Willemstad has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and is therefore now protected. For more information about the history and the protection of the city please refer to the UNESCO Website.
Tourist Map Willemstad Curacao
Top 20 Things to Do in Willemstad Neighborhoods
- Handelskade: Check out the colorful buildings
- Queen Emma Bridge: Walk across or watch it open for incoming ships
- Mambo Beach: Sun, sand, and sea (a little outside the city)
- Maritime Museum: Learn about Curaçao’s sea history
- Floating Market: Shop for fresh goods
- Fort Amsterdam: A historic must-see
- Dolphin Academy: Swim with dolphins (just outside the city)
- Kura Hulanda Museum: Dive into African heritage
- Pietermaai District: Eat, drink, and people-watch & super instagrammable
- Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue: Oldest Synagogue in the Western Hemisphere
- Rif Fort: Shopping and views
- Go Shopping in Willemstad
- Blue Curaçao Experience at Landhuis Chobolobo (bit outside the city)
- Picture with the Curacao sign
- Punda Love Heart: Snap a selfie (next to Queen Emma Bridge)
- Local Food: Try some Keshi Yena
- Scharloo: Street art and cool architecture
- Avila Beach: Chill or snorkel (the Dutch King always stays there)
- Willemstad Walking Tour
- Willemstad Tuk Tuk Tour
Neighborhoods of Willemstad, Curacao Bucket List Things to Do
The Neighborhoods of Willemstad
As I have mentioned before, there are four big neighborhoods in Willemstad that you should check out on your day in the city:
Each and every one of them is unique and has some fun things to do to offer. Keep on reading for more detailed information about Willemstad’s unique neighborhoods.
Otrobanda is the district to the west of Sint Anna Bay.
There are many fun things to do in Otrobanda, Willemstad.
Taking a walk around the scenic district will offer you many great opportunities for nice pictures. There is lots of fabulous street art everywhere.
My functional map at the beginning of this post will lead you to all the nice photo spots in Otrobanda. Begin at the top of the Havenstraat near Theatro Luna Blou and explore from there.
The colorful steps in Otrobanda are also worth a visit. Other great spots to see street art are Quintastraat and Cornelis Dirksweg as well as along the Willemstraat.
Otrobanda features charming streets and beautiful architecture, including the iconic Kura Hulanda Museum. It is housed in a renovated 19th-century merchant’s mansion.
The district of Otrobanda is the closest to the Willemstad Cruise Port, so you can just hop right off the ship and start exploring there.
This is a great spot for a private Curacao walking tour as well.
Renaissance Mall & Rif Fort Willemstad
Established in 1828, the former fort “Rif Fort” is a waterfront mall with a courtyard, stores & bars as well as cafes.
This is a great place to get some shopping in or simply sip a coffee in a relaxed atmosphere. You can walk up the wall of the Rif and have a great view of the city and the ocean from there.
This place is especially meant to offer shopping opportunities for cruise guests since it is located right next to the Willemstad Cruise Port. Most stores adjust their opening times for cruise ships.
Queen Emma Bridge
The Queen Emma bridge is a floating pontoon bridge.
Some people refer to it as “Swinging Old Lady”. The bridge connects the two districts Otrobanda and Punda. When big ships need to enter the harbor, the bridge opens and floats to the side.
Don’t worry though, you can still cross the Sint Anna bay with free ferry boats.
Make sure to come back at night, the Queen Emma bridge is lit beautifully in different colors. Next to the bridge, you can find an art installation of hearts, which is another pretty picture point.
Don’t forget looking towards north when standing on the bridge, from there you can see the famous Juliana bridge.
Punda is a vibrant and historic neighborhood in Willemstad. It is situated on the eastern side of the St. Anna Bay.
Punda is known for its picturesque streets, colorful colonial architecture, and bustling atmosphere. Punda is also rich in history. It offers several landmarks and attractions.
Fort Amsterdam is one of the most famous buildings in Punda. It is located on the waterfront and is a historic fort that dates back to the 17th century and serves as the seat of the government of Curaçao.
The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, that was built in 1732, is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere. It is definitely worth a visit, since it has lots of historical and architectural significance.
Another highlight of Punda is the Floating Market. It is located near the waterfront.On the cute market you can see boats from Venezuela loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish. It offers a fun shopping experience and a glimpse into the cultural exchange between Curaçao and Venezuela.
Another great spot to visit is the Plasa Bieu (Old Market) in Punda. You can eat local dishes there, like cactus soup or goat stew.
After crossing the Queen Emma bridge, you can see the famous Handelskade. The row of colorful houses is probably my favorite spot in Willemstad.
The best way to take pictures of the Handelskade is from the bridge or the other side of the Sint Anna bay.
Street Art in Punda
The colorful district of Punda is full of street art. There are many beautiful murals all over the district. Watching street art is a great free thing to do in Curacao.
If you walk down the Bredestraat (big shopping street) towards the Heerenstraat you can already see the first art installations.
From there you really only need to explore in the small alleys and scenic walkways. Walk down the Madurostraat, the Kuiperstraat and the Passaatstraat for beautiful murals.
Scharloo is another historic neighborhood in Willemstad. Scharloo is situated just northwest of Punda.
It is known for its well-preserved 18th and 19th-century mansions, and and a lively arts scene.
In Scharloo you can see some grand houses of various architectural styles, including Dutch colonial, neoclassical, and art deco. Many of the mansions have been meticulously restored.
Scharloo is divided into two sections: Scharloo Abou (west of Breedestraat) and Scharloo Banda (east of Breedestraat). Scharloo Abou is the older section, featuring grand mansions with spacious gardens. Scharloo Banda has a more residential feel and offers a mix of mansions and smaller houses.
The neighborhood also hosts the Scharloo Art Route, a regular event where galleries open their doors to the public. Make sure to visit if you are in town.
Curacao Maritime Museum
The Curacao Maritime museum is a great thing to do in Willemstad. Curacao has one of the oldest harbors in the Caribbean, and the Curacao Maritime museum in Scharloo will show you all 500 years of harbor history.
It starts with the arrival of the indigenous people called Caquetios. Followed by the Dutch and Spanish explorers and slave traders and modern travelers! You can check out ship models, nautical cards, and other equipment.
It also tells the story of the Royal Dutch Navy, which is protecting the island to this day. This is a great, interesting thing to put on your agenda.
Pietermaai is a trendy and vibrant neighborhood located east of Punda in Willemstad. The Pietermaai district is famous for being the SoHo of Willemstad.
Over the past years, it has undergone some revitalization has become a popular destination for locals and young travelers.
Pietermaai is known for its beautiful historic architecture. Many of the colorful, renovated buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
The vibrant and colorful Willemstad neighborhood is home to many restaurants, ocean clubs, and hip bars.
There are cute, colorful buildings and lots of young people stroll around there – it is one of the best Instagram photo spots in Curacao.
Best Hotels in Willemstad, Curacao
Saint Tropez Ocean Club Willemstad
- Infinity Pool
- Fantastic Restaurants
- Pietermaai District
- Chic Boutique Hotel
- Unique Rooms
- Amazing Location
Luxury Boutique Hotels
There are quite a few hotel options for you to stay in Willemstad. There are hotels for every budget and wish you may have. The most popular area for tourists to stay in Willemstad is the Pietermaai district.
It is famous as the SoHo of Willemstad, with plenty of bars, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. An amazing hotel to stay in Willemstad’s Pieteremaai district is the Saint Tropez Boutique Hotel!
If you are not willing to live without a beach in your hotel (which I understand), then I also have some great options for you to choose from.
The Renaissance Hotel by the Marriott Group is located right by Rif Fort in Otrobanda and has an amazing beach with a view over the ocean.
Just outside Willemstad, you can find the Avila beach hotel. This is a fabulous place for a beach vacation right outside the city.
Bonus info: the Dutch King Willem is known to stay there on his trips. These two are known to be the best hotels in Willemstad.
If you are looking to stay outside of Willemstad, read all about the best areas to stay in Curacao.
Best Restaurants in Willemstad, Curacao
Many fabulous restaurants in Willemstad are worth checking out. If you are in town for dinner, make sure to make reservations, since most restaurants are booked pretty quickly.
Cruise visitors will probably be on the hunt for a great lunch spot!
Most of my favorite restaurants in Willemstad have amazing lunch menus as well as great dinner menus.
Fort Nassau Willemstad – Sunset Dinner
The historical Fort Nassau is a pretty unique restaurant!
It has a great 360-degree view of the island. You can see the beautiful capital city of Willemstad from above as the sun sets over the sea. It is only a five-minute drive outside the inner city of Willemstad.
The restaurant offers fine dining in the renovated historical fort. Make sure to reserve a table in advance! For couples, I recommend booking the romantic terrace dining experience.
Our favorite thing to eat in Fort Nassau is Chef’s menu. You get served a three-course menu including wine pairing.
The restaurant is a bit pricey but the service is great and the food is delicious. I would rate this as the best restaurant in Willemstad.
Mosa-Cana Restaurant Willemstad
The fabulous Mosa/Cana is a Spanish-Latin American-style fusion restaurant right in the center of Willemstad.
The restaurant is known for its nice atmosphere and tapas-style dishes. For two people, I would recommend ordering 3 to 4 different tapas to share. I find shared dining always such a great and fun experience.
The restaurant offers a great selection of fish, vegetarian, and meat dishes as well as different filled tacos. I love the seafood dishes there, it is a great place to try some local fish!
The service is really good and the atmosphere is vibrant and upbeat. The food is a bit pricey, but the quality is amazing! A must-do for all foodies, since it is quite a unique restaurant on the island. Make sure to reserve in advance, it is always super busy!
Saint Tropez Ocean Club
The Saint Tropez Ocean Club is one of my favorite Curacao restaurants for breakfast and lunch in the city. It is located in the beautiful Pietermaai district of Willemstad. Saint Tropez Ocean Club offers a wide selection of food throughout the day. You can lounge by the pool or sit right next to the ocean and eat with a view.
The quality of the food and drinks is amazing and we love the view. If you are a party person, you will enjoy dinner at Saint Tropez Ocean club. The atmosphere turns more club-like in the evening. The service is polite but not super warm. However, the dishes are fairly priced and the view is amazing, so we love going!
The restaurant Bij Blauw is another great food spot in Willemstad’s famous Pietermaai district. BijBlauw is located right on the ocean. You have an amazing view over the beautiful blue waves and during dinner times you can even see the sunset. We have been there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and all meals there were special.
The location is great and decorated in boho chic. The service is super friendly and the atmosphere is lovely. The dinner menu is presented in a fine dining manner.
Compared to lunch and breakfast, dinner is a bit more expensive! In my opinion, it is worth it. This is a must-visit restaurant in Willemstad for sure!
Best Places to Eat in Willemstad Curacao
We have tried many amazing restaurants in Willemstad. BTW: all of these Curacao restaurants are near the cruise port.
Apart from the favorites that I presented in more detail above, I can also recommend:
- De Heeren @ Sea
- Gouverneur de Rouville
- Steak & Ribs Restaurant
- Pleincafe Wilhelmina
- Iguana Cafe
- Perla del Mar
How Much Time Do I Need in Willemstad
You can see most of Willemstad in one day. The city is not that big, and most attractions don’t take up too much time. Spending 2 days in Willemstad is also great.
If you are staying in Curacao for a week or longer, I suggest coming back to Willemstad a couple of times for dinner and to spend the evenings.
Is Willemstad Safe?
Yes, Willemstad in Curaçao is generally considered safe for tourists.
Like any city, it has its areas to avoid, especially at night. The Punda and Pietermaai neighborhoods are pretty safe, even in the evenings. Avoid exploring in Otrobanda at night by yourself.
Just take the usual precautions—keep an eye on your stuff, don’t flash valuables, and you should be good to go!
Do you need travel insurance in Curacao? Yes, travel insurance in Curacao is highly recommended. Unsafe roads, water sports accidents, and food poisoning are only a few examples of when travel insurance could come in handy. EKTA offers worldwide travel insurance with 24/7 service and no hidden fees or restrictions.
Is Willemstad Bigger Than Oranjestad and Kralendijk?
Willemstad is the biggest among the three. Willemstad is the capital of Curaçao and has a lot more going on compared to Oranjestad in Aruba and Kralendijk in Bonaire.
More people, more shops, more everything:
- Willemstad, Curaçao: Around 140,000 people
- Oranjestad, Aruba: About 35,000 people
- Kralendijk, Bonaire: Roughly 19,000 people
Conclusion: Best Willemstad Neighborhoods
Punda, Scharloo, Otrobanda and Pietermaai are the beautiful neighborhoods of Willemstad that you need to visit.
As you’ve seen in this post, all of these neighborhoods boast with beautiful colonial architecture, colorful street art and a vibrant cultural and arts scene.
Each and every one of them is worth visiting. My favorites are Punda and Pietermaai!
If you are looking for more fun things to do in Curacao, make sure to check out my Curacao Travel Guide.
Visit Willemstad Neighborhoods in December for an amazing Caribbean Christmas feel!
FAQ: Willemstad Neighborhoods
Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, has 4 beautiful areas: Punda, known for colorful colonial buildings and shopping; Otrobanda, featuring charming streets and waterfront views; Scharloo, with well-preserved mansions and an emerging arts scene and the historic Pietermaai district, a trendy neighborhood with vibrant nightlife.
Yes, Willemstad Curacao is walkable. The city of Willemstad is not very large, so you can reach all the four Willemstad neighborhoods by walking. Many streets in Willemstad are pedestrian streets, so you can’t even properly drive inside the city. Walking in Willemstad is encouraged.
Willemstad’s cost of living is generally moderate. Prices for accommodation, dining, and entertainment can vary depending on location and quality. Local markets and eateries offer affordable options, while upscale restaurants and tourist-oriented establishments tend to be pricier. Overall, compared to some other Caribbean destinations, Willemstad offers a relatively affordable experience for visitors.
Willemstad is known for its beautiful colonial architecture. The colorful row of houses called the Handelskade is the most prominent feature of Willemstad. Willemstad is also known for the floating Queen Emma Bridge and the beautiful Queen Juliana Bridge.
About the Author
Sabrina is a passionate travel blogger and content creator, based in the Netherlands. She spends about half of the year traveling to various destinations together with her husband.
She provides slow-paced itineraries that focus on quality over quantity. Sabrina wants to help her readers to get more out of their travel experiences – while doing less. Read more.