Willemstad, Curacao – everything you need to know (with map)
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. Therefore I have created this ultimate Willemstad, Curacao guide – to show you the best restaurants in Willemstad, the most amazing hotels in Willemstad, and fun things to do! 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
- Cultural info about Willemstad, Curacao
- Best hotels in Willemstad, Curacao
- Best restaurants in Willemstad, Curacao
- Things to do in Willemstad
Cultural info about Willemstad, Curacao
Willemstad is the biggest city on the beautiful Caribbean island of 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. For more info about the whole island make sure to read my Ultimate Curacao Travel Guide.
Best hotels in Willemstad, Curacao
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 on a budget, you might prefer staying in the super cute and colorful Scuba Lodge.
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.
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. For a more comprehensive food guide of the whole island of Curacao head over to this post.
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, it is a bit more expensive! In my opinion, it is worth it. This is a must-visit restaurant in Willemstad for sure!
Other nice restaurants in Willemstad
We have tried many amazing restaurants in Willemstad. 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
Things to do in Willemstad
There are many amazing and exciting things to do in Willemstad. Cruise guests will love the proximity of the Willemstad Cruise Port to the inner city. Visiting Willemstad on your cruise is a great idea for everyone that has not booked a guided excursion with the cruise line.
The Willemstad Cruise Port is located next to the Fort Rif shopping center in Otrobanda, so I recommend starting your day in Willemstad. You can find other fabulous things to do in Willemstad and amazing places to see here!
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.
Otrobanda is the district to the west of Sint Anna Bay. There are many fun things to do in Otrobanda, Willemstad, besides visiting the Rif Fort. 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. 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.
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.
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. The Handelskade is only a 10 min walk from the Willemstad Cruise Port and is one of the things you need to do in Willemstad.
Besides the Handelskade there are many other things to do in Punda, Willemstad. A great spot to visit is the Plasa Bieu (Old Market) in Punda. You can eat local dishes there, like cactus soup or goat stew. Another great place in the area to check out is the floating market. You can buy souvenirs and local arts and crafts there.
Also, the historical Fort Amsterdam is worth a visit. Lastly, you should check out the street art of Punda and take some fun pictures! The location for all these interesting places are marked on my map above.
Your nextstop in Willemstad should be my favorite museum in the city part Scharloo. 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.
The Pietermaai district is famous for being the SoHo of Willemstad. The vibrant and colorful part of town 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 very Instagram-worthy, so make sure to check it out before heading back to the Willemstad Cruise Port.
There are also many great Willemstad hotels in Pietermaai, so it is worth staying there for a couple of days. I would pick a hotel in Pietermaai, Willemstad if I planned on staying in the city. The charm of this small district is lovely.
Pundra street looks very colourful and unique. I love all the bright colours
Totally, glad you agree (:
Wow, I’ve never been here, but the foods sound amazing, and I love all the colorful stairs and street art.
Ohh thank you so much! Glad to hear you like it!
Linda (LD Holland)
On our first visit to Curacao we were charmed. That first view of the colourful houses on the water drew us in. We went to Curacao for the scuba diving. But were happy we found so many great sites around Willemstad. Thanks for the suggestion on great eats for a return visit.
Oh so glad you liked it hear! I have not been diving yet but I hear it is indeed amazing!
I love all of the color of the row homes and street art. The dishes you posted look delicious. Definitely a place to spend a few days exploring and relaxing.
I have fallen in love with the pastel color houses and the Punda street art looks very creative and captivating. I would love to visit it someday.
Ohh these are also my favorite parts (:
Ohh these are also my favorite things to do (: hope you get to check it out one day!