Colorful Dutch colonial houses line the harbor, where a long floating bridge opens to allow boats to pass through turquoise waters. This is Willemstad, the historic capital city of Curacao, a Caribbean island of the Lesser Antilles.
With an estimated population of 150,000, Willemstad is home to an important seaport and refinery. In fact, its harbour is one of the largest oil handling ports in the Caribbean, and its refinery was once the largest in the world.
However, today Willemstad also relies on tourism to thrive, and the city offers guests both European colonial charm and tropical elegance. It’s easy to stay entertained with the city’s many casinos and thriving nightlife. In addition, luxury accommodations are numerous, and so are eclectic shops filled with an interesting assortment of souvenirs. There’s even a floating market, where Venezuelan merchants dock to sell fresh fish, spices, produce, and other goods.
Things to do in Willemstad
Get the most out of your stay in Willemstad by adding some of the following activities to your “to-do” list!
Take a tour of the city
The historic city center of Willemstad has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique architecture and harbor entry. Be sure to visit the Curacao Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Americas, the Otrabanda neighborhood, Queen Emma Bridge, St. Anna Bay, Scharloo, the Chobolobo plantation, Spanish Waters, and other landmarks.
You can either walk around the city yourself, or book a tour with a guide, who can explain the city’s history and culture. Another option is to take a tuk tuk tour with a personal driver.
Plenty of interesting shops line the streets of Willemstad, filled with all kinds of handmade souvenirs to take home. There are also duty-free shopping zones, boutiques, and shopping centers. For fresh fish and produce, stop by the bustling floating market, a seaside vending area where Venezuelans arrive by boat to sell their wales.
Visit a Museum
There are several interesting museums located in Willemstad, including the Kura Hulanda Museum, and the Curacao Maritime Museum. Kura Hulanda is a small but impressive museum containing artifacts pertaining to the slave trade in Curacao. You’ll get a glimpse of colonial life in Curacao, art and artifacts from West Africa, and the legacy of slavery on the island and in the Caribbean.
The Curacao Maritime Museum offers guided tours of a permanent exhibition of authentic nautical charts, ship models and navigation equipment, showcasing 500 years of maritime history on the island. There is also a separate exhibit about the oil industry on Curacao.
Stroll across the floating bridge
A famous floating bridge called Queen Emma Bridge, or simply the “swinging old lady”, opens to allow boats to pass through the Schottegat port. When it is closed, you can cross over to the other side of the city. When open, you can take a ferry boat across. Built in 1888, the bridge has been renovated several times, and lighting arches were added that are often decorated for the holidays. Since 1974, cars can no longer cross the bridge.
Enjoy the view from a cafe or restaurant
Many cafes and restaurants line the harbor, scattered among the pastel Dutch houses. Both residents and visitors love to watch the boats come and go, and the floating bridge open and close as they sip a cold beverage or enjoy a meal. It’s a perfectly relaxing way to spend your afternoon!
Visit the Curacao Public Sea Aquarium
You can spend about half a day touring the exhibits and seeing the shows at this small aquarium. The entrance fee covers all the exhibits, plus a dolphin presentation, a sea lion show, and a nurse shark action show. You can also feed flamingos, feed and pet stingrays, and handle small sea creatures in the touch tank.
Taste the famous blue curacao liqueur
You can learn all about the distilling process and taste the famous blue curacao liqueur at the Curacao Liqueur Distillery. Continually produced in the same way since 1896, the Senior Liqueurs are the most famous of all. Book a tour to learn all about the liqueur and its history in Curacao, and try the cocktail of your choice along with some refreshing gelato ice cream.
Get a relaxing massage at a day spa
After a long day of walking the city streets, you can relax and unwind at one of Willemstad’s many day spas. Both indoor and outdoor treatments are available.
Swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Academy
At the Dolphin Academy in Willemstad, you can choose from several different packages that include activities like swimming with dolphins, petting them, and performing tricks. All this takes place in a natural saltwater lagoon and the open sea. Afterwards, you can purchase pictures of your encounter with the dolphins, and visit the aquarium nearby.
Bask on Mambo Beach
Located near the Curacao Sea Aquarium, Mambo Beach has crystal clear water and a gorgeous coastline. Since it’s so close to Willemstad, it’s a popular place to swim and snorkel. There are plenty of amenities nearby, including shops, beach chair rentals, and restaurants. Lively beach bars offer cold drinks and tasty snacks. Admission is about $3.50. This beach can get crowded, so come early to stake out your spot.
Where to Stay in Willemstad
Willemstad offers plenty of beachfront villas, deluxe rental apartments, and garden villas with private pools. Take a look at some of these gorgeous accommodations:
- 2 – Bedroom Villa with private pool near Mambo Beach. A spacious villa surrounded by a lush garden, with restaurant, spa, and gym facilities onsite.
- Siren Bay- A 9-Bedroom Beachfront Estate– This incredible house can accommodate your entire family, group of friends, or wedding party.
- Contemporary, French-Caribbean Apartment on the Sea Aquarium Beach. This fully-equipped, luxurious apartment is just a 2 minute walk from the beach!
- 3-Bedroom Villa with 3 Bathrooms and Private Pool. This ACOYA villa has access to a spa, gym, and restaurants, as well as a fully-equipped kitchen and many other amenities.
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