Top 10 attractions of Willemstad, Curaçao

The historic center of Willemstad, the capital of the Caribbean island of Curaçao, is very reminiscent of Amsterdam due to the Dutch colonial rule - with the Caribbean flair an absolutely worth seeing mixture!

Willemstad is the capital of the Caribbean island of Curaçao, which belongs to the Netherlands Antilles. The influence of the Dutch in Willemstad is hard to miss. The colorful capital with its lively old town is one of our top 10 sights of Curaçao and top 10 sights of the Caribbean. Since 1997, the historic center of Willemstad and its natural harbor has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The pretty town with its colorful houses built directly on the water is very reminiscent of the Dutch capital Amsterdam and is truly a feast for the eyes with its Caribbean flair.

The genesis of some listed houses can be traced back to the 17th century. Most of these luxurious, lovingly restored homes are located in the Scharloo and Pietermaai neighborhoods south of the Schottegat and offer a picturesque testimony to the colorful architecture of the colonial era.

Fort Amsterdam and Fortkerk

Fort Amsterdam is the oldest, largest and most important fort of Curaçao and the most powerful fortress of the ABC islands - © James Camel / franks-travelbox
© James Camel / franks-travelbox

Fort Amsterdam, located in the Punda district, is the most important fortress on the Caribbean island of Curaçao and the largest fortress in the ABC islands. Fort Amsterdam is not the only one on Curaçao, nor is it the best preserved, yet it is the most visited fortification on the island.

Built from 1634 and thus the oldest building on Curaçao , it guards the harbor entrance to Willemstad and today contains the parliament, the ministry, a church and a museum.

Article: Fort Amsterdam in Willemstad



The Waterfort in Willemstad is located directly on the Caribbean Sea and the Sint Annabaai. It was built in 1634 together with Fort Amsterdam and, as one of the oldest buildings in Curaçao, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

At that time, Willemstad consisted only of the present-day district of Punda, which was protected from attack by enemy ships by Fort Amsterdam and the Waterfort. The Waterfort is actually only a fortification rampart, which was equipped with cannons and embrasures and was only expanded to eight meters wide in 1748. The arched vaults, which are still visible today, were also created at that time and served as storage for ammunition and provisions.


After the conquest of Willemstad by the British, who occupied Curaçao from 1807 to 1816, the Waterfort was expanded to its present dimensions to withstand any subsequent attacks. In 1830, the closed wall was completed, extending from the west corner of Fort Amsterdam to far along the coast.

However, the last time the Waterfort was used for military purposes was during the Second World War. At that time, it served as a base for the artillery guns that took the German ships under fire and as accommodation for soldiers.

Nowadays, Waterfort's warring days are over and the historic wall is part of the striking hotel tower of the Van der Valk Plaza. The round arches house numerous boutiques and restaurants that offer shopping and feasting right on the Caribbean coast under the name "Waterfort Arches." From the main square Wilhelminaplein, they greet visitors with "Bon Bini" ("Welcome!").

Wilhemina Plein

The neat "Emanu-El" on Wilhelmina-Plein in Willemstad is the headquarters of a Reform group of Sephardic Jews, Curaçao - © James Camel / franks-travelbox
© James Camel / franks-travelbox

After a few meters along the Waterfort, you reach Wilhelmina-Plein, a park-like green square with the Stadhuis, Willemstad's city hall. The Parliament of Curaçao meets in this neoclassical building from 1859 with its opulent flight of steps and the golden coat of arms of the House of Orange.

The end of the Wilhelmina-Plein is a neat yellow church. The so-called "Emanu-El" is the seat of a Reform group of Sephardic Jews, which split off from the Mikvé ("Congregation of Hope") community in 1864.

Punda district

The Punda neighborhood is the oldest part of Curaçao's capital, Willemstad, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 - © James Camel / franks-travelbox
© James Camel / franks-travelbox

Around Fort Amsterdam, the Punda ("point") district was built starting in 1634. This is where the Dutch began building their city after conquering Curaçao from the Spanish. Incidentally, the reason for the blaze of color was the eye disease of a governor of the West Indies Company in 1817, whose eyes were pained by the glaring white of the facades.

However, Punda is not only the most historic part of Willemstad, but also the best shopping address with markets and boutiques. Goods from all over the world can be purchased here. Among the most famous places to store is the Penha Perfumery, housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in Willemstad.

Article: Punda neighborhood in Willemstad


Synagogue Mikvé Israel-Emanuel

The cornerstone of the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue in Willemstad was laid in 1730, making it the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, Curaçao - © James Camel / franks-travelbox
© James Camel / franks-travelbox

In addition to the oldest building in Curaçao, Punda is also home to the oldest synagogue in the entire Western Hemisphere. The "mother of all Jewish communities in the New World" boasts a long tradition and a beautiful interior.

For a small fee, visitors can enter the synagogue, where the sandy floor is particularly striking. Across the street, the Jewish Community Museum provides information about the history, lifestyle and customs of the Jews on Curaçao.

Article: Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad



The Sint-Annabaai is the canal that divides Willemstad into the two districts of Punda and Otrabanda. The canal, which is almost 2 kilometers long and about 300 meters wide, is spanned by two interesting bridges and flows into the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Schottegat on the other.

This was the reason for which the Dutch settled there in the 17th century, where later Willemstad was established. The massive Schottegat is said to be the seventh largest natural harbor in the world and still the economic center of the island.

Around Schottegat, especially in the eastern outskirts of Willemstad, a number of historic country houses still bear witness to the importance that the natural harbor held at that time.

Tip: The best view of the breathtaking Schottegat is from the viewing terrace of Fort Nassau.

Queen Juliana Bridge

At 56 meters, the impressive Queen Juliana Bridge over the Sind Annabaai on Curaçao is high enough for cruise ships - © Lila Pharaoh / franks-travelbox
© Purple Pharaoh / franks-travelbox

In front of the Schottegat, the impressive Queen Juliana Bridge spans the Sint-Annabaai. It was built after the collapse of the original bridge in 1967 and opened on April 30, 1974, the birthday of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.


The 56 meter high bridge is the highest bridge in the Caribbean and one of the highest in the world. If you drive over one of the four lanes on the Queen Juliana Bridge, you have a fantastic view over Willemstad with the two districts of Punda and Otrabanda. Due to its enormous height, even huge tankers and cruise ships can pass under the 3,400-ton bridge.

Queen Emma Bridge


The last bridge over the Sint-Annabaai before the Caribbean Sea is the Queen Emma Bridge. The 140m long "Swinging Old Lady" is also called one of the landmarks of Willemstad. It was opened on May 8, 1888 and has been modernized again and again over the centuries. Since 1974 it has been reserved exclusively for pedestrians, the only exception being on Carnival Sunday when the Grand Carnival Parade moves from Punda to Otrabanda. To this day, the "floating bridge", which is over a hundred years old, ensures the historical atmosphere of Willemstad.

The special feature of this so-called pontoon bridge is that it lies on floats on the water and, as soon as a ship wants to pass through to the Schottegat, it is moved to the side by a diesel engine. It is quite likely to witness the movement of the bridge once, as the swing is performed on average every one to two hours. Shortly before this, a signal tone sounds, announcing the "retraction" of the bridge and the bridge may no longer be entered.

Those who are still on the bridge must hurry to get to the other bank, because once the bridge has "departed", it can no longer be left. It can take up to 45 minutes for the bridge to reopen. Once the bridge is retracted, a free ferry is available to cross the bay, departing every 15 minutes.

Two powerful diesel engines finally swing the bridge, which rests on floats, through 90° so that it rests in a fully open state parallel to the Sint Annabaai on the shore of the Otrabanda district, and then back again.

This construction allows huge ocean liners, cruise ships and freighters to pass directly by the picturesque houses of Willemstad - a spectacle that can probably not be observed anywhere else in the world.

Otrabanda neighborhood

The famous swinging Queen Emma Bridge runs from Punda across the Sint Annabaai to the Otrabanda district, Willemstad, Curaçao - © James Camel / franks-travelbox
© James Camel / franks-travelbox

The pretty Queen Emma Bridge takes you across the Sint Annabaai from Punda to the Otrabanda ("the other side") neighborhood, built in 1707 on the other side of the Sint Annabaai after Punda gradually became too small. The district is best explored on foot, with its winding alleys, old monuments and hidden squares.


Otrabanda used to be an important slave market in the Caribbean and is still the center of the colored middle class in Curacao after many freed slaves settled here in the 18th and 19th centuries. After dark, the narrow streets of Otrabanda should rather be avoided by tourists.

Article: Otrabanda district in Willemstad

Fortress Riffort


Otrabanda also received a fortress for its protection: the Riffort, located just opposite Fort Amsterdam. Besides Fort Nassau on the hill above Schottegat and Fort Waakzamheid, the Riffort is the third fortress in Willemstad where you can dine within historic walls.

The fort was built between 1824 and 1828 and can be entered through an imposing entrance gate. A narrow staircase leads to the roof terrace, which offers a fantastic panoramic view over the open sea and the district of Punda with the impressive Fort Amsterdam and the walls of the Waterfort.

Just behind it, you enter an elongated courtyard framed by former magazines in round arches, which are now used privately. The small guest garden and the rustic, cozy interior of a French restaurant invite you to take a seat. The excellent menu includes Caribbean specialties as well as cheese fondue and French-Swiss-style mousse au chocolate.

PICTURES: Historical center of Willemstad

Photo gallery: Historical center of Willemstad