Willemstad is both a big city and a small town. Residents live in the hills surrounding Schottegat, and much of the city is sprawling and rather mundane. But this all changes radically in the old town. Here the island’s colonial Dutch heritage sets a genteel tone amid markets, museums and even a nascent cafe culture. Wandering the Unesco World Heritage–recognized old town and absorbing its rhythms can occupy a couple of days. The Queen Emma Bridge regularly swings open to let huge ships pass through the channel, a sight in itself, and these interruptions ‘force’ you to take one of the enjoyable ferries.
Once the capital of the dissolving Netherlands Antilles, central Willemstad seems content to remake itself as the favored destination for a growing number of cruise-ship passengers and visitors.