One of the best destinations to visit in Noord (North)- Brabant, The Netherlands, is the small town of Willemstad. When you’re thinking of spending one day in Willemstad, then this article will help you with that. From things to do in Willemstad to hidden gems in the surroundings of this small Dutch town. This travel blog about Willemstad (Noord- Brabant) will tell you everything you need to know when you travel to Willemstad.
The region of Willemstad is filled with unusual places to visit in The Netherlands, plus exploring the fortified city itself is an absolute must do. I hope that you will find this blog on the best things to do in Willemstad, The Netherlands, useful.
Whether you plan to visit Willemstad for its beautiful streets and buildings or to discover other attractions the town of Willemstad is one of the places to see in the south of The Netherlands. Do remember that Willemstad is not part of Holland, but is found in the Noord (North)- Brabant province. The locals will thank you for your efforts.
There are always people who wonder ‘Is Willemstad worth visiting’, and I always like to remind you that if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be published here. But of course, everyone’s interests are different, but I personally think that this Willemstad city guide will show you why you must visit one of the cutest towns in The Netherlands. Especially since it’s filled with cool things to do. Now, let’s get on with the landmarks and other things to see in 24 hours in Willemstad.
Things to do in one day in Willemstad: Discover the best small town to visit in Noord (North)- Brabant, The Netherlands
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Tourism in Willemstad is definitely there, but mainly around noon and the afternoon during high season (July & August). And it’s not like there are people flooding to this town, there will be a few people yes. Beyond those months, the centre and outskirts of Willemstad are even more calm than during summer.
There a quite a few sights in Willemstad that you need to add to your itinerary, but luckily this travel guide for Willemstad will show you all the must sees, best activities and landmarks to see in one day.
History and facts about Willemstad, Noord- Brabant
The small town of Willemstad, Noord (North)- Brabant, is one of the best destinations to visit in The Netherlands. The population in the city of Willemstad is around 3000 inhabitants. This small town in Noord (North)- Brabant is located between the villages of Fijnaart and Numansdorp. Willemstad is also a perfect day trip from cities such as Breda.
The history of inhabitation in the area of Willemstad dates back to thousands of years ago. In 1968, construction workers of the Delta Works in The Netherlands found a 6500-year-old figurine made of oakwood. It is called ‘Mannetje van Willemstad’, or the man of Willemstad. It was found in a thick layer of peat at a depth of 8 metres, between the remains of the roots of an oak tree. They think that during the time the little sculpture was made, it was put between the roots on purpose to conserve the statue for the future family. And because the sea-level had risen a lot after that time, it was easily conserved.
People first weren’t too sure whether the figure was real, because there were no other examples. But during the years after the finding, several other statues were found, so no one has any doubt whether it’s real or fake. The function of the figurine of Willemstad isn’t clear. It could have been a toy, but could also be a part of a ritual celebration, etc.
The thousands of year after that, the inhabitation in the region of Willemstad, Noord (North)- Brabant, didn’t become permanent until the middle of the 16th century. The town of Ruigenhil (which later became Willemstad) was founded in the region that was made a polder by the marquis of Bergen op Zoom. On the 17th of June 1583, the Spanish occupied the town of Steenbergen which is found near Ruigenhil. After that, Ruigenhil was made a fortified town by William of Orange, or Willem van Oranje in Dutch.
After Willem van Oranje died in 1584, his son (Prins Maurits) gave Ruigenhil city rights in 1585. But that’s not all. Because when Willem was murdered in 1584, everyone started to call Ruigenhill ‘Willems stad’, or Williams city. And in 1585, the name Ruigenhil was officially changed into Willemstad.
Prince Maurits then gave the assignment of expanding the fortifications of Willemstad to Adriaen Anthonisz, who was well-known for its spectacular fortresses in The Netherlands. It was shaped into the current shape of the seven pointy stars fortress of Willemstad. The bastions on the tips of the stars were each named after one of the seven provinces that were standing united against the Spanish.
The first official protestant church in The Netherlands, which was specially built for protestant church services, was also built in Willemstad. The Koepelkerk was built in 1607, with financial support from Prins Maurits, but it had to be either round or octagonal shaped. Then in 1623, Prince Maurits assigned the building of the Princehof, which is currently Mauritshuis. That building was the town hall of the municipality of Willemstad until it combined with the municipality of Moerdijk in 1997. The Dutch Royal family is still connected to Willemstad, one of the titles of King Willem- Alexander is Lord of Willemstad.
Willemstad withstood a siege by the French in 1793 but eventually was handed over to the French after Bergen op Zoom was occupied. In the 19th century, King Louis Napoleon visited on the 27th and 28th of April 1809. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte visited on the 4th of October 1811. He also assigned the building of the powder house, or ammunition storage building, in Willemstad. Then during the English invasion, the French built two fortresses south of Willemstad: Fort Sabina Henrica and Fort De Hel.
In 1874, Willemstad became a vital part of the Stelling van het Hollandsch Diep en het Volkerak. This line of fortifications was meant to protect the Holland part of The Netherlands, against foreign troops from Brabant who wanted to cross the water at the Hollandsch Diep.
In May 1940, there were a few Dutch militaries found in Willemstad to defend the nearby ferry crossing. On the 14th of May 1940, the Germans arrived to scout the area, and a short fight was only needed to occupy the town of Willemstad. The Germans took advantage of the fortifications of Willemstad and built several casemates on the ramparts of Willemstad.
On the 30th of May 1940, a barge ran into a German magnetic mine and sunk. On the ship, there were Belgian military who were imprisoned by the Germans and were on their way to be transported to Germany. The German report stated that 167 Belgians died, but the number is way higher. Most of them are buried on a special cemetery near the harbour of Willemstad.
Where to stay in Willemstad
Finding accommodation in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant, isn’t that difficult. The only downside is that there aren’t a lot of hotels or B&B’s in this small town of Willemstad, so during summer (which is high season in The Netherlands) these places to stay in Willemstad are booked more often. So, book on time is essentially my best tip. Discover the best hotels in Willemstad (North- Brabant) below.
het Willemshuis: Check prices via Booking.com
Hotel Mauritz & Belle Suites: Check prices via Booking.com
Hotel Trusten: Check prices via Booking.com
Pure Passie Bed and Breakfast: Check prices via Booking.com
Best restaurants in Willemstad
In Willemstad there are actually a lot of cafes and restaurants. This small town in Noord- Brabant has everything you’re searching for. So, I’m giving you a couple of recommendations below.
A great breakfast cafe in Willemstad is Bij Betsie, especially if you’re fan of great coffee. Restaurant Vista is incredible for both an amazing lunch and dinner in Willemstad. Restaurant Rosmolen is a great lunch- and dinner restaurant in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant, as well. And I would also recommend you to have a look at Cuarto Ocho Restobar Español in Willemstad.
With these great restaurant recommendations for Willemstad, Noord- Brabant, you can honestly not go wrong with these. Whichever restaurant or cafe you end up choosing during your day in Willemstad, North- Brabant, your tastebuds will be fine.
What to do in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant, The Netherlands
If you’re looking for places to visit in Willemstad, then this part of the article will be more than helpful. Whether you’re looking for what to do and see in Willemstad, or where to go on a weekend, I will tell you everything you need to do in Willemstad here.
Free walking tour in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant
A walking tour through a new town is always a great idea, especially since its an excellent introduction and you will gain some information about this city in North- Brabant. Now, there are no free walking tours in Willemstad, as it’s pretty small, so I created my own for you.
We will start our sightseeing tour through Willemstad at Hofstraat 1, which is also named the Mauritshuis. It was built in 1623, in the assignment of Prince Maurits, who was the son of William of Orange. The building was made to use it as a country house and hunting lodge, and it was named Prinsenhof. After Prins Maurits died in 1625, the governor of Willemstad obtained the building and used it as housing.
During the French occupation in 1793, the French army bombed the building which left it heavily damaged. In 1808, the building was even more in decay due to heavy storms and several parts of the building were removed. In around 1827, the building was made it liveable again and shortly after a military hospital was located here.
From 1907 until 1956, this building was used by the Royal Military as barracks. During that time, some of them also lived with their family in the building. After the military left, the building was used by three families (not connected to the military). And in 1967, the building was eventually bought from the Dutch government by the municipality of Willemstad. They restored the entire complex to perfect conditions. On the 15th of December 1973, the building was officially opened as the town hall of the municipality of Willemstad. To honour Prins Maurits, the building has been named the Mauritshuis. It stopped to be the town hall when several districts combined their forces in 1997.
Now you will make your way to Hofstraat and then onwards to Bastion Zeeland. After that, you will walk to Bastion Holland (this resembles the region Holland, which was when the two provinces Noord- Holland & Zuid- Holland were still one part) and then go to Raadhuisstraat 18. Here you will see several dyke houses that date back to the beginning of the 1900s.
Then continue your free walking tour in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant, to Benedenkade 6. This is where you can find the arsenal, or one of the military buildings, in Willemstad. This building was made in 1792 and designed by Philip Willem Schonck. After Willemstad, as a fortified city was lifted in 1926, the arsenal was still used to store military goods for quite some decades after that. By the end of the 1960s, this building was sold, and that owner renovated the arsenal which was finished in 1973. It’s been in use for social and cultural activities ever since. The head of Medusa, on the gate, was used to scare away unwanted visitors.
Now go to Benedenkade 4. Here you will see a guardhouse, which is housed near a water gate and dates back to the 18th century. Then continue on Benedenkade and go to d’Orangemolen. You cannot visit this Dutch windmill in Willemstad, as it is currently a house, but what is interesting to know is that this windmill was built on the assignment of the Nassause Domeinraad to replace an earlier mill that was built in 1584. This executive board managed the estates of the family Oranje- Nassau (which is the current Royal Family).
After that, you will walk to Bovenkade 3. Here you see two connected warehouses that are dating back to the beginning of the 1800s. This is the old town hall and church in Willemstad. It was built in renaissance style in 1587. Initially, Prince Maurits of Orange wanted both a church and a town hall to be made in the small town of Willemstad, but during those times, funds had run low. That’s why they designed a multifunctional town hall, which could also be used to held church services. The big bell that’s found in the tower of the old town hall in Willemstad dates back to the end of the 12th century, which makes it the oldest bell of that type in the province of Noord- Brabant. It was captured by the Germans to make it into bullets in 1943. But luckily this didn’t happen, and the bell was back into its tower in 1945.
Then walk to Voorstraat and Voorstraat 26. Both Voorstraat 24 as 26 was a former orphanage and date back to around 1775. Now walk to Landpoortstraat and then towards Kerkkring 19. This is the main church in Willemstad and the first official protestant church in The Netherlands that was built for protestant church services. Construction started in 1597 and finished in 1607. It was made with financial support from Prince Maurits, but with that came the fact that the church had to be either round or octagonal shaped to get that support. It was designed by Adriaan de Muyr, Coenraat Norenburch and Andries de Rooij.
When Ruigenhil (which later changed in Willemstad) was first found in 1565, it didn’t have any church. A cemetery was placed at the end of the Voorstraat to built a Catholic church one day. But that didn’t happen, obviously, because when the Sea Beggars occupied the town of Ruigenhil, everyone had to become protestant. The definite church for Catholics in Willemstad, Heilige Maagd Mariakerk, was only finished in 1875.
It was restored in 1770, but the French damaged it by firing weapons at it in 1793. Then during the Second World War, this church was destroyed in November 1944. When it was restored after that, a fire broke out during work and repairs. After that, the church was rebuilt again and obtained some inventory from other churches in the country.
You can visit this Koepelkerk in Willemstad from the beginning of May until the beginning of October every Saturday from 14:00- 17:00. You can climb its tower and see a beautiful view from the fortified town of Willemstad and its surroundings.
It’s also opened on the second Pentecost from 11:00- 17:00 and Open monument day (10:00- 17:00).
After that you will walk to Achterstraat, Molenpad, Kerkkring, Hofstraat and Groenstraat. Groenstraat is the end of your Willemstad walking tour.
Best museums in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant
The Mauritshuis is home to both the VVV, or tourist information, of Willemstad and a museum. In the years 2019- 2021, the entire building is going to be changed into a multifunctional visitors centre to learn about the defence lines, Willemstad and the Mauritshuis itself.
Walk on the fortifications of Willemstad
The ramparts in Willemstad, Noord (North)- Brabant, are found all around the city. It gives you a completely different perspective of this Dutch town in Noord- Brabant, as well as from its surroundings. One of the things that has surprised me is how well the paths are taken care of, which makes walking there even better. It’s definitely one of the things you need to do when you’re spending one day in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant.
Belgian cemetery in Willemstad
As I’ve told you in the ‘history & facts’ part of this itinerary for Willemstad, Noord (North)- Brabant, hundreds of Belgian prisoners died when a ship ran into a magnetic mine. While the Germans said that 167 people had died, the real number is way higher than that. Most of them have their final resting place at the Erekerkhof nearby the harbour of Willemstad, The Netherlands, which you can visit.
Visit the weekly market in Willemstad
If you want to discover what Willemstad has to offer on its market, then you would love to visit this small town in the province of Noord (North)- Brabant on Monday afternoon from 13:00- 16:00. Explore and buy local products and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of the village.
Things to do in the surroundings of Willemstad, The Netherlands
Discover the defence line & fortresses nearby Willemstad
There are several fortresses, nearby Willemstad, that you can visit and most of them have at least a restaurant or cafe to sit for some bites and drinks. Not all of them are a museum, but you can definitely walk around these fortresses in the western part of Noord- Brabant. Quite a few of these Dutch fortresses in The Netherlands are closed from the beginning of October until the beginning of spring, so keep that in mind.
- Fort Sabina: This fortress is free to visit during opening times and is also nicknamed the ‘green fortress’, because of its 12 hectares green space. It was built in the assignment of Napoleon and is found in Heijningen. Every last Sunday afternoon of the month, there are guided tours (at around 14:00).
- Fort De Hel: This fortress is found just outside the town of Willemstad and was built during the French time in The Netherlands at the beginning of the 19th century. The surroundings of this fortress in The Netherlands are great for walking.
- Fort Buitensluis: You can explore the area of the fortress by foot. During opening times you can go on a guided tour through this fortress in west Brabant, plus there is a beautiful roof terrace which gives you a spectacular view on its surroundings and the water of the Hollandsch Diep with the city of Willemstad on the other side. ‘On the other side?’ Yes, you need to go on a little ferry ride to reach this Dutch fortress in Noord (North)- Brabant. This fortress is found in Numansdorp
- Fort Prins Frederik: This fortress is currently (2020) being renovated and restored into original glory. You can still go for a walk around the area of the fort, which is always a lovely sight. Plus, it’s very nice to see how much work they have already put in this fortress (it was in a terrible state). After it’s been completely renovated, a restaurant or cafe will be housed in a part of the fort, and we will see what they’re going to do with the rest of it. It’s located on Ooltgensplaat, not too far away from Willemstad.
- Fort Bovensluis: This fortress is also close to Willemstad and was built between 1861 and 1862. Nowadays you can eat or drink at its restaurant, don’t forget to sit on their terrace for a beautiful view, and you can also walk around the area.
Explore nature reserves near Willemstad
Willemstad is located in the middle of the Dutch countryside and exploring nature reserves is one of the things you need to when you’re in The Netherlands. Dutch nature has many forms, sizes and shapes and near the city of Willemstad you can find many Dutch nature reserves, but these three below are my favourites.
This nature reserve is found next to the bank of the Hollandsch Diep and located between Klundert and Willemstad. It’s around 208 hectares and mostly exists out of (wet) meadows and reeds banks, which is a typical Dutch landscape. A lot of rare flora and fauna is found in this nature reserve.
This is a nature reserve that is around 20 kilometres away from Willemstad, which is easily reached by bike. It’s about 539 hectares and found on the south bank of the Volkerak. This nature reserve is named after the river the Dintel, even though this river is not found in this nature reserve. The area has been named since the 15th century. During that time, people wanted to place dykes around this area, but because the current was too strong, this didn’t happen. The tides disappeared from this region after a dyke was finished in 1987. However, due to the history of this area, fertile soil in a salty landscape, there is a lot of diverse flora and fauna to be found here. It’s also part of one of the long-distance walking paths in The Netherlands: Floris V-path.
Tonnekreek en de Kleine Ton
Found between the town of Klundert and Willemstad is the Tonnekreek. You can walk through beautiful Dutch polders, with the little creeks that are found everywhere. It’s the perfect location to get ‘lost’ in your thoughts.
Cycle around the fortresses in Willemstad and its surroundings
There is a unique cycling route that will show you some of the best of the surroundings of Willemstad and its fortresses. The website is in Dutch, but you will be able to understand the gist if you use a translating tool. You will cross the river Hollandsch Diep with a ferry a few times and will discover countless beautiful places in Noord (North)- Brabant.
Rent bikes and cycle in the surroundings of Willemstad
There is one bike shop in Willemstad, Noord- Brabant that has bike rental. Their website that I’ve linked to is in Dutch, but translating won’t be difficult with one of the handy tools. Don’t forget to ask them for great cycling routes in the region of Willemstad, because they have great tips. Also, always make sure you have a passport or legitimate id with you to rent bikes.
See the biggest sluices in Europe near Willemstad
Willemstad is found at the banks of the Hollandsch Diep river, but not far away from this town in Noord (North)- Brabant is split in Volkerak and Haringvliet. Through the Volkerak sluices, these waterways can be reached. These conduits are the biggest canal sluices in Europe and the busiest in the world, and when you look at cargo that is transported by ships (more than 240 million tons), it is the biggest canal sluice in the world as well.
Visit a museum in Zevenbergen
In the small town of Zevenbergen, you can visit a museum that is found in an old farm which dates back to the 18th century. It has been turned into a regional museum where you can discover how the life of people in this region in Noord (North)- Brabant lived in the earlier times and what sort of things they used in their day-to-day life. Plus, you can explore a small village shop which is the same as at the beginning of the 1900s. Don’t forget to have a look at the artefacts that were discovered by archaeologists in their search to Castle Zevenbergen and fortress Noordam.
Explore and admire the Hollandsch Diep
This is a big river in the south of The Netherlands and is connected to both the Rhine and Meuse river. Hollandsch Diep is also a vital part of the sailing route from Rotterdam to Antwerp. Two rivers: Amer and Nieuwe- Merwede come together and form the Hollandsch Diep river.
I always like looking at the water. I look at how it moves, how it’s used, which boats are sailing there and which animals I can spot. There’s something about water that makes it calming. A part (or 4254 hectares to be precise) of the Hollandsch Diep is a Natura 2000 area and is protected nature.
How to get to Willemstad, The Netherlands
If you want to know how you can reach the town of Willemstad by public transport, always have a look at 9292.nl/en for the updated and current information (including prices). We use that website and public transportation app all over The Netherlands.
From Oudenbosch: It’s very easy to reach the town of Willemstad from Oudenbosch. You simply have to take a sprinter train to the train station of Roosendaal. From there you can take a bus to Willemstad. It takes you around one hour and 15 minutes to get from Oudenbosch to Willemstad, and most of this is the bus journey.
From Bergen op Zoom: To get to the fortified town of Willemstad from Bergen op Zoom, you’d have to take an intercity train to the train station of Roosendaal. From Roosendaal, you need to take the bus in the direction of Willemstad. To get from Bergen op Zoom on a trip to Willemstad takes you around one hour and twenty minutes.
From Rotterdam: If you want to go on a day trip from Rotterdam to the small town of Willemstad, you need to take a metro from Rotterdam Centraal train station to Zuidplein. From there you must take a bus which stops at Numansdorp. From there you must transfer to another bus to Willemstad. To get to Willemstad from Rotterdam takes you a little over one hour.
From Dordrecht: When you’re interested in visiting Willemstad from Dordrecht as a day trip, you can take any sprinter and an intercity train that stops at the Roosendaal train station. From there you need to transfer to the bus in the direction of Willemstad. To get from Dordrecht to Willemstad will take you around one hour and twenty minutes.
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I hope that this city blog for Willemstad (Noord- Brabant) has been helpful to you. And that you now know the answer to the question ‘Where is Willemstad, The Netherlands’. This one day itinerary for Willemstad has shown you everything you can do on a day trip to this Dutch town, including free things to do in Willemstad. I’m more than certain that you will love your stay here. Share this post!!