The pastel-hued, colonial architecture makes many parts of Aruba’s capital look like Disneyland’s Main Street. If that isn’t enthralling enough, Oranjestad is also where you’ll find the island’s best cultural and historical offerings, retail options and fine dining spots—all set to a backdrop of white sand beaches (this is the Caribbean, after all). Best explored using the city’s free, retro-style eco-trolleys, this small, friendly city has undergone an expansive rejuvenation in recent years, resulting in a fresh lick of paint, many new outdoor plazas, the longest linear park in the Caribbean and a bunch of electric blue, life-size horse sculptures scattered around downtown in tribute to the area’s horse-trading past.
Address: Oranjestad, Aruba
Palm Beach and Noord
Located in the ‘Noord,’ the district’s official Dutch name, Palm Beach is Aruba’s glamorous main resort, the South Beach of the Caribbean, if you will. Dotted with luxurious oceanfront hotels, casinos, bars, restaurants and clubs, the two-mile strip is popular with families and late-night revellers alike. Quieter shores are found further south on Eagle Beach, a spot regularly rated as one of the best beaches in the world and boasting popular family attractions, such as The Butterfly Farm and Bubali Bird Sanctuary. Just north is Hadicurari, Aruba’s most popular windsurfing spot distinguished by its cute, makeshift fishermen huts.
Address: Noord, Aruba
Once the island’s industrial center due to its oil refinery, southern San Nicolas (nicknamed the “Sunrise City”) is today better known for its laidback vibe, thriving arts scene and authentic Caribbean charm. A living gallery, its walkways are covered with vibrant murals, many created during the city’s annual Aruba Art Fair, while small boutiques present high-quality art worth the extra investment. A long Carnival history (first brought to the area by British Caribbean immigrants in the 1930s) means this is also the place to party Caribbean style: think steel drums, calypso music and traditional dance with regular events put on by different venues. Recover at nearby “Baby Beach,” a sheltered, man-made lagoon with extremely calm water that’s great for children—and a sore head.