Aruba's capital, Oranjestad, is the first stop for most visitors. Its small harbour, once reserved for schooners and fishing boats, now attracts cruise ships from all over the world, and the island's Queen Beatrix airport is located just south of the city. Despite the thousands of tourists that pour into the town it has managed to retain its traditional charm.
Oranjestad's downtown streets are lined with pastel-coloured Dutch colonial houses with ornate gable roofs. The orange-coloured façades not only point to the capital's name, but to the island's connection to the Netherlands and William of Orange, a Dutch monarch instrumental in the gaining of Dutch independence
A highlight in Oranjestad is the Archaeological Museum, with exhibits on Aruba's original Arawak inhabitants. In the restored 18th-century Fort Zoutman, the Museo Arubano displays Aruba's pre-European and colonial eras. The fort itself is one of Oranjestad's most popular attractions, built in 1796. It played a pivotal role in battles between Curaçao and British troops in 1803. In the late 1800s, the Willem III tower (named after the Dutch king at the time) was added to act as a lighthouse.
Enthusiastic shoppers will find central Oranjestad packed with boutiques, shopping complexes and glitzy 24-hour casinos. However, it is possible to escape this tourist zone and discover the more authentic town with its lively, if slightly run-down bars, where visitors can enjoy a quiet beer and meet the locals.