Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan is a hub of activity and old-world charm. Colorful Spanish colonial buildings line narrow streets filled with points of interest, restaurants, and shops. It’s the perfect base for experiencing the Caribbean island’s beaches, rich culture, vibrant shopping scene, and cuisine.
Myriad neighborhoods, each with their own character, are worth exploring. From getting lost in the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan and eating your way through the city, to touring an ancient citadel or embarking on a snorkeling expedition, there’s something to appeal to every interest here.
These are the 10 best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Visit the Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Built over the span of 250 years, the massive Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a protected Puerto Rican landmark and a top attraction in San Juan.
Perched atop the old section of the city, the six-story fortress served as a defensive structure for the city and island as a whole, from attackers approaching by sea through San Juan harbor.
Having never been defeated, this citadel withstood many battles and is now host to a museum, with barracks, original cannons, dungeons and more inside. It’s also home to the oldest lighthouse in Puerto Rico, constructed in 1846.
Admire the sweeping views from the Castillo del Morro grounds, a fantastic photo opportunity. Learn about its storied past as a military outpost, from the Spanish colonization through WWII, as well as how the island was won by the United States during the Spanish-American War.
Stroll Along the Paseo de la Princesa
One of the best ways to explore San Juan is on foot. The famous Paseo de la Princesa is the perfect place to stretch your legs and soak up the sights and sounds of Old San Juan.
Dating back to the mid-1800s, this promenade runs less than a quarter mile from Puerto de San Juan (the old city gate) to the Raíces Fountain, and is celebrated for its beautiful scenery.
Fountains, historic lamp posts, street vendors selling handicrafts, food trucks, and restaurants are some of the top highlights along this path.
Discover why the Paseo de la Princesa is a favorite spot for locals as you make your way along the route, taking in the ambiance and views of the bay and the city walls, as well as interacting with shop owners, listening to the live music that plays on occasion, or sipping Caribbean cocktails from one of the cafés or bars.
Make sure to stop and order a refreshing “piraguas” from a street cart selling the cones of crushed ice, flavored with local syrups including coconut and passionfruit. The cold treat is an ideal way to cool off during your stroll through the famous promenade in the hot Caribbean sun.
Cruise Along the San Juan Harbor
Enjoy a different perspective of the port city of San Juan aboard a scenic cruise on a classic sailboat. Appreciate Spanish colonial architecture as you glide past landmarks such as La Fortaleza, Le Puerta de San Juan, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and more.
Listen to the narration of your knowledgeable captain or on-board guide as you cruise the harbor, enjoying the sea breeze and scenery.
Apart from being a fantastic choice for those interested in photography, history, and culture, this is also one of the best things to do in Puerto Rico with kids.
Explore La Perla Neighborhood
Discover the rich arts and culture of the La Perla neighborhood, located just outside San Juan’s city walls. A former shanty town that was damaged by a storm, this colorful part of the city is in the midst of being rebuilt and worth visiting.
It was made famous by a music video and has since been undergoing a renovation with brightly hued paint adorning the buildings, fun bars in which to grab a drink, vibrant murals, and revitalized community areas like the skate park and garden.
Take a guided tour, led by a local, through the neighborhood and learn about the history, plans for the future, and other stories tied to Puerto Rican history and culture.
Wander the popular art studio, Colectivo Perlarte, filled with locally crafted artwork and host to a variety of workshops. Try Puerto Rican fare such as mofongo, a tasty plantain dish, at La Garita, a seaside restaurant known for unparalleled views and food.
Eat Your Way Through Old Town
Immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine of Puerto Rico with a food tour through the charming Old Town, or “viejo” area.
Whether you decide to embark on a self-guided culinary tour or participate in a group tour with a knowledgeable guide, it’s sure to be a fulfilling experience. Since Old Town is a walkable destination, you’ll have no problem working up an appetite in between stops, too.
Start your food adventure at a famous coffee shop to fuel up with some caffeine in one of the city’s best-loved spots, Café Don Ruiz. This family-run shop sources Arabica beans from the village of Yauco, and serves gourmet coffees.
Wash down your coffee with a delicious pastry from the celebrated Tortuga bakery. Here, you’ll want to order a “quesito”, which is a puff pastry coated with caramelized sugar and filled with cream cheese.
Make sure to add a mofongo stop on your culinary tour as well; it’s one of the best-known items on Puerto Rican menus. The mashed plantains and mix of chicken, steak, shrimp, or pork with vegetables will have you coming back for more.
On the street food scene, order an “alcapurrias”, a fried treat made with green bananas and filled with meat or seafood. Another street food favorite worth sampling is “arepas de coco”, a fried bread made with coconut flour served either plain or stuffed with meat, vegetables, or seafood.
Top off your food tour with a cold and refreshing piña colada, a tasty coconut-flavored rum beverage with island flair.
If you’ve saved some room, round out your culinary journey with a stop at the famous Casa Cortes Chocobar for some authentic Puerto Rican hand-crafted chocolates. Make sure to go on your culinary venture with an appetite—there’s so much to indulge in.
Snorkel Escambrón Marine Park
With such close proximity to the ocean, it’s no surprise that one of the top things to do in San Juan involves snorkeling. Soak up the sun at one of Puerto Rico’s best beaches, Escambron Beach, walkable from Old San Juan.
In addition to beautiful views and sprawling sands to relax on, this beach is known for having the best snorkeling in Puerto Rico within the designated Marine Park. The calm, clear waters are ideal for snorkelers of all skill levels, a portion of the area guarded by a fish protection wall.
Discover the marine life teeming beneath the surface, living among the underwater sculptures and columns of the famous Atlantis City. As you swim, you’ll have the opportunity to view tropical fish such as blue tang, yellowtail snappers, and damselfish. You may even spot sea turtles or manatees while exploring the underwater world.
Step Inside San Juan’s Oldest Cathedral
Built twice in the 1520s due to an intense storm, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is the oldest in Puerto Rico and second-oldest in America.
Inside, the remains of explorer and first Governor of the island, Ponce de Leon reside, as well as those of martyr Saint Pio. Additionally, select relics used by Pope John Paul II during his trip to the island in the early 1980s are also housed here.
While exploring this historical church, venture outside and align your body with the altar; standing like this will be the location of true north, south, east, and west of San Juan, according to a compass.
Wander the City Plazas
Take in the atmosphere of San Juan from some of the main plazas or squares, all lively public gathering spaces, bustling with activity. Plaza de Armas, the most popular square in the heart of Old San Juan on San Jose Street, is one of the finest.
In Spanish colonial times, this was deemed the main public square, and it’s where the town hall and Department of State buildings are still located. Take a seat on one of the benches and enjoy some people-watching. You can also pop into a restaurant or check out the shops selling authentic Puerto Rican souvenirs.
Take in some of the other points of interest, such as the statue of Tito Curet Alonso, a well-known Puerto Rican salsa composer, and the large fountain sitting center stage. Four statues representative of the four seasons are another highlight of the Plaza de Armas.
If you’re lucky, you may get to experience some of the live music or street performers that often provide entertainment too.
Another notable plaza worth checking out is the Plaza de Colón. If you’re looking to get a bit off the beaten path, this square outside of the Old City is worth visiting. In the center, a statue of Christopher Columbus stands to pay homage to the 400-year anniversary of his first expedition.
Occupying the same location as one of the city’s original gates, this plaza stands on the edge of the Old City walls. The gate was taken down in the late 19th century to help with San Juan’s development, making it a historically relevant spot.
Roam the square, sip a drink at one of the many outdoor cafés, or simply sit back and people watch.
Visit the Felisa Rincon de Gautier Museum
Visit the historic home of the first female mayor of an American capital city. Felisa Rincon de Gautier was mayor of San Juan for 22 years, starting in 1946 and is known for her impact in helping to modernize the city, as well as her efforts to assist with poverty. She also founded a Head Start and children’s theater program in San Juan.
Situated across from the San Juan Gate, the 300-year-old house displays artifacts from her life, photographs, furniture, multiple awards and recognitions, and other memorabilia.
Various workshops and seminars are held throughout the year within this multi-story museum. For an intriguing historical and cultural point of interest, this museum is a great choice.
Tour the Governor’s Mansion
Dating back to the 16th century, La Fortaleza in Old San Juan was constructed to defend the harbor and although it wasn’t successful in that regard, it was used as the governor’s house to more than 170 governors of the island.
Although it’s still a functioning government building, you can tour the palace interior and gardens on weekdays to marvel at the Spanish colonial design and artifacts.
It’s the oldest executive mansion in continuous use within the New World and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not to be missed for history and architecture enthusiasts.
From sampling street food to wandering the picturesque streets of Old San Juan, there’s so much to discover while exploring the capital city of this island paradise. Browse our San Juan cruises and book your Puerto Rican escape today.