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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 some of the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Visit the Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Castillo San Felipe del Morro with view of the water

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.

Tour Castillo San Felipe del Morro, one of the best things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

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.

Couple strolling the Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

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

Fountain in Paseo de la Princesa

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.

View in Paseo de la Princesa

Paseo de la Princesa

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 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

View while cruising along San Juan Harbor

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

Visit La Perla, one of the best things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico

La Perla

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.

Colorful houses of La Perla

La Perla

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

Colorful buildings in Old San Juan

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.

Quesito on a plate


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.

Meat-stuffed alcapurrias


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.

Glass of Pina colada

Pina colada

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

View while snorkeling in Escambrón Marine Park

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.

Beach of Escambrón Marine Park

Escambrón Marine Park

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.

Read: Best Spots for Surfing in Puerto Rico

Step Inside San Juan’s Oldest Cathedral

White exterior of Basilica of San Juan Bautista in San Juan

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

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

Visit Plaza de Armas, one of the best things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico

Plaza de Armas

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.

Statue within Plaza de Colón

Plaza de Colón

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

Blue and white facade of La Fortaleza

La Fortaleza

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.

Explore the City on Two Wheels

Cycle Old San Juan, one of the best things to do in San Juan

Old San Juan

Discovering the city by bicycle is both fun and easy. If you can, opt for an e-bike, as Old San Juan is fairly hilly. Follow your guide past the city walls, the Capitol building, the forts, and the Mercado Santurce, taking in the colors, sights, and sounds of this vibrant city.

Most tours also take you through the upscale Condado area. Part of the route from Condado to Old San Juan is car-free, so you can just relax and enjoy the views.

Learn About Plants at the Botanical Gardens of the University of Puerto Rico

Flower in Puerto Rico


You’ll need to take a taxi from downtown to the University of Puerto Rico, but it’s worth the effort to stroll around this exquisite garden. Some 30,000 plants thrive among 289 acres of winding paths, splashing waterfalls, bamboo groves, and tranquil lakes.

Sculptures are dotted around, and birdsong fills the air, the aroma of cinnamon on the breeze. There’s an orchid garden to explore and a display of more than 120 types of palm tree.

The garden has a scientific function, and serves as an educational day out, teaching visitors about the ecology of the flora and fauna of the Caribbean.

See San Juan Light Up at Sunset

View of San Juan at sunset

San Juan

San Juan is especially pretty at night, the lights of the city twinkling in the bay. Taking a scenic drive at sunset is a wonderful way to see the city transition from day to night. You’ll pass the cathedral, El Morro fortress, San Jose Church, and Fifth Centenary Square on a leisurely drive, with plenty of photo stops.

Since Puerto Rico is one of the best places to go sailing in the Caribbean, you could also take a sunset sail across the bay, gazing up at the centuries-old fortifications, the warm Caribbean breeze on your face, cocktail in hand, watching the city begin to light up.

Bask on the Beach at Playa Isla Verde

Playa Isla Verde, one of the best things to do in San Juan

Playa Isla Verde

San Juan is blessed with miles of beautiful urban beaches, so pick your spot. Isla Verde is one of the loveliest, fringed by palms and busy with locals. Weekends here are especially busy, with people happily sipping cocktails and enjoying the tropical beat of reggaetón.

Join a game of beach volleyball, rent a jet ski, try your luck on a flyboard, or simply unwind in the shade of an umbrella and take in the scene.

Taste Bacardi Rum

Bacardi rum, one of the best things to do in San Juan

Casa Bacardi

One of the world’s most famous rums, Bacardi is distilled at the Casa Bacardi near the entrance to San Juan Bay. Some 20 million cases per year are shipped from here, making this the world’s largest rum distillery.

You can join a tour to learn about the history of the Bacardi dynasty and taste the different Caribbean rums, or join a mixology class to learn a few new cocktail recipes.

Head to the Home of Piña Colada

Try piña colada, one of the best things to do in San Juan

Piña colada

Where the piña colada was invented is a matter of debate, but Old San Juan’s Barrachina restaurant, housed in a lovely old colonial building close to La Fortaleza, features a marble plaque claiming that this is where the creamy coconut, pineapple, and rum cocktail was first served.

This Caribbean cocktail was allegedly invented by Ramon Portas Mingot in 1963. But there’s another claim, recognized by the Puerto Rican government, that Ramon “Monchito” Marrero made the first piña colada at the Beachcombers Bar at the Caribe Hilton in 1954.

Either way, the piña colada has been considered Puerto Rico’s national drink since 1978, so there’s no better place to treat yourself, no matter what part of town you’re visiting.

Wander Around Fort San Cristobal

Fort San Cristobal, one of the best things to do in San Juan

Fort San Cristobal

Alongside El Morro, Castillo San Cristobal is San Juan’s second major fortification, built between 1634 and 1765 to protect the city against attacks by land. It’s the largest fort built by the Spanish in the New World, spanning more than 27 acres, and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The fort is actually a citadel, with different sections connected by tunnels and bridges and surrounded by solid outer defenses. It’s an early example of sustainable development, with five enormous cisterns underneath that can store 800,000 gallons of water. The cisterns are still in use today.

You can visit the museum, poke around the recreated military barracks, and check out the dungeons, where you can see original graffiti from the 18th century.

Join the Party at Mercado Santurce

Produce inside Mercado Santurce

Mercado Santurce Photo by cogito ergo imago on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Plaza del Mercado de Santurce, more than a century old, is a low-key market square in the once-gritty Santurce neighborhood. During the evening, though, this is San Juan’s party hotspot, especially on weekends. It’s known by locals as La Placita.

You’ll find street food, cocktail bars, hipster hangouts, and music everywhere. Locals come here to socialize, eat, drink rum, and dance salsa in the street, so come and join the party.

Try a Pan de Mallorca

Pan de mallorca on a plate

Pan de mallorca

The influence of Spain on Puerto Rico is evident wherever you go, and the island’s pastries are no exception. A local favorite is pan de Mallorca, a deliciously doughy bun dusted with confectioner’s sugar, that’s been inspired by the Spanish ensaimada.

The idea of sugar combined with the cheese and ham filling that locals adore may seem strange, but the sweet and salty combination works beautifully. Head for one of San Juan’s many bakeries for your mid-morning carb fix, still warm from the griddle, and perfect with a café con leche.

Admire Raices Fountain

Raices Fountain

Raices Fountain

There’s history everywhere you turn in Old San Juan, not least adorning the Raices Fountain, which was unveiled in 1992 to mark the 500th anniversary of the “discovery” of the New World.

The bronze statues around this ornamental fountain, the name of which means “roots”, depict the cultures that have influenced Puerto Rico, from the Tainos, the island’s original inhabitants, to the Africans and Spaniards.

Learn How to Make Mofongo

Plate of mofongo


Any food tour of Old San Juan will inevitably include a tasting of mofongo, a local specialty, and some offer a chance to make your own.

There’s considerable effort involved in making this savory treat as you have to fry up green plantains and mash them with a pestle and mortar, mixing in garlic and pork rinds, or chicharrón. The idea is that the plantain will absorb the flavors of the other ingredients.

The resulting mix is formed into balls or a half-dome shape and served with beef broth. Mofongo should be served in a pilón, a wooden bowl.

Read: Puerto Rico vs. Costa Rica: Which Should You Visit?

Explore the Museo de las Americas

Street view of Museo de las Americas

Museo de las Americas

This thought-provoking museum tells the story of Puerto Rico and the broader Americas through art and audiovisual displays. You’ll find it on the second level of the Cuartel de Ballajá, the former Spanish barracks built to house Spanish soldiers and their families.

Inside, there are exhibits telling the story of 22 indigenous tribes, as well as the Africans who were brought to the Caribbean as slaves. A display depicting the brutal conditions of a voyage on a slave ship is particularly poignant.

You’ll also learn about the military history and colonization of the island, while a further exhibition showcases folk art from all over the region. If you happen to be in town on the first Sunday of the month, there are exhibits by local folk artists here, with works for sale including jewelry, carvings, and paintings.

Check Out the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Exterior of Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico Photo by Moebiusuibeom-en on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

San Juan’s Museu de Arte de Puerto Rico features one of the biggest and most important collections of art in the Caribbean. The museum is housed in a grand neoclassical building that was built in 1920 and once served as a hospital.

Eighteen different exhibition halls display everything from paintings to religious art, sculpture, and posters. Works date from the 17th century to the present day.

There’s also a beautiful sculpture garden, a wonderfully serene place to stroll, breathe in the scent of the plants, and admire the 16 sculptures.

See American Presidents on Paseo de los Presidentes

Statues at the Paseo de los Presidentes

Paseo de los Presidentes

The “Walkway of the Presidents”, located across from the Capitol, is a celebration commissioned by the Puerto Rican government of all the U.S. presidents who have visited the island. You’ll find a statue of each president, ranging from John F. Kennedy to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

Each statue has a plaque explaining the context of the visit, providing a fascinating snapshot into those moments in history.

Try Stand-Up Paddle Boarding on a Tranquil Lagoon

Beautiful waterfront of San Juan with Laguna del Condado

Laguna del Condado

San Juan’s beaches offer up everything from pounding surf to the tranquil waters of the Laguna del Condado, the perfect spot to try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding, or taking out a glass-bottomed kayak.

You could spot marine life while you’re out on your board, including sea turtles and manatees, since the lagoon is a manatee reserve. The more experienced paddle-boarders show off by doing yoga moves on their boards.

Visit the Seat of Government

Street view of El Capitolio

El Capitolio

Admire San Juan’s El Capitolio building, which stands at the entrance to Old San Juan and was inaugurated in 1929. It’s an elegant columned and domed neoclassical structure in which the island’s legislature meets.

You can book a guided tour (which has to be pre-arranged) and see the Constitution of the Commonwealth, which is on display inside. This document lays out the structure of the government of Puerto Rico and the role of the different departments.

Join a Salsa Class

People learning how to dance salsa


Puerto Ricans love to dance, so why not join a salsa class during your visit? There are drop-in classes for visitors all over San Juan, including some al-fresco sessions on the city’s beaches. There are daily classes at sunset at Ocean Park, for example.

You don’t need any experience as most of these sessions are geared toward beginners. Nobody minds if you have two left feet, either; you’ll be swept away by the music and the setting, and having fun is the whole point.

Stroll Luis Muñoz Rivera Park

Pathway in Luis Muñoz Rivera Park

Luis Muñoz Rivera Park

San Juan is dotted with lush parks, such as the urban space of Luis Muñoz Rivera Park. It’s easy to find at the entrance of Old San Juan, near El Escambrón beach.

You’ll find sculptures and wonderful mature trees here, with plenty of shaded places to sit and enjoy the moment.

Gaze at Contemporary Art

View inside Museu de Arte Contemporáneo

Museu de Arte Contemporáneo Photo by Šarūnas Burdulis on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Art lovers will find more to admire in the Museu de Arte Contemporáneo, housed in a red-brick building on the corner of Juan Ponce de León and Avenida Roberto Todd.

The displays in the museum are mainly temporary exhibitions featuring art from the 1940s onwards, but there’s also a permanent collection that includes photographic art and abstracts.

Explore Fortín de San Jerónimo del Boquerón

Waterfront view of Fortín de San Jerónimo del Boquerón

Fortín de San Jerónimo del Boquerón

San Juan is famed for its El Morro and San Cristobal fortresses, though military history enthusiasts will find more to admire in the small Fortress of San Jeronimo del Boquerón.

This 18th-century structure guards the mouth of the Condado Lagoon, replacing an earlier fort, also called El Boquerón. This was destroyed during a ferocious British attack in 1797, when soldiers in the fort managed to repel 60 ships.

The more recent version was built after the attack and played a vital role in protecting the island until the early 20th century.

Read: Dominican Republic vs. Puerto Rico: Which Should You Visit?

Couple strolling Paseo de la Princesa

Paseo de la Princesa

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.

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