Top 15 Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

As the capital city of Puerto Rico, San Juan is a beautiful Caribbean beach getaway with a rich Spanish, African, and Taíno-influenced cultural heritage with plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained. In addition, the island provides year-round warm sunshine, unique cuisine, and stunningly beautiful beaches. What more can you ask for?

The city of San Juan also offers a vibrant nightlife, a myriad of ocean activities, and cobblestone-filled streets. So, whether visitors are looking for a relaxing day on the beach or an exciting night out, they will find plenty of things to do in the vibrant city of San Juan.

With so much to do and explore, from snorkeling to exploring the city’s colonial architecture or restaurants busting the comida criolla menu, it can take time to decide where to start.

We created this list of the top fifteen things to do in “La Ciudad Amurallada” (The Walled City), and we hope these recommendations help you plan and explore to the fullest this gorgeous city.

Take a Walking Tour Around Old San Juan

The cobblestone streets of Old San Juan (San Juan Antiguo) showcase over 500 years of history of the islet.

The Forts

Photo Credit: Dennis van de Water

While travelers will enjoy the old city’s Spanish-influenced architecture, restaurants, and bars, there is plenty of history to dive into. Tall City Walls also surround Old San Juan in some sections that date back to the 16th century. The best representation of the city’s history lies in its protected ancient forts.

San Juan National Historical sites include three forts, the San Felipe del Morro, San Cristóbal, and San Juan de la Cruz.

Wander The Cobblestone Streets

Photo Credit: Alessandro Pietri

At nighttime, the old town comes alive with live music. A festive and vibrant nightlife scene adds to the charm of wandering through the city’s storied streets.

The Calle de la Fortaleza (Fortress Street) is a unique must-see street covered with colorful hanging umbrellas leading to the official residence of Puerto Rico’s governor.

The governor’s residence is named La Fortaleza, which served as a fortress, arsenal, and prison during its military history.

Other places worth a visit are the San Juan Bautista Cathedral, Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park), Capilla de Cristo (Christ Chapel), Puerta de San Juan, and San Sebastian Street.

Walk The Promenade

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone

The bay in Old San Juan also receives many cruise ships during the year, and it is a great place to start exploring the area.

Travelers can walk the tree-lined promenade called Paseo de la Princesa (Princess Stroll). It is a walk next to the ocean passing by La Fortaleza, the San Juan Gate with its red colors, and leads to the San Felipe del Morro fortification.

Explore the Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Photo Credit: Frederick Millett

San Felipe del Morro is a military fortification located in the northeast corner of Old San Juan, locally called El Morro.

El Morro served as an outpost to watch and defend from potential attacks from the British, Dutch, and pirates coming from the sea. It served the Spanish first until the island changed hands to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.

Today, El Morro is one of three locations in the San Juan National Historic Site. Visitors will marble at the six levels with mounted cannons and endless views of the Atlantic ocean.

Upon arrival by land, travelers can only see the top level of El Morro, and once inside, there are multiple courtyards, terraces, dark tunnels, and a chapel. Travelers can explore to their heart’s content to find soldiers’ barracks, cannon balls, and other military weaponry from the time.

A great spot to take in the views of the Atlantic is through one of its many sentry boxes known as ‘Garitas.’

‘El Morro’ receives visitors all year round from both locals and tourists. There is a large lawn leading to the entrance of this site where locals take advantage of the ocean winds to fly kites, and visitors may find locals selling them in the area.

Visit the San Cristobal Fort

Photo Credit: Dennis van de Water

Built between 1634 and 1765, San Cristobal is another large military fortification located in Old San Juan designed to protect the islet against any attacks that arrived via land. It is why it received its name after Saint Christopher, the saint patron of land travelers.

Its rich history made it eligible as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a protected designation for important architecture worldwide.

Unlike El Morro, the 16th-century San Cristobal Fortress has three levels that house the main plaza, a firing battery, military barracks, sentry boxes, dark tunnels, a dungeon, and exhibits showing its military history. The plaza served as the main location for soldiers to gather and for formal events.

A curious structural design of San Cristobal includes its ability to hold up to 800,000 gallons of rainwater in its five cisterns underneath the central plaza and the dungeon, which showcases drawings from a prisoner held in the 18th century.

Visitors start their journey at the visitor’s center, a former bunker, with exhibits and a small theater showing a movie about the history of San Cristobal. Military history buffs will love exploring San Cristobal and its impressive architecture.

Check out the Governor’s Residence La Fortaleza

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

La Fortaleza translates to the fortress and is one of the top attractions in San Juan. It is painted in a vibrant blue color with white trimmings and makes for a great photo opportunity. The structure is also known as the Palacio de Santa Catalina (Saint Catherine’s Palace.)

Its construction started in 1533 and ended in 1540 to defend against invaders. Four stone walls surround it with sentry boxes that overlook the sea.

In 1640, the fortress started to serve as the residence of Puerto Rico’s governor, and in 1846, the building was converted to fit as both a residence and an official office.

Today, La Fortaleza is part of the National Historic Landmarks in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Travelers can marvel at this fortress from its front gate, from sections of El Paseo de la Princesa, or by boat. Visitors can schedule guided tours and require reservations in advance.

Go on an Ocean Adventure at the Condado Lagoon

Photo Credit: Christian Ouellet

The capital city of San Juan has 18 barrios (neighborhoods), and Condado is considered one of its more popular for visitors and locals alike. Condado is the place to find ocean adventures, shopping, unique worldwide cuisines with a Puerto Rican twist, and vibrant nightlife.

Located in this neighborhood is the Condado Lagoon, filled with trails and a perfect little beach spot on its west side.

The lagoon has calm waters filled with fish, turtles, and manatees. It makes it a great location for paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling. Guided tours are available throughout the day, and during sunset, there is an option to do a night tour with kayaks equipped with LED lights.

The Condado Lagoon is also a great spot to try some paddleboard yoga classes during sunrise or enjoy the views of Condado.

Check out the Boutiques on Ashford Avenue in Condado

Photo Credit: Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue via Flickr CC2.0

Ashford Avenue in Condado is filled with most of the major hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs in San Juan, almost all within walking distance.

There are also some upscale boutiques offering women’s and men’s fashion options along with a gift shop perfect for some affordable souvenirs to remember a visit to the island.

Some of the major upscale boutiques include Charme, Olivia Boutique, Zafiro, Root, Monsieur, and Nono Maldonado, a fashion designer known for his linen shirts for men serving as his signature item as well as designing high-end furniture and interiors.

Take a Dip in the Ocean or a Bioluminescent Bay

Photo Credit: discoverpuertorico

Puerto Rico has miles upon miles of coastline, making it a great beach destination for travelers. Visitors in San Juan will have multiple beach options to have a relaxing day in the sand or take a dip in the ocean.

Famous for its bioluminescent bay, Laguna Grande, San Juan, will have you rethinking that the surrounding waters are only for daytime adventures.

Some of the official beaches in San Juan include El Escambrón, La Playita Condado, Condado Lagoon, Ocean Park Beach, and Isla Verde, just outside of San Juan.

El Escambrón

Photo Credit: Cesar Zapata-Lozada

El Escambrón is one of the best beaches in San Juan, where it is safe to swim and has two distinct beaches. A coral reef protects the beach on the north side, so it breaks down the waves making for safe and relaxing swim conditions.

On the south side, the beach is also known as Poza Escambrón (pool), with tranquil water perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. The pool spot also offers a view of the Condado.

La Playita

Photo Credit: Christian Ouellet

La Playita translates to a little beach, and it is an adequate name as the spot is quite small and hidden in the north corner of Condado off the Dos Hermanos Bridge (Two Brothers). This little beach has shallow waters making it perfect, and due to its hidden nature, it is the ideal setting for couples to enjoy a day in the sun.

The Condado Lagoon

The Condado Lagoon offers plenty of options for water adventures, as mentioned in the section above, but there is also a good location for a beach day.

Ocean Park

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Ocean Park is a large section that locals favor when they take a beach day. It is friendly, laid-back, and sunny, but in the afternoon, the sun hides behind the Condado buildings, providing shade. The water is clear and breezy, so visitors may see windsurfers in the distance.

Outside The Metro Area

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Lastly, Isla Verde is just outside the main metro area of San Juan, and it’s soft white sands will enchant you. Nearby is Piñones, an incredible drive right next to the coastline with great places to eat fried foods filled with seafood.

Go Shopping at the Plaza Las Americas

Plaza Las Americas is a massive shopping center in San Juan with a myriad of stores, including American Eagle, Banana Republic, Cartier, Everything but Water, Fossil, LU, and Mango.

The locals refer to this shopping center as Plaza, and it receives local visitors from all over the island as well as abroad. Plaza also houses restaurants and a movie theater, and it has an office tower filled with private practitioners of medicine.

What makes Plaza Las Americas unique is that besides some well-known stores, it also houses local boutiques and small shops or kiosks unique to Puerto Rico. Therefore, this is a perfect stop for travelers who want to purchase gifts or mementos.

Notable shopping includes Arte Arte (filled with art from local artists), Azucar Morena, Colas Leather, Coral Craft, Guamarina, La Placita en Plaza, Hecho a Mano (Made by Hand), and Hecho en Puerto Rico (Made in Puerto Rico).

Go Dancing at La Placita de Santurce

Santurce is one of the most prominent neighborhoods in San Juan and a foodie’s paradise. This neighborhood offers a variety of worldwide cuisine, and its Lote 23 offers some delectable options that are a must-try.

Santurce also houses La Placita, where visitors and locals enjoy live salsa music and dancing in an open-air setting. La Placita once served as a farmer’s market, but its current market square is filled with kiosks and restaurants serving lunch during the day.

However, in the evenings, La Placita changes its whole atmosphere to that of a nightclub from Thursdays to Sundays. People can barhop and try craft cocktails and the local beer called Medalla.

There is a diverse gathering of people here who hang out in groups, listen to music, and dance salsa until the early hours of the morning. It is the perfect spot for travelers to meet and party with friendly locals.

Go on a Food Tour of Calle Loiza in Santurce

Photo Credit: Christian Ouellet

The perfect way to experience the tasty cuisine in Puerto Rico is to do a food tour or food crawl on Calle Loíza (Loíza street) in Santurce. The street food here is a foodie’s paradise offering worldwide dishes and some Puerto Rican classics.

Loíza street is very trendy, with popular boutiques, restaurants, and bars specializing in craft cocktails. One of the best places includes Café con Cé to drink some Puerto Rican coffee and pastries. If you prefer brunch, then Musa and Tostado are great options with extensive menus.

For those with a sweet tooth, Ice Cream and Limbers offers some great flavors at affordable prices. Plus, Limbers (fruit-flavored popsicle-like desserts) are perfect to beat the heat on the island.

Other restaurants and bars worth a try include:

No proper food crawl is done in San Juan without trying some local dishes, including mofongo, plantains (amarillos or tostones), rice and beans, and piña coladas, which were invented in San Juan.

Flavors Food provides classic food and cocktail tours in San Juan while learning about the monuments and landmarks.

Learn About San Juan’s Coffee Culture

There is no doubt that Puerto Ricans love their coffee and drink it first thing in the morning and throughout the day despite the heat.

To experience and learn about the coffee culture in Puerto Rico, travelers can visit Caficultura on San Francisco street in Old San Juan. The restaurant offers a variety of breakfast and lunch options and some unique and classic brews, including Espresso, Cappuccino, and Americanos, but also Cafe Coco (made with coconut syrup and cinnamon) and coffee brews with alcohol like Verano 2019 and 43 Razones.

Visitors to San Juan can also make a day trip and visit a Coffee Hacienda (farm) in the mountain region. Some haciendas include:

  • Hacienda Lealtad in Lares
  • Hacienda Muñoz in San Lorenzo
  • Hacienda San Pedro in Jayuya
  • Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce

Enjoy the Nightlife in Old San Juan

Photo Credit: Infinite_Eye

During the day, Old San Juan provides visitors with UNESCO sites with landmarks worth exploring. At night, the tiny islet transforms into a vibrant nightlife where locals and visitors love to bar hop, listen to music, dance, and drink.

Many bars provide visitors with a great time, including La Factoría, La Taberna Lúpulo, Los Tres Cuernos, El Batey, and Barrachina, to name a few.

Visitors can discover La Factoria by passing through secret passages leading up to six bars, which has been named one of The World’s 50 Best Bars five years in a row.

La Taberna Lúpulo is the perfect spot for craft beer lovers since it has up to 50 taps and 150 bottles of some of the best beers in the world.

For affordable and strong cocktails, Los Tres Cuernos provides a diverse menu of tropical drinks in a fun bar decorated with many dollar bills across the walls. Their signature drink is the Chicaito, well worth a taste.

El Batey is another location perfect for mingling with the locals serving affordable drinks. Don’t let the weathered building fool you; the ambiance more than makes up for it.

Lastly, a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, is not complete until travelers try a piña colada at the Barrachina Restaurant, where the drink was invented in 1963 by don Ramon Portas Mingot.

Explore the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Photo Credit: Joe Ferrer

The Oceanfront Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery is a famous landmark in Old San Juan, right next to the San Felipe del Morro fortification. The cemetery dates back to 1863, so visitors will see some of the oldest tombstones on the island, where many prominent islanders were buried, including Jose Ferrer (actor), Rafael Hernandez (songwriter), and Pedro Albizu Campos (politician).

The cemetery is full of life-size marble sculptures with colorful flowers, surrounded by high city walls on one side while facing the Atlantic from the other. One would think a cemetery wouldn’t be a place to visit in Puerto Rico, but Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis should be on the list.

Learn About Puerto Rican Culture at the Museums

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

For history and art buffs, San Juan has many museums worth visiting.

Some of the most notable museums include:

  • Museo de las Américas
  • Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
  • Museo de Arte Contemporáneo
  • Museo de Arte y Diseño de Miramar
  • Museo Casa Blanca,
  • Though not a museum, the Santurce neighborhood has some street art in its buildings.

These museums are home to expansive art collections from the Caribbean that showcase colonial possessions housed in Spanish-influenced architectural structures.

The Art Museum has around 24 exhibition galleries and offers guided tours. However, a museum that is worth a visit as it doesn’t get as crowded is Casa Blanca (White House) Museum.

Casa Blanca is tucked away along the city wall in Old San Juan near El Morro. Built in 1521, Casa Blanca served as Juan Ponce de Leon’s residence, and it has gardens, rooms with ocean views, and furniture from the time.

Take a Day Trip from San Juan

San Juan, Puerto Rico, is a great Caribbean beach destination that offers many things to do during a visit. However, there are a few day trips from San Juan that should be added to a visitor’s bucket list of the island.

El Yunque National Rainforest

Photo Credit: Dennis van de Water

For nature lovers, visitors can go hiking in the El Yunque Rainforest near the Río Grande. This tropical rainforest has about 29 thousand acres of land with hiking trails, rivers, and waterfalls.

Ziplining

Photo Credit: Toro Verde Adventure Park

For adventure seekers, Zi4pline Tours in Puerto Rico offers adventures in Toro Verde in the mountain region of Orocovis. It has the most extensive zipline system in the Caribbean and suspension bridges, hiking trails, rappelling, and rock climbing.

Microbreweries

Photo Credit: CreatoraLab

For beer lovers, Puerto Rico has a few microbreweries and specialty shops worth a visit. For example, in Caguas, there is FOK Brewing Co., where visitors can see the brewing process and eat at the restaurant on site, Cocina 727.

There is also Boqueron Brewing located in Cabo Rojo. They name their beers after natural landmarks of the island, including Boqueron (beach in Cabo Rojo) and Caja de Muerto (a tiny island off the south coast).

Take a Boat to The Island of Culebra

Photo Credit: Claudia Salgado

For small island lovers, take a boat ride to Culebra or Vieques islands (or both!). Quaint and quiet Culebra Island is located east of Puerto Rico. A boat ride can take travelers there leaving from Fajardo city.

In addition, Culebra is home to Flamenco Beach, which has been ranked as one of the top beaches worldwide thanks to its white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters.

San Juan Offers History, Beaches, and Nature

With so many things to see and do, we hope this list of the top things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico, helps you plan your trip. Use this guide as your San Juan bucket list, and there is no doubt you will have a fantastic time exploring this gorgeous Caribbean destination.

For recommendations of vacation rentals around San Juan, look no further than PR Rentals, experts in making your holiday their business.

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