Planning a trip to Puerto Rico? Any trip to this country should include a stop in Old San Juan. There’s a lot to see and do in Old San Juan, from its picturesque streets to its rich history and coastal vistas. In this travel guide, learn about the top things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and immerse yourself in Puerto Rican delights.
1. Wander the quaint, historic streets of Old San Juan with their cobblestone pavements.
Simply taking a leisurely stroll around Old San Juan, Puerto Rico’s maze of cobblestone streets, is a great way to spend some time. It’s one of the most primary and fun things to do in Old San Juan. That’s because this old section of San Juan is rich in culture and history, and it’s a pleasure to meander through.
You’ll find bustling squares, exquisite architecture, and stunning Spanish tile work throughout the city’s cobblestone streets, which have a European feel yet a distinct identity.
Moreover, you can see the antique cobblestones in San Juan reflecting the blue sparkle of the sea. Cobblestones were originally used as ballast aboard European ships in the 18th century and have since found a new use. Many blue stones on streets like Calle Cristo have been replaced, but some originals have survived.
The streets may seem tiny, but they are packed with history and very beautiful. Cafes and pubs in the neighborhood are lovely places to relax with a drink and watch the world go by. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is great for walking about and seeing sights.
You may also sign up for a walking tour if you want to learn more about the city’s history and culture. There is a local guide who can provide insight into the area and recommend tasty restaurants.
2. Visit the old forts.
San Juan National Historic Site comprises two iconic structures that oversee the city’s Old City: Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (also known as El Morro). The Spaniards constructed these forts to guard the city against attacks on land and at sea.
By exploring these two locations, you will gain a profound understanding of the country’s exciting past. In fact, it ought to be one of the top things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, especially for history buffs!
Castillo San Cristóbal protects the city’s eastern entrance. The purpose of this fort is to protect the city from land-based threats. The Spanish constructed the largest fortification in the New World here, which encompasses more than 27 acres. In this castle is the legendary Garita del Diablo, the focus of several military legends and myths on the Island.
Meanwhile, the Spanish constructed the El Morro Citadel in the 16th century for sea-based attacks. As a fortress, it ranks high among the Caribbean’s largest. Furthermore, it still features some of the original cannons in their original positions on its six-stepped floors of barracks, dungeons, and storage rooms. Moreover, the fortress of El Morro has never been taken by hostile forces.
Both forts may be visited with only one admission fee. So you can learn about the Conquistadors and the many myths and stories surrounding Puerto Rico for nearly 500 years.
3. Explore the museums in Old San Juan for a complete cultural experience.
Visiting museums is undoubtedly one of the cultural things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the rich history and culture of the Puerto Rican people. There is a museum in San Juan devoted to almost any field of interest. This includes the visual arts, the written word, the performing arts, sports, and traditional arts and crafts.
Museums in Puerto Rico showcase important historical artifacts. This is your chance to visit Casa Blanca, the home of the famous Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Furthermore, The Museo de las Américas is in a former military barracks in San Juan. Tourists will find art and cultural artifacts from Puerto Rico in this place.
Lastly, you can also see the Island’s history and culture in depth at museums like the Puerto Rico Museum of Modern Art and the Puerto Rico Sports Museum.
4. Take a walk down Fortaleza Street.
Taking a leisurely stroll along Fortaleza Street is one of the most enjoyable things in Puerto Rico. You can find it while exploring the city’s historic center. Moreover, you can never tell what artwork will hang above your head. The occasional street entertainment includes a band, dancers, and spectators.
Located at the endpoint of Fortaleza Street, La Fortaleza is the formal residence of the governor. It was initially constructed in the 16th century as a part of a massive fortress building to defend the Island.
Still, in 1846 it underwent extensive renovations. It became the official residence for the Island’s rulers. Moreover, it is one of San Juan’s most beautiful structures. Thanks to its powder blue exterior, ornate architecture, and perch on a bluff above the lake.
Gorgeous gardens and interior spaces are accessible via guided tours. What’s more, weekday tours are available, but it’s best to call ahead before going.
5. Visit the Catedral de San Juan Bautista.
One of the best things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is to visit the stunningly magnificent old Catedral de San Juan Bautista. You’ll surely enjoy staying at this place if you’re interested in architecture and history. This cathedral is located on Calle del Cristo. When it comes to churches, it is one of the oldest in the United States and the second oldest in the Americas.
After a hurricane destroyed the old wooden construction in the mid-15th century, the people erected a stone fortress which is the one you see now.
When visiting, you can enter the cathedral without spending a dime. Do not hesitate to look around at this old church’s stunning decor. Furthermore, you will find the burial of the celebrated Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León in this cathedral.
Although San Juan Cathedral lost many beautiful artworks during the colonial era, there are still amazing enough stained glass windows and artworks for many visitors.
6. Experience vibrant Puerto Rican nightlife.
One of the enjoyable things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is to check out the city’s vibrant nightlife. When the sun goes down, San Juan comes alive with clubs, pubs, and lounges serving some of the world’s finest drinks.
La Placita de Santurce is a marketplace by day and the hottest bar and restaurant scene in San Juan by night, so come on and join the party! The nearby Calle Loza is also a great place to find a wide variety of dining options. It is gradually becoming a vibrant nightlife hub.
When night falls, people flock to the alleys of Old San Juan. The streets come alive with the neon and string lights of South Fortaleza and Calle San Sebastián.
7. Explore the old graves at San Juan’s cemetery.
Visitors can find the Old San Juan Cemetery outside of El Morro. One of the most lovely things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is to visit this cemetery. Constructed on a bluff above the water midway between El Morro and San Cristobal, the cemetery is worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.
Many notable San Juan residents are buried in what is formally known as Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery. It is rich in white stones that sparkle in the sunlight against the ocean’s deep blue.
The people in the nineteenth century built this odd burial ground. Because of the Spaniards’ extreme apprehension of death, they constructed it beyond the city walls. The superstitious idea that the dead began their journey to the “great beyond” is the source of the building’s seaside position.
The cemetery’s location is fitting, which is near the water. Because for many, it represents the dawn of infinity. A tunnel leads to the cemetery’s entrance. Visitors can stroll among the graves when the cemetery opens and see the tiny chapel.
8. Go hiking and swimming in El Yunque.
Including a day excursion to the El Yunque rainforest in any list of things to do in Old San Juan is obligatory. A day trip to El Yunque is an attractive option for anyone visiting Old San Juan. This luxuriant forest has 240 tree species and over 29,000 acres and features waterfalls, rivers, and freshwater pools.
Wildlife opportunities include seeing lizards, singing coqui frogs, and the scarlet-crowned Puerto Rican parrot. Furthermore, waterfalls and rock pools provide a refreshing dip after a day of hiking.
In addition, there is a trip up the Yokahu Viewing Tower, which is a well-liked activity. It is a true architectural marvel at an astounding 1,575 feet in height.
Yokahu Viewing Tower is reminiscent of a Scottish castle. It provides breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding green hills and turquoise seas.
9. Shop for Old San Juan’s souvenirs.
Shopping is one of the primary things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. You can find lovely little boutiques full of art, crafts, and apparel. There are also jewelry and souvenirs for your delight.
Old San Juan is where you’ll discover most of the Island’s unique and beautiful handicrafts. So make the most of your time there while you are there. Plus, make sure to buy some quality guayabera, the classic four-pocket Cuban linen shirt for men.
You can find everything from wooden saint figurines to distinctive vejigante masks, making the city a treasure trove for souvenir hunters.
10. Have some pina colada and mofongo.
Try some mofongo and a pina colada when you’re in Puerto Rico. It’s one of the most essential things to do in Old San Juan!
Beloved by many, especially the locals, Puerto Ricans make mofongo from mashed green plantains, garlic, and crispy pork rind.
When cooking, the mixture is rolled into balls. Meat, poultry, or fish are common additions. Most tourists will find the best Mofongos in two eateries. El Jibarito (famous for its unique Puerto Rican dishes) and Café Manolin (a simple cafeteria-style Old San Juan institution) serve some of the tastiest mofongos in Old San Juan.
Moreover, you must never leave Puerto Rico without having a sip of a pina colada. Old San Juan is the birthplace of the pina colada. In the 1950s, a bartender at the Caribe Hilton combined rum and pineapple juice to make the first pina colada. Now, it represents Puerto Rico’s official cocktail.
To sample this famous cocktail, you need to visit Caribe Hilton. It is halfway between historic Old San Juan and the beachfront neighborhood of Condado. It serves some of the best pina coladas in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is a vibrant country. It is full of history, incredible artwork, beautiful places, and sumptuous dishes. As a traveler, you can see many attractions and things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Now is the time to start making plans to visit this beautiful country.