Planning what to see and do in San Juan is made easy with this handy guide. The capital city of Puerto Rico attracts the summer crowd with its golden beaches, tropical vibe, and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

    Founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, the city has rich culture and history in the form of 16th-century fortifications, monuments, and interesting museums. You can also find plenty of modern attractions, including multi-storey malls offering international brands. We’ve also included suggestions on the best places to eat and party, so you’ll have plenty to do in San Juan from morning until night.

    What are the best things to do in San Juan?

    1

    San Juan National Historic Site (Sitio Histórico de San Juan)

    Visit the city’s historic landmarks in a day

    • History
    • Photo

    San Juan National Historic Site (Sitio Histórico de San Juan) is a massive fortress on a promontory overlooking San Juan Bay. While the site was established as a national park in 1949 (and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983), most of the fortifications date back between the 16th and 18th centuries.

    Some of the most iconic landmarks within the 30.3-hectare complex include Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo de San Cristobal, and the Fort Saint John of the Cross (Fortín San Juan de la Cruz). You can explore numerous barracks, bastions, powder magazines, dungeons, and turrets – great for experiencing how soldiers lived and worked in the fortress over 500 years ago.

    Location: San Juan, 00926, Puerto Rico

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +1 787-729-6960

    Map
    2

    Castillo de San Cristóbal

    Learn about San Juan’s history at the largest fort in the New World

    • History
    • Photo

    Castillo de San Cristóbal is an important Spanish fortification in Old San Juan. Part of the UNESCO-listed San Juan National Historic Site (Sitio Histórico Nacional de San Juan), your entry ticket to the area includes both this landmark and Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

    Castillo de San Cristóbal dates back to 1783 and is the largest Spanish fort in the New World. It has several guerites (sentry boxes) used by watchmen guarding the city of San Juan. It’s believed that many soldiers disappeared when stationed at La Garita del Diablo, one of the oldest parts of the fort.

    Location: 501 Bulevar del Valle, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +1 787-449-4049

    Map
    3

    San Juan beaches

    Swim, sunbathe and get active at Puerto Rico’s picturesque beaches

    • Photo
    • Budget

    San Juan beaches can meet just about everyone’s needs, whether they’re into active or relaxing pursuits. You can find miles of golden sand backing the Atlantic Ocean, giving you ample space for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying water sports.

    Condado Beach is the main stretch of San Juan, just 5 km east of the UNESCO-listed San Juan National Historic Site. You can find plenty of beachfront resorts offering umbrellas and sun loungers for rent. If you’re into surfing and snorkelling, Escambron Beach is your best choice.

    4

    Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista

    A 16th-century cathedral in Old San Juan

    • History
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista was established in 1540, making it one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas. It’s built in the Gothic style, with stained-glass windows and an ornate golden ceiling.

    The Roman Catholic cathedral hosts the mummified remains of the Roman martyr Saint Pio. You can also check out the tomb of Ponce de León, the Spanish explorer who founded San Juan in 1508. Catedral Basilica Menor de San Juan Bautista is in Old San Juan, within walking distance of notable landmarks like Casa Blanca and La Fortaleza.

    Location: 151 C. del Cristo, San Juan, 00902, Puerto Rico

    Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 4 pm, Sunday from 8 am to 1 pm (closed on Saturdays)

    Phone: +1 787-722-0861

    Map

    photo by Kamilokardona (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    5

    Plaza del Mercado de Santurce

    A traditional market southwest of Condado Beach

    • Shoppers
    • Food

    Plaza del Mercado de Santurce is San Juan’s traditional marketplace, where you can shop for fresh produce and daily necessities. It occupies a square in central Santurce, with a market hall housing dozens of produce stalls selling local fruits and vegetables. You can find unique, locally grown produce like caimitos (star apples), quenépas (Spanish limes), and guanabanas (soursops).

    Plaza del Mercado de Santurce has several botánicas (“plant stores” in Spanish) selling folk medicine, religious items, herbs, and candles. You can have your fortunes told by professional card/palm readers. On weekends, the square gets very lively with live music and salsa dancing.

    Location: 1348 José M. Raffucci Morales, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 6 am to 5 pm (closed on Sundays)

    Phone: +1 787-307-1364

    Map

    photo by Moebiusuibeom-en (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    6

    Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera

    Enjoy a wide range of recreational activities

    • Couples
    • Families
    • History
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera is a massive park in San Juan’s Puerta de Tierra neighbourhood. Within its 11-hectare space, you can find an arboretum, playground, botanical garden, art gallery, outdoor pavilion, and museum. Entry is free, making it a popular spot for unwinding after sightseeing in the city.

    You can enjoy leisurely strolls in Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera, passing by flowerbeds, trees, murals, fountains, and sculptures of notable figures. A must-see is the Polvorín de San Gerónimo, an 18th-century powder magazine that hosts art exhibitions and a replica of the US Liberty Bell.

    Location: Av. Luis Muñoz Rivera, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico

    Map

    photo by Ian Poellet (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    7

    San Juan museums and art galleries

    Learn about the city through art, literature, and culture

    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    Museums and art galleries in San Juan offer interesting exhibits about Puerto Rico, from history, art and music to literature and sports. Many occupy historic buildings, such as Museo Casa Blanca (Juan Ponce de León’s main residence) and Museo de las Américas in the Cuartel de Ballajá military barracks.

    Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico display works from talented artists based in Puerto Rico, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Families may enjoy Museo del Nino for its science exhibits, soft play sections, go-kart racetrack, and nature trail.

    8

    Plaza Las Américas

    Modern shopping mall with over 250 brands

    • Families
    • Shoppers

    Plaza Las Américas is one of the largest shopping malls in San Juan. It has more than 250 stores, several American department stores, and dozens of sit-down restaurants. It’s a great place to visit, especially on overcast days in San Juan.

    You can shop for fashion, electronics, and homewares at Macy’s, JCPenney and Sears. Plaza Las Américas offers plenty of international brands, such as Adidas, Banana Republic, Foot Locker, Clarks, and Michael Kors. There’s also a 15-screen cinema and a large food court, along with opticians, beauty parlours, and hair salons.

    Location: 525 Av. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, San Juan, 00918, Puerto Rico

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 9 am to 9 pm, Sunday from 11 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 787-767-5202

    Map

    photo by Moebiusuibeom-en (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    9

    Calle Loíza

    A foodie hub in central Santurce

    • Food
    • Nightlife

    Calle Loíza is a vibrant neighbourhood in Santurce, just south of Condado Beach. Its main thoroughfare is popular with foodies, thanks to the diversity of restaurants, cafés, bars, and nightclubs. Enjoy authentic local dishes at Cueva del Mar, Molinis Café or Bebo's Café. If you’re craving comfort food like pizza and pasta, check out Loíza 205 or Piola.

    After finishing your meal, spend some time exploring Calle Loíza’s boutiques and street murals. There’s even an open-air library that stocks books in various languages.

    Map

    photo by The Eloquent Peasant (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    10

    La Placita de Santurce

    Market by day, salsa epicentre by night

    • Nightlife

    La Placita de Santurce occupies the same square as San Juan’s traditional market – Plaza del Mercado de Santurce. It’s one of the liveliest nightlife hubs in the city, especially from Thursdays through Sundays. 

    Dozens of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs surround La Placita de Santurce, so you can immediately enjoy drinks and late-night fun after dinner. It’s very popular with locals, so the social vibe is definitely fun and friendly. Live music and salsa dancing take place from around 6 pm until late.

    Location: 111 C. dos Hermanos, San Juan, 00907, Puerto Rico

    Phone: +1 787-307-1364

    Map

    photo by Šarūnas Burdulis (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveler

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