Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (2022) – All You Need to Know

Are you wondering if you should visit Old San Juan during your trip to Puerto Rico?

I spent over a month in Old San Juan as a tourist before living there for three years.

In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about Old San Juan: 

What is Old San Juan?  
Where is Old San Juan located?  
What is the best way to get to Old San Juan as a tourist?  
What is so special about Old San Juan?  
Can you walk around Old San Juan?  
What is the difference between San Juan and Old San Juan?  
Tips to help you decide how to spend your time between San Juan and Old San Juan  
History of Old San Juan
Is Old San Juan worth visiting?

 

What is Old San Juan?

Old San Juan is an area of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

San Juan is the Capital of Puerto Rico, which contains other areas outside of Old San Juan. 

Old San Juan was built by the Spanish in 1521, making it the second-oldest European settlement in the Americas.

image of narrow street in old san juan with tall trees
Image of a street in Old San Juan with European style buildings.

Old San Juan is home to the San Juan Cruise Port Terminal, which sees visits from the largest cruise ships in the world.

If you are visiting the island on a cruise that docks here, you will have walking access to all the Old San Juan attractions.

image showing the aerial view of Old San Juan
Image showing the aerial view of Old San Juan.

Be aware that there is an additional cruise ship terminal, Pan American Pier, just outside Old San Juan, located near the Puerto Rico Convention Center. If you are on a cruise that docks here, you will need to take a ten-minute taxi or Uber into Old San Juan.

Below is a walk-through tour video of Old San Juan:

 

Where is Old San Juan located?

Old San Juan is on the western portion of Isla San Juan, an island located on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. 

It is connected to the main island of Puerto Rico by three bridges that connect from Condado.

Below is a Google Map showing the exact location of Old San Juan:

 

What is the best way to get to Old San Juan as a tourist?

Uber is the easiest way to get to Old San Juan.

Street parking can be nearly impossible to find, especially on weekends.

If the traffic into Old San Juan is hefty, you can get out of the Uber in front of Walgreens on Brumbaugh Street to avoid wasting time sitting in the car.

image showing the aerial view of Old San Juan
Image showing the aerial view of Old San Juan.

Many tourists and locals opt to use rental scooters through the Skootel app. This is a fun, affordable option if you’re staying in the Condado area.

If you opt to ride a scooter into Old San Juan, I recommend following the green bicycle paths on either Avenida de la Constitución or Avenida Muñoz Rivera.

Avenida Muñoz Rivera has a large hill but is very scenic, following along the ocean and past the Puerto Rico Capitol building.

image showing the Puerto Rico Capitol building
Image showing the Puerto Rico capitol building.

If you are trying to get to Old San Juan from the SJU airport, a taxi is the most hassle-free option. As soon as you walk out the doors from baggage claim, there is a taxi stand. The taxis are pricier than an Uber and require cash payment, but you’ll be quickly on your way.

If you decide to drive into Old San Juan, my favorite lot is La Puntilla Parking for its cheap rates. It’s usually less than $5 for an all-day parking rate.

 

What is so special about Old San Juan?

Not only is Old San Juan beautiful, but it is also rich in history and culture.

Plenty of destinations offer visitors a chance to escape their daily lives, but Old San Juan will make you feel like you’ve been transported to another era.

As you walk the blue cobblestone streets, taking in the lively architecture, you’ll realize why Puerto Rico is named La Isla del Encanto, or the Island of Enchantment.

Whether you are a professional or hobbyist photographer, Old San Juan’s striking colors will provide you with stunning surroundings to document your trip.

image showing the colorful street in Old San Juan
Image showing the colorful street houses in Old San Juan.

 

Can you walk around Old San Juan?

Old San Juan is a great walking city, and I’d highly recommend planning to experience it on foot. In fact, being able to walk everywhere was one of my favorite parts of living there.

The cobblestone roads are uneven, so wear a comfortable pair of shoes. The elevation increases as you head north, and some areas are very steep. If you have difficulty walking or are traveling with someone who does, Uber is another option for exploring Old San Juan.

image showing the colorful street in Old San Juan
Image showing the colorful street in Old San Juan.

 

What is the difference between San Juan and Old San Juan?

Old San Juan is a neighborhood within the city of San Juan.

Old San Juan was first built by the Spanish in the early 16th Century. 

San Juan is made up of several areas, including Puerta de Tierra, Miramar, Condado, Ocean Park, Hato Rey and Río Piedras.

 

Tips to help you decide how to spend your time between San Juan and Old San Juan

Beaches: Old San Juan does not have any beaches per se. There’s a beach just by the entrance of Old San Juan called Escambron Beach.

You can also head to Condado or Ocean Park. If you want to paddleboard, the Condado Lagoon is a picturesque, calm spot with rentals available. You may even spot a manatee.

image of the Condado Lagoon
Image of the Condado Lagoon in San Juan.

Dining: There are a variety of dining options inside and outside of Old San Juan. Check out my article, 35 best restaurants in Puerto Rico for ideas.

Nightlife: You can enjoy a night out in Old San Juan or the nearby area. If you opt to stay in Old San Juan, San Sebastian Street is an energetic strip of different bars and nightclubs, each with a unique vibe.

Pictured is La Taberna Lupulo, my favorite bar for beers on draft.

image showing the San Sebastian Street in Old San Juan
Image of a busy street night near La Taberna Lupulo on San Sebastian Street in Old San Juan.

For nightlife outside of Old San Juan, Loíza Street and McLeary Ave are both lined with trendy bars.

image of the La Placita in Santurce
Image of La Placita in Santurce, San Juan.

Lodging: If you want to play the role of Hunter S. Thompson in The Rum Diary, Old San Juan offers hotels and Airbnbs in an array of historical architectural styles. However, if your desire is to lounge by the pool at a beach resort, check out Condado or Isla Verde.

 

History of Old San Juan

Built by Spanish colonists in 1521, Old San Juan is the second-oldest European settlement in the Americas.

Tourists can visit the forts surrounding Old San Juan, with Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro, being the largest and most popular.

image showing the aerial view of Castillo San Felipe
Image showing the aerial view of Castillo San Felipe in Old San Juan.

Old San Juan is home to numerous other historic sites, including La Fortaleza, the official residence of Puerto Rico’s governor, San Juan Cathedral, known as the oldest cathedral in the United States, and Paseo de La Princesa, a boardwalk extending along the southern city wall of Old San Juan.

It is usually saturated with vendors selling local treats and crafts.

image of Paseo de La Princesa
Image of Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan.

 

Is Old San Juan worth visiting?

Even if you only have a few hours to spare in your vacation schedule, Old San Juan is worth experiencing.

For longer stays, with its unique architecture, historical forts, diverse restaurants, and shopping, there is plenty to keep you busy.

However, if you are planning an extended vacation to Puerto Rico, I recommend that you branch out from the Old San Juan locale. While it is a unique area that contributes to Puerto Rico’s charm, many tourists neglect to see the rest of the island, which has so much to offer.

 

Final thoughts

In this article, I provided a basic guide for planning your trip to Old San Juan.

The best thing about Old San Juan is that it doesn’t require much planning. It’s perfect for the spontaneous traveler who likes to do whatever appeals to them at the moment.

And with so many historical sites, plazas, shops, and cafes, you’ll find something that appeals to you.

If you’re the person in your group that calls an Uber to go a few blocks, trust me, Old San Juan is worth discovering on foot.

You can call an Uber later, but while you’re in Old San Juan, lace up your walking shoes to explore one of the most charming places in the Caribbean.

If you are looking for fun activities, then check out our article where we cover the 45 best things to do in Puerto Rico.

Also, if you need help deciding where to stay, then check out our article where we discuss the 13 best places & areas to stay in Puerto Rico.

Article by

Erin Reynolds

Writer at PuertoRico.com. After graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, I was stationed on a patrol boat in Puerto Rico. I responded to Hurricane Irma and Maria, delivering relief supplies. Then, I worked as an Emergency Management Specialist, coordinating with local partners to develop contingency exercises. Now, I spend my time in Puerto Rico with my husband and two dogs, exploring the island and finding all the best things to do, which I share in my articles!

About the author

Find the best things to do
by interest