Looking to get the most out of your visit to Old San Juan?
Centuries of history and architecture are condensed in this vibrant hub, allowing sightseers to easily experience it all on foot.
As someone who lived in Old San Juan for three years, I can attest to it being Puerto Rico’s most visited city for good reason.
From free fun to experiences worth splurging on, below are the 35 best things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico:
El Morro is Old San Juan’s most iconic structure.
The Spanish fort was built in the 16th century to protect the city from enemy attacks.
Guests can enter the fort to learn more about its history and enjoy the unbeatable views of the Atlantic Ocean.
There is a small entry fee, which includes access to Castillo San Cristóbal, for adults and free for children.
For more information, read our article El Morro – All You Need To Know.
On your visit to El Morro, you’re certain to see the sky teeming with kites.
Don’t want to travel with a kite? No worries. Vendors sell them around the massive lawn in front of the fort.
Thanks to the lawn’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, there is always a substantial breeze.
El Morro’s lawn is the ideal location to relax and take in some of the most stunning views in Old San Juan.
If you love getting outdoors, read up on our 15 Best Outdoor Activities In Puerto Rico.
Paseo del Morro is a bayside path along the fortress walls and a popular hangout spot for the local cats.
The scenic route is great for travelers who don’t like to miss a run.
From Paseo del Morro, you can climb a set of stairs to access the main fortress lawn. The path continues to a short dirt trail that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzi Cemetery.
The distance from the San Juan Gate to El Morro is approximately ¾ mile.
Below is a photo of one of the many cats I’ve met in Old San Juan.
Save a Gato is an organization that helps care for and manage the population of cats in Old San Juan.
Their building is located adjacent to Paseo del Morro, making the area a popular hangout with the local felines.
If you are crazy about cats, you can see an entire colony of them lounging along Paseo del Morro as well as Caleta de las Monjas, one of the streets leading to El Morro.
Their presence makes for a unique brand of wildlife photography. Of course, always be careful around stray animals.
Learn more fun facts about the island in our article 30 Travel Tips For Visiting Puerto Rico.
La Puerta de San Juan, or The San Juan Gate, served as the entrance to the city during the Spanish colonization period.
The large red gate is a popular spot for photographs.
Visitors can get to the gate by walking along Paseo del Morro. The gate is also accessible internally from Caleta de San Juan.
Learn more about the history of Old San Juan in our guide to the History Of Puerto Rico.
Like El Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal is part of the San Juan National Historic Site.
The fortress contains La Garita del Diablo, or The Devil’s Sentry Box. Legends about this sentry box claim that soldiers would disappear from inside.
It is about a 15-minute walk from El Morro to Castillo San Cristóbal along Calle Norzagaray. I recommend visiting each site since the admission fee includes both.
The best way to learn about Old San Juan’s history is to see it up close.
On a walking tour, your guide will expertly weave you through Old San Juan’s streets so that you can learn about the city’s most famous landmarks.
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Photo credit: @osjfreetour
Old San Juan Free Walking Tour offers a two-hour tour. The tour is free, but a $10 tip is recommended.
What’s better than a walking tour? A walking tour with food! Get to know Puerto Rico’s history and culture through its cuisine and cocktails.
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Video Credit: @flavorsfoodtours
Flavors Food Tours is a company that offers several different tasting experiences.
Still hungry? Check out our 3 Best Local Food Tours in Puerto Rico article.
Get hands-on in a cooking class. Learn about Puerto Rican food, and take what you learn back home with you.
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Photo credit: @thespoonexperience
Imagine returning from vacation and impressing your friends and families with delicious new recipes.
The Spoon Experience offers cooking classes for beginner and intermediate chefs.
Interested in the darker side of Old San Juan’s history?
If so, you might enjoy the San Juan Ghost Walk.
I did the evening walking tour with a large group of friends.
It was a fun way to experience the city’s folklore and ghost stories.
For tour details and booking information, check out the San Juan Ghost Walk website.
If you love to shop, you won’t be disappointed by Old San Juan’s diverse collection of stores.
Whether you’re looking for something specific or simply enjoy browsing, you can spend an entire day checking out all the local wares.
Boutiques, arts and crafts, and gift shops are concentrated along Fortaleza Street and San Francisco Street, but you can find shopping all throughout Old San Juan.
If you’re a cigar connoisseur, The Cigar House and Casa de Montecristo are two cigar lounges with lots of character.
Old San Juan is the perfect urban landscape for professional and amateur photographers alike.
It’s brightly colored buildings, cobblestone streets, and lively outdoor vendors create a distinctive opportunity for capturing the island’s spirit through a camera lens.
Too much work? Hire a professional photographer for a session so all you have to do is smile.
For more inspiration, read our article about the Best Places to Take Pictures in Puerto Rico.
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is located on Calle del Cristo in Old San Juan.
Originally built in 1521, the 500-year-old basilica houses the remains of conquistador Juan Ponce de León.
Marvel at the historical architecture and beautiful stained glass windows as you stroll by, or participate in mass.
For more information, visit the Cathedral’s website.
Capilla del Cristo is a small chapel and museum located at the edge of Calle del Cristo.
I first noticed the chapel during my time in the Coast Guard as our ship pulled into port. One of the locals shared its lore with me:
During a horse race, a rider fell from the wall but survived. Capilla del Cristo was built at the site in honor of the miracle.
The museum is open on weekends during the afternoon.
My favorite way to see Old San Juan is from the bay.
The first time I came to Puerto Rico was by ship. I was captivated by the silhouette of buildings atop the impressive El Morro walls.
Take a San Juan Bay sunset cruise to delight in the waterside vision of the city.
Sip on a drink while spotting landmarks and basking in ultimate relaxation.
Because the water inside the bay is calm, it’s unlikely seasickness will be an issue.
For some more ideas on how to spend time on the water, check out our 10 Best Catamaran Charters article.
Paseo de la Princesa is a popular walkway just a few steps from the cruise ship terminal.
It is lined with booths selling food and souvenirs and leads to Raíces Fountain. The historical fountain is especially beautiful at night when its lights are activated.
Also along the promenade is Parque Infantil del Niño, a small statue garden and play area for children.
During the holidays, Paseo de la Princesa is decorated with extravagant lights.
Learn more in our guide to the Paseo de la Princesa.
Try a variety of classic Puerto Rican foods from the trucks along Dársenas Square.
Dársenas Square is located along the bay, adjacent to the cruise ship terminal.
You can munch on local favorites such as empanadas, alcapurrias, and monstrous tripleta sandwiches with an immediate view of the water.
The food trucks are the perfect budget-friendly choice for a quick bite on the way to your next stop.
Check out the best street foods in San Juan in the following video:
La Casa del Libro is a small gift shop and museum containing numerous historic manuscripts.
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Photo credit: @casadellibropr
Part of its collection includes documents related to Christopher Columbus’ second voyage.
La Casa del Libro offers guided tours and workshops to groups upon request.
For more information, visit the La Casa del Libro website.
Museo de las Américas features historical and cultural exhibits from the American continent.
A trip to the museum is a great way to escape the heat while enriching your vacation.
The museum is located across from El Morro on the second floor of Cuartel de Ballajá, the courtyard pictured above. The admission fee is only a few dollars.
For more information, check out our article 12 Best Museums In Puerto Rico.
Did you know Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León was the first governor of Puerto Rico?
Casa Blanca, originally built as his home, now serves as a museum.
A secluded garden provides a peaceful rest area. If you love old architecture and ocean views, the museum is worth a visit.
Located on Calle San Sebastián, Casa Blanca is open Tuesday through Sunday.
Operating hours are 8:30 am to 4:00 pm with an hour-long noon closure. There is a few dollars admission fee.
Seeking a more adventurous way to see Old San Juan? Consider a helicopter tour.
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Puerto Rico Helitours is located on Pier 8. To reach it, cross the short walking bridge near the seahorse statue at the end of the main boardwalk.
For our anniversary, my husband and I did “The Enchanted Shore Tour,” which took us over Old San Juan and Isla Verde. Other tours include different flight lengths and even a tasting tour.
For reservations, check out the Puerto Rico Helitours website.
Did you know that the Piña Colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico?
The famous Caribbean drink originated on the island, though there is some debate about who is credited with its invention.
One of the possible birthplaces is the restaurant Barrachina in Old San Juan. At its entrance, a plaque claims the location as the home of the Piña Colada.
Regardless, the rum beverage is a delicious accessory to your tropical vacation.
Learn more in our article Barrachina Restaurant – Honest Review.
Mofongo is Puerto Rico’s most famous dish.
It is made from mashed plantains and typically stuffed with meat or seafood.
Plenty of restaurants in Old San Juan have mofongo on the menu, but I recommend visiting El Jibarito, Café Manolín, or Raíces.
A trip to Puerto Rico isn’t complete without trying the island’s beloved cuisine.
Check out my article 35 Best Restaurants In Puerto Rico for more.
Originally built as “The Fortress,” La Fortaleza now serves as the Puerto Rico governor’s mansion.
Visitors can view La Fortaleza from Fortaleza Street.
Fortaleza Street is known as the famous “Umbrella Street” due to the colorful hanging umbrellas overhead.
The umbrellas have since been replaced by other decorations, which change from time to time.
For more information or to schedule a tour, visit the Fortaleza website.
San Sebastián Street is my top choice for drinks in Old San Juan.
It is lined with a diverse collection of bars and restaurants. Everything is within a short half-mile stretch, making it ideal for bar hopping with friends.
San Sebastián Street offers cheap beers, luxurious cocktails, dominos, dancing, and more.
This street is home of a popular annual festival that takes place in late January every year in Old San Juan. Read all about it in our list of Public Holidays & Celebrations In Puerto Rico article.
Parque de las Palomas, or Pigeon Park, is great for a brief stop while exploring Old San Juan.
Located next door to Capillo del Cristo, the park offers a shady area with an excellent view of the water. Of course, it also has a ton of pigeons.
Nearby street vendors sell dried corn, so you spend a few minutes feeding the local birds.
Plaza Colon is one of several famous squares in Old San Juan.
Historically, the plaza served as the main city gate.
When San Juan was surrounded entirely by walls, Plaza Colon connected it to the rest of Puerto Rico.
Today, the area contains restaurants, cafes, and shopping. It’s also home to the 200-year-old Tapia Theater, which continues to operate.
Plaza de Armas is another one of the main squares in Old San Juan.
San Juan City Hall sits at the northern end of the plaza.
On the west end lies the Puerto Rico Department of State.
The fountain in the center of the square is a frequent location for street performances. Grab a coffee from one of the nearby kiosks and relax on one of the plaza’s many benches.
El Capitolio de Puerto Rico is a symbol of liberty and houses the island’s Legislative Assembly.
The impressive domed structure is located just outside the Old San Juan area.
The Capitol Building is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. You can view the Puerto Rico Constitution as well as the mosaic artwork on the building’s dome.
Learn more in our article The Capitol Building – All You Need To Know.
Schedule a guided tour in advance by calling 787-721-5200, ext. 301, or emailing [email protected].
La Casa Estrecha, which means The Narrow House, is the city’s skinniest historical landmark.
Designed to fit inside an old alleyway, the home is a true architectural marvel.
Even though the two-story building may be a tight squeeze, its balcony offers a grand view of the bay below.
Check out the La Casa Estrecha for updates on tour hours and contact information.
El Convento is a Carmelite convent turned luxury hotel.
The historic landmark on Cristo Street is worth visiting even if you choose not to stay as a guest.
Have a cocktail at the Alegría Patio Bar or stay for dinner at Santísimo Restaurant. Both are open-air and overlook the patio.
Check out the El Convento website for more information.
If you visit El Morro, be sure to see Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.
The cemetery contains the graves of famous Puerto Rican residents. Its elaborate memorials against the stunning seaside backdrop create a lovely site for appreciation and reflection.
The front gates are accessible by walking through the tunnel on the edge of the El Morro field. You can also view the cemetery from one of El Morro’s many wall platforms.
Read more in our guide to Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.
Salsa dancing is a huge part of Puerto Rican culture.
Local salsa hotspots include La Factoría on San Sebastián Street and Nuyorican Café on San Francisco Street.
Don’t worry if you’re completely new to salsa. You can find plenty of beginner classes. I recommend the “Learn Salsa in Paradise” class. It is held outside in Luis Muñoz Marin Park, ten minutes from Old San Juan.
Read more in our article Where To Dance Salsa In San Juan.
Coffee is a staple of Puerto Rican culture.
Old San Juan offers plenty of venues to taste the strong, sweet flavors of a local cup of joe.
Caficultura, Cuatro Sombras, Café Cola’o, and Spiga are a few local hotspots to check out.
Like so many, I try to save money by making coffee at home.
Living in Puerto Rico, with so many fantastic cafes, makes it extremely difficult. If you’re visiting, go ahead and splurge on that café con leche.
If you want to visit the farm where your coffee is grown, check out our article 5 Best Coffee Farms & Tours.
Bioluminescent Bays contain high concentrations of bioluminescent plankton. These plankton emit light at night when disturbed.
When you kayak in a bio bay at night, the plankton move and emit light. This creates the magical effect of glowing water.
Laguna Grande is one of three bio bays in Puerto Rico. It is located about an hour east of Old San Juan. Transportation is provided to and from Old San Juan for certain tours.
To learn more, check out our article about Puerto Rico’s Bioluminescent Bays.
Start by visiting Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal, the city’s most iconic structures. After, take to the cobblestone streets for food, drinks, and shopping. Just walking around, you’ll be able to see historical landmarks, including Plaza de Armas, Plaza Colón, La Fortaleza, El Convento, and more.
You can enjoy the best of Old San Juan on foot at no cost. The “GPSmyCity” app offers maps containing Old San Juan sightseeing destinations so that you can take yourself on a free self-guided tour.
For a fun nighttime experience in Old San Juan, book a sunset cruise on the bay or take the San Juan Ghost Tour. Alternatively, bar-hopping along the diverse bars, clubs, and lounges on Calle San Sebastián is always a good time.
My favourite thing to do in Old San Juan is to visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro and learn about Puerto Rico’s history.
I also recommend venturing out of Old San Juan to Laguna Grande to experience the magical bioluminescent bay.
If you are still looking for more activities, then check out our article 45 Best Things To Do In Puerto Rico.
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!