Best San Juan Attractions and Points of Interest In 2019-2020
Read on for our list of best San Juan attractions in 2019-2020 -capital and major tourist city in Puerto Rico. Don't rush your stay in San Juan! There are so many attractions to see that you will need to spend some time. Visit magnificent landscaped gardens, stroll down an iconic ancient street. See an art museum and soak up history at a military fortification that rises up from the sea. Sip Rum at a world famous distillery and then take a romantic stroll down a walkway built for a princess.
Lovers of architecture can admire Colonial buildings, ancient city walls and city gates. Eat traditional food and dance the night away at a vibrant and colorful street festival. The Caribbean vibe will remain with you for years to come and these San Juan points of interest will make your vacation the best!
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Top San Juan Puerto Rico Activities
San Juan Bay - Bahía de San Juan
The picture-perfect Bay of San Juan will delight ocean lovers, historians and those with a taste for Rum. The Bay is the focal point of the town, surrounded by numerous iconic landmarks and neighborhoods filled with culture and tradition. This is a San Juan attraction that must be on your bucket list.
Stop at the imposing fortresses that stand on either side of the mouth. Then set off to El Morro, where you can wander around the ancient cobblestone streets. The Cruz Fort, located in the Islas de Cabras National Park will thrill historians, but be aware that you can only explore the outer limits, the inside is not open to the public. Take photos and then head to the Bacardi Rum Visitor Center where you can sample this famous brand at its source. The Bay, that is one of the best San Juan points of interest is the perfect point to set off on a sailing cruise. Enjoy with a group of friends or take a loved one on a romantic evening sail as the sun sets.
San Juan National Historic Site - Sitio Histórico Nacional de San Juan
Steeped in history, the San Juan National Historic Site is a fascinating San Juan attraction that will make for a fabulous day outing. This imposing venue rises up from the sea, surrounded by crashing waves and landscaped gardens.
After the Spanish discover the New World, they built the massive Castillo San Cristobal with a view to stopping attacks from the inland side. This is Puerto Rico’s biggest fortification site. The magnificent grounds cover 27 acres and can be explored by visitors. Then see how the Island was protected from sea attacks, when you climb the Castillo San Felibe del Morro built over 250 years ago. Visit the restored lighthouse, the vintage cannons and the lovely chapel. Take a tour with a local guide and learn about the battles fought against the Dutch and British. End your day relaxing while you admire the panoramic view over the harbor.
La Fortaleza (Palacio de Santa Catalina)
The next San Juan attraction to explore is the beautiful La Fortaleza with the Palacio de Santa Catalina. It was built in 1533 to defend the harbor of San Juan and today is the residence of Governor of Puerto Rico and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Palace is known for its stunning blue and white Wedgewood style colors and takes your breath away as you approach from the Old Town. Manicured Moorish style gardens with fountains, greenery and colorful flowers create a picture-perfect scene.
The magnificent Palace stands on an iconic location called La Fortaleza which was a strategic point for the defence of the Island. Stone fortifications still rise up as imposing structures from the sea below. Take a tour and visit the dungeon and the chapel, stop at the gatehouse and then enjoy the view. Facing west, the sunsets are fabulous!
Old San Juan - Viejo San Juan
Old San Juan is one of the few perfectly preserved Spanish colonial cities in the Western hemisphere and is a fabulous San Juan attraction for the whole family to explore. Be thrilled by the ancient architecture, the pastel colored buildings, stylish wrought iron balconies and quaint churches as you stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets, up and down the hills.
Historians who love stories of battles and fortifications must see the 500 year old San Cristobal Fort and the El Morro Fort. Explore the residence of the Governor at La Fortaleza and relax in the magnificent Moorish gardens. Two iconic places of worship are located here, head north to visit the lovely white washed San José Church and then compare it to the opulent and older Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in the south. Here you can also see the tomb of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Old San Juan can be explored on a walking tour, a tour that focuses on food and a tour that will thrill Rum lovers!
Casa Bacardi - Rum Factory
Calling all adults! Savour the iconic taste of authentic Bacardi Rum at this next San Juan attraction. The Casa Bacardi, Rum Factory, produces the world's best and taking a walk around the venue is a must. Visit the distillery and learn how sugar cane is processed, blended and bottled. Visit the Cathedral of Rums and enjoy a tasting of famous names like Bacardi Carta Blanca, Bacardí Gran Reserva 8 Aoos and the rare and exclusive Casa Bacardí Special Reserve, which is not sold anywhere else in the world.
In 1830, Don Facundo Bacardi Masso immigrated to Santiago de Cuba and started a small business as a wine importer and wine merchant. He began experimenting with the distillation of rum and after many years achieved a method that changed the way rum is made, turning a local Caribbean beverage into an internationally renowned drink. Take a walk through the fascinating Museum and pick up a souvenir at the gift store. Then relax on the pavilion that has a classic bat shape and enjoy the stunning views over the Old San Juan.
Photo by Wally Gobetz
Castillo San Felipe del Morro - Morro Castle
The World Heritage Site of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Morro Castle is an imposing San Juan attraction. This massive fortification was built in the 16th century and is strategically located on the north west tip. It was built overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to protect Old San Juan and the Bay of San Juan against invasions launched from the ocean side. In more recent times, it was occupied by the USA military, from 1898 to 1961.
Rising up from the rocky shores of the ocean, the massive thick walls create an imposing sight. The citadel is surrounded by beautiful green landscaped gardens. When the wind blows these lawns become a local venue for kite flying competitions. Wander around, soak up the atmosphere and take photos, the view over the water is stunning. For something different, take a boat trip and see this amazing Fortress from the water!
Paseo de la Princesa
How about a San Juan attraction where you can pretend to be a princess strolling along a romantic walkway? Located just outside the city walls, this delightful walk must be taken with a special partner! It is steeped in old-world charm and enough beauty to impress a royal. The Avenue dates back to the 18th century and is a serene, charming setting lined with vintage street lamps, stone benches, lovely statues and shady trees. Buy some fresh fruit from the little street cars run by local vendors and admire the scenery of the glistening San Juan bay and the massive Old San Juan fortifications towering above you.
The esplanade ends at the magnificent Raíces Fountain. This huge San Juan attraction with a water feature speaks of the island’s melting pot of Taíno, Spanish and African heritage. Fun activities on the walkway take the form of a tour where you dress up in royal costumes and play out scenes from old romantic movies and plays. This may be the perfect place to ask that age-old question with a ring in your hand!
San Juan Gate - La Puerta de San Juan
In ancient times, the city of San Juan was protected by a massive wall and five gateways that were closed every night after dark, restricting access and protecting its citizens from invaders. Each gate had its own unique characteristics and today, the San Juan Gate, La Puerta de San Juan, makes a fascinating San Juan attraction. Set against the old and moss covered stone walls, its imposing red and white color offers an enchanting way to enter the city. The Gate is named after Saint John the Baptist and marks the end of the romantic esplanade known as the Paseo de la Princesa.
Local activity buzzes at the Gate with vendors selling fruit, traditional snacks and a refreshing shaved ice dessert called Piragua. Bargain for a treat and then stroll through the gate and along the street towards the historic old town. Admire the beautiful Spanish colonial homes, relax on a stone bench and enjoy the sunset over the harbor.
Castillo de San Cristobal - Fort San Cristóbal
When the Spaniards arrived in the New World in the 18th century, they set out to build a massive Fortress to protect San Juan against attacks from the inland side. Standing near to the eastern Gate is the famous San Juan attraction, Castillo de San Cristobal, Fort San Cristóbal. This ancient Fort is today part of the San Juan National Historic Site.
Be awed by this imposing structure made from stone that rises up 150 feet above the sea. It is one of two structures built for protection, the other being El Morro, which guarded against sea invasions. From the walls, there are magnificent views over the Bay. Stroll around and soak up the ambiance. Historians will be interested to learn that it helped to stop a land invasion in 1797 by Sir Ralph Abercrombie and the British Army. End your trip with a visit to the fascinating Museum, one of the best San Juan points of interest!
Museo de las Américas
Museum lovers cannot miss the next San Juan attraction, the Museo de las Américas. Spend time and get immersed in the rich culture and history of Puerto Rico and the Americas. The Museum is located near to the towering El Morro and is found inside the old Spanish Barracks, a grand three storey building that will awe you before you even get into the Museum itself!
The Museum is both a learning center and an entertainment venue. Explore the fascinating exhibits that show the history of the Island prior to the Spanish invasion. Admire the paintings and sculptures done by local folk artists, many of which are available for purchase. There are four permanent exhibitions, one covers the ancient Taino and other indigenous American tribes, one explores the slave trade, another focuses on the period up to the US invasion and the last offers a collection of art. When you are done, relax and absorb it all while enjoying some refreshments at one of the restaurants.
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista - Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista
Visiting the second oldest Cathedral in the Americas must be on your list of not-to-be-missed San Juan attractions. This amazing structure was built in 1521 from wood. It was destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt in 1540 with more renovations taking place to bring it to its current form.
The Cathedral is located in the center of San Juan and boasts a host of features including an array of religious and historical artefacts. Visit the the tomb of the notorious Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon, see relics of Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago and be awed at the mummy of St. Pio, the kids will be delighted! The building has the most beautiful stained glass windows and a decorated nave that can be explored. It is an operational Cathedral and taking part in mass will be an experience to remember for a lifetime. Services are held on Saturdays at 7 pm, Sunday at 9 and 11 am and weekdays at 7:25 am and 12:15 pm.
Capitol Building - El Capitolio de Puerto Rico
Just when you think you have run out of San Juan attractions, you will discover the awe-inspiring Capitol Building, El Capitolio de Puerto Rico, opened in 1907. Located in the center of the city, it is seat of the Legislative Assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate. It also offers a fascinating insight into the history of Puerto Rico and a fabulous look at local architecture. See the massive marble columns and be thrilled at the ornate decorative stonework and the amazing brightly colored dome, painted painstakingly by hand.
Historians will be enchanted to visit the Architecture and Construction Archives where you will see cloth sketches, rare ink sketches and original blue-print plans. Spend a day learning about the history and politics of the region in this stunning venue!
Plaza de Armas
The fabulous Plaza de Armas is a central San Juan attraction that can be explored during the day and at night! It is vibey and happening and is a meeting place for both locals and tourists. Stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. The main feature is the huge fountain in the middle of the Square, with four beautiful marble statues, each depicting one of the four seasons, summer, winter, spring and autumn. To the north is the San Juan City Hall and the famous Puerto Rico Department of State is located at the western side. The Square was established in the early 1500's and was originally called the Plaza de Iglesia.
The new name, Square of Arms, was given in the late 16th century, when the colonial governor used the site to conduct military exercises. Book lovers will be thrilled to browse the second hand book market that is a feature of the Square and at Christmas the whole place becomes a fairyland, lit up with sparkling lights!
Photo by Roger W
La Rogativa monument - Plazuela La Rogativa
For a spine tingling experience, a visit to the San Juan attraction known as the La Rogativa monument, Plazuela La Rogativa, is a must. These eerie creatures look as if they are walking towards the sea, chanting in a procession, holding crosses and torches. The bronze statue was cast by New Zealand artist, Lindsay Daen and was completed in 1971. It stands twelve feet high in the middle of the Plaza La Rogativa.
The story tells of a Catholic Bishop and his friends who marched during an invasion by the British in 1797. The British thought they were facing massive Spanish Army reinforcements and aborted the attack. Read the inscription that says 'Faith does move mountains' and ponder upon it! The plaza offers stunning 360 degree views of the Bay of San Juan and you can sit and take it all in, admiring the bravery of this small group of people.
La Muralla - The Wall
San Juan is surrounded by an ancient wall called La Muralla. Nearly four hundred years old, it was made of rock, rubble and mortar. The wall extends from the cruise ship piers to the Capitol on the Atlantic Ocean. Dotted on the wall are iconic sentry boxes that remind one of the rich Spanish heritage on the Island. The wall took two hundred years to complete and is 45 feet wide and 40 feet high in some places.
It has been subjected to attacks by the English, Dutch and the Americans which it withstood. More damaging, unfortunately, is the decay due to pollution, weather, traffic and misguided attempts to patch the wall. Historians will be interested to learn that parts of the wall fell into the Bay in 1938 and a Soviet tanker ran aground and damaged it in 1999. Don't miss this fabulous San Juan attraction, take a walk during the day and then at night for two different experiences!
Calle San Sebastian
Wild street partying in Puerto Rico is the thing to do and the Calle San Sebastian is a world famous, vibrant, noisy and colorful San Juan attraction! San Sebastián Festival takes place every year usually on the third Thursday of January through Sunday., but the street is fun to see any time of the year.
San Sebastián was a Christian who was martyred for his faith. The original festival began in the 1950's and was held to celebrate the feast day of the Saint. The event was upgraded in the 70's and is held every year attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. It takes place on the third week of January and runs from Thursday to Sunday.
Traditional music, dancing, amazing costumes, an abundance of food and drink, all add up to one major hip and happening San Juan attraction! The musicians perform on four stages around the Old City, the main one being the stage at the the Plaza del Quinto Centenario. Also expect music and dance to happen randomly and spontaneously throughout the streets, where people join in the song and dance. Enjoy the dance performances, both folk-style and modern done by professionals and party-goers. The streets are lined with food, drink and refreshment stalls and more than five hundred artisans displaying and selling their works.
Parque las Palomas - Pigeon Park
Address: Calle Tetuan, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Bird lovers who want to get up close will be delighted with our next San Juan attraction, the Parque las Palomas. This small park in the city is filled with hundreds of pigeons that can be fed and are not shy to settle on your arms, hands and head! The Park is situated at the end of Cristo Street next to Capilla del Cristo. Spend a few hours in a quiet relaxed and tranquil environment away from the noise of the city.
The Park features beautiful old trees with huge twisted trunks that are gnarled and intertwined with one another, creating a magnificent scene. The back wall is built with special cut-out holes that provide shelter for the pigeons and a unique setting for photos. Buy some bird feed from a local vendor and settle down on a stone bench, expect to be covered in birds and more! The views are also lovely over the Bay. A perfect afternoon outing.© Mihai Coman | Dreamstime.com
Parque Ventana del Mar - Window to the Sea
Address: 1054 Ashford Avenue, San Juan
Sun, sea, sand and entertainment make a perfect combination at the fabulous Parque Ventana del Mar, Window to the Sea, a stunning San Juan attraction. It is located on the upmarket section of the Island known as Condado and is a trendy, vibey place popular with locals and tourists. Stroll around the admire the stunning views, then indulge in some fun eats like the All-American Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with freshly baked waffle cones.
Kids will enjoy the play area with a fountain that is great for getting wet while you sit at a café and watch the people go by! On the last Sunday of every month, the venue rocks to the sounds of jazz at the Ventana al Jazz festival. Bring a blanket, a picnic basket and find a place to chill out and enjoy the fabulous music. For those who want to use their credit cards, explore the fancy jewelry and luxury clothing stores over the road on Ashford Avenue. Then spend a few hours being pampered at the Spa.
Photo by Ulises Jorge
Calle del Cristo
An authentic Puerto Rico Street, packed full of history, culture, traditional food and vibe is your next San Juan attraction to be explored. Calle del Cristo is all that and more! Start off at the Plaza del Totem where you will see a 40 foot tall totem pole. Wander down the street and stop to listen to local street performers playing guitars and drums. The picture-perfect scenes of tiny balconies overhanging the street and bursting with colorful pots of flowers will delight the eye and make you feel as though you are in a romantic movie scene.
Stop for lunch at the Tropical Taste Restaurant, if you cannot find it, ask a local, it is tucked away behind a little boutique! Brightly colored table cloths make a lovely setting and traditional food will tempt your taste buds. Settle down with a mojito and order some crispy conch. After lunch, stroll down to Capilla del Cristo an 18th century chapel and one of the top San Juan points of interest, at the end of the street. Pictures are a must.© Littleny | Dreamstime.com
The Poet's Passage
Address: 203 Calle De La Cruz, Old San Juan,
An adorable little stopover with a coffee shop and an art section is the next delightful San Juan attraction to be explored. This family run business preserves the history of the city in handmade crafts featuring copies of old buildings, art prints and tiles adorned with lovely poetic words. Relax in the small courtyard, enjoy coffee and fresh home made pastries and watch the people.
Then explore the art store. Buy a memento to take home, they will even custom-make something especially for you. The art captures the iconic San Juan scenes of cobblestone streets, tiny balconies with beautiful wrought iron designs, pots of flowers in colorful hues and lush gardens set inside stone courtyards. If you are really into poetry, make sure you visit on a Tuesday night, when local poets and aspiring students gather to read their creations out loud to anyone who wants to listen!
Photo by Arnob Alam
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
Art and culture lovers must set off the the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, a stunning San Juan attraction that offers an insight into the art of the region dating back to the 1500's. This is one of the largest and most well known museums in the Caribbean. It is located is a magnificent neo-classical building that offers stunning landscaped gardens outside and eighteen exhibition halls inside.
Wander around and admire the paintings, sculptures and posters. See art by Francisco Oller, Rafael Ferrer and Nick Quijano. The exhibitions change from time to time, so you can never get bored! When you have seen enough art, explore the gardens, there are winding paths, statues dotted around and stone benches to relax on. Over 100,000 plant grow here and a lovely fish pond sets the scene, almost like a painting itself!
Jardin Botanico at University of Puerto Rico
Address: Barrio Venezuela | intersection of routes 1 and 847, San Juan
The magnificent Jardin Botanico is the next San Juan attraction not to be missed. This oasis of greenery in the city makes the perfect get-away for a walk, a picnic and some family bonding time.
The Garden is a picture-postcard setting of winding paths, lush green landscapes, fountains, trees and benches. It was established as an educational center for scientific research and is a living laboratory where students and scientists can study plants and birds and raise public awareness of the native flora and fauna. Take a picnic basket and plan for a quiet afternoon. If you want, join a guided your with a knowledgeable guide to learn more. You will be taken around on a small golf cart, so all ages are welcome as you don't need to walk much. Before you leave, pick out a small memento at the store!
When you are in the Condado area, in the north of the Island, Ashford Avenue is the trendy San Juan attraction to spend an afternoon or an evening! This vibrant tourist area runs from the Condado Lagoon and Puente Dos Hermanos to Punta Las Marias. Boutique hotels, luxury stores, restaurants and bars line the street and you can stroll around and soak up the atmosphere.
Head down to the beach for a swim then relax under a tree in one of the small parks. Shopping is a must with world class stores and luxury goods. Shop for something special at a little boutique or just do some windows shopping! Eat at the Cayo Blanco and stay over at the classy La Concha. This is a more expensive, modern and touristy area and makes the perfect base from which to explore the rest of the Island.
Photo by AnnaAM
Caparra Ruins - Museo Ruinas de Caparra
Had your fill of sun-kissed beaches? Now do some exploring of old ruins, an exciting historical San Juan attraction. The Caparea Ruins, Museo Ruinas de Caparra, one of the most fabulous San Juan points of interest, were discovered in 1917 when construction started on the Route 2. These amazing ruins are part of the fortifications built by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon when he arrived in Puerto Rico.
Visit the well maintained grounds where you will learn all about this fascinating part of history. Everything is clearly marked with placards that are easy to understand. This imposing stone structure is most impressive and makes for great photos. There is a small museum that is worth exploring. See the many documents and artifacts that relate to the colonization of Puerto Rico.
Map of San Juan Attractions