25 Things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico
San Juan is by default Puerto Rico‘s most visited city. As a capital city with a bustling international airport, San Juan receives tourists by the droves annually. The city also makes for a great hub for those wishing to get around the island and it is often a starting and/or finishing destination for several major cruise lines. Although the enchanted island offers much to a traveler, San Juan nonetheless, still has its attractions. In fact, there is a lot more than meets the eye at times as many tourists never leave a few areas of the city. Keeping that in mind, here is a list of things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico starting with some of the more common ones and moving on to some lesser known options. Be sure to let us know of what your favorites are in the comments below!
1.) Visit the two forts – Old San Juan, the original settlement of the Spanish colonial empire, is a well defended place. It was traditionally guarded by two forts which remain to this day. The two are called San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) and Castillo de San Cristóbol. El Morro is probably the most famous as it is also the largest. This is likely the fort which you have seen in the pictures mainly because of its location at the western peninsula of Viejo San Juan. El Morro was used as recently as World War II where several additions were made to it in an effort to make it more modern and functional. The view from the area around the other fortress, Castillo de San Cristóbol, is also quite nice, and it has a few unique features that El Morro doesn’t have. Entrance fees are low each costing only around $3. If you buy both of them together then you’ll save $1.
2.) Relax on the beach – There are numerous beaches in San Juan, and within a short ride of the San Juan metropolitan area. That is one advantage of being a Caribbean island, there is no shortage of coastline for relaxation. The most famous and central beach in San Juan is Condado, but there are several more beaches such as Ocean Park, Carolina, Piñones, including the lesser known Escabrón and Playita del Condado. The major negative of Condado beach is the fact that the sun is blocked by the hotels in the afternoon and it can be overrun with tourists at times. If you want something non-touristy in the San Juan area, try Escabrón, Carolina, or Piñones.
3.) Site-see in Old San Juan – Old San Juan is an interesting place to be a tourist. It is beautiful and well-preserved. In many ways to me, it seems as a more colorful New Orleans. There is a strong historical connection between the two as they have similar stories of their settlements. Outside of the things listed here in this article, there are plenty of things to see in Old San Juan as well as many look out spots. Pigeon Park, Plaza Colon, Plaza de armas, churches, la Fortaleza, and more help to make up what attracts thousands of visitors annually to Old San Juan.
4.) Walk outside the wall of La fortaleza – On the Western side of Old San Juan you’ll find Saint John’s gate. This gate is one of the original few entrances into the fortress. People would arrive at this entrance via ship or small boat. It is easy for one to imagine the sight of arriving to such a high and fortified wall by water. There is a nice walking trail there that leads you around this outer wall of the island. It could be a nice place to take an afternoon stroll, watch a sunset, and see some wildlife. The afternoons can be a bit hot, so be sure to bring some water with you.
5.) Walk to Hato Rey – Hato Rey is the financial district of San Juan. It is interesting to pass from neighborhoods like Santurce to Hato Rey as it goes from rustic to modern rather quickly. There is neat and little known route to Hato Rey that passes through Parque Central (Central Park) and crosses over the lagoon there to Hato Rey. If you are in to exercising you may enjoy that route. Supposedly, it is about 1.3 miles one way and takes you through Parque Lineal. You’ll like see tons of iguanas there basking in the sun, especially after a hot rain. This route is surprisingly empty at times.
6.) Eat Mofongo and/or criolla food – One thing you must do before leaving Puerto Rico is try local Puerto Rican food. Make sure that you get it from a good source and stay away from the overly touristy places like usual. There are several staples in the Puerto Rican diet such as Plantains, rice, beans, pork, et cetera. Definitely give yourself a chance to try Puerto Rican style Mofongo or arroz con habichuelas, or even some of the other specialties from the island. You won’t regret it.
7.) Piñones – Piñones is a cool and unique place located just outside of Isla Verde, one of San Juan’s districts. Piñones is really local so don’t expect to see many foreign tourists. It is a great place to try one of the many types of Puerto Rican street food. A must for street food junkies. You can get some food, then walk along the beach side path grab a fresh coconut and relax on the beach. There are few bike trails there was well.
8.) Visit the hotel resorts – I wouldn’t say that the hotel resorts are some kind of attraction or anything, but if you are into gambling or upscale socializing then hotels may be of interest to you. Some that have casinos are La Concha, Marriott, and possibly a few in Isla Verde that I am unaware of.
9.) Bacardi Distillery – The Bacardi Distillery can be an interesting thing. I have been a few times and got some feedback from what others thought of it. It isn’t the most exciting of tours out there, but it can be interesting to learn the history of the Bacardi family and longstanding tradition making rum. You get to watch a video explaining the history, then a small walking tour of some pictures and product examples. Lastly, someone does a demonstration showing you how to make a few popular rum based drinks such as Cuba Libre and the Mojito. Check out my experience of the Bacardi Distillery here; it includes directions on how to get there economically.
10.) Salsa Dancing – After all of that exploring and eating, you should definitely head over to one of the popular dance spots for a night of salsa. Get on the dance floor and show your moves. I think that one of the most popular Salsa dance bars in Old San Juan is Nuyorican Cafe. It is a fun place, slightly small when crowded, but it does the trick. It is one of those places that blends tourists and locals well. There is often live music playing so be sure to check out their band schedule. Don’t worry if you are no good or have never danced salsa, there will surely be some locals there to give you a hand. Soon, you’ll be dancing like a champ.
11.) Ride the train – The train in San Juan leaves from Santurce and makes several stops along the way until arriving at Bayamon, which is the end of the line. This is Puerto Rico’s only train and is surprisingly nice and modern. The train allows you to see some of the surrounding areas and different parts of the region of San Juan, outside of the actual city. The train leaves about every 15-20 minutes during peak hours. Find out about the train here.
12.) Spend a night partying the town – Depending of course on what your idea of a scene is, there are a number of different bars and clubs in the San Juan area to fit a variety of tastes and interests. From your typical sports bars, to local taverns, cigar bars, salsa clubs and discos, San Juan has a decent variety of places to suit your interests. If spending a night out partying is something you seek, I suggest you check out María, the Latina Abroad’s, guide to Puerto Rican nightlife here. Nightlife in Puerto Rico is best towards the weekends beginning with Thursday. There are several well-known clubs in the area such as La Repuesta or Bravo, but there are of course other options.
13.) Walk through the Santa María Cemetery – The Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis cemetery near El Morro is worth a visit. Most of the tombs are elegant and decorated. I think one of the more appealing things about this cemetery is the views around it. From the ocean to the grassy field before El Morro; it is really scenic. An important thing to note, this cemetery is located next to the La Perla neighborhood, which is well-known in Puerto Rico and has a mixed reputation. For tourists, it is generally advised to not enter that neighborhood.
14.) Laguna riding – The laguna which separates Miramar and Condado is often a hot spot for people who are looking for a quieter more tranquil ocean view. Paddle Boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling are all common activities in the Laguna del Condado. You can often walk by the bridge and see people drifting by on they paddle boards or people out relaxing at the edge on a sunny day. There a few small beaches along the laguna which some prefer because there are fewer waves than the ocean front Condado.
15.) Drink and eat a fresh coconut – You must try a coconut before leaving Puerto Rico. They are good, fresh, healthy, and affordable.
16.) Graffiti walk – One thing that San Juan doesn’t lack is street art. I wrote an article here on the street art of Puerto Rico. As you may have seen in my Urban Exploring expedition, there are tons of abandoned buildings in Puerto Rico with great street art. If you are into street art, then you would definitely enjoy a walk around the district/neighborhood of Santurce. Santurce is full of great graffiti ranging from small details to enormous murals. There is even an art movement going on in the neighborhood of Santurce called Santurce Es Ley, which brings in top artists to beautify the streets with new art pieces. Some of the choice streets for street art include Ponce de Leon and Fernandez Juncos.
17.) Calle Loiza – Calle Loiza, is a street that begins in Condado and goes through Ocean Park to Isla Verde. It is a really local street that parallels Ashford avenue, which is the beachfront. There are several really good restaurants along the road such as Basilia’s aka Bevo’s aka Basilia’s (New name is Basilia’s, Bevo’s is still on the menus… although it seems that they will open a Bevo’s next to Basilia’s ). There are other eateries and local bars along this street that you may find interesting and less touristy.
18.) Find an iguana and with luck, a Coquí frog – Part of the tropical feel of Puerto Rico comes with its flora and fauna. Although the iguana is now seen as a pest, you can find them and many other exotic lizards uncommonly seen in North America. The little Coquí guy on the other hand, now that is an elusive little bugger. The day that I see my first Coquí will be a happy day. I’ve been trying to find one for almost six months. When you get close to them, they quickly stop their infamous Coquí croaking. Nonetheless, you can hear them throughout the city and island when walking at night. The sound that they make can be quite relaxing. Have you seen a Coquí before?
19.) Parque Central – Parque Central, or Central Park in English, is a great place to get out and get some exercise outdoors. There is a running track, several workout stations, and a small stadium. Additionally, the Natatorium for the Olympic team is there as well. Don’t expect anything like New York’s Central Park, but it is a nice outdoor spot with plenty for the fitness enthusiast.
20.) San Sebastian festival – If you happen to be in the San Juan area in January, then you may want to check out the San Sebastian festival, commonly referred to as Sanse. It is a huge party that takes place every year on San Sebastian street in Old San Juan. There are several music stands set up and tons of street food and activities. It is really loud and there is a ton of people, but it is a way to learn a lot about Puerto Rican music, food, language, and culture within a short period as there are a lot of things available. I was in San Juan for the festival this year and compiled a video for it. Feel free to check it out here, be sure to let me know what you think!
21.) La placita (night and day) – One of the good things about San Juan being a relatively small city geographically speaking is that you do not have to go far to find a local scene. For those looking to get to know local culture a little better, check out La Placita, or Plaza del Mercado, in Santurce. By day, it is a small farmers market surrounded by several upscale restaurants. On the weekends, La Placita doubles over as a place where locals go to play. It is a nice and open area where one can hear live salsa or bachata, or slip into one of the bars for a drink. It is also a great people watching spot.
22.) See a Jazz Concert at Ventana al mar – On the Condado Beach strip nestled between a few hotels is a small park called Ventana al Mar. On the last Sunday of every month, there is a free outdoor jazz concert. It is really busy and lots of locals and tourists alike attend. Check out their listing here for a more complete and accurate schedule. There are occasionally other concerts in this same location as well.
23.) Market Rio Piedras – Just south of the financial district of Hato Rey lies Rio Piedras. There is a University there and also a good market area with lots of different things ranging from clothes to home made food to fresh fruits and vegetables. The indoor market is not huge, but has plenty to offer. Outdoors in the surrounding streets lies several different shops and kiosks selling random goods. It is worth a stop if you are in the area. The market is near the train stop for Rio Piedras, so you can get there by train.
24.) Rock climbing in Bayamon – Bayamon is one of the places on the Island where climbers can do some outdoor rock climbing. People often stay somewhere in San Juan, then commute to Bayamon for day trips to climb.
25.) Shopping in Plaza Las Americas – I am not much of a shopper, but for those who like to shop, they’ll likely find Plaza Las Americas as a good place to visit. It has many of the major brands and stores. Supposedly this is the biggest, or at least one of the largest shopping centers in the Caribbean.
That concludes a good list of starting suggestions for you while visiting San Juan. Feel free to let us know of any others that you have found below in the comments.