San Juan Top 10 Things To Do While Visiting
San Juan is a fabulous city, vibrant and full of history. There many things you can do in San Juan, here are the top attractions for your enjoyment.
Old San Juan
Old San Juan is on an island right at the entrance to the Bahía de San Juan, the “rich port” which gave Puerto Rico its name. Its strategic position was backed up by fortifications that include San Felipe del Morro Fort at the tip of the island, as well as San Cristóbal Fort and La Fortaleza, which is currently the island’s Governor’s residence.
Old San Juan is a grid of narrow streets with colorful houses and cobblestone streets. It represents one of the oldest and best-preserved town centers in the Western Hemisphere. Two historic houses of worship bookend the center Plaza de Armas square: in the north, the simple white exterior of the San José Church and the comparative grandeur of the older Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, built in 1521, in the south. The latter contains the tomb of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. The area is also home to Alcaldía (City Hall); El Arsenal, a former Spanish naval station; and La Rogativa, a bronze monument that tells the legendary story of the city’s governor and his “rogativa,” or plea to God, to save the city from British troops.
La Fortaleza (Palacio de Santa Catalina)
The Wedgwood blue and white Santa Catalina Palace was built in 1533 and makes an impressive sight as you approach through a narrow Old San Juan street. While the building exudes an air of calm authority, it occupies a site that was long one of the most contested strategic positions in the Caribbean: La Fortaleza. And you can still see stone fortifications built by the Spanish, brooding above the waves.
La Fortaleza is today the Governor of Puerto Rico’s residence, and the oldest functioning executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere. Consequently, you can’t roam the building at will, but a tour will take you through the palace’s dungeon and chapel, as well as the lush gardens.
Bacardi Rum Factory
San Juan is the home of world famous Bacardí rum. Even if you’ve never given much thought to how this Caribbean staple gets from the cane fields to your mojito, the Casa Bacardí Visitor Center offers a surprisingly interesting experience. See the distillery, bottling plant and a museum that traces the company’s origins in Cuba to its current global domination.
Castillo de San Cristobal
Standing guard at Old San Juan’s Eastern Gate is the Castillo de San Cristobal. Built to protect San Juan against land attacks, the ancient Spanish fort is now part of the San Juan National Historic Site and a great opportunity to see the largest Spanish fortification built in the New World and see some spectacular views of the San Juan Bay and El Morro. The massive structure, which was built in the 18th century to compliment the El Morro fortification which was designed to guard the bay, rises 150 feet above sea level and occupies most of the northeast edge of Old San Juan. Proven to be an effective fortification which helped repel a 1797 land invasion by Sir Ralph Abercrombie, the Castillo de San Cristobal is one of the premier attractions of Old San Juan.
San Juan National Historic Site
Capilla del Cristo Chapel
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
San Juan’s most important cultural institution, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (Museum of Art of Puerto Rico) was established in 2000. The museum’s core is a neoclassical building dating to 1920 that once belonged to the city’s hospital, with a more recent addition housing a theater and space for temporary exhibitions.
The collection here stretches from religious art and portraiture of the 17th century to cutting edge contemporary pieces. Seeing how local artists have reacted to foreign influences to create something unique to the island makes for a fascinating journey.
There is also an excellent sculpture garden where you’ll find works from 15 different local artists in lovingly landscaped surrounds, featuring waterfalls, ponds and a huge range of plants.
Paseo de la Princesa
Quite literally meaning walkway of the princess, Paseo de la Princesa does indeed have enough romance and beauty fit for royalty. A perfect spot to enjoy the Old World charms of San Juan – strolling through this romantic 19th century avenue is perhaps one of San Juan’s most romantic escapes – and yet it’s located just outside the city walls. Lined with antique street lamps, shade trees, and fruit cart vendors – walking the Paseo de la Princesa ensues a leisurely sense of ancient romance and serene beauty. With the impressive Old San Juan fortifications towering above you and the glistening San Juan Bay on your left, the Paseo de la Princesa stands a good chance of being your favorite simple escape while in San Juan.
San Juan Cathedral
Built in 1521, The San Juan Cathedral (aka La Santa Catedral San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico) is one of the highlights of any trip into Old San Juan. The second oldest cathedral in the Americas, this historic landmark lies right in the heart of Old San Juan and boasts an impressive array of religious and historical artifacts including the tomb of notorious Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon and the mummy of St. Pio. An operational cathedral, you can attend mass here Saturdays at 7 pm, Sunday at 9 and 11 am, and weekdays 7:25 am and 12:15 pm. And experience a traditional catholic mass, or, when service isn’t being conducted, you can wander the nave free of charge, gaze at the huge stained glass windows, or marvel at the construction of the oldest church on U.S. soil.