Must-Visit Attractions in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The architecture in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is colorful
The architecture in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is colorful | © dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mariette Williams
13 August 2021

When you think of the Caribbean, you’ll most likely associate it with switching off and sunbathing. That’s terrific – but, as well as beaches, the capital of Puerto Rico has plenty to stimulate the brain cells, too. Tick off these must-dos during your next trip to San Juan.

The bustling capital of Puerto Rico is right up there among travelers’ favorite Caribbean hotspots. It’s one of the busiest ports in the region, and the city is known for its beautiful beaches, historical sites, shopping and art. Whether you’re staying in San Juan for a few days or several weeks, you’ll want to explore it – so check out the following essential must-visit attractions, rubber-stamped by Culture Trip’s Puerto Rico expert.

Condado Beach

Natural Feature
Map View
View of the Condado Lagoon with a Beach and Hotels, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Courtesy of George Oze / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’re in Puerto Rico, chances are you’re going to be checking out the beach at some point. Our recommendation is to start with Condado Beach, one of the best-loved public stretches in San Juan – it’s popular with visitors and locals because of its golden sand, warm Caribbean water and the availability of water sports, including paddle boarding and parasailing. The front is also lined with high-rise hotels, restaurants and bars, so it’s a holidaymaker’s dream all around.

Plaza de Armas

Historical Landmark
Map View
Plaza de Armas, town square with fountain in the city centre of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
© NAPA / Alamy Stock Photo
Any visit to San Juan will likely include a stroll through Old San Juan. Right in the heart of it, you’ll find Plaza de Armas, which used to be the main square in town. Today, it’s home to Puerto Rico Town Hall and the Department of State, and most people who come here do so to relax on a park bench and watch the world glide by. Grab a coffee or a sweet treat from one of the nearby ice cream shops, and enjoy an afternoon of people-watching.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Castillo San Felipe del Morro Fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico
© Elijah Lovkoff / Alamy Stock Photo
Also known as El Morro, Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a fortress more than 500 years old. The structure was designed to defend the Spanish-colonial port, and, with more than 2 million visitors a year, it’s considered one of the most popular attractions in San Juan. El Morro is also a Unesco World Heritage site, and it’s open every day from 9am to 6pm. Come and join a guided tour, or hang out by the entrance, on the expansive green lawn, to watch locals fly kites.

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Courtyard View of the San Cristobal Fort, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
© George Oze / Alamy Stock Photo
Here’s another important fortress in the city’s history, standing by the eastern gate of Old San Juan. The complex, which sprawls out over many acres (several hectares), is considered the largest Spanish fortress built in the New World. Guests can sign up for a guided tour, and you’ll want to idle a while for the beautiful views of Old San Juan. It’s open from 9am to 6pm every day, and the small entry fee will also give you admission to Castillio San Felipe del Morro.

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Museum
Map View
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico main lobby and staircase to galleries San Juan Puerto Rico
© Greg Vaughn / Alamy Stock Photo
Make for the neighborhood of Santurce, where the Museo de Art de Puerto Rico unravels impressively over 18 exhibition halls. Walking through the museum is a great way to spend an afternoon. It contains paintings, photography, ceramics as well as a sculpture garden. Be sure to check out the permanent exhibition called Puerto Rico Plural, which features more than 250 works from no fewer than 150 Puerto Rican artists. The exhibition covers works from the 18th century to the present day, giving you an intimate look at the diversity of island art and culture.

Iglesia de San José

Church
Map View
View of the San Jose Church, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Image shot 10/2009. Exact date unknown.
© George Oze / Alamy Stock Photo
This church in Old San Juan is impressive to behold, and, indeed, its importance lies in its architecture. Dating back to 1532, it’s a vision in icing-white, a fine example of early gothic Spanish architecture, not to mention one of the oldest churches in the Americas. In 2013, the site was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the most endangered properties, but it’s recently reopened after an almost two-decades-long restoration that was completed in March 2021.

La Fortaleza

Historical Landmark
Map View
La Fortaleza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. This building is the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico.
© Wangkun Jia / Alamy Stock Photo
Another important historic site in San Juan is La Fortaleza, which dates back to 1540. It’s hard to miss the blue-and-white estate, which, since 1846, has served as the governor’s mansion. Down through the decades, it has been the home of more than 170 Puerto Rican governors, and you can sign up for a 30-minute guided tour. These take place from Monday to Friday between 8:15am and 3:30pm, and, along with the mansion grounds, you’ll get to nose around some of the rooms.

Plaza Dársenas

Historical Landmark
Map View
Cigar artisan Pedro Pena, Plaza Darsenas, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
© Efrain Padro / Alamy Stock Photo
Here’s a lively place full of street performers, where you might grab a cold drink or peruse the stalls of crafts. If you’re into shopping and looking for a special souvenir to take home, you’re bound to find something by a local artist. At night, there’s live music, dancing and sometimes even art exhibitions. Because of its location, handily close to the cruise-ship ports, Plaza Dársenas is an ideal stop for guests disembarking to spend an afternoon or day in San Juan.

San Juan is full of great all-inclusive hotels just waiting for you, with superb breakfast and brunch spots to get your day started. Spend the day at one of the must-visit attractions throughout the city before settling down for the best local food in town.

This is a rewrite of an article originally by Mariela Santos.

These recommendations were updated on August 13, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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