Panama’s capital has plenty of attractions and outdoor experiences to offer to both visitors and locals. With so much to choose from, Culture Trip has created a list of the 20 must-visit attractions in Panama City to help you navigate the Central American megalopolis, whether you are planning a short stopover or a longer stay.
Undoubtedly the most visited place in Panama City, the Canal is a 48-mile (77km) long artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Following its recent expansion, the Canal has doubled its capacity, and 14,000 ships are transiting every year. Observe the ships passing through at the Miraflores Locks and Visitors Center.
Casco Viejo is the second most-visited neighborhood of Panama City. Once a dangerous area patrolled by gangs, it is now a UNESCO protected district, made up of renovated colonial houses, boutique hotels, fine-dining restaurants and some of the best coffeehouses in town.
The Biomuseo is Panama City’s most famous museum. Located in Amador, it was designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry. Its eight galleries trace the origins of the Panamanian isthmus and its impact on the planet’s biodiversity.
Panama Viejo is all that remains from the old city of Panama, founded in 1519 by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias de Ávila. The ruins, today a UNESCO heritage site, are the oldest monument you will find in Panama City.
The F&F Tower, also known as El Tornillo (“the screw”) is the most remarkable skyscraper of Panama City, located in the financial district of Calle 50. The shape of the building, which is 774 feet (236m) tall, is an innovation in Latin American architecture and was one of the winners of the Emporis Skyscraper Award in 2011.
Soberania National Park
An absolute must-see when visiting Panama City is the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Antigua of Panama. More simply known as “the Cathedral,” this catholic building is located in the colonial area of Casco Viejo.
Iglesia del Carmen
A Gothic icon right at the center of Panama City, the Iglesia del Carmen (Church of our Lady of Mount Carmen) stands out as one of the most beautiful buildings in Panama. Though it was built in the 20th century, the architectural style is reminiscent of the Middle Ages. The Church is the most visited in the entire country.
Located on Via Argentina, in the vibrant and central neighborhood of El Cangrejo, you will find the statue of Einstein’s head, an icon in Panama City. The monument was created by sculptor Carlos Arboleda.
The Miraflores Locks
The Visitor Center at the Miraflores Locks is a unique location to observe the transiting of ships as they cross the Canal and move from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The exhibition hall and 3D movie explain the story of the Panama canal to complement your experience.
Panama Viejo, another UNESCO heritage site, is all that remains of the original city of Panama, founded in 1519. Located on the outskirts of the city, these remains tell the story of the ancient town that now lies buried in the ground.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a 340-acre resort located 30 minutes away from Panama City’s center. Right at the crossing between the Chagres River and the Panama Canal, the resort offers panoramic views over the Soberania National Forest, as well as providing a wide selection of activities to both guests and visitors. Choose from the Night Safari, an Aerial Tram, the butterfly farm, a tour to the indigenous villages of the Emberá, or boat tours to spot wildlife.
The Punta Culebra Nature Center is a non-profit visitor center located on one of the Amador Islands in Panama City. Run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, it aims at increasing awareness of Panama’s biodiversity and of the different environments and ecosystems present in Panama and in the nearby regions in Central and South America.
Ciudad del Saber
Panama’s Ciudad del Saber—in English, City of Knowledge—is a government-sponsored neighborhood located across the Miraflores Locks, where tech companies, N.G.O.s, and academic organizations have their bases. With a huge park and sports amenities, it is also a residential area, converted from what used to be a U.S. military headquarters.
The Bridge of the Americas
The Puente de las Americas—in English Bridge of the Americas—is a road bridge that stretches over the entrance of the Panama Canal, connecting Panama City to inland areas on the Pacific Coast. At one end you will find the Mirador, with an unusual Chinese Memorial monument, built in memory of the Chinese community that moved to Panama at the end of the 1800s to build Panama’s railroad.
Metropolitan Natural Park
The Parque Natural Metropolitano—in English, Metropolitan Natural Park—is the lungs of Panama City. As the only wildlife reserve of the city, it includes numerous bird species, sloths, toucans, a mirador (lookout), and numerous trails for visitors to explore the jungle.
Panama City’s fish market is open every day from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Whether you are looking for a place to have a cheap and delicious ceviche, or if you want to buy fresh seafood directly from the fishermen, the Mercado de Mariscos is a place full of character that brings together people from all walks of life.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Panama City’s Museum of Contemporary Art (M.A.C.) is a compact showcase of Panama’s modern artists. Located in a converted building on a leafy hill, it gathers paintings as well as a huge movie poster collection.
The Cerro Ancón (or Ancon Hill) is a lush green mountain visible from almost every area of Panama City. With the Panamanian flag right at the top, it is set aside from the thick urbanization as one of the best natural retreats in town. With no cars allowed on its roads, it offers the opportunity of urban hiking and enjoying panoramic views of the city as well as spotting wildlife along the way.
The Amador Causeway is a thin strip of land that connects Panama City to the Amador Islands. It was created with the rocks that came from the excavations of the Panama Canal. Recently renovated, the area is a favorite leisure destination for both tourists and locals who rent cycles, have lunch, or go for a run along the causeway and enjoy great views over the canal and the city skyline.