15 Terrific Things To Do in San Juan Puerto Rico – The Globetrotting Teacher

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“15 Terrific Things To Do in San Juan Puerto Rico – The Globetrotting Teacher”

Want to know the best things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico?

The historic city is alive with hundreds of years old forts, colorful architecture, cobblestoned streets, delicious food, gorgeous beaches, and a friendly vibe that’s just part of the island’s culture.

Use this guide to fill your Puerto Rico itinerary with:

  • the top things to do in San Juan,
  • where to stay in San Juan, as well as,
  • information about how to get from the airport to San Juan.
15 Terrific Things to Do in San Juan Puerto Rico

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15 Terrific Things To Do in San Juan Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is not your typical beach destination.

Of course, you could plan a quick getaway to snag a few days on the beach. But you’d be missing out on so much of what makes Puerto Rico special! In particular, the food, history, and culture of its capital city and all the things to do in Old San Juan are enough to fill a few days all by itself.

Whether you’re looking for historic sites, architecture, turquoise beaches, or nightlife, San Juan has got it covered! 

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1. Walk The Paseo del Morro

things to do in san juan puerto rico

Designated a National Historic Site in 2001, this scenic walk along the water offers sweeping views of San Juan Bay. Start your trek from the Raices Fountain on Paseo de la Princesa.

If you’re looking at a map of San Juan, this will sit across from the U.S. Coast Guard Station.

From here, you can make your way towards the San Juan Gate and the trail skirting the impressive stone walls that make up the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The gate will sit to your right and you’ll get a great look at the bay, which will be on your left.

things to do in san juan puerto rico

Take your time as you walk the trail as there are plenty of great photo opportunities. Future plans include an entrance to the Paseo del Morro from Castillo San Felipe del Morro and a continuous trail to Castillo San Cristóbal, as well. 

Look out for the feral cats on the trail. Actually, they’ll be hard to miss since old San Juan has plenty of them! Thanks to the Save A Gato Sanctuary, these cats are well cared for. As you walk, you just might see the sometimes hidden plastic tubs of food left for them.

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2. Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro 

things to do in san juan

The 16th-century citadel sits at the northwestern-most point of the island and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. The fortification was designed and built by Spanish engineers over 250 years with the foundation laid in 1539! It wasn’t actually considered complete until 1787.

The result is an impressive 6-level fort that played a vital role in protecting the colonized island from invaders entering San Juan Bay. 

Castillo San Felipe del Morro has a long history, from the time it was completed through both World Wars.  It was retired in 1961 when the U.S. Army moved out of the fort and turned it over to the U.S. National Parks Service. Today, Park Rangers are there to provide information, in addition to the site’s displayed signs and exhibitions, to help you experience this impressive historical landmark.

The fort is one of Puerto Rico’s most visited tourist attractions offering panoramic views of San Juan Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. From the top of the fort, peer out towards where the bay meets the mighty Atlantic Ocean.  For even more spectacular views, take a scenic helicopter flight high above Old San Juan and marvel at the sights from a bird’s-eye perspective.

ProTip: Be sure to wear comfortable shoes to climb the fort’s stairs. Most San Juan activities come with a lot of sun exposure. Wear sunscreen and bring water as you sightsee around the city.

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3. See Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery 

San Juan Puerto Rico

A cemetery might not be top of mind when it comes to things to do in San Juan but this cemetery should be.

Established in 1863, this colonial-era cemetery is the final resting place for many notable residents of Puerto Rico, including famous poets, politicians composers, and artists.

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Located just outside the walls of the Castillo del Morro fortification, the cemetery is named in honor of the Catholic saint, Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis. The locals say the location of the cemetery, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, represents the path a spirit takes as it crosses over to the afterlife.

Sitting alongside the Atlantic Ocean, filled with colorful flowers, life-sized sculptures made of marble, and bright white burial sites, the cemetery is a photographer’s dream. Visitors are welcome to walk into the cemetery. It’s just a 15-20 minute walk from the fort to the cemetery.

If you don’t have time to make your way into the cemetery itself, you can get some great views from the top of Castillo del Morro. 

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4. Visit The Cathedral Of San Juan Bautista

what to do in san juan

The Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista is one of the oldest buildings in San Juan, Puerto Rico, not to mention the oldest cathedral in the U.S. and the 2nd oldest in the Americas.

The original structure was made of wood in 1521 but was essentially destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt in 1540, This is the building you see today, along with some evolving updates over the last few centuries.

This San Juan Cathedral was placed in a particularly strategic location. It was near the docks so sailors, travelers, and explorers could make it their first stop as they entered the city to thank God for a safe voyage. 

Juan Ponce de León, the famous explorer who was also Puerto Rico’s first Governor and the man who went searching for the fountain of youth, is laid to rest in the Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista.

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5. Walk Down Calle Fortaleza. (a.k.a. formerly Umbrella Street)

san juan activities The umbrellas are no longer up! It’s also been a place where a giant Puerto Rican flag was hung on display.

The road is lined with cobblestones, shops, and places to eat. The street is also partially closed to vehicle traffic making it a little easier to navigate while you’re looking up at the vibrant building colors and architecture. You can also walk to La Fortaleza, a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO Heritage Site, and presently, the Governor’s Mansion.

From Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Calle Fortaleza is just a few minutes away on foot.

In the past, Calle Fortaleza was a great spot to stop and take some fun photos. Colorful umbrellas hung over the street between the buildings and occasionally changed in color depending on a particular theme.

Unfortunately, if you’re hoping for the perfect selfie with the umbrellas, you’ll be sad to learn that they’ve been taken down! The area is still a pretty spot to stroll, and hopefully, in the future, there will be more umbrella art installations!

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6. Visit Castillo San Cristobal 

things to do in old san juan

Built over a 150-year period and completed in 1793, this sprawling fortification is the biggest European fort in the Americas.  While Castillo del Morro was built to protect the colonized city from a water invasion, San Cristobal was built to protect Castillo San Felipe del Morro and the city from an attack by land. 

Sitting to the east of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and covering 27 acres, Castillo San Cristobal has three levels to explore during your visit. The 3rd level acts as the observation deck. From here you get expansive views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean.

As of March 2019, the U.S. National Parks Service posted future plans to extend the current Paseo del Morro. When the extension is complete, people will be able to walk on a continuous trail that connects both Castillo del Morro to Castillo San Cristobal.

When planning what to do in San Juan, don’t miss visiting this historic fort!   

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7. Stop by La Casita de Rones for a Pina Colada 

things to do in san juan

You’ve spent several hours walking and sightseeing so now it’s time for a cold island drink and a snack. Order a Pina Colada and an appetizer at La Casita de Rones! Both do wonders for your feet and energy. ???? 

La Casita sits just steps from the Muelle De Viejo Ferry Terminal. It’s a hard-to-miss brilliant pink building that sits in Plaza Darsenas off Calle Comerico. 

With great ambiance, this harborside restaurant and bar serve refreshing drinks and tasty local fare, like fish tacos. I promise it’ll be one of the best Pina Coladas you’ll ever have! Take a seat outside on the back deck and soak up the views of San Juan Bay.  

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8. Go for some Puerto Rican Street Food and Fresh Lemonade

what to do in San Juan puerto rico

Perhaps you’re ready for some deep-fried street food and a refreshing drink, too instead. Whether you’re in the mood for empanadas, bacalaitos, tostones, or pinchos, you just can’t go wrong. Combine your street food bites with the greatest fresh lemonade ever from the food trucks off the Plaza Darsenas, just next to La Casita de Rones.

Or if you’d really like to sample San Juan’s food scene, an expert guide can walk you through Old San Juan on a food tour to learn more about the island’s cuisine and explore the city’s eateries.

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9. Walk the Streets of Colorful Old San Juan 

what to do in old san juan

No matter the destination, walking around in an unfamiliar city is one of the best ways to absorb the local culture. It’s simple, yet gratifying, and does wonders to make travel much more memorable.

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And, this is where old San Juan Puerto Rico truly shines! Ornate historic architecture, a quiet cafe where you can grab a coffee, or street vendors selling handmade local items all await as you explore. Wander down the little streets on your own discovery mission!

Don’t miss Calle del Cristo with its small chapel known for healing and Calle San Sebastian with its colorful architecture.

You may not find the fountain of youth as Ponce de León tried to do during his exploration of the Americas. But, you’re sure to learn more about old San Juan, as well as come across plenty of great photo opportunities as you wander through the colorful barrios of old San Juan.  

If you’re looking for a central walkway, the Paseo de la Princesa is a wide-open pedestrian thoroughfare with shops, vendors selling shaved ice, artists, and places to eat. Not to mention, you’ll take in shoreline views as you stroll! Castillo del Morro, San Juan Gate, and the Raices Fountain are all in close proximity. 

If you’d like to go with a guide, the Old San Juan sunset walking tour and this guided walking tour are both quite popular.

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10. Do some San Juan Shopping

shopping in san juan

In between the meandering to take in the great architecture and colorful design, visiting the popular tourist sites, and drinking a Pina Colada or two, there are plenty of opportunities to shop. Walking down each Calle, you’ll see shops selling great antiques, cigars, vintage items, hats, and of course, great food! 

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11. Visit the Bacardi Rum Distillery

San Juan Rum cocktail

Go beyond just having a fruity rum cocktail while you’re in San Juan.

The locals consider the Bacardi Rum Distillery to be the cathedral of rum. During a distillery visit, you’ll explore the rum-making process at this popular tourist experience. There are a variety of tours that you can do at the distillery, like tour the factory and taste rums from vintages not available anywhere else.

You can also take a mixology class for a behind-the-scenes look at the rum-making process, as well as learn to make some island cocktails.  You’ll even walk away with an honorary certificate of completion from an expert mixologist! 

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12. See San Juan from the Water

best things to do in san juan

There’s no denying how pretty it is to see the colorful barrios of San Juan from the water. Even better when this is timed with the sunset.

If you’d like to DIY this experience, look for the ferry terminal and ferry service not far from La Casita de Rones, the harbor side restaurant with the great pina coladas mentioned earlier. There’s a ferry that connects the towns of Catano and old San Juan.   

You can take an 8 to 10-minute boat ride on the ferry and get some great photos as you approach old San Juan. If you go for sunset, be ready for some gorgeous shots of the bay as the sun goes down. Since the ferries are for commuters, there’s no outdoor seating. But, you can open windows from the seating areas to take photos.

Once you get off in Catano, simply turn around and return. There isn’t much to do unless you’re planning on also visiting the Bacardi Rum Distillery. And, the round trip costs just a buck!

Or choose a sunset cruise with a bit more ambiance! Aboard a historic schooner, you can relax with a drink and some appetizers as you look back at old San Juan and impressive sites like Castillo San Felipe del Morro!

ProTip: If you’re not staying directly in old San Juan and would rather not drive your rental car into the crowded city with traffic and limited parking, you can catch the ferry from the town of Catano. Just park in Catano and take this ferry for just 50 cents each way.

And, speaking of ferries, if you’re planning a beach day and snorkeling on Culebra, don’t make the same Culebra Ferry mistakes as I did!

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13. Spend a beach day at Isla Verde

Tropical Beach

You’re on an island with white-sand beaches and turquoise waves, after all!

Whether you want to rent a chair and umbrella and park yourself in the sand or rent a jet ski for a few hours of excitement, Isla Verde is the perfect beach day, all within 15 minutes of the city. It’s hands down one of the best beaches in San Juan!

There are plenty of restaurants and bars nearby, as well as vendors selling local food. The nearby CVS also sells water, snacks, and towels. Best of all, the water is usually calm making it perfect for swimming. 

If you’ve rented a car for your Puerto Rico trip, beware that parking near the beach is tight. You can easily Uber over to Isla Verde if your hotel is in old San Juan. The beach is near the Embassy Suites if you need a point of reference for your GPS or driver.

ProTip: Looking for a more adventurous outing than a day on the beach? Then, venture just 12 miles east of San Juan to Hacienda Campo Rico for an ATV excursion along the lush grounds of this private ranch or an exhilarating ziplining experience above them.

For 2 hours, you can take in the views of the mountains, mangroves, and natural habitat complete with exotic plants and wildlife. When you’re done, you’ll have enough time to return to San Juan to take in a few sights and enjoy a delicious dinner.

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If you’re looking for the feeling of freedom that comes from being out in the wide-open outdoors combined with a thrill, you don’t want to miss out on these adventures!

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14. Order a Mofongo and Sangria

Best mofongo in san juan

Ever had a Mofongo?  If not, add it as a must-eat to your Puerto Rico itinerary. If you’re reading this from Puerto Rico already, order one ASAP! And if you’ve spent the day hiking at El Yunque, definitely reward yourself with a mofongo.

What’s a Mofongo?  Take green plantains and mash them together with garlic, salt, & olive oil. Then add pork, chicken, or seafood and you end up with a plate of awesome. Add in a side of rice and beans and a glass of sangria to complete a fabulous meal! Try one at Punto de Vista on the roof of Hotel Milano or El Jibarito. They’re considered the best mofongo in San Juan.

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15. Dance to some Outdoor Local Music

things to do in san juan puerto rico

What’s better than sitting outside on a warm evening in San Juan to watch some live music?

On Sunday evenings head to Plaza Darsenas for a free sunset concert between 5:30-8:00. The concert is usually a mix of local and contemporary music. Best of all, you can dance! Join in with the locals for a one-of-a-kind way to experience the island.

(Just a reminder, Plaza Darsenas is the little park on the waterfront close to La Casita de Rones and the area where you’ll find the street food trucks.)

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Where to Stay in San Juan

San Juan Attractions

There’s no shortage of places to stay in San Juan for all budgets and traveler types, whether you’re looking for historic charm or beach proximity.

Keep in mind, the island’s size. Staying in and around the San Juan area means not being too far from anywhere. If you’ve rented a car, know that even when a hotel says it has parking, there’s typically a daily fee for this amenity.

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Old San Juan Hotels

where to stay in old san juan

Hotel El Convento

This highly-rated hotel sits in the center of old San Juan. It’s a charming restored 16th-century convent and an official Historic Hotel of America. Some rooms on the upper floors have views of the bay. The hotel’s restaurant is in an open courtyard, perfect for evening drinks.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

Decanter Hotel

A historic hotel located near the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. This 19th-century colonial-style space has been transformed into 20 guest rooms and suites across 4 floors complete with a rooftop terrace. The hotel is within walking distance to everything old San Juan has to offer, including the historic forts and a vibrant food scene.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel

Situated on the waterfront in old San Juan, this hotel is perfect for travelers who want the convenience of all the things to do in San Juan at their fingertips. The hotel is also across the street from the cruise ship docks so it’s easy if you’re departing on an early morning ship. Sheraton is part of the Marriot family of hotels. If you have Marriott points, you could redeem them for award nights.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

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Isla Verde Hotels

where to stay in san juan

Embassy Suites by Hilton

This hotel is just 2 blocks from the beach, includes breakfast and an evening drink reception, and can accommodate families with larger rooms. Hotel staff members wait on the beach for guests and are ready to help them with chairs, umbrellas, and towels.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort

Renovated after Hurricane Maria, the Courtyard sits on the beach and has a beautiful pool area with plenty of chairs, a swim-up bar, and a grill when you’re hungry for a bite. If you’re in San Juan for a night or 2 before flying to another Caribbean island, you’ll love how close the hotel is to the airport!Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

Fairmont El San Juan Hotel

Tropical island retreat perfection! This hotel is an oceanfront property where you can relax on Isla Verde Beach or alongside one of their pools complete with swim-up bars and cabanas. The hotel is an upscale property in the Accor family. You Capital One Miles will come in handy if you’re looking to book an award night or earn points for your stay.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

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Condado Beach

where to stay in san juan

Condado Vanderbilt Hotel

If you’re looking for 5-star luxury along the beach, you’ve found it. The Condado Vanderbilt dates back to 1919. From the attentive staff to bathrobes, butlers, and turn-down service, no amenity or attention to detail is missed. There are pools and a private beach with staff to help with chairs, umbrellas, and anything else you need. Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino

This hotel sits on prime beachfront real estate with 500+ guest rooms, many of which have Atlantic Ocean views. This is a full-service resort with several restaurants, 2 pools,  tennis courts, a casino, and a health club & spa.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

AC Hotel by Marriott San Juan Condado

A 4-star hotel with bright modern rooms situated right on the beach. Guests have access to the pool and beach area of the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino as well, which is just a few minutes walk from the hotel. The rooftop pool is the perfect place to relax with some food and drinks.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

Hyatt House San Juan

Just under a mile from Condado Beach, this hotel has rooms equipped with living rooms and full kitchens. It’s an affordable option for all travelers, especially families who want the convenience of apartment-style rooms and a pool. Hyatt is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Use your points to book Hyatt award nights.Read Reviews | Check Current Prices

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How to Get from the San Juan Puerto Rico Airport

rental car steering wheel

The main international airport in Puerto Rico is within 15-20 minutes from San Juan proper. You can just as easily rent a car at San Juan airport to use for your island adventures as you can book an airport shuttle or take a taxi.

If you’re planning to stay solely within San Juan, using an airport transportation service likely makes the most sense. Anyone staying in old San Juan, Isla Verde, or Condado can use a taxi service like Uber to quickly and cheaply get around the city during their trip.

But, you’ll definitely want a rental car if you’re planning to explore the island a bit. Rental cars are necessary for independent trips to Ceiba for the Culebra ferry terminal, hiking in El Yunque, or road tripping to Ponce and the west coast. 

So, are you planning what to do in San Juan Puerto Rico? What’s on your list?

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