Explore Old San Juan: Guide to Culture, Activities, Food

Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan is the island’s largest city and one of the most popular vacation spots. Located within the city lies Old San Juan, a historic settlement and vibrant area full of architecture, shops, restaurants and more. With a mix of historical sites and modern amenities, Old San Juan welcomes visitors to enjoy its pedestrian-friendly streets and cultural flair. Read more to learn about what to expect in Old San Juan.

5 Fun Ways to Explore Old San Juan

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Stroll and Shop the Streets

Walk the streets or use the trolley service to see more than 400 restored Spanish colonial-style buildings that house shops, restaurants and guest services. The buildings date to the 16th and 17th centuries and cover seven city blocks. While admiring the area, visitors will find bright colors and cobblestone streets once used as ballast for the trade ships arriving from Spain. Those unable to walk the entire time have access to a free trolley system that runs seven days a week and stops at major attractions.

Take Guided Tours

Guided tours rank as another popular way to see the city, and several companies offer tours that cover everything from local life to history and religion. Private Tours of Old San Juan offers personalized tours by locals who are enthusiastic and passionate about the area. Each tour is customizable to special needs, interests and allots time for photo ops at each of the attractions.

Another top pick for walking tours is Old San Juan Heritage Walking Tours, which offers three different options. The El Morro, Paseo de La Princesa and San Cristóbal tours explore the sites and historical significance, and provide picture-perfect locations. Other tours available in the area include the Insider’s Old San Juan Tour, Night legends and History Tour and Religious Sites Tour.

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Sit a Spell

When it’s time for a break, check out the parks and plazas throughout the city that each have their own history. These family-friendly areas offer great views and places to sit and relax. Located in the heart of Old San Juan, Plaza de Armas serves as the city’s main square. Visitors will find four 100-year-old statues, the city hall and lots of shade. El Morro Esplanade welcomes families to bring their kites and join other people on a large green area perfect for picnics. Read more about the plazas in Old Dan Juan.

Try Puerto Rican Flavors

San Juan’s culinary scene has helped the area gain a reputation for food. The area has dozens of restaurants that serve everything from Latin American favorites to Asian, European and more. In addition, visitors will find bars, cafes, clubs, family-friendly spots and fine dining options. Those looking to try innovative dishes should head to the the South Fortaleza Street (SoFo) neighborhood packed full of trendy dining hot spots.

To mix the culinary experience with culture, take an Old San Juan food tour. Flavors of San Juan is a raved-about option that lasts three hours. Guests start with learning about the area’s beginnings and sipping on a signature rum cocktail. Then personal guides take participants through more than 10 bites including everything from coffee and custom dishes to dessert.

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Visit the Museums and Sites

Museums are often an easy and fun way to learn about an area and can also provide a quick retreat from the heat. The San Juan area has more than a dozen museums that showcase art and cultures from classic and international artists from all over the world. Families with children under 15 should checkout the Museo del Niño, a three-story children’s museum that offers interactive and hands-on exhibits. Other fun things to see at the museum include boat rides, a petting zoo and go-kart track. View a full list of Old San Juan museums.

With such a rich history showcasing Spanish colonial times, Old San Juan also has several historical attractions, many of which are free to the public. Historical attractions include churches, cemeteries, repurposed galleries and La Casa Estrecha, the narrowest house in the world. The house measures only 5 feet on the inside and goes back 36 feet. Other points of interest include Catedral de San Juan, Escuela de Artes Plásticas and Iglesia de San José.

Learn more about Old San Juan and other Puerto Rico vacation destinations.