San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico is one of the top places to visit and vacation in Puerto Rico, offering world-class attractions, attractive beaches, rich cultural experiences, and great tours to nearby attractions around the island. Whether you’re having a romantic wedding, honeymoon, holding a business meeting or convention, or planning a great vacation with family and friends, Puerto Rico will surely satisfy your travel wishes. This guide presents all the best things to do and attractions in San Juan with something for everyone in the family.
Please Note: To make your planning easier, we have listed the best things to do and attractions in San Juan and the neighboring towns of Carolina and Cataño. This is especially important for cruisers and travelers spending just a few days in the city who don’t wish to spend much time traveling to places. Please see our “Fantastic Day Trips from San Juan” article for great places and attractions to visit near San Juan and around the island.
Walk the Streets of Old San Juan
If you only have a day in Old San Juan, tour one of the forts and then simply walk the colorful streets of Old San Juan. The simplicity of walking becomes an extraordinary experience in Old San Juan. You want to look up constantly at the adorned wrought-iron balconies of colonial homes painted in bright or pastel colors. The energy is vibrant, yet relaxed, like a tropical destination ought to be. Old San Juan is like a giant museum with many attractions easily accessible by foot. Drop the map and get lost around the 7 colorful blocks full of historical landmarks, museums, relaxed cafes, great shops, restaurants, and more… The free trolley is a nice way to give your feet a break and get acquainted with the Old City. You can explore Old San Juan on your own, if you’re short on time and wish to make the most of your time in Old San Juan, we recommend you book a walking tour.
Top Rated Walking Tours in Old San Juan
Relax & Play at San Juan Beaches
You’re planning a Caribbean vacation, so of course, you want beaches. Grab a lounge chair, put on sunblock, and lay under the sun so you can return home with the perfect tan. San Juan has a variety of beaches, from Miami-style to more laid-back natural settings. We won’t tell you which beach to visit, visit our beach guide to choose which best suits your preference. Whether you want to just sit on a lounge chair and relax or be actively doing water sports, San Juan has a beach for you. Stay at a beachfront hotel so you can simply walk to the beach and have easy access to great restaurants and beachside entertainment.
Top Rated Beach Activities in San Juan
San Juan National Historic Site
The forts of Old San Juan are must-see attractions, where you’ll step back 500 years in time. Navigate these massive and magnificent fortifications and explore their tunnels, dungeons, ramps, and barracks. Bring your camera for the hundreds of gorgeous photo ops, with San Juan Bay as the perfect background. The most popular and beloved fort on the island is Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), it is easier to navigate and the grounds are filled with joy with children and adults alike flying a kite, be sure to buy one and join in. San Cristóbal is bigger and one of the top 5 must-see attractions on the island. San Juan National Historic Site also includes the forts of San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo) and the city walls.
Cruise Along the San Juan Bay
A romantic way of seeing Old San Juan is aboard a sailboat, especially during sunset. As the sailboat turns around the San Juan Bay, you’ll get to see the most spectacular views of the walled city, and sights of the most impressive UNESCO landmarks that protected the city; La Fortaleza, and Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
Tour a Rum Distillery
Puerto Rico is known as the “Capital of Rum”, producing most of the rum consumed in the United States. While in San Juan, you have the opportunity to tour a couple of rum distilleries. If you enjoy quality spirits, a tour will give you a deeper appreciation for quality rum and knowledge of the manufacturing process. A short distance from San Juan you can book a tour of Casa Bacardi Distillery, the world’s largest rum distillery, making premium rum since 1862. Another distillery you may enjoy is Ron de Barrilito at Hacienda Santa Ana, makers of the oldest rum in Puerto Rico. Tours are paired with a tasting of the most delectable rums. This is a great experience for couples and groups. See top-rated tours below, and learn more about all distillery tours here.
Top Rated Rum Distillery Tours near San Juan
Hacienda Campo Rico
We know is hard to get away from the blue coastline, but the green side of the island is also enchanting offering a fun, educational, and cultural experience the whole family will enjoy. If you’re in San Juan for just a few days and don’t wish to spend much time traveling away from the city, Hacienda Campo Rico is a great place to enjoy a variety of fun activities; Ziplining, ATV Trail Rides, Horseback Riding on elegant Paso Fino horses. See tours below at Hacienda Campo Rico and see additional ATV / Offroad Adventures in Puerto Rico.
Get to Know the Vibrant Culture & Taste of Puerto Rico
Old San Juan is the most beloved place on the island for residents of Puerto Rico, the epicenter of culture, music, food, and traditions. In San Juan, there’s always a reason to celebrate, dance, and gather with family and friends. Locals from towns across the island come to San Juan to enjoy the year-round cultural events, great entertainment, excellent food, and dance to the sounds of salsa played at the elegant squares and restaurants around the city.
Top Rated Cultural Tours in San Juan Puerto Rico
Go Kayaking, Paddleboarding alongside Manatees in Laguna del Condado
One of the best ways to get to know a place is to speak to the locals; if you did, residents who love nature and long for quiet will tell you about Laguna del Condado (Condado Lagoon), one of the most beloved places in San Juan. Condado Lagoon, located in the district of Condado within walking distance of the tourist district, is an estuary reserve for Caribbean Manatees where mammals and humans perfectly share the waters of the lagoon. At Laguna del Condado, you’ll see sights of romantic couples enjoying a floating picnic on the water, families paddleboarding and kayaking, and solo residents practicing the art of yoga on paddleboards. When the skies turn dark, residents and visitors alike enjoy the quiet of the waters that glisten with the city lights. Manatees are gentle creatures, so don’t be scared when you see a manatee swim by as you kayak or paddleboard.
We recommend you book a tour with a friendly guide for the best experience, highly rated tours are available such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and fun water bikes. One of the most booked and top-reviewed tours in San Juan is night kayaking with LED lights, resembling the magical bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico.
Top Rated Tours in Laguna del Condado
Learn How to Scuba Dive in San Juan
Take the challenge and take scuba diving lessons to fully enjoy the pleasures of the Caribbean. The Escambron Marine Park is a popular scuba diving site for beginners and tourists offering colorful marine life with easy access from Escambron Beach in San Juan. This is a great activity for couples and families wishing to have an out-of-the-ordinary vacation experience sure to ignite a passion for exploring the wonders underneath the water of Puerto Rico and other destinations you may visit in the future.
Walk, Shop, Eat & Dance at Paseo de la Princesa
A walking tour of Old San Juan ought to begin at Paseo de la Princesa, 19th-century walkways outside the city walls along the San Juan Bay. Walk through gardens, let your children play on the playground along the historic city walls, shop for unique authentic souvenirs sold by local artists, have a refreshing piragua or cup of Mavi, walk into the historic La Princesa building, take a picture on the elegant Raices fountain. Typically during weekends and holidays, there is live music, so be sure to stop and dance. Paseo de la Princesa has been referred to as “One of the most scenic walkways in the world”, so hold hands with your loved one, pause for a kiss, and head towards the La Puerta de San Juan (San Juan Gate) to begin your walking tour of the Old City.
Relax at a Plaza
We invite you to take a pause as you explore the streets of Old San Juan, and enjoy one of the Puerto Rican traditions of relaxing at the plaza. Life seems to slow down at a plaza, where a cup of Cafe con Leche (coffee with warm milk) and a delicious Quesito (crispy pastry stuffed with cream cheese), goes great with conversation as you admire the architecture of this colorful European-inspired place in the Caribbean. Plazas are common in Europe, when the Spanish colonized the island, they brought this wonderful urban design and tradition to the island. You can find a plaza in each of the municipalities around the island at the historic city centers. For Puerto Ricans plazas are like open living spaces where residents gather and most cultural activities are celebrated. During holidays, the best Puerto Rican musical bands and local talents come to sing to the rhythms of salsa, bomba, and plena, turning the plaza into a dance floor. There’s always something fun and exciting happening at the plazas, Puerto Ricans are always seeking a reason to celebrate life.
+ Main Plazas to Visit in San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Capital of San Juan has five main squares:
- Plaza de Colon
- Plaza de Armas de San Juan
- Plaza de La Catedral
- Plaza San Jose
- Plaza Barrandilla.
Plaza de Armas is one of the most visited plazas, surrounded by elegant historic buildings, statues, restaurants, and cafes. Children will love feeding the playful pigeons during the day. Throughout the city, you’ll find smaller courtyards, some offering the most scenic vistas where you can appreciate the San Juan Bay and watch the sunset.
Go Shopping – Best Places to Shop in San Juan
San Juan offers a great variety of shops ranging from local art galleries, unique souvenir shops, boutiques, and luxury stores. Head to Ashford Avenue in Condado, for boutiques and a few high-end stores. Head to Plaza Las Américas, the biggest mall in the Caribbean with a great variety of stores. The Mall of San Juan, the city’s newest mall is a smaller mall with high-end stores and a really nice food court. In Old San Juan, you’ll find many typical souvenir shops, but if you look more closely as you walk the city, you’ll find some of the most unique and interesting shops with exquisite jewelry, clothing, artisans, art galleries, and the popular authentic Panama hats.