Old San Juan is a great place to visit for all ages and all types of travelers. From the cobblestone streets and historic buildings to delicious restaurants and amazing beaches, Old San Juan has something for everyone. Here are some of the top things to do in Old San Juan!
Almost 10 years ago I started traveling, and it all started with a 3.5-week long solo trip to Puerto Rico. I was based in Old San Juan for my time but got to see so much of this beautiful island. (Check the photo below, the tall building in the middle was where my hostel used to be!)
Coming back to Old San Juan, after traveling around the world, is going to be a whole new experience. When I visited Puerto Rico for the first time, it was also
- The first time I went on a plane
- First time I ever solo-traveled
- First time I ever left the continental US
As a poor little country girl who grew on farms this trip was such a big deal for me! And the experience changed my life. It wasn’t just traveling to a spot that opened up my eyes to travel. It was the people from all over the world that I met at our hostel. Many I still talk to this day!
Seriously, get out there and travel! Let my favorite quote inspire you:
“There’s a whole wide world out there waiting to be loved by you.”
What to Know About Visiting Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Old San Juan is an old colonial district in the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It contains many historic buildings, plazas, and churches dating back to the late 16th century. The district is located on a small islet that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, southwest of modern San Juan. With Spanish-era architecture and narrow cobblestone streets, Old San Juan is now one of the most popular attractions in Puerto Rico.
What to Expect in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Getting Around: Old San Juan is highly walkable! There is no need to get a rental car. Especially once you see what the street parking is like there. Oftentimes it is quicker to get somewhere in Old San Juan than it is to get a taxi. If you are getting a taxi, it can be easiest and quickest to meet instead at any of the plazas around Old San Juan. Ubers are widely available in San Juan.
- Language: English and Spanish are the two most commonly spoken languages in Puerto Rico, with only 20% of the population speaking fluent English. If you’re visiting Puerto Rico, it’s likely that most of the people you interact with will speak fluent English.
- Currency: Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, the currency is the United States Dollar (USD).
- Credit Cards and ATMs: Many places in tourist areas widely accept credit cards. If you need cash, you won’t have to search hard for an ATM.
- Cell Phones: Check with your phone provider as most US cell companies are available in Puerto Rico. I traveled there with T-Mobile service and it was wonderful, especially in San Juan! I had better service down there than I do in Austin.
- Internet: Old San Juan, and Puerto Rico as a whole, has okay internet service. Many businesses and hotels around the town offer free WiFi. But it does come and go, and isn’t guaranteed to be the strongest.
- Electrical Plugs: Puerto Rico uses the same plugs as found in the US.
Old San Juan Travel Tip: You can’t miss cruise ships coming into Old San Juan. They come in about 3-5 times a week, and always on Sundays. That means the city gets busier with all those people, but it also comes alive! More Puerto Rican artisans will have tables set up and more stores will be open.
Is it Safe in Old San Juan, PR?
Old San Juan is a very safe place to explore, even as a solo trip! You’ll notice there is a large police presence in the area. They’re there to help you feel safe, not because of any particular recent “problem”. This bilingual police force has been specially trained for the Old San Juan tourist area. They’ll help guide you on your way too, so if you’re lost or need directions, ask.
When is the Best Time to go to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico?
The best time to go to Old San Juan is any time! But really there’s no better time to visit Puerto Rico than in the springtime. The weather is perfect, it’s not too hot or too cold, and you’ll be able to avoid the crowds.
The island sees its best weather in winter – which is partly why this is the most crowded and expensive time to visit. Fall, on the other hand, leaves you susceptible to the effects of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Where to Stay: Best Airbnbs and Hotels in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Big World, Small Girl’s Pick: Hotel El Convento
Hotel El Convento is a Small Luxury Hotel of the World in Old San Juan. Located in the Plaza de la Cathedral, a lively plaza home to The Cathedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista. Each room on the property will make you feel like you’re a special guest. Located on one of the most photogenic streets, Caleta de las Monjas is located just steps away from the hotel. The hotel was renovated and renamed in the 1990s.
Personally, I think this is the most upscale spot to stay in Old San Juan– and it’s still quite reasonably priced. I highly recommend it! Click the link below to check availability.
Other Great Places to Stay in Old San Juan:
There are plenty of beautiful and historical hotels and Airbnbs around Old San Juan. Check out these great options!
Old San Juan Penthouse Rental with Amazing Terrace
Villa Blanca | Stylish Colonial 2 Bedroom
Hotel Palacio Provincial Right in the Heart of Historic Old San Juan
Things to Do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Old San Juan is a historic district in Puerto Rico that has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This means it’s an area of great importance to the world!
The cobblestone streets and old buildings are things you won’t find anywhere else, which makes Old San Juan an amazing destination for travelers from all over. You can see things like El Morro Fort and La Casa Blanca while getting lost in the vibrant culture of this beautiful place.
Here are some of my top things to do when visiting Old San Juan:
1. Admire the Colorful Buildings and Cobblestone Streets
2. Shop Local Art and Gifts in Old San Juan’s Boutique Shops
There are many boutiques located throughout Old San Juan where you can buy local art, gifts, clothing, accessories, and even food products. These shops have so many interesting things inside them that they’ll keep of all interests entertained for hours
3. Visit Castillo de San Cristobal
Old San Juan is surrounded by historic city walls with two main forts that were built to protect the city from a land invasion. The other one is Castillo San Felipe del Morro– which we’ll get into next.
In my opinion, Castillo de San Cristóbal is the best attraction of the two (if you’re tight on time). Also known as Saint Christopher’s Castle, Castillo de San Cristobal is the younger of the two Old San Juan forts having been built between 1765 and 1785.
The castle fortresses are operated today by the U.S. National Park Service, so there’s a small entrance fee of about $10.
OSJ TIP: Your ticket will get you into both forts so plan to visit both on the same day!
4. Visit the Other Castle in San Juan: el Morro
Tucked in behind the city walls of Old San Juan is another fort built by the Spanish in order to complete defense around the city. El Morro, as it’s called, has amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding area. This site was also used in part for interrogating prisoners during Spanish rule over Puerto Rico.
You can see things like dungeons, an old church and a morgue, and learn about how it all functions together when you take a tour through El Morro. This is one of the things to do in Old San Juan that you don’t want to miss!
5. Stroll Along the City Walls
The best things to do around here are those which give you a better perspective on things to do in Old San Juan which people miss too often. The city walls trace around 2/3rds of the neighborhood’s perimeter, giving visitors a chance to see things like historic buildings and amazing views from above.
6. Take an Evening Sunset Cruise
Cruising through the bay is a great opportunity to see things from a new perspective. Have you ever seen Old San Juan lit up with lights as the sun goes down? When the sky is dark, it’s even better because things like colorful buildings and historic landmarks light up!
We booked a private tour with Sail San Juan Bay and had a fabulous time on an old racing sailboat. I highly recommend this tour company for your Old San Juan sunset cruise. Click the button below to book!
7. Learn About the History of Bacardi with a Factory Tour
8. Enjoy a Walk Through Paseo de la Princesa
Come on, let’s go! You can’t be in Old San Juan without walking along the Paseo de la Princesa. This promenade is lined with beautiful flowers, street vendors, and old-fashioned lamp posts. Right at the end is the Puerta de San Juan, the gate (pictured above) used during colonial times to guard and protect the old city.
9. Take a Tour to el Yunque Rainforest
El Yunque Rainforest is about an hour’s drive from Old San Juan. It is the only US National Park classified as a rainforest. This lush 29,000-acre rainforest is home to 240 tree species, waterfalls, rivers, and freshwater pools. There is plenty of wildlife as well as waterfalls and natural rock pools to cool.
There are currently two entry times: 8-11 am and 12-3 pm. You need to make a reservation beforehand. For weekends, make reservations in advance, but during the week you need to make reservations at least 24 hours in advance.
To get to El Yunque, it’s possible to take an Uber from Old San Juan. But finding a return Uber can be difficult because cell service isn’t the best in the park. If you don’t have a rental car, your best bet is to take an all-day guided tour.
10. Soak up the Sun at the Beaches in (and Around) Old San Juan
Old San Juan is full of beautiful beaches and great activities to enjoy during your trip. Here are some of the top beaches you can visit while you are in Old San Juan.
- Playa Peña is a little hidden beach behind the Capital Building. It’s never crowded and is a great spot to find sea glass!
- Condado Beach is technically in San Juan, but is the most popular. Usually very crowd but there are bars and restaurants in the area.
- Playa Ocean Park is again in San Juan, but is quieter than Condado Beach. You’ll find more locals here.
11. Eat and Drink at the Best Bars and Restaurants in Old San Juan
- Cafetería Mallorca
- Princesa Cocina Cultura
- Deshistoria – Birra & Empanadas
- Café Manolín Old San Juan
- La Taberna Lúpulo
- La Factoría
Need Help Planning Your Trip to Puerto Rico?
Check Out These Other Big World, Small Girl Puerto Rico Travel Guides
Whether you’re traveling on your own, as a family, or with friends it is easy to see why Old San Juan is one of our favorite places to visit. This city has been around since 1521 so there’s plenty of things from history that you can be inspired by during your stay.
I hope you enjoy this list of the top things to do in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you are looking for more things to do in Puerto Rico, be sure to check out these travel guides to help plan the perfect Caribbean escape!
- Stunning Puerto Rico Pictures to Inspire Your Next Trip
- The Most Beautiful Puerto Rico Beaches You Don’t Want to Miss
- Ultimate Travel Guide to Culebra and Vieques, Puerto Rico
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