- Puerto Rico
What to do, eat and see in and around the island’s capital city
In San Juan, there’s much to discover – Spanish colonial architecture, stunning beaches, 500 years of history and culinary treasures, both simple and sophisticated. Whether you’re under a beach cabana with a tropical drink or out exploring museums and historical sites, there’s no wrong way to have a good time here.
Explore Old San Juan
Blocks of blue cobblestone streets and pastel-colored, colonial-era buildings make Old San Juan a picture-perfect location and a must-see for visitors.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Expect enchantment as you explore the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century fort built by the Spanish upon a majestic cliff overlooking the ocean. Affectionately known as El Morro, this UNESCO World Heritage site and national historic site was built initially to deter invaders and wayward pirates. Today, it’s a wondrous location to learn about Puerto Rico’s history. Take a guided tour or go solo.
This café has been serving locals and visitors for more than 100 years. Fortify yourself with a café con leche (espresso and hot milk) and a delicious Latin pastry like the mallorca before heading out to shop. Who doesn’t love soft, sweet dough with a light dusting of powdered sugar?
Panama Hats and Island Crafts
Calle Fortaleza is an outstanding spot for everything from Puerto Rican coffee and cigars to hand-crafted specialties like linen tablecloths, hammocks and hand-carved art. Don’t leave the island without an iconic Panama hat. You can pick up a hand-woven one at Olé or El Galpón, both known for quality, hand-made goods. Chit chat with the store owners or staff – they’re happy to steer you toward the right fit and style.
Shopping for locally made art in Old San Juan
Savor San Juan’s Culinary Expertise
Puerto Rican cuisine continues to evolve while remaining true to its roots. Expect an eclectic mix of eateries from vegetarian-inspired to Spanish and island-influenced flavors served in casual family-style cafes and trendy bistros.
Count on authentic Spanish-rooted Puerto Rican dishes at this dining spot with prominent roots – it used to be La Princesa jail and is located on Old San Juan’s Paseo de la Princesa pedestrian promenade. These days, it’s known for its famous croquettes, which perfectly blend an exterior crunch of golden fried breadcrumbs with the delicious soft center of mashed potatoes, ham or seafood. Rum lovers can indulge here too, with more than 50 varieties of famed spirits.
Color-washed walls, vintage chandeliers, and a simple, yet elevated menu await you in this Old San Juan restaurant. Chef Gabriel Hernandez’s innovative style has earned this establishment a James Beard Foundation Award nomination. Fresh, local ingredients give the farm-to-table menu and daily specials added depth. Seafood favorites include the scallops atop a bed of parsnip mash and the fresh ceviche.
The warm interior of Verde Mesa restaurant
Discover Local Cocktail Culture
Coconut cream, pineapple juice, Puerto Rican rum and ice – they may sound like simple ingredients, but combined, they create a killer cocktail – the piña colada, a Puerto Rican icon. San Juan may just be the Caribbean capital of cocktail culture, where rum is king.
Let your search for the ultimate cocktail begin on a distillery-to-glass tour of Casa Bacardí, located right across the bay from Old San Juan in Cataño. Tour options include tasting, historical or mixology, but all offer glimpses into the fascinating history behind the brand along with the ins and outs of rum production.
Nestled in Old San Juan, Barrachina is a colorful and iconic restaurant, which has been serving bartender Don Ramón’s coveted piña colada recipe since 1963. Sit under an umbrella-covered table in the courtyard and enjoy your frothy drink. On Fridays and Saturdays, patrons might be lucky to catch a spirited flamenco show.
The Caribe Hilton, a legendary beach resort located on a private peninsula near Old San Juan, offers up its version of the piña colada. Concocted by the hotel’s bartender, also named Ramón, who served his version at the beachfront hotel for 35 years. Today, you can try one beachside or at the Atlántico bar with views of the lovely pool and surf in the distance.
La Placita de Santurce
This festive, artsy square surrounding Santurce’s historic marketplace promises more than delicious cuisine, fabulous cocktails and lively music. Its true draw is the warmth and feel good energy of the people. Kick off the good times at Toñita’s Café, where you can pop in for drinks and pastelillos (typical Puerto Rican appetizers like empanadas). Sit outside or wander around the square to fully appreciate the scene.
Learning how to make cocktails on the mixology tour at Casa Bacardí
The Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) services many airlines from destinations worldwide. Ground transportation via bus, taxi or car rental is readily available. Getting around the island is a breeze. San Juan and other major tourist areas are quite walkable, and Old San Juan has a free trolley. You can also get around via taxi, bus, rideshare and bike rental.