San Juan is a capital city that is filled with hundreds of years of culture and history. Step back in time with a wander through Plaza Dársenas and mingle with locals. Or, climb the steps of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and take in the views of the ocean around it. Afterward, indulge in traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, which is called comida criolla (creole cuisine). Featuring ingredients like plantains, you'll feel your taste buds come alive with each bite.
San Juan has plenty of photo-worthy spots scattered around the city. But the one that steals the show is Calle Fortaleza. A blue and white building, acting as the governor's residence, is surrounded by pink and yellow buildings built in the traditional Spanish colonial style. Balconies line the cobblestoned streets, creating a picturesque pastel-painted dream. Snap some photos of the technicolor road before embarking on another hour exploration of colorful corners. Calle Fortaleza is the perfect jumping-off point for a nice wander around the rest of Old San Juan, where each street is more radiant than the last.
If you're looking for something a bit edgier but just as colorful, head to Santurce, an area of San Juan that is known for its emerging art scene. The streets are lined with interesting street art and graffiti. Don't miss Calle Cerra, where you'll find work addressing social issues in Puerto Rico.
2. PICTURE PERFECT PROMENADE
Take a stroll down the Paseo de la Princesa in Historic Old San Juan. Relax on a bench underneath the trees and take in the views as locals and tourists wander down the promenade toward the striking fountain and water. This place is perfect for a romantic walk or a fun bike ride with the family. Named as one of the most scenic walkways in the world, it's no wonder that this place gets busy on a beautiful day. Paseo de la Princesa is part of San Juan Puerto Rico History and Culture and dates back to 1853 and has since been restored. And whether it's the daytime or evening, the promenade will be bustling with people. Enjoy live music, art vendors and stands selling traditional food.
You could easily spend an entire day exploring the many forts in the city. In fact, it's one of the most common activities when visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico. From Fort San Cristóbal, the biggest fortress on the American continent to El Morro Castle, which overlooks the San Juan Bay and faces the Atlantic Ocean, there is plenty to be seen. There's even Fortín San Juan de la Cruz on Isla de Cabras, which is stunning to look at, even if it is closed to the public. A great trip with the kids, visiting the forts allows them to pretend they're protecting the "New World" from pirates and foreign invaders. And if you're looking for a more romantic moment, visit earlier on in the day, before the crowds descend or right before sunset for sweeping views.
While salsa dancing got its start in the mid-'70s by Puerto Ricans living in New York, you can see people getting their groove on all around Old San Juan. Try your hand at the combination of fast footwork and swaying hips and see if you have what it takes to dance with the best of them. If you're kicking off your cruise with an extra night in San Juan, then grab your dancing shoes and hit some of the best night clubs in the city. And if it's a little too much for you, opt for one of the jazz clubs in San Juan instead, for a night filled with just as much fun. The nightlife in historic San Juan is something not to be missed as the city really comes to life when parties overflow out of bars into plazas and locals and tourists mingle and dance to vibrant music.
5. TAKE A PEEK AT THE PAST
Carve some time out of your day to take a quick visit to Casa Blanca a major place in San Juan Puerto Rico history and culture. The part museum-part previous home was built for the first governor appointed by the Spanish Crown, Juan Ponce de Leon. Originally built in 1521, it served as a residence for Juan Ponce de Leon's descendants until the mid 18th century. However, he died before having the chance to live there. Since then, Casa Blanca has been home to the Spanish and American armies at different times throughout history. In 1967, the Puerto Rican government gained control of the building and turned it into the historical monument it is today. The museum features rooms set up as they once were in the 16th and 17th centuries. Visit bedrooms and kitchen areas and learn what it was like to live in Puerto Rico several centuries ago. Or take a stroll through the beautiful, lush gardens that surround the property.
6. IT'S TIME TO TAKE CENTER STAGE
San Juan is full of beautiful plazas, but the most beautiful of them all is Plaza La Rogativa. Enjoy 180-degree views of San Juan Bay and look out to El Yunque and Isla de Cabras in the distance. But don't forget to stop and admire the beautiful La Rogativa, which is the crown jewel of sculptures in Old San Juan. Made out of bronze by Lindsay Daen, the stunning statue's name means "The Procession" and tells a story of a Catholic Bishop and his followers who made a procession during an invasion by the British in 1797. It now serves as an excellent spot to admire the sunset and also acts as a popular wedding location for small services when visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico.
There's nothing like seeing a city in the evening. Especially one like Old San Juan, which seems to really wake up once the sun goes down. Enjoy an evening walking tour and listen as your guide delves deep into the history, mythology and folklore of the city. From ghost stories to tales of Hollywood movies and legends of historical leaders, enjoy a wander through the city as it glows. Most tours last about two hours and cover around two miles. Grab your best walking shoes and listen as the magic of Old San Juan unfolds in front of you. Afterward, head to one of the many public plazas and get an even better look at the vibrant city.
8. CREOLE CUISINE AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
When you think of Puerto Rico, you may not think of diverse cuisine. But, on the streets of Old San Juan, top restaurants from all over the world have popped up. From traditional comida criolla to fusion style restaurants packing the flavor into local favorites, the options are pretty much endless. Enjoy a juicy churrasco (skirt steak) paired with mofongo (mashed plantains) or Arroz con Gandules (yellow rice mixed with pigeon peas and pork), the national dish of Puerto Rico. And if you're looking for something fresh and light, order some seafood caught earlier that day at one of the many sushi restaurants. Indulge in tasty toasted breakfast sandwiches that crumble when you take a bite or enjoy an up-class meal of lobster risotto, foie gras or octopus salad. Sip on a glass of wine or get fun and festive and cool off with a sweet piña colada, the national drink of Puerto Rico.
If San Juan was a glass of water, it would be overflowing with history. The Puerto Rican capital is dotted with museums covering all sorts of subjects from history and art to sports. Spend a few hours at the Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art which has one of the most striking glass roofs, which is what often draws people there. After admiring the roof, take a walk around the space to look at the art. Learn about San Juan Puerto Rico’s history and culture at the Museum of the Americas, which used to be infantry barracks and is housed in a stunning building. Take a guided tour at the Museum of History, Anthropology and Art. Or, visit the Sports Museum of Puerto Rico and learn about the legends in baseball, boxing and more who came from the country.
10. LET'S GO TO THE BEACH
One of the highlights of being in Old San Juan is that you can spend your morning exploring the city and your afternoon soaking up the sun on one of the many beaches. Head to Escambrón Beach for a day of splashing around in the water and snorkeling with vibrant fish around colorful coral reefs. Or, venture over to Ocean Park Beach, and join in on a fun game of volleyball, football or paddle tennis with the local residents. Condado Beach is a stunning beach, perfect for enjoying the sunshine. And if you're more interested in the views than getting a tan, there is a small park nearby lined with many restaurant options to satisfy any craving you may have. Close by, the Condado Lagoon is a great place to get on the water and paddleboard or go for a dip in the calm San Juan Bay Estuary.
Venture out to Isla de Cabras, a small island that extends over the bay of San Juan. Palm trees and crystal-clear water await you on this little tiny oasis paradise. You can get here by car and enjoy an afternoon of gorgeous views over San Juan. Sit back and relax with a picnic and watch as cruise ships sail past you. The small island is home to the Fortin San Juan de la Cruz, which is part of the San Juan National Historic Site, and there is a ton of great stuff to enjoy with the family. After exploring, put on your bathing suit and enjoy a dip in the beautiful blue ocean.
12. DON'T FORGET TO LOOK UP
Architecture buffs will be spoiled when they visit historic San Juan. Buildings dating back centuries line the street and the city's charm comes from the brightly painted structures found around town. From El Morro, an iconic castle dating back to 1539, with its impressive medieval tower and looming stronghold, to the Cuartel de Ballajá, which was once an infantry and is now home to the Museum of the Americas and boasts an impressive courtyard and columned structure, to the dramatic gothic styling of the San Juan Bautista Cathedral, which dates back to 1521 and has been restored several times, there is something for everyone to appreciate. Start off your self-guided architecture tour at the Plaza de Armas, which is where the Casa Alcaldía de San Juan (city hall) is, making it the perfect spot to take in a stunning building and go off exploring some more.