Most people coming to Puerto Rico start with the capital – so today we’ll be looking at the best things to do in San Juan.

San Juan is the largest city and the capital of this lush, colorful island in the Caribbean. It’s a perfect blend of old and new.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico cityscape on the water in the Caribbean.

You can explore ancient forts, stroll through narrow cobblestoned streets, drink sangria, dance with the locals,  swim on the magnificent beaches and party into the night in one of many restaurants and bars.

Just remember that Puerto Rico is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and keep it in mind as you’re reading this post and visiting San Juan. 

Try to do what you can to help this beautiful country preserve its climate and cultural heritage.

There are so many things to do in San Juan, you definitely need help so you do not miss anything. 

Here is a bit of help with that, 15 things to do in San  Juan, Puerto Rico to create unforgettable memories – in a sustainable way!

1. Walk the streets of Old San Juan

Almost five hundred years old, Old San Juan has so many things to see and do, you might need a separate vacation just for it. 

Wandering the streets is one of the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico

One of the best things to do in Old San Juan is to stroll through the narrow cobblestoned streets between colorful houses and charming old squares. Start at the old city walls. 

Visit the Bautista Cathedral with the tomb of the famous Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Taste local delicacies at the small cafes and classy restaurants on Calle del Cristo. 

Check out hole-in-the-wall restaurants where they serve authentic Puerto Rico food and the owner knows all the patrons. Enjoy street festivals and green markets and the fascinating blend of old and new. 

Stroll along Fortaleza Street, one of the oldest streets in the city. It starts at Columbus Square and is lined on both sides with government buildings, restaurants, craft shops and hotels.  

Editor’s tip: Get the best photos of old San Juan on this sunset walking tour!

2. Have Fun Volunteering for Conservation and Sustainability Organizations

Volunteering can be a surprisingly fulfilling activity and it will help you get to know San Juan and Puerto Rico from a completely different angle.

AGUADA, PUERTO RICO: Volunteers Working on the construction of an Earthship.

Editorial credit: Wirestock Creators /

You can volunteer for organizations such as WCK’s Food Producer Network where you can help with some pretty cool activities such as planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables, building sheds, working with animals, and more.

Volunteering can help you meet other like-minded people, as well as see the cities and regions which you would never see otherwise. 

These kinds of experiences are unique and are not to be missed.

3. Stand on Top of the Castillo San Cristobal

Built in the 17th century by the Spaniards to guard the city against invaders, San Cristobal is another magnificent San Juan attraction. It is located at the city’s eastern gate and offers a fantastic view of the old San Juan.

Castillo de San Cristobal Sentry Box, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Castillo de San Cristobal is designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

Covering 27 acres, perched on San Cristobal Hill, San Cristobal Fort was the largest fort Spaniards built in the New World.

Its massive ramparts and interior courtyards are fascinating to explore. It is easy to imagine the times when they were teeming with soldiers and the noise of the battle.

Don’t miss the famous Garita del Diablo, a sentry box on one corner of the fort once used to keep a lookout for the coming enemies.

Pride of Puerto Rico and still part of its defense system, San Cristobal castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

4. Take a San Juan Food Tour

Some of the best restaurants in Puerto Rico are located in San Juan which is why doing a food tour is one of our favorite things to do in San Juan.

 As you explore the city’s narrow streets, look for places offering traditional local dishes such as arroz con habichuelas or mofongo. 

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 20: A street performer serenades visitors for tips in Old San Juan on March 20, 2016. Tourism revenue has remained relatively unaffected by the island's budget crisis.

Editorial credit: Mihai O Coman /

Look for places where the locals eat, to experience the true native flavors. Most of such places are in neighborhoods such as Santurce, Condado, Old San Juan or Piñones.

You can do it on your own, or join one of many food tours.  They combine a walking tour of the city and visits to some of the most authentic eateries. 

Experienced local guides know just where to go for the most delicious dishes and drinks. You might even get the chance to talk to chefs and visit local markets where they get their ingredients.

Editor’s tip: This food tour combines cuisine and culture. You can sample local food and even learn how to make your own Puerto Rican dish! Get tickets here.

5. Sunbathe at San Juan’s Beaches

Some of the best Puerto Rico beaches are in San Juan. They have one thing in common: huge expanses of fine golden sand surrounded by lush vegetation, just steps from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Puerto Rico beach travel vacation landscape background. Isla Verde resort in San Juan, famous tourist cruise ship destination in the Caribbean. Going to the beach is one of the best things to do in San Juan.

Escambron Beach, located at the entrance to San Juan, is popular with the locals for the nice shade provided by tall palm trees.

On one side, this beach is perfect for swimming and sunbathing. On the other side, large rocks make it great for snorkeling and spotting sea life such as turtles. The beach has all the usual facilities such as showers and bathrooms.

Condado Beach in the Condado hotel district is the beach for you if you want to enjoy some beach sports or need the comfort of beach chairs and umbrellas. There are no lifeguards and no showers.

Ocean Park Beach will make you feel like you are in Miami – a wide, massive expanse of fine sand surrounded by tall hotels and resorts.  

The beach is exposed to strong winds so you can enjoy watching windsurfers while relaxing in your lounge chair in the shade of an umbrella.

6. Hop between San Juan’s iconic plazas

Like all old Spanish towns, San Juan is full of lovely plazas that used to be the heart of public life and culture in the old times. 

Plaza de Armas was considered the city’s main town square. On one side is San Juan’s town hall building and on another is the Department of State. 

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista.

You can enjoy the thriving life of the Plaza de Armas with a cup of coffee and a pastry from one of many benches that line the square. 

Take a photo with the statue of famous Puerto Rican composer Tito Curet Alonso. There is always something going on and Plaza de Armas is a great place to see the life of the locals.

Located just to the right of the Puerta de Tierra in the old city wall, Plaza Colón is one of the most important plazas in all of San Juan. 

In its center is a monument to Christopher Columbus, placed there to commemorate the 400 years of the Spanish arrival.

Plaza del Quinto Centenario, located across the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, is a modern plaza built to commemorate Columbus’ first sailing to the New World 500 years ago. 

In the center of the square is Tótem Telúrico, a 40-foot tall tower that symbolizes the New World‘s origin.

7.  Consider Staying at a Certified Green Accommodation

One of the best things to do in San Juan for the environment is to stay in eco-friendly accommodation. 

In an effort to attract more climate-conscious travellers, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company has introduced a process of “green” certification.

Within this program, they review hotels, farm stays, and other accommodation options to assess how well they promote sustainability and usage of resources such as water, energy and waste.

So why not consider staying at an eco-friendly resort such as the El Yunque Treehouse, which is actually located on a tree, and has its own bedrooms, kitchen and lounge – all right in the middle of a rainforest.

El Yunque is only a short drive out of San Juan and will fit into your plans – if you’re interested in this awesome eco-friendly accommodation option.

8. Stroll down Paseo de La Princesa and Paseo del Morro

Stretched between la Puerta de San Juan and El  Morro fort in Old San Juan, Paseo la Princessa is San Juan’s most magnificent promenade.

Fountain "Paseo de la Princesa" in old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Ancient Puerta de San Juan used to guard the city during Spanish times. The promenade is lined with elegant lamp posts and several ornate fountains where tourists like to cool off and take photos. 

There are plenty of street vendors selling refreshments and souvenirs. 

While there, check the famous restaurant Princesa Gastrobar, known for its authentic Puerto Rican food and a large collection of Puerto Rican rums. 

The Paseo de la Princesa continues at Paseo del Morro, which will take you to the famous fort.

9. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Puerto Rico was established in 1984 to represent and promote the works of Puerto Rican and Caribbean artists from the mid-20 century to today.

The museum, located in Santurce neighborhood, occupies a beautiful Georgian building designed as a high school in 1906.

The museum’s permanent collection consists of about 1200 artworks. It organizes frequent exhibits, social gatherings and public events.

10. Admire the street art in Santurce

While strolling through the colorful, lively Santurce neighborhood, you cannot miss all the huge flamboyant murals painted by the local artists on the walls of the local houses. 

If you are particularly fond of murals, you should come during the annual international mural festival called Santurce es Ley. The participants create new original murals all over San Juan.

Besides murals and several large art museums, Santurce is also known for some great restaurants.

11. Relax at the Botanical Garden

The Botanic Garden, owned by the University of Puerto Rico, spreads over 289 hectares in a lush oasis with 30,000 species of native plants and trees. 

It also takes care of endangered species and preserves about 36,000 plant samples in its herbarium. 

Heliconia rostrata (also known as hanging lobster claw or false bird of paradise) is an herbaceous perennial native to Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, and naturalized in Puerto Rico.

The huge garden is a fantastic place to spend the day. It has lakes, waterfalls, many trails, picnic spots and sculptures. 

The garden is primarily a research and educational institution, but it also organizes frequent exhibits, seminars and workshops.

You might enjoy strolling and exploring the garden on your own, but there are organized tours that are very informative.

12. Taste a cup of good coffee

Spanish brought coffee to Puerto Rico in 1736 and ever since then coffee became a big part of life in Puerto Rico. The folks grow it, export it, drink it in large quantities and sell it everywhere. 

You can find a great cup of strong, sweet coffee in small kiosks in the markets and on the streets. There are some very popular coffee shops and you can even drink it at one of many coffee plantations on the island.

One of the most popular coffee shops is Café Regina, originally a kiosk at Lote 23 in Santurce. Today, Regina is famous for its ginger beer, cold brew, lime and coconut and cardamom syrup and iced cashew milk latte. 

Another coffee shop worth checking out is 787 Coffee with 11 shops all over the country that sells its own coffee grown on the Hacienda Iluminada in Maricao. 

One of San Juan’s historic landmarks is the coffee shop called the Cuartel de Ballajá constructed around 1854. Their coffee comes from their plantation the Yuaco hacienda and is considered one of the best in the world.

13. Chill at T-Mobile District

The T-Mobile District is one of San Juan’s newest attractions located next to the Puerto Rico Convention Center.

El Centro de Convenciones de Puerto Rico is the an example of ultra modern architecture and the main convention center in San Juan, PR, USA.

This huge retail and entertainment complex includes ten restaurants, eight movie houses, a hotel, two live music stages, a performance plaza and a lively park with a zipline and a maze.

There is something always going on at T-Mobile and it is a great place to meet the locals.

14. Drink at La Factoría

Finding out what is the best bar in San Juan is impossible, everyone you ask has a different opinion. But, most locals will agree that La Factoría is an absolute must-stop. It is even considered to be one of the world’s 50 best bars. 

La Factoria looks pretty unassuming from the outside. Once inside, you are greeted by loud music and a young fashionable crowd. 

There are in fact six bars connected by secret passages. Each bar has its unique specialities, menu and music.

If you end up going there, try the famous Lavender Mule made of Ketel One vodka, lavender, ginger tea and lime).

15. Eat local food made from sustainable local produce

Like the rest of the world, San Juan (and all of Puerto Rico) is suffering from the effects of pollution and climate change.

Try to do your bit to help the world, and investigate all the organic and sustainable food options in San Juan – there are lots of organic cafes and shops.

The “Tostado” cafe at 610 Calle Condado serves delicious breakfast, brunch and lunch. These guys are all about organic food.

Or simply head to the local markets and buy locally grown fruits and vegetables and eat (or cook) them at your own time.

Open air produce stand in San Juan Puerto Rico with beautiful colorful fresh tropical fruits and vegetables

Over To You – the best things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico

There are far more than 15 things to do in San Juan Puerto Rico. San Juan is the country’s beating heart.

It is ancient and traditional at the same time as modern and thriving. You can explore its history and architecture or immerse yourself in its culinary delights. Or just go to the beach and take it easy.

Just remember to consider various sustainable and organic options – that will help both the local economy and the planet!

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Planning a trip to Puerto Rico? Discover the best things to do in San Juan, including unmissable landmarks, epic tours, best places to eat and drink and sustainable experiences.

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