Looking for fun things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico? This visitors guide covers all the best activities, beaches, historic sites, and so much more ... there is something for everyone, whether you want to relax or explore the island's amazing history!
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San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of my absolute favorite cities. The beaches, the food, the culture ... all of these thing make this lively city a special place that I've returned to again and again!
With balmy temps year round, it's basically the perfect warm weather destination. Plus, it's sooo easy to get there, and there's no passport needed if you're a U.S. citizen.
Whether you are visiting this colorful city on a cruise or planning an extended vacation, you'll find so many awesome things to do in San Juan. There's truly something for everyone—from beach bums to history buffs—to love.
Have I convinced you that you need to visit this fun, vibrant city yet? I've created a list of the best San Juan activities below ... keep reading to check them out, then start planning your own trip!
About This Guide
If you're wondering what to do in San Juan, this guide is for you! San Juan is known for its fascinating historic forts, picturesque walled city (Old San Juan), irresistible food and intoxicating drinks, amazing museums, beautiful beaches, lively nightlife, varied shopping, and so much more.
The city is fairly compact, so you can fit many of these activities into a short visit. Three days is enough for a quick visit to San Juan, although you'll need more time to dive deeper. Just make sure to leave plenty of time to relax on the beach!
I've covered all the most unique things to do in the city, plus a few nearby attractions that are worth renting a car for a day trip. You'll also find tips for planning your trip, such as the best time to visit and hotel information, after the list of activities.
To help you get around, I've also created a Google map which has everything pinpointed ... use it to help plan, then during your visit to find your way in the city. You can find it at the end of this article.
20 Best Things to Do in San Juan
1. Explore Old San Juan
No trip to Puerto Rico is complete without a visit to Old San Juan. In fact, it's many visitors favorite part of the city!
This beautiful, hilly neighborhood is where the city was founded in 1521, and it's fun and easy to explore on foot. Old San Juan is known for its charming streets, colorful colonial architecture, historic forts, lively plazas, lovely ocean views, unique blue cobblestones, and more.
Read my guide to the Best Things to Do in Old San Juan to learn about all the must see sites in Viejo San Juan.
Tip: if you are visiting the city via the San Juan cruise port, this is the perfect place to spend your day. Everything is within walking distance of the cruise terminal, and you can take the trolley if you want to avoid climbing the hills.
2. Discover San Juan's Historic Forts
The city's historic forts are one of its best tourist attractions.
When the Spaniards colonized Puerto Rico, they built numerous forts to protect their newfound treasures. The most popular forts, Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal, are located right in Old San Juan, making them very easy to visit.
These aren't the only forts in in city, although you can't go inside most of the others. You'll find a number of fortifications between Old San Juan and Condado. If you have a car, Fortín San Juan de la Cruz (also known as El Cañuelo) makes a good trip. This small, but important fort is fun to check out, plus there's a narrow, uncrowded beach here with excellent views of Old San Juan and El Morro.
San Juan's forts, along with the city walls and gate (Puerta de San Juan) are considered Puerto Rico's National Park. Check out my guide to this fascinating San Juan National Historic Site to learn more about these amazing forts.
3. Visit the Puerto Rican Capitol
Did you know that Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, and that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens?
If you enjoy visiting U.S. capitols, then check out El Capitolio, Puerto Rico's beautiful capitol building. The Neoclassical Revival Style building was constructed between 1925 and 1929, and the stunning mosaic dome was completed in 1961.
This National Historic Landmark is filled with unique art and architectural details, and it's a great place to learn about the island's history. Explore the building on your own, or take a free guided tour. It's located just outside Old San Juan.
4. Get Cultured at a Museum
If you have the time, a visit to one of San Juan's museums can add so much context to your trip. With a wide variety of museums in the city, there is something for everyone. Here are few worth checking out:
- Casa Blanca - This home was built for Juan Ponce de León. He died before he could move in, but his relatives did live there.
- Museo de Arte Contemporáneo - Contemporary art lovers won't want to miss this popular museum which has a collection of Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American art.
- Museo de Arte e Historia de San Juan - Learn about San Juan's art and history in this fascinating museum. On Saturdays, you'll also find a farmers market in the courtyard here.
- Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico - My favorite San Juan museum! The art and sculpture garden are amazing, plus, it's the only place I've seen Puerto Rico's elusive coquí, a tiny frog that gets its name from the sound it makes!
- Museo de las Americas - This unique museum is a former army barracks that's been transformed to display historical exhibits and art art from the pre-Columbian era to the present.
Discover more of the city's museums here.
5. Check Out Condado
Condado is one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Juan. With its Art Deco architecture, upscale shopping and restaurants along Ashford Avenue, beachfront resorts (including the iconic La Concha), and lively nightlife, Condado is known for its fun, trendy vibe.
You'll also find one of the city's most popular beaches here. And Codado's convenient, central location means there's something in this neighborhood for everyone.
6. Seek Out San Juan's Street Art
You'll find colorful, eye-catching street art everywhere here ... it's one of my favorite things about the city! Many of these murals are simply beautiful works of art. But start looking closer, you'll notice that much of the art explores cultural and political issues, like colonization.
Keep your eyes peeled as you explore the city, and you'll be rewarded! The murals are everywhere, but Old San Juan, Condado, and Santurce are my favorite neighborhoods to check them out. There's even an annual street art festival, Santurce Es Ley.
7. Sample Puerto Rican Rum
You can't visit this tropical island without trying its wonderful rum! Puerto Ricans have been producing top quality rum since the 16th century, and you'll find rum-based cocktails (this Mojito recipe is my fave) in every bar and restaurant. You can dive a little deeper by sampling local rums (Don Q is the most popular) or by going on a tour.
The Bacardí Factory is the most popular to place go rum tasting, and it's easy to get there from Old San Juan. There are numerous tours, and with the rum freely flowing, you're sure to have a great time. We did the Mixology Class and learned to make three classic rum cocktails ... it was sooo fun, and I'd highly recommend it!
We always pick up a bottle of Ron del Barralito before leaving PR, so I was excited to learn that they've opened up their historic hacienda for tours, too. I can't wait to go on our next trip.
8. Hit the Beach
Have you even visited Puerto Rico if you don't go to the beach? I think not! San Juan has some wonderful beaches. From hidden Playa Peña to trendy Condado Beach, laid back Ocean Beach, expansive Isla Verde, and others, there's a beach for everyone.
Some of the island's best beaches, like the Piñones and Luquillo, are located just outside the city ... find more info on those beaches below.
9. Indulge in Delicious Puerto Rican Food
If you've never had a Puerto Rican meal, you're in for a treat. The food has many cultural influences, including Spanish, African, and native Taíno. It's well-spiced (though not spicy) and so delicious!
You'll find the following dishes on many menus: mofongo (plantains / or another starch mashed with garlic, then topped or stuffed with stew), lechón (slow roasted pork), sancocho (beef stew), asopao (chicken stew), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), seafood and fish, arroz con habichuelas or gandules (rice with beans or pigeon peas), plantains (savory, twice-fried tostones or sweet maduros), deep fried fritters like alcapurrias (stuffed fritters) or bacalaítos (cod fritters), pasteles (similar to tamales), empanadillas (meat-filled hand pies), and others regional specialties.
When it comes to dessert, look for flan (Spanish custard with a sweet sauce), sweet pastries, rice pudding, or tembleque (Puerto Rican custard). On a hot day (there are many in PR!), cool off with a piragüa, which is crushed ice topped with flavored syrup. So refreshing!
Tips for Vegetarians and Vegans
As you may have noticed, Puerto Rican food is very meat-centric! On my first visit, I was worried that I wouldn't find anything to eat.
With a little pre-planning though, it's not a problem at all. You'll find a number of vegetarian / vegan restaurants in the city, and many restaurants serve veggie versions of favorite dishes like mofongo. It's imperative to check out menus ahead of time though, or you may be out of luck.
I have a few favorite restaurants, and they have something for everyone, meat eaters and vegetarians included. Try Stuffed Avocado Shop, Casita Miramar, Lote 23, Pinky's, El Yunque Treehouse and 18 Degrees (both near El Yunque rainforest), Cinema Bar 1950, Waiters, La Penultima, and Señor Paleta for a cool dessert.
10. Attend a Festival
If you happen to be visiting the city during a festival, make sure to join in the festivities!
Festivals are held throughout the year. They're an excellent way to learn about the island's history and culture, and a fun way to meet locals. Here are some of the most popular ones:
- Three Kings Day (January) - Celebrate this traditional gift-giving day with festivals featuring music, dancing, and other performances.
- San Sebastián Festival (January) - Join huge crowds in Viejo San Juan for live music, dancing, and circus performances. The party atmosphere reaches another level after dark.
- Casals Festival (February / March) - Enjoy classical music from local and international musicians at this world-renowned event.
- Saborea Puerto Rico Festival (May) - Indulge in food and drink from some of the best Puerto Rican and international chefs.
- Noche de San Juan (June) - Observe the nativity of Saint John the Baptist by heading to the beach, then jumping backward into the water seven times for good luck.
- Puerto Rico Salsa Congress (July) - Experience energetic salsa dancing at various locations throughout the city.
- Nochebuena (December) - On Christmas Eve, families and friends gather together all over the island. You can join in the festivities at many hotels and restaurants.
11. Escape the Other Tourists in Santurce
Are you wondering what to do after exploring Old San Juan and relaxing on the beach? Then, head to Santurce.
This large, colorful neighborhood is located off the beaten tourist track, and it's one of my favorite places. You'll find amazing street art, wonderful places to eat and drink, fun nightlife, and some of the city's best museums.
Read my Santurce visitors guide for all the must see sights.
12. Enjoy San Juan's Nightlife
If you're looking for fun things to do in San Juan, then stay up late and check out the nightlife!
Old San Juan is bursting with fun bars and restaurants that come alive after dark. They're the perfect place to enjoy a mojito (or two) or another delicious rum-based drink.
Want to hang with the locals? Head to La Placita (Plaza del Mercado). This market is surrounded by bars and restaurants, and the streets are filled with people partying the night away.
Not a drinker? Walking around the romantic streets of Old San Juan is one if my favorite things to do at night. The Paseo de la Princesa (enter at the San Juan Gate) is especially lovely in the evening.
13. Shop Until You Drop
San Juan has some wonderful shopping. You'll find everything from cheesy souvenirs to artisan-made goods. I'd recommend skipping the key chain, and looking for something more unique like jewelry, cigars, candy, coffee, or rum.
In Old San Juan, shops are concentrated on Fortaleza Street, Cristo Street, and San Francisco Street. For unique souvenirs, I especially like Eclectika, which is located near Plaza Colón. If you're in Condado, look for upscale boutiques on Ashford Avenue. In Santurce, you'll find many stores on Calle Loiza.
Can't live without the Gap for one more second? You'll be happy to know that the city is also home to the largest mall in the Caribbean, Plaza Las Américas.
14. Catch a Baseball Game
Baseball is huge in Puerto Rico. If you're a fan, plan your trip around a game or two.
Teams from the Puerto Rican league (Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente) play all over the island, and their season runs from November to January. You might even see a familiar name, as MLB players occasionally join local teams to stay in shape during off season. U.S. teams often play exhibition games there, as well.
The local team is the Cangrejeros de Santurce (Hiram Bithorn Stadium), and the Gigantes de Carolina play nearby, too. Seats are affordable, and the games are a fun, family-friendly experience.
15. Explore the Island's Coffee Culture
Coffee production has been an important part of Puerto Rico's economy since the early 1700s. Although it has waned in recent history, cultivation of artisan coffee is increasing.
Cafe culture is huge in San Juan, and you can easily experience it by visiting the city's best coffee shops. Relax with cup of locally-grown coffee and a sweet pastry at Cuatro Sombras, Cafe Don Ruiz, Caficultura, or Finca Cialitos.
Want to visit the source? Take a coffee plantation tour to learn how coffee is grown and processed.
16. Test Your Luck at a Casino
Did you know that you can gamble in San Juan? It's true, gambling is legal in Puerto Rico, and you'll find plenty of opportunities to test your luck throw away your cash all over the island.
17. Wile Away the Day in the Piñones
Are you looking for a truly unique beach experience? Then, head to the Piñones, an area that's popular with locals, though not as well known to tourists.
As you drive through the Piñones, you'll find a lush mangrove forest on one side and beaches on the other. Some beaches are crowded and others are nearly empty. When you need a break from the surf, ride your bike or walk on the boardwalk, or visit one of kiosks selling traditional Puerto Rican food and drink. It's the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon!
Tip: the Piñones are located just outside of San Juan (near the airport). If you don't have a car, you can take a tour of the Piñones and nearby Loíza. Bring sunblock and bug spray ... I was nearly eaten alive on my last visit!
18. Visit El Yunque Rainforest
El Yunque, a lush rainforest, is a must see on any Puerto Rico vacation. Beautiful El Yunque is a quick drive from the city. Once there, you can go hiking, view numerous waterfalls, or go swimming in the Mamayes River. It's truly one of my favorite places in Puerto Rico, and it's so easy to get there.
Read my guide to El Yunque National Forest to learn all about this magical place.
19. Relax in Luquillo, Puerto Rico
Combine your trip to El Yunque with a visit to Luquillo, home to some of the island's best beaches.
Luquillo is known for its sandy beaches and kioskos, small open air shops and restaurants where you can buy beach essentials or enjoy a bite to eat. Make sure to stay for the sunset ... it's beautiful here!
My guide to Luquillo Beach has tons of tips for planning your visit.
20. Discover the Islands of Vieques and Culebra
Want to escape the bustle of San Juan for a day (or more)? Head to nearby Vieques or Culebra! These beautiful islands are located a short distance off Puerto Rico's coast and easily accessible from the city. Both islands have beautiful beaches, but you'll discover other treasures there, as well.
Vieques is known for its amazing bioluminescent bay (more info below), free roaming Paso Fino horses, and the Caribbean's largest natural wildlife refuge. You can fly there from San Juan or Ceiba, or take a ferry from Fajardo or Ceiba.
Visit Culebra for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and other water-based activities. Arrive by plane from San Juan, ferry from Fajardo, or take a catamaran day trip.
21. Visit a Bioluminescent Bay
Did you know that there are only five bioluminescent bays in the world? And that three of them are found in Puerto Rico?
These breathtaking bays light up at night when thousands of single-celled organisms, stimulated by movement in the water, produce a glow-in-the-dark effect. Two of the bays are located near San Juan: Mosquito Bay in Vieques (the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world) and Laguna Grande in Fajardo.
You'll need to visit these bays on a kayaking tour, and to visit Mosquito Bay in Vieques you will need to stay overnight. If possible, avoid visiting during a full moon, and wear a natural bug repellent, because mosquitoes are likely!
Tip: if you are traveling around the whole island, consider visting La Parguera Bay, as well. It's located in southwest Puerto Rico, about two to three hours from San Juan, depending on traffic and route.
Tips for Planning a San Juan Trip
I hope you've enjoyed reading about all these wonderful things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico! It really is a special place to visit. Here are some tips to help plan your trip:
- Best Time to Visit - Puerto Rico's weather doesn't vary much month to month, so there really isn't a bad time to visit. It is slightly cooler and less humid during the winter though. Hurricane season runs from June through November.
- Getting Around - In my opinion, you really don't need to rent a car in San Juan. While having a car is convenient, the city is fairly compact, parking is tight, and it's best to walk around neighborhoods like Old San Juan anyway. However, it is necessary to have a car to explore areas outside the city, like El Yunque and Luquillo (unless you take a tour). I'd recommend only renting a car for the days you'll really need it, and walking, using Uber, or taking public transportation to get around on other days.
- How's the Weather? - Puerto Rico has a tropical marine climate, and the weather is pretty consistent year round. Highs range from mid to upper 80s, although it's hotter and more humid in summer. The hot, humid weather means that skies are often overcast, and that it rains a lot. In my experience, storms usually come in bursts rather than lasting all day. Winds can be strong (hold onto your hat and skirt!).
- What to Wear - With all that humidity, it can feel oppressively hot in San Juan. Dress casually and expect warm weather. Shorts with light tops and breezy sundresses are excellent options. Wear comfortable, low heeled sandals for walking on cobblestones and exploring historic sights. You'll need a swimsuit and coverup for the beach. Bring layers if you're traveling to El Yunque. It gets cooler the higher you climb, rains frequently, and sometimes feels quite chilly, depending on the weather. Sunscreen is a must, as are hats if you'll be outside for long stretches. This natural sunscreen is my fave, and this stylish Panama hat retains its shape even after being smashed in a suitcase. If you're heading to the beach, bring bug spray, too.
- How Expensive is San Juan? - Puerto Rico is a major tourist destination. While prices (for food, activities, hotels, etc.) are not outrageous, they're not cheap either. If you'd like to save money, it's easy to find free or affordable activities, including many of those listed above. You can also save money by getting off the beaten tourist track and visiting restaurants where locals hang out.
- Do You Need to Know Spanish? - It's not necessary to know Spanish when visiting San Juan, though it is helpful. Plan on learning how to greet people and how to say please and thank you (at the very least!). Once you get outside the city, you'll find that some people may only speak Spanish. If necessary, you can use Google Translate to assist you in communicating.
Where to Stay in San Juan
When researching San Juan hotels, you'll want to consider three main areas :
- Old San Juan - This beautiful, historic neighborhood has tons of interesting places to explore and a lively atmosphere. Just keep in mind that it's crowded with people, and you'll have to travel to visit the beach. Cruise terminals are located in Old San Juan. El Convento is a classic, luxurious option!
- Condado - If you're looking for a Miami-esque vibe with Art Deco architecture and fun restaurants and shops, then you'll love Condado. La Concha is beautiful and centrally located! If you're on a budget, check out the Holiday Inn Express.
- Isla Verde - This area is actually located in Carolina, the city right next to San Juan. It's just a few minutes from Old San Juan though and super convenient to the airport. Isla Verde also has the best beach in San Juan (in my opinion), plus some of the most luxurious hotels ... the Fairmont El San Juan and The Royal Sonesta are two wonderful options!
Fave hotel: My favorite hotel has been The Royal Sonesta (formerly the InterContinental) in Isla Verde. It's right on the beach, has a resort feel, and service is excellent. For a budget-friendly option, consider the Holiday Inn Express in Condado. While the rooms are on the small side, the location is super walkable, and it's close to many restaurants and across the street from the beach.
Other options: for a more local experience, consider renting an Airbnb. You'll find tons of exciting options, including apartments right in Old San Juan! Lively Condado, residential Ocean Park Beach, and artsy Santurce (on or around Calle Loiza), are also great choices.
Map of Activities
I created a Google map with all of these activities. Use it now to help plan your trip, then pull if up on your phone during your vacation to help get around.