14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Written by Lana Law
Updated Jan 12, 2024
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San Juan is a beautiful capital city with soft-sand beaches, a multitude of cultural attractions, and a vibe that could easily make it a destination for an entire vacation. Historic forts, colonial architecture, fine dining, museums, and many more things to do are all within easy walking distance. Beachfront luxury hotels and resorts can be found right in San Juan and neighboring districts.

Colorful buildings in Old San Juan
Colorful buildings in Old San Juan | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

At the heart of the city is Old San Juan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where colonial architecture mixes with contemporary Puerto Rican culture. The old buildings are now home to many of the city's attractions and tourist establishments.

San Juan is also a major cruise ship destination and is known for being one of the largest home-based cruise ports in the world. Depending on the number of cruise ships in port, the city can either be very quiet or extremely lively.

Plan your sightseeing with our list of top attractions in San Juan.

See also: Where to Stay in San Juan

1. Old San Juan (San Juan Viejo)

A square in front of El Convento Hotel
A square in front of El Convento Hotel | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Wandering the streets of Old San Juan is the main attraction of a visit here. It may be historic but it never gets old.

Showcasing almost 500 years of history, the area is a window to the past, with historic forts and Spanish colonial architecture setting the scene. This World Cultural Heritage Site is the second oldest city in the Americas and the oldest city under the US flag.

The seven-square-block area contains more than 400 beautifully restored 16th- and 17th-century colonial buildings, many of which contain shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, and other public buildings.

Old San Juan (San Juan Viejo)
Old San Juan (San Juan Viejo)

The most dramatic feature, and the real showpiece of Old San Juan is the Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, known more commonly as El Morro, set out on a point of land overlooking the sea in the San Juan National Historic Site.

Experience the city's real charm by simply wandering the streets, admiring the old architecture, and enjoying a meal on an outdoor patio. Other highlights are Fortaleza, the San Juan Cathedral, and Castillo de San Cristóbal.

As you stroll, be sure to pop into some of the museums, many of which are worth stepping into just to appreciate the architecture of the structure housing the collections. This whole area can be explored on foot, although the walk out to El Morro fort adds considerably more to the length of a walking tour.

2. Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (El Morro)

Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (El Morro)
Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (El Morro)

Protecting the entrance to San Juan Bay, the fort, commonly referred to as El Morro, is dramatically perched above the sea on a point of land jutting out into the ocean.

A designated National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, El Morro was built in 1539. Construction continued for another 250 years to make it one of the largest Spanish forts in the Caribbean. A majority of the additional construction took place between the 1760s and 1780s, when many of the walls you see today were added.

Entrance to Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (El Morro)
Entrance to Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The fort today is a maze of ramps, outposts, barracks, dungeons, and tunnels, dotted with small, circular sentry boxes called "garitas." These garitas are unique to Puerto Rican forts and have become a national symbol.

The area approaching the fort is an open lawn looking out to incredible views on every side, either back towards San Juan, including a view to San Juan Cemetery, or out to sea. This huge space is a popular area to fly kites in the steady breezes off the ocean.

El Morro is a National Park and an admission is charged to enter.

3. Castillo de San Cristóbal (Fort San Cristóbal)

Castillo de San Cristóbal (Fort San Cristóbal)
Castillo de San Cristóbal (Fort San Cristóbal)

While El Morro gets all the fame, Castillo de San Cristóbal is equally fascinating and well worth a visit. San Cristobal is bigger than El Morro, and is the largest fort the Spanish ever built in the New World.

Spread over 27 acres, it features five independent units connected by moat and tunnel, each designed to be self-sufficient should the others fall. The fort was built between 1634 and 1790 to guard the eastern gate to what is today, Old San Juan. It was designed to protect against a land attack, making it quite different from El Morro, which was designed to guard against attacks by sea.

Depending on how hot it is, you can walk from El Morro to Castillo de San Cristobal in about 25 minutes. If it's too hot for you, plan on a lunch stop along the way. One option we like, if you're looking for an authentic vibe is La Verguenza restaurant. Head up the stairs to the balcony area for amazing views out over the ocean while chowing down on fish tacos.

Your national park admission is good for here and El Morro.

4. Paseo de la Princesa

Paseo de la Princesa
Paseo de la Princesa

This pleasant walkway winds its way along the bayfront and provides exceptional views out over the water. With its wide sidewalks, the Paseo de la Princesa, dating from 1853, is the perfect place to visit for a stroll after spending time in the narrow streets and alleys of Old San Juan.

Paseo de la Princesa
Paseo de la Princesa | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Along the way, you'll pass by tinkling fountains with impressive statues. If the heat gets to be a little too much, cool down under large trees that provide welcome relief from the sun. On one side of the street is the bay and on the other, the steep city walls.

5. San Juan Cemetery (Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery)

San Juan Cemetery (Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery)
San Juan Cemetery (Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery)

Positioned along the coast, adjacent to El Morro, and high above the ocean, is the beautiful San Juan Cemetery. Elaborate tombstones, statues, above-ground graves, and a circular red-domed Neoclassical chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene are some of what makes this cemetery. Most outstanding though is the captivating seaside setting.

San Juan Cemetery and El Morro behind
San Juan Cemetery and El Morro behind | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

You can gaze over the cemetery in the distance from El Morro. This is one of the most fascinating views from the fort, looking out over the entire shore, including the cemetery. You can also look over the cemetery from above by walking down Cemetery Street and crossing the lawn.

The chapel in the cemetery dates to the 19th century, and many of Puerto Rico's earliest colonists are buried here.

6. San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan)

Interior of San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan)
Interior of San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan) | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Dating back to 1540, the Catedral de San Juan Bautista, also known as the Cathedral of San Juan, is one of the most important religious sites in Puerto Rico. The church is famous for being the final resting place of Ponce de Leon, the Spaniard who undertook the quest for the Fountain of Youth.

San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan)
San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan) | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

One of the lesser-known facts about the church is that it is the second oldest structure in the Western Hemisphere. However, the church has aged well, with the generous support of its parishioners. Inside it's immaculate, and the stained-glass windows glow as brightly, if not more so, than the day they were created.

The Catedral de San Juan Bautista is a working church and the seat of the Archdiocese of Puerto Rico.

San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan)
San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan)

You can appreciate the view of the building from a bench below the shady trees in the small Plaza de la Catedral, just across the street. Or, if you happen to be staying at El Convento Hotel, also across the street from the cathedral, you can enjoy a great view over the structure from the pool deck.

Address: Calle del Cristo #151-153, San Juan

7. Museo de las Américas

Courtyard of Museo de las Américas
Courtyard of Museo de las Américas | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Housed in former army barracks dating from 1880, the Museo de las Americas, in Old San Juan, explores the history of Puerto Rico, with a focus on the art, the ethnic groups, and the colonization of the country. Permanent exhibits offer a solid overview of the country's history, but temporary exhibits round out the experience, with interesting themes that include anything from contemporary art to traditional practices. This museum is a good place to start before embarking on a tour of the country's cultural and historic sites.

Fountain and flowers in front of the Museo de las Américas
Fountain and flowers in front of the Museo de las Américas | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

In front of the museum is a lovely space with flowers, grass, and a fountain that looks out to El Morro and the ocean. At the front of the grounds is a statue of Don Ricardo Alegria.

Address: Calle Beneficencia, San Juan

8. Condado and Ocean Park Beach

Condado and Ocean Park Beach
Condado and Ocean Park Beach

The Condado district lies on a piece of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Laguna Condado. The district was originally developed as San Juan's first tourist zone in the 1950s, creating a mini Miami Beach on the doorsteps of the city.

This is a modern area and a real contrast to Old San Juan. The main reason to visit Condado is for the beach or dining.

The main axis of the town is Avenida Ashford, along which stand a number of luxury hotels and resorts. Condado offers a broad selection of accommodations and facilities in all price ranges.

In the eastern area of the district is Ocean Park, a one-mile-wide beach encompassing residential homes and beach retreats. The white-sand beach is clean and very popular with locals. There are no facilities or change rooms here.

Condado is also home to the huge Convention Center, with shopping, theaters, restaurants, and space for festivals and exhibitions.

9. Isla Verde Beach

Isla Verde Beach
Isla Verde Beach

If you want to step off a plane and be on the beach in mere minutes, Isla Verde is the place to stay. A gorgeous Blue Flag-certified beach of golden brown sand is protected from the large waves by a large offshore reef. Hotels and condos line the beach and finding a place to stay is easy.

If you are staying in Old Town and are looking for a day on the beach, this is one of the best places to come, head to Carolina Beach, chair and umbrella rentals are available and parking is easy to come by in the large lot. If you are looking for pools and more of a vibe, the Vivo Beach Club is located nearby.

Isla Verde Beach is located east of Condado and Ocean Park, count on a 15-minute ride from Old San Juan.

10. La Fortaleza

La Fortaleza
La Fortaleza | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

La Fortaleza was completed in 1540 as a defense against the Carib Indians and other foreign invaders. It was occupied twice by invaders; first by the Earl of Cumberland in 1598 and then by the Dutch General Bowdoin Hendrick in 1625 when fire damaged the building.

The Fortaleza eventually lost its military value and became the residence of Puerto Rican governors, a role it still maintains today. La Fortaleza is the oldest governor's mansion still used as such in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 150 governors having lived or stayed here. The building itself has undergone many changes in its long history. The result is a blend of 16th-century military architecture with the refinements of the 19th century.

You can only visit the museum on a tour. Check at the Visitor Information Center for tour details. La Fortaleza and the surrounding streets are sometimes closed to the public without notice. Barricades are erected and security will stop you from going anywhere near the building.

Address: 52 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan

11. Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Museum of Puerto Rican Art
Museum of Puerto Rican Art | Paul Sableman / photo modified

The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico is one of the highlights of San Juan, and is a prominent player in the Caribbean cultural scene. The building, which was opened in 2000, was constructed around a 1920s hospital building. The older portion of the building displays the museum's permanent collection and is the first thing you will see as you enter.

The main focus of the permanent collection is work from the 17th century through to contemporary works. A good way to get a better understanding of all the cherished pieces is to take one of the free tours offered on Saturday at 10am or Sunday at 2pm.

The newer portion (the east wing) is a five-story structure containing a multi-story atrium, a theater with seating for up to 400 people, a sculpture garden, and a popular restaurant. Other rooms are available for workshops and exhibitions. In total, the museum contains more than 130,000 feet of space used to display the excellent permanent collection in 24 halls and to host temporary exhibitions.

Address: 299 Avenida de Diego, Santurce

12. San Jose Church (Iglesia de San José)

San Jose Church (Iglesia de San José)
San Jose Church (Iglesia de San José) | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Dominican friars built the Iglesia de San José in 1532, making it one of the earliest examples of Spanish Gothic architecture in the Americas. Unlike the San Juan Cathedral, this church is quite small, with a modest façade, but the vaulted interior gives it an airy feel.

For almost 300 years, the Spanish explorer Ponce de León was buried here until his body was moved to the San Juan Cathedral in 1913. The 18th-century Puerto Rican artist, José Campeche, is also buried here.

Plaza de San Jose beside Iglesia de San José
Plaza de San Jose beside Iglesia de San José | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Beside the church is Plaza de San José, a pleasant open area with a few tables and umbrellas for eating.

You can walk from the church, past the Galeria Nacional Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, and through the Plaza del Quinto Centenario, which looks out over the ocean. The plaza has an interesting clay and granite totem pole called El Tótem Telúrico. Created by Puerto Rican artist Jaime Suárez, it celebrates the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage to the New World.

From here you can walk down Cemetery Street to see the cemetery, or out to El Morro.

Address: Calle San Sebastián, San Juan

13. Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico)

Founded in 1984, this museum is the place to see the work of Puerto Rico's finest modern-day artists. Changing exhibits showcase the museum's collection of modern island-made prints, paintings, posters, and sculptures. Some of the most notable artists to have their work on display include Myrna Baez and Naomi Ruiz, among many others.

Located far from the Old City inside Sacred Heart University in the Barat building, the museum can be tricky to find. As the exhibits change frequently, be sure to contact the museum or visit their excellent website to find out about the most current exhibits.

Address: Edificio Histórico Rafael M. Labra, Ave. Juan Ponce de León, esquina Ave. Roberto H. Todd, Parada 18, Santurce

14. Plaza las Americas

Plaza las Americas
Plaza las Americas | cogito ergo imago / photo modified

When the culture, beaches, and heat of San Juan have taken their toll and it's time for a little escape, the Plaza las Americas might be the answer. This modern indoor shopping plaza is the place to come for a little retail therapy or to pick up something that was left at home or lost at the airport.

This is not the place to find traditional Puerto Rican souvenirs and trinkets; this is a large mall with US chain stores, the latest fashions, American restaurants, movie theaters, and some unique stores. It is considered by Puerto Ricans to be the best mall in Puerto Rico. Although it might not be at the top of the must-do list, this is a great rainy-day option.

Address: 525 Ave Franklin Delano Roosevelt, San Juan

Map of Tourist Attractions in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Where to Stay in San Juan for Sightseeing

We recommend these charming hotels, near top attractions and the cobbled streets of Old San Juan:

  • Condado Vanderbilt Hotel: This 5-star luxury beachfront hotel is one of the best hotels in the city. Created in Spanish Revival-style, it offers butler service, an ocean-view pool, and a deluxe spa. Located in Condado, it's just a short drive from Old San Juan.
  • Decanter Hotel: This mid-range hotel in Old San Juan is set in a 19th-century colonial-style building with a rooftop terrace and 24-hour concierge.
  • CasaBlanca Hotel: For something a little quainter, try this affordable boutique hotel. Its decor is Moroccan themed, and the property features a rooftop deck with soaking tubs. This is a great choice for a romantic getaway.
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17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Puerto Rico