10 Things to Do in Old San Juan
Whether you’ve disembarked from your cruise ship for a few hours or you’re taking a day to tour the Metro area during a longer Puerto Rico stay, there’s plenty to discover in Old San Juan.
Old San Juan’s rustic 18th-century cobblestone streets are lined with brightly painted buildings, unique shops, cool cafes and fantastic restaurants. This historic city’s distinct offerings appeal to both locals and international visitors. Here are 10 ways to explore the many charms of Old San Juan.
History buffs will certainly be sated in Old San Juan. It’s replete with history, including the San Juan National Historic Site. Within it are the 16th-century fortresses of San Felipe del Morro, San Cristóbal and San Juan de la Cruz, as well as remnants of the old city walls.
The Gothic-style San Juan Cathedral, one of the oldest structures in the city, preserves the remains of Juan Ponce de León and is open daily for services. Other historical landmarks of note include La Fortaleza, Museum of the Americas (and Ballajá Barracks) and others. If you want to dive into the past, we’ve created a self-guided historic walking tour that includes several “must visit” landmarks.
Make your way along Tetuán Street to find The Narrow House (La Casa Estrecha). It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the narrowest house in the Western Hemisphere. Architect and proprietor Antonio Alvarez transformed the unused space into a habitable abode in the early 2000s. The two-story home measures just five feet three inches at its widest point.
The house is sandwiched between two normal sized buildings, amplifying its petite size. However, the house’s sunny yellow facade with a deep green door and balcony catches your eye. The building serves as a gallery showcasing local artists’ depictions of the Narrow House. The second-floor window provides a remarkable view of San Juan Bay. On a clear day you can also see Puerto Rico’s tallest peak, Cerro Punta, in the distance. Tours are $5 and are capped at four people per tour. Admission price benefits various local non-profit organizations.
Address: 101 Tetuán Street, Old San Juan
Hours: Call for tour times
From art galleries and artisans’ kiosks to jewelry stores and clothing boutiques, Old San Juan offers an extensive variety of shopping options for such a compact area.
Owned by artist Angel Botello, Galería Botello features myriad sculptures and paintings, as well as an impressive collection of antique carved saints. Botello’s own works that include bronze sculptures, lithographs and oil paintings are also available for purchase.
Address: 208 Calle Del Cristo, San Juan
Hours: Open Mon–Sat, 10am–6pm
Poet’s Passage is a beautiful mash-up of an art gallery, coffee shop and poetry museum. It’s owned by Lady Lee Andrews, a local poet and publisher. Every piece in the shop was designed and crafted at the store and their workshop—an eclectic collection of ceramic tiles, poetry books, and fine art prints.
Address: 203 Calle Cruz, San Juan
Hours: Open Mon, Thur, Fri and Sat, 10am–6pm; Wed,11am–6pm; Tues,10am–12am; closed Sun
If your visit falls on the last Sunday of the month, be on the lookout for kiosks set up behind the Ballajá Barracks beside the Bastion. There, you’ll find outside vendors who are part of The Artisan Corner, a collective of local craftspeople offering an authentic cultural shopping experience. Choose from paintings and woodcrafts to handmade soaps and candles—and everything in between.
Hours: Call ahead to confirm
You’ll often find local artisans’ tents set up along Columbus Square (Plaza Colón), too. The tree-lined square is located at the entrance of Old San Juan. Vendors sell unique and relatively inexpensive handmade souvenirs like jewelry, accessories and other items.
Kick your morning off with breakfast at Cafeteria Mallorca. Opened in 1848, the restaurant is named for their signature menu item, Mallorca bread. This heavenly plump and buttery roll dusted with powdered sugar and a mercifully strong cup of coffee will give you the fuel you need for a day of exploring Old San Juan. Missed breakfast? They’re open for lunch, too. All menu items are reasonably priced and they serve generous portions.
Address: 300 C. de San Francisco, San Juan
Hours: Daily 7am–5:30pm
Though Choco Bar Cortés opened in 2013 (the first “choco bar” in Puerto Rico), the family behind it has been crafting bean-to-bar chocolate for more than eight decades. From starters like ham croquettes to their mofongo chalupitas, most dishes are infused with chocolate. It’s divine. Don’t miss the upstairs gallery filled with local art, as well as artifacts from the Cortés family’s personal collection. It’s part of the Cortés Foundation, a non-profit organization established to educate and showcase the arts of the Caribbean.
Address: 210 de Calle San Francisco, San Juan
Hours: Daily 8am–3pm
Need to cool down from your tour of Old San Juan? Stop by one of the many colorful push carts that serve piragua. Piragua is Puerto Rico’s version of shaved ice. It’s topped with flavored syrups like passion fruit, guava, tamarind and strawberry.
For dinner, we recommend a meal at Marmalade. Flavorful and healthy options abound here. Their fresh and locally sourced menu features sustainable and vegan options. Sample innovative cocktails showcasing local flavors as you work your way through one of their three tasting menus (four, five or six courses).
Address: 317 C. de la Fortaleza, San Juan
Hours: Tues–Sat, 5–11pm
There’s something for every palate in Old San Juan. For more restaurant recommendations, check out our guide on what to eat in Puerto Rico for the ultimate authentic experience.
However you choose to spend your day in historic Old San Juan, take time to make a friend or two along the way. Puerto Ricans are sociable and friendly, and are happy to share their culture with visitors eager to learn.