One walk around this beautiful city and you'll fall in love. It has it's own unique charm. My favorite thing here were all the colorful houses. The old fashioned cobble stone streets are very charming also. Old San Juan is loaded with shops. It's easy to find a bargain if you don't impulse buy. My favorite store hear was called The Butterfly People, it's a store that sells preserved butterflies to use as decoration. Old San Juan is loaded with historical sites to visit, including El Morro and San Cristobal. Just about every hotel will have a walking tour map of Old San Juan available, if not pick up a free copy of Que Pasa, the local tourist magazine. The best part is most of the places to see here are free, although it will cost you a small amount to tour the forts.
Yukes wants this to be her final resting ground. Sandwiched between La Perla Barrio and San Cristobal this cemetary is the final stomping grounds of Ponce de Leon. How good does death get if you can forever feel the mist of the great Atlantic.
This is an old park that locals use to bring their kids to feed the birds here. Literally, it means "Plaza of the Doves," and all you see is pigeons (for those zoologists here, you know that pigeons are a species of dove). On the ground, there are so many pigeons that you cannot see your feet, and it looks like the ground is moving. Truly a sight to see, and younger children will get a kick out of it. Be careful where you step, though, because you might squash one of the birds. Best part: it's totally FREE! Minus the price you'd pay for the bread if you decide to bring some.
Currently the Governor's Mansion, this is the place where the Spanish government would send their hostages and inmates back in the colonial times. You can get a tour of the place, now blue but when I was last there, it was white. The tour is highly reccomended, as the guides take you down to the tiny dungeon and through the grand rooms of the "palace." A home for the conquistadors way back when, the name and shape of the edifice definatley makes one think that it is still a fortress. Even when I was a kid, I enjoyed la Fortaleza for some reason.
This is a promenade built for (and used by) the tourists who get off the cruise ships. Nonetheless, it offers great views of the city walls and the bay, and a fountain in front of which the cruiseship tourists feel compelled to photograph each other.
This elegant building is hard to see because of the fences, city wall and gardens surrounding it. This is supposed to be the oldest governor's building in the US - it dates from Spanish colonial times.
By contrast, the congress building is a derivative of the US state capitols, without any creative or custom touches; it is located to the east of the old city.
This is the central square in the city, the site of the city's government, souvenir shops, fast food franchises, what must be a thousand pigeons, tourists, lovers sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree, older city residents chatting... You should start your tour of the city here, and end it here as well, sitting on one of the benches and taking in the atmosphere of the city.
The top of attractions of Old San Juan can easily be seen on foot for the most part. Although for anyone wishing to save the shoe leather or just get there faster, a taxi to El Morro or San Cristobal should not be too expensive. Since Old San Juan is considered to be the area within the old fort or castle walls and only 7 square blocks, you can see alot in one day on foot if you are so inclined. This area will delight you with its Spanish architecture, churches, shops, restaurants, and museums, not to mention historically significant buildings and other features. Calle Fortaleza is a street favored by many tourists because of its attractive restaurants, hotels and shops.
Since the old town is bordered by San Juan Bay, a walk along the waterfront can be a pleasant way to start or end your walking tours or enjoy a respite while taking in the great vistas it has to offer.
Guided tours of Old San Juan or excursions to other sites on Puerto Rico can be arranged from La Casita (see General Tips) or from your hotel.
You have to go to old San Juan and check out the local merchants by the pier near the visitor center. Some of these have quite good prices and craftmanship, while others are rip-off. One of my favorite purchases is this leather name bracelet that was hand made. Total cost $5 with name. It costs 10$+ without name in NYC. Needeless to say, I brought several of these. I don't smoke but there was a merchant selling hand made cigars a block away for those of you that do.
I forgot what it was called, but there is a government building there that is made entirely of marble. It's beautiful. There are paintings of Ponce de Leon and Columbus on the walls. It only cost a half a million to make. Just breathtaking!
Continue your stroll out of San Juan Cathedral towards the San Juan Gate, which is the official entrance to the city.
One of the unique aspects of traditional Puerto Rican culture are brightly painted Donkey Carts like the one shown in this picture.
This statue in honor of the monarch, financed the discovery of the New World. It sits outside the wall next to the city gate
The lovely house in front of La Rogativa is Casa Rosada, or Pink House. It was built in 1812 for the Spanish army and is now a day care center for government employee's children.
You definately need more than a day to see Old San Juan. We spent a day here and didn't see half of the things we wanted to see. I absolutely loved the pastels of the buildings.