The old city is surrounded by walls, which started with the construction of El Morro in 1539. The walls stretch for 3.4 miles encompassing the old city. The city only began to expand beyond the walls in the 19th century.
The top attractions of Old San Juan can easily be seen on foot for the most part. While Old San Juan could include the far outer edges of El Morro, Fort San Felipe to the west and Castillo San Cristobal to the east, Old San Juan is usually considered to be the 7 or 8 square blocks (mostly established in a grid pattern) that encompass the historic heart of the town. Begin by obtaining a good map of the Old San Juan area at a local information kiosk, at San Juan City Hall, or print one from those available online.
Old San Juan will delight you with its Spanish architectural influence borne out in the details of buildings, churches, shops, restaurants, museums, and military forts. Things to look for are the Spanish-style, lacy wrought-iron balconies overhanging the streets, beautiful jewel-colored painted facades, ornamental lighting, shade-covered plazas, blue ballast stone cobbled streets, music, and the aroma of delicious food. Calle Fortaleza is a street favored by many tourists because of its attractive restaurants, shops and local life.
Many people enjoy the ocean-front walk to Fort San Felipe, El Morro then exploring its many points of interest. The Plaza de Armas is one of the main squares in Old Town with a center fountain graced by four marble statues representing "The Four Seasons." People gather here, enjoy a coffee or lunch, or just pass the time of day. The Casa de Ayuntamiento (city hall) also faces this plaza (look for local maps and info. here). Going east you will find the park-like setting of Plaza de Colon whose main feature is a beautiful fountain with a statue of Christopher Columbus atop a column. The plaza is surrounded by large shade trees which also make a lovely spot to rest. Close by is Castillo San Cristobal, the Old Casino, the interesting Casa Blanca Hotel, and several other buildings of note.
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. Since we last visited, a beautiful promenade has been built along the water front going east from the cruise ship piers.
Walking through the grid of streets in Old San Juan, it would be difficult to become lost if you use as a starting point the cruise ship piers on the southerly side of the island. With a map, locate the sites that are of interest to you remembering that San Juan can be quite hot and humid so be prepared and perhaps plan rest stops or take breaks.
There is more to see than can be mentioned here, so I would recommend at least 2 - 3 days or so to see it thoroughly and to take advantage of the beaches in the relatively close by Condado area.
A good place to begin your self-guided tour of Old San Juan is the Plaza de Armas.
Sightseeing in Old San Juan, just walking around, is one of the best activities while in Puerto Rico. Just wander the streets, peek into the church, some of the many cafes and bars and restaurants, and just be enchanted by the old city. It is reminiscent of pirate days when Old San Juan was the heart of the Caribbean and Spanish Empire. The whole city is enclosed by the city wall (just like old European cities) and the cobblestone streets and two hundred plus year old facades are astonishing. Walk up to El Morro and see the entrance to San Juan Bay, which is what the Spanish tried desperately to protect - the safe anchorage of the bay.
Just a beautiful city, oldest under the American flag, beautiful culture and people, safe as long as you use common sense. There are more police here than tourists, and they all try to keep you safe in order to protect their reputation. In the years of walking the city, no problems ever. Nights on San Sebastian street are lively (they party) and festivals, art events, and musicians are everywhere, all year round. A must do, unbelievable that Old San Juan is part of the US, as it seems a world apart.
Day or Sunset charter at Sail Old San Juan is a great way to get out on the water during stay in the city. Sailing is done by a professional captain, drinks are included, and the boat is fast and fun. Great winds since San Juan is in the tradewinds. Never more than six passengers, so this can be a great way to meet a few fun people, or if you want privacy, just reserve a private sail.
Great way to spend an afternoon or evening during stay in San Juan.
Contact is www.SailOldSanJuan.com at 787.340.7567
Old San Juan is an architecturally beautiful neighbourhood that contains many of the cultural and historical sights of San Juan like the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, La Fortaleza and the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. Try to take your time wandering through the streets to really admire the detail in the colourful colonial-style buildings and tree-lined plazas with statues. One evening, the music of a very talented musician practicing Spanish guitar in a nearby apartment echoed around us and we laughed about how it was like one of those moments in travel shows that you're 100% sure is totally contrived because of how perfect it is.
Dont bother shopping unless you know where you're going. I read many reviews suggesting Old San Juan is a great place to shop, and there are definitely a few great stores and boutiques, but there are also endless stores filled with the exact same cheap touristy crap. Don't waste your time sifting through because there are so many better things to see and do. Also, don't bring a car into Old San Juan if you can avoid it; it's another time-waster because finding parking is nearly impossible unless you pay a high fare to park it in a lot. Old San Juan is beautiful and attracts tons of tourists so make the usual considerations like expecting to pay more for everything compared to the rest of Puerto Rico and checking reviews to choose a restaurant that's not a total tourist trap.
A walk through Old San Juan working in a few stops at the Catherdral, the Forts, and maybe a stroll beside the old city wall along the way, is in my opinion an unmissable thing to do even if only spending the weekend. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a U.S. National Historic Landmark District, Old San Juan deserves it's recognition as a true gem of historical and cultural significance.
After we got off the cruise ship, we were headed to the taxi ranks when a tour representative stopped us and advised us that the Festival of St. Sebastian was in progress and that traffic was a mess getting into Old San Juan. For $25 per person, they offered a tour of Condado, the ride into Old San Juan and a ride back to the airport for our flight. Adding the cost of a taxi to Old San Juan, the taxi back to the airport and storing our luggage and it seemed like a decent deal. The tour wasn't much of anything, we had already been to Condado, the guide pointed out a couple of things in Old San Juan, parked the bus and then everyone went their own way and met up again for the ride to the airport. Still it was a better deal than the cruise ship tour and I imagine that the tour was a little limited because most of the streets were closed off in Old San Juan because of the festival.
This is myself and my husbands first trip here and there is nothing else to say but WOW . This town is full of history , culture and fantastic architecture . Anyone wishing to visit this town should allow plenty of time to explore as there is so much to do and see . We stayed in a fantastic rental apartment which only added to our holiday . I would highly recommend http://www.coldwellbankerislands.com/ if your looking for accommodation as they were fantastic . Beautiful town with beautiful site . Five Stars !
A city's most defining characteristics are its food, architecture and cultural traditions. I suggest checking out Favors of San Juan (http://www.sanjuanfoodtours.com) if you're going to be spending any time in Old San Juan Puerto Rico.
The foodie tours are good because you get to sample a bunch of restaurants in Old San Juan (which is famous for its food and nightlife) while learning the history and culture of the island and the old city. It's great at the start of the vacation because they give you discount cards for local shops and restaurants so you know where to return, and you get to save some cash.
The cooking class they have is good in the summer when it's really hot and air conditioning is a beautiful thing. It's all included: 3 course meal plus drinks and learning, hands on, how to make signature dishes from puerto rico which has a rich culinary heritage.
Yeah, you can do a walk through of old san juan on your own and it's won't be the end of the world but to really do it right I suggest taking a tour with a knowledgeable guide, and enjoying a bit of food and drink along the way!
Walking through Old San Juan is like walking through a museum dedicated to the conservation and preservation of Spain's culture in the new world. Multi-colored cement buildings covered with balconies practically explode with charm. You'll want to venture down every street and peek inside every window.
But don't do the latter. You might *** some of the residents off.
Although I had walked around in Old San Juan on my own during an earlier trip to Puerto Rico, in our most recent visit Karen and I decided to cough up the $45 each for a three hour guided walking tour. Although we thought it a bit pricey, the tour did enable us to see much more than we would have on our own and to also understand more of what we saw. Our tour guide was very knowledgable, animated, and obviously proud to show us around her city. We began with a short bus ride to La Princesa Boulevard where we started our walking tour through fountains and around the old city wall. We passed the Rogativa Monument, walked to San Felipe del Morro, saw the oldest church in the western hemisphere and much more. Our tour went down famed Cristos Street and through other narrow cobblestone streets before ending up at San Juan Bautista Cathedral and Cristo's Chapel. It was a wonderful educational and cultural experience, although we were tired and sweaty after three hours walking in the tropical heat.
As soon as we were off the Independence of the Seas we were walking through the customs into Old San Juan. It was rather difficult to locate the Tourist Office on Paseo La Princessa St. There were three or four ships in port that day so it was crowded.
I don't do much walking, and particularly when it is hot and humid and when the footing is uneven. The streets here are blue cobblestones which do make for sometimes uneven footing. And the streets are steep. The cobbles were used as ballast on the empty Spanish trade ships. The ballast was unloaded when the ships were filled with sugar cane produced in Puerto Rico.
We did have Marian drive us through the city and point out landmarks.
At the end of the street in photo 5, is the old Capilla del Cristo (Cristo Chapel). It was built in 1753. There are different versions of the story of why it was built - either by a thankful father whose his son lived after his son and his horse fell over the wall, or by a sad father whose son died after falling over the wall on his horse.