There are so many San Juan landmarks worth visiting that you could spend countless hours exploring them alone.
The oldest city in the United States, there are a ton of historical things to do in San Juan. But how do you know which are the essential historical and cultural landmarks you shouldn’t miss?
Worry not! I’m a Puerto Rico local that’s been to San Juan dozens of times, and I’ve put together a list of the 23 essential San Juan landmarks to visit on your next trip.
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23 San Juan Landmarks
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Reminisce the military history of Spanish Puerto Rico at this historical fortress
Castillo San Felipe del Morro, simply known as El Morro, is one of the most popular San Juan landmarks. Located at the heart of Old San Juan, Castillo San Felipe del Morro is an attraction for history lovers. The fortress was built in the 16th century to protect San Juan bay from sea attacks.
Exploring el Morro requires just a few hours of your Puerto Rico itinerary. After visiting, you can spend the rest of the day flying kites in El Morro’s esplanade.
Admire the mix of architectural styles in this historical executive mansion
La Fortaleza is one of the oldest structures in Old San Juan. Together with Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal, they form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Fortaleza was the first fortress built in San Juan to defend the bay between 1533-1540.
Due to its poor location and lack of resources, the authorities repurposed the building as the governor’s mansion. La Fortaleza was home to almost 170 governors. Being the longest active executive mansion on this side of the hemisphere, La Fortaleza is a must-see for history and architecture enthusiasts.
Check out my Ultimate Guide to La Fortaleza for everything you need to know to plan your visit.
👉 Looking for More Landmarks in Puerto Rico? Check out my list of the top Puerto Rico Landmarks, with main attractions like El Yunque National Forest, Flamenco Beach, the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse, and Parque de Bombas.
Castillo San Cristóbal
Tour the largest Spanish fortress in the New World
Castillo San Cristobal is another fortress that belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it’s similar to El Morro, Castillo San Cristobal has its own charm with tunnels, barracks, and canyons.
Castillo San Cristobal’s purpose was to protect the walled city from land attacks and so it covers more land space than El Morro. This fortress is the largest Spanish fortress in the New World, and it makes a great day trip for families touring the old city.
San Juan Cathedral
Admire the interior of this imposing cathedral as old as San Juan itself
The San Juan Cathedral is almost as old as San Juan itself and is worth a visit for both religious and non-religious people. You can find this beautiful church as soon as you go through the San Juan Gate.
Built in 1540, the San Juan Cathedral boasts beautiful stained glass windows, arched roofs, and domes. The church is open from Sunday to Friday to visitors.
Paseo de La Princesa
Stroll through a historical promenade with food kiosks, decorations, and artisans
Paseo de La Princesa is one of the most popular places to visit in San Juan. This historical promenade is an open space where couples and families like to spend a nice Sunday evening.
In Paseo de La Princesa you can find food kiosks, artisans, and even live music during the weekends. During the holidays, Paseo de La Princesa becomes a hot spot for photographers and influencers taking walking tours and snapping pictures with light decorations.
Visit the fountain that celebrates Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage
The Raices fountain is located at Paseo de La Princesa, overlooking San Juan Bay. This iconic fountain is one of the most photographed places in Old San Juan. In the fountain, you can see carvings of Taino, Spanish, and African icons, paying homage to the ethnic roots of Puerto Ricans.
The sunset is one of the best moments to see and admire this fountain and one of the best moments for photographers to snap great shots.
Puerta de San Juan
Cross the same door that important historical figures used to access San Juan
The San Juan gate is one of the unique landmarks in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. This door is the only one left of the doors that provided access to the walled city.
Through the San Juan gate, important visitors from Spain entered the city. The San Juan Gate stands out of the walls for its bright red color, with an inscription on top that welcomes visitors.
👉 Did you know? “Benedictus Oui Venit In Nomine Domini”, the Latin inscription on top of the gate, is a welcome message to those that arrived on the island in the name of God. This is one of the many religious monuments you’ll find around San Juan linked to Catholicism and Puerto Rican history.
San José Church
Tour the second oldest church on the American continent
While the San Juan Cathedral is one of the oldest structures in Old San Juan, San José Church is one of the oldest on the American continent. The San José Church was built in 1532, so it’s as old as La Fortaleza.
A restoration project kept the Spanish Gothic-style church closed for many years. During that time, workers discovered frescos and murals from the 19th century. History buffs will rave about the architecture, paintings, and statues inside this national treasure.
Tour the house of Juan Ponce de Leon in Puerto Rico
Casa Blanca is one of San Juan and Puerto Rico landmarks that visitors often miss. Hidden across Cuartel Ballajá, Casa Blanca is the oldest fortification built inside the city walls and it was the house of Juan Ponce de Leon.
Although he couldn’t live in it, his descendants did make use of it. Casa Blanca is nowadays a museum, perfect for people that want to learn how life was in early colonial Puerto Rico. Even if you’re not into history, you’ll love touring the gardens of the house and admiring its unique view of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Capilla del Cristo
Learn the legend behind this small chapel in the middle of a San Juan street
Capilla del Cristo is the most unique church in San Juan. Located in the dead end of Calle del Cristo, this small chapel is right in the middle of the street.
Its altar has mostly objects from the 18th century, including paintings from José Campeche. It’s said the church was built after a man fell with his horse over the walls of the city exactly from the spot where the chapel is located.
Explore this beachfront colorful community with hundreds of years of history
La Perla is a colorful neighborhood located outside the city walls of Old San Juan. It became renowned after the world-famous music video “Despacito”. But, La Perla’s history dates back to the 18th century. Back then, slaves, poor people, and workers of the slaughterhouse formed a community outside the walled city.
La Perla was a feared community, considered dangerous for many years. Now, it’s a tourist attraction with many things to do for small-town lovers. Some things to do include visiting art galleries, surfing, strolling along the beachfront boardwalk, and enjoying Puerto Rican food at local kiosks.
Plaza de Armas
Visit the main town square of Old San Juan
Plaza de Armas is one of the many plazas you’ll find in Old San Juan. But, unlike the others, Plaza de Armas is right across the city hall. Plaza de Armas inherited its name from times when the Spanish military did exercises in it.
Despite its military history, Plaza de Armas is now a cultural center. It’s common to see kids feeding pigeons, artists performing, and people taking photos with the sculptures and the fountain.
La Placita de Santurce
Dance and eat all you can in this partying spot in Santurce
One of the best places in San Juan to enjoy Puerto Rican culture is in La Placita de Santurce. This historical structure is home to a typical market during the day, where you can get local Puerto Rican fruits and vegetables cultivated in the island’s land.
But, at night, locals flood the multiple food kiosks, restaurants, and bars, turning La Placita into a joyous Puerto Rican club. If you want to practice your salsa dancing skills, look no further than La Placita de Santurce.
Luis Muñoz Rivera Park
Enjoy the outdoors with your family in this relaxing park
The Luis Muñoz Rivera Park is located right across Escambrom Beach at the entrance of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. This lovely park is ideal for couples and friends who just want to walk, take cool social media pictures, and enjoy a refreshing drink.
The park is also ideal for kids that want to run on skates or bicycles. Sometimes, you’ll find festivals or salsa dancing classes in Pabellón de la Paz, the largest gazebo to the east of the park.
Cuartel de Ballajá
Get lost in this mesmerizing building with a hidden green roof
Cuartel Ballajá is one of the most iconic landmarks in San Juan. Once the military barracks, this unique building now hosts Museo de las Americas. Museo de las Americas is a top Puerto Rico museum that celebrates the Taino, Spanish and African heritage of the American continent.
You will also find Puerto Rican coffee shops, restaurants, and dance schools in this building. Although it isn’t open to the public yet, Cuartel Ballaja also hides a green roof on its top, perfect for seeing Puerto Rico’s coast and escaping the rush of Old San Juan.
Plaza Las Américas
Shop in the second largest mall in Latin America
Not every landmark in San Juan is historical, and Plaza Las Americas is proof of it. This giant shopping mall is a popular destination where Puerto Ricans like to gather. Plaza Las Americas is home to chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Changs, and Chili’s.
It’s also home to popular department stores like Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears, and Marshalls. More than a shopping mall, Plaza Las Americas is an entertainment center with something to do for everyone in the family.
Kayak or paddleboard in a calm lagoon where you can see manatees
The Condado Lagoon is the perfect San Juan landmark for watersports enthusiasts. It’s common to see people kayaking or paddleboarding around the body of water.
Adrenaline seekers can try joining the locals that jump from Dos Hermanos, San Antonio, and Guillermo bridges into the lagoon. Occasionally it’s possible to see manatees popping out to get some air before going back underwater.
Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery
This cemetery outside the city walls will make you feel like you’re at an outdoor museum
Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis is one of the top things to do in San Juan. While a cemetery is an unusual vacation destination, this historical cemetery offers a unique walk through a sculpture garden and a unique perspective of El Morro.
From angels to crying women in veils, the statues boast great detail you would expect to see inside a museum. Most of Puerto Rico’s famous residents have their final resting place in Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis.
Tour a palace of laws that faces the coast of the Puerto Rican island
El Capitolio, or the capitol, is where most of the politics take place in Puerto Rico. Despite its looks, the Capitol building was built in the 1920s and is young in comparison with everything else in Old San Juan.
Even if politics aren’t your main interest, you’ll find breathtaking mosaics and murals that highlight Puerto Rico’s history inside El Capitolio.
Eat, drink, and party at this popular street in San Juan
Calle Loíza is a great example of a San Juan landmark that is not as old as El Morro, but that many locals love and visit. Calle Loiza refers to a street that connects San Juan to Carolina. This street is home to bars, restaurants, food kiosks, stores, and clubs.
If you visit Puerto Rico searching for the best partying spots, Calle Loíza should be part of your itinerary. A block away from Calle Loíza you can also find Ocean Park Beach.
El Convento Hotel
Stay at a historical hotel that was once a convent
El Convento is one of Puerto Rico’s luxury hotels and one of the most famous landmarks for its historical value. El Convento is located across from the San Juan’s Cathedral, and even if you’re not staying at this San Juan hotel, you should pay a visit to its building.
Considered the oldest historic hotel in America, El Convento was built in 1646. Originally, this building was a Carmelite convent until 1903. Nowadays the luxury hotel has 58 guest rooms, a pool, and a restaurant, but it still keeps its Spanish Colonial architecture.
The Black Flag
Pose with the iconic Black Puerto Rican flag
The black Puerto Rican flag is much younger than most historical Puerto Rico landmarks, but it still represents an important moment in Puerto Rico’s history. Located in Calle San José, a group of artists from Artistas Solidarixs en Resistencia painted the black flag in 2016.
This flag was in protest against the PROMESA law which established a federal fiscal board in Puerto Rico. The flag is a popular stop for both Puerto Ricans and tourists.
Bathe in the enchanting waters of the Atlantic Ocean
Although Playa Flamenco in the Caribbean Sea is the ultimate dream beach for beach buffs, San Juan also boasts top-notch beaches you will love.
Escambron Beach is located at the entrance of Old San Juan’s islet and is one of the best beaches in Puerto Rico. The beach boasts turquoise waters, soft sand, facilities, and wide parking. Besides swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, Escambron Beach hides corals reefs you can explore snorkeling.
FAQs About San Juan Landmarks
What is the most significant historical site in San Juan?
The most significant historical sites in San Juan include Castillo San Felipe del Morro, La Fortaleza, San Cristobal Castle, and San Juan Gate. All of these landmarks are part of the San Juan National Historic site and some date back to the 16th century.
What is San Juan known for?
San Juan is known for its historical district called Old San Juan. This part of the capital city is home to Spanish colonial houses, churches, palaces, and military fortresses like Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Most of these structures are well-preserved and some are among the oldest structures on the American continent.
Now you know the best landmarks in San Juan you shouldn’t miss while touring the famous cobblestone streets during your next Puerto Rico visit. Up next, check out my guide to the best activities to do in Puerto Rico.
Have fun exploring San Juan’s historical sites!
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