Old San Juan 101 – Basic Info to Know Before You Go

Colorful streets of Old San Juan

Ask anyone about what they consider a “Must See” while visiting Puerto Rico and they will most likely say Old San Juan. That is because this old historic city offers so much. There is literally something for everyone: beautiful views (great for photographers), architecture, restaurants, art, museums, shopping, history, sculptures, people-watching, music, dance, bars and nightclubs. But, to get the most out of a visit to Old San Juan, it is best to follow a self guided walking tour (like ours!) so that you don’t miss out on something you really would have liked to have seen.

Here are some basics to consider before you get started.

You will be walking around an old city in the tropics – it is very hot and usually humid. Wear sun screen and a hat! You may even consider carrying an umbrella for shade. Bring water, or plan to stop often to make sure that you stay hydrated. This city is on a hill – so you will be walking uphill and downhill throughout your visit. Also, many of the streets are cobblestone, and the sidewalks are uneven, so wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.

Old San Juan is considered to be a generally “safe” place to walk around. You will notice a large Police presence. They’re there to help you feel safe, not because of any particular recent "problem". This bilingual Police force (specially trained for the Old San Juan tourist area) will also help guide you on your way. If you’re lost or need directions, just ask. At night, you have to use common sense, but if you stay in the tourist areas, all is well.

Inexpensive parking is available in Old San Juan, luckily in easy to get to locations. There are 2 parking decks on the south side of the city – on Recinto Sur. There is also a parking lot past these decks, at La Puntilla (this is very inexpensive). The parking deck on the North shore of Old San Juan is under the Ballaja building, just off of Norzagaray Street. It is a smaller lot, and the only one on that side of the city. They are open 24 hours.

If you are not comfortable with a lot of walking, there are free trolleys available that will take you around the old city. They don’t actually go on Cristo Street, where most of the historical sights are located, but they will take you close. There is the “El Morro” or El Morro and City Hall” Trolley that will take you to both Forts and other places along the north side of the city. The other trolley – Central and Puntilla takes you closer to the center of the city. I find the best way is to take the “El Morro “trolley around, and getting on and off where you want to sightsee. When you get to El Morro fort, you are on top of the hill, so the walk to see many of the sights on Cristo Street are downhill.

La Casita Visitors Center Old San Juan

Your best bet is always start your day at the visitors information center, located on the first floor , on the corner, just west of the cruise ship dock, across from Pier 1 (across the street from the little yellow building “La Casita” in the picture on left). This visitor’s center has a bi-lingual staff that will help you map out your trip. The Visitor’s Center is air conditioned, and is stocked with pamphlets, maps and magazines designed to help you make the most of your day. It is open everyday from 9am until 5:30pm. Note- 10/14- Currently the Rums of Puerto Rico tasting bar is closed until further notice. There is also a bar, where they will welcome you with free tastes of the rums of Puerto Rico Sat- Wed from 1pm- 5pm.

There are weekly activities in Old San Juan that are nice to see – usually something going on (especially on weekends) with live music at the Paseo de la Princesa. On days when the cruise ships come into port, many artisans also set up tables in the area around La Casita. As an FYI – some museums are closed on Sundays and Mondays, check their hours of operation.

Cruise ships come into Old San Juan about 3-5 times a week, and always on Sundays. The city gets busier with all those people, but it also comes alive. More artisans will have tables set up, and more stores will be open.

Old San Juan is an an old city, that remains exciting to this day. Take some time and explore this wonderful area.

Wandering around in Old San Juan costs nothing. Some museums have nominal entrance fees. You can get lunch or dinner for a couple, or many, bucks depending on your tastes.

You can spend many days taking in all that Old San Juan has to offer. Plan on at least one full day.

PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it! Read more about Safety →

Comments & Discussion Leave a Comment »

There are 26 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

Gwenn, I am just totally floored by the amount of info you provide about Puerto Rico. It is amazing and totally appreciated. We will be in San Juan this coming week 1 day pre- and one day post-cruise and thanks to your articles I think I have a pretty good idea of what to see and do. Thank you again. David

Comment by David Cerny on 27 Apr 2008

Thank you! this 3 part series of articles was jam packed with information. The first time we arrived in Puerto Rico, we stumbled upon many parts of the beautiful city, but didn't know how to go about finding things. This will help plan our next trip in March when we bring our son with us. The history is absolutely amazing. We love how Old San Juan is virtually untouched for hundreds of years. It is like taking a trip back in time. This article makes me excited to re-visit this beautiful Puerto Rico...and share it with our 16 year old son who loves history, this will be a trip never to forget!

Comment by Kari on 11 Jan 2012

Great info - thanks a ton. We just bought tickets to PR as they had a special - this is amazing info and will make me out to look like a genius!! thanks again for the hard work - am sure has helped numerous!!

Comment by Rudi on 09 Aug 2012

Thank you for the articles about old San Juan. The shopping on Cristo street was phenomenal, especially with the national brand outlets there, Many people from our cruise ship enjoyed the variety of stores and attractive prices

Comment by George Towers on 26 Aug 2012

Gwenn, Our group of four will be stopping in Old San Juan on August 7th 2013. Thank you SO much for all of the information you've provided. I feel we're in good hands, and you seem like such an authority. We'll definitely print and take your insight along. Thanks for giving us a plan for this very historical port. Selena

Comment by Selena on 17 Jun 2013

Gwenn...I second David. My husband and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage with a first-time trip to PR next week. Your articles have been an absolute God-send. May He bless you beyond measure...thank you for the time, energy, effort, and smiles that come through to anyone blessed enough to find this treasure of a resource!!

Comment by Danna on 26 Jun 2014

Thanks! And congratulations to you, many happy more years together!

Comment by Gwenn on 26 Jun 2014

Very helpful as we are coming in July for anniversary; still trying to figure a hotel,to stay in as we walk a lot and am not sure what area would be best- any suggestions as we want a place with pool since we will be there for a week

Comment by B. on 30 Jun 2014

My first pick would be El Convento in Old San Juan. But many people like to stay at the resorts in Condado or Isla Verde as they are on a beach. All those areas are fine for walking and have lots of restaurants, clubs, shops around and helpful police people keeping it safe.

Comment by Gwenn on 30 Jun 2014


Comment by Korean pimp on 29 Oct 2014

Are the shops open on Sunday's in old San Juan ?

Comment by Jim Ruhlman on 06 Dec 2014

Yes, all the stores are open after 11am.

Comment by Gwenn on 06 Dec 2014

Is old San Juan "open" on Good Friday and Easter Sunday!

Comment by Michelle on 02 Apr 2015

Yes, but not everything will be open.

Comment by Gwenn on 08 Apr 2015

Thank you! Your suggestions were very helpful and we had a great time learning about the city.neveryone we met was very nice and helpful. We also enjoyed touring the Capitol. We were surprised that the tourist information center was closed even though the sign indicated it should be open. The doors were locked and the lights were off.

Comment by Dan on 11 Jun 2015

We will be stopping there on a cruise in the coming weeks. What is the best way to see the best parts of San Juan? I heard about a trolley. We didn't want to pay for an expensive cruise excursion that rushes you through and you miss too much. I heard we could get off the trolley and walk to some of the highlights. I can't wait to see Old San Juan. We are only there 7 - 8 hours and I would love to see as much as I can. All the information you have provided on this site was very informative.. Thanks so much

Comment by Debbie on 26 Jun 2015

The best way to see Old San Juan is to walk around. Visit the forts, some museums, etc. The trolley is basic, free transportation around Old San Juan ... it is not a tour.

Comment by Ray on 26 Jun 2015

We are planning a 7 day Southern Caribbean Cruise September 6, 2015. We would like to enjoy Puerto Rico for 3-4 days before our cruise. Can you recommend which Hyatt or Marriott is centrally located to the main attractions? We enjoy beautiful beaches as well as sightseeing. Should we rent a car?

Comment by Angela Pham on 30 Jul 2015

Well, San Juan is the easiest place to stay/find the Hyatt/Marriotts. Kind of in the middle of the action. You will be able to visit Old San Juan without a car. But I do recommend renting a car if you want to go out on the island and explore. But there are always tour operators available if you prefer not to drive.

Comment by Gwenn on 30 Jul 2015

Hi great info and formatting. We will e coming on a cruise this month( looking at going to Raices restaurant any suggestions on how to get their? Also they seem to be quite busy is their a reservation policy if your aware

Comment by Eric Strng on 21 Aug 2015

I do not believe the place in OSJ takes reservations. It gets really busy on cruise ship days around lunch time! So try an early or late lunch. It is just 2 blocks up from cruise ship pier 3/4- 5 min walk.

Comment by Gwenn on 24 Aug 2015

We will be departing the Glory in February and then flying out later that evening. We want to explore the city in between. Is there somewhere to leave our luggage for the afternoon? Thanks!

Comment by Jeanna on 28 Aug 2015

There are a few places I know of- Aloha (right across from pier 3/4), and Barrachina restaurant. I think there is another place (I forget the name) down the ocean front from the cruise pier by pier 2.

Comment by Gwenn on 30 Aug 2015

We will be taking a cruise in April 2016 that finishes in Old San Juan on Sunday. We planned to stay 2 nights and fly home on Tuesday afternoon. I've read a couple different places that a lot of things are closed Sunday-Tuesday. Will there be things for us to do? I've never been off the mainland USA, and I am looking forward to this trip! Thank you

Comment by Jennifer on 10 Sep 2015

Just some of the museums are closed on Sun, Mon and/or Tuesday. But for the most part, you will be able to see/do most everything. The Forts are open every day. Here is a list of the museums in OSJ with their schedules. http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/old-san-juan-museums/ You might want to do a day trip on Monday, to see another area outside the SJ/OSJ location. Either rent a car or do a tour.

Comment by Gwenn on 10 Sep 2015

Thank you so much for this wealth of information!

Comment by Amy S on 28 Oct 2015

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