Things to do in San Juan: Best excursions, attractions, beaches, nightlife, shopping

The capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan offers an amazingly large amount of things to do and see, which help to make it one of the most popular cities in all of the Caribbean. Here you’ll find a rather large amount of different activities that cater to each type of traveler, making the city a great destination for those traveling with family members or a large group. Because there is so much to partake in, you may find it hard to select only a few activities and excursions to venture on during your time here.

In order to help you narrow down your choices, we’ve gone ahead and researched the best of the best. If you keep reading you’ll find a list detailing the best excursions, attractions, beaches, nightlife and shopping in and around the city of San Juan. Though these aren’t the only great options available, they are the ones that seem to be the most popular. If you’re staying for an extended vacation or for the duration of winter, then you’ll want to visit more than what is listed below. However, if you’re visiting for about a week or less, then it’s best to stick to the list.

Best excursions in and around San Juan

Most who visit the city are doing so as a cruise ship stop, which in turn has created the need for local excursions and tours that last a half a day or less. Though there are longer tours available, if you’re in need of one that won’t take the whole day, you’ll find some pretty great options.

Snorkeling Tour with Castillo Tours

A tour company offering a wide variety of tours in and around San Juan, Castillo Tours is a great choice for those looking for the best of the best. If you’re also looking to explore the underwater world while on the island, then a well reviewed snorkeling tour is in order. During this tour you’ll enjoy a ride on their catamaran alongside other like minded visitors. This part of the tour lasts about 30 minutes as you travel to Icacos Island. Once on the island you’ll begin your snorkeling adventure right off shore, making it ideal for first timers. Lunch is also provided and you’ll find yourself back at the dock by 3:30pm, meaning that you’ll have plenty of time for a walk around town afterward.

  • Adult: US$74.44
  • Child: US$65.47

>>>Tickets for the Snorkeling Tour with Castillo Tours

Hop-On Hop-Off San Juan Bus Tour

A fun tour for everyone involved, this hop-on hop-off tour allows you to explore San Juan without having to walk from site to site. This particular tour allows you access to two different routes, the red route and the blue line. The red route highlights the city’s historic and cultural side while the blue line will drive you next to the coastline, allowing you access to the numerous beaches. In all, you’ll find yourself privy to 34 different stops, making for quite the tour. With this said, you get to choose which stops you get off at, making it so that this tour is completely customize-able. You’ll also want to note that this tour comes with a 24 hour ticket, making it so that you can ride the bus and visit your chosen attractions at your own pace.

  • Adult: US$30.00
  • Child: US$15.00

>>>Tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off San Juan Bus Tour

Best attractions in and around San Juan

San Juan is home to a large amount of attractions, meaning that you don’t have to venture all around the island in search of something to see and do. Here you’ll also find a variety to choose from, ranging from those focused on cultural learning to those centered on the natural landscape of the island. Whichever you’re interested in, you’ll find a few selections of each. Below are a few of the best options.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

A large structure protecting the entrance into San Juan Bay, this fort is found right along the coastline with the city to its back. Built back in 1539, it is one of the largest Spanish forts in the entire Caribbean. This is because there has been construction going on throughout the last few centuries which have added more and more walls to the structure. When visiting, you’ll find ramps, barracks, dungeons, tunnels and outposts. You’ll want to bring your camera to this attraction as you’ll also witness some amazing sea views. This attraction is within walking distance of Old San Juan, though it is a long walk.

  • Adult: US$5.00
  • Child: free

Casa Bacardi

If you love rum and history, then this might just be the perfect mixture of both. With this attraction, you’ll find yourself at the rum brand’s flagship factory. Once here you’ll learn not only about the rum itself, but about how the Bacardi family had fled from Cuba to Puerto Rico in 1936. While here, you’ll learn more during your tour, but you’ll also get to explore the factory visitor center where you can watch a short film if you’d like. Each tour includes one welcome cocktail, but if you’d like, you can also attend a rum tasting or a mixology session for an extra fee.

  • Adult: US$12.00

The University of Puerto Rico Botanical Garden

A popular choice for both locals and visitors alike, this botanical garden is alive with color from flowering plants that have been spread out around 289 acres. In addition to the beautiful tropical plants, you’ll also find lakes, waterfalls and varying sculptures. When walking through, you may find a group of local school children completing an assignment or a group of scientists working. If you’re interested in dried plants as much as you are the live ones, you’ll want to make sure to walk into the garden’s herbarium. Here you’ll find over 36,000 dried plant specimens, so it may take you a while to walk through the entire thing.

  • Adult: free
  • Child: free

Best beaches around San Juan

Home to some rather impressive beaches, San Juan attracts visitors by cruise ship and plane to its coastline. Though you could easily visit the entire island in search of the best beach, you don’t need to. This is because San Juan offers fantastic beaches right in town, making it so that there is no need to venture elsewhere. Just make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat along with you as the sun here is pretty intense.

Escambron Beach

A highly rated beach that stays consistently busy throughout the entire year, Escambron Beach is a great beach for all ages. Located right in the heart of everything, between Old San Juan and Condado, this beach offers visitors a calm place to swim while viewing the rough waters a little further out. But if you’re looking to do a little more than swimming, you’ll find some great snorkeling here as well. There are palms trees dotting the beach, so you’ll find shade here and there which helps with keeping the sunburns away.

  • Adult: free
  • Child: free

La Playita de Condado

Meaning ‘small beach’ in Spanish, this beach is perfect for those visiting with small children. Though there are some pretty rough waters, you won’t experience any of them at the beach itself as it is centered in a cove made by a line of rocks on one side, the city on another and a bridge. If you’re looking to get pictures of the city from a different angle, then you’ll want to bring your camera with you as you’ll be looking straight at the skyline from across the cove.

  • Adult: free
  • Child: free

Best nightlife in San Juan

Though you may be tired after your day of running around experiencing the best that San Juan has to offer, you might still find yourself looking for a bit of fun during the night. Luckily this city is home to some fantastic nightlife, making it so that you’ll be hard pressed not to find something you like.

Old San Juan

This part of the city is the place to go if you like the idea of walking around casually as you look for things to do and watch. Here you’ll find a very romantic vibe that’s perfect for honeymooners. Surrounded by iron lanterns lighting up the cobblestone streets, you’ll find yourself walking past various live music venues producing salsa, jazz, classical and flamenco. In addition, sometimes you’ll find free salsa lessons, making nights here even more memorable. Though there are lots of nightclubs in the city, as well as hotel casinos (many of which are open 24 hours a day), those all cost money to enter. Walking Old San Juan however, is completely free.

  • Adult: free
  • Child: free

Best shopping in San Juan

If you love to shop till you drop, then San Juan is the perfect city for you. Here you’ll find much more than the usual road side vendor trying to sell you cheap trinkets. In this city you’ll find a variety of shopping options, crafting a shopping day that you’ll brag about to your friends back home.

Plaza Las Americas

The largest mall in the entire Caribbean, Plaza Las Americas wows with shop after shop, alongside a plethora of restaurants and dining choices. In fact, there are over 300 different stores here, ranging from budget to the expensive, thus making it so that each and every person who visits will be able to find something that they like, and can afford. You’ll also find a lot of American brands that you’re used to seeing in your own hometown mall. Some of these include Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy and Forever 21. You’ll also find favorites like Vitamin World and Victoria’s Secret.

  • Adult: free
  • Child: free

Ashford Avenue

This is where you’ll find a whole host of resorts, dining and shopping options, as well as a few different nightclubs. The shops here are a bit more on the expensive side, but if you don’t have room in your budget for a few items here, you’ll still have a great time window shopping and people watching. If you do have the money available, and you’re looking for a jewelry piece to take home with you, you’ll find a nice selection of jewelers here.

  • Adult: free
  • Child: free

Pictures provided by Flickr users TerrazzoSean MunsonSerge MelkiSerrattaritavilleAngel XavierRobert Pittman and Steve Loya.

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