City Guide: Where to Go and What to Eat in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico, and Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan) is its historic district, dating back to the Spanish colonization and occupation of the island. A popular destination among locals, and national and international visitors, you have to visit this walkable area on your trip. Travel to Puerto Rico is easy, especially if you have a U.S. passport, since the nation is a U.S. territory. Spanish is the main language spoken here but navigating Old San Juan in English is also more than doable, if you don’t have time to brush up on your Español before arrival.
Check out where to eat and where to go in Old San Juan below. Trust me, I’m a local.
Where to eat:
Founded in 1848, La Mallorquina is one of the oldest restaurants of the “New World.” With a colorful past, which includes receiving governors and other illustrious figures, it’s a notable location that is accessible to visitors. The restaurant was closed from about 2012 to 2014, and upon reopening the décor was maintained faithful to the original. Here you can eat Spanish and Puerto Rican cuisine, like mofongo, and dishes that include different types of seafood and meats.
Specializing in Caribbean dishes, Cinema Café is located on the first floor of the Cuartel de Ballajá, a Spanish structure that was used to house military soldiers and their families. In addition to the restaurant, there is a movie theater that shows local and international independent movies; here you can watch a movie with table service or hang out in the VIP area. The Cinema Café faces the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a Spanish fort and tourist attraction I write about below.
The recipient of 4 Certificates of Excellence from TripAdvisor (2012-2015), Barrachina is considered by many to be the birthplace of the piña colada, invented by Ramon Portas Mingot. One block away from the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza, the restaurant offers late night service for cruise passengers that are flying out of San Juan late at night, and free Wi-Fi. Dishes on the menu include paella, skirt steak, and burgers.
Bonus: You can eat natural ice cream with flavors such as passion fruit and coconut from street vendors that you can find throughout Old San Juan.
Where to go:
- Castillo San Felipe del Morro (commonly known as El Morro)
Recognized as a National Historic Site by the National Park Service, this Spanish fort overlooks the San Juan Bay. “It is the result of the efforts of Spanish engineers over a period of more than 250 years and is one of the largest fortifications built by the Spain in the Caribbean.” In the past, the fort was involved in various battles. Sections of the structure were compromised or destroyed at some points, many being rebuilt later on, and the structure notably still stands today. As a visitor, you can enter the fort and wander through it, in addition to soaking up some sun and flying kites on its expansive front lawn.
Bonus: Not far from El Morro another fort, Castillo San Cristóbal, is also open to the public. According to the National Park Service, this is the largest fort in the “New World”, that was built by the Spanish.
- San Juan Cathedral (Catedral de San Juan)
Located close to a children’s museum and historic hotel El Convento, which used to be a nunnery, San Juan Cathedral is one of Puerto Rico’s most famous churches. A church that continues to operate and offer mass, inside you can find the tomb of Spanish explorer Ponce de León. The stained glass windows are a must-see attraction. Entrance is free, although donations are accepted.
An introduction to Old San Juan, make sure to stop by on your travels and add more must-visit locations to your list. Don’t wait!
Image via TripAdvisor