One Day in Colorful Old San Juan Itinerary: What to See and Eat in Old San Juan

One Day in Colorful Old San Juan Itinerary: What to See and Eat in Old San Juan

Have one day in Old San Juan and wondering what are the best things to do there? This Old San Juan itinerary not only shows you the cool things to do in the colorful Old San Juan but also where to eat, park your car and other useful tips.

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Old San Juan is a charming historical town in Puerto Rico. It is one of the most popular places for travelers and even cruise liners to visit when vacationing in Puerto Rico.

From historical forts to rainbow colored houses to beautiful murals to delicious restaurants, Old San Juan is a must do for anyone visiting Puerto Rico.

One day in Old San Juan is perfect for exploring this historical district, understanding its history, doing some shopping (real shopping and souvenir shopping), grabbing a drink and getting some nice photos.

Read on for my super practical guide on how to spend a day in Old San Juan. This guide is kids friendly too and I’ll give you some good tips!

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Summary of One Day Old San Juan itinerary

If you are short on time and just want to see a brief summary, here is my super condensed mini guide on the best way to spend a day in Old San Juan. This itinerary assumes you start your day at 9am to maximize your time there.

9am: Arrive and grab a quick coffee/ pastry
9:30am: Explore the colorful streets of Old San Juan and find the best photo spots
10:30am: Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro
12pm: Cuartel de Ballajá
1pm: Lunch in Old San Juan
2:30pm: Explore more and do some shopping and visit more photo spots
4:30pm: Bar hopping and dinner in Old San Juan or Condado

General Travel Information For Old San Juan

  • Currency: US dollars
  • Language: Spanish (main language) and English (Old San Juan is touristy so people speak English)
  • Payments: Credit Card works perfectly
  • Best Navigation: Google Maps
  • Best Way to Get Around: Walking

How to Get to Old San Juan

If you are not staying in Old San Juan, you will need to commute in from your hotel early in the morning.

There are several different ways to get to Old San Juan, depending on your budget.

Uber is an easy way for those who do not want to drive. You can get an Uber easily in San Juan, whether you are staying in Condado or Isla Verde.

Taxis can be found outside of hotels and touristy spots as well. If you don’t know how to take an an Uber. Your hotel can also help you book a taxi.

Driving in San Juan Puerto Rico

An easy way to get to Old San Juan from other parts of Puerto Rico is to drive yourself. There are a number of great parking lots in Old San Juan. For more details on driving to Old San Juan, see my driving in Puerto Rico post.

Lastly, you can always take a public bus to Old San Juan. I didn’t take a bus in San Juan but I read it’s not always on time and can be inconvenient, but it is the cheapest option to get around.

Best Tours for Old San Juan

What to see in Old San Juan in a day

While you can totally do a self guided walking tour of Old San Juan, if you are the type that wants to learn more about what you are looking at or you do not like to plan, it may be better for you to take a tour or two in Old San Juan.

There are two tours I would highly recommend for anyone wanting a guide in Old San Juan:

  • Old San Juan Historical Walking Tour (or this one) is a 2 hour guided tour that shows you some of the most important buildings and churches in Old San Juan (and their historical background). You will also see some of the most colorful streets in San Juan with this tour.

  • Old San Juan Food Tour (includes food) is the perfect tour for those that want to try local cuisine and drinks. There are a ton of restaurants in Old San Juan, with this food tour you don’t have to worry about going to the wrong places, since food tours always take you to the best local places to eat. I will mention some of these restaurants later in this Old San Juan blog post.

  • Old San Juan Barcrawl (includes alcohol) is an evening guided tour that takes you around the best bars in Old San Juan. You will stop by at least 3 bars with your guide with shots and local drinks included. You can also meet other fun people on this tour, making this the perfect way to end your evening in Old San Juan.

Map of Old San Juan

Below is the map of Old San Juan with the main activities book marked. I always like to have a visual map of where attractions are so I can group things together to save time. On the map of Old San Juan below, I also added restaurants and bars that I recommend so you have everything in one place!

Black pins: what to see in Old San Juan (including photo spots)
Blue pins: restaurants to eat in Old San Juan
Purple pins: bars in Old San Juan
Orange pins: Coffee shops and breakfast spots in Old San Juan
Red pins: best ice cream shops in Old San Juan

Detailed Colorful Old San Juan Itinerary for 1 Day

This super detailed Old San Juan itinerary aims to maximize your time there while providing practical tips (like expect long lunches because they have a slower pace).

Since this is a sample Old San Juan itinerary, feel free to skip things or add some other things based on your own interests and energy level.

So without further ado, let’s dive right into what to see in Old San Juan in one day!

9am: Arrive and grab a quick coffee/ pastry

Whether you are staying in Old San Juan or the nearby touristy areas of Condado or Isla Verde, aim to get to Old San Juan by 9 o’clock in the morning.

The reason I recommend getting here by 9 is that road is relatively empty at this time and you can easily find a spot in the parking garages. There are several garages but the “good” ones do tend to fill up.

After arriving, grab some delicious pastries and coffee from Spiga (or another coffee shop) before you start exploring the colorful Old San Juan.

9:30 to 10:30am: Explore the colorful streets of Old San Juan

There is no shortage of colorful houses and nice photo spots in the Old San Juan, and pretty much everywhere you go, you will see the rainbow colored houses and blue cobble stoned streets.

Depending on where you park your car, you can either explore the west side of Old San Juan or start from the middle. For the purpose of this itinerary, we will start in the middle. The places to stop by include:

  • Plaza de Armas: a historical town square in Old San Juan that was officially designated as the central plaza. In this plaza you will find the mayor’s office, a fountain featuring statues that represent the 4 seasons, a Christmas tree (if you visit in December), a couple of cafes, and restaurants and stores on the side.

  • Calle de la Luna, Sol St, Calle de San Justo are some of the cutest streets to walk down to see the colorful houses. You will also find restaurants and cafes on these streets. But if you are looking for Instagram photos, these streets are definitely the most instagrammable ones.

  • Latita Cafe Murals: The main attraction of this cafe is not necessarily its coffee, but the winged murals outside of the coffee shop. There are two sets of wings, one for kids (suitable for 3-4 year olds) and one for adults.

  • Callejon de la Puerta Bandera: The most noteworthy thing on this street is the door painted with the Puerto Rican flag. Walk a block or more towards Museo de San Juan and you will find even more colorful houses.

  • Puerto Rican Flag Door: This is another super popular Instagram photo spot in Old San Juan, featuring a black and white Puerto Rican flag painted on the door of a very old and abandoned building.

10:30-12pm: Visit Castillo San Felipe del Morro

After you see the doors with Puerto Rican flags, go up north to the main road of Bulevar del Valle (Calle Norzagaray), go left and walk towards Castillo San Felipe del Morro, one of the two citadels in Old San Juan.

Located at the western tip of Old San Juan, Castillo San Felipe Del Morro is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It was used as a military fort by the Spaniards after it was built in 1790. The fort featured high walls that surrounded the city as well as different levels of ramps, cannons and barracks that protected the city from attacks from sea.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan Puerto Rico

The reason I recommend visiting this fort earlier in the morning rather than going in the afternoon is that there is not much shade at the fort and San Juan can get REALLY hot and sunny. I don’t think you want to be exploring this in the melting heat at 2pm in the afternoon.

It costs $10 (USD) to visit this fort as well as San Cristobal Fortress within 2 days (so you can technically visit one today and another one the next day). Children under 16 can get in for free.

No cash is accepted at Castillo San Felipe del Morro so you must pay with credit cards.

While you are at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, be sure to explore all levels of the fort, take a look at the beautiful Cementerio Santa Maria Maqdalena de Pazzi (a beautiful cemetery) and enjoy a stroll on the lawn outside of the fort. You can also buy a kite from a local store to fly on the lawn (but I saw most people failed to get their kites up).

You can expect to spend at least 90 minutes at the fort and you could spend more time if you are a history buff (or if you spend more time flying a kite outside on the lawn).

12-12:30pm: Cuartel de Ballajá

After exploring the fort and on your way to lunch, do a quick stop at Cuartel de Ballaja, a beautiful courtyard that houses the Museum of the Americas, the Museum of Our African Roots, and the Museum of Popular Arts.

This courtyard is significant as it used serve as a Spanish military barrack and it was the last building by the Spaniards in Puerto Rico.

If you are into arts, you may spend some time exploring the museums. But if you are like me and don’t really care much about arts, then take a quick stop and grab a photo, or grab coffee from Don Ruiz Coffee, one of the best coffee shops in Old San Juan.

1-2:30pm: Lunch in Old San Juan

Finally it’s lunch time! There are a ton of good restaurants so you have a lot of choices. Some of the most popular lunch spots include Deaverdura and Barrachina.

However keep in mind that the popular restaurants also tend to have a long wait. Another thing I noticed is that sit down restaurants can take quite a while! This is so different from restaurants in New York City that I was surprised how long a meal takes.

Unless you are just grabbing a sandwich or something quick, I would recommend setting aside at least an hour to 90 minutes just for lunch.

2:30-4:30pm: Explore more of Old San Juan

There is still a lot left to explore in the Old San Juan and you have a lot of options now.

  • Casa Blanca: this museum used to be the home of the Ponce de Leon family. It was the first fortified building in Old San Juan and now it is a museum open to the public.

  • Puerta de San Juan: This iconic gate is one of the remaining entrances to the walled city. Constructed in the 16th century, the gate was originally part of the extensive defensive walls built to protect the city from potential invasions. It served as a crucial entry point for ships and traders during the colonial era. You would not miss this red door when walking along the water on the western end of Old San Juan.
Red gate Puerta de San Juan Puerto Rico

  • La Fortaleza & the “Umbrella Street”: the governor’s residence used to be a castle built to defend the city. It has now served as the governor’s residence since the 16th century. What’s noteworthy is the street leading up to La Fortaleza (Calle de la Fortaleza) is also known as the “umbrella street” with colorful umbrellas hanging above it. But sometimes the decorations change and it’s not always umbrellas.
Umbrella Street in Old San Juan

  • Fuente Raices & Paseo de La Princesa: As you finish exploring the west side of Old San Juan, ultimately you will come to the famous fountain Fuente Raices and Paseo de La Princesa, one of the most scenic and famous streets in Old San Juan.

  • Shopping at outlet stores: Did you know that there are some outlet stores in Old San Juan, such as Coach, Guess, and Polo Ralph Lauren? Besides the outlet stores, there are also other chain and local stores as well as souvenir shops and jewelers. I am leaving shopping in the afternoon in case it gets too hot outside so you will appreciate the AC inside.

  • Plaza Colon & I <3 SJ Sign: This is another public plaza on the east side of Old San Juan. The statue at the plaza was erected on the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico. At the plaza you will also find the I <3 SJ sign, a popular photo spot!

  • Castillo San Cristobal: This is the fort at the eastern end of Old San Juan. Built between 1634 and 1765, this fort was also built by the Spaniards to defend the city. It is larger than the other fort and the ticket you paid would also cover this fort. However I think you just need to visit one, but you can always take photos outside of the fort.

  • I <3 PR Sign: Now that you are on the east side, walk down to the cruise ship pier and find the I <3 PR Sign, another cute photo spot that you cannot miss.
I heart PR sign in Old San Juan

4:30-7pm: Bar & Dinner in Old San Juan

After an eventful day of exploring the colorful Old San Juan, it is time to relax and enjoy some drinks and food.

There are a number of highly rated bars and restaurants in Old San Juan.

You can always grab a drink and chill at La Casita de Rones and try their Pina Colada or chill at Scryer Rum Barrelhouse & Rooftop or Antiguo 26. Or you can always hop to different bars or join a bar crawl and try a few different places and drinks.

Fabrica de Sodas bars in Old San Juan

Where to Eat in Old San Juan

Since we are on the topic of food, you are in luck because I have a ton of restaurant recommendations in San Juan for you. But keep in mind that most of these places are pretty touristy (I mean you are in a very touristy spot).

Breakfast and brunch in Old San Juan

  • Chocobar Cortes: known for everything chocolate. You can even get a chocolate martini and chocoburger. Their chocolate milk actually had real chocolate pieces in it!
  • Cafe Cuatro Sombras: popular cafe known for their avocado toast and guava n cheese toast. If you want perfect Puerto Rican coffee, this is also a place to go.
  • Cafe Mimosa: Feeling mimosa for your brunch in San Juan? Located inside the Casablanca hotel, this little spot is perfect for a quick brunch. Get the waffles and french toast while you are there.

Coffee shops in Old San Juan

You can never go wrong with Puerto Rican coffee and you are in luck because there are some pretty good coffee shops in Old San Juan.

  • Spiga: This small quaint coffee shop is a great stop if you happened to park your car in the Dona Fela parking structure. They have both savory and sweet pastries and I really loved both the Guava butter pastry and their savory pastry. Their coffee was great and basic, you won’t find things like Mocha here though.
  • Ron Ruiz Coffee: This little coffee shop is inside Cuartel de Ballaja and you will find it only if you are looking. They have one of the best coffees in Old San Juan and they also have sandwiches and other food. There are seatings inside and outside.

Ice cream & Desserts in Old San Juan

Anita ice cream Old San Juan

  • Drunken Cookies: The name says it all! This bakery is famous for their rich soft cookies as well as cookie shots (with alcohol). You will find all different flavors for the cookies as well as cookie made shot glasses with or without alcohol (or you can have craft milk).
  • Anita La Mamma del Gelato: This spot is super popular with long lines. You will find a ton of different flavors as well as coffee.
  • Zippops Gourmet Paletas: If creamy gelato is not your thing, then go a block east to Zippops Gourmet Paletas, where you will find fresh fruit pops.

Popular restaurants in Old San Juan

There is no shortage of restaurants in Old San Juan, like seriously there are so many so you will need to make a hard decision deciding where to eat for a day.

  • Deaverdura:You will find traditional Puerto Rican food and large meat dishes at this colorful restaurant. They have a lot of gluten free options and their sampler platter is the most popular thing to get.
  • Restaurante Raíces: One of the most popular restaurants in Old San Juan, Raices has cute decorations inside and offers traditional Puerto Rican food, such as Mofongo, skirt steaks, etc. We ordered fish tacos and the famous Kan Kan pork chop, both were delicious and portions were large.
  • Barrachina: As the place where Pina Colada was born, Barrachina gets a lot of love from tourists. You can expect a bit of a wait due to its popularity.
  • Marmalade: This upscale restaurant is one of the restaurants that multiple people recommended to me. Believe it or not, this restaurant is known for its white bean soup and people that recommended this place didn’t even like white beans, but they certainly loved the soup.

Where to Stay in Old San Juan

If you happen to spend a night or two in Old San Juan, you will find a number of chain hotels as well as boutique hotels in Old San Juan.

The best boutique hotel in Old San Juan is Hotel El colonial, an adult only hotel near Castillo San Cristobal on the eastern side. The room is tastefully decorated with amazing service. There is a free open bar which is a bonus.

Another boutique hotel in Old San Juan to consider is Hotel El Convento, which is super cute and many instagrammers love to come here for photos. The hotel has a rooftop pool with an amazing view of the water. It is also pretty much located in the center of Old San Juan, making exploring much easier.

Other questions you may have about Old San Juan

How to get around Old San Juan

The Old San Juan is very walkable and it is absolutely the best way to get around. The streets are narrow and there is a lot of traffic, especially on the south side of Old San Juan.

Get time to visit Old San Juan

Mid November to late March is the best time to visit San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Being a Caribbean island, Puerto Rico has a tropical season. The temperature stays relatively constant, between 70F (lowest) and 90F (highest) throughout the year.

You can expect more humidity and fewer clear skies between April and November with the most uncomfortable months of July and August.

Can I use credit cards in Old San Juan

Credit Cards are actually the best payment methods in Old San Juan. Almost all restaurants, shops, bars and cafes accept credit cards.

If you plan to visit the forts, you can only pay by credit cards, cash is not accepted. However keep in mind that some souvenir stores may have a minimum of $5 to $10 before you can pay with credit cards.

Can I use US SIM cards in Old San Juan

Yes! US SIM cards and phones work perfectly fine in Puerto Rico. There’s no international roaming charges.

Do I need a passport to visit Puerto Rico

You do not need a US passport to visit Puerto Rico, the flight is treated as a domestic flight if you are flying from the US.

Is Old San Juan kids/ stroller friendly

You can push a stroller on the sidewalks of Old San Juan. Occasionally you may need to carry the stroller up/down a step if there is no ramp but 90% of Old San Juan is stroller friendly.

However, do keep in mind that Old San Juan can get really busy with a lot of people on the sidewalks, so it may be annoying to navigate with a stroller.

If you were to bring a stroller to Old San Juan, you should bring a lightweight one. I do not recommend bringing a large and chunky stroller like Uppababy Vista.

Is Old San Juan safe? For female solo travelers even?

Old San Juan is very safe, even for old female travelers. With that said, you should always watch your surroundings and your things. Keep your bags zipped and close by.

There is a neighborhood called La Perla on the very northern side of Old San Juan by the water. It was once known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in San Juan.

La Perla was featured in the music video Despacito and actually sort of became a tourist attraction. You probably wouldn’t wander there anyway but I would not recommend going. If you do end up going there, be respectful, don’t take photos and videos of people’s businesses and houses.

Where to park in Old San Juan?

There are several parking lots and parking garages in Old San Juan, with Multipiso Doña Fela and La Puntilla Parking lot being two of the most popular ones. I personally parked in Multipiso Doña Fela and was very happy with my choices.

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