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Puerto Rico’s capital, a booming port city on a bay facing the Atlantic Ocean, offers a multitude of charms to those who visit. It’s a first-class metropolis marked by exciting nightlife where inventive restaurants, street food, world-class museums, and vibrant murals hunker beside a glittering shoreline of white-sand beaches. The city’s visual presence reflects the centuries of occupation that have shaped the island’s history, and you’ll find striking examples of Spanish colonial architecture, alongside Art Deco influences and modern buildings.
The city is guarded by defensive walls and forts built by the Spanish: These imposing structures, which feature towering walls and sentry lookouts, are now filled with visitors trying to deepen their understanding of the island’s complicated past. At night the city’s welcoming plazas come alive with musicians and street vendors. This is a place very much in touch with the tropical vibe — the pina colada was invented here in the 1950s — and that beguiling atmosphere infuses this urbane city with a unique character all its own.
Fly into Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), located just a 13-minute drive from San Juan. Once on the ground, a taxi is the best way to make your way into the city. Car rentals are available, but not necessary for exploring the city. San Juan is walkable, and is also served by public Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses (AMA) buses and the Tren Urbano rapid rail network. Trolleys ferry passengers to popular places around Old San Juan.
San Juan, along with the rest of Puerto Rico, enjoys warm, tropical weather year round. The dry season, roughly December through April, brings more visitors, while crowds dip during the hotter and wetter summers. Hurricane season runs from June to November. One of the island’s largest events, Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, a musical street party, takes over San Juan during the third weekend of January. On June 23 the city celebrates Noche de San Juan, when crowds gather on the beach at midnight and jump into the water — backwards — seven times for good luck.
Housed in a circa-1918 neoclassical Georgian-style building, this museum showcases Puerto Rican artworks from the mid-20th century onward, alongside exhibitions of works from the Caribbean, Latin America, and the diaspora. Its interior atrium, protected by a modern glass ceiling, is especially striking.
This six-level Spanish fortress, protected by 140-foot walls, whose construction began in 1539 was in use for centuries, including as a U.S. military outpost during World War II. You can climb to the top of those walls to get the same vantage point a sentry would have, taking in panoramic views of the ocean and island. At night, the fort is so dark, it’s an ideal place for stargazing.
Around 6 p.m. this place comes alive with musicians, revelers, and dancers. Sanjuaneros looking to shake off the work week start amassing on Thursdays, and the festive atmosphere continues through Sunday. Dine on delicious street fare from the kiosks, such as empanadillas, perfectly fried pockets of pastry stuffed with a variety of fillings.