Puerto Rico's capital isn't a cheap city, particularly compared to neighboring islands, like the Dominican Republic or Jamaica, which offer an abundance of all-inclusive resorts and a generous exchange rate. Still, there is plenty to do in San Juan here, including some free activities if you know where to look.

Here are 14 of the best free things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

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1. Tour the capitol

Founded more than 500 years ago, San Juan is the oldest city in America. Located in Old San Juan, with some belting unblocked views out across the North Atlantic, the island's bright-white capitol building is an impressive neoclassical behemoth that symbolizes Puerto Rico's position as a self-governing commonwealth. Designed by Puerto Rican architect Rafael Carmoega, El Capitolio de Puerto Rico was inaugurated in 1929. Lined with imposing columns overlooking a plaza, its domed roof was added in the 1960s. It's worth taking a free tour of the building as there are a number of murals and paintings inside that depict the island's history.

Planning tip: You can arrange a free tour of El Capitolio during the weekdays, in English or Spanish. It is best to call in advance to ensure hours of operation and availability.

A street scene on Calle Loiza in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico. A corner building is painted with the Puerto Rican flag. Cars and people can be seen along the street and sidewalk.
Murals from renowned street artists can be found throughout Santurce © Getty Images

2. Admire street art in Santurce 

Santurce, one of San Juan's coolest residential neighborhoods, has turned into an outdoor art gallery in recent years, with renowned street artists painting larger-than-life pieces on the sides of buildings. Murals are rooted throughout the neighborhood, but for a good starting point, head to El Patio de Sole, a local restaurant on Calle Cerra.

Local tip: You can do a self-guided tour of the murals, though be aware that there are many cats in the streets for those who are allergic.

Visitors take a break in the Parque las Palomas
Parque las Palomas is filled with pigeons you can feed © Shutterstock / Mihai O Coman

3. Feed the birds at Parque de las Palomas 

With benches overlooking the ocean, this well-known public park in Old San Juan is a great place to rest and feel the breeze. Travelers with families and children: you can feed the resident pigeons here by buying birdseed from the paved park's small kiosk.

4. Enjoy live music at Distrito T-Mobile

Distrito T-Mobile is Puerto Rico’s newest entertainment complex, featuring one of the largest 4k horizontal screens in America. It projects over a central area called Popular Plaza, open to the public and adorned with artificial grass and patio furniture. 

The cool and the hip lounge casually here during the day, but at night it turns into a party spot. DJs take the stage, and there are free events and competitions most weekends. Check the online calendar to see what’s on. Note: parking here is not free.

5. Try street food in Piñones 

Piñones is a popular area for street food, located right on the beach. There are kiosks throughout selling local classics like empanadas, alcapurrias and fresh coconuts. There are artisans and vendors as well, hawking everything from fresh honey to handmade souvenirs.

Local tip: There is also an 11km (6.8-mile) boardwalk on site, where you can bike or walk through a mangrove forest. 

A beach couple walking on the sand.
You can sunbathe, walk along the sand or swim in the water year-round in San Juan © Getty Images / iStockphoto

6. Sunbathe at the beach

All beaches in Puerto Rico are public land and free to enjoy. Some of the more popular options in San Juan include Condado, where you’ll find popular resorts like La Concha and the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and Ocean Park, a hot spot for water sports like kitesurfing. You can sunbathe, walk along the sand or swim in the water year-round.

7. Fly a kite at El Morro 

Old San Juan has two distinct forts, but El Morro is the more prominent one, on a hill overlooking the bay. The front lawn is a grassy expanse of land that lures in visitors on a sunny day and can be an even more popular attraction than the fort itself.

Because of its elevated position, it experiences high winds that are perfect for flying a kite. You can bring your own kite, purchase one from the curbside vendors or lay back and watch others fly.

8. Take a scenic walk along Paseo de la Princesa

Paseo de la Princesa is a flat and accessible promenade that spans from the cruise port to El Morro fort. This popular, 19th-century esplanade just outside the city walls feels distinctly European. Lined with antique streetlamps, with large arching trees, shaded benches, street entertainers and food-vendor carts, young lovers can often been seen sauntering here at sunset. 

The walkway ends at the Raíces Fountain. The sculptures depict the Pureto Rico's eclectic mix of African, Spanish and Taíno heritage. Look for the baby-blue La Fortaleza, home to Puerto Rico's governor. Finished in 1540, the executive mansion is still in use today.

9. Dance the night away at La Placita de Santurce

La Placita is San Juan's famous market square, best known for its bar- and club-hopping options on weekend nights. If you want to party at a local scene, this is it. There are just as many people outside the venues as there are inside, and the market itself turns into a gathering point. There is salsa dancing in the streets and the rhythmic sounds of reggaeton music throughout. 

The yellow-painted interior of Catedral de San Juan Bautista in San Juan, Puerto Rico
The remarkable Catedral de San Juan Bautista was built in 1521 ©jiawangkun/Shutterstock

10. Pay your respects at the San Juan Cathedral

The Catedral de San Juan Bautista, also known as the San Juan Cathedral, is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. It is the resting place of Juan Ponce de Leon and holds the mummified remains of St. Pio, a first-century martyr. You can attend mass on weekends and a special midnight mass on December 24th, known as Noche Buena.

11. Stroll the San Juan Botanical Garden

Found on the University of Puerto Rico campus, the San Juan Botanical Garden is dedicated to the study and research of local plants and animals. Entrance is free, as is parking. There are designated trails, Japanese bridges and a trolley and tours, although their availability varies. Stop by to have a picnic, exercise or just enjoy a bit of green space in the big city.  

12. Attend an annual festival 

The most famous festival in Puerto Rico is the San Sebastian Street Festival. It takes place in mid-January throughout Old San Juan, signaling the end of the island’s extended holiday season. It's a great time to escape your winter blues.

There’s also the Piña Colada Festival, an ode to the well-known drink that originated in the city, which takes place in July. Beyond that, there are free events for various holidays, music festivals that vary year-to-year and a market every Saturday in Old San Juan. 

13. Visit the world’s first NFT Gallery 

San Juan has a host of great museums to check out but the Lighthouse NFT Gallery is the world’s first physical NFT art gallery – and there's no charge to enter. The space hosts free artist exhibitions and bimonthly NFTuesdays, which feature educational talks about NFTs presented by different artists, with a suggested donation at the door. The gallery is available for private events, and an on-site cafe is in the works.

This article was first published Dec 6, 2022 and updated Feb 23, 2023.

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