16 Exciting Things To Do In Santo Domingo: Top-Rated Attractions 2023
This guide with the best things to do in Santo Domingo is perfect for not missing anything significant in the capital of the Dominican Republic and one of the cities with the most history in the Caribbean.
Founded by Bartholomew, brother of Christopher Columbus, in 1498 and bathed by the waters of the Caribbean, Santo Domingo was the first European city in America and the first seat of government of the Crown of Castile in the New World, making it one of the excellent tourist claim of the country receiving more than 1 million visitors a year.
It is worth dedicating a day to wander the narrow streets of the old colonial city, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and try some of the typical dishes of the Dominican Republic, such as sancocho, mangú, or the Dominican flag.
Based on our experience in this city during our trip to the Dominican Republic, we have made this list of the 16 essential places to see in Santo Domingo. Let’s start!
1. Los Tres Ojos National Park
Before starting to explore the historic center, if you come by car or taxi from the airport, located 30 kilometers from the center, you can stop at Los Tres Ojos National Park, one of the natural wonders to visit in Santo Domingo.
Located 8 kilometers from the colonial city, this complex of underground limestone caves is characterized by its three beautiful turquoise blue freshwater lakes used by the Tainos as a refuge or to practice rituals as reflected in the drawings on the walls.
In addition to the three underground lakes you can access on foot, and by boat, you have another lake known as Los Zaramagullones, which is in the open air and surrounded by exuberant vegetation.
We were visiting hours: every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
2. Enter the Columbus Lighthouse, one of the things to do in Santo Domingo
Crossing the Parque del Este from the Cueva de los Tres Ojos to reach the Columbus Lighthouse, built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Discovery of the New World, is another of the things to do in Santo Domingo.
This imposing building, in the shape of a cross, 800 meters long and 37 meters high, houses a museum dedicated to the peoples of Latin America, and on certain days, a cross-shaped beam of light is turned on that can be seen from more than 60 kilometers.
As a curiosity, it was also said that the remains of Christopher Columbus were kept inside. However, after an exhaustive analysis, it was shown that they are in the Cathedral of Seville.
This place is perfect for visiting by car, taxi, or Uber next to the Cueva de los Tres Ojos since they are relatively close.
3. Gate of the Count
The Puerta del Conde, the main entrance to the old fortified city of Santo Domingo, is a good starting point to tour the historic center characterized by its colonial architecture.
This door also gives access to the Parque de la Independencia, the place where the independence of the Dominican Republic was proclaimed in 1884 and where the Altar a la Patria is located, a white marble mausoleum that houses the remains of the founders of the Republic…
On one side of the gate are the Fuerte de la Concepción, a 17th-century building part of the old defensive wall, and another place to see in Santo Domingo.
To learn more about the history and catch everything necessary in the colonial zone, we advise you to book this guided tour, this free tour, or this fun bike tour.
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4. The Count Street
Going through El Conde street, one of the first streets built by Europeans in all of America more than 500 years ago, which crosses the whole colonial zone, is another of the things to do in Santo Domingo.
This cobbled commercial artery that begins at the Puerta del Conde has a first section full of shops of all kinds and some pastry shops until it reaches Parque de Colón, and then continues with a team of more colonial architecture that has several recommended restaurants such as Buche Perico until it ends in the Ozama River.
5. Parque Colón, an essential thing to see in Santo Domingo
Parque Colón, the old Plaza Mayor in colonial times and located in the heart of the historic center, is one of the liveliest spots in Santo Domingo.
This tree-lined square from 1506 has a statue of Christopher Columbus in the center that points to the north and is presided over by the Primate Cathedral of America, which we will discuss in the next point.
We recommend you go to this square at sunset to drink on one of its terraces while you watch the hustle and bustle of locals and some tourists.
6. Primate Cathedral of America
The Primada de América Cathedral, dedicated to Santa María de la Encarnación and built by order of Pope Julius II in 1504, although it was not completed until 1546, is the first cathedral in all of the Americas and is the most important religious building to visit in Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic.
It is worth entering this Gothic-style church for free to see several jewels such as its altarpieces, paintings, the table of the Virgin of Altagracia, the mausoleums of the colonial archbishops, the tombstone of Simón Bolívar and the marble monument where the remains of Christopher Columbus were kept until his transfer in 1795 to the Cathedral of Havana and later, to the Cathedral of Seville.
Visiting hours: Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am8:00 am to 5:00 pm5:00 pm; Sundays from 12 pm12 pm to 1 pm1 pm and from 5 pm5 pm to 6 pm6 pm.
7. Street of the Ladies
Walking along Calle Las Damas, which intersected with Calle El Conde in its final stretch and was the first street created in the colonial zone, is another of the best things to do in Santo Domingo.
This street, which owes its name to the fact that the ladies of Viceroy María de Toledo, wife of Diego Colón, walked along it, is characterized by having some of the most important colonial buildings in Santo Domingo such as the Museo de las Casas Reales, the House of Hernán Cortés, the House of Nicolás de Ovando, the Church of Los Jesuitas (National Pantheon), the House of the Dávila Family and the Ozama Fortress, which we will talk about in the next point.
8. Ozama Fortress
Built between 1502 and 1508 in a strategic position, facing the mouth of the Ozama River, the Ozama fortress is the oldest fortress built by European settlers in the New World and another of the important places to see in Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic.
It is worth going inside to see its different rooms and walk through the tunnels leading to the dungeons and then up a spiral staircase to a terrace with views of the city and the Caribbean coast.
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9. Pantheon of the Homeland
The Panteón de la Patria, located on Calle de las Damas, houses the remains of prominent figures in the history of Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic.
Built between 1714 and 1755, it was one of the last buildings erected by the Spanish and was initially used as a church for the Jesuits until their expulsion in 1767.
After having various uses as a tobacco store, theater, and government office, in 1957, it became the National Pantheon keeping a flame burning 24/7 and a tomb dedicated to the unknown soldier.
Visiting hours: every day from 8 am8 am to 6 pm6 pm.
10. Museum of the Royal Houses
Next to the Pantheon is the Museo de las Casas Reales, built-in 1511 by King Ferdinand II of Aragon, to house the colonial-era government offices, such as the Royal Court, considered the first court in the New World.
Visiting the interior of this building, which was also the residence of Governors and Captain Generals, is one of the best things to do in Santo Domingo as it will take you back to the time of discovery. Spanish colonization with original objects, period furniture, maps of ships of Christopher Columbus, carriages, and treasures from sunken ships.
In front of the Museum of the Royal Houses, since the year 175, there has been a curious sundial on top of a stone column.
We were visiting hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am10 am to 6 pm6 pm.
11. Plaza de España, one of the places to visit in Santo Domingo
Leaving the Museum, you can continue the route through Santo Domingo in one day, approaching the Plaza de España or the Plaza de la Hispanidad, presided over by the historic Alcázar de Colón dating from 1514, which is another of the buildings to see in Santo Domingo. More beautiful.
In addition to being the first fortified palace erected during the Hispanic era, this Gothic-Mudejar style building, built using coral rock masonry, was the home of Diego Colón, the eldest son of Christopher Columbus and governor of Hispaniola, an island divided by the country of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
It is worth observing its façade with several Renaissance-style arcades and visiting its Museum, which has a valuable collection of furniture and objects from the Spanish nobility.
After taking a walk through the square and seeing the Gate of the Shipyards that gave access to the warehouses of the old port of Santo Domingo, you can try the elaborate dishes of Pat’e Palo, another of the best restaurants to eat in Santo Domingo. Another good option to try the local gastronomy that includes four tastings and beer is to book this gastronomic tour.
12. Monastery of San Francisco
After eating, you can pass in front of the Casa del Cordón, the first stone house in America, which has a cordon of the Franciscan order on its façade, until you reach the ruins of the Monastery of San Francisco, another of the wonders of Santo Domingo and the Dominican Republic.
Built by the order of Nicolás de Ovando between 1508 and 1560, it was the first monastery in the New World, suffering considerable damages caused by the French and Haitians throughout its history until it collapsed with the passage of Cyclone San Zenón in 1930.
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13. Church of Our Lady of Mercy
Going down the small hill from the Monastery of San Francisco, you will find yourself facing the ruins of the San Nicolás de Bari hospital, the first hospital in America, and the beautiful Las Mercedes street, which will take you to the Church of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes.
Built between 1549 and 1616 by the Spanish colonists for the implantation of the Catholic faith in the territories of what is considered New Spain, this church houses inside the colonial image of the Virgen de las Mercedes, patron saint of the Dominican Republic.
14. Father Billini Street
Another of the best things to do in Santo Domingo is a route through other less famous streets in the historic center, such as Arzobispo Noel and Padre Billini, which are home to numerous churches and colonial houses.
You can start with Arzobispo Noel, passing in front of the Chapel of San Andrés, where the Maraca restaurant is also located, our favorite in Santo Domingo, and then continue along Padre Billini street, stopping to rest on a bench in the wooded area of Parque Duarte.
After seeing the facade of the Dominican church, you can go to Billini Park, which has on one of its sides the historic Casa de Tostado, one of the most beautiful in the city and which houses the Museum of the Dominican Family from the 19th century.
15. Santo Domingo Malecon
At sunset, we recommend you walk along the Malecón, which runs for 14 kilometers parallel to the coast and allows you to enjoy views of the Caribbean Sea.
In addition to hotels, casinos, restaurants, and nightclubs, this walk has several points of interest to see in Santo Domingo, such as the San Gil Fort and the imposing Monument to Fray Antonio de Montesinos, a Spanish friar who defended and denounced the abuses of the colonizers. About the natives, known as Tainos.
16. National Botanical Garden
To finish this list of things to see and do in Santo Domingo, we suggest you go by car or taxi to the National Botanical Garden to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city and relax while walking along its paths.
This park has a protected area of more than 2 million square meters, where more than 69,000 species are distributed in the eight most essential ecosystems in the country, living in total harmony.
In addition to the walks, you can take a little train that will allow you to explore the entire natural space and its most outstanding points, such as the beautiful Japanese Garden.
Safety in Santo Domingo
It is essential to know that the historic center of Santo Domingo is currently safe for tourists. However, it is advisable to avoid carrying valuables in plain sight and ask the hotel if you want to get away or visit a less crowded area.
You can consult any problem or doubt with Politur, the tourist police, present throughout the historic center.
Similarly, for the points on the outskirts of the historic center that we include in this list, it is advisable to visit them by taxi or Uber. In the case of going by rental car, the ideal is to ask the hotel which route you should take to avoid any problems.
Is Santo Domingo worth visiting?
Long answer: Yes, absolutely! The first colonial city in the whole continent of America, Santo Domingo is brimming with history beyond its white sand beaches and 16th-century fortresses.
What is Santo Domingo best known for?
After Christopher Columbus’s arrival on the island in 1492, Santo Domingo became the site of the first cathedral, hospital, customs house and university in the Americas. This colonial town, founded in 1498, was laid out on a grid pattern that became the model for almost all town planners in the New World.
Is Santo Domingo tourist friendly?
Although the United States issued the country a Level Two advisory. For most travelers, the Dominican Republic is a welcoming and friendly place. Arriving in the vibrant capital of Santo Domingo for the first time you’ll get a taste of all walks of life with a mix of both tourists and locals.
How many days do I need in Santo Domingo?
How Long Should I Plan For? Santo Domingo can be done in just a day or two (making for a perfect weekend trip if you’re coming from Puerto Plata), or you can also plan it into a 3-6 day trip exploring the southern side of the DR — combine Santo Domingo with another destination on a longer vacation if you have time.