Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic, the oldest European city in the Americas, and the most developed city on the island of Hispaniola. This old city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Moreover, Santo Domingo is the capital city of the Dominican Republic, and it prides itself on being the first European city in the New World.
Fun Fact: Founded by Christopher Columbus’s brother Bartolome Colombus in 1496, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and was the first seat of the Spanish colonial empire in the New World.
The city of Santo Domingo has a really rich historic and cultural heritage that makes any visit extremely worth it. Today, it remains one of the most populous cities in the Central America–Caribbean area and the main economic and commercial center of this region.
Things To Do In Santo Domingo
The city is divided into two parts by the Ozama River. The western side is very developed economically, while the eastern part, known as “Santo Domingo Este,” has lagged behind.
The most important tourist destination of the city is the Zona Colonial or Colonial Zone, on the western bank of the river and facing the Caribbean Sea.
To the west of the Zona Colonial lies Gazcue, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, filled with old Victorian houses and tree-lined streets. The city’s waterfront George Washington Avenue, known as “El Malecon,” borders the Caribbean Sea and attracts many tourists because of its hotels, casinos, palm-lined boulevards and monuments.
Surrounding the Gazcue area you will find the Palacio Nacional (seat of the Dominican government), the National Theater, the museums in the Plaza de la Cultura, and the Palace of Fine Arts.
In the central part of western Santo Domingo lies the economic and commercial heart of the city, in an area known as the “Poligono Central” and delimited by the 27 de Febrero, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Maximo Gomez avenues.
This high-income area remains rather unexplored by tourists, despite offering most of the best dining and shopping available in the city. Many of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods surround the city’s two main parks, the Parque Mirador Sur in the South and the Jardin Botanico in the North.
In the more populated but less developed East Santo Domingo you will find other major monuments and tourist spots, such as Columbus’s Lighthouse, where the explorer’s remains are buried, the open caves of the Parque Nacional Los Tres Ojos, and the National Aquarium.
This all makes of Santo Domingo a cosmopolitan, vibrant and bustling city with very distinct neighborhoods and ambiances, all worth a visit, and providing the most diverse cultural experiences.
Note: Despite boasting a rich cultural, architectural and artistic heritage, Santo Domingo has not been exploited for all its tourist potential. You’re pretty much on your own to discover this fascinating city. Make the most of your time there.
Santo Domingo was the first major European settlement in the New World. Christopher Columbus walked these streets! Check out the many examples of 15th and 16th-century architecture in the Colonial Zone.
The top three sites are (all built during Columbus’ lifetime):
- the Ozama Fort
- the Alcazar de Colon
- the Cathedral
Don’t miss the Panteon Nacional, where the national heroes are buried, in the Calle Las Damas, the New World’s first European street!
Calle del Conde
Walk up the Calle del Conde, a very old pedestrian shop-lined street that used to be the commercial heart of the city.
This street leads to the Puerta de la Independencia, where the Dominican Republic proclaimed its independence from Haiti, and the Parque Independencia, where the country’s founding fathers’ remains are kept.
Enjoy Live Music & Dance
On Sunday evenings, check out the Ruinas de San Francisco for live bands playing Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and Son, in a wonderful weekly show where both locals and tourists dance, drink and enjoy themselves.
This would be an unforgettable experience!
La Atarazana Street
Check out La Atarazana street after dark for a variety of romantic outdoor cafes with a spectacular view of the Alcazar and bay area. One such brasserie, Pat E Palo, has operated uninterrupted since 1505.
Ponce DeLeon’s House
Check out the house where Ponce DeLeon lived before he embarked upon his quest for the fountain of youth and ended up discovering Florida.
Churches and Convents
You can also check beautiful churches and convents, such as the Iglesia Regina Angelorum and the Convento de los Dominicos.
Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor
An important landmark because it is the first cathedral of the Americas. Construction began in 1514 and was finished in 1540.
Fortaleza Ozama (Ozama Fortress)
The oldest formal military construction still standing in the Americas. The cost of entrance is about RD$30 per person and about RD$200 for a guide to take you. The guide is recommended because he will explain much of the historical background.
The fortress itself is not very large, but within the perimeter, you will find a large open area with a park and an exhibition of military vehicles and weapons, most of them relatively modern.
Malecon (George Washington Avenue)
This waterfront boulevard is home to several huge hotel/casino complexes and dozens of small restaurants, clubs, and cafes.
Go there to people watch, take a romantic carriage ride or just have a few beers. This is a site of many festivals and concerts throughout the year (so depending on your timing you may stumble upon some cool festivities).
Parallel to the Malecon you will find Avenida Independencia, a tree-lined street full of shops, bed and breakfasts and affordable restaurants with a nice mix of locals and tourists.
For a unique dining experience check out Adrian Tropical, a traditional Dominican restaurant literally built on the water, or San Gil, a more formal eatery occupying the ruins of a colonial fort.
Plaza de la Cultura
This amazing complex is home to the National Theater and five museums, ranging from the dilapidated and mundane, to the crisp, modern Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art), the largest in the Caribbean and home to exhibits by artists from Jamaica, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and of course, the Dominican Republic.
Other museums include:
- Museum of Natural History
- Museum of the Dominican Man
- Museum of History and Geography
Find your way to the Parque Mirador Sur, an impressive park overlooking the coast. It is closed for cars on weekdays between 5 and 8 AM, and on Sundays, enabling it to be filled with families playing with their children and exercising.
Also, you can visit the Botanical Garden, a vast, beautiful and lush park situated near one of Santo Domingo’s most exclusive neighborhoods. There you can experience different ecosystems from a rain-forest to a Japanese garden!
Eastern Santo Domingo
Referred to as Santo Domingo Oriental, this separate municipality is not very tourist-friendly. Fortunately, most of its attractions are very close to the Colonial Zone and easy to get to.
Check out Los Tres Ojos, or Three Eyes, a series of open-roof caverns and underground lakes for the whole family to explore (with a local as this part of Santo Domingo is the most poverty-stricken and can be dangerous!).
Head over to the Faro a Colon, a huge lighthouse and monument built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492 that is thought to house his remains and doubles as a museum.
Check out the Santo Domingo Aquarium, a small but impressive showcase of the local aquatic life.
If you’re looking for some shopping, you can go to the Megacentro, Santo Domingo’s largest shopping mall.
Sun Dial/Reloj de Sol
The most impressive and beautiful sight. Built-in 1753, it’s one of the oldest sundials in the Americas.
Upscale Santo Domingo
If you want to see the cosmopolitan, upscale side of Santo Domingo, head to the Piantini and Naco neighborhoods.
Streets like Gustavo Mejía Ricart and major avenues like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are lined with high-end boutiques, shopping plazas, expensive cafes and restaurants offering a huge variety of international cuisines and just about anything money can buy, from cigar shops to Ferrari and Bentley dealerships.
Further away you can find Bella Vista Mall and Diamond Mall, two other big shopping malls in Santo Domingo.
If you’re looking for more open-air plazas lined with smaller boutiques, you should check out Plaza Andalucia.
All of the following museums are located in the Colonial Zone.
Alcázar de Colón
Visit this stunning villa, built-in 1510 and retaining period furnishings and other items owned by Governor Diego Colón, the first-born son of Christopher Columbus.
Naval Museum of the Atarazanas
Located across the plaza from the Alcazar de Colon on Calle Atarazana, the oldest street in the Western Hemisphere.
Museum of the Casas Reales
Another great museum featuring collections depicting life in 16th-century Santo Domingo. It is walking distance from the Alcazar de Colon and the Naval Museum.
World of Ambar Museum
An impressive collection of amber stones.
Museum of Duarte
A collection of artifacts and writings regarding the Dominican Republic’s founding father, Juan Pablo Duarte. Located on Calle Isabel La Catolica, a few blocks west of the above museums.
Museum of Rum and Sugar Cane
This museum holds all the history of rum-making in the Dominican Republic. In front of the museum, you will find all the Dominican rum for sale at reasonable prices.
There is also a very nice bar inside where you can enjoy a nice drink of rum or any other drink you like. In the after-hours, it turns into a bar. Free.
Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana
Memorial Museum of the Dominican Resistance presents an ample presentation of the 20th-century history of the country and the ordeals endured under the Trujillo regime.
Museums in Plaza de la Cultura
- Museum of Dominican Man
- Modern Art Museum
- National Museum of History and Geography
Santo Domingo used to be a huge city (population nearly 4 million people) that was split into 5 independent municipalities: Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo Este, Santo Domingo Oeste, Santo Domingo Norte and Boca Chica. Fortunately, nearly all tourist attractions and shopping, dining and entertainment venues are located relatively close to each other in the Distrito Nacional, making it easy for you to get around and see the sights.
Santo Domingo is not entirely a tourist-friendly city. It’s often hard to move around if you don’t know the city, as many streets lack proper signage and addresses are often reliant on the neighborhood’s name more than an actual street address. However, don’t be afraid of asking the locals for orientation, as Dominicans are well known for their helpful nature and usually helpful to tourists. It’s a good idea to get a street map (there are many city maps online but it’s also possible to buy one at any gift shop or book store for no more than US$5).
November 25, 2019 2:32 pm
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