With its unique blend of Latin and Caribbean heritage, the capital of the Dominican Republic is a dynamic city packed with culture and fun. Whether you’re visiting for business or vacation, there are all sorts of things to see and do near downtown Santo Domingo. From colonial streets and museums, to seafront promenades and an electric nightlife, here’s how to have some local fun.
1. Visit La Zona Colonial
The Colonial City, or La Zona Colonial, was the first permanent establishment of the “New World” in the Americas, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. Running through the heart of the Zona’s ten-block stretch, the pedestrian Calle El Conde makes for an entertaining walk through the historic neighborhood. You could easily spend a few hours strolling along it, browsing clothing stores, souvenir stands, and street art, while stopping for a cafecito or a batida – a fruit milkshake.
One of the most photographed locations in the old city, Parque Colón is renowned for its locals playing dominoes in the verdant square. You’ll have a great vantage point for people watching from the restaurant terraces surrounding the square, while visitors snap photos of Christopher Columbus’s statue and the oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor.
On Calle Las Damas nearby, which is considered the first paved street of the Americas, the Ozama Fortress signals the edge of the Colonial City – its original cannons face the banks of the Ozama River. After climbing the tower, it’s also worthwhile stopping by Alcazar de Colón – Columbus’s son Diego’s former palace turned museum, which displays original period art and furniture.
More sights abound in the Zona, but it’s just as fun to meander along its 16th-century streets to take in the general atmosphere. A perfect way to end the day in the Zona? With cold sangria and tapas at Pura Tasca, on Plaza España, with splendid views of a lit-up Alcazar de Colón.
2. Stroll the Malecón
Locals love to walk or jog at sunset along the city’s iconic Malecón, or seafront promenade, formally known as Avenida George Washington. Bars, restaurants, and sidewalk coconut vendors liven up the boulevard, as well as waterfront parks such as Playa Güibia and Plaza Juan Baron, blasting merengue and bachata until midnight.
3. Party like a capitaleño
No stay in Santo Domingo is complete without experiencing the city’s passion for music and dancing. And it’s available every night of the week.
Downtown, near the Embassy Suites, you can enjoy post-work cocktails and bites at La Posta. But Sunday evenings are the most vibrant, when city dwellers (capitaleños) gather on the ruins of the San Francisco Monastery for live merengue and salsa, al fresco. Surrounding this scenic concert venue are colmados or local bars doubling as convenience stores, where you can order una fría – a Presidente beer – or better yet, una novia, which is a bottle so chilled that it’s wrapped in a thin layer of ice, resembling a wedding dress.
4. Take a nature break
If you feel like you need a day of relaxation after a night of dancing, head to the National Botanical Gardens, an oasis in Santo Domingo with more than 600 acres of endemic plants and flowers and beautiful secluded gardens. And for an afternoon of sand, sea, and local flavor, the beach town of Boca Chica lies just 30 minutes’ drive east of the city.