Top 10 Places to Visit in Santo Domingo

Most of Santo Domingo’s must-see sites can be found in the Zona Colonial, the city’s historic core. The historic district has an appealing blend of ancient and new Dominican culture.

Ruins from the 16th century may be seen all around the city, interspersed with beautifully restored colonial structures, serving as a continual reminder of the city’s rich history. This New World settlement was founded by Christopher Columbus and is also the final resting place of the explorer.

Several of the old buildings of the colonial neighbourhood, known as Zona Colonial, are now museums, restaurants, and hotels thanks to their inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Top 10 Places to Visit in Santo Domingo

Top 10 Places to Visit in Santo Domingo

The majority of the included venues and activities are located in the Zona Colonial. Even though there is a lot to see in such a little space, one could easily spend several days here just walking around and taking it all in.

Parks with large trees and historic stone structures are accessible via winding, one-lane roads. Outside eateries, modelled like European cafés, are pleasant places to escape the heat of the day and people-watch.

Two of the most popular tourist destinations are Parque Colón (Columbus Park) and Plaza Espaa. In addition to the many eateries, you’ll also find official tour guides who will gladly give you a tour of Santo Domingo and tell you all about the best attractions.

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1. Columbus Park

Park Colón, the city’s liveliest and most alluring square, can be found at the centre of the Zona Colonial. Children chase pigeons around the statue of Christopher Columbus in the square’s centre, and passersby enjoy listening to musicians and seeing street entertainers.

The Catedral Primada de América, the first cathedral in the Americas, is located on the south side of the square. The Cathedral of Santa Mara la Menor was built between the years of 1500 and 1540.

Calle El Conde, the city’s principal pedestrian thoroughfare, runs parallel to the northern side of Park Colón and features a few eateries with outdoor seating overlooking the park.

Sitting here is the ideal way to take in everything that makes this area so special. The Chu Chu Colonial tourist tram leaves from the east side of the square, if you want to take a tour.

2. Catedral Primada de las Americas

Located on the southern edge of Park Colón, this imposing basilica was the continent’s first cathedral when it was finished in 1540. This is not a derelict structure but rather an active house of worship that has preserved many of its 16th-century architectural details.

The impressive interior is accessible through the original Mahogany doors; highlights include a silver altar and a portrait of the Virgin Mary dating back to 1520. Tourist maps refer to this landmark as Catedral Primada de América, despite the fact that its official name is Basilica Cathedral of Santa Mara la Menor.

3. Museum of the Royal Houses (Museo de las Casas Reales)

Originally built in the first half of the 16th century, this magnificent tower was commissioned by Spain to house the most important government offices in the New World. It became a museum dedicated to the area’s history and culture in the 1970s.

Tano antiques, colonial furnishings, and an intriguing weaponry collection are just some of the treasures on display. Even though the museum’s corridors can feel claustrophobic on very busy days, the inside courtyard with its benches and miniature garden is a welcome relief.

The exhibits themselves are only in Spanish, but for an additional price, you can rent a pair of headphones pre-loaded with audio commentary in your language of choice.

4. National Pantheon

The edifice was a church in the first half of the 18th century before dictator Rafael Trujillo had it transformed into a mausoleum for the country’s most prominent citizens in 1956. The building now holds the bones of the men who murdered him, a turn of events he never could have predicted.

Famous people including Francisco Gregorio Billini, Gregorio Luperón, Eugenio Maria de Hostos, and José Gabriel Garca are buried here as well. Marble tombs line the walls; arches and a painted ceiling add architectural interest; and a massive chandelier in the Gothic style hangs from the high ceiling. At the far end of a long crimson carpet, opposite the entryway, is an eternal flame.

5. Plaza España

Located on the outskirts of the Zona Colonial and not far from the Rio Ozama lies the spacious Plaza Espaa. This is hardly a quiet place where you may relax on a bench and enjoy your coffee in the shade of a tree; instead, it is frequently the location of events and public meetings.

Many eateries with patios may be found on the park’s outskirts. The area around the cafés is frequented by tour operators who try to persuade passing tourists to join their group for a stroll. Across from the eateries and closer to the river is the Alcazar de Colón, which dominates the area. The Columbus family once lived in this building, which is now a museum.

6. The Three Eyes

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Zona Colonial and into a more natural setting, the 15-minute journey out to 3 Eyes National Park is well worth it. Be ready to travel down below the surface to a series of four lakes whose waters are as clean as glass.

You can easily tell why these lakes were given their names; they are breathtaking and always perfectly still. It’s possible, with some creative thinking, to mistake them for blue-green eyes.

Aguas Azufradas is the first lake you’ll come across, then La Nevera, and finally Lago de las Mujeres. The boat voyage to the fourth lake, Los Zaramagullones, is quick and inexpensive. If you take the trail to the lookout, you can see this lake from above, too.

7. Chu Chu Colonial

Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial is best explored on the Chu Chu Colonial, a miniature open-air train. The area is tiny and walking, but the Chu Chu is a tempting alternative on hot days.

For 45 minutes, you can relax on a shaded bench as the tour vehicle glides past some of the city’s most iconic landmarks on its way to other stops. Maintain a sharp lookout for other points of interest once the tour has concluded. The excursion embarks from Park Colón’s eastern edge. The Chu Chu Colonial operates sixteen times daily, once every hour.

8. Monasterio de San Francisco

One of the most significant historical sites in the Dominican Republic is the Monasterio de San Francisco ruins. As the first monastery constructed in the New World, its presence here serves as a reminder of the hardships that have befallen this community over the years.

The monastery has been damaged by hurricanes, destroyed by earthquakes, ransacked by Francis Drake, and even used as a battlefield, but each time it has been rebuilt. All access to the site has been restricted by the installation of gates and fences.

Nevertheless, if you look through the front door, you can see right inside. Even now, the remains serve as a location for select events. Getting here involves a tough, sweaty climb. Luckily, there are a number of eateries in the area where you can have a refreshing drink and relax in the shade.

9. Parque Independencia

Parque Independencia is a memorial park honouring Dominican independence located at the westernmost end of Calle El Conde. The Altar de la Patria (Altar of the Nation) is a mausoleum in which the founders of the Dominican Republic are laid to rest.

The square is surrounded with busts that welcome visitors entering via the massive Puerta del Conde. There are big signs advertising the presence of Sanchez, Duarte, and Mella. It gets really hot here in the heat of the day, and there’s not much to do because there’s no shade here except for the mausoleum.

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10. Amber World Museum

You can learn all about amber and see beautiful examples of this petrified resin at the Amber World Museum. The exhibitions here are so eye-catching that even if museums aren’t your thing, you should stop by and have a look.

A knowledgeable English-speaking guide will show you around the museum and explain the history, mining, and uses of amber for a nominal price. The fossils, which can be anything from ants and termites to leaves and flowers, are revealed when the amber, which comes in a wide spectrum of colours, is backlit.

You may examine the fossils in exquisite detail with the magnifying glasses included with some of the sets. The curved handrail leading up to the second story is constructed from amber bits sealed in acrylic.

Amber from the Dominican Republic has a transparency and radiance that sets it apart from other amber. Even in little bits of Dominican amber, it is not uncommon to find fossils. There is a jewellery store selling amber and larimar just next to the museum, but you’re under no obligation to make a purchase.