Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and offers a truly immersive historical experience. Originally founded in 1496, it is the oldest continuous European settlement in the Americas and features well-preserved colonial architecture. When you visit Santo Domingo, you’ll almost take a step back in time. This fascinating city is made up of different cultures and neighborhoods, each with its own character and charm.
Know Before You Visit Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo, or “La Capital,” is a coastal Caribbean city split into two parts by the Ozama River. The tourist heart of the city is the Colonial District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the western bank of the river, this is where you’ll find most of the most popular places to visit in Santo Domingo. Here you can see one of the Americas’ oldest churches and the oldest surviving European-settlement fortress, among other architectural gems.
Some of the top places to visit in the Colonial District include the enormous Plaza Espana and Alcazar de Colon. Formerly the home of Christopher Columbus’ family, it is a fascinating place located at the east end of the plaza. A short walk to the south will take you to Parque Colon, home to the first cathedral built in the New World, with its impressive Gothic architecture and Baroque paintings.
Live the Colonial District in the West
The western side is also home to the Gazcue neighborhood, known for its Victorian-style houses and beautiful tree-lined streets. You’ll also find palm-lined boulevards along the eye-catching Malecon, the waterfront avenue, as well as impressive hotels, casinos and monuments.
Some of the top attractions in the western part include the Palacio Nacional (seat of the Dominican government), the Palace of Fine Arts, the National Theater, and the numerous museums that call Plaza de la Cultura home. Santo Domingo doesn’t just offer history — it also has wonderful parks, like Parque Mirador Sur and the National Botanical Garden.
See the City from the East
If you venture to the less developed eastern side of the city, you’ll come across other popular spots and Santo Domingo sights. There, you can find the remains of Christopher Columbus, at Columbus Lighthouse. Also, the National Aquarium and the incredibly green Los Tres Ojos National Park are there.
Despite being one of the oldest cities in the world, Santo Domingo gets its true charm from blending colonial architecture with cutting edge, modern features. It is home to booming nightclubs, modern shopping malls, and elegant restaurants. Combining the old with the new, this city full of contrasts is a must-see on your Dominican Republic vacation.
Visit Santo Domingo with a Private Tour
One of the best ways to visit Santo Domingo is with a guided city tour. If you’re staying in Punta Cana, enjoy a private tour with your family with a guide all to yourselves. There is also a shared tour that leaves from La Romana or from Punta Cana. In terms of distances, the capital is about 2.5 hours from Punta Cana, and just 90 minutes from La Romana, making it an ideal spot for a day trip. Each excursion includes a visit to the Colonial District and explanations from your guide about all the different sites. You can also add on a delicious lunch in a traditional restaurant, along with some free time for shopping.
In summary, Santo Domingo really is an amazing place to visit. Full of historic buildings and monuments and offering a wealth of culture and traditions, it is truly fascinating. Framed by the crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea, this capital city has all you could ask for during an unforgettable day out in the Dominican Republic.