What to see in Dominican Republic
Tourist attractions Santo Domingo
Want to experience the Dominican Republic beyond its tropical beaches and resort towns? A trip to Santo Domingo is the chance to uncover the fascinating history, colonial heritage and authentic culture of this Caribbean nation. Famously the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the Americas, Santo Domingo was founded in the year 1496 by Christopher Columbus and his brother Bartholomew. Many of this capital city’s landmark sights, concentrated in the Colonial Zone, date back to this pivotal era. Furthermore, much of the historic centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Affectionately known as ‘La Capital’, Santo Domingo is among the most modern and dynamic cities in the Caribbean, effortlessly fusing the new and the old. Here you’ll find buzzing nightlife, a cutting-edge gastronomic scene as well as centuries-old monuments, incredible museums and upmarket art galleries. Whilst many only visit Santo Domingo on their way to the beach resorts of the north and east of the island, they are surely missing out on the chance to experience authentic Dominican culture and everyday life in the Caribbean.
After its establishment in 1496, Santo Domingo was among the most important Spanish colonies in the New World. Anyone with an interest in the history of the Caribbean and the Americas will relish the chance to wander around the capital’s historic streets, complete with European-style architecture and colourful houses. Today, Santo Domingo remains the industrial, commercial and financial centre of the country and is home to the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere. There’s simply so much to discover here, that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin, but rest assured that when sightseeing gets too much you’re only a short ride away from the beautiful white sand beaches of Boca Chica.
Connected to the rest of the world by an international airport, it’s easy to get around the city thanks to its efficient metro system. On the other hand, the Colonial Zone and waterfront Malecon are easily explored on foot.
A unique Caribbean city, surprising in its vast size and diversity, a vacation to Santo Domingo is the perfect answer for those looking to experience the best of both worlds in the Dominican Republic. Immersive culture, and within easy reach of tropical beaches, spend a little time here and you’ll soon fall for the charms of this cosmopolitan city.
Things to see in Santo Domingo
Any tour of Santo Domingo should begin in the Colonial Zone, at the heart of the old town. Here, you can trace the Spanish-era history of this city and admire the centuries-old architecture. The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor is a great place to begin your explorations. The first and oldest cathedral in the Americas, the importance of this building cannot be underestimated. Completed in the year 1550, its coral-coloured limestone facade is Gothic in style and its interior is brimming with priceless art, ancient woodcarvings and treasures such as silver and jewellery. Inside, you’ll also find the tomb that housed the remains of explorer, Christopher Columbus up until the late 18th-century. Outside, the cathedral sits in Columbus Park, a historic square home to a statue of the famous explorer himself. From here, a short walk takes you to the Dominican Covent, another of the oldest buildings in the city and the former headquarters of the first university in the Americas, another of the best things to see in Santo Domingo.
Heading towards the waterfront, you’ll begin to encounter the city’s historic forts. Built to defend the city from attacks on land and sea, as you stroll around the perimeter of the Colonial Zone you'll see several of these imposing walls and fortifications. Fuerte de San Jose, Fortaleza Ozama and Fuerte San Gil are just a few of the best preserved.
On the banks of the Ozama River lies one of the most impressive sights in the Colonial Zone: the Alcazar de Colon. Built by Christopher Columbus’ son, this former governor’s palace was constructed between 1511 and 1514 and housed three generations of the Columbus family. Its interior showcases an array of decadent furnishings, tapestries and priceless art and the museum is the most popular attraction in the entire city.
Before leaving the Colonial Zone, be sure to stop at the impressive Fray Antonio de Montesino Monument, in honour of the Spanish Dominican friar who was the first public exponent for the rights of indigenous people in the New World. Openly critical of colonialism, Antonio de Montesinos is remembered for his sermon of 1511 and although he was shortly forced out of Santo Domingo and the island of Hispaniola, his words paved the way for later laws that protected the rights of indigenous communities in the New World.
If you’re looking for a little reprieve from sightseeing, be sure to pay a visit to the National Botanical Garden Dr Rafael María Moscoso, an oasis of calm in the heart of Santo Domingo. Home to an array of well-kept gardens and tropical plant species, it’s the perfect place for a relaxing stroll amidst beautiful surroundings.
Finally, to visit another of the best things to see in Santo Domingo, you’ll have to cross the Ozama River to Santo Domingo Este. Here, you’ll find Columbus Lighthouse, an incredibly unique and eye-catching structure. A mausoleum monument, it was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage. Constructed from reinforced concrete, inside is a museum dedicated to all the countries of the Americas.