The capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo is often overlooked by travelers to the island who prefer Dominican beach towns or resort getaways. But Santo Domingo, once the capital of the Hispanic Americas, is one of the most fascinating and exciting cities to visit! This city is thriving in social movements, culture, gastronomy, nightlife, and events almost every day. There are tons of things to do in Santo Domingo for every traveler!
And with over one million inhabitants living in the city, you’ll find yourself encountering Dominicans from every walk of life, from farmers to community leaders to the popis (Dominican slang for preppy hipsters). So if you’re thinking of what to do in Santo Domingo… Well, here’s a little bit of everything for everyone in this vibrant capital.
Santo Domingo is also the perfect launching pad for various day and side trips, making it an auspicious destination to stop by and recharge in between your travels throughout the Dominican Republic.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at…
Table of Contents
I. Santo Domingo Day Tours
Visiting Santo Domingo is totally doable on your own. However, if you prefer a guided tour or you’re not based in Santo Domingo, consider these private day trip tours:
- This Santo Domingo day tour works for travelers based in Punta Cana.
- Go visit some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Dominican Republic through this Monte Plata day trip from Santo Domingo.
II. Top Best Things to Do in Santo Domingo
1. Visit La Zona Colonial
If you can only do one thing while in Santo Domingo, then let it be this. Hands down.
La Zona Colonial is the historic colonial center of the city. Here you can spend days exploring Santo Domingo’s greatest things to do and see. This is also one of the best places to visit in the Dominican Republic for cultural events, social movements, art galleries, museums, nightlife, and trendy restaurants.
If you’re worried that this is a place only for tourists or touristy things, it’s actually a neighborhood for both locals and tourists. You’ll find local artists, local theatre, local community centers, local LGBT bars, and much more! So if you love history and culture — La Zona Colonial is the place to go in Santo Domingo.
A lot of the things mentioned in this post are in la Zona Colonial. But here is a quick overview of the top historic streets/plazas you can’t miss out on in la Zona Colonial:
- Catching a glimpse of the oldest cathedral in the Americas (built over a sacred indigenous site, yikes)
- Strolling down the historic Las Damas Street
- People-watch in Parque Colon
- Get a drink at one of the restaurants in Plaza de Espana/Armas like Pat’e Palo.
- Stroll down the historic street of El Conde
- Casa Quien Art Gallery ★
- Centro Cultural Español: Cultural space funded by the Spanish embassy with art exhibits, films, concerts, and more.
2. Microteatro: 15-Minute Plays on Dominican Life ★
Microteatro Santo Domingo is a unique theatre concept 15-minute plays by Dominican actors/writers about local Dominican life, culture, love, and relationships. It’s in an intimate and sometimes interactive space often with just you and a dozen other spectators + the actors.
The plays I’ve seen here have been hilarious, thought-provoking, and vary in taste and presentation.
The Microteatro space is in a beautiful colonial building and as such has an open-air courtyard where you can eat and drink. This is one of the best nights out in Santo Domingo with friends or family. Eat, drink, and watch 4 different 15-minute plays in between.
You can buy your tickets there just before the function, however, it often gets sold out so it’s best to arrive early. Find out more here.
3. Quinta Dominica ★
Housed in a 1500s Spanish home, this cultural center hosts several talks about history and heritage. I first came here for a discussion on the history of slavery in the Dominican Republic. Afterward, I got to chat, debate, and connect with the speaker and fellow attendees.
There is an art gallery with changing exhibits before you enter the beautiful outdoor courtyard garden covered by tall mango trees.
If you come in the day, do not pass up on freshly made mango juice. The perfect treat to enjoy while catching up with friends or as a break between your Zona Colonial adventures.
4. El Museo de la Resistencia ★
A visit to this museum is a great way to educate yourself on the history around you, to better contextualize your experience throughout the country, and to support a good cause.
This museum primarily honors those who have fought against oppression, such as the notorious dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. The museum contains artwork, videos, text, photographs, and more.
You can spend hours here. But please note it is only in Spanish however, you could hire a local guide to translate for you. There is also a beautiful outdoor colonial courtyard located between exhibits.
5. Amber Museum ★
Amber is tree resin “gemstones” from ~20 million years ago! Inside, you can find remnants of extinct plants and species. But Dominican amber is even more special. Come to this museum to find out why. This Santo Domingo attraction is a must-visit for gemstone/geology nerds!
While I was there, I got to meet the Dominican owner, who gave me a tour of the museum. You could tell that the family has a true passion for geology and Dominican heritage. His daughter is also Joarla Caridad, who makes gorgeous craft larimar and amber jewelry.
6. Museo de las Casas Reales ★
The Museum of the Royal Houses provides a look into the history and cultural heritage of the Dominican Republic, starting from Christoper Columbus’ invasion. This building was once the palace of the governor of Santo Domingo (one step below the Queen of Spain). It was the first and oldest headquarters of Spain’s colonization of the Americas.
It’s important to note that many museums in Latin America still focus on the perspective of the European colonizer.
7. Los Tres Ojos National Park & Open Caves Systems
The Dominican Republic’s Three Eyes National Park is a nature reserve and open-air limestone cave system with a series of crystal clear lakes known as the “eyes.” Located in Santo Domingo, just ten minutes by car from the popular Colonial Zone, the park provides a sweet respite from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.
Along with a guided tour, these stunning open-water caves also offer deeper insights into the pre-colonial and ancestral origins of the Dominican Republic.
8. Mamey Libreria + La Ximena
This was a Santo Domingo highlight experience for those looking for a bit of everything in one place.
Mamey Liberia once offered art galleries, a book store, an indie theatre in the back, and a cafe where you can order drinks or snacks. Now, it’s only the bookstore that remains (with some incredible Dominican-related books), a new cigar room, and a new bar/restaurant space.
It has new owners which have shifted it from a cultural space to it feeling like more of a nightlife spot called Ximena. But it’s still new. So let’s see.
Cultural events (concerts and meetings) also used to take place here, so maybe Ximena will continue that tradition. Be on the lookout via their Instagram.
Regardless of the new changes, Mamey was the former colonial home of Dominican historian Emilio Rodriguez Demorizi. It continues to be adorned with a Spanish/Moorish-influenced design and small courtyards with gardens.
9. Larimar Museum ★
Larimar is one of the world’s rarest semi-precious stones, unique only to the Dominican Republic and only found in one mine in the province of Barahona. Its pale cyan-blue color divinely matches the water of its coasts beautifully.
This larimar museum is small but very interesting and fun to stroll through. It is free and sits above a Larimar store, so feel free to stroll through and go upstairs to enter the museum. If you love geology, cool rocks/gemstones, this little museum is a must-visit! It’s an easy visit and takes about 20-45 minutes to complete.
10. Ride El Teleferico
For less than .50 cents USD you can ride the spotlessly clean metro in Santo Domingo and then get a free connection to the teleférico (cable car) that takes you up and above and through various neighborhoods reaching just below the outskirts of La Victoria.
You’ll see kids playing in the natural pools, hear dogs and roosters sing, and smell that nostalgic toasted wood campo aroma, as you fly above schools, homes, lush plains, busy streets, and rivers. There are so many stories to the views from above with every swing.
While to us travelers, this is a fun and exciting (when it swings out of the station it feels like zip-lining) ride through the northern outskirts of Santo Domingo… for many locals, it’s finally a way to get around and connect to more opportunities in the city center.
This is a vital means of everyday local transportation that helps Dominicans and our environment.
11. Museo Fernando Peña Defilló ★
Museo Fernando Pena Defillo is a gorgeous museum and art gallery located smack dab in the middle of the Colonial Zone. It showcases the Peña Defilló family’s private collection of Dominican art. It has a beautiful outdoor space and rooms with art and books. An easy stop between your Zona Colonial travels.
12. Chinatown Sunday Morning Market
Experience a special fusion of Chinese-Dominican culture. Every Sunday, there’s a large outdoor market where Chinese and Dominican farmers and street vendors sell delicious food, drinks, and crops harvested locally.
You can find Chinese fruits and vegetables grown in the Dominican Republic, often things that Dominicans have never seen. It’s a fascinating encounter of two very different cultures coming together.
Moreover, you can pop into the many shops and restaurants if you’re still hungry or want some specialty Asian goods to buy.
13. Los Charcos de Nizao (Day Trip from Santo Domingo)
This epic tour starts early in the morning, leaving from Santo Domingo. You drive for about two hours to Los Cacaos in the province of San Cristobal. It’s ranked as an easy hike, but you will get wet.
Within the first 10 minutes of hiking, you’ll see the first emerald green pool. The rest of the hike (4 hours round trip) consists of gorgeous natural pools enveloped by tall limestone cliffs and mountains.
14. Electric Scooter City Tour
This electric scooter tour helps you see as much of La Zona Colonial from the comfort of your scooter. Perfect when you want to explore everything without walking under the spicy hot Caribbean sun. The tour is hosted by two Dominican locals and lasts just an hour and a half for $20. Not bad!
15. National Park East (Day Trip)
National Park East, also known as Cotubanama National Park, is just two hours from Santo Domingo. This tour takes you through the park’s caves and swimming holes. It is a refreshing day trip from Santo Domingo’s city living and a great way to explore our country’s eastern natural wonders.
If you’re heading to Punta Cana after Santo Domingo, this may be a great way to combine a day trip with transportation! Talk to your guide about it.
16. Parque Mirador Sur ★
This quaint park is situated just under the Bella Vista neighborhood on the luxurious Anacaona street. If you enjoy an active lifestyle, this is the place to be on a weekend morning where you can join other Dominican exercise enthusiasts running, skating, biking, and more.
This beautiful park also has a free outdoor gym as well as fresh coconut water stands in case you need some hydration after a long run across the park. Parque Mirador Sur is also home to cute restaurants, meadows, a little lagoon, and skate/bike rental shops.
17. Teatro Nacional Eduardo Brito
You won’t find tourists in this underrated gem even though it’s one of the best places in Santo Domingo to visit for culture and history! It has several floors and 3 main spaces for different types of performances/events such as theatre, ballet, opera, live music, and famous award shows.
I saw a super interesting play on Ulises Heureaux, one of the Dominican Republic’s presidents in the late 1800s.
If you can’t go in for a play, at least try to catch a glimpse of its neoclassical architectural magnificence in the beautiful Plaza de la Cultura.
18. Casa de Teatro
Casa de Teatro is sort of like an arts center in a bohemian-colonial style space. There is a theatre with an outdoor courtyard and an art gallery by the entrance. Come here for shows, performances, theatre productions, or one of the many fun local meet-up events. You can see a little bit of everything here.
I once even went to a super nerdy Game of Thrones meet-up here and had a blast!
Last time, I also visited their VERY cute cafe upstairs (pictured above) but I’m not sure if it’s still open. The upstairs space for art and community meetups may have been turned into something else.
19. Go Shopping!
Santo Domingo is full of local artists who sell their handmade crafts. From painters to jewerly makers and more, make sure you stop into the nooks and crannies of galleries, weekend markets, and other shops to support. Some of these may be a bit more expensive because they are unique unlike the mass produced made-in-China souvenirs.
Here are some shops I recommend:
- Nini Carela’s mugs and bags (Afro-heritage inspired)
- Joarla Caridad’s larimar and amber jewelry
- Casa Quien art gallery
20. Museo del Hombre Dominicano
This is the biggest Anthropological Museum in Santo Domingo dedicated to Dominican culture, heritage, and history. Located in la Plaza de la Cultura in the Gazcue neighborhood, it is just a few steps from other major spots such as the National Theatre, the National Library, the Modern Art Museum, the Natural History Museum, and much more.
You’ll learn about the island’s history, from the Tainos to the Spanish invasion to our African heritage.
Note: It is mostly closed for renovation. We’re patiently waiting for it to reopen fully!
21. Chill in a Cute Cafe ★
Dropping into cafes to do some writing while eating is one of my favorite past times when traveling around the world. So imagine my delight when I found dozens of beautiful cafes from which to work and eat in Santo Domingo. Although there are many popular ones, here are my two personal cafes in Santo Domingo.
- Flor de Cafe RD: Plants, flowers, arts, yoga, and smoothies! Need I say more?
- Casa Barista: Gluten-free, specialty coffee, hip design, and AC! Sold. They have two locations (near Piantini and la Zona Colonial).
22. Museo de Arte Moderno
Honestly, not my favorite museum in Santo Domingo. BUT, check this out if you’re a big art lover who wants to peruse of all types of art in the Dominican Republic. They usually host about two exhibits by two different artists. So if you don’t vibe with one of the artists, then half visit might feel underwhelming.
However, this museum is easy to pop into because it is conveniently located in the same plaza (Plaza de la Cultura) as the following other Santo Domingo points of interest:
- Museo del Hombre Dominicano
- National Museum of Natural History
- Pedro Henríquez Ureña National Library (Biblioteca Nacional)
- Museo de Historia y Geografia
- Teatro Nacional Brito Eduardo
Entrance is 100 pesos per person (less than $2 USD).
23. Take an Afro Heritage Tour
This Afro Heritage Tour delves deep into the history and legacy of our African ancestors in Santo Domingo. For centuries, Dominican Republic’s Black history has been neglected due to the European colonial and American imperial invasions that still plague all of the Americas.
But we Dominicans have been making a lot of strides and efforts in reclaiming our narratives and decolonizing our history.
Anthropologist Ruth Pion of Afro Historia RD will lead you through this Afro-heritage educational walking tour experience. Consider combining this insightful walking tour with her tour to the old sugar plantations where one of the biggest slave rebellions in the Dominican Republic occurred.
24. Museo Bellaparte
Another Santo Domingo museum that I initially felt kind of meh about, but in hindsight, I think it is one of the better ones. The Bellapart Museum is located above a Honda dealership, in what seems like a large apartment.
Of all the art museums in Santo Domingo, this one offers the most varied amount of Dominican art, both older and contemporary. It was privately founded in 1999 by Juan Jose Bellapart.
25. Toque Angelical Massage by Blind Masseuse
Get a great massage while supporting blind people in the Dominican Republic. It’s not easy in our country to get work while disabled, but Toque Angeical has created a space for this. The massages I’ve gotten have been great here. And it’s affordable, too.
They have different locations in Santo Domingo so find the one closest to you and book ahead of time.
26. Bonye Sundays
If you love music and dancing, then head to Grupo Bonyé’s FREE events. They host their music performances within the Ruins of San Francisco in the Colonial City of Santo Domingo every Sunday night from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. You can listen to all types of music, from merengue to traditional son and more.
27. National Pantheon
You can easily pop into the National Pantheon. It’s free and tucked between several Zona Colonial highlights. It’s hard to miss. Come here to get an idea of the Dominican Republic’s most famous figures, including Gregorio Luperon and Salome Urena. Some are considered revolutionaries, and others are not so much.
28. Salto de Socoa (Day Trip from Santo Domingo)
This hidden gem in Monte Plata barely gets any visitors and is one of my favorite waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. You may likely have the entire place to yourself like I have several times.
Take this guided tour, which includes the two hour transportation from Santo Domingo. After a 15-minute walk down, including some steps, you’ll see the Socoa Waterfall pouring into a beautiful natural pool. The emerald green swimming area also extends to several other beautiful pools.
Bring water shoes with grip like these ones. You can either hire a driver or book the said tour, which includes another waterfall, Sierra de Agua. It’s $180 for two people.
29. Mercardo Modelo
A bit chaotic but an easy spot to buy all sorts of Dominican souvenirs like mamajuana, larimar, paintings, and grecas.
Personally, I feel like there is a lot of “copy/paste” type of souvenirs here. I prefer more unique art and souvenirs such as unique mugs from this local artist or uniquely made larimar/amber jewelry like this one. But many people (including local Dominicans) love shopping here!
30. KahKow Chocolate Experience
This is a cute place to make your own chocolate bars or chocolate soap. Although you don’t learn how to make either from scratch, it can still be a fun activity to do with your family.
However, I must note that at times I found the informational section problematic with a lot of praise to the Spanish colonizers.
There was a lot of “Thank you, Columbus!” (You know, the guy known for stealing, plundering, enslaving, raping, and killing our Taino people). Of course, this type of mentality is not unique to just this place in the Dominican Republic or the world…
But if you can turn your brain off to those tidbits and just want a basic day out of learning general the process of how cacao becomes a chocolate bar, then this can be a sweet day of chocolate making/eating.
31. Centro Dominico-Aleman ★
This cozy indoor/outdoor community space within a well-kept colonial building is home to markets, events, classes, performances, meet-ups, a German bar, and different things related to Dominican-German relations. Here you’ll also get to meet German exchange students.
So, if you’d like to practice your German in DR, this is likely the place to find some friends from Germany! They also host weekly meetup events over beers and German barbeque. Head over to their beautiful space to check out a calendar of upcoming events.
III. The Best Restaurants in Santo Domingo ★
With so many trendy and delicious restaurants popping up around Santo Domingo, it’s hard to list the top best ones. But here is a brief list of the most unique AND delicious ones, in my opinion:
- Buche Perrico ★: From the outside, this restaurant looks like any other, but once you pass the hallway, you enter a stunning outdoor backyard space with ferns and cozy lights. The contemporary Dominican-fused cuisine and the fresh cocktails are great. Get the empanadas de yuca.
- Paletas Bajo Zero: If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to stop by this ice cream shop that sells creamy popsicles of all sorts but with a unique twist.
- Samurai ★: For an array of Japanese cuisine! Get the ahi tuna and the sake.
- Maraca ★: Stunning artistic decor, incredible drinks, cool Dominican-Asian fusion of flavors and dishes. The goat cheese salad and crispy eggplant were great. Don’t miss their Dominican negroni drink.
- Papaupa ★: Much more affordable and very cute vegetarian restaurant located in Los Millones neighborhood. Get the quesadilla.
- Loretta Cafe Bistro: Pricier but quaint and charming restaurant with a huge tree growing through it in Piantini with delicious food, gorgeous decor, and a fresh atmosphere.
- Adrian Tropical: Probably one of the most famous places to get Dominican food. They get so busy that sometimes the food feels kind of mass-produced (especially when compared to our homemade Dominican food). But it’s a great place to get a headstart on your Dominican food tasting experience. There’s more than one location and you’ll find tons of local families here celebrating a birthday.
IV. Best of Santo Domingo’s Nightlife
Santo Domingo offers a ton of nightlife opportunities in various parts of the city. However, I personally already got much of that out of my system a while ago. Today, I do enjoy a chill night out once in a blue if the vibe is right.
Briefly listed below are some cool places. Please note that throughout this post I’ve already mentioned a few great places to spend a night out.
- Cool-Mado: A super fun colmado with a chill “safe space” vibe where local hip down-to-earth Dominicans will come to have a beer, play dominos or listen to some great music. You likely won’t see a tourist or sanky panky here.
- Jalao: More touristy place but it is very popular with Dominican families coming to dance and hear music. You may see sanky pankys here. Great for tourists looking to eat and dance. This is a favorite among Dominican Yorks.
- Veo Veo: This is a popular spot for live music and dancing. Lots of modern/alternative Dominican bands play here. Great way to support the local music scene in DR.
- Festivals: Such as the Jazz Festival and Santo Domingo Pop. There are tons of festivals and events going on throughout the year. You can check Facebook and Instagram to stay in the loop with events.
- El Buho Eatery: Cute and spacious courtyard and indoor space. You can order food and/or have drinks here.
If you like to go clubbing, there are several spots in Santo Domingo for that, which I’m not at all familiar with. So sorry, I can’t help you out with nightlife!
V. Runners Up Things to Do in Santo Domingo
The below things to do in Santo Domingo are ones I personally don’t think are that great but are popular. So here they are just in case something really calls out to you:
- Jardín Botánico
- National Palace
- The Zoo
- Museo de Historia Natural
VI. Best Accommodation Hotels in Santo Domingo
Here are some gorgeous and unique places to stay in Santo Domingo.
- Casas del XVI Boutique Hotel – $$$$$
- Island Life Backpacker’s Hostel – $ (pictured above)
- Hostal Nicolas de Ovando – $$$$
- El Beaterio Guest House – $$
- Colonial 154 Hotel Boutique – $$
VII. Transportation: How to Get Around Santo Domingo
- Uber: Getting around Santo Domingo can be safe, relatively affordable via Uber (about $3-5 each way depending on the distance ). Use code: q0vfd for $5 off your first Uber ride!
- Traditional Taxi: You can call a taxi, which is also safe but will be more expensive than Uber.
- Carrito: A local shared carpool or bus is around 0.50 or 0.60 USD within the city and goes up depending on where you are going.
- OMSA: There’s also the OMSA, which is a little bit cheaper. Please note that most public forms of transportation can have a steep learning curve for tourists.
- Metro: The metro is relatively new and is mostly for locals who live in the outskirts of the city. So it’s very unlikely that you’ll use it unless you’re going to say, Villa Mella. Here is a map to see all the stops.
- Car Rentals: These are not necessary in the capital. We recommend avoiding having to drive in Santo Domingo for safety and convenience.
VIII. Interested in Reading More of My Dominican Republic Blog Posts?
Like This Post? Subscribe to my Upcoming DR Blog Posts! Here are other DR posts to check out.
- Visiting the Three Eyes National Park (Los Tres Ojos) in Santo Domingo
- How to Get to Bahia de las Aguilas from Santo Domingo via Public Transportation
- A Guide to Moving to & Living in Santo Domingo
- The Best Time to Visit the Dominican Republic (& When to Avoid!)
- 23 Things to Know Before Traveling to the Dominican Republic
- 9 Important Dominican Republic Travel Safety Tips
IX. Dominican Republic Travel Community: Events, Tips & Cultural Insights
On Facebook, you can join our closed community of DR travelers. Here we post events, news, cultural insights, trips, and tips. Interested? Click here to join the Dominican Republic Travel Community.