The capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo is often overlooked by travelers to the island who prefer beach towns or resort getaways. But Santo Domingo, once the capital of the Spanish 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…
The Top Things to Do in Santo Domingo
If you’re not based in Santo Domingo but want to go on a day trip, consider a private day trip to Santo Domingo. This Santo Domingo day tour works for travelers based in Punta Cana. And if you’re already based in Santo Domingo, consider a private guided tour like this one. This way, you can customize the route and let your guide take you around the city.
Visit La Zona Colonial
If you can only do one thing while in Santo Domingo, then let it be this. La Zona Colonial is the historic colonial center of the city. Here you can spend days on end with 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:
- Getting a glimpse of the oldest church in the Americas
- Historic Las Damas street
- People-watch in Parque Colon
- Peak into the National Pantheon
- Eat at one of the restaurants in Plaza de Espana/armas
- Go shopping down the historic street El Conde
- Museo de las Casas Reales / Museum of the Royal Houses
- Casa Quien Art Gallery
- Quinta Dominica
- Museo Fernando Peña Defilló
- Centro Cultural Español: Cultural space funded by the Spanish embassy with art exhibits, films, concerts and more.
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: @microteatrosd.
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 is full of 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.
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. Tres Ojos tours start at around $50.
Mamey Libreria: Books, Art, Film & Coffee
A highlight experience if you’re looking for a little bit of everything in one place. Mamey Liberia offers an art gallery, a bookstore with incredible Dominican-related books, a theatre in the back that is in collaboration with several Dominican artists, and a cafe where you can order drinks or snacks. Cultural events (concerts and meetings) will also take place here so be on the lookout via their Instagram. As the former colonial home of Dominican historian Emilio Rodriguez Demorizi, Mamey is adorned with a Spanish/Moorish-influenced design and small courtyards with gardens.
Larimar is one of the world’s rarest semi-precious stones, unique only to the Dominican Republic and only found from 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.
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 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.
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.
Local Gastronomy: Try 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:
- Desiree Cepeda Restaurant & Art Studio – A artist’s interior design studio combined with an outdoor space for eating unique Dominican dishes.
- 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 fern and cosy lights. The contemporary Dominican-fused cuisine and the fresh cocktails are a must-try here.
- 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 local twist.
- Lulu Tasting Bar – Posh and trendy restaurant where you can eat and drink in an outdoor patio.
- La Fabrica de Arte Contemporanea (see below)
- Papaupa – More affordable and very cute vegetarian restaurant located in Los Millones neighborhood. Please note: It is closed on Mondays.
- 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 food tasting experience. There’s more than one location and you’ll find tons of local families here celebrating a birthday.
La Fábrica Contemporánea & El Coloquio de Mujeres Events
This is a personal favorite of mine. This is a library + artistic community space + delicious restaurant. Although everyone is welcome, this is a safe space for women and the LGBT+ community. Throughout the month there are several social activism talks, events, and parties. This is a great space not just to get an incredible plate of Dominican food at a GREAT price, but to support wonderful causes.
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.
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.
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.
Casa de Teatro + Calecho
Casa de Teatro is sort of like an arts center in a bohemian-colonial style space. There is a theatre with an outdoor courtyard, an art gallery by the entrance, a VERY cute and specialty coffee cafe (pictured above), and an upstairs space for art and community meetups (Calecho). Come here for the 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!
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.
Chill in a Cute Cafe
Dropping in on 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 top three 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.
- Calecho in Casa de Teatro – This is not so much for work, but for engaging with the community over a strong cup of coffee. Come here to connect with others! Tiny but gorgeous interior.
Explore 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.
- La Alpargateria – Cute outdoor/indoor shoe shop + bar. You often find some live events here on the weekends.
- Kalenda – A vegan restaurant by day and music venue by night. You may catch some cool local bands playing here on some weekends.
- 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.
- Lulu Tasting Bar – Posh and trendy restaurant where you can eat and drink in an outdoor patio. (pictured above)
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 that one!
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
- Bonye Sundays
- National Palace
- The Zoo
- Museo Bellapart
- Museo de Historia Natural
Unfortunately, El Museo del Hombre Dominicano has been closed for an indefinite amount of time. For this reason, it has not been included in this list. If and when I hear that it’s opened up again, I will check it out and possibly add it on here.
Top Best Accommodation 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 – $$
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 are not necessary in the capital. We recommend avoiding having to drive in Santo Domingo for safety and convenience.
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