San Jose is a city most people just land and depart from and leave as quickly as possible. Of course, Costa Rica is a country to see wildlife and nature. Nonetheless, I stayed a couple of days during my time in Costa Rica and must say, its capital has a lot of green areas, nice architecture and churches. It’s definitely worth to stay and get to know it. This self-guided walking tour in San Jose will bring you to my favorite spots within the city.
Getting around San Jose
It is very easy to orientate yourself in San Jose. The central point is Av. Central and Calle 1. From North to South all the streets are called Calles and from East to West the streets are called Avenidas. North from Avenida Central, is Avenida 3, then Avendia 5, Avenida 7 and so on. South of Avenida Central it’s Avenida 2, Avenida 4 etc.
Same counts for the Calles. East of Calle 1 you can find Calle 3, then Calle 5 etc. West of Calle 1, you find Calle 2, Calle 4 etc.
It seems a bit weird in the beginning but once you figured that out, it’s easy to get around San Jose.
Self-guided walking tour in San Jose, Costa Rica
Starting at: Metropolitan Cathedral
Ending at: Correos de Costa Rica
Distance: 3.9 km
Walking Time: ca. 1 hour
Map Part 1:
Map Part 2:
Calle Central/Av. 2
You start walking at the Metropolitan Cathedral, a cathedral which is worth going into. I loved the colorful windows and the ceiling spans. The style combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical and Baroque styles with Doric pilasters and neoclassical pediment (Source).
In front of the cathedral, a busy square can be found which is ideal for people watching. Some days, you can find some stalls of clothes, crafts and food here as well.
Between Calle 3 and 5/Av. 2
Just a few meters away you find the National Theater. Again, make your way inside as it is more beautiful from the inside in my opinion. It was built in a neoclassical style and you are able to see the entrance area without paying. In case you want to see the whole theatre including where the performances happen, there are guided tours available.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 AM to 5 PM
Entrance fee: 10 USD for foreigners
Plaza de la Cultura/Museo del Oro
Between Calle 3 and 5/Av. Central
Right next to the theatre, you find the Plaza de la Cultura – the cultural square. It is a common meeting point for both tourists and locals. A lot of events are taking places here like dance or other performances. A great place for people watching as well. Get some ice cream, sit on one of the benches and watch the coming and going of the square.
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At the end of the square you also find the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum or Museo de Oro. It exhibits Costa Ricas most priceless pieces of pre-Columbian gold and other artifacts (Source).
Opening Hours: 9:15-5 PM
Entrance Fee: 11 USD regular, 8 USD students
Calle 5/between Av. Central and Av. 1
Teatro Variades is the oldest theater in San Jose and the first cinema. The first movie was shown here in 1906. The neoclassical building today still is used as a theater and cinema. For me, it’s the most beautiful cinema, I’ve ever seen!
Calle 7/Av. 3
After seeing some architecture it’s now time to visit some parks. Take some food with you for a small picnic. Parque Morazan is a park in neoclassical style.
If you like architecture wander around the streets behind the Holiday Inn as well.
Jardin de Paz y Escuela Buenaventura Corrales
Calle 9/between Av. 5 and 7
Behind the small park Jardin de Paz, you’ll find the Escuela Buenaventura Corrales – a school in a completely metallic building. Go there and knock on the walls to see it’s all metallic.
Calle 9/between Av. 3 and 7
Parque Espana is just a small park with some monuments and different tropical fauna. Pass this park instead of walking on the street.
Calle 15/between Av. 1 and 3
Parque Nacional is one of the nicest parks in San Jose offering some places to rest, monuments and different trees.
Museo Nacional de Costa Rica/Plaza de la Democracia
Calle 15/between Av. Central and Av. 2
Walk down Calle 15 to get to Costa Rica’s National Museum. The museum can be found in an old fortress which was built in 1917 and was used for military purposes back then. In 1950 it became a museum (Source).
The museum has exhibitions about natural history, anthropology & archaeology and general history of the country.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 8:30 AM to 4.30 PM, Sunday 9 AM to 4.30 PM
Entrance fee: 9 USD regular, 4 USD for students
Mercado Nacional de Artesanias
Between Calle 13 and 15/between Av. Central and Av. 2
Right in front of the National Museum, you find a market for crafts and souvenirs.
Tribunales San Jose
Calle 13/between Av. 2 and Av. 4
Go down to Av. 6 and see the justice buildings of San Jose if you are interested in that. Continue walking on Av. 6 until you reach Calle 11 and pass by another church.
Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Soledad/Plaza de las Artes
Calle 11/between Av. 2A and Av. 4
Another church worth seeing is the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Soledad right next to the square Plaza de las Artes. Plaza de las Artes is as the name says a place of several monuments and art works.
Between Calle 6 and 8/Av. Central
Walk down the pedestrian street Avenida 4 until you arrive on the other side of the Metropolitan cathedral again. Then go up to Avenida Central and follow until you arrive the central market – the biggest market in San Jose – to get some food and stroll around.
Opening Hours: 6:30 AM to 5:45 PM
Correos de Costa Rica
Paseo de la Vaca (between Calle 4 and 2/Avenida Central
Your self-guided walking tour in San Jose, Costa Rica, will end at the post office building. It’s not a typical sight but the building is worth to see. To get there, just head back east on Av. 1 and then up on Calle 2.
Tip in the end: Where to stay
I stayed several times at Costa Rica Guesthouse, a place I’d recommend to you too. Its private rooms are affordable, spacious, you have breakfast included and get get tea and coffee all day long.
It can be found close to the justice building and is only 10-15 minutes walking to Avenida Central.
Have you been to San Jose? Which place did you like most?
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