Things to do in San José
With year-round, spring-like temperatures, San José is a great place to discover by foot. Try the open-air sculpture garden of the Costa Rican Art Museum; the restaurants, theatre and Neo-classical cathedral of bustling rendezvous point Parque Central (Central Park) or the larger Morazan Park complete with a temple of music, Japanese garden and tall trees covered with birds you would typically see in the forest.
There’s also Democracy Plaza, which features markets and a statue of the father of Costa Rican democracy, José Figueres Ferrer a.k.a. Don Pepe, as well as the nearby National Museum built within a bullet-ridden fortress and the former airport-turned-woodlands Savannah (Sabana) Metropolitan Park to the west of the city. Indoors, discover the history of pre-Columbian gold at the Gold Museum, the unique stone-made relics of the Jade Museum as well as indigenous crafts at Galeria Namu. If you fancy buying local handicrafts, try the Mercado Central.
There’s no shortage of food or drinks in San José and anyone who drinks coffee should not leave the city without sampling the capital’s most well-known export. At night, head downtown or to the University District and get amongst the boho bars, jazz and salsa cafes and mega clubs. Catch a show at the iconic National Theatre most nights or see what mega shows are playing at outdoor music venue National Gymnasium.
San José is the main transport hub of Costa Rica and a great base to explore the nearby wilds. There are volcanoes, rainforests, waterfalls and rivers waiting to be explored in some 20 natural parks. The nearby Central Mountain Range alone has national parks, volcanoes and an impressive pot of coffee reserves waiting to be explored. Activities range from horseback riding to hiking mountainous paths and from guided bird-watching tours to high-altitude ecosystem-exploring canopy trips. For our tips on what to see and do in San José, read on.
From animal figurines to the first Costa Rican coin and a replica grave, San José’s Pre-Columbian Gold Museum boasts 1,600 artifacts of golden bling dating as far back as 500 AD.
This one-time jail is now a science and culture museum complex that hosts the country’s National Auditorium, an interactive kid’s museum and ‘democracy to art’ centre, National Gallery.
Mercado Central or Central Market is the largest street market in San José, home to the first ice-cream seller in Costa Rica and an all-round fun place for tourists to linger or purchase local handicrafts.
The National Theatre of Costa Rica is, believe it or not, the national theatre of the country. Set in an exquisitely designed late 1800s Neo-classical building, it is a source of pride for cultural Costa Rica and features several live performances each week.
San José’s Museum of Contemporary Art & Design, complete with a Central American flair, comes to life in an old liquor factory founded in 1856 in Costa Rica’s vibrant capital.