The best things to do in San Salvador are to explore the historic district, visit the National Cathedral, learn about the country’s history at the National Palace, taste the local gastronomy, explore the iconic plazas, go shopping at the local markets, visit a museum, and enjoy the nightlife.
San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, used to be a dangerous place for locals and foreigners to visit. However, that is not the case anymore! The Capital City has been rehabilitated, and security has drastically improved. The following are the top 15 things to do in San Salvador.
- Explore the San Salvador historic district
- Visit the National Cathedral
- Explore the National Palace
- Taste the local gastronomy
- Explore El Rosario church
- Visit the divine savior of the world monument
- Explore the San Salvador national theater
- Get to know the history of Liberty Plaza
- Explore the El Calvario Church
- Explore the Gerardo Barrios plaza
- Visit the National Craft Market
- Explore the Museums
- Enjoy the nightlife at La Zona Rosa
- Catch a live performance at the Luis Poma Theater
- Hike El Boqueron National Park
1. Explore the San Salvador historic district
A visit to the El Salvador national capital must include exploring the San Salvador Historic District. This place is full of iconic buildings and churches; it is also full of the nation’s history and is where El Salvador began.
Some of the best attractions are the National Palace, the National Cathedral, Liberty Plaza, and El Rosario church. The best time to visit the downtown historic district is in the afternoon or during the weekend.
In addition to all the iconic buildings, churches, and plazas, the downtown historic district offers visitors plenty of other activities that involve shopping, local gastronomy, and cultural events.
2. Visit the National Cathedral
The San Salvador Cathedral is the principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador; it is home to the San Salvador Archbishop and is at the heart of the San Salvador Historic District.
The cathedral has beautiful architecture and is of great importance to the city’s history; it is also the final resting place of Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
Today, the Metropolitan Cathedral has a unique look, different than the typical Salvadoran-style colonial church. The current church is the third of its kind to serve as the cathedral of the Holy Savior. The first was destroyed by an earthquake, and the second by a fire.
3. Explore the National Palace
The Salvadoran National Palace was built between 1905 and 1911; the building combines neo-Gothic, neoclassical, and Renaissance architectural details. It was declared a National Monument in 1980.
This famous building was paid for with money collected by taxing every quintal of exported coffee; so, for that reason, it’s also called the Coffee Palace.
The building has four main rooms with different colors; each of the four principal rooms was used by different branches of the government.
The Red Room was used for receptions held by the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry; the Yellow Room was used as an office for the President of the Republic; the Pink Room housed the Supreme Court and later the Ministry of Defense, and the Blue Room was the meeting place of the Legislature of the country.
4. Taste the local gastronomy
Tasting the local gastronomy is a top thing to do in the capital city of El Salvador. Anywhere in the city, you will find all the traditional Salvadoran foods such as Pupusas or Tamales; you will also find different tasty street foods such as Pastelitos or Yuca Frita con Chicharron.
There are plenty of locations all over the city where you can try this tasty food; however, it is highly recommended to visit the local markets and taste traditional foods or street foods as the locals do.
5. Explore El Rosario church
El Rosario Church is a modern catholic church in the San Salvador Historic Downtown. The church has a modern architectural design that breaks away from the conventional style of Salvadoran catholic churches.
From the outside, the church looks more like an airport hangar or a concrete bunker than a worship house. The ideal time to visit El Rosario is late afternoon when the light, reflected from the stained glass, has the most panoramic effect.
El Rosario Church is a very special place. A church totally out of the ordinary. Its stained glass windows, when they are directly illuminated by the sun, are a light show. Its vaulted interior creates a very cozy feeling. It has a lot of history, which is best appreciated with the help of a local guide.
6. Visit the divine savior of the world monument
El Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, or the divine savior of the world monument, is one of El Salvador’s most famous landmarks; it is an imposing monument dedicated to the country’s patron saint, Jesus Christ.
The Monument to the Divine Savior of the World is the focal point of the El Salvador del Mundo plaza near downtown San Salvador; it features a statue of Jesus on Earth atop a tall concrete base.
7. Explore the San Salvador national theater
The National Theater of San Salvador is one of the most significant scenic buildings in the country; it was built in the “Renaissance” style and under the Hennebique reinforced concrete system.
As a cultural heritage institution, the National Theater promotes the arts of performing companies of the Ministry of Culture, as well as independent, national, and international groups.
This important building has been the scene of Italian operas, zarzuelas, dramas, scientific conferences, charity concerts, and cinematographic films. Its capacity is 650 seats, distributed in three levels.
8. Get to know the history of Liberty Plaza
Liberty Plaza, or Parque Libertad, is the epicenter of San Salvador, the Capital City; it is a massive open space with a statue commemorating the independence of El Salvador in its center.
The name Liberty Plaza was given in honor of the Central American independence from Spanish rule, which lasted nearly three centuries. On September 15, Independence day, it is customary for the San Salvador city hall to carry out civic acts on the plaza.
9. Explore the El Calvario Church
The El Calvario Parish is another of the top Salvadoran churches worth visiting; it is one of the oldest temples in all of El Salvador, with centuries of tradition.
It is a beautiful church built in an impressive Neo-Gothic style. However, it was not recommended to visit it as it was located in a dangerous area in the middle of an informal market. But in 2023, this Neo-Gothic-style church is easier to visit; all street vendors around the temple have been removed, and the areas have been cleaned and are more secure.
10. Explore the Gerardo Barrios plaza
Gerardo Barrios Square is in the heart of San Salvador, in front of the San Salvador National Cathedral. The plaza has the statue of Salvadoran hero Gerardo Barrios and is a point of reference within the historic center of the capital.
The Gerardo Barrios square is one of the three plazas at the Capital City’s historic downtown that represents a lot of the country’s culture due to the historical events that occurred here!
11. Visit the National Craft Market
The National Craft Market in San Salvador is a must-visit for anyone looking for souvenirs. The market is full of handicrafts made by local artisans; this market is a great place to find unique gifts and support local businesses.
This space is a paradise for those tourists and locals who love artisan products with Salvadoran characteristics; at this market, you can find colorful hammocks, candles, notebooks bound with colored fabrics, wooden statues, clay crafts, and much more.
If you are looking for handicrafts in San Salvador? It is your destination to visit the shops at the National Craft Market.
12. Explore the museums
One of the top things to do in the capital city of El Salvador is to explore the museums; they display excellent Salvadoran history and culture.
How about exploring five different museums in San Salvador? If you like that idea, consider visiting all or one of the following museums: The Art Museum of El Salvador; the National Museum of Anthropology Dr. David J. Guzman; the Museum of Word and Image; the Folk Art Museum; or the Railway Museum.
13. Enjoy the nightlife at La Zona Rosa
La Zona Rosa, or the pink zone, is the nightlife epicenter of San Salvador. It is in an upscale area in Colonia San Benito, with bars, restaurants, and cafes to enjoy your stay. La Zona Rosa has nightclubs, bars, restaurants, live music, and cozy and fun spaces.
Visit La Zona Rosa at night and enjoy local and international cuisine and the best live music or amazing parties.
14. Catch a live performance at the Luis Poma Theater
Looking for nighttime enjoyment? If yes! Catching a live performance at the Luis Poma Theater is a fantastic option. The theater offers a wide variety of shows for all preferences. The Poma theater has everything from classic plays to contemporary productions, including musicals and comedies.
15. Hike El Boqueron National Park
The 15 top things to do in San Salvador will take you outside the city, but it is worth including it in the list. San Salvador has one of the most impressive volcanoes in the country as a backdrop, the San Salvador volcano, which is home to El Boqueron National Park.
El Boqueron National Park is characterized by its lush forests full of native flora and fauna and several hiking trails that offer incredible views of the capital city. But above all, the park is known for its stunning volcano crater and the smaller volcano crater.
Hiking El Boqueron National Park is a top thing to get done while visiting El Salvador’s Capital City. From the trails, you will get amazing views of the city!
Top things to do in San Salvador
San Salvador is one of Central America’s lesser-known capital cities. The city has a great colonial history with impressive traditions. The above-listed top 15 things to do in the capital city of El Salvador are just a short part of what this city offers.