Essential tourist places to see in Santo Domingo
The city was founded by the Spanish with the name of “Nueva Isabela” in 1496, in honor of Queen Isabella I of Castile, although they had settled there 3 years earlier. It was later renamed “Santo Domingo”, in honor of the patron saint of Christopher Columbus’ father, Domenico Colombo. The most beautiful thing to see in Santo Domingo is the colonial zone of the city, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.
Here we will find most of the must-see places and historical sites that are worth a visit, while strolling through streets with palaces of the early sixteenth century. If you only have a few hours or less than a day in Santo Domingo there are 4 places or monuments that you must visit no matter what, because they are the TOP of the city:
- The Cathedral of the Primate of America.
- Ozama Fortress.
- Alcázar de Colón.
- Independence Park.
It is the minimum, it is clear that you can not know the capital of a country in a few hours (in which case this 2-hour tour, or this free tour, can be very useful). Even the private tour can be a good idea to visit whatever we want. Now let’s move on to the things to do in Santo Domingo if you have a day or two in town.
First Cathedral of America
The first cathedral on the continent, from 1512, in front of Parque Colón, the old Plaza Mayor of the colonial era. It is also the only one in Gothic style. A few years ago I guarded the remains of Christopher Columbus, until they were transferred to the lighthouse.
Alcazar of Columbus
The Alcázar de Colón or Viceregal Palace of Don Diego Colón is the first fortified palace. It used to be the home of the family of Christopher Columbus’ son, and today there is a museum here. It is located in the Plaza de Armas or Plaza España, overlooking the river.
A must see in Santo Domingo The Fortress of Ozama, built in stone, is the oldest European fortress in America. It is from the year 1502 and has a medieval tower that served to defend against pirates, since from there you had a wide field of vision of the river and the entrance to the sea.
See the historic buildings of Calle de las Damas
The Calle de las Damas is the most touristic street in the city of Santo Domingo and here most of the historical buildings are located, since in it the first stone houses of conquerors and important characters were built. For example, in one corner is the house of Hernán Cortés, where today the French Embassy operates. And also on Calle de las Damas is the former residence of the founder of Santo Domingo, where today the fantastic hotel Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando operates. It is also worth going to the Pantheon of the Fatherland, where the remains of Dominican historical figures are kept, in a very beautiful building. At the north end of the street we find a small square with a sundial from 1753. Something different to do on this street is a chocolate tour, which can be purchased here: Chocolate Tour and Cocoa Bean Tasting (very cheap).
This park is very important in Dominican history. Here the Independence of Haiti was declared in 1844 (since until then the whole island was under Haitian rule) and is the Kilometer Zero of the Dominican Republic.
There are several historical sites to see here:
- Puerta del Conde.
- Door of Mercy.
- Altar of the Fatherland.
Visit the different squares and parks of the colonial zone.
In addition to Parque Independencia, there are other interesting squares or parks to see in Santo Domingo within the historic center and where we will pass often while walking through the center. The most important are:
- Colon Park.
- Plaza de España.
- Bilini Park.
- Duarte Park.
In front of Duarte Park, there is the Church and Convent of the Dominicans, built at the same time as the cathedral.