Costa Rica is the modern, vibrant capital of Costa Rica, where rich history happily blends with modern commerce and architecture. The city’s colonial past shows in beautiful ornate buildings, such as the neoclassical National Theatre. The city is also the country’s cultural center and has a large number of museums that preserve national culture and history, such as the Costa Rican Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, the National Museum of Costa Rica, and the La Salle Natural Sciences Museum. The beautiful urban parks are spaces where locals go to exercise, have a picnic or a lunch break, destress, or meet friends. The most popular are La Sabana and downtown Parque Nacional Simón Bolívar. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Costa Rican Art Museum
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The Costa Rican Art Museum is the major national art museum, with the biggest collection of state-owned art in the country. It contains more than 6,400 works of art by Costa Rican and international artists. Its permanent collection includes sculptures, paintings, engravings, watercolors, drawings, photography, and other media covering the period from the mid-19th to the early 21st century. The museum is also engaged in extension programs, traveling exhibitions, and exhibitions abroad. The building in which the museum is located, built in the late 1930s, is also a work of art, one of the finest examples of the neocolonial style of architecture. The museum has a part of its collection in its outdoor exhibition space.
Calle 42, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-22-56-12-81
2.La Sabana Metropolitan Park
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La Sabana Park is a perfect urban park, offering a space for all sorts of outdoor activities from jogging to tennis. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers in the heart of the city’s business district, the park is an oasis where busy professionals come in the morning for an early jog or at noon for their lunch break. Any time of the day someone is biking, jogging, picnicking, rollerblading, or just chatting with friends on one of the many benches. Its lively atmosphere and lush greenery make the park similar to what Central Park is to New York, a living, breathing lung for the city. Although opened in 1977, the park has a long history. The space on which it is located was donated more than 200 years ago by a priest named Manuel Antonio Chapuí, who wanted the city to have a peaceful, relaxing oasis.
Av. de Las Américas, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-25-49-07-00
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3.Museo de Jade
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The Jade Museum is an archeological museum in San Jose founded in 1977 by Fidel Tristan Castro. The museum has an extensive and diverse collection of pre-Columbian artifacts that include stone tables, ceramics, adzes, ceremonial heads, and other decorative pieces, covering the period from 500 BC to 800 AD. The museum collection covers not only a large range of jade artifacts and jewelry but also uses them to explain why the precious stones were so revered in pre-Columbian times as well as how they were traded and used. The museum occupies only one floor of its current building and has only five rooms, each covering a different archeological and anthropological theme. Besides jade, the museum has a collection of ceramic, stone, and gold objects and much more.
Calle 13 y 13 bis, Provincia de, Av Central, San José Province, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-25-21-66-10
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4.Museo de los Ninos
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Located in the Costa Rican Science Center Complex in San Jose, the Children’s Museum is an interactive, hands-on museum in which kids can play, laugh, learn, explore, and discover everything from astronomy to ecology and the science of everyday life. One of the most popular exhibits is an earthquake simulator. There are more than 40 fascinating exhibits that both kids and parents enjoy. Kids get a kick out of learning that the building in which the museum is located used to be an old military prison that was closed in 1979, long before it became home to the Children’s Museum. There is an exhibit that showcases the life and suffering the prisoners endured while incarcerated within the walls of what is today a fun, cheerful place.
Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture,San José Province, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-22-58-49-29
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5.Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
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The National Museum of Costa Rica is located in San Jose, across the road from the country's Legislative Assembly, in the 1917 Bellavista Fortress. The fortress was used historically as military barracks, specifically during the Costa Rican civil war in 1948. Tourist guides like to point out the hundreds of bullet holes in the fortress walls. Before occupying its current location, the National Museum, which opened in 1887, was located in the Universidad de Santo Tomas. It was established with the goal to "deposit, classify, and study natural and artistic products." The museum’s mandate is research, education, and the protection of national cultural heritage. Among the most interesting and most popular exhibits is an exhibition of pre-Columbian art and artifacts that showcases the life and culture of country’s ancestors from 12,000 BC to 1500 AD and the arrival of the Spanish. Some of the most fascinating exhibits are a 2,500-year-old jade carving shaped like a seashell as well as arrow points, pendants, necklaces, and earrings.
Cuesta de Moras, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +506 2211 5700
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6.Museum of Contemporary Art and Design
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The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design is a Costa Rican museum that specializes in contemporary art and design by Central American artists but also includes international artworks. The museum is located in downtown San Jose in the building of the National Cultural Centre in the Ministry of Culture and Youth. The museum’s goal is to promote the current trends in Central American contemporary art and design and to show the relatively similar trends in art and design in Latin America and abroad. The museum occupies about 1,200 square meters and includes four spacious exhibition rooms, a modern auditorium, and an open-air space for art installations, various performances, and other events. The museum’s permanent collection has over 500 works from renowned or emerging national and international artists.
Calle 15, San José, 133391-1000, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-22-57-72-02
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7.Natural Science Museum La Salle
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Located in downtown San Jose near the Parque La Sabana, the La Salle Natural Sciences Museum was founded in 1960 by Brother Eduardo Fernandez Barcena, a professor at the former Colegio High School. The museum collections include exhibitions on paleontology, zoology, mineralogy, and other related fields. The museum has more than 65,000 exhibits, with 55,000 on permanent display. These include birds, fish, reptiles, insects, shells, corals, mammalian fossils, dinosaur skeletons, and much more. The collection of stuffed animals includes grouper fish and a huge leatherback turtle. One of the most significant collections is an exhibition of blue morpho butterflies. The museum is surrounded by a beautiful garden with exquisite, lush tropical plants and live turtles that wander freely around.
Av. 12, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-22-32-13-06
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8.San Jose Central Market
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The San José Central Market is a beautiful old market located in downtown San Jose, established in 1889. Its diverse stalls and shops occupy the entire block on Avenida Central, not far from Parque Central. The market is a maze of narrow alleys with more than 200 small and big shops, stalls, and eateries of all kinds. You can find just about everything you might need for a great meal: fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, great local coffee, herbs, cooked food, and much more. There are also flowers, snakeskin boots, souvenirs, saddles, and local handicrafts. It is lively and fragrant and is a place where locals and tourists happily mix.
Av. Central, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-25-47-61-04
9.Simon Bolivar Parque Zoologico y Jardin Botanico Nacional
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Parque Nacional Simón Bolívar is a zoo and botanical garden that spreads out over 14 hectares in downtown San Jose. It is the oldest park of its kind in Costa Rica. All animals that live in the zoo were found injured, have been orphaned, or have been disabled. When possible, they are nursed back to health before being released into their natural environment. The zoo started its life as a plant and animal garden established by Swiss botanist and naturalist Henry Pitter in 1884. Today, the zoo has 30 species of birds, 11 species of mammals, two species of frogs, 10 species of reptiles, and one species of fish – koi carp. Some of the most interesting animals in the zoo are different species of turtles, the green vine snake, emperor boa, fer-de-lance, tropical rattlesnake, American crocodile, strawberry poison frog, spectacled caiman, and blue-sided tree frog.
Calle 13, San José Province, San José, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-22-56-00-12
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10.Teatro Nacional Costa Rica
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The National Theatre of Costa Rica is located in the heart of San Jose and has been entertaining San Jose residents since 1897, when it opened with a sold-out performance of Goethe's Faust. Today, the theatre has several performances a week and is home to the National Symphonic Orchestra. The theater building is recognized as one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in San Jose and is one of the city’s most important historic buildings. Its original ornate interior and lavish furnishings have been meticulously restored and preserved. The façade of the theatre is decorated with statues of Ludwig van Beethoven and Calderón de la Barca and near the entry is a statue of Frédéric Chopin. The interior is decorated with the mural Allegory of Coffee and Bananas created by Aleardo Villa.
Av Central, San José, 5015-1000, Costa Rica, Phone: +5-06-20-10-11-00
11.Museus del Banco Central de Cost Rica
© Museus del Banco Central de Cost Rica
Learn all about Costa Rica’s archaeological and cultural heritage at the Central Bank Museums of Coast Rica. Largely regarded as a gem of Costa Rican architecture, the museum was built in 1982 as an underground structure by Jorge Bertheau, Jorge Borbon, and Edgar Vargas. Its unique design was cleverly crafted so that the building could house a number of museums without having to block the view of the National Theatre. Visitors to the Central Bank Museums of Costa Rica can see a leading archaeological collection of pre-Columbian Gold in Latin America with over 3,500 artifacts on display. Also found in the complex is the National Numismatic Museum, which brilliantly exhibits the country’s legal tender, coins, and notes in a lovely and engaging way. The museum is open daily from 9:15 am to 5 pm.
Bajos Plaza de la Cultura, Avenida Centra, Calle 5, San Jose, Costa Rica, Phone: 506-2243-4202
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12.Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo
Situated in the Central Volcanic Range, the Braulio Carrillo National Park is 50,000 hectares of glorious nature, and one of Costa Rica’s largest protected parks. The Park is treasured for being home to spectacular volcanoes such as the Cacho Negro volcano and the Barva volcano and offers outdoor enthusiasts the chance to explore the surrounding scenic areas through three trails that wind through the rainforest. Stop by scenic lookouts, read interpretive stations, or take in the beauty of the Rio Sucio River while exploring the park’s four trails: the Mirador Vara Blanca, the Cacho Venado, the Laguna Barva, and the Copey trail. Camping opportunities are also available at the Braulio Carrillo National Park.
Quebrada Gonzalez, Heredia Province, Costa Rica, Phone: 506-2522-6500
13.Parque La Sabana
Situated in the popular downtown area of San Jose is the La Sabana Metropolitan Park, Costa Rica’s largest and most beloved urban park. Lovingly referred to as the “lungs of San Jose”, is a breath of fresh air and a center of recreation for Sabana’s residents. It is home to nearly one square kilometer of green space and is home to a number of iconic institutions and organizations of the town. Some of the landmark sites to visit in the Parque La Sabana include the Costa Rican Art Museum and the National Stadium. Additionally, the park also has a number of public sports fields, a gymnasium, and even a shooting range.
Avenue de las Americas, Sabana, San Jose, Costa Rica, Phone: 506-2549-0700
14.Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
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Peace and quiet can be hard to come by in a city as busy and as vibrant as San Jose, but it’s possible when you visit the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden. A hidden gem of nature and tranquility within San Jose’s concrete jungle, the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden is a sanctuary to a quiet world of over thirty different species of butterflies and moths as well as five different species of hummingbirds. At this Butterfly Garden, visitors can learn about these beautiful and colorful insects from within a tranquil netted garden with various rustic trails and friendly wildlife. Guests can also listen to knowledgeable guides and staff who can educate you about the life cycle of butterflies for further appreciation. Phone: 506-2222-2937
© Galeria Namu
Nestled in the eclectic and artsy neighborhood of Barrio Amon, the Galeria Namu is a colorful and breathtaking collection of traditional crafts by several indigenous tribes from across Central America. At the Galeria Namu, visitors can get a close-up look at stunning and vibrant Brunka masks, admire beautifully made Wounaan baskets or carvings, or pick up some lovely Cabecar crafts to bring home. This emporium of curiosities is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir to remember your San Jose getaway, or to purchase gifts for your loved ones back home. As the gallery puts high importance on fair trade practices, you can be sure that the indigenous artists are getting appreciation and compensation due for their hard work.
Avenue 7, El Carmen, San Jose, Costa Rica, Phone: 506-8800-9252
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If you want to experience the best of San Jose’s history, then a visit to the famous Barrio Amon is a non-negotiable on your itinerary. Situated between Central Street and 9th Street, the Amon Neighborhood is a paradise of fine architectural complexes and San Jose’s oldest residential neighborhood. See gorgeous examples of tropical neo-Victorian architecture such as La Casa Verde, the Don Carlos Hotel, or the French-Costa Rican Alliance Building. Visitors can also feast their eyes on breathtaking ceramic walls, and spot eye-catching works of art by renowned Costa Rican artist Fernando Matamoros. Not to be forgotten is the Moro Castle, also known as Amon Castle, which features a Mudejar style of architecture circa 1930.
El Carmen District, San Jose, Costa Rica
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The Parque Okayama, or Okayama Park, is one of San Jose’s most popular local parks. Okayama Park, which was designed by Mayela Fallas, features a design anchored on a Feng Shui philosophy, and as such features a flowing design of simple paths, and manicured islets. One of the park’s main attractions is the Momotaro Statue which was gifted by the city of Okayama, Japan to San Jose. Additionally, the park is home to a soccer field, play areas for children, a white-stone garden, pond, and amphitheater.
65th Avenue, San Jose, Costa Rica
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17 Things To Do in San Jose, Costa Rica
- Costa Rican Art Museum, Photo: Courtesy of lesniewski - Fotolia.com
- La Sabana Metropolitan Park, Photo: Courtesy of RukiMedia - Fotolia.com
- Museo de Jade, Photo: Courtesy of Steve100 - Fotolia.com
- Museo de los Ninos, Photo: Courtesy of Syda Productions - Fotolia.com
- Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Photo: Courtesy of schankz - Fotolia.com
- Natural Science Museum La Salle, Photo: Courtesy of phaitoon - Fotolia.com
- San Jose Central Market, Photo: Courtesy of amelie - Fotolia.com
- Simon Bolivar Parque Zoologico y Jardin Botanico Nacional, Photo: Courtesy of Fabiano - Fotolia.com
- Teatro Nacional Costa Rica, Photo: Courtesy of Mihai-Bogdan Lazar - Fotolia.com
- Museus del Banco Central de Cost Rica, Photo: Museus del Banco Central de Cost Rica
- Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, Photo: esdelval/stock.adobe.com
- Parque La Sabana, Photo: Michelle/stock.adobe.com
- Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, Photo: Susan Rydberg/stock.adobe.com
- Galeria Namu, Photo: Galeria Namu
- Amon Neighborhood, Photo: duarte33/stock.adobe.com
- Parque Okayama, Photo: hannah jarman EyeEm/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of ClaraNila - Fotolia.com
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