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Historical Architecture Tour (Self Guided), San Jose

From a small village of little significance during the Spanish invasion, San Jose grew to become a densely populated cosmopolitan city. The city of San Jose was mostly built from the profits of the coffee-export business, and that is why its architecture represents a mix of European and Latin American features. Take this tour to discover some of the best historical architecture in San Jose.
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Historical Architecture Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Architecture Tour
Guide Location: Costa Rica » San Jose (See other walking tours in San Jose)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: john
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Edificio Metalico
  • Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones
  • Iglesia La Soledad
  • Teatro Nacional
  • Grand Hotel Costa Rica
  • Teatro Popular Melico Salazar
  • Catedral Metropolitana
  • Correo Central
Edificio Metalico

1) Edificio Metalico (must see)

The Edificio Metálico (The Metalic Building) is a marvelous piece of architecture located next to the Morazan Parque. The Metallic Building was made in Belgium and then transported and assembled in San Jose in 1896. This kind of architecture is unique in Costa Rica and is said to have been inspired by the Eiffel Tower.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most eye-catching school buildings you'll see, and one of the reference points of the city center.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am-5pm
Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones

2) Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (The Supreme Electoral Court) is a modern building, built in the late 1980s. It combines both western and Latin American architecture. It is located in the heart of the city.
Iglesia La Soledad

3) Iglesia La Soledad (must see)

The Iglesia de la Soledad has been one of the architectural highlights of San Jose since 1909. The church boasts a neoclassical design with colonial touches. The church's prized possession is its colorful stained glass windows, which were imported from Switzerland. It is located in San Jose's Chinatown neighborhood and has been recently restored.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6am-7pm
Teatro Nacional

4) Teatro Nacional (must see)

Teatro Nacional is the national theater of Costa Rica. You will find it in the central section of town. This national treasure was started in 1891 with the construction of the building that would house the company. The first theatrical presentation took place in October of 1897, when Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” debuted to the delight of the crowd there.

The glory days of the theater came during the time when coffee exports for the country were at their best. There were many good patrons of the arts, and therefore the quality of the performers could not be beaten. At one point, there was also a tax on coffee dedicated to the arts. That kind of free-flowing money also shows in the design of the building that houses the company. If you ask any local, the Teatro Nacional is considered the most historic structures in all of San Jose. It is well known for lavish furnishings and a beautiful, rich looking interior that was designed to rival the great theaters of Europe.

In the front of the theater is a statue of Calderon de la Barca and Ludwig van Beethoven, which are worth taking a moment to check out. The same statues are featured on some of the country's paper money. The theater regularly performs several times a week, so you may want to catch a performance while in San Jose.

If you go on the hour, ask for the free English tour included in the ticket price to learn a bit of history and details about the place. Otherwise, without showing a ticket, you can go on a circa 40-50min paid tour (also on the hour), which is time and money well spent.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Grand Hotel Costa Rica

5) Grand Hotel Costa Rica

The Grand Hotel of Costa Rica is a true gem among the hotels of San Jose, Costa Rica, and it also happens to be the very first such hotel in the country. It was formed in 1928, and up till that time, there was no major first class hotel in the capital city. An act of the Constitutional Congress of the Republic of that year made it possible to get the hotel in town. The hotel got funding from the government, and in turn the hotel agreed to always sell Costa Rican coffee, as well as the hotel agreed to always keep two rooms available for the government to use for dignitaries and the like.

In 2004, President Abel Pacheco declared the hotel to be a national landmark of the country. The architecture of the place is also quite wonderful, expressing the best in Victorian style architecture. In recent times, the Choice International Hotel chain has acquired the hotel, and added it to its growing list of historic hotels that are being turned into Resorts. It remains a popular destination in the capital city not only because of its historicity, but because it also sits very close to the ocean and some of the best mountain side landscaping in the country. 

On December 7th, 2004, the Gran Hotel Costa Rica was declared by the President of the country Abel Pacheco a historical-architectural landmark of Costa Rica, not only for being the first major hotel of the country, but also for its long trajectory, its architecture, which represents the San José of those years, and the historical complex it forms with other landmarks in the area.
Teatro Popular Melico Salazar

6) Teatro Popular Melico Salazar

The Melico Salazar Theatre is located in the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, as it maintains a very heavy schedule of concerts, plays, and performances each year. In fact, many people have called this location the Madison Square Garden of the country.

Upon first glance, one will notice that it is quite a large building. It represents some of the best European Baroque style architecture in the country, but is not nearly as ornate as the Teatro Nacional just a block away.

Jose Raventos started the theatre in 1927 by buying land for the building. He had always dreamed of constructing a place to perform a type of Spanish operetta called Zarzuelas. The architect was Jose Garnier Ugalde. The location was ready to go by 1928, and the first performance given was the classic operetta Esperanze Irish.

A more lavish style gallery was added to the building in 1960, but it sadly burned in a fire just seven years later. For the next ten years, the location would not do well. It would take until 1985 for the old theater to really get back on its feet again. In that year, the government passed a law declaring the theater a “cultural institution especializada.” In that year, the theater was given its current name to honor Manuel Melico Salazar.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Catedral Metropolitana

7) Catedral Metropolitana (must see)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Jose is located on Calle Central and 2nd Avenue in the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. It was built in 1802, and has been the seat of the Catholic people of the city since. Sadly, in the early 1800s, the location was damaged by an earthquake. In 1871, it was rebuilt into the current structure that stands today.

The new center of worship combines Greek Orthodox, Neo-Classical, and Baroque styles of architecture together in a way that honors the old and new portions of the church. The Doric style pilasters and neo-classical pediment with steeples located on the side of the building are a fine example of how that melding of architectural styles happened.

You will want to pay a visit to the inside of this church also. The finely tiled Colonial floors and stainless windows are quite lovely. Various biblical themes adorn the windows. You will also want to check out the wooden Cherubs and figure of Christ at the altar.

In 1983, the church received a special visit from Pope John Paul II. You will be able to see a marble statue of him standing guard over the garden on the building's north side. Two former archbishops, as well as a Costa Rican President are buried in the basement of the building.

Although not technically part of the cathedral complex, a small statue of Holocaust victim Anne Frank graces the pedestrian mall on the building's south side. It was donated by the Embassy of the Netherlands.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 6am-7:30pm; Sun: 6am-9pm
Correo Central

8) Correo Central

The Correo Central is the old historic Central Post Office of San Jose, Costa Rica. The neat thing is that it is still in full operation today. It was first opened in 1917, though the overall architectural design of the building would suggest that it is much older.

On the first floor of the building there is a Stamp Museum that is pretty neat, especially seeing as how the hobby of stamp collecting is very popular in the country. You can get classic examples from the history of the country here. Plus, how often do you see a stamp museum in an operating post office? The area is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. It is also open 8:00 a.m. until noon on Saturdays. Admission to the museum is free, since it is part of the post office.

There is a small park that is located right next to the building, which is a great spot to stop and rest. Some of the most beautiful fig trees in the country are located here, and provide a peaceful resting place for the wearing traveler.

Walking Tours in San Jose, Costa Rica

Create Your Own Walk in San Jose

Create Your Own Walk in San Jose

Creating your own self-guided walk in San Jose is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Barrio Amon Tour in San Jose

Barrio Amon Tour in San Jose

The Bario Amon represents one the oldest neighborhoods in San Jose. Designed by a Frenchman, Amon Fasileau, it grew to be a beautiful area with a rich architectural history. Take this walking tour to appreciate the splendor of this neighborhood.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 Km or 0.6 Miles
Museums Tour

Museums Tour

Although San José is one of the youngest capital cities in Latin America, its museums display a huge collection of traditional and pre-Columbian art. This walking tour should give you the perfect opportunity to explore the museums in the city and to familiarize yourself with its culture.

Tour Duration: 4 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 8.5 Km or 5.3 Miles
Shopping Tour in San Jose

Shopping Tour in San Jose

Shopping in San Jose is undeniably a fun experience, with a large selection of downtown department stores, traditional marketplaces and souvenir shops selling handicrafts. So if you are looking for something authentic, original and made in Costa Rica, then take this tour to visit some of the acclaimed shopping venues of San Jose.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave San Jose without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to San Jose, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Paseo Colon Tour

Paseo Colon Tour

The Paseo Colon is a modern area in San Jose where you will find most of the business centers and foreign embassies, as well as other architectural highlights and tourist attractions. At the end of Paseo Colon is Sabana Park, which stands out among the local metropolitan communities because of its proximity to the business district and its large area dedicated to recreation. Take this tour to...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.7 Km or 3.5 Miles
San Jose's Historical Churches

San Jose's Historical Churches

San Jose's churches are vivid examples of historical and architectural value. Whether you are a keen church goer or simply interested in places of spirituality from either architectural or historical standpoints, this tour will take you to the most important religious sites of the city.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.9 Km or 3 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

17 Uniquely Costa Rican Things to Buy in San Jose

17 Uniquely Costa Rican Things to Buy in San Jose

Not to be confused with San Jose, the sunny California, San Jose, Costa Rica is the capital city of a wet (250 centimeters of rainfall per year) and colorful Latin American country renowned for its diverse craftsmanship (courtesy of the numerous indigenous tribes), splendid coffee and rich cultural...