Museums in the Dominican Republic: the Colonial City
Discovering Santo Domingo means enjoying its lively night-life, its colonial treasures, its varied and mouth-watering cuisine, its beautiful natural landscapes, its great range of leisure and shopping possibilities, its modern hotels and a whole lot more. But there’s something else that you really shouldn’t miss on any trip to the Dominican capital city — its museums.
The variety and quality of the museums and art galleries to be found in Santo Domingo make the city one of the Caribbean’s most appealing cultural destinations. Art, history, science, culture… all kinds of attractions, for children and adults alike — showing you the endless treasures of the Dominican Republic. And while you may well find some amazing museums in different areas of Santo Domingo, a good proportion of them are concentrated within the Ciudad Colonial area. Here is a good sample of the ones you really won’t want to miss.
Alcázar de Colón [i.e. Columbus], America’s first palace
This wonderful Gothic and Renaissance palace is one of the jewels in Santo Domingo’s crown, and the first European noble residence in America. The Alcázar [fortified palace] was built between 1511 and 1514, the home of Diego Colón, son of the Discoverer and governor of the island of La Española [Hispnaiola]. Nowadays, the former palace, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, displays a fascinating collection of furniture, art works, musical instruments and old weapons that give an impression of the atmosphere that pervaded this luxurious viceroy’s mansion. As you explore its rooms, you’ll be transported straight back to the time of the Conquistadors.
The Alcázar de Colón is the most important historic building in the Plaza de España, the vast esplanade located at the eastern end of the Ciudad Colonial, right on the bank of the River Ozama. Like most of the city’s museums, the Alcázar is open to the public Tuesday – Saturday from 9.00 am until 5.00 pm, and on Sundays from 9.00 am until 4.00 pm. It is closed on Mondays.
Museo de las Casas Reales, a glimpse of Dominican history
Also located in Plaza de España, this old colonial complex comprises two connected edifices that served as a the residence of the Spanish governors and Capitanes Generales in the sixteenth century, and as the headquarters of the main administrative bodies of the time, such as the Real Audiencia — the New World’s first court of justice — and the Treasury Office. Its twenty or more rooms are now home to an interesting exhibition on Dominican colonial history, including tapestries, weapons, coins, decorative items, replicas and other treasures, dating from the arrival of Columbus in 1492 until 1821 when the country first gained independence.
Together with the Alcázar de Colón, the Museo de las Casas Reales ranks as one of Santo Domingo’s most significant historical buildings, and is one of the city’s most popular cultural attractions. Like its neighbor, this museum is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9.00 am until 5.00 pm, and on Sundays from 9.00 am until 4.00 pm.
Museo de las Atarazanas Reales [Royal Shipyards], undersea treasures
Cannons, coins, gold ornaments, pottery, precious stones… Discover the wealth of fascinating treasures recovered from various shipwrecks that occurred around the Dominican coastline between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, in one of Ciudad Colonial’s newest museums. Since 2019, the Museo de las Atarazanas Reales has been displaying the Dominican Republic’s rich underwater archaeological heritage. Apart from a host of items recovered from the sea bed, the museum has replicas of old vessels and various interactive and audiovisual resources that tell of the exciting and arduous lives of the Caribbean’s sailors of old. Don’t miss the full-scale replica of the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe galleon!
The museum is housed in the former Atarazanas Reales edifice, a sixteenth-century architectural jewel which has been carefully restored, and is located very close to the Alcázar de Colón. Open Tuesday – Friday, 9.00 am – 5.00 pm and Saturday, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm.
Centro Cultural de las Telecomunicaciones: from radio to the internet
Another of the city’s newest museums, the Centro Cultural de las Telecomunicaciones [Telecommunications Cultural Center] offers a fascinating journey through the history and evolution of the communications media in the Dominican Republic. From telegraphy through telephony, radio and television to the internet and new technologies, the tools that human beings have created to enable us to communicate are a fundamental part of our daily lives, particularly in the twenty-first century, and this is the perfect place to learn about them in some depth.
Located in Calle Isabel La Católica, right in the heart of the Ciudad Colonial, the modern building that houses the Centro Cultural de las Telecomunicaciones stands out against the colonial style of architecture that predominates in this area. The opening hours are 9.00 am – 4.00 pm from Tuesday to Saturday, and 10.00 am – 5.00 pm on Sundays. Closed on Mondays.
Casa de Tostado: a traditional Dominican home
Once more, the Dominican Republic’s rich history occupies the spotlight in this captivating museum, a historic building that shows how a well-to-do Dominican family would have lived during the nineteenth century. Known as the Museum of the Nineteenth-century Dominican Family (or simply as the Casa de Tostado), its interior displays a valuable collection of contemporary furniture and all kinds of home furnishings and belongings, from crockery and china to books and photographs. These objects tell the story of the local bourgeoisie and of the wealthy owners of the sugar refineries, typical figures found throughout the Caribbean, and in Latin American history in general.
The Casa de Tostado, in Calle Arzobispo Meriño, is a precious gem in its own right, and one of the Ciudad Colonial’s architectural treasures. Dating from the sixteenth century, this mansion was built by the notary Francisco de Tostado, an important figure who arrived on La Española [Hispaniola] in 1502, as one of the officials accompanying the island’s new governor, Fray [Friar] Nicolás de Ovando. The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9.00 am until 5.00 pm, and on Sundays from 9.00 am until 4.00 pm. Like most of the city’s museums, it is closed on Mondays.
Museo de la Catedral: 500 years of the Primada de América
On the occasion of the fifth centenary of the founding of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, the ancient edifice of the Royal Prison was restored and converted into this absorbing museum that relates the history of the Catedral Primada de América. Paintings and sculptures of various ages and styles, missals, ancient hymnals, liturgical objects and other artefacts from the cathedral’s long history — some over 500 years old — are displayed in this engaging exhibition.
The Museo de la Catedral is located in Calle Isabel La Católica, in one of the side streets leading off Parque Colón, and backs onto the Cathedral itself, between the old Palace of Borgellá and the Santo Domingo Archbishop’s Palace.
The Museo Memorial de la Resistencia [Resistance Memorial Museum], a beacon of light in dark times
The dark days of the régime led by the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo between 1930 and 1961 cast a shadow over the history of the Dominican Republic. And this museum is testament to the resistance to oppression and the fight for democracy during that era. Historians and relatives of victims of the dictatorship have amassed an invaluable collection of items and accounts that give a detailed insight into those terrible years. This very special museum is, above all, an important commemoration of the value of life and of freedom: a space dedicated to championing the need to safeguard Human Rights in order to avoid events such as these ever happening again.
The Museo Memorial de la Resistencia opened to the public in 2011, after a long period spent documenting and setting up a modern museum project. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday 9.30 am – 6.00 pm, and is located at No. 21 Arzobispo Nouel.
Museo Trampolín, a planet for children
Casa de Bastidas, an impressive sixteenth-century colonial edifice, houses this highly entertaining museum designed to educate young children about important subjects including the history of our planet, ecology and weather systems and the evolution of the human race, along with several aspects of Dominican culture, new technologies, art and mathematics, and many other topics related to science, technology and nature. Enjoy a fun, educational experience with your little ones in this super museum.
Museo Trampolín is located inCalle las Damas, (the first street of the Nuevo Mundo) right next to Fortaleza Ozama. It is open to the public from Tuesday to Friday, 9.00 am – 5.00 pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays, 9.00 am – 6.00 pm. This museum is also closed on Mondays.