The best things to do in Panama City, Panama in just one day

Best things to do in Panama City, Panama

As one of central America’s most developed cities and a popular travel hub, there are plenty of great things to do in Panama City, Panama. Whether in town in business, in transit to another destination in the Americas, on a cruise or enjoying some classic sightseeing, the city is worth visiting to spend at least a day exploring the bustling metropolis, which seamlessly blends old with new. The result is the type of place where you can spend a morning exploring the centuries-old historic centre, spot monkeys in the afternoon, and spend the evening watching the sunset from the rooftop of a glitzy skyscraper with a cocktail in hand.

For those who find themselves short on time, here’s how to spend one day in Panama City.

(Have more than one day in Panama City? There are plenty of great day trip options including watching ships go through the locks at the Panama Canal, relaxing on sun-soaked beaches in San Blas, learning about Panama’s indigenous tribes at Embera Quera and spotting monkeys and crocodiles at Gamboa Rainforest Resort.)

Best things to do in Panama City, Panama

Casco Viejo

Iglesia Del Carmen in Panama City, Panama

Iglesia Del Carmen

Things to do in Panama City, Panama: See Panama La Vieja

Many Panama City tours kick off right where it all began: Panama La Vieja. Despite its location outside the city centre, it’s actually where Panama City was originally founded and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dating back to the early 1500s, the site is comprised of beautiful ruins including a towering cathedral and bell tower.

Panama La Vieja in Panama City, Panama

Panama La Vieja

Panama La Vieja in Panama City, Panama

Panama La Vieja

Places to go in Panama City: Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo (also known as Casco Antiguo) is the historic heart of Panama City—and one might say is the most photogenic part as well. Dating back to the 1600s, the old quarter is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of stately buildings and colonial homes with pastel facades where flowers drip off the wrought-iron balconies.

Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama

Casco Viejo

Visitors enjoy wandering along the cobblestone streets and tucking into the hip boutiques, bars and hotels, along with cafes like Bajareque Coffee House which serves the famous Geisha coffee. At $9 per cup, it’s considered one of the world’s best—and most expensive—brews.

hats at a store in Panama City, Panama

Inside a boutique in Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo in Panama City, PanamaFor fantastic views, head to the waterfront and wander along Las Bobedas (“the vaults”). It’s a great spot to pick up souvenirs from local artisans, and enjoy panoramic views of the old town framed by the dazzling skyscrapers of the financial district.

Las Bobedas in Panama City, Panama
The skyline in Panama City, Panama

Amador Causeway

As one of the city’s largest boardwalks, there is no shortage of things to do and see along the Amador Causeway which hosts restaurants, luxe yacht clubs, pathways for cycling and jogging and the BioMuseo. There are also plenty of lookout points, granting fabulous views of the bay, Casco Viejo and huge tanker ships waiting to sail through the iconic Panama Canal.

Panama sign along the Amador Causeway in Panama City, Panama

A Panama sign along the Amador Causeway

BioMuseo

A kaleidoscope of colours attracts visitors to the BioMuseo, which was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry who’s famous for his futuristic works. Considered one of the top Panama City activities since its doors opened in 2013, the vibrant, angular roof is a stark contrast to the calm blue waters that surround it, making quite the statement along the Amador Causeway.

BioMuseo in Panama City, Panama

The BioMuseo

Inside, visitors will find nearly a dozen exhibitions covering topics like biodiversity, the human evolution, and how Panama was created via a “living bridge.” While inside, be sure to look both up and around to fully appreciate the architectural wonder.

BioMuseo in Panama City, Panama

BioMuseo

Mercado de Mariscos

Want a glimpse of what life is like for the locals? Then head to Mercado de Mariscos, which is a fish market located along the waterfront between Casco Antiguo and the financial district. Early birds can watch fishermen haul their catch out of the boats, which is then prepared at many of the adjoining food stalls. Have a kitchen of your own? Then be sure to pick up a gallon of fresh ceviche, which you can get for only $20.

Mercado de Mariscos in Panama City, Panama

Mercado de Mariscos

Mercado de Mariscos in Panama City, Panama

Mercado de Mariscos

Where to stay in Panama City, Panama

Stay at: The luxe InterContinental Miramar Panama is one of the best hotels in Panama City, with a prime location right on the bay with amazing skyline views. It’s particularly fabulous in the evening, when guests can grab a cocktail and enjoy the bright city lights from the outdoor pool or terrace.

InterContinental Miramar Panama in Panama City, Panama

InterContinental Miramar Panama

Best things to do in Panama City, PanamaFor those who find themselves in Panama City on business, the Holiday Inn Express Panama Distrito Financiero is a good option. It’s in the heart of the financial district, and the perfect place to get a good night’s sleep: there are dehumidifiers in every room, and oxygen is pumped through the ventilation system to keep guests energized.

Holiday Inn Express Panama Distrito Financiero in Panama City, Panama

Holiday Inn Express Panama Distrito Financiero

Those who have a long layover in Panama City or a very early flight will want to book a room at the sleek Crowne Plaza Panama Airport. The property has a gorgeous outdoor pool area, well-equipped fitness centre and restaurant, and is so close to the airport you could almost walk to the terminal.

Crowne Plaza Panama Airport in Panama City, Panama

Crowne Plaza Panama Airport

Best restaurants in Panama City:

Segundo Muelle– It’s easy to forget you’re in Panama City and not Lima when dining at Segundo Muelle. The restaurant serves up some of the best ceviche you’ll find north of Peru—which isn’t surprising, since the chain originated in that country. Diners can sip on the likes of Pisco Sours, while enjoying a great view of the surrounding bay.

Best things to do in Panama City, Panama

Segundo Muelle

Diablicos- This spot in the heart of Casco Antiguo serves up traditional Panamanian dishes including “temptation plantains” which are caramelized with sugar and are just as delicious as they sound. Time your visit for Thursday, Friday or Saturday night when entertainers from all regions of Panama perform live music and polleras dances, against a backdrop of traditional masks.

temptation plantains at Diablicos in Panama City, Panama

Diablicos

Tantalo Restaurant– This artfully designed spot in the old town is at the base of a boutique hotel, so it serves up tantalizing dishes all day long. The Tantalo Mac’n Cheese is a crowd-pleaser for the late night crowd, who come to sip on a lively mix of cocktails like watermelon mojitos or strawberry and basil infused gin and tonics. Don’t miss their rooftop bar, which has one of the city’s best panoramic views of historic Casco Viejo spread out below.

Tantalo Restaurant in Panama City, Panama

Tantalo

Art at Tantalo's rooftop bar in Panama City, Panama

Art at Tantalo’s rooftop bar

PRACTICALITIES:

When to go: The best time to visit Panama City is December through April, to avoid the rainy season which also brings high humidity.

Getting there: Copa Airlines is Panama’s national airline, and offers direct flights to dozens of destinations throughout North America and South America. It’s also a Star Alliance member.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

The best day trips from Panama City, Panama

Everything you need to know about visiting the Panama Canal

Monkeying around at the Embera Quera village in Panama

Touring through Peru’s mystical Sacred Valley

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From exploring the historic Casco Viejo district to wandering through the architecturally-stunning BioMuseo, here are the best things to do in Panama City, Panama.

Globe Guide explored Panama City as a guest of InterContinental Hotels Group, which has numerous properties in Panama City. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.

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21 Responses

  1. I always wanted to visit Panama City. It looks like a colourful and vibrant fusion of old and new. Love that orange wall!

  2. Great post and beautiful pictures. Panama is on our bucket list so thanks for sharing this. I particularly want to visit the Casco Viejo. It looks so colourful and interesting. I love cobbled street and old buildings. Looks like a photographer’s paradise. The food at Segundo Muelle looks delicious too.

  3. Lydia Smith says:

    The beauty of nature is a force to reckon with. I love all the pictures you have about Panama City. I wonder why I haven’t been here long before.

  4. I didn’t realize Panama City dates back so far. I’d love to visit Panama La Vieja. What a helpful comprehensive article.

  5. lloyd says:

    What a vibrant city! fantastic photos 🙂 every time i think of panama the Van halen song jumps into my head 🙂 Very easy to read also 😀

  6. Tami says:

    The church, Iglesia Del Carmen, looks more like a mini castle — so incredibly detailed and beautiful. I love the architecture of the BioMuseo, and the area called Casco Viejo would be so much fun to explore! Looks like you put together a great list!

  7. Megan Jerrard says:

    Great itinerary – I love Panama City, and would highly recommend everyone spend more than a day if they have the time 🙂 We’re big nature and wildlife buffs so we really enjoyed Ancon and Metropolitan Hill – we saw sloths and toucans, and in fact it was more wildlife than we saw in neighboring Costa Rica just from strolls up the hills close by the city center 🙂 So much history though too and it was so fascainting hearing about the days of pirate invasions as we explored the ruins of the old town.

  8. Panama looks fascinating. So much so that I’m regretting (just a little) picking Hawaii Island over Panama for my recent birthday trip. May I live long and prosper to get there.

  9. Wow, Panama looks gorgeous! I’m going to pin this to save your recommendations. I’d love to see the Casco Viejo in person! I also want to try the Geisha coffee – I adore different coffees and I’m sure it must be good at that price tag!

  10. I love your pictures! I love the vibe of the place this post gives and also the colors. The Street art makes this place so eccentric – easy to fall in love with! Would love to visit!

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