Things to do in Panama City

Things to do in  Panama City

One canal, many possibilities

With its privileged perch by an ocean-spanning canal, Panama City has been a cultural melting pot for centuries. Pirate history still haunts Panamá Viejo (Old Panama Ruins), while strolling cobblestoned Casco Viejo evokes the era of Spanish rule. Still, Panama City is a thoroughly modern capital, from downtown boutiques to strolling families at Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador). The best things to do in Panama City are tours of the Panama Canal to Ancon Hill (Cerro Ancon) wildlife and browsable markets with handicrafts from around the country.

Top 15 attractions in Panama City

Panama Canal

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The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel that has connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans since 1914. Experience the canal up close on a transit tour, during which you’ll pass through three sets of locks and witness them filling with water. You’ll also see Gatun Lake, created by the Gatún Dam, and Culebra Cut, one of the narrowest sections hewn out of mountains. Visit the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center to learn more about the building of the canal. You can also watch ships pass from the observation decks. You can also admire the Panama Canal on a train ride through the rainforest to Gatún Locks.More

Casco Viejo

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Panama City's oldest and hippest neighborhood comprises a Tejas-tiled cluster of pastel colonial buildings at the tip of a heavily fortified peninsula. These ramparts successfully protected the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific Coast; today they make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with plazas, churches, and narrow streets.More

Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador)

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The palm-lined Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador) follows Panama Bay and then heads onto the Bridge of the Americas, which runs parallel to the entrance to the Panama Canal and leads to three small coastal islands. The 3.7-mile (6-kilometer) road includes popular paths for runners and cyclists and passes a number of sights.More

Miraflores Locks

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The world-famous Panama Canal is a must-see for visitors to Panama City, but to fully appreciate it, head to the Miraflores Locks. The engineering marvel in action is a mesmerizing scene, with some 700 tons (635 tonnes) of machinery, reinforced against the mighty Pacific, and cargo-laden ships squeezing through with just inches to spare.More

Gatún Lake (Lago Gatún)

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The tree-lined shores, tiny islets, and blue-green waters of Gatún Lake (Lago Gatún) cover what was once the fertile Chagres River Valley. When it was created in 1913, Gatún Lake was the largest man-made lake, buttressed by the biggest dam, in the world. Today, it forms an integral part of the famous Panama Canal.More

Bridge of the Americas (Puente de las Americas)

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Spanning the Panama Canal that links two oceans, the Bridge of the Americas (Puente de las Américas) is a proud symbol of Panamanian history. Its prime location on the Pacific Ocean outlet of the 51-mile (82-kilometer) Panama Canal also makes the bridge a key point of interest on many tours of Panama City, the canal, and Miraflores Locks.More

Soberanía National Park

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On the east side of the Panama Canal, Soberanía National Park—one of the most accessible of the country’s protected parks—is a paradise for hikers, fishers, and bird-watchers. Some 1,300 plant species, 55 amphibian species, and hundreds of mammals, birds, and reptiles call the park home.More

Plaza de Francia

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Built to honor the French workers who lost their lives building the Panama Canal, Plaza de Francia (France Square) sits along the waterfront of Panama City’s UNESCO-listed Casco Viejo (Old Quarter). As well as being an important meeting place, the plaza is home to a striking 60-foot (18-meter) obelisk, a tribute to the workers.More

Presidential Palace (Palacio de las Garzas)

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“Garzas” is Spanish for herons, and you’ll see the birds roaming freely in the Andalucian-style courtyard of the Presidential Palace (Palacio de las Garzas) in Panama City. The African herons were a gift celebrating the completion of palace renovations in 1922. The President of Panama lives in the upper floors of the building.More

Biomuseo

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This world-class museum celebrates Panamanian biodiversity and natural history with engaging exhibits that blend science and art. Since its 2014 opening, the multicolor, Frank Gehry-designed building has also become an important symbol of Panama City. The museum’s exterior features a lush botanical garden of native plants.More

Panamá Viejo (Old Panama Ruins)

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Spanish conquistadors laid claim to the land now known as Panamá Viejo (Old Panama Ruins) on August 15, 1519, making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the Pacific. A stark juxtaposition to modern Panama City across the bay, the ruins of Old Panama include a cathedral and several stone buildings and walls.More

Ancon Hill (Cerro Ancon)

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Panoramic views from Panama City’s highest point make Ancon Hill (Cerro Ancón) a must-see stop for many visitors who come to watch passing ship traffic in the Panama Canal far below. There’s more than vistas to this urban park: it’s also home to sloths, anteaters, and monkeys and makes a great escape from the capital's buzzing activity.More

Panama Canal Museum (Museo del Canal)

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This popular museum and top Panama City attraction is located inside a stunning, well-restored colonial building that once housed the French and U.S. companies charged with building the canal. Visitors interested in learning more about the famous waterway can wander the halls of this beautiful four-story white and green structure where displays showcase information about the political, social and historical impact of the iconic Panama Canal. Although signage is in Spanish only, English-speaking guest can opt for audio tours for a small additional fee.More

Mi Pueblito

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Encounter Panama’s traditions, folklore, and architecture at this replica village by Ancon Hill (Cerro Ancon) in Panama City. With its colonial-era designs and model homes, Mi Pueblito is a cultural buffet: You can sample a little bit of everything in one easy stop, and then shop for handicrafts and souvenirs from around the country.More

Contadora Island (Isla Contadora)

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Gorgeous Contadora Island (Isla Contadora), close to the capital, was once the seat of the Spanish pearl industry in the surrounding archipelago. Today, the Counting House Island, as it’s called, is home to elegant mansions, upscale shopping and dining options, and a wealth of outdoor adventure opportunities both in the water and on land.More

Top activities in Panama City

Panama Canal Partial Tour - Southbound Direction
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Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal and Jungle Tour
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5hr Combo-Panama Canal Boat Safari & Jungle Walk w/ Local Brunch
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Panama Canal Partial Tour - Northbound direction
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The 'Real' Panamanian Private Food Tour
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All about Panama City

When to visit

The best and most popular time to visit Panama City is during the dry season, which runs from December to the start of April and coincides with winter in the northern hemisphere. Panama’s Carnival celebrations fall in February, providing yet another reason to come. Travelers not deterred by rain can find great deals and fewer crowds when traveling to the city outside its dry season.

Getting around

Although Panama City has a modern metro system with two transit lines, its utility for tourists can be limited. The metro lines run to places of interest such as Tocumen International Airport and Albrook Mall, but not to common sightseeing destinations like Casco Viejo or the Miraflores Locks. Since Panama City’s bus network can be challenging to navigate, many tourists find the city’s inexpensive taxis the simplest way to get places.

Traveler tips

No, you’re not seeing double—there are two “old” parts of Panama, both of which are worth seeing. The Old Town (Casco Viejo) is the city’s central historic quarter, whereas Old Panama (Panamá Viejo) is home to the ruins of the city’s original European settlement. As for watching boats pass through the Miraflores Locks, know that ships only pass through during specific transit windows in the morning and afternoon, so check the schedule before going.

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People Also Ask

What is Panama City known for?

Panama City, the largest financial and banking hub in Central America, is best known for the Panama Canal shipping channel. The thriving city offers a high-rise studded city skyline and colonial-era architecture in Casco Viejo, popular for its artful ruins, churches, restaurants, plazas, museums and shopping.

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What should I not miss in Panama City?

Don't miss the colonial-era architecture of Panama City's Casco Viejo. Visit the colorful Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo, focused on Panama's natural history, and walk up Ancon Hill for views of the entire city. Head to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal to observe the ships in action.

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How can I spend a day in Panama City?

One day in Panama City lets you visit natural, cultural, and culinary attractions. Begin with an early trip up Ancon Hill for the views, then check out the natural exhibits at Biomuseo. Spend the afternoon and evening in Casco Viejo, wandering the cobbled streets and dining at top restaurants.

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What is there to do in downtown Panama City?

You'll find some of the city’s best restaurants and shops in downtown Panama City, which is the area northeast of Casco Viejo. Wander amidst the city's modern high-rise office and apartment buildings and try fare from the restaurants dotting El Cangrejo and the Financial District (Area Bancária).

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What is the nightlife like in Panama City?

Panama City’s nightlife scene is vibrant, whether you’re looking for Latin dance clubs, late-night restaurants and cocktail bars, or somewhere with a city view. Most nightlife is concentrated in the downtown business district and Casco Viejo, and each provides a different atmosphere. Many places stay open until 2am or 3am.

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Is Panama safe for tourists?

Yes. Panama is generally a safe tourist destination. Violent crime against foreigners is not common, but it does occur occasionally. Petty crime and theft is more common, so take normal safety precautions. The least safe areas are in the east, near the Colombia border, due to gang-related and political violence.

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Frequently Asked Questions
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