Casco Viejo (San Felipe)
Erected between 1688 and 1796, the Catedral Metropolitana (Plaza Catedral) is one of the city's architectural showpieces. Its most notable feature is its facade, whose central portion was built with stones from the former church of the Convento de la Merced in Panamá Viejo.
The Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá (Plaza Catedral, between Calle 5a Oeste and Calle 6a Oeste, tel. 507-211-1649 or 211-1650, www.museodelcanal.com) is one of the most interesting museums in the capital. The museum's exhibits include the outstanding La Ruta-El Agua-La Gente, which chronicles Panamá's development and its historic role as an inter-oceanic route from the pre-Colombian era to the 20th century.
The Iglesia de San Francisco (opposite Parque Bolívar), a charming white church, offers a breathtaking view of the city.
The Teatro Nacional (Calle 3a Este, beside the Iglesia de San Francisco) was built between 1903 and 1908. Its interior bears a strange resemblance to Milan's La Scala-not surprisingly, since both buildings were designed by the same architect, Ruggieri. The celebrations marking the opening of the theatre were attended by Sarah Bernhardt. The spectacular garnet-red and gold interior, with its small, suspended balconies (make sure to take a look at the central, or presidential, balcony, which is adorned with the national coat of arms) is the stuff dreams are made of.
Plaza de Francia is a lovely square with an old-fashioned charm. An obelisk topped by a proud French cockerel, erected in honour of the French workers and engineers who were involved in digging the canal, stands at one end of the square.
The Ruinas de la Iglesia Santo Domingo (Av. A and Calle 3a Oeste/San Francisco) are the ruins of an old monastery and adjoining chapel that were built by the Dominicans in 1678. The remains of the church's facade make it clear that it was once an impressive building.
Erected in 1671, the Iglesia San José (Avenida A and Calle 8/de San Blas) has a rather modest exterior, and is interesting mainly for its beautiful Altar de Oro. This magnificent gold altar originally graced the former church of the same name in Panamá Viejo.
Located in the Cerro Ancón area, Mi Pueblito (Avenida de los Martires, between Calle Julio A. Sosa and Calle J. De la Ossa) is a life-sized re-creation of the small rural villages that can still be found in Panamá today. Panamá's three main ethnic groups are represented here, each in a space set up to reflect their culture in the most realistic manner possible. Nearby, the Pueblito Afro-Antillano and the Pueblito Indígena follow the same concept.
Panamá Viejo (Old Panamá), which covers several kilometres, is so called because it is the site of the first city in Panamá. The park-like setting of the site, complete with descriptions, is like an open-air museum. This archaeological site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July of 2003.