Best Things To Do in San Miguel de Allende
Cultivating your creative side is easier than ever in San Miguel de Allende, where artists and expats can be found sculpting and painting among the... READ MORE
Cultivating your creative side is easier than ever in San Miguel de Allende, where artists and expats can be found sculpting and painting among the colonial architecture and cobblestone walkways. Start your day at El Jardín, the city's central plaza, where you might find yourself amid a mariachi concert or a local festival. Once you've had your fill of people-watching and exploring the shops that line the city center, make sure to stop at the mask museum or spend the evening at a performance in the Public Library's Santa Ana Theatre.
Updated July 29, 2020
- #1View all PhotosfreeEl Jardín#1 in San Miguel de Allende0.3 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Tours, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Tours, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
El Jardín is San Miguel's main plaza, located in the heart of the city. At the Zocalo, as El Jardín is often called, you can spend time people-watching, perusing the nearby shops and restaurants and reorienting yourself should the town's winding roads lead you astray.
Depending on when you find yourself in El Jardín, you may witness a political rally or have the chance to listen in on a live concert. According to one TripAdvisor reviewer, there's always something happening in El Jardín: "You'll hear mariachi bands, you'll see dance performances, you'll find arts and artisans, and religious ceremonies and every other possible entertainment experience here in the center of San Miguel." Early evenings and weekend afternoons are particularly busy times in the plaza; this is when you'll find expats and locals catching up with friends or simply relaxing on the wrought-iron benches.
- #2View all Photos#2 in San Miguel de Allende0.2 miles to city centerFree, Churches/Religious Sites, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerFree, Churches/Religious Sites, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Intricate, pink pinnacles poking through the skyline will help you locate the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a towering parish church overlooking El Jardin from the southern side of the plaza. The prominent church's neo-Gothic design is the vision of the self-taught stonemason and architect Zeferino Gutiérrez, who is rumored to have used European lithographs of Belgian and German churches for artistic inspiration.
Visitors often use the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel as a point of reference when navigating the city's winding streets. But when you're not relying on the church for navigation, travelers recommend spending extra time gazing at the castle-like structure. "What's really great is how it changes throughout the day from the moving sun. It changes colors and illuminations," one TripAdvisor reviewer said.
- #3View all Photos#3 in San Miguel de Allende0.4 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Museums, Free, Cafes, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.4 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Museums, Free, Cafes, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
A textile mill from 1902 to 1991, Fábrica La Aurora has since become an art-lover's paradise in northern San Miguel. Just a short walk north from El Jardin, the converted factory shows evidence of the site's history, including oil-stained floors and traces of cotton tucked into crevices. If you're looking to shop, you'll be satisfied by the diverse selection at furniture, jewelry and contemporary art stores that pepper the complex. After you've spent plenty of time eyeing paintings and sculptures, switch your focus from palette to palate with a stop at one of Fábrica La Aurora's restaurants like the Food Factory or Café de la Aurora.
You'll find plenty of ways to experience La Aurora: observe artists during their creative process, attend an evening party or take a class in fine arts technique. Recent visitors recommend heading over on Open Studio day; held each Thursday, Open Studio day is your best chance to spot artists at work. And according to one TripAdvisor reviewer: "You might be lucky enough to be in town for one of the Aurora's renowned fiestas, attracting several thousand partygoers for an evening of art, design, music, food and drink." Luckily, you can find something to do at La Aurora every day; some artists offer classes in watercolor, painting and sculpture. More information can be found on Fábrica La Aurora's website.
- #4View all Photos#4 in San Miguel de Allende0.4 miles to city centerMuseums, Free, Cafes, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.4 miles to city centerMuseums, Free, Cafes, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The picturesque Instituto Allende has been drawing art students to San Miguel de Allende for more than 50 years. Originally built in 1736 as the home of the noble Condes de la Canal family, the sprawling campus became an art and language school more than two centuries later. When the institute opened in 1951, American veterans flocked to the mountainside town after learning that the Insituto Allende qualified for study under the GI Bill. It wasn't long before word of the beautiful aesthetics spread and aspiring artists were heading to the school in droves.
Located less than half a mile southwest of the city center, the Instituto Allende is open to all travelers looking to take workshops, explore the property and peer into galleries. You'll find plenty of open space on campus in the form of parks and gardens, as well as artsy cafes and restaurants. One recent TripAdvisor reviewer described the atmosphere as full of "beautiful architecture, meandering passages, galleries, a nice cafe, and an amazing view of the Parroquia from the back patio."
- #5View all Photos#5 in San Miguel de Allende0.3 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you wouldn't normally include a library on your vacation itinerary, you might want to reconsider when you're in San Miguel. The city's Public Library has an extensive collection of both Spanish- and English-language books and films, and offers a quiet respite from the sights and sounds of the city. In 1954, Canadian expat Helen Wale invited Mexican children to read through a collection of magazines in her home. Soon, the volume of visitors outgrew the space. In 1958, the library moved to its current location in an 18th-century building several blocks north of El Jardin in central San Miguel. Today, in addition to its abundant bilingual media, the library offers free classes for children on subjects like computers, painting and piano. The library also hosts cultural events and English-language tours that guide visitors through the neighborhood's colonial architecture.
Inside the library, you'll find a courtyard cafe (good for a quick bite) and the Santa Ana Theatre, which shows international films and hosts concerts by San Miguel's popular musicians. With its large number of events, the site has become a cultural artery for residents and visitors alike. "This is more than a library. It's a memorable gathering point for Spanish and English speakers of all ages to share books, chess, movies, music and food," one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote.
- #6View all Photos#6 in San Miguel de Allende1.3 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.3 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Much of San Miguel's splendor can be discovered in its abundance of manmade beauty, but at El Charco del Ingenio, nature is the aesthetic draw. At this more than 170-acre botanical garden set in an ecological preserve, you'll have the chance to spot wildlife, walk along greenery-lined trails and learn about various species of local cacti. Meanwhile, the San Miguel community often gathers in the garden to watch performances, partake in ceremonies and attend environmental education programs. Recent travelers recommend enjoying a hike through the park, picnicking alongside the waterfalls or spending an evening at a concert in the outdoor amphitheater.
Located just a mile northeast of central San Miguel, El Charco del Ingenio can be reached on foot (it's about a 30-minute walk from the municipal market) or by taxi. The reserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Led by English-speaking guides, two-hour tours of the conservation area operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m.; tours cost 80 MXN (about $6 USD). If you'd like to forego a tour, entry is 40 MXN (about $3 USD); children younger than 10 can enter for free. For more information, visit the garden's website.
- #7View all Photos#7 in San Miguel de Allende0.5 miles to city centerMuseums, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.5 miles to city centerMuseums, Shopping, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The artsy culture of San Miguel permeates many of the city's quirky museums. One prime example of the town's imaginative culture is the Another Face of Mexico (La Otra Cara de México) mask museum. The owners, American expats Heidi and Bill LeVasseur, curate an extensive collection of approximately 500 ceremonial masks that all together comprise an eclectic display. Indigenous textiles, handmade paper and traditional dolls can also be found throughout the gallery.
The LeVasseurs have traveled through Mexico in search of ceremonial masks for their gallery, and their effort doesn't go unappreciated. Recent travelers rave about the vivid collection and agree that the owners bring a personal touch that other museums may lack. "Bill, the owner, is […] a wonderful source of the history and culture of Mexican masks," one TripAdvisor reviewer said. "We thoroughly enjoyed his background lecture, and the experience of wandering around his museum was wonderful."
- #8View all Photos#8 in San Miguel de Allende6.3 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Spas, Parks and Gardens, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND6.3 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Spas, Parks and Gardens, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
When the buzz of the city's nearly countless cafes and shops leaves you in need of some quiet time, travel 7 miles northwest from San Miguel's center to Escondido Place. This retreat boasts 10 indoor and outdoor thermal pools fed by natural hot springs, and lush vegetation and colorful flowers surround the grounds. Decompress in grottos containing water that reaches up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Recent travelers suggest adjusting to the water temperatures by working your way from the least warm pools to the warmest and then back again when you're ready to leave.
If the pools aren't enough to bring on your Zen, head to Escondido's Nativa spa where you can add a massage or body treatment to your relaxing itinerary. When you work up an appetite, you'll find a restaurant on site and picnic areas with grills for use by guests. Bathrooms and changing rooms are also available. Escondido Place is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and general admission is 100 MXN (about $8 USD) per person. For more information, visit Escondido's website.
- #9 in San Miguel de Allende0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, Historic Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, Historic Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Steps south of El Jardin, you'll find the birthplace of Ignacio José de Allende y Unzaga, a Spanish army officer who fought as a leader for Mexican independence in the early 1800s. Originally built in the 18th century, the officer's childhood home has served as a museum since its February 1990 restoration by the country's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of History and Anthropology). The museum's two floors of exhibits offer insight into the life of Ignacio Allende and furnishings and paintings from the 16th, 17th 18th centuries that highlight San Miguel's turbulent history.
Travelers to San Miguel recommend exploring the museum for about an hour and a half in order to gain a better understanding of the city's significance in Mexican history. "The information, if you spend some time reading it all, is extensive. You will leave with a solid knowledge of the history of San Miguel during these tumultuous years," one TripAdvisor reviewer said.
- #10View all Photos#10 in San Miguel de Allende12.3 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Recreation, Tours, Monuments and MemorialsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND12.3 miles to city centerNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Recreation, Tours, Monuments and MemorialsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Home to a 40-acre archaeological site, Cañada de La Virgen is a sprawling nature preserve located just 15 miles west of San Miguel de Allende. Explore the site and you'll find seven pyramid structures across four complexes: House of the Thirteen Heavens, House of the Longest Night, House of the Wind, and a fourth complex that has yet to be excavated. These complexes at the basin of the Laja River were occupied by the Otomí and Toltec Indians from 540 to 1050 A.D. Cañada's archaeological zone is preserved by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (Mexico's National Institute of History and Anthropology).
Even if you're not interested in seeing the archaeological sites, there's still plenty to do at the surrounding preserve. Cañada offers countryside horseback riding suitable for first-time riders and equestrian experts alike (although children must be 11 years or older to ride). The reserve is also suitable for a weekend camping trip. But keep in mind that you'll be roughing it — the campsite is a 45 minute hike from Cañada's busier areas. Expert-led astronomy tours are also available. To reserve any of these activities, contact the team at Cañada de La Virgen here.
- #11View all Photos#11 in San Miguel de Allende0.5 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.5 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Childhood amusement is on display at La Esquina Toy Museum, where the collection includes more than 1,000 handcrafted toys. The popular museum was dreamed up by San Miguel resident Angelica Tijerina when he began collecting trinkets and playthings that his father brought home from travels around the country. La Esquina, located only a few short blocks east of El Jardin, has three main rooms organized by region with exhibits that reflect Mexico's diversity. The first room, called The Dollhouse, displays dolls made from cloth and other materials. The second room, Unforgettable Mates, focuses on toys mirroring transportation — from horses to trucks. In La Esquina's third room, The Fair, visitors will find toy Ferris wheels, piggy banks and musical instruments.
While many visitors say the museum is an excellent stop for children, some attest to the museum's appeal for all ages. "This wonderful museum of Mexican toys is more than just playthings," one TripAdvisor reviewer said. "It is basically a folk art museum. The ingenuity of the toymakers to create toys out of materials at hand is amazing."
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