10 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Guadalajara
Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city and capital of the state of Jalisco, enjoys a pleasant subtropical climate and has managed to preserve the independent character of a town conscious of its own traditions. The city exudes a distinct European atmosphere, and the Tapatíos, as the people of Guadalajara call themselves, have left their own distinctive mark on its broad avenues, carefully tended parks, and attractive light-colored buildings. As well as being famous as a center of mariachi music, Guadalajara is also a stronghold of Charreadas, the Mexican version of the rodeo, along with the popular folk dance known as Jarabe Tapatío - three things, which to travelers, express the very essence of Mexican folk traditions. It's also an easy city to explore thanks to the city center's four magnificent squares, handily connected and arranged in the form of a cross with the city's principal tourist attractions set around them.
See also: Where to Stay in Guadalajara
1 Guadalajara Cathedral
While occupying much of the lovely public square known as Plaza de Armas, the beautiful Guadalajara Cathedral (Catedral de Guadalajara) stands with its façade fronting the adjoining Plaza de los Laureles, a smaller square with a lovely large fountain. Built between 1558 and 1616 and much altered in later periods, the cathedral, although mostly Baroque in appearance, shows a remarkable mingling of different styles, particularly in its fine mostly Gothic interior. Highlights include its many chapels with their paintings attributed to Cristóbal de Villalpando, Miguel Cabrera, and Murillo, some of Mexico's finest artists (a particularly beautiful example by Murillo - the Assumption of the Virgin Mary - hangs over the doorway of the sacristy).
Address: Av Alcalde 10, Zona Centro, 44100 Guadalajara, Jalisco
2 The Government Palace
In the finest of Guadalajara's four main squares, the Plaza de Armas, stands the Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno). Started in 1643 and only completed in 1774, this splendid Baroque building with its many columns with their zigzag ornamentation, large volutes, and Churrigueresque pilasters (estípites) is well worth a visit. Notable interior highlights include its fine old staircase and, in one of the council chambers, a number of murals depicting the War of Independence, along with the heroes of the three Mexican wars painted by famous fresco-painter José Clemente Orozco, a native of the state of Jalisco.
Address: Avenida Ramón Corona, Guadalajara, Jalisco 44100
3 The Churches of Santa Mónica and San Agustin
Guadalajara boasts many splendid old churches, most easily accessible from the historic city center. One of the prettiest, the 17th-century Church of Santa Mónica (Templo de Santa Mónica), lies a few blocks northwest of the cathedral and is notable for its Baroque façade with its twisted columns and intricately carved ornamentation including grapes, cobs of maize, angels, double eagles, and symbols of religious orders. Also of interest is the splendid Church of San Agustin (Templo de San Agustín), part of a former convent built in the 16th century with later Baroque flourishes and boasting a splendid interior that includes a fine altar with an image of the church's patron saint. Other Baroque churches of interest are the 17th-century San Francisco, San Felipe Neri, and Aránzazu Churches.
Address: Esq Degollado, Calle de Morelos, Zona Centro, 44100 Guadalajara, Jalisco
4 The Regional Museum of Guadalajara
The Regional Museum of Guadalajara (Museo Regional de Guadalajara) is just a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas and is well worth a visit. Housed in a former 18th-century seminary that also served as a headquarters and prison during the War of Independence, the museum opened in 1918 and features numerous Pre-Columbian finds and ethnographical displays. Highlights include 14 dioramas and exhibits dealing with local fossils and geography, a large mineral collection that includes an 800-kilogram meteorite, and a fine collection of colonial-era artwork, as well as contemporary and modern art. Afterwards, check out the nearby Teatro Degollado, a large neoclassical building with frescos by Gerardo Suárez in the dome showing scenes from Dante's Divine Comedy.
Address: Calle Liceo 60, Zona Centro, 44100 Guadalajara, Jalisco
5 José Clemente Orozco's Frescoes
Spread across the city are a number of sites featuring artwork by one of Mexico's most renowned painters, José Clemente Orozco (1883 - 1949). Some of his finest work can be seen in the form of frescoes in a former chapel in the Hospicio Cabañas complex. Painted between 1938-39, these huge murals portray the Four Elements, Art, and Science, as well as the Conquest and the Four Riders of the Apocalypse. The high point is the superb fresco of Mankind in Flames (Hombre del Fuego) in the dome. Various rooms around the complex are also of interest as they contain a variety of exhibits devoted to Orozco's life and works. Another site containing examples of Orozco's frescos is the Government Palace. Finally, for a fascinating look into the artist's life and times, visit the Orozco Museum in his former home and studio with its many original paintings, drawings, and artifacts.
6 Guadalajara Zoo
Just a few minutes north of the city is the Guadalajara Zoo (Zoológico Guadalajara). In addition to its fine setting - it overlooks the stunning Santiago Gorge - this fun attraction is one of the largest and most important zoos in Latin America. Highlights of its collection of animals include many rare species such as white lions, Bengal tigers, and black panthers, plus a large primate contingent featuring gorillas and orangutans, along with a number of native Mexican species such as Mexican wolves. Other highlights include a large aquarium and a reptile house with numerous lizards, snakes, and spiders. The zoo is also noted for its large aviaries, in particular two dedicated to songbirds and tropical species. Finally, kids will love Safari Masai Mara, a fun ride through the African savannah stocked with antelope, rhinos, and other species.
Address: Av Paseo del Zoologico 600, Huentitán El Alto, 44390 Guadalajara, Jalisco
7 Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento
Although one of Guadalajara's newer churches - construction started in 1897 and didn't end until 1972 - the Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento is undoubtedly one of the finest religious structures in the city. Built in neo-Gothic style and notable for its many European-made components, the church is famous for its fine exterior, highlights of which include its finely carved doors inlaid with bronze reliefs, exquisite mosaics from Italy, a unique German clock, and a superb carillon capable of playing 25 different pieces of music (it can also be played from inside the church) while figures of the 12 Apostles move around it. Also of interest are the building's fine stained glass windows from France, and the richly decorated Golden Altar with its many biblical stories.
Address: Av López Cotilla 935, Centro, 44100 Guadalajara, Jalisco
8 The Rotunda of Illustrious Men
Just outside Guadalajara Cathedral in Plaza de Armas is Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres, the Rotunda of Illustrious Men. Constructed in 1952 in honor of the state's best-known historical figures - including famed artist José Clemente Orozco, whose work can be seen in murals across the city - this large circular stone monument features 17 tall columns and houses the remains of 98 important individuals. A number of statues of some of these individuals can also be seen. Hot Tip: Visit the site after nightfall when it's lit up in spectacular fashion, an effect heightened by a flaming cauldron in the middle of the rotunda.
9 Hospicio Cabañas
The exquisite Hospicio Cabañas, a splendid neoclassical former hospital built at the beginning of the 19th century, is a must-see when visiting Guadalajara's historic downtown core. Boasting no fewer than 23 patios, the complex is not only the oldest hospital in the Americas, it's also one of the largest. Built in 1791, it also served as an orphanage and workhouse, providing shelter for the city's poor. Based on similar designs in Paris and Madrid, the main building is notable for its fine murals by José Clemente Orozco. Afterwards, visit the pedestrian-friendly Plaza de Toros and the huge Market Hall (Mercado Libertad) where, in addition to the usual wares, regional costumes, pottery, paper flowers, musical instruments, and songbirds are offered for sale.
Address: Cabañas 8, Las Fresas, 44360 Guadalajara, Jalisco
10 Picturesque City Parks: Parque Agua Azul
Guadalajara's most popular public park is the beautiful Parque Agua Azul, literally translated as the Blue Water Park. Opened in 1952, the park covers an area of some 168,000 square meters and is a wonderful place to stroll, particularly due to its many landscaped gardens and trees. Highlights include a tropical orchid house, as well as a Butterfly House and an aviary, both home to a wide variety of indigenous species. Also of interest is the adjacent Casa de las Artesanías, an area where local folk art is exhibited and sold, as well as a small anthropological museum (the Museum of Paleontology), an open-air theater, and a flower market.
Where to Stay in Guadalajara for Sightseeing
If you're visiting Guadalajara for the first time, the best place to stay is in the historic city center. The main tourist attractions lie a short walk from each other in this central area, including Guadalajara cathedral, Government Palace, and the Rotunda of Illustrious Men. Some of the city's luxury hotels are a short taxi ride from the historical center in an upscale area of the city, near Expo Guadalajara. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Next door to Expo Guadalajara, The Westin features in-room spa treatments and a fitness center. A great-value luxury option is the new NH Collection Guadalajara Centro Historico, a short hop from the cathedral, with modern rooms in a beautiful, old building. In an exclusive area of the city, about a 15-minute drive from the Plaza de Armas, Hotel Riu Plaza Guadalajara has contemporary guest rooms, with accents in bright, bold hues, and an inviting spa and outdoor pool.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Hotel Morales Historical & Colonial Downtown Core, with a heated rooftop pool, drips with history and sits within walking distance of the city's major historic attractions. In a beautiful old mansion, about a seven-minute walk from the cathedral, the boutique, family-owned Casa Pedro Loza has individually styled rooms with striking color schemes and stylish accents. Also near the cathedral as well as Teatro Degollado, One Guadalajara Centro Historico sports a sleek, modern decor. Breakfast is included in the rates.
- Budget Hotels: In a great location near the top sites in the historic center, the BEST WESTERN Gran Hotel Centro Historico has basic rooms and a swimming pool. Also near the historic center, Dali Plaza Hotel offers clean, spacious rooms for a budget-friendly price, as does the colonial-style Hotel la Rotonda, just steps away from the cathedral.
Day Trips from Guadalajara
The city of Guadalajara offers many fun opportunities for day-trippers looking to explore the surrounding countryside. One of the best day trips is to the suburb of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, an important pottery and ceramics making area just six kilometers southeast of the city center. Highlights of a visit include the Ceramics Museum (Museo Regional de la Ceramica) along with numerous shops selling traditional ceramic and pottery products. Afterwards, head to nearby Tonalá, another spot noted for its fine pottery and also boasting a small ceramics museum, as well as Tonalán, the Museum of Archaeology and Folk Art with its displays of modern ceramics, Pre-Columbian finds from Jalisco, and old masks.