11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Guadalajara
Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city and capital of the state of Jalisco, enjoys a mild 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 that 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 Instituto Cultural de Cabañas
In the downtown historic core, the World Heritage-listed Instituto Cultural Cabañas (formerly called Hospicio Cabañas) is a splendid Neoclassical former hospital and orphanage built at the beginning of the 19th century. Today, the complex is home to the Cabañas Cultural Institute and the Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Besides the building's graceful architecture, based on similar designs in Paris and Madrid, the main highlight here is the collection of 57 magnificent frescoes painted by José Clemente Orozco, which are widely considered to be among his finest works. Most of the murals adorn the ceiling and walls around the vast nave and cupola, including his famous The Man of Fire (El Hombre del Fuego) mural. Guided tours are available in English and Spanish and are highly recommended.
Afterwards, visit the huge Market Hall (Mercado Libertad) nearby, where regional costumes, pottery, paper flowers, and musical instruments are offered for sale.
Address: Cabañas 8, Las Fresas, 44360 Guadalajara, Jalisco
2 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 an impressive 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
3 Expiatory Temple (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, the church is famous for its richly embellished exterior and many European-made components. Highlights 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
4 The Government Palace
Steps from the cathedral 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 is well worth a visit with its many columns displaying zigzag ornamentation, large volutes, and Churrigueresque pilasters (estípites). 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
5 Teatro Degollado
Opposite the cathedral, the Neoclassical Teatro Degollado is the city's most important - and beautiful - performing arts venue. Completed in 1866, this impressive theater is worth visiting for its fine architectural details and lavish interior design. The exterior features 16 Corinthian columns and a marble relief of Apollo surrounded by the nine muses. Known for its excellent acoustics, the theater is home to the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco and Guadalajara City Ballet, among other local cultural institutions, and it also hosts international Mariachi competitions. Even if you can't catch a performance here, it's worth poking your head inside to gape at the plush, gilded interior. Like a red and gold layer cake, five tiers of balconies soar above the stage, and dramatic frescoes depicting scenes from Dante's Divine Comedy adorn the ceiling.
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. 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 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 Instituto Cultural Cabañas complex. Painted between 1938 and 1939, 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 The Man of Fire (El 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 (Palacio de Gobierno).
8 Rotonda de Los Jaliscienses Ilustres
Just outside Guadalajara Cathedral in Plaza de Armas, the Rotonda de Los Jaliscienses Ilustres (Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscienses) is one of the city's most distinctive monuments, in a beautiful park-like setting. 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. Statues of some of these individuals adorn the surrounding lawns. 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 Parque Agua Azul & Bosque Colomos
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 among the 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.
Another popular park in Guadalajara is Bosque Colomos. Densely wooded in parts and punctuated by meandering waterways, where ducks glide, this peaceful green space offers a relaxing respite from the city buzz. Other highlights here include a tranquil Japanese garden, running tracks, and a cultural center with art-related workshops in genres such as folk dancing, painting, drawing, and sculpture. Birdwatching and picnics are other popular things to do here.
10 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 worth a quick 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 scattered ethnographical displays but note that the descriptions are mostly in Spanish. 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. Depending on the day of your visit, some rooms might be closed.
Address: Calle Liceo 60, Zona Centro, 44100 Guadalajara, Jalisco
11 The Churches of Santa Mónica and San Agustin
Guadalajara boasts many splendid old churches and most are 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
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.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Guadalajara
Seeing all the highlights of Guadalajara and its surrounding attractions is easier with the help of a knowledgeable local. These organized tours cover the best sights in and around the city and include expert, English-speaking local guides, as well as hotel pickup and drop-off:
- City Sightseeing: Architecture, history, and shopping are key highlights on the Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque Tour. This five-hour excursion includes a tour of the top sites in downtown Guadalajara, including Plaza De Armas and the Guadalajara Cathedral, the brimming market stalls at Mercado Libertad, and the historical monuments at Liberation Square. Next stop is the picturesque colonial town of Tlaquepaque, where you can wander the cobblestone streets and shop for souvenirs at the local market.
- Lake Chapala and Ajijic: Explore the picturesque lakeside villages of Ajijic and Chapala with personal attention from your expert guide on the small-group Lake Chapala and Ajijic Half-Day Tour from Guadalajara. Travel by minibus to Lake Chapala; sit back and relax on a cruise to Scorpion Island; and then admire the colonial architecture in the charming village of Ajijic, where you can shop in the boutiques and sample authentic Mexican food.