10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Guanajuato
In the very heart of Mexico, the lovely old city of Guanajuato - capital of the state of the same name - has long been a popular destination for non-Mexicans, whether for vacationing or as permanent residents. Thanks to its valley location, Guanajuato's streetscape is one of narrow winding lanes and alleys often suitable only for pedestrian traffic due to their width and flights of steps, some of them even located underground. Adding to this delightful UNESCO World Heritage Site cityscape are numerous small plazas, colonial-era mansions, and churches built using pink or green sandstone, along with many excellent museums and art. Home to world class events like the Festival Internacional Cervantino, which attracts artists from across the globe each fall, this beautiful colonial city, four hours north of Mexico City, makes a fun destination for an overnight stay (or longer if you can manage it).
See also: Where to Stay in Guanajuato
1 Jardin de la Union in the City of Plazas
The Jardin de la Union is the heart of historic Guanajuato and serves as the city's main square. Always bustling, this pleasant plaza with its fountains and flower beds is ringed by numerous hotels and restaurants, making it a perfect place from which to venture out to explore the rest of the city. It's also where you'll find a number of architectural gems, from the beautiful old Baroque San Diego Church to the majestic Juárez Theater (Teatro Juárez) that dominates the square (check out the church's museum for its history of the old convent as well as that of the city). Also worth exploring is Plazuela de los Angeles, which leads to city's most famous street, the Callejón del Beso, or Kissing Lane, so named as it's narrow enough to allow a loving couple to kiss from windows on opposite sides. Just a little further along stands the Mercado Hidalgo, a market hall opened in 1910 that's worth visiting for its local crafts and produce.
2 Editor's Pick Going Underground: Exploring Guanajuato's Tunnels
A highlight of a walking tour of Guanajuato is delving into the city's amazing network of subterranean streets and alleys. Built of necessity to handle the often-flooded Guanajuato River (Rio Guanajuato) that once flowed under the city, the tunnels became obsolete after a nearby dam was constructed to control the river upstream. The extensive network of tunnels that remained were put to good use as roadways, alleviating the congested streets aboveground and making the streets safer and more interesting for pedestrians. These cobblestone roadways also accommodate pedestrians through a number of well-marked footpaths that are fun to explore. Accessible from stone staircases at numerous locations around the old city, the tunnels are a must-see attraction and they can also save time if you need to get from one place to another in a hurry.
3 Teatro Juárez
Dominating the Jardín de la Unión, Guanajuato's pretty main square, is the beautiful Juárez Theater (Teatro Juárez), the city's opera house. Opened in 1930 after some 30 years of construction, this splendid neoclassical building is notable for its massive Doric columns supporting a Romanesque portico adorned with nine bronze statues of the Greek muses, as well as the steps leading up to the building, a favorite meeting place for locals and tourists alike. The building's plush Art Nouveau interior is also worth seeing for its rich gilded décor, finely carved wood, and stained glass, especially if you can do so while taking in one of the theater's regular musical or dance performances.
Address: Sopena S/N, Zona Centro, 36000 Guanajuato, GTO
4 Nuestro Señora de Guanajuato
In picturesque Peace Square (Plaza de la Paz), the sandstone colored Baroque Basílica Colegiata de Nuestro Señora de Guanajuato is well worth a visit. Built in the 17th century and much altered thereafter, this attractive building houses one of Mexico's most important relics, the much revered seventh-century statue of the Virgin of Guanajuato, a carved wooden figure on a silver base presented to the city by King Philip II of Spain in 1557. By far the largest building in Guanajuato, the church owes much of its splendor to area miners who sponsored its construction, a relationship that is marked to this day during annual miners' parades and offerings to the church's patron saint. In addition to its famous statue, other highlights include its pretty church tower, numerous relics in the main altar presented by the Pope, as well as a number of important paintings by leading Mexican artists. Another old church worth seeing is Templo de Belén, built in 1773 and notable for its Churrigueresque façade.
Address: Ponciano Aguilar 7, Centro, 36000 Guanajuato, GTO
5 Alhóndiga de Granaditas
Completed in 1809, the Alhóndiga de Granaditas is one of the largest and most interesting of Guanajuato's historic secular buildings. Built as a granary and also serving for a spell as a marketplace, the building was used by the Spanish and their loyalist allies as a fortress that was overrun by troops led by Miguel Hidalgo in the first defeat for the colonialists who had ruled Mexico for centuries. A statue commemorating the event and Hidalgo's role overlooks the city from a nearby hillside park accessible by a funicular railway. The building now serves as the home of the Guanajuato Regional Museum with its displays relating to the battle, as well as the eventual execution of Hidalgo when his head and those of his compatriots were placed atop the building for all to see. In addition to its displays of colonial era artifacts, the museum also has a large collection of Pre-Columbian materials.
Address: Mendizábal 6, Centro, 36000 Guanajuato, GTO
6 The Mummies of Guanajuato
Although a little gruesome, the Mummies of Guanajuato have proven one of the city's most popular attractions, and remain an important cultural phenomena relating to local customs and traditions. Consisting of the naturally mummified remains of locals who died during a cholera outbreak in the mid-19th century, the Mummies Museum (El Museo De Las Momias) got its start after the bodies were disinterred between 1865 and 1958 for failure by relatives to pay cemetery taxes. Entrepreneurial cemetery staff charged the curious a small fee to see the mummies, and as word spread, it became something of a spectacle enjoyed by tourists from far and wide. Adding to the somewhat grisly display is the knowledge that some of those buried were still alive at the time, hence the sometimes frightening expressions on their faces. In addition to a few clothed mummies, the museum also claims to have the world's smallest mummy.
Address: Municipal Pantheon Esplanade, Downtown, CP 36000, Guanajuato, GTO
7 Museo Iconográfico Del Quijote
Easily spotted thanks to the statue of its namesake standing welcoming by its entrance, the Iconographic Museum of Quixote (Museo Iconográfico Del Quijote) pays homage to Mexico's long-standing fascination with the writings of Spain's Miguel de Cervantes. With a focus on displays of artwork and artifacts related to Cervantes' most popular piece of fiction, Don Quixote, the museum is well worth taking the time to explore. Highlights include numerous paintings and statues, along with tapestries and a variety of commercially available materials relating to the story. Also of interest is the International Cervantino Festival held at the Teatro Juárez and other locations across the city each October in celebration of the works of Cervantes.
Address: Calle Manuel Doblado 1, Centro, 36000 Guanajuato, GTO
8 The University of Guanajuato
Built by the Jesuits in the 18th century as a school, the splendid University of Guanajuato's city center location opened its doors in 1828 and remains the oldest university in Latin America. Located just a few minutes' walk from Peace Square (Plaza de la Paz), the university is well worth taking the time to visit if only to see the famous staircase leading up to this fine neoclassical structure. If you're up to it and can make the 113-step climb, you'll be able to see some of the building's splendid interior during a visit to the university's natural history museum, as well as its old church.
Address: 20 De Enero 929, 37000 León, GTO
9 Silver City: La Valenciana Mine
Once the silver mining capital of Mexico and responsible for 80% of the country's production of this precious metal, Guanajuato's long-standing connection to mining runs deep. Today, these old mines - some dating to the mid-1600s - are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be easily visited while staying in Guanajuato as they lie just a few minutes' drive outside the city in the village of La Valenciana. La Valenciana was largely responsible for much of Guanajuato's wealth and the splendid architecture that came with it. Today, a visit to the La Valenciana Mine (Mina La Valenciana) includes a chance to don a mining hat and tour the old shafts as part of an English language guided tour. Highlights include seeing a number of caverns and drilling equipment, as well as historical artifacts and tools used through the centuries. Afterwards, be sure to visit the opulent San Cayetano Church (Templo de San Cayetano de La Valenciana), an ornate 18th-century basilica famous for its richly gilded altars, carvings, and artwork.
10 El Cervantino: The International Cervantino Festival
Already a bustling year-round tourist destination, come fall, the picturesque city of Guanajuato really springs to life with the arrival of the annual International Cervantino Festival (Festival Internacional Cervantino). With key events held at spectacular venues such as Teatro Juárez, in addition to some 50 other locations across the city, this October celebration of the works of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra - famous for his epic work, Don Quixote - draws upwards of 200,000 visitors to witness numerous presentations of art, music, and theater. In addition to the performances, many city museums host related exhibits, while numerous cafés and restaurants get in on the act with special menus and demonstrations aimed at celebrating Spanish culture from around the globe.
Where to Stay in Guanajuato for Sightseeing
We recommend these charming and centrally-located hotels in Guanajuato close to the city's top sights:
- Hotel Boutique 1850: 4-star boutique luxury, excellent location, contemporary decor, pillow menu, chic rooftop lounge, wonderful spa treatments.
- Edelmira Hotel Boutique: mid-range boutique hotel, central location, pedestrian street, small pool, excellent free breakfast.
- Posada Santa Fe: affordable historic hotel, unbeatable location, old-world charm.
- El Meson de los Poetas: budget-friendly rates, restored 18th-century mansion, colonial decor, many stairs, professional staff.