This article was updated May, 2016
Things to do in Guadalajara
Guadalajara, Mexico may be the second largest city in the country and the home of the mariachi but it is often overlooked as a destination. Unless it happens to be the closest airport to fly into. I suppose it is excusable since Mexico is so vast and there is so much to see and do in this beautiful country, however there are some great things to do in Guadalajara that warrant at least a few days in this city.
Every list of top things to do in Guadalajara will start with exploring the Centro Historico. The old center of this Colonial city is laid out in the shape of a cross with the Guadalajara Cathedral surrounded by four vibrant plazas.
Then there is the modern Chapultepec neighborhood, the upscale suburb of Tlaquepaque and the grass roots area of Tonala.
Hopefully the following photographs and ideas of things to do in Guadalajara will convince you to pay a visit. If so be sure to continue to the end of this post for some tips and advice.
Centro Historico and Guadalajara Cathedral
At the heart of the Colonial Centro Historico is the massive Guadalajara cathedral which is bordered by four plazas in the shape of a Latin cross.
On a nice day or evening the four plazas are full of activity and are a great place to start your tour of the city or just sit and watch the hustle and bustle while sipping a cerveza or cappuccino. One of our favorite things to do in Guadalajara is to spend an evening at an outdoor café in Plaza Gaudalajara. Here you sit with a view of the beautifully lit cathedral and listen to the evening entertainment. There is also a tourist info center in Plaza Guadalajara to help you plan your visit.
In the historical center some of the top sights to see are the Palacio del Gobierno and the Instituto Cultural Cabañas. If you like to shop you should definitely experience the bustling Mercado Libertad. Go east to find Plaza Tapatia, the Hospicio Cabanas, Mercado Libertad (the world’s largest indoor market), and Plaza de los Mariacahis. Head south to the churches of San Francisco and Nuestra Senora and Parque Aqua Azul and west will take you along Juarez for pedestrian shopping streets and the young, hip University area.
San Pedro Tlaquepaque
Another favorite thing to do in Guadalajara is to explore San Pedro Tlaquepaque. Once a separate town 5km southeast of centro, Tlaquepaque has now been absorbed by urban sprawl. Famous for its artesians and mariachi bands it is also home to many trendy boutiques, restaurants and bars. It’s a lovely place to stroll away from the busy downtown and on the weekends El Parian is the place to go for lively entertainment and refreshments.
We suggest staying in Centro Historico, especially if you only have a couple of days. There are plenty of options for all budgets and you’ll be walking distance to most of the sights. We spent some time a few days before our arrival scouring all of our usual booking sights (see below) and it paid off big time!
We were able to reserve a double room in the beautiful Hotel Morales for only $40 USD per night. Now before jumping to book keep in mind that this is about 70% off their normal rate so you may have to pay more to stay here but if it’s within your budget we highly recommend it.
The hotel is right in Centro Historico and has several beautiful courtyards, large comfortable rooms, a good restaurant and bar, a gym and even a rooftop pool. The staff were very friendly and helpful and they have a concierge and doorman to help with any sightseeing or transportation needs.
Where to stay in Guadalajara
Definitely try to stay in Centro Historico where there is everything from inexpensive hostels to charming boutique hotels to high end chains. We use several different online sites for booking our accommodations but we found our best deal for Hotel Morales through Hotels Combined We also checked out Hostel Hospadarte Guadalajara Centro which was just around the corner from us and it looked very nice. You can book this and other hostels at Hostelworld.com
Getting around Guadalajara
Centro Historico is very walkable but if you want to venture further out there are taxis and buses readily available as well as horse drawn carraige with very knowledgeable drivers. There is also the double decker Turibus which offers two different routes for one price. If you are short on time or have trouble walking the Turibus can be a good option but if you have more than two days we don’t think it’s a must do. This Wikitravel guide gives some good info on transportation in Guadalajara.
Not to Miss
Many of the must see sights like the Guadalajara Cathedral, the Museo Regional and the Palacio de Gobierno are clustered in the center around the four plazas (Guadalajara, de Armas, Liberacion and Rotunda) but also make sure to go to explore the surrounding areas. The Teatro Degollado, Mercado Libertad and Hospicio Cabanas to the east are only a 15 minute walk as are the churches to the south. If you follow any of the roads (Juarez, Hidalgo, Francisco) west from the cathedral and walk for about 20 minutes you will come to the University are and will also find the dark but beautiful gothic church of Templo Expiatorio. An afternoon in Tlaquepaque is a must and you can get there easily from centro by the #275 bus or the hop on and off Turibus. Try to go on the weekend to see it at it’s most lively.
Day Trips from Gaudalajara
If you have time a day trip to Tequila is definitely worthwhile and it’s very easy to do by private car, public bus or guided tour. You can read more about it in the post ‘Exploring Tequila, Mexico’
Lake Chapala is only about 45 minutes away and there are tours and buses that will get you there easily. If you take the regular bus to Chapala or Ajijic you can easily navigate the towns on foot or use the local bus to travel in between the towns. For more on Lake Chapala you can read ‘Discovering Lake Chapala’
Disclaimer: Originally published June, 2014. Updated and re-published May, 2016