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If you’re planning a trip to Guadalajara, Mexico, get ready to experience a vibrant city filled with rich culture and history. From exploring the historic landmarks to indulging in delicious cuisine, Guadalajara offers endless opportunities for adventure and discovery. In this blog post, I’ll highlight the top things to do in Guadalajara, including visiting the iconic cathedral, strolling through the bustling plazas, and drinking fresh juice in Guadalajara’s hippest neighborhood. So pack your bags and get ready to immerse yourself in the colorful and exciting world of Guadalajara! There is so much to do both within the city limits, as well an hour’s drive outside of the city. Here are the 26 top activities to do in Guadalajara, Jalisco.
If you’re looking for TIPS about traveling to Guadalajara (especially for the first time) including basic info, safety, transportation, etc., click here.
TOP ACTIVITIES TO DO IN GUADALAJARA:: Things to do in the Centro
These are the top activities to do in Guadalajara’s city center.
Do a Walking Tour in Guadalajara
A great way to get the feel of a city is with a walking tour. There is a free (English) walking tour (but give a tip!) that meets at the gazebo at 10am in the Plaza de Armas.
Visit Guadalajara’s Plazas
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is actually quite a small plaza with a gazebo in the center. There are people walking through here all day and evening and it is usually full. There are benches surrounding the plaza where you can sit and relax.
It is surrounded by colonial-era buildings and is home to the city’s Cathedral and the Government Palace on two sides. The square is a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike, and is a hub of activity with vendors, street performers, and events throughout the year.
There are often art installations in or near the plaza. Often they house artwork leftover from various festivals in this plaza for a little while.
Plaza Guadalajara is a popular public square located in the heart of the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. It is a lively center of activity, featuring a variety of shops around the perimeter, restaurants, a fountain, and occasional street performers. The square is also home to several iconic landmarks, such as the Guadalajara Cathedral.
Plaza de la Liberación
Plaza de la Liberación, diagonal from the Plaza de Armas, has a rich history dating back to the 16th century when it was a military training ground. Over time, it became a central gathering place for social and political events, including the proclamation of Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821. The plaza has been home to several important buildings, including the Palace of Government, which was built in the 18th century and now houses the State Government.
It’s a very big square surrounded by jacaranda trees, and a few fountains in the center. The pink Guadalajara sign is usually in this plaza, unless it has been removed for cleaning due to graffiti.
Plaza Fundadores is a bustling public square located in the heart of Guadalajara’s historic center. It features a striking monument commemorating the city’s founders and is surrounded by important cultural and architectural landmarks, including the Cabañas Cultural Institute and the Degollado Theater. There are several benches in the plaza for relaxing.
Plazuela de los Mariachis
This is more like a long street than a plaza. There are several statues of men on horses, or playing instruments. It is just around the corner from the Mercado San Juan de Dios. During the day it is quite busy, with many people walking through or shopping at the small stores on either side of the street.
In the evenings is when you’ll start to see the mariachi bands coming around. They will only play mariachi music when someone pays them to do so.
The plaza is known for its vibrant atmosphere, live mariachi music, and numerous bars and restaurants serving traditional Mexican cuisine. The square is a popular gathering place for locals and tourists who come to enjoy the music and lively atmosphere.
Visit Guadalajara’s Religious Sites
Catedral de Guadalajara
The Cathedral of Guadalajara is a beautiful and historic religious site located in the heart of Guadalajara, Mexico. Its construction began in the 16th century and took more than 50 years to complete. The cathedral boasts a stunning façade with intricate baroque details and houses many priceless works of art and religious artifacts.
This is the most obvious cathedral in the city, as it sits right next to both Plaza Guadalajara and Plaza de Armas. The doors seem to be open all day so you can easily wander in and take a look. The cathedral is beautiful from all sides.
Templo Expiatorio de Santísimo Sacramento
I’m really not one for churches, but this one is stunning. The architecture is incredible. Inside there are several higher up walls covered with Italian stained glass, and if you get there at the right time, the sun coming through is beautiful.
On the façade facing the plaza, you can see a clocktower. Every hour on the hour when the time changes, there are small puppets/statues that come out and do a little walk along the edges with the chiming bells.
It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from Plaza de Armas.
Nuestra Señora de Zapopan
This basilica is a bit outside of the main city center, but you can reach it easily on the pink train line. The cost is $9.50 MXP. It is a beautiful church located in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara, Mexico. It is home to the revered Virgin of Zapopan, a small statue of the Virgin Mary that is believed to have miraculous powers. The church is a popular pilgrimage site, attracting thousands of visitors each year who come to pay their respects to the Virgin.
Visit Guadalajara’s Highlights
It is very easy to see several of the top activities to do in Guadalajara, right in the center of town in easy walking distance.
Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres
The Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres is a circular monument located in Guadalajara, Mexico. It honors prominent figures from Jalisco, including artists, politicians, and thinkers, who have made significant contributions to the state and the country. The monument features marble statues of the individuals, along with plaques that provide information about their accomplishments.
The statues are all in a row at the front of the plaza where the rotonda is. You can sit in the plaza on a bench or walk around the rotonda. In the evenings, you might see teens dancing and hanging out. During the day, you can see people sitting on the benches and relaxing.
This is right in the centro, just one block from the Plaza de Armas.
This head statue has a tree growing out of it from the top. It’s right in the center of the city, a block away from Plaza de Armas, just after the Rotonda.
There are stairs in the back of the head, so you can walk up and actually go inside of the head to see a nice view of the city, and get great photos.
You won’t need more than 10 minutes at this stop, but it’s certainly interesting.
The sculpture was created by artist Javier Marín. The bronze sculpture stands at over 13 feet tall and features a human figure with tree branches growing out of its body, symbolizing the interconnectedness of humans and nature. The figure is also missing the very top of its head, representing the absence of ego and the importance of introspection.
Palacio del Gobierno
This building’s entrance sits right in front of the Plaza de Armas.
The Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco, or the Government Palace of Jalisco, is a grand neoclassical building. It was constructed in the early 18th century and has served as the headquarters of the state government for centuries. The palace features impressive architecture, including large columns, arches, and ornate decorations. The interior is just as stunning, with elaborate murals painted by famous Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco, depicting scenes from Jalisco’s history. Visitors can take a guided tour of the palace and admire the artwork and architecture while learning about the state’s rich cultural heritage.
Mercado San Juan de Dios
The Mercado Libertad, also known as San Juan de Dios, is a massive market located just east of the city center. It’s across the street from Hospicio Cabañas. It spans several city blocks and is home to over 3,000 stalls selling a wide variety of goods, including clothing, electronics, souvenirs, and traditional Mexican handicrafts. It’s a popular destination to experience the lively atmosphere and shop for bargains.
I saw only locals here so it is definitely not a tourist trap kind of place. You can find anything you need at all ever. Like it has EVERYTHING.
I even dropped my phone by accident here, and it got a crack right over the camera. Within 5 minutes I had found a phone stand and had the screen protector changed for $5. Easy peasy.
There is also a food portion of the market where you can find really affordable meals all day.
This is about a 10-15 minute walk from the city center, just next to the San Juan de Dios Market.
The ticket price is 80 pesos. You need to leave any water bottles or backpacks (for free) with the front office. The ticket booth is just outside the building to the right of the main door.
There are tours in English at 12:30 and 3:30.
The Hospicio Cabañas is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was originally built in the late 18th century as a home for orphans and the elderly, and is now home to a cultural center and museum. The building is known for its impressive neoclassical architecture and features murals painted by renowned Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco.
There are a ton of different rooms and a few massive plazas. The architecture is impressive. There are also a number of art installations and galleries inside the complex.
The Colomos Forest is a large nature reserve located in Guadalajara. It features miles of hiking trails, lush vegetation, and a variety of wildlife, including birds, squirrels, and rabbits. The forest is a popular destination for nature lovers who come to escape the city and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
It’s a great place to visit to escape the city, but I don’t recommend it if you have just a couple days, as it is quite far outside the city center. But it is worth the stop if you decide to go to the Zapopan area to see the Basilica.
This is definitely the more modern, hip neighborhood of the city. There are vintage markets, beautiful flowers and marijuana growing wild, great coffee shops, vegan restaurants and overall style.
It’s a great place to go to if you tire of the chaos of the city center.
Arena Coliseo de Guadalajara
Arena Coliseo de Guadalajara is a must-visit for wrestling enthusiasts, located in the heart of Guadalajara’s downtown. This historic venue has been the site of many famous wrestling matches (Lucha Libre), and it continues to host live events to this day. The arena opens its doors to the public for tours during the week, where visitors can explore the dressing rooms, ring, and other behind-the-scenes areas. Shows are usually several days a week, and you can get tickets anywhere from $200-$600 pesos. Check the schedule before you go.
TOP ACTIVITIES TO DO IN GUADALAJARA: Where to Eat and Drink
These are the top activities to do in Guadalajara in terms of eating and drinking.
I came here because my taxi driver recommended it. If there is one thing I have learned about travel, is that you always go where the locals tell you to go. He wasn’t wrong, and this restaurant didn’t disappoint. There is a line out the door at all opening hours of the day. Although, I went on a Wednesday at 1pm, and the line was the shortest I’ve seen it.
The waiters, workers, and cooks are all moving quickly and the service is fantastic. The menu has a lof of photos so you can get a good idea of what you’re ordering. This restaurant is full of typical foods from the region.
For my main dish, I ordered something called “Arrechada,” which had a thin steak in the center, surrounded by rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, a flauta, and a taquito. More than enough food. I definitely had leftovers. I think two people could even share this dish.
The total I paid was 335 MXP, which was about 18 USD. That includes a 10% tip.
Individually, the prices were:
You can pay with a credit card.
Patan Ale House
They open at 6pm during the week, so it is more of an evening place, rather than an afternoon pint kind of place. The space is large inside with lots of seating. There is also an outdoor terrace on the 2nd floor.
As for the beer- they have probably two dozen taps, the majority are local craft beers, and a few imported options. The beer selection rotates often. Food is good, service is good, atmosphere is good.
Ricos Jugos is a hipster little juice bar on a hip little corner where you’ll find other hip little cafes. It’s in the neighborhood of Colonia America. It’s about a 20-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, and has a very chill vibe. It’s not busy or chaotic. There aren’t a ton of people walking around.
The juices here are fairly priced, and made with all fresh ingredients. There are a couple small tables outside and a few tables inside. The inside walls are decorated with art and graphic posters.
The woman working here told me that it’s generally a safe place, but people start to feel too comfortable, so thieves are around. People have often gotten their bikes stolen from the area because they didn’t lock them up.t’s a very relaxed area, but just be aware of your surroundings, even though it might feel like you don’t have to.
The best way to get to know a country is through its street food. Try the tacos. The tejuino. The raspados. You will see street food everywhere you look.
TOP ACTIVITIES TO DO IN GUADALAJARA:: Do Day Trips Outside the city
If you’re looking to go a bit further out, here are the top activities to do in Guadalajara’s surrounding areas.
Read this blog post for more in-depth info.
Tequila is a small city located in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, about one hour northwest of Guadalajara; it is famous for producing the world-renowned drink that bears its name. The city is home to many distilleries and offers visitors the opportunity to tour agave fields, learn about the tequila-making process, and sample different varieties of tequila.
If you decide to sleep in Tequila, rather than making it just a day trip (I highly recommend), then I strongly suggest waking up a bit early to take photos in the town. The colors and architecture are really incredible, but during the day the town is so packed. Head out around 7:30am and spend an hour getting those shots. The city starts to come alive around 9-9:30.
You can take a tour directly from Guadalajara if you have just one day. I met an English-speaking couple who was on a tour they booked from Trip Advisor and absolutely raved about it. Because I was staying in Tequila for two nights, I opted for a local day tour directly from Tequila. It was quite easy to find a tour operator. Just head to the main center and you’ll see several different vendors. It’s best to get their early in the morning to reserve your spot.
One thing to note- there didn’t seem to be any tours in English found at the main plaza. They will tell you there are, and charge you more for it, but I promise you- there is no English that will occur on these tours. The truth is, the tours are more about the tasting, and less about the education. It was one of my favorite days in Mexico. Not to be missed.
Guachimontones is an ancient archeological site located in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, and is known for its unique circular pyramids. The site was built by the pre-Columbian civilization of the Teuchitlan and is believed to have been used for religious ceremonies and rituals. Today, visitors can explore the site and learn about its fascinating history.
The cost to enter is 30 pesos per person. The ticket includes walking around the ruins site and a museum. In the museum, you can find a Spanish-only intro video, art exhibits, history of the indigenous peoples, and painting renders to demonstrate what the ruins looked like in their time. In the museum, you can also find a small gift shop where you can buy water.
I went in March and it was very hot. The ruins were brown, and the grass was dead. There is very little shade. The best time to visit Guachimontones would be in the rainy season- June, July, and August. During those months, you’ll find very green ruins.
There is not a lot of infrastructure here. The best way to visit is with a tour which will provide transportation directly to the ruins. You might consider a joint tour between Guachimontones and Tequila as they are in the same general area.
Tonalá is famous for its markets (tianguis). They are massive. There are several streets and side streets. There are stalls and stands on both sides of the main street. On one side, there are market stands parallel to the main street. On the other side, there is a giant area on gravel where the stalls are set up. The markets are ONLY on Thursdays and Sundays.
You can find shade on one side of the street, but the side with vendors on dirt has very little shade. Be prepared with spf and a hat.
You can find anything here from numbers for your address, to shoes, hats, clothes, TV remotes, etc. Anything you ever dreamed of.
You can get to Tonalá from the center by:
- Take the pink line train to the end, and take another bus from there to Tonalá. About 40 minutes, $9.50 pesos.
- Take the green bus (Camion) #231 from Jardin de San Francisco, in the center of GDL. This should take you directly to the tianguis. About 40 minutes, $9.50 pesos.
- Take a DiDi. About 30 minutes, 200 pesos.
Tlaquepaque is a charming town located in the Mexican state of Jalisco, known for its rich cultural heritage, colonial architecture, and colorful traditions. It is considered to be a Pueblo Magico. With its cobblestone streets, lively markets, and bustling art scene, Tlaquepaque offers visitors a unique glimpse into the heart of Mexico’s artistic and cultural identity.
You can take the pink train line from the centro to “Tlaquepaque Centro.” From there, you’ll need to walk about 10 minutes to the center of Tlaquepaque. The cost is $9.50 pesos. The machines don’t give change, so make sure you have the exact amount.
A few things you can see in Tlaquepaque:
- Parroquia de San Pedro (a church)
- Casa del Artesano (market)
- Andador Independencia (main walking street where there are a ton of over priced restaurants and cafes).
- Jardin Hidalgo (the main plaza)
- El Parián (a round building full of expensive restaurants. There is an umbrella roof in the center plaza).
- Centro Cultural El Refugio (Cultural Center)
- Museo Regional de la Cerámica (Ceramic museum)
It will probably be quite hot when you go, so try to get there in the morning before the heat hits, or in the afternoon as the sun loses power. There isn’t a lot of shade except for indoors, so wear spf and be prepared.
It’s possible to do this in one day, along with Tonalá, but it will be a tiring day. Lots of walking. If you have the time, I suggest breaking them into their own separate days.
You can find Lake Chapala just south of Guadalajara. This natural beauty is the largest freshwater lake in Mexico. Not only does it offer breathtaking views and a mild climate, but it’s also the hub of a vibrant cultural (and retired expat!) scene. It is a critical source of water for agriculture and industry in the region. It’s a great, calm escape from the big city life of Guadalajara.
The truth is that there is not much going on in Jocotopec. Chances are you’ll make a pit stop here when transporting between Guadalajara and Ajijic or Chapala.
Ajijic has been a hot spot for retirees from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for a long time. Ajijic is a charming pueblo mágico, filled with cobblestone streets, a beautiful malecón, and a decent live music scene. Read this blog post for further details about Ajijic.
If you prefer to skip Guadalajara entirely, and go directly to Laka Chapala, that is certainly a possibility. Instead of turning left to head to Guadalajara centro, you can turn right and go straight to Chapala. Chapala is the capital city of the Lago Chapala area. It is nowhere near as big as Guadalajara, but much bigger than Ajijic. The streets are busier and the most exciting parts of the city are concentrated all along the water. Along the malecón you can find restaurants, cold sweet treats, boat rentals, and market stands.
Guadalajara has so much to offer and I hope you will be able to fully immerse yourself in the culture here. Don’t rush, and take your time at each spot you visit, and each Guadalajara activity you try out.
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