Guanajuato is a beautiful city in Central Mexico characterized by colorful colonial mansions, gorgeous tree-lined plazas, historic cathedrals, and narrow, winding streets – some so narrow they’re not accessible to cars.
Spend your days exploring Guanajuato’s magnificent temples, monumental statues, fascinating museums, and pretty gardens. Other things to do in Guanajuato include watching a show at the grand theater, shopping for souvenirs in the market place, and finding your luck in love by visiting the Romeo and Juliet-esque Alley of Kisses.
15. Mercado Hidalgo
The Mercado Hidalgo is a bustling marketplace, and one of the main shopping destinations in Guanajuato. Built to serve as a railway station during the industrial era, the iron and steel building boasts two sections: the indoor Gavira Market, where you’ll find all kinds of authentic Mexican cuisine, and the Gavira Square, a fabulous open-air market.
On the other side of the market’s doors, complete chaos awaits you. But it’s the good kind. It’s here that you’ll find the best deals on souvenirs, trinkets, handicrafts, and local spices. As many of the stalls offer similar items, it’s the perfect place to hone your bargaining skills.
Retail therapy aside, the building has historical importance too. As it was inaugurated at the time of the centennial celebrations of Mexican independence, it was named after Miguel Hidalgo, a famous Mexican priest who fought for freedom. Interestingly, the clock tower on the rooftop was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the same man who created France’s iconic Eiffel Tower.
14. Valenciana Mine
Located behind the rosy Temple of La Valenciana, the Valenciana Mine, also known as the Mine of the Valenciana, is one of the most legendary silver mines in Guanajuato, Mexico. The main vein – one of the richest on the planet – was discovered back in the 16th-century and this Spanish silver mine was responsible for yielding two-thirds of Guanajuato’s silver resources and, impressively, a third of the annual mined silver on Earth.
Visitors can descend into the deep and claustrophobic mine shafts on tours led by ex-miners (they’re usually run in Spanish). Don’t miss the small statue of the Virgin Mary carved into the stone wall near the entrance so that miners could ask for blessings before climbing down into what was referred to as the ‘depths of hell’.
13. Museo Casa Diego Rivera
Dedicated to the life of a famous artist, Diego Rivera, who was born in this house in 1886, the Museo Casa Diego Rivera is a worthy addition to the bucket list – particularly if you’re interested in art.
Opened in 1975 and designed to look like the family home once did, the museum boasts a collection of 19th-century antiques, as well as some of Riviera’s original paintings and sketches. Riviera is mostly known for his striking Mexican murals that depicted his communist views.
Take your time browsing the many exhibits showcasing everything from portraits and landscapes to stills, nudes, and mural sketches. Don’t miss the auditorium upstairs where you can see historic black and white photographs of Riviera and his muse, Frida Kahlo.
12. Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato, also known as Our Lady of Guanajuato Basilica, is a cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of miners, San Nicolas Tolentino, to thank him for the town’s mining accomplishments.
Built on a slight hill in 1671, it took 25 years to complete. In 1957, it was upgraded to a religious basilica that now stands prominently over the town.
The architecture is an interesting mix with a bright yellow and red façade, a dusky pink Baroque dome, and Churrigueresque (Spanish Baroque) towers. Highlights include the jewel-adorned statue of the Virgin Mary that was hidden in a cave for centuries and the clock tower built by the Count of Valenciana.
11. Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera
The Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera is a museum housed in a former colonial home and surrounded by 17 landscaped gardens on the outskirts of Guanajuato. Built towards the end of the 17th-century, the building was the grand hacienda of Captain Gabriel de Barrera, who descended from the family of the first La Valenciana silver mining mogul.
Established as a museum in 1979, the building, with its resplendent period furnishings, offers a look into the life of nobles during the Vice-Regal period. Don’t miss a stroll through the themed gardens, such as the English Garden, the Oriental Garden, and the Mexican Garden. Allow at least two hours to explore the museum and the gardens.
10. Alhondiga de Granaditas
Built from 1798 to 1808, the Alhondiga de Granaditas once served as a grain storage warehouse. In 1810, it was transformed into a makeshift fortress when hundreds of invading Spanish troops locked themselves inside to escape the thousands of revolutionaries led by Miguel Hidalgo.
A miner by the name of Juan Jose Martinez bravely used a stone to ward off Spanish bullets while he set the entryway on fire. As the barricade burned down, they were able to get inside and conquer the colonists, granting Guanajuato its independence. The city built a statue of Martinez to honor the momentous battle. Don’t miss the painted murals by artist José Chávez Morado that tell the tale of the building’s fascinating history.
Apart from a grain storage area, the Alhondiga also served as an arsenal, a school, and a prison before being turned into a museum later on, in 1958. Alongside the Grain Exchange is a large plaza that serves as an open-air amphitheater, where the annual International Cervantino Festival is held.
9. Santuario de Cristo Rey
The Santuario de Cristo Rey – also known as the Cristo Rey Mexican statue or the Sanctuary of Christ – is one of the most famous icons in Guanajuato – perhaps even Mexico as a whole. Marking the country’s geographical center, the massive art deco statue was built to commemorate the struggle of the Cristero Rebellion.
The original statue was a smaller version of Jesus Christ that was destroyed in 1928 by the anti-religious rebels led by President Plutarco Elías Calles. The current shrine of Cristo Rey was completed in 1950 and became the largest bronze Christ statue in the world.
Located on top of a globe-shaped basilica on the Cerro del Cubilete, the statue has its arms spread wide, with angels kneeling on either side. The angels each hold a crown – one is made of thorns, and the other is a royal crown. This statue is a popular pilgrimage spot for the feast of Christ the King held in November.
8. Callejon del Beso
The Callejon del Beso – also known as the Alley of the Kiss – is a historical landmark in Guanajuato, Mexico. While it doesn’t look very different from the other winding alleyways in this charming Mexican city, it has become famous for a tragic love story that’s not dissimilar to Romeo and Juliet.
As the alleyway is very narrow, the buildings on either side are very close together. In fact, in some places, the balconies just about touch – so close that it’s said that couples could lean across the alleyway and kiss.
According to local legend, a young girl lived in one of the alley’s buildings and fell in love with a young man her parents didn’t approve of. In order to be together, he rented a room in the building opposite her bedroom window, and they would meet at night and kiss across the narrow alleyway.
When the young woman’s father discovered what they’d been up to, he stabbed his daughter in a fit of rage, and the young man jumped to his death from his bedroom window as a result of his anguish. The legacy left behind says that young couples who kiss on the third step of the alleyway can guarantee 15 years of happiness together.
7. Museo de las Momias
The Museo de las Momias is Mexico’s Mummy Museum, home to the smallest mummy in the world – it’s supposedly smaller than a loaf of bread!
The museum dates back to when Guanajuato required its residents to pay a grave tax. When the tax wasn’t paid by the victim’s family for three consecutive years, the grave would be dug up and replaced. What was strange though, was that when these bodies were dug up, they were found to be perfectly intact, mummified by nature due to the extremely dry conditions of the soil.
While the Guanajuato grave tax ended in 1958, these mummies remained and are now on show in what’s known as the Museum of the Mummies. More than 50 of the 100-plus mummies in existence here are on display at the museum, including a pregnant mummy and several tiny mummies of children.
6. Learn Spanish
If you’re curious about learning Spanish, you may be interested to know that Guanajuato is a great place to do it. Dubbed as a university city, Guanajuato is home to a host of high-quality Spanish language schools that offer Spanish lessons to locals and tourists alike.
The schools offer a wide range of flexibility – choose from group classes, one-on-one tutoring, or even lessons via Skype, all done by highly trained Guanajuato locals. They offer a good balance of lectures and conversational tutor groups, where you can practice your Spanish in a comfortable environment.
Visiting from abroad? Many of the schools offer homestay programs as part of their Spanish courses – so you can combine your education and accommodation in one easy step.
5. University of Guanajuato
The Universidad de Guanajuato – in English, the University of Guanajuato – is a public university in this diverse city. With a history dating back to the Hospice of the Holy Trinity that was formed in 1732, the university originally offered courses on mining, law, painting, sculpture, and architecture – the prominent programs of its time.
Today, the university offers over 150 academic programs, and has schools spread through the state of Guanajuato. The main campus can be found a block from the Basilica of Guanajuato, and its 133 steps are often filled with students.
Built in the 1940s, the main campus caused trouble because it didn’t tie in with the typical yellow-colored buildings found in the rest of Guanajuato. The university is also famous for having the 16th-century Templo de los Hospitales church located within it.
4. Templo La Valenciana
The hilltop Templo La Valenciana, also known as the La Valenciana Church or the San Cayetano Church, is an 18th-century religious landmark in Guanajuato. Built in the Mexican Churrigueresque (Spanish Baroque) style between 1765 and 1788, it marks the entrance of the La Valenciana mine, where the largest vein of silver was found in Mexico.
While the rose-colored volcanic façade is impressive to look at, it’s the cross-shaped interior you really want to see with its glorious altars adorned in gold leaf. It also boasts the original organs and some enormous pieces of art. Visit in the afternoon when the sun filters through the windows and lights up the golden filigree carvings beautifully.
3. Jardin de la Union
The Jardin de la Union, or the Garden of the Union, is a triangular-shaped plaza surrounded by lantern-lit trees, bars, and restaurants in the heart of Guanajuato. It’s a great place to hang out, meet with friends, people watch, and listen to the Mariachi bands playing at the central bandstand.
While the restaurants and cafés here are undeniably pricier than those found in the rest of the city, you’re promised night-long entertainment – even fire jugglers perform here!
2. Monumento al Pipila
This historic monument is dedicated to Juan Jose Martinez (lovingly known as El Pípila), the hero who gained access to the Alhondiga gates in 1810 and won the city its independence. Built in 1939 out of pink quarry, the statue is easily recognized by its iconic torch.
Set on a hilltop, the statue’s location offers a spectacular 360-degree view over the city and can be accessed on foot, public transport, or with the city’s cable car.
The very top of the statue offers the best vantage point and can be accessed through an entrance at the back of the monument by paying a nominal fee. The best time to view Monumento al Pipila is just before sunset when the city is bathed in gorgeous natural light.
1. Teatro Juarez
The Teatro Juarez (Juarez Theatre) is a historic 19th-century theater in downtown Guanajuato. It boasts Neoclassical architecture on the outside and an Oriental-inspired interior, with red and gold just about everywhere you look.
Originally built between 1872 and 1903, the 902-seat theater has been adapted and modernized several times. Most noticeable are its formidable Doric columns topped by eight life-sized bronze statues hailing from Greek mythology.
Visitors can book tickets to attend a performance, or otherwise explore the horseshoe-shaped interior on a guided tour when no shows are scheduled. The famous International Cervantino Festival is hosted here every year and is not to be missed.