Guadalajara Downtown Visitors Guide: 10 Essential Experiences

downtown-guadalajara
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Guadalajara Downtown Visitors Guide: 10 Essential Experiences

Welcome to the vibrant heart of Mexico, where centuries of history, culture, and modernity converge in a mesmerizing tapestry of experiences.

Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state, stands as a beacon of Mexican heritage, boasting a downtown that pulsates with life, color, and tradition.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or embarking on your first journey to this enchanting city, prepare to be captivated by the charm and allure of Guadalajara’s historic center.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll go over the essence of downtown Guadalajara, highlighting 10 essential experiences that promise to immerse you in its rich culture, cuisine, and hospitality.

Top 10 Things to do and see in Downtown Guadalajara

downtown guadalajara
Historic monuments displayed all over downtown Guadalajara

This huge metropolis offers an international airport and world-class coach lines connecting major cities such as Mexico City and Guanajuato, so getting here is very easy.

Guadalajara is known as the “pearl of the West” for its excellent quality of life and extensive offer of leisure, culture, and gastronomy, in addition to combining modernity with tradition and maintaining some of the most representative symbols of Mexico such as tequila and mariachi.

Although a full day is enough to see its main attractions, I recommend spending the night and visiting the surrounding areas such as the craft market of Tonala and the colonial town of Tlaquepaque.

1. The Cathedral: Guadalajara’s Landmark

downtown guadalajara
cathedral organ
The Cathedral’s Pipe Organ

You can start your visit at the Plaza de Armas (Main Square), presided by the Cathedral and the heart of the historic center, considered the most emblematic and oldest monument in Guadalajara.

Built in the 16th century by order of Philip II King of Spain and rebuilt after several collapses due to earthquakes, this magnificent baroque-style church surprises with its two neo-Gothic towers crowned with yellow tiles and the beautiful chapels and the main altar inside.

Below the altar is a crypt where several bishops rest and some secret tunnels used as a refuge during the religious persecution known as the Cristero War.

In addition to visiting the cathedral during the day, it is worth going back at night to see its magical illumination.

Visiting hours: daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

2. Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres

downtown guadalajara

A few steps from the Cathedral and surrounded by trees, is the Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres, a stone ring-shaped structure supported by 17 columns engraved with the legend “Jalisco a sus hijos esclarecidos” (Jalisco to its enlightened sons).

Inside this rotunda are 98 urns with the remains of illustrious people from all over the state and in the surrounding area, there are up to twenty-two statues for the most outstanding characters of Jalisco’s history.

One of the best things about strolling through downtown Guadalajara is learning about its history and not missing anything interesting.

3. State Government Palace

downtown guadalajara

Continuing in the heart of the historic center, formed by the 4 squares surrounding the Cathedral known as “Cruz de Plazas,” is the imposing State Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno), another of the most interesting places to visit in downtown Guadalajara.

In this palace built in the late 1790s, the current seat of the state government of Jalisco, slavery was declared abolished in New Spain and is notable for housing the fantastic murals of the renowned Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco, such as the famous portrait of the liberator of Mexico.

Visiting hours: daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

4. Admire the Degollado Theater in Downtown Guadalajara

downtown guadalajara
degollado theater

The Degollado Theater was built in the mid-nineteenth century in honor of General Santos Degollado.

It boasts a neoclassical style, following the influence of Italian theater, and is one of the most beautiful buildings downtown and one of the great cultural references of Guadalajara.

Its portico with 16 columns and a marble relief, with the image of Apollo and the nine Muses, reminiscent of a classical Greek temple, gives way to a vestibule that will lead you to a beautiful main hall where the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco plays.

5. Regional Museum of Guadalajara

downtown guadalajara
Carriage at Museo Regional 

Learn more about Guadalajara’s history and the state of Jalisco by visiting the Regional Museum, located very close to the Liberation Square, where the Legislative Palace and the Palace of Justice are located.

Built at the end of the 18th century, this imposing building that occupies an entire block stands out architecturally for its baroque facade, its beautiful interior patios, and a monumental staircase.

In addition to learning about the history of the city, during the visit through the different rooms inside the museum, you can see from petrified fossils, and different archaeological pieces, to a valuable pictorial collection.

When leaving the museum you can have a tequila drink at the mythical Cantina La Fuente, a meeting point for artists and intellectuals, which has as its icon an old rusty bicycle.

Visiting hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.

6. Go shopping at San Juan de Dios Market

san juan de dios market

After leaving the museum you can take a stroll down Morelos Street passing by the Plaza Tapatía and the Fountain of the “Pissing Children.”

This curious fountain represents the joy of childhood and is one of the many works of sculptor Miguel Miramontes.

Keep walking until you reach the San Juan de Dios Market, another iconic place to see in downtown Guadalajara.

Considered the largest roofed market in Latin America, with more than 4,000 square meters, this endless space has hundreds of stalls selling everything from typical food, Jalisco handicrafts, clothing, footwear, fruits, vegetables, prepared food, sweets, to jewelry; all at very reasonable prices.

You may want to read: 13 Must-Try Restaurants in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2024

If you don’t feel like eating at the market, I recommend you go to La Chata or La Gorda, two of the best restaurants in Guadalajara where you can try some typical dishes such as meat in its juice, tortas ahogadas or birria (spiced goat meat).

Visiting hours: every day from 8 am to 8 pm.

7. Hospicio Cabañas

hospicio cabañas
Impressive murals adorn the interior of the Hospicio Cabañas

Next, near the San Juan de Dios market is the Hospicio Cabañas; once one of the best orphanages in Latin America and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

This neoclassical-style building built between 1801 and 1810, sheltered orphaned children, the elderly, and the homeless for more than a century until it was used as barracks during the War of Independence.

It is currently a museum displaying the murals of renowned artist José Clemente Orozco and hosts modern and contemporary art exhibitions.

Visiting hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.

8. Mariachi Square (Plaza de los Mariachis)

plaza de los mariachis

It’s fiesta time! Enjoy local snacks and a shot of tequila on one of the terraces of the picturesque Plaza de los Mariachis while listening to live Mariachis.

This square, located on the emblematic Calzada de la Independencia Avenue, is surrounded by old mansions that house numerous bars and restaurants on the first floor, perfect for a fun night out.

9. Tlaquepaque, near Downtown Guadalajara

Another must-do when you visit Guadalajara is to go to Tlaquepaque, about 8 km from downtown.

Stroll along the Andador Independencia, the main artery of Tlaquepaque, and enter several stores and workshops and admire (or buy) the finest handcrafts.

Learn more about Tlaquepaque.

10. Tonalá

To finish this list of places to visit in Guadalajara downtown I suggest you visit on a Thursday or Sunday the Tonalá Handicrafts Market, when all the stalls are set up and all the stores open.

To get to Tonalá, which is part of the metropolitan area of Guadalajara, you can use the same tourist bus from Tlaquepaque, which leaves from the Rotonda Jaliscenses Ilustres.

Once in Tonalá, you can stroll aimlessly through the narrow streets where you will find craft stalls, many of them made of clay, interspersed with food stalls.

Excursions

If you have more time, you can take one of the excursions highly rated by travelers visiting Guadalajara and get to know other amazing places, such as the town of Tequila, Lake Chapala, and the archaeological site of Guachimontones.

Getting to Downtown Guadalajara

To get to Guadalajara from Mexico City, you can take a plane, rent a car, or get on a luxury two-story ETN bus from the Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte which will take about 7 hours.

Once at the station, you can take the light rail line 3, an Uber, or a cab that for about 100 pesos will take you downtown.

If you are in Guanajuato or San Miguel de Allende, the best option is the ETN buses.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Guadalajara’s downtown is a treasure trove of cultural richness, historical significance, and vibrant energy.

Whether you’re a history buff, a food enthusiast, an art lover, or simply seeking authentic Mexican experiences, this guide has showcased just a glimpse of what awaits you in this dynamic city center.

From exploring the majestic architecture of the Cathedral to savoring the flavors of traditional cuisine, every experience promises to leave an indelible mark on your journey.

So, immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and flavors of Guadalajara downtown, and let its magic captivate you as you create memories to last a lifetime.

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