15 Things to Do in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Forget the beach. If you're looking for culture, architecture, world-class chefs and pure beauty, then you'll love this charming Mexican city nestled in the mountains.

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

Photo By: Jennifer Harrison

The Parroquia

The Parroquia is the main church in the colonial city of San Miguel, and you can see it from almost anywhere you go in town. This spectacular 17th-century gothic structure is one of the most photographed churches in all of Mexico. It was designed by a self-taught architect named Don Zeferino Gutiérrez, who also happened to be the city's quarry master at the time. He was inspired by European gothic cathedrals such as Notre Dame, though he had never been to Europe and had only seen it on postcards. The church has eight bells, which you will hear often during your time in San Miguel. Leave yourself some time to wander around the beautiful cathedral for awhile and take in all the history.

El Jardín

Kick off your time in San Miguel de Allende by going straight to the heart of this gorgeous, little city: El Jardín (pronounced Har-deen), which is right in front of the Parroquia. This is the main square, and you'll soon realize that if you can find your way back there, you can figure out walking directions anywhere in the town. In El Jardín, you'll find locals, tourists, vendors and even a wedding party parade rolling through. There are a bunch of fun souvenir options, but the flower crowns are great for kids and adults alike.

Produce Market

After hanging out in El Jardín, walk a few blocks to San Miguel's main public market. On the way, you'll pass The Church of San Francisco and the Plaza Civica, an original gathering spot in the town dating back to the 1500s. Keep walking, and you'll run into Mercado Ignacio Ramirez, which is the city's main market. You can find fresh produce, meats, sweets, juices and incredible food stands in the back. You can also find colorful, inexpensive tote bags (for gifting or keeping). This market is truly a feast for the eyes and stomach.

Artisans Market

At the back of the food market, you'll see the entrance for Mercado de Artesanias (or Artisans Market) which goes on for several long blocks. You will find a variety of things here like Mexican pewter, oilcloth, leather, clothing and everything in between. There are definitely some kitschy souvenirs mixed in, but you can really find some gems as well. You could spend hours winding your way through the whole thing from start to finish.

Historical Walking Tour

If you're short on time or want to get oriented, a great way to fit in all the must-see spots is to take a historic walking tour of the city. (And don't even THINK of visiting San Miguel de Allende without some super comfy shoes.) You'll be immediately charmed by the town's cobblestone streets, beautifully carved doors and rich history. Tours leave every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from El Jardín across from the church at 9:45 A.M. The two-hour tour covers a 10-block area around the city center and costs $300 pesos (approximately $15).

Drinks on a Rooftop

Another not-to-be-missed San Miguel activity is to have drinks (or dinner) on one of the many rooftops. Many restaurants and bars offer rooftop dining with some spectacular views of the city. The Rosewood, a gorgeous, luxury hotel in the area, has an awesome rooftop bar called Luna that would be the perfect spot to take in the sunset.

Chapel of Jimmy Ray

A truly unique San Miguel experience is visiting the Chapel of Jimmy Ray. In fact, it's not really a chapel at all but a kaleidoscopic indoor/outdoor art gallery created by artist and American expat Anado McLauchlin. Anado is an assemblage and mosaic artist who has taken on the challenge of turning his own property into a true living, breathing work of art. It's ever-changing and full of color and inspiration. (You can only visit the Chapel of Jimmy Ray by booking a reservation ahead of time. It's located outside of town and is a bit tricky to get to, but there are directions on his website.)

Eating Tour

Foodies will love taking an eating tour around this magical city while tasting some seriously delicious Mexican food. The Downtown San Miguel Food Tour is a 3.5-hour smorgasbord of a journey that stops off at seven different locations around the town. It's a great way to grab some yummy meals and see the city, as you'll pass a number of the town's tourist destinations along your food crawl.

Street Art Tour

Another fun tour to take in San Miguel is the Street Art Tour through the Arts District. Until a few years ago, murals weren't permitted in this city. However, a feisty expat helped to change that when she offered up the opportunity to work with famous artists from all over the world who were excited to paint them. You'll tour through the Guadalupe neighborhood, where most of these murals now reside, and see show-stopping original street art. After being outlawed, there's now a big waiting list of residents who want their very own works of art on display at their homes.

Fresh Juices

If you're a juice lover, you should devote some serious time to enjoying a few good drinks around the city. After your street art tour, you can hit up Josephine's which is a favorite spot in San Miguel for smoothies. Order yourself an elixir, a smoothie or a frappe—they have so many to choose from. Though be warned: you might get addicted and want to come back the next day, too.

Fabrica La Aurora

Visit this turn-of-the-century textile factory for a big dose of art and design inspiration. In Fabrica La Aurora, there are more than 30 art studios, galleries and little shops to browse through, as well as three restaurants to choose from. You can also often find interesting events, art openings or book signings there.

Guanajuato

One of the best day trips to take from San Miguel is to the beautiful city of Guanajuato. About an hour away, this city will truly steal your heart. With beautiful alleyways, historical buildings and eye-popping color everywhere, you can easily see this city on foot. Some streets are steep, so bring some comfy walking shoes. Don't miss Diego Rivera's home or the overlook at the top of Monumento al Pipila. Set up your tour with Helene Kahn, who's a local San Miguel expert (and an American expat!) to get the most out of your time there.

Get Lost

While this might not seem like a worthwhile activity, in San Miguel it truly is. The magic of this colonial city is discovering what might be around an unexpected corner or through an unassuming door. The city is a Unesco World Heritage site, and in its central area, there are only five or so colors of paint you can choose from to paint the exterior of your house or business. This creates a unique vibe around the town. Take an hour or so and just wander around without any plan and see where you end up. When I look back on my trips there, these always end up being my favorite moments in San Miguel.

Atotonilco

Another quick day trip is a visit to a nearby town called Atotonilco. This small town has a famous church, which is sometimes called the "Sistine Chapel of Mexico." There are intricately painted frescoes all over the walls and ceilings created with painstaking detail. Many Mexicans make a pilgrimage to this spot every year. On your way back, grab something to eat at El Vergel, a stylish and quaint restaurant not too far from the chapel. Tour guide Helene Kahn can help you with this day trip, too.

House and Garden Tour

If you're lucky enough to be in San Miguel on a Sunday, you must check out their weekly House and Garden Tour. Hosted by the town's public library, this tour takes you inside some of the most beautifully designed colonial homes. The tour leaves every Sunday at noon from the central library.