Top Things to do in Guadalajara

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December 1, 2023
15 min read

Guadalajara is at the heart of Jalisco and a vibrant and dynamic city that offers something for everyone. From its historic architecture to its delicious cuisine, there's no shortage of exciting activities to explore in this beautiful area.

Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico. Referred to as the "Silicon Valley" of Mexico, Guadalajara is the capital city of Jalisco and is packed with beautiful views and so much history. It has been a major stop along trade routes since pre-Hispanic times and was formerly an important center of government, commerce, industry and culture in central Mexico.

The history of Guadalajara can be traced back to the 12th century when it was founded by Zapotec settlers from southern Mexico. In 1542, Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area and established what became known as New Galicia, making it an administrative center of the Spanish Empire with Guadalajara at its core. It remained a hub of the Spanish Empire until the revolution for Mexican independence in 1821. 2

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an adventure-filled trip, here are some of the best things to do in Guadalajara that will help make your vacation unforgettable! With plenty of markets, museums and parks to explore, there's so much to discover.

Sightsee the Hippest Neighborhood in the World

That's right, Colonia Americana is not just the coolest neighborhood in Guadalajara. It's considered by Timeout Magazine as the coolest neighborhood in the world! I can vouch that it is super hip and a cool spot to be at in the city. I used to live there and it was always nice to get out and have a large boulevard with plenty of places to go to. 3

When looking for things to do, I would say start here. You can get craft beers and food from around the world, along with some of the best Mexican of course.

Looking for more information on the silicon valley of Mexico - learn more about this cultural gem in my Guadalajara city guide.

Historical Sites: Teatro Degollado

The Teatro Degollado, located in the beautiful city of Guadalajara, is a must-visit destination for any traveler. This stunning theater was built in the late 19th century, and has since become one of the most important cultural centers of Mexico. With its expansive stage, grandiose columns and intricate details throughout, it's no wonder that this majestic building is often referred to as an architectural masterpiece.

From symphonies to dances and ballets, guests can experience a variety of performances at the Teatro Degollado. In addition to being home to some of Mexico’s great productions, the theater also plays host to world-class artists from around the globe.

Calandria or Carriage ride through the streets of Guadalajara

Take a Horse Drawn Carriage Ride (Calandria)

This is a unique way to explore the beautiful city and very popular tourist attraction among domestic and international visitors alike. Imagine passing through the city center while enjoying a picturesque view from an open carriage – it’s an experience not to be missed! You can take these tours with or without horses, depending on your preference. You will find them in the downtown centro area.

As you pass through the city, you’ll be able to take in all the sights and sounds that make Guadalajara so special. From vibrant street art and historic architecture to delicious food stands and local shops, there is something for everyone here. Whether you choose to explore during the day or at night, there is always something interesting around every corner. Plus, with knowledgeable guides leading each tour, you can get an insider perspective on all that this amazing city has to offer.

Listen to Mariachi Bands

The Mariachi style of music can be traced back to at least the 18th century, and it has evolved over time in the countryside of various regions throughout Mexico. It was in Guadalajara, however, where this beautiful form of music truly began to flourish in the 19th and 20th centuries. Through Mariachi, you can hear centuries of Mexican history and passion within its beautiful melodies. These bands commonly tell stories through songs of love, death, betrayal, heroic deeds, and equestrian themes.

Most likely you will here them at large restaurants as a live band. You can also hear them downtown on the weekends. I heard most of them in Tlaquepaque on my visits. There they have a plaza with restaurants around it so you can eat and listen to the mariachi band playing in the center.

Guadalajara Zoo

The Guadalajara Zoo is one of the most important zoological gardens in Latin America. Located in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the zoo is home to some of the world's most exotic wildlife. It has been open since 1988 and was built with a mission to promote conservation, education, research and recreation to all visitors.

The Guadalajara Zoo is currently one of Mexico’s largest zoos in terms of size and animal population. Spanning over 80 acres, it houses more than 1,000 unique species from around the world, including several endangered species such as jaguars and puma cats. Visitors can also come face-to-face with some of Mexico’s native animals like deer and bison.

With its lush vegetation and natural beauty, there's plenty to explore at this unique destination for nature lovers.

Outdoor Activity: Visit the Parks

If you’re looking for a way to explore the beauty of Guadalajara, visiting one of its many parks is the perfect way to do just that. I recently had the opportunity to visit some of these lush green spaces, and it was a wonderful experience.

The parks in Guadalajara are incredibly well kept and boast lots of different features. You can take leisurely walks along winding paths or cycle around them on designated tracks.

Bosque Colomos Park

If you're ever in Guadalajara and looking for some quiet time away from the hustle and bustle of the city or looking to take a stroll in the forest, you should definitely head over to Bosque Colomos. This urban park boasts acres of woods and wildlife, with plenty of hiking and running trails to explore. It is huge! I love going there but I must say you can get lost here, haha. It so nice to stroll around the paths through the forest. On weekends you will see a lot of runners and families here. You can also visit the Japanese Garden that they have. It's a great spot for your moments of Zen. Just be sure to get there before 6 (they close it earlier than the park).

El Parque Metropolitano de Guadalajara

You should definitely take a visit to Guadalajara Metropolitan Park when exploring this amazing city! Although technically located in Zapopan, this park is one of the primary green areas in Guadalajara and is perfect for relaxing, getting some fresh air and staying active. With tons of open green space, hiking and biking trails and plenty of great spots for picnicking and lounging in the sun, this park is a true oasis in the heart of the bustling city.

Parque de Revolucion

This park is conveniently located near other popular destinations. Once there, you can take a walk around the park or have a picnic with your loved ones. On the weekend there are a ton of people there selling things, playing games (hula-hoop is big), and playing music. It's a sight to see.

 Palacio Gobierno (Governor's Palace) in Guadalajara
Palacio Gobierno (Governor's Palace) in Guadalajara

Visit City Center

Downtown has to be one of the best places to see attractions in Guadalajara. It's packed with Plaza de Armas, Palacio Gobierno (Govener's Palace), Cathedral de Guadalajara, Museo Cabanas, and San Juan de Dios Market. All these main tourist attractions are in the center of Guadalajara within 15 minutes or less walking distances.

Plaza de Armas

A captivating sight, the Plaza de Armas is one of Guadalajara's most venerable plazas. A haven in the city's historic center, here you can relax on its expansive benches whilst savoring the sounds of a violin and admiring sights of Palacio Gobierno. It along with the cathedral are all centrally located here. You can find street performers and musicians out throughout the day. It also offers a unique photo op for the Guadalajara sign.

Museo Cabañas

Built in 1805 with a neoclassical style, this museum features 23 courtyards, 106 rooms, 78 halls and has 2 chapels. 1 This orphanage-turned-museum is incredibly impressive and considered one of the most significant cultural institutions in Mexico. Not only will you experience stunning architecture, but you'll also see important works of art and learn about the city's history.

Take your time wandering through the halls and admiring the murals by José Clemente Orozco. You won't want to miss out on this enriching cultural experience. Cost for entry is around $200MXN for adults. It has been free to enter on Tuesday but unsure if that applies to foreigners.

San Juan de Dios Market

One of the coolest places to visit in Guadalajara is this market, also known as Mercardo Liberidad. If you're in the mood to shop, you could spend an entire day here. It's one of the largest markets in Latin America. This popular market has been standing since the early 19th century and continues to be a lively, bustling space packed with traditional Mexican culture. Here you will find a variety of stalls filled with tasty treats and souvenirs.

The vibrant atmosphere of this market is something that can't be found anywhere else. The friendly locals are eager to show off their wares and give you tips on what to try while you're there. There's always something special happening at San Juan de Dios Market, from live music performances to cooking classes - it's truly a unique place for travelers to explore.

Whether you're after new culinary experiences or just some souvenirs, there's something for everyone among the vibrant stalls of this iconic market.

Catedral de Guadalajara
Catedral de Guadalajara

Churches: Catedral de Guadalajara

The Guadalajara Cathedral - also known as the “Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady” - is one of Mexico's most historical and iconic landmarks. Located in downtown Guadalajara, this beautiful cathedral is a sight to behold. You'll be amazed at its majestic presence that has been standing strong for almost five centuries.

Built between 1558 and 1618, this baroque-style cathedral was built on the site of an ancient temple that was used to honor Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec god. The outside walls are covered with pink quarry stone while the interior includes stunning murals depicting religious scenes. As you explore inside and out, you can feel history coming alive right before your eyes.

Churches: Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan

The Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan is a stunning and historical structure in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. It's a place where beauty and faith meet to create an atmosphere filled with spirituality and respect. I recently visited this church, and was awestruck by its architecture, artistry, and devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Built in 1730, this baroque-style basilica boasts three portals on its façade that are adorned with beautiful carvings of angels. Inside the basilica you can find intricate frescoes painted directly onto its walls as well as intricately carved wooden altars that bring to life stories from the bible. During my visit I was able to participate in mass services which have been held here for over three hundred years!

Hiking in Barranca de Oblatos

Located just north of the city, this magnificent natural canyon offers miles of hiking trails that wind through steep 600-meter drops, all while taking in the breathtaking scenery of gallery forests and unique vegetation growing among the rocks. Although considered a moderately challenging route with an average of 3 hours to complete, the rewarding views of the large canyon and its biodiversity make it worth it. The Barranca de Oblatos is beloved by locals and visitors alike, offering a chance to connect with nature and get some exercise in a truly stunning setting.

Chapultepec Boulevard facing north in Guadalajara
Chapultepec Boulevard facing north

Nightlife: Things to do in Guadalajara at Night

When it comes to fun things and nightlife there is plenty on tap. From dance clubs to bars, the city really offers a lot. Most of the city shuts down after 10 pm. If you're looking to have a long night out then I suggest going to Chapultepec Boulevard or Vallarta strip (just West of Parque Revolucion) in Colonia Americana.

You will be able to find plenty of clubs and bars that stay open well into the AM with all kinds of music. The great thing about this area (now that I don't live there haha) is that a lot of the bars and eateries will be open late for those night cravings.

If you want a rooftop bar and dance club then look no further than Selina. It's a hotel that has an amazing view at the rooftop. It's probably one of the best that you will find in the city and it's beautiful on a clear night. You can let reception know that you want to go to the bar and they will point you towards the elevators.

If you like to gamble there are also plenty of casinos in the area to try your luck. Last time I went there was smoking still allowed in them. However, after the government just passed some of the strictest smoking laws in the country I don't think this is the case anymore. Anyhow, you have plenty to choose from to have a good night out.

If you find yourself not wanting the party to stop at 2 or 3 am, then head on over to Club America located in the basement of a BanNorte building on Chapultepec. Here you can dance till sunrise and with 2 dance floors (was pop and EDM on my visit) you will have plenty to keep you moving.

Some barbacoa tacos in Guadalajara
Some barbacoa tacos in Guadalajara

Best Places to Eat in Guadalajara

One of the best things about this city is that there is no shortage of food. As a foodie and gordito, it's muy imporante ☝️

Places around Chapultepec are great if you're looking for international cuisine and bars (aka cervecerias). Here you will find Lebanese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Italian, American and other cuisines along with Mexican restaurants too. You can also find a smaller variety near Centro and the Plaza de Armas area. Of course, Google Maps will be your best friend here.

👉 Pro-Tip: If you're in search of some amazing Mexican street food (which I highly suggest you try) then look no further than cathedrals and churches. I always joke that the best food joints are going to be outside those and I have not been disappointed yet. Whether you're looking for pozole, tacos or tamales there's going to be some great stands to try. It's best to go with the places that have the lines (easy pick on the local favorite).

Day Trips from Guadalajara

If you have limited time on your visit, it can be hard to decide which places to explore. Luckily, there are a variety of interesting  surrounding the city that will provide you with an unforgettable Mexican experience! Here are some of my favorite day trips that are all close to Guadalajara.

Tour Tlaquepaque

One hippest spots in Guadalajara metro is Tlaquepaque, located just twenty minutes away. The city is known for its artistic culture and colorful streets, as well as being one of Mexico’s most famous pottery centers. You can enjoy everything from historic churches to masterfully crafted art stores.

I would say the best way to experience Tlaquepaque is by taking a guided tour around the city. This will allow you to discover all the hidden gems that this charming Mexican town has to offer. However, if your on a budget or pressed for time, you can equally explore local markets full of handmade crafts and traditional foods around Calle Constitucion de 1917. You'll also have time to take in stunning architecture at various churches and monasteries throughout the city.

Visit Neighboring Zapopan

With the urban sprawl, it can be easy to mistake Zapopan for Guadalajara. They blend right into each other. First, make sure to check out the charming pedestrian streets around the Government Palace and take some snaps at the impressive Arch of Zapopan.

Then, visit the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan, a must-see for architecture enthusiasts and religious pilgrims alike. To really immerse yourself in the local culture, experience the Tequila Route and Mariachi & Banda in Cantaritos. And don't forget to spend some time at the gorgeous Bosque Colomos park. For hassle-free transportation, I suggest using Ubers and taxis. If you can get a card, you can also take the metro line there as well.

Sightsee in Tequila

If you are looking for an intoxicating day trip from Guadalajara, then a visit to the world-famous town of Tequila Mexico should be top of your list. Located just over an hour away, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a must see destination for anyone visiting the area.

The journey itself is an adventure in its own right, with stunning views and plenty of places to stop along the way. Once you arrive in Tequila, you’ll find yourself surrounded by rolling hills covered in blue agave plants. This part of the country is unlike anywhere else in Mexico. You can also learn about the history and culture of tequila-making at one of many distilleries around town. I have made a list of the top things to do in Tequila here.

Mezcala Island in the distance on Lake Chapala
Mezcala Island in the distance on Lake Chapala

Set Sail for Mezcala Island

This island was once the refuge of a group of insurgents during Mexico's war of independence, and visiting it today is like taking a step back in time. With a friendly and knowledgeable guide leading the way (usually at the pier where you get dropped off on the island), you'll explore the ruins of a fort (formerly Spanish) where Mexican independence fighters once held strong, and discover the island's rich history and legends. There's also a lot of cultural and religious significance to the island. You can get there by going to Mezcala and catching a boat over to the island. Read and see more here about our visit to the Isla de Mezcala here.

Discover Round Pyramids at Guachimontones Archaeological Site

If you are looking fascinating adventure into the pre-Hispanic cultures of Jalisco, then the Guachimontones is your place. These pyramids are round and such a site to see. With well-preserved structures, a great museum, and knowledgeable guide services, this site is a must-visit on your trip to Guadalajara. There are a couple of Viator tours you can book that will drive you to the sites which makes it super convenient to book.

At just over an hour away, you can easily take a day trip to Guachimontones and experience the unique concentric archaeological ruins firsthand. It's a really great opportunity to discover the mythological and cultural significance of this UNESCO heritage site.

Coolest neighborhood in the world advertisement for new apartments - Colonia Americana, Guadalajara
Coolest neighborhood in the world advertisement for new apartments - Colonia Americana

Where to Stay in Guadalajara

When it comes to accommodation there are a few areas of town that stand out as great places to stay. If you're looking for somewhere close to the action, Chapultepec is the perfect spot. Located in the heart of Guadalajara, just west of Centro, it's one of the most vibrant and lively neighborhoods in town. The area is well connected with public transportation making it easy to get around and explore all that this amazing city has to offer.

It's a great central location and has everything that you would need and be looking for. It's also the heart of nightlife in the city with many clubs and bars located in and around this area. However, don't be put off if you're looking for quiet spots it also has that too. I would just avoid staying directly on or near (a block or two) Chapultepec Boulevard.

👉 Pro-Tip: Stay north of Vallarta Avenue. The train tracks line the south of Chapultepec and you will hear them in the middle of the midnight, 1 am, 3 am....yeah they don't care. It's a railyard for Ferromex. I made this mistake the first time I visited. There was a reason it was a cheaper stay.

American Airlines at Gate B12 Guadalajara International Airport
American Airlines at Gate B12, Guadalajara International Airport

How to Travel to Guadalajara

Travel from the United States

There are plenty of options to get you here. With direct flights from several destinations, it's easy to reach the vibrant city. You can find flights to Guadalajara starting from just $61 on airlines such as Volaris and VivaAerobus. Guadalajara International Airport (GDL) is the main point of entry for visitors, and there are various transportation options available to get you into the city. A taxi or rental car should take around 35 minutes on a normal day, although it's important to note that traffic can be a factor.

Travel from Mexico City

If you're planning a trip from Mexico City to Guadalajara, there are two primary ways to reach your destination: by bus or by plane. If you're looking to save some money and don't mind taking more time to get there, a bus ride might be the way to go. Prices typically start around $60, and the journey takes about 7.5 hours. However, if you're short on time and have some extra cash to spend, a flight might be a better option. The flight only takes 2 hours and prices can be as low as $91 for a round-trip ticket.

Things to Know Before You Go

Here are a couple of things I wish I had known before I came to visit Guadalajara.

Bus Lines

Buses to destinations outside the city act like air carriers. There's a different type of bus company you will need to take depending on your destinations.

Is Guadalajara Safe to Visit?

Absolutely. Unlike border towns, there is plenty of law and order here. You can read my article here about how to travel safely in Mexico here.

Just Visit

I hope this article helps you because Guadalajara is a city that has plenty to offer! There are so many things to do in this city and I hope you are able to come, get out and explore. Let me know how it goes! I'm sure it won't disappoint.

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I consider myself a world-travelling nomad and a foodie at heart. Born in Germany and raised in East Tennessee, my passion for exploration has taken me all over the planet - exploring unfamiliar lands and cultures is what truly inspires my soul!
I live outside of Doha and consider myself an inside expert on all things Qatar. I love exploring all the country has to offer and look forward to giving you valuable insights of where I call home!
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