Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city and the capital of the state of Jalisco, has managed to retain the distinct character of a town aware of its own traditions.
With wide tree-lined boulevards, lush plazas, Spanish-influenced architecture, and walkways teeming with activities and attractions, the city emits a distinctly European ambiance. However, Guadalajara is also known for its mariachi music and as a bastion of Charreadas, the Mexican version of the rodeo.
Best Places to Visit in Guadalajara
Guadalajara is as culturally and ethnically varied as Mexico City, but much smaller in size and less energetic. Read our list of the top tourist sites in Guadalajara for ideas on where to go.
1. Cabaas Cultural Institute
The World Heritage-listed Instituto Cultural Cabaas (previously known as Hospicio Cabaas) is a magnificent Neoclassical former hospital and orphanage erected at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the downtown historic district.
The Cabanas Cultural Institute and the Cultural Heritage of Humanity are now housed in the complex. The collection of 57 exquisite paintings painted by José Clemente Orozco, which are widely considered to be among his finest works, is the main focus here, aside from the building’s graceful architecture, which is based on comparable designs in Paris and Madrid.
2. Cathedral of Guadalajara
The majestic Guadalajara Cathedral (Catedral de Guadalajara) stands with its façade fronting the nearby Plaza de los Laureles, a tiny plaza with an amazing fountain that occupies much of the picturesque Plaza de Armas.
Built between 1558 and 1616 and greatly renovated since then, the cathedral, while primarily Baroque in appearance, demonstrates a remarkable blending of different styles, particularly in its superb, mostly Gothic interior.
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Highlights include its several chapels, which feature paintings by Cristóbal de Villalpando, Miguel Cabrera, and Murillo, three of Mexico’s finest artists. Murillo’s Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a particularly lovely example, hangs over the sacristy entry.
3. Temple of the Holy Sacrifice (Templo Expiatorio del Santsimo Sacramento)
Although it is one of Guadalajara’s younger cathedrals (the building began in 1897 and was completed in 1972), the Templo Expiatorio del Santsimo Sacramento is unquestionably one of the city’s greatest religious constructions.
The church, which was built in neo-Gothic style, is noted for its elaborately adorned exterior and various European-made components. Its elaborately carved doors are decorated with bronze reliefs, exquisite mosaics from Italy, a one-of-a-kind German clock, and a wonderful carillon capable of playing 25 different pieces of music (it can also be played from inside the church), while figurines of the 12 Apostles move around it highlights.
4. The Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno)
The Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) is located steps from the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, the best of Guadalajara’s four great squares.
This magnificent Baroque edifice, begun in 1643 and completed in 1774, is well worth a visit for its many columns with zigzag designs, massive volutes, and Churrigueresque pilasters (estates).
Its excellent antique staircase and a series of paintings commemorating the War of Independence, as well as the heroes of the three Mexican wars, created by legendary fresco-painter José Clemente Orozco, a resident of the state of Jalisco, are notable interior highlights.
5. Degollado Theatre
The Neoclassical Teatro Degollado, located opposite the cathedral, is the city’s most prominent and magnificent performing arts theater.
This magnificent theater, completed in 1866, is worth seeing for its superb architectural elements and opulent interior design. On the outside, there are 16 Corinthian columns and a marble relief of Apollo flanked by the nine muses.
6. The Guadalajara Zoo
The Guadalajara Zoo (Zoológico Guadalajara) is located just north of the city. This entertaining attraction is one of Latin America’s largest and most important zoos, in addition to its beautiful setting above the picturesque Santiago Gorge.
Many uncommon species, such as white lions, Bengal tigers, and black panthers, are among the creatures in its collection, as are gorillas and orangutans, as well as a number of native Mexican species, such as Mexican wolves.
7. Frescoes by José Clemente Orozco
A variety of venues throughout the city display artwork by one of Mexico’s most recognized painters, José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949). Some of his best work may be found in frescoes in a former chapel at the Instituto Cultural Cabanas building.
These massive murals, painted between 1938 and 1939, depict the Four Elements, Art, and Science, as well as the Conquest and the Four Riders of the Apocalypse.
The magnificent fresco The Man of Fire (El Hombre del Fuego) in the dome is the high point. A range of displays devoted to Orozco’s life and works may be found in various rooms across the complex. The Government Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) is another location with examples of Orozco’s frescoes.
8. Los Jaliscienses Ilustres Rotonda
The Rotonda de Los Jaliscienses Ilustres (Rotunda of the Illustrious Jaliscienses), located just outside Guadalajara Cathedral in Plaza de Armas, is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and is set in a magnificent park-like environment.
This massive circular stone monument was built in 1952 in celebration of the state’s most famous historical figures, including legendary artist José Clemente Orozco, whose work can be seen in murals around the city.
It contains 17 towering columns and shelters the remains of 98 prominent individuals. Some of these people are commemorated with statues on the adjacent lawns.
9. Agua Azul Park and Bosque Colomos
The lovely Parque Agua Azul, roughly translated as the Blue Water Park, is Guadalajara’s most popular public park. The park, which opened in 1952, covers an area of approximately 168,000 square meters and is a beautiful spot to stroll among the sculpted gardens and trees.
Highlights include a tropical orchid house, a Butterfly House, and an aviary, which are both home to a diverse range of indigenous species.
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The neighboring Casa de las Artesanas, which exhibits and sells local folk art, as well as a tiny anthropological museum (the Museum of Paleontology), an open-air theater, and a flower market, is well worth a visit.
10. The Guadalajara Regional Museum
The Regional Museum of Guadalajara (Museo Regional de Guadalajara) is a short walk from the Plaza de Armas and is well worth a visit.
The museum opened in 1918 and is housed in a former 18th-century seminary that also functioned as a headquarters and prison during the War of Independence. It contains various pre-Columbian discoveries and scattered ethnographical displays, but the descriptions are primarily in Spanish.
The Tapatios, as Guadalajara is known, celebrate the traditional folk dance known as Jarabe Tapatio. These three elements are frequently what visitors envision when they think of Mexican folk traditions, and Guadalajara lies at the center of them all.
Because of its moderate subtropical temperature, it’s also a simple city to explore. It’s also simple to navigate, thanks to the city center’s four spectacular squares, which are conveniently connected and arranged in the shape of a cross, with the city’s main tourist attractions and things to do clustered around them.