What to do in San Miguel de Allende
Updated November 2022
I was sitting at at a restaurant having Margaritas with my new friend Glenn, when the two women at the table next to us turned to us. “We just arrived in San Miguel” says one. “What’s there to do here?
Glenn (an expat of 8 years in San Miguel de Allende) and I spent the next 10 minutes thinking of things for them to do. Because while San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful town – with tons of restaurants, bars and shops – what do you tell a tourist when they ask you “what to do?”
Here are 10 things to See and Do in San Miguel de Allende that Glenn and I came up with.
1. Walk around the main square, the “Jardin”. Life revolves around it. Sit in the park or at a café appreciating the views of the Parroquia (Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel)
2. Take the tourist trolley at the San Francisco church. It takes you for an almost 2 hour tour of the city and stops at the mirador where you’ll get great views. Very cheap (65 pesos at time of writing) and by the time you’re done you’ll be orientated with the city.
3. Explore the beautiful churches. Besides the Parroquia (on the main square), you have the San Francisco church, the Oratorio of San Felipe Neri, the Iglesia de la Concepcion, and Nuestra Señora de la Salud. All are within a few blocks of each other in the city center. There are 40 odd churches in and around San Miguel but these are the highlights.
4. Walk the streets of the center. They’re all attractive and if you like photography you’ll get tons of different angles in the streets heading off from the Zócalo. One of the most popular streets is little Aldama street heading towards the Rosewood hotel. But walk around…San Miguel is so photogenic.
5. See two places that make San Miguel popular with expats: the Library (Biblioteca del Publica) – it has tons of books in different languages, a large courtyard, a café, and there’s always an event going on (we saw a children’s choir while we were there). The other place is Bellas Artes (officially El Centro Culturál Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante”). It is a beautiful building with a large interior courtyard. Walk around the building and have a look around. There are exhibits, classes (you’ll often see expats painting), and music.
6. Visit the markets. The main market is the Ignacio Ramirez market around the corner from the Oratorio of San Felipe Neri. There you can find fresh produce and go to local food stalls (have a chicken sandwich with an “agua de guayaba” ie guava water – that’s what I had and it’s great). The artisan market also starts there and you can walk for several blocks looking at Mexican handicrafts.
7. Go for a walk, see the best views in the city. Near the Rosewood hotel is Benito Juarez Park. It’s a really nice park and you’ll often see artists painting and/or displaying their work in the park. At one end of the park is a small street “Bajada del Chorro”. Go up but be prepared for a steep climb. You’ll pass a few churches (Capilla Santa Cruz del Chorro is very pretty). Take some stairs up “Callejon del Chorro”. You’ll pass another church and looking back will have views of San Miguel. Up at the top, you’ll be on a large street. Turn left. You’ll be at the Mirador (the “lookout”) where you have great views of the city. When you’re done there, continue on. There are a couple of streets that have more great views towards the center: Montes de Oca and De La Garita. Walk back to the center down one of these (steep) streets.
Related: The Miradors of San Miguel de Allende
8. Go to the Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens (“El Charco del Ingenio Jardin Botanico”) is an nice escape to nature in the hills beyond San Miguel. You’ll see a lot of cactus, a lake, a dam, and a canyon. You’ll most likely need a taxi to get there (we took the taxi there but walked back).
9. Soak in Thermal Baths. There are several hot spring places outside of town. I’m told La Gruta is the place to go with nice facilities, many pools, and the hottest water of all the thermal baths. There are lockers, changing rooms, toilets, a good restaurant, a children’s play area…and it costs 100 pesos to get there by taxi.
10. Search for Street Art. If you like street art, you’ll find lots in San Miguel, particularly in the Colonia Guadalupe area (about 10 minutes north from the main square).
The above should keep you busy for a few days.
Related: Is Guanajuato one of the most Beautiful towns in the World?
The Best of the Best in San Miguel de Allende
Having been in San Miguel de Allende 8 times now I have some other recommendations (most of these places have been introduced to me by my mother who lives in SMA. So this is not “just another blogger’s stupid picks”). I call these the “Best” in these categories but I’m sure some people will contest my choices. For those, give me your recommendations and I’ll go check them out on my next visit.
So here are my “best of the best”.
Best Rooftop Bars
The rooftop bar at the El Palomar Hotel. 2nd best, but with great margaritas and not as expensive: Posadita. Right behind the Parroquia (and incidentally where Glenn and I were having our drinks when those women were asking us about San Miguel). 3rd: the Luna bar at the Rosewood (where you get yet another angle on San Miguel).
Best Breakfast place
It’s the new cafe at the Public library: Santa Ana Gastro Cafe. Excellent breakfasts, great coffee. 2nd for us is La Sacrista. Buen Dia also makes very good breakfasts and has a nice courtyard ambience. There are tons of breakfast places in San Miguel de Allende, many fancy and serving the usual eggs benedict, etc…but the three up there are our favorites. I should mention Panio to pick up pastries, croissants, bread etc. Excellent.
Update 2022: The Best Cafes of San Miguel de Allende (including breakfast places)
Best (relaxing) café
It used to be the café at Bellas Artes. But they closed down during Covid (the same owners have the present Santa Ana, La Sacrista, and Zenteno which are all great cafes). But my new favorite place for a relaxing cup of coffee is Geek & Coffee at La Fabrica Aurora. In a park-like setting, there’s a lot of privacy and people love bringing their kids and dogs. Just a really nice place to have a few coffees and chat.
Restaurants (for dinner)
I’ve covered breakfast above. We don’t go out for dinners very much, but I have 2 favorites in San Miguel: El Pegaso has a rooftop terrace with nice views and excellent Mexican food. Posadita, which I mentioned has really good margaritas, also has very nice Mexican food.
How about a food tour? This 3.5 hr food tour gives you an authentic Mexican food experience
Where to Stay
The “Best” place to stay is the Rosewood. It’s won all kinds of awards and you’ll have everything you need (including that rooftop bar with the views). That bar, the Luna, supposedly has the best cocktails in San Miguel de Allende as well.
Another 5 star hotel is the L´Ôtel at Dôce 18 Concept House. Its rating on Booking.com is equivalent to the Rosewood’s.
A step down (a 4 star) is the Hotel El Palomar which I mentioned up there under the best rooftop bars. The views of San Miguel are incredible.
But if you’re like us that’s probably too rich for your blood. Instead have a look at Booking.com – my usual criteria would be within 500 meters of the center with a Booking.com rating of 8.5 and over (keep an eye out for the Hotel Posada Maria Louisa, the Hotel Casa Don Quijote, and the Casa Nare (adults only) – they fit my criteria and are around $70 US/night which is good value in San Miguel.
– Bus. San Miguel de Allende is about 5 ½ hours by bus from Mexico City. You can take the bus from the Mexico City airport direct to Queretaro (about 4 hours by Primera Plus bus lines). From there you can take a bus to San Miguel which takes about 1 ½ hours. I’ve written about it before – buses in Mexico are excellent, the best I’ve seen anywhere. Taking Primera Plus or (especially) ETN is transportation luxury at its best. If not coming from the airport, you can get to San Miguel directly from Mexico city’s Central de Autobuses del Norte. That takes about 5 hours.
Part of the fun being a travel blogger is meeting interesting people. Glenn came across the blog, saw that I would be in San Miguel, and offered to meet for a few drinks. He’s actually leaving San Miguel to travel full-time next year, starting with a few months in Nepal and Tibet. Very interesting guy and we had a night full of great conversation.
Related: A roadtrip through Mexico’s most beautiful towns and cities (by bus)
Related: The Best Pueblos Magicos in Mexico?
Related: Guide on What to Do and See in Mexico
Any thoughts? I’ll be back in San Miguel so feel free to give me feedback and suggestions.
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Nice writeup on San Miguel de Allende. One small correction for you, though–what is called the zocalo in most Mexican towns is called the Jardin in San Miguel.
Hi Lee. You’re absolutely right that it’s called the “Jardin” – but my understanding is that zocalo is the general term used in Mexico for a public square. So I think it’s ok to call it the zocalo…but you’re right that the Jardin is the specific name for the zocalo in San Miguel. I’ve updated in the post. Thanks for pointing it out.
Hi, I’m a single retiree contemplating renting a house in SM from Jan through April. Would I make use of the pool at that time of year? Will it be difficult meeting people?
Hi Pearl. Yes, you’ll be able to use the pool. A lot of expat services in SMA, you can sign up for a class of some kind or just hang out at the library and you’ll meet people.
Good read. I was in SMA about 12-13 years ago housesitting for 7 weeks. Before that it was a “maybe” retirement destination for me. I really liked my time there. The city was beautiful and the expat community made it easy for a non-Spanish speaker to fit in. The British woman I was housesitting for had lived around the world but found her piece of heaven in SMA. Seven weeks is not enough to get to know a place but I started to form an opinion. In the end SMA felt too limiting for me. Mexico is huge and if I only wanted to explore Mexico/Central America then it would be a good enough base. But it just felt far from everything else. In Europe I can take a weekend trip to almost any city here, by train or plane. I could even (who knows how the pandemic will affect prices) get round trip tickets to Japan for $600 if I got them early enough. Living in Europe gives me the flexibility that I didn’t feel I would have had in SMA. Then there is the great variety in terms of food, culture, etc within a relatively small geographical area here in Europe. It’s hard to beat.
Thanks Edith. You’ve nailed it – my mom lives in SMA and the downsides are exactly as you say.
Ying & Brad
I just wanted to say thank you for your insight about SMA. Thanks to your post, my husband and I decided to make SMA one of our slow-travel destinations. Having been here for a few days, we are slowly checking out those places you recommended. They are all very enjoyable! Just this morning we did a walk around Colonia Guadalupe appreciating those amazing street arts. We look forward to continuing discovering more places, food and activities. BTW, we also enjoy reading your blog posts of other places and have taken a lot into our future travel itineraries, such as Seville, Split and Rovinj. We have just started our slow travel and found your choice of places very similar to our tastes. Thanks again and safe travels!
Very kind! Thank you so much for the feedback, really appreciate the kind words. If ever our paths cross would be a pleasure to meet you. Happy travels!
PS make sure to visit Guanajuato
Ying & Brad
Most definitely – would love to meet you and share some travel stories if our paths cross. Thanks for the reminder – we have Guanajuato on the to-do list! Best Regards
you look very relaxed and at home there!
Hi Andy. I always am when I go there – my mom cooks for me, I stay in the room upstairs…it’s like I’m a teenager again.
By the way, if you’re talking about that last photo…well, that’s not me. I don’t think I look that relaxed 🙂
Green Global Trek
Frank I have heard about San Miguel from many people and it is great to read this review about your favourite spots, so that if we do get there one day, we know where to head. Ben always likes to know where the best cappuccino is and we both enjoy markets wherever we go, as well as botanic gardens. Lovely photos, which definitely capture the charm and atmosphere and are alluring…. All the colours do remind me of Granada, Nicaragua, as someone mentioned above, where we used to live for six years.
It is fun to go back to a place over the years, can definitely relate to that.
I mentioned Granada, Nicaragua! 🙂 Really, you spent 6 years there? I think compared to Granada you would find SMA very gentrified. But the living is easy and it IS a beautiful place.
I’ve just booked a journey to Guatemala, precisely Antigua and Lake Atitlan, but seeing this, I wonder if I shouldn’t rather snowbird to the lake Chapala area, what do you think? if you know that area in Guate, is it as nice, or should I regret my choice ?????
Hi Lionel. Nice to hear from you. I’ve never been to Guatemala.
This couple, who travels just as we do, spent a lot of time in Lake Atitlan. Have a look at their posts (I’ve added a link there), they’ll tell you everything you need to know.
This post from someone else covers Antigua.
I would think that Antigua may be similar to Granada, Nicaragua (where I spent some time a few years back). Lake Atitlan is probably very similar to Isla Ometepe (also Nicaragua) – not very developed but some nice little tourist lodges where you get to experience a lot of nature.
Don’t regret your choices: I’ve wanted to go there for years. It won’t be comparable to SMA (which is comparatively rich) but you’ll have a more authentic experience. And I think it’s nicer than Lake Chapala.
Don’t miss lake Atitlan. Absolutely magical beauty. Antigua is busier and less touristy than SMA. I much prefer SMA because i live in a city and like to get away from traffic and noise. But don’t get me wrong. Antigua is beautiful and worth seeing if course.
Appreciate that, I know both are beautiful and on our list of places to visit. But I’m not sure why you are mentioning them here, they’re located about 1500 km from SMA…
Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
Great pic of your mom Frank and wow – you’re right when you say SMA is photogenic. The warm colors against the deep blue sky are amazing. PS. I’d like your friend Glenn too. At the very least, I agree with T-shirt!
I know you’d like him Anita, fun guy. My mom is in her element in Mexico, she enjoys life there. Go visit her sometime if you are ever inspired! There’s the room upstairs (where I usually stay) and she’d love to have you visit.
I have heard people always raving about SMA and I can see why, there is a lot to see and do there. This is a great guide, I will save it for future reference. SMA is a place I would love to visit when I get back to Mexico 🙂
Thank you very much Gilda.
People get nervous about Mexico but it really is easy…compared to a place like Morocco where I am right now.
Transport great, people friendly, food excellent. Mexico is right up there among my favorite countries and San Miguel is a good place to start. I always call it “Mexico-lite” because it’s everything Mexico but easier, just because they’re so used to that large expat community (plus all the tourists they get).
I hope you go one day Gilda.