Guadalajara was founded in the 16th century as part of Nueva Galicia, an autonomous kingdom of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The city center is a treasure of Spanish colonial architecture including baroque, neoclassical, renaissance, and gothic styles. No trip to Jalisco is complete with out taking a walking tour of downtown Guadalajara to get an idea of what the city was like in centuries past. This is my recommendation for getting to know the historic core of the this colonial gem.
Besides all of the historic buildings, there is a lot to see in Downtown Guadalajara. From the fortune tellers to the food vendors, artists, musicians, restaurants, cantinas, and museums there is no shortage of entertaining ways to spend a day.
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The area has been redeveloped continually since the 16th century. The original churches were made of adobe and straw rooves. In the 19th century, the bell towers of the Metropolitan Cathedral were knocked down by an earthquake and rebuilt in a new style. In the 1950s several large buildings and a small church were taken down to create four plazas around the main cathedral in the form of a cross. As controversial as the demolition was, the focus on pedestrian-friendly areas also made Downtown Guadalajara a major tourist destination.
The most recent renovation just finished in 2020 with the addition of another line of the metro running right in front of the Cathedral. There are more pedestrian streets than ever and everything is very clean. Walking from plaza to plaza, museum to museum or cantina to cantina is a really enjoyable way to get to know the city.
A Walking tour of Downtown Guadalajara
Starting in the Plaza de las Nueve Esquinas the walking tour heads north along Av. Cristóbal Colón to the Jardín Aránzazu which is right next to the Jardín de San Francisco. Continuing north on Av. Cristóbal Colón (street turns into a pedestrian walkway) you will pass the Biblioteca Iberoamericana on the way to the Plaza Guadalajara which is surrounded by the Catedral de Guadalajara, the Palacio Municipal de Guadalajara and the Rotonda de los Jalisciences Ilustres.
Head east towards the Catedral de Guadalajara and the Rotonda de los Jalisciences Ilustres. Behind the cathedral is the Plaza de la Liberación and the Palacio del Gobierno de Jalisco. As you continue east to the Teatro Degollado, the Templo de San Agustín, the City coat of arms, the Plaza Tapatía finally arriving at the Hospicio Cabañas. After you finish touring the Hospicio Cabañas the Mercado San Juan de Dios is right next door and would be a great place to grab a bite to eat or a fresh squeezed juice.
If you have the time, Downtown Guadalajara deserves more than just one day to look around. People who have spent their whole lives in Guadalajara still enjoy finding new corners of the neighborhood that excite them. There is a lot to see and do.
Puente de Las Damas
Puente de las Damas is a small museum across Avenida de La Paz from the Plaza de las Nueve Esquinas. Guadalajara has been evolving for hundreds of years and some of the city’s history has been buried in time.
Prior to 1900, city planning did not include wastewater systems. Anyone that has spent time in Guadalajara during the rainy season knows how much water moves around. The Puente de las Damas was a bridge connecting two different sections of Downtown Guadalajara over a swimming hole and public laundry facility.
When the San Juan de Dios River was contained in underground wastewater pipes this bridge became redundant and was buried, built over, and forgotten. There are seven other bridges in Downtown Guadalajara that have yet to reappear.
The Puente de las Damas is worth a quick look before breaksfast in the Plaza de las Nueve Esquinas
Plaza de las Nueve Esquinas
The Plaza de las Nueve Esquinas is a perfect place to have breakfast and start a walking tour of downtown Guadalajara. Around the plaza, there are a dozen traditional restaurants serving birria, Guadalajara’s classic goat soup. During the months of April and May the Plaza de las Nueve Esquinas is filled with pitaya vendors selling the treasured cactus fruit. Most of the architecture in the Nueve Esquinas is post-colonial having been built during the late 19th and early 20th-century government of Porfirio Díaz.
Jardín de San Francisco de Asís
The first buildings of the monastery date back to 1550 and were a simple collection adobe structures and surrounding vegetable gardens. Over the centuries the original building was replaced and replaced again. The current structure is in a baroque style with some neo-classical arches in the surrounding gardens.
Templo de Nuestra Señora de Aránsazu
The temple was built in the middle of the 18th century as a complementary chapel to the San Francisco convent and compound. There used to be 5 more small chapels but the property was expropriated during the 19th-century reforms so the city could grow.
The Templo de Nuestra Señora de Aránzazu has the only original golden baroque altarpieces in Guadalajara.
Biblioteca Iberoamericana octavio paz
Dating back to the late 16th century, the Biblioteca Iberoamericana Octavio Paz was originally built as a church for the Jesuit college of Santo Tomás. In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain and the building was left in disrepair and passed from one government office to another. Shortly after Independence the entrance was updated to include the neo-classic columns and arches. During the early 1900’s the building was used by the revolutionary army and later sacked. In 1985 the building was taken over by the University of Guadalajara, restored and turned into the library that it is today.
Templo de Santa Monica
The Templo de Santa Monica is a few blocks off of the walking tour but it deserves a mention because it is the best example of baroque architecture in Guadalajara. Originally commissioned by the Jesuit priest Feliciano Pimentel in the year 1720, it was completed in 1743. The temple was expropriated by the government during the war of the reform but later returned to the archdiocese when a local philanthropist purchased it at auction. The carved stone pillars of the entrance are absolutely breathtaking.
Calle Reforma 409, Zona Centro, Guadalajara
Palacio Municipal de Guadalajara
The Palacio del Gobierno is a relatively young building compared to the neighbors in downtown Guadalajara. The building was constructed between 1948 and 1952 after being passed back and forth between the church and the state. The Gabriel Flores murals depicting the foundation of Guadalajara are particularly vivid.
Guadalajara Metropolitan Cathedral
Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima or more commonly known as the Catedral de Guadalajara is emblematic of the State of Jalisco. The Neo-gothic bell towers easily identify the cathedral from every other church in Mexico. The first church was built in 1541 was made of adobe and had a thatched roof that quickly burnt down. The king of Spain commissioned a new cathedral which was finished in 1618. Earthquakes have plagued the building over the centuries and collapsed the original bell towers and dome in 1818. The bell towers were replaced however adding a Neo-gothic style to the existing Spanish-Renaissance facade. If there is one church that you visit in Guadalajara it has to this one.
Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres
A beautiful tribute to the men who made Jalisco what it is today. You will see plenty of streets and schools named after them but it is nice to see who these people were and what they did for their community. The Rodonda of the Jaliscienses Ilustres is also the Downtown Guadalajara stop for the Tapatio Tour bus. The Tapatio Tour gives great tours of Guadalajara, Zapopan and Tlaquepaque where you can get on and off at different points of interest.
Plaza de la liberación
The Plaza de la Liberación stretches from the Guadalajara Cathedral on the west to the Teatro Degollado on the east. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla is the priest who in 1810 gave the Grito de Dolores call for Mexican independence from Spain. After declaring independence, Hidalgo and his peasant army won a number of small battles before before facing a well trained Spanish troops outside of Mexico City. Retreating to Guadalajara, Hidalgo made one of the first declarations abolishing slavery in the Americas. The Plaza de la Liberación commemorates that famous declaration here in Guadalajara on December 6th, 1810.
Throughout much of the year there is an artisans market in the plaza that is worth taking a look at. Vendors come from all over Jalisco to sell traditional art and food. The hand woven sombreros from Yahualica are particularly fine work. There is ample parking in an underground structure directly below the plaza.
Cantina La Fuente
Cantina La Fuente is one of the oldest drinking establishments in Guadalajara and a perfect place to make a pitstop along your walking tour. The cantina is located 25 meters behind the Miguel Hidalgo statue and the Guadalajara letters in the Plaza de la Liberación.
Plaza de Armas
Probably the most enjoyable plaza in Downtown Guadalajara to people watch and enjoy the afternoon. The view of the cathedral around dusk is magical as all of the lights turn on and sun starts to set. The area next to the plaza is currently undergoing a little construction for the new line of the metro but it will be back and better than ever shortly.
Palacio del Gobierno de Jalisco
Home to a small museum about the city of Guadalajara and the state of Jalisco the real treasures in the palacio are the Jose Clemente Orozco murals. Orozco brings Hidalgo to life and the memory of that declaration abolishing slavery here in Guadalajara.
The second Orozco mural is in the old state legislative chambers and again depicts Hidalgo along with Benito Juarez and the fight to reform the government.
This building was the national palace for a month in 1858 while Benito Juarez was exiled from Mexico City during the war of the reform.
Home to the philharmonic orchestra of Jalisco, The Teatro Degollado is easily the best venue to watch some live music in this part of Mexico. The theater is small but the detail is breathtaking and the sound is spectacular. There are regular exhibitions of folkloric dance put on by the University of Guadalajara and many visiting musicians. Check out the upcoming events by clicking this link. I think that seeing a show at the Degollado Theater is just about the best date night you can imagine.
Plaza de Los Fundadores
Templo de San Agustín
Located directly in front of the Degollado Theater the Templo de San Agustín was built in the 17th century. The church underwent some reconstruction in the 19th century after an earthquake caused some damage. The facade is classic baroque with some Neo-classic attributes.
Guadalajara Coat of Arms
Guadalajara was granted its coat of arms from King Charles V of Spain and Germany in the year. 1539. The coat of arms depicts two lions holding up a pine tree and represents a fighting spirit and perseverance.
La Sala de los Magos
There is a collection of brass sculptures by the renowned local artist Alejandro Colunga in front of the Hospicio Cabañas. This is one of the most photographed areas of downtown for the surrealism of these pieces. Alejandro Calunga has similar works on the boardwalk in downtown Puerto Vallarta. Click here to see more about Alejandro Colunga.
Hospicio Cabañas is the crown jewel of downtown Guadalajara. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, the building is one of the oldest and largest hospitals in the Americas. The building broke ground in the late 18th century with the purpose of providing shelter for those in need. It was part hospital, part orphanage, and part almshouse.
From 1936 to 1939 Jose Clemente Orozco painted his masterpieces in the Hospicio Cabañas. A series of 40 monumental frescoes telling the story of the founding of Mexico and Guadalajara. Man on fire depicts the great muralists of 20th-century Mexico. These murals are a must-see and I highly recommend the English language tour. The guides are superb.
If you have a little more time or have an appointment at the immigration office in the Palacio Federal, it is worth it to walk around that area as well. When I first arrived in Guadalajara I had to spend a lot of time at the immigration office and I would make a morning out of it. I loved to eat in one of the historic restaurants or markets in the neighborhood after dropping off documents.
Right across the street from Palacio Federal is the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe where they have been selling buñuelos for centuries. I usually went looking for a birria. Mercado Alcalde is two blocks to the south and has one of the best birrias in the city among other delicacies.
There are a lot of streets to walk in and legends to hear about eccentric people. La Casa de los Perros and el Palacio de las Vacas have some good stories. Santa Monica Temple has a baroque facade that some people call churrigueresque. Right behind the temple is the Secretary of Culture in one of the most beautiful buildings from the porfirian era: El Edificio Arroniz.
Downtown Guadalajara deserves at least one full day to explore and if you are a history buff, much longer.
Markets in Downtown Guadalajara
After all of that walking, you are going to need a rest and probably something to eat. Downtown Guadalajara has some particularly enjoyable markets where you can do your shopping and get a great meal for a very affordable price.
Mercado Libertad AKA San Juan de Dios
Mercado Libertad, more commonly known as Mercado San Juan de Dios (and colloquially known as Saint Johny or Taiwan de Dios) is right next door to the Hospicio Cabañas. Grab a juice or something to eat from any number of food vendors in the market. I make it a point to look for the food stalls with the biggest crowd. they usually have the best food.
There is an amazing selection of leather equestrian gear. If you ride horses, you will want to cruise the market for something nice. San Juan de Dios has a reputation for pirated goods like knock-off brand name clothes and pirated DVDs. The lady selling pirated DVDs has a better selection of old series and movies than the official stores do.
The Best Hotels in Downtown Guadalajara
Downtown Guadalajara is one of the favorite neighborhoods for tourists to enjoy getting to know Guadalajara. The views are incredible and there are plenty of points of interest within walking distance.
Museums in Downtown Guadalajara
- Instituto Cultural Cabañas – Calle Cabañas 8, Guadalajara, Jalisco
- Regional Museum of Guadalajara – Calle Liceo 60, Guadalajara, Jalisco
- Museo de las Artes Populares de Jalisco – Calle San Felipe 211, Guadalajara, Jalisco
- Museo de la ciudad – Calle Independencia 684, Guadalajara, Jalisco
- Casa Museo Lopez Portillo – Calle Liceo 177, Guadalajara, Jalisco
- Museo de Periodismo y Artes Graficas – Avenida Fray Antonio Alcalde 225, Guadalajara, Jalisco