Things to do in Morelia Mexico: An Opinionated Travel Guide

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Located just over three hours from Mexico City, picturesque Morelia, the capital of Michoacan joined the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity program in 1991. It is easily one of the most enjoyable hidden gem destinations in all of Latin America.

I absolutely love Morelia, Michoacan. It is easy to understand why the historic center of Morelia was designated a Unesco World Heritage site. There are over 200 historic buildings and many of them are superb examples of Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical styles of Spanish colonial architecture.

Morelia borders the Purépecha Region and the indigenous community is a big part of what makes the capital city so beautiful. It is mestizo, indigenous, and cosmopolitan all at the same time.

There are a thousand years of living Mexican history to experience in the streets, museums, and nearby archeological sites.

The best tours in Morelia Michoacan

Editor’s Choice: Morelia City Tour

Learn about the history and culture of one of Mexico’s most traditional cities (in English).

Is Morelia worth visiting?

Yes, Morelia is absolutely worth visiting and is a major destination for Mexican tourism even though it is not on the international tourist track for visitors to Mexico.

Day of the Dead is the best time of year to visit and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Javier Cabral, founder of LA Taco magazine and taco scout for the Netflix special Las Crónicas del Taco claims that Morelia is the ‘Best eating destination in Mexico.’

Carnitas tacos in Morelia Michoacán

Morelia is among the most enjoyable weekend getaways from Guadalajara and Mexico City, with plenty of great accommodations and interesting things to do. Personally, I enjoyed Morelia much more than San Miguel de Allende because of its authenticity. Many of the most important figures in the Mexican War of Independence had ties to Morelia.

My wife and in-laws lived in Morelia for a number of years and still have close friends that live there. The people really value the traditions and their history.

Is Morelia Safe?

The state of Michoacan makes the international news regularly for security problems. As of writing, December 2022/January 2023 the city of Morelia is safe for travelers with some basic precautions. There are both safe and unsafe neighborhoods of Morelia but the Centro Historico and everything on this list is located in very safe parts of town.

The situation in Michoacan is fluid. There are parts of the state that have security problems that travelers need to be aware of so they can make the best choice for their situation. Things can change quickly but right now, Morelia is peaceful compared to how things have been in the past. I wouldn’t let safety hold me back from visiting.

I recommend reading the full article about safety in Mexico to get an idea about mitigating risk. The safest places in Mexico are not always the ones that come to mind first.

Jardin Manuel Altamirano and the Biblioteca Publica Universitaria

Ready to discover everything you need to know for an amazing trip to Morelia, Mexico?

Let’s get to this Morelia travel guide, starting with where it’s located and how to get to Morelia from Mexico City and Guadalajara. Followed by all the amazing things to see, where to stay in Morelia, the best restaurants, and more.

Where is Morelia Mexico?

Morelia is located in central Mexico about 300 km west of Mexico City and 300 km east of Guadalajara in the state of Michoacan. The closest beaches to Morelia are in Guerrero State and most people enjoy vacationing in Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Troncones, or La Saladita.

The population of Morelia is approximately 850,000 as of the 2020 census. There were just under 5 million inhabitants in the state of Michoacan during the same period.

Morelia is perched at an elevation of 2,000 meters and the area is somewhat mountainous.

Downtown Morelia Plaza de Armas

How to get to Morelia Mexico

Morelia has an international airport but there are only five destinations within Mexico that have direct flights here. They include Mexico City, Cancun, Monterrey, Mexicali, and Tijuana. It is much more common to drive or take the bus to Morelia from Mexico City or Guadalajara. There are dozens of buses leaving for Morelia every day from every major bus terminal in Central Mexico from as early as 4:30 am until 11:59 pm.

Driving to Morelia is easy. There is a major toll road freeway that extends from Mexico City to Morelia and all the way up to Guadalajara and the United States. The freeway is in excellent condition and the drive is easy. Driving in the city of Morelia is a challenge.

As of 2022, there is a ton of infrastructure under construction. Somebody was a little overly ambitious about how many major infrastructure projects could be completed at the same time. Those projects aren’t moving quickly enough to appease the local population and there are signs and bumper stickers everywhere complaining about the unfinished projects. Google Maps takes me down some crazy backstreets to get in and out of the city.

One thing that I noticed about driving in Morelia is that people are very polite and have a one-and-then-the-other mentality when it comes to the right of way at smaller intersections. Obviously, on the main boulevards, traffic lights dictate who has the right of way but on the narrow streets of the historic core, people stop to let other drivers pass. It comes off as very educated and kind under stressful traffic conditions.

Downtown Morelia is an Unesco World Heritage site

Where to Stay in Morelia

Try to stay in the historic downtown area of Morelia. From there it is within walking distance of a hundred fun things to do. It is not likely to find last-minute accommodations in Downtown Morelia around Day of the Dead. However, Morelia is a big enough city that there is usually something nice even if you have to stay on the outskirts of the city center.

Unfortunately, the historic Hotel Virrey de Mendoza has been closed since the pandemic and the workers union is occupying the building as part of a labor strike.

Hotel de la Soledad (Luxury)

This hotel is an absolutely stunning example of 18th-century colonial architecture and is located just one block away from the Morelia Cathedral. There are 40 rooms including 7 suites that are brightly decorated to reflect the history and traditions of Morelia but with some modern details.

Hotel Boutique Rayon 50 (Midrange)

The Hotel Boutique Rayon 50 has amazing reviews online but we felt it was not the correct choice for families with little kids. The place is beautiful and situated just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas but our toddler found everything that was breakable in the room. And the loft isn’t great for little kids either. For those of you who travel without kids, I would highly recommend staying here.

Hotel Diana del Bosque by DOT Urban (Budget)

This is the first hotel that I stayed at in Morelia when visiting for Day of the Dead without making reservations in advance. It is located a little ways away from the cathedral on the far side of the Bosque Cuauhtémoc park but still within walking distance. You probably won’t want to make that walk multiple times in one day. It is closer to the Callejón del Romance and the Fuente de las Tarascas.

For a budget hotel, the Hotel Diana del Bosque was perfect for my needs

Walking Tour of Downtown Morelia Centro Histórico

Sign stating that the people write their history on the streets.

The area around the Cathedral is packed with the best places to visit in Morelia. The historical center is where you will find the highest concentration of colonial buildings. There is a unique pink stone or cantera rosa that is mined nearby and used to build many buildings that have stood for hundreds of years.

Many of the famous characters of Mexican history spent time in Morelia, known as Valladolid from 1545 until 1828. Emperor Agustín Iturbide was baptized in the Morelia Cathedral and Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla studied at the Jesuit school, San Nicolas Obisbo which still operates as a school and has some great murals.

Catedral de Morelia

Morelia cathedral from the front

The Metropolitan Cathedral is easily one of the most important Cathedrals in Mexico and an excellent example of Spanish Baroque architecture. It is huge by today’s standards but in 1744 when it was finished it must have felt much larger. The cathedral was started in 1660 and took 84 years to conclude. There is an iconic image of the cathedral with the bell towers (67 meters tall) towering over the nearby buildings. The central dome is decorated with blue and white tiles that contrast nicely with the pink cantera stone.

The exterior of the church is made from pink stone that was hand carved in the baroque style. Much of the interior including the altarpieces is in a neoclassical style. There are many famous artistic works including bronze statues of Christ by Manuel Tolsá who designed the Hospcio Cabañas building in Guadalajara.

The organ is particularly revered because of its size and sound. It was built in Germany, has 4,600 flutes, and is a classic example of Churrigueresco design.

I highly recommend walking around and taking in the view from a couple of different angles, inside and out. The Plaza de Armas, also known as the Plaza de los Mártires, is right next to the cathedral and has a lovely kiosk and a monument to Benito Juárez.

Morelia Cathedral side angle

The whole area is often decorated for the holidays. Directly behind the Plaza de Armas is a closed-off street called Cerrada de San Agustín that is filled with public art for much of the year.

During Day of the Dead, the area is filled with carpet murals made of flower petals. The featured photo of this article is of Cerrada San Agustín and the decorations that are hung between the historic buildings and blow in the wind. It is a great place to get ice cream and enjoy Morelia.

Palacio del Gobierno del Estado de Michoacán

Palacio del Gobierno del Estado de Michoacán

The government palace of Michoacán is not currently open to the public and has been turned into a kind of monument to the victims of violence. The main entrance has been boarded up and filled with flowers, candles, graffiti, and missing person posters.

Originally, the baroque building was constructed between 1760 and 1770 as a seminary that would instruct the likes of both Agustín de Iturbide and José María Morelos y Pavón. In 1867 it was converted into the seat of the executive branch of the state-level government.

The murals by Alfredo Zalce depict the history of Michoacán as well as scenes from the Mexican Revolution.

Centro Cultural Clavijero

Interior patio inside the Centro Cultural Clavijero

The Clavijero Cultural Center is one of the most important museums and tourist attractions in Morelia. Originally, the Clavijero Palace was a Jesuit college founded in the 17th century. It wasn’t until 2007 that the government set out to restore the property and use the space as an art gallery and for cultural events. There are tons of interesting exhibitions coming through but the baroque-style building and the striking murals are interesting in their own right.

The Biblioteca Pública Universitaria is adjacent to the cultural center.

Conservatorio de las Rosas

Conservatorio de las Rosas

The conservatory is one of the most prestigious music schools in Mexico that attracts students from across the country. The beautiful structure is open to the public and hosts weekly concerts.

Jardin de las Rosas

Directly across from the campus is the Jardín de las Rosas which is a beautiful place to sit in the shade of mature trees to enjoy the cafes and beautiful fountains.

Museo Regional Michoacano

Most people will be surprised how much Mexican history has taken place in the state of Michoacan. The Michoacan Regional museum is a great place to drive into that history. Murals have been a big part of documenting history in Mexico and this museums does not dissapoint. In addition to the artifacts, there are vivid and stricking murals telling the stories of influential people in Michoacan’s history.

This Baroque building actually belonged to Emperon Maximiliano at one point.

Cinépolis Morelia Centro

Cinépolis Downtown Morelia

Did you know that Mexico’s favorite movie theater chain is headquartered in Morelia? Cinépolis has a nice theater Downtown that they use to host the Morelia International Film Festival. If you get a chance you should ask Quentin Tarantino about it because he is a frequent guest of honor.

The Cinépolis location in Downtown Morelia is located on one of the most beautiful blocks in the city right next to the Conservatory and Jardín de las Rosas.

Instituto del Artesano Michoacano

Housed in the Templo de San Francisco, which is one of the oldest buildings in Morelia, the artisan institute displays regional folk art. Visitors will have the chance to view and buy the finest examples of folk art in all of Michoacan. Many of the pieces are museum-quality pieces.

Dating back to the Spanish era, missionaries would train towns in different skills. Santa Clara del Cobre learned how to work copper. Tlalpujahua learned glassblowing while Paracho learned guitar making. And there are dozens more.

What and Where to Eat in Morelia

As Javier Cabral mentions, Morelia is a paradise for foodies. There are exceptional taco shops, high-end restaurants, and everything in between. I think that eating is easily one of the best things to do in Morelia and Michoacan in general and this is why.

Carnitas

I highly recommend watching the Netflix special Las Cronicas del Taco Season 1 Episode 2 Carnitas before arriving in Morelia. It is a celebration of one of the world’s great food traditions with some excellent recommendations. There are few places in the world that have the volume of exceptional carnitas restaurants in such a small area. Just be aware that the best carnitas restaurants usually have a wait. We always take a few kilos of carnitas back to Guadalajara on our way out of town and the best restaurants always have a line on a Sunday afternoon.

What I like about eating carnitas in Morelia is the selection of the pieces of meat. In the US they never tell you what cut of meat they use to make the carnitas. In Morelia, and Michoacan in general, you order the cuts of meat that you like the most. Some people like the loin but I find that to be the dryest cut. I like the juicier cuts like the ribs, the spine, the shank, and the skin. My favorite taco is the mixed taco with all of the above.

These are some of my favorite carnitas restaurants in the city of Morelia.

Carnitas Mora

Located in a middle-class neighborhood outside of the historic center of Morelia, Carnitas Mora has the best balance of price vs quality. They are delicious and super cheap. I recommend ordering the aldilla cut which is like a hangar steak in that it comes from the back where the spine meets the ribs.

All of the best carnitas restaurants are street parking only but Tacos Mora usually has plenty of street parking nearby. They are on the corner of Avenida Solideridad (the river) and Virrey de Mendoza. You can’t go wrong eating here.

Carnitas Jorge

Carnitas Jorge

Carnitas Jorge is an excellent option for those staying in the Centro Histórico because it is just five blocks away from the Plaza de Armas in a picturesque building. The exterior has a colonial look but the interior is midcentury modern and retro-fabulous. The place is a time capsule and the carnitas tacos were very good. The whole dining experience is very enjoyable.

Carnitas Don Raúl

The line at Carnitas Don Raúl

Carnitas Don Raúl is a Morelia institution that was featured in the Cronicas del Taco carnitas episode. They were packed with locals before the episode aired but I suspect they see a little more tourist traffic these days. People travel to Michoacan just to eat carnitas like these.

The carnitas are insanely good. Get a mixed plate and try all the different cuts. I recommend waiting in line to get a kilo of carnitas to go before you leave the city. At least when I went, everyone standing in line was super excited and talking to each other. The guy behind me was wearing an LA Rams hat and the guy in front of me lived in LA for a few years in his 20s. I really enjoyed talking about food with both of them

Don Raúl the person, reminds me of a king. He comes in and out of the kitchen putting his apron on and taking it off each time. An attractive female employee would help him put it on each time and the ritual reminds me of a royal coronation as the employee would place the apron over his head. This guy is taco royalty.

The price for kilo of carnitas at Don Raúl is significantly higher than most of the other carnitas restaurants that I visited. It is worth it but I know some people mention the difference.

Cenadurías

A cenaduría is a traditional restaurant selling enchiladas, pozole, flautas and more. The down-home cooking in Michoacan is lovely and I would highly recommend watching a few episodes of the monumental YouTube channel De mi Rancho a tú Cocina (One of the top cooking channels on all of YouTube!) to get an idea about Michoacan-style food.

Cenaduría Lupita

uchepos with cream at Cenaduría Lupita in Morelia, Mexico

One of the most popular and high-traffic traditional restaurants in Morelia, Cenaduria Lupita. Make sure to order the fresh corn (not nixtamal corn) uchepos and smother them with cream and salsa. They are divine.

Enchiladas at Cenaduría Lupita

We also loved the enchiladas placeras with carrots and potatoes on top. They had plenty of parking even though it was busy and the service was very professional. I dream about these enchiladas and I am an enchilada enthusiast.

High-End Restaurants in Morelia

Pork belly at Restaurante LU in Morelia Michoacan

Restaurante LU

LU has to be on every list of the best restaurants in Morelia. Dining at LU is like taking a trip around Michoacan because all the plates have an appellation of origin or a back story. There is pork from La Piedad, trout from Zitácuaro, and duck from Patzcuaro with a presentation that is fancier than anything I ate in Zitácuaro.

The restaurant is located inside the lobby of the Hotel Casino Morelia in what is known as the Portales. The service is educated and made some excellent recommendations taking into account the portions we were looking for.

I highly recommend eating at LU at least once while you are in Morelia.

La Conspiración de 1809

Restaurante La Conspiración de 1809 in Downtown Morelia

The name of the restaurant is a reference to the events leading up to the Mexican war of Independence. In 1809 Napoleon Bonaparte was ravaging the Iberian Peninsula and eventually deposed King Charles IV and put his French brother on the Spanish throne. The colonies didn’t know how to react in the face of a legitimacy crisis.

Lieutenant José Mariano Michelena and Capitan José María García Obeso along with others plotted to support Fernando VII who they believe to be the legitimate sovereign to the throne.

But they were caught because one of the coconspirators ratted them out authorities loyal to the French Borbon sovereign. There is a lot of Mexican history that took place in Morelia and Restaurante La Conspiración de 1809 evokes a time long ago. The restaurant is beautiful, the food is classy, and the service is attentive. This is a great restaurant.

Mercado Independencia

On my first trip to Morelia, I spent some time wandering around the closest market to Downtown Centro Historico. There was a huge crowd of people huddled around a little old lady selling corundas and uchepos, which are two types of local tamales. I always want to try the food that busy street food vendors are selling.

corunda, uchepo, and tamal at Mercado Independencia in Morelia

If you are staying at the Hotel Diana Bosque Cuauhtémoc it is a short walk to the market. I personally love visiting the markets in a new city. That experience of first trying corundas and uchepos at the market is something that I talk about ten years later.

If you are lucky enough to visit Morelia during Day of the Dead make sure to visit the market. It is surreal to see the quantity of cempasuchil flowers that are traded there and later to see how they are used to decorate everything.

Gaspachos El Boulevard

Morelia style gaspacho from El Boulevard

No trip to Morelia is complete without a stop for gaspachos. This is a traditional fruit dish that is prepared by chopping mango, jicama, and pineapple in small pieces and adding orange juice, lime juice, salty cotija cheese, onion, and chile. Back in the day, they used to add vinegar but that is only by request these days.

The thought of sweet fruit with salty cheese and vinegar may not excite most people but I assure you that you need to give it a try. I had my doubts but I have become an evangelist. Gaspachos are awesome.

Gaspachos can be found all over Morelia but El Boulevard is consistently good. My wife has been a customer of the García de Leon location for decades now. We can’t leave Morelia until we get some gaspachos to go.

Places to Visit in Morelia

Some of these places to visit in Morelia are a little ways outside of the historic downtown. You may not get a chance to see everything on your first trip but I suspect you will be back at some point.

Callejón del Romance

Fountain in the Callejón del Romance in Morelia

Often called the most beautiful street in Morelia, the Callejón del Romance is very Instagram-friendly and a nice place to get a coffee or a beer.

There are plaques along the alleyway with poems by Don Lucas Ortiz, a local poet.

Originally, this was a walkway for the employees who worked at a nearby soap factory. Today, it is a tourist attraction.

Acueducto de Morelia and Fuente de las Tarascas

The Morelia Aqueduct is one of the most identifiable landmarks in the city because it was featured on the Mexican 50 peso bill for many years. There is a new 50 peso bill but the old ones are still in circulation.

Fuente de las Tarascas and the Morelia Aqueduct

The current aqueduct is the second one that was built. The original aqueduct fell down in the late 18th century when it was decided to build a new one. The current aqueduct is a Roman-style aqueduct built with the emblematic pink stone that is abundant in these parts. There are 253 arches running for 1,700 meters.

If you happen to have one of those old 50 peso bills you will see the second pump house and some very low arches.

The Fuente de las Tarascas is a major traffic circle that is often decorated for the holidays.

Altozano Country Club

There is a wealthy suburb a little ways outside of the city called Bosque Monarca that I really enjoyed visiting. I don’t spend a lot of time at country clubs but my wife’s family recommended the restaurant Pancoupé because they have a large children’s play area.

The area is spectacular with lush green forest and mountain views. The restaurant is open to the public but you will have to show some identification at a guard booth at the top of the hill.

Day Trips from Morelia

Patzcuaro Michoacan

It would be a shame to come all this way and not visit some of the Pueblos Mágicos nearby. Patzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan, and Santa Clara del Cobre are magical and really deserve a few days. You won’t regret it.

Some Final Thoughts on Morelia

I hope that this article inspires you to visit Morelia. The city is one of the best-hidden gems in all of Mexico and some people are willing to say the best place for foodies in the whole country.

I get really emotional visiting and every time we leave I say that we need to spend more time there. I understand that the state of Michoacan has a bad reputation for violence but Morelia is safe right now.

Save me some of those carnitas. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

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