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With fewer than 175,000 residents, San Miguel de Allende is hardly a big city. Yet its UNESCO-recognized historic center and surroundings offer a surprisingly diverse array of activities to suit a variety of interests. Maybe that’s why it has become one of Mexico’s hottest vacation destinations, not to mention a popular place for expats and retirees to call home.
Here are just a few of the most interesting things to do in San Miguel de Allende.
See the Historic SitesSan Miguel de Allende’s historic heart is square one for history lovers. The dramatic, neo-Gothic main church, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, is one of the most photographed churches in Mexico (and interestingly, it’s not even from the colonial era). Just in front of the church is the Jardin Principal, a lovely town square that’s perfect for people watching and admiring the imposing architecture around its perimeter. From there, it’s easy to walk to noteworthy landmarks, many of which have been converted to hotels, restaurants, shops, museums and cultural centers (read on for more about all of this).
Visit the Museums For such a small city, San Miguel de Allende is graced with an impressive number of cultural institutions. A good place to start is Casa de Ignacio Allende at Museo Historico de San Miguel de Allende, a mansion that was once the home of Ignacio Allende, an important player in Mexico’s independence movement. Today, the gorgeous structure, which dates to 1759, houses authentic period furnishings as well as displays depicting the city’s role in Mexican history. Also, make time for Casa Canal, an 18th-century home that once belonged to one of the colony’s wealthiest families; Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano (Mexican Popular Toy Museum), which showcases vintage toys from the past two centuries; and El Nigromante, also known as Bellas Artes, a cultural center and art school housed in a former convent (an entire room is dedicated to an eye-catching mural by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros).
Indulge at the HotelsOne of the nice things about staying in San Miguel de Allende is that each hotel is unique, so you’re not likely to encounter any cookie-cutter experiences. For luxury, Rosewood San Miguel de Allende and Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada are top picks, while Hotel Matilda provides an upscale vibe with artsy flair — including lots of contemporary artwork and a stylish restaurant. Also noteworthy is the 15-room El Meson Hotel, which blends rustic and modern elements in a charming, historic setting just a few blocks from many attractions. Among the newest properties is the trendy L’Otel, which opened in 2016 as part of the chic Doce-18 Concept House, a retail and dining complex.
Listen to the Music San Miguel de Allende is an intoxicatingly musical place. Street musicians are not uncommon, and music lovers can also take a seat at restaurants such as Mama Mia, which hosts live performers every day — with styles ranging from flamenco and rock to traditional Mexican. At Tio Lucas, live jazz and Cuban music are the aural staples that accompany meals and cocktails.
Savor the Cuisine Foodies and gourmands will be more than satisfied with the variety of tempting flavors that await in San Miguel de Allende — and you’ll be hard-pressed to find fast-food chains within the limits of the historic city center. From tasty street food to handmade chocolate and microbrewed beer at San Miguel central market, the city caters to a variety of palates. Among the upscale options is Quince, where chef Gonzalo Martinez, former executive sous chef at New York City’s Rainbow Room, has created an enticing international menu.
Go Shopping Tiny boutiques and independent galleries are the best sources for one-of-a-kind gifts in San Miguel de Allende. Fabrica La Aurora, set in a former textile mill, is a rewarding place to hunt for home furnishings, art and jewelry. Shoppers can scoop up hand-painted dresses at Sindashi, or take a one-stop-shopping approach at the recently opened Doce-18, where an assortment of purveyors sell decidedly hip clothing, jewelry and home decor. Visitors who fall in love with the local architecture might want to pick up work by photographer Pepe Soho, who is known for his depictions of the city’s ornamental doors.
Take a ClassThe city’s peaceful, creative vibe can provide an ideal environment for learning. Instituto Allende offers classes in a wide range of topics, including sculpture, painting, weaving and Spanish language. And Academia Hispano Americana, which opened in 1959, specializes in teaching Spanish as a second language.
Have a DrinkThere are many ways to make a toast in San Miguel de Allende. For a picture-perfect view of the city, head to Luna, the rooftop tapas bar at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. Sky Bar at Nena Boutique Hotel also boasts lovely views and a variety of cocktails. For a youthful, purposely downscale and cool vibe, check out La Cucaracha, where off-kilter original art, interior graffiti and an incredibly well-stocked jukebox set the tone for late nights out.
Visit the Vineyards The state of Guanajuato, where San Miguel is located, is increasingly renowned for its wineries, and it’s easy to add on a trip along the local wine route. San Miguel de Allende Wineries provides information about three vineyards where visitors can sample varietals.
Stroll the Streets For all the wonderful diversions, perhaps the most enjoyable activity in San Miguel is simply wandering aimlessly. In the historic center, nearly every turn can bring visitors to something new and interesting. For an insider’s view, Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende (the public library) offers house and garden tours every Sunday.