Wandering down the narrow, enchanting cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, the peal of church bells directs me towards the town’s center of activity, the Jardin Principal (Main Garden). While exploring Mexico’s best-known World Heritage town I was reminded of happy days spent meandering in the hill towns of southern France and Spain years ago. But San Miguel’s firmly rooted in the heartland of Mexico, a few hours’ drive from Mexico City.
In this town a delightful surprise awaits you around every corner, but the hidden gems require that you explore on foot. By walking you can easily divert from a main street down hidden walkways, and peek through doorways that open into sumptuous courtyards.
San Miguel is often referred to as the “town of fallen women”. Once you’ve experienced its uneven cobblestone streets you’ll understand this isn’t a reference to wanton ladies. Chic high-heeled shoes are best left behind and exchanged for comfortable walking shoes with a cushy sole. You’ll cover miles while wandering the streets of San Miguel de Allende. Fortunately, all of that walking will help burn up the calories you are bound to consume at the many outstanding restaurants.
Here’s a list of my favorite things to do on your first trip to San Miguel de Allende:
1. Experience the Jardin Scene
Locals, tourists, and expats mingle at the Jardin, relaxing and socializing in the attractive town square. Many of the town’s 75 yearly festivals take place here too. The Jardin is closed to traffic, so it’s a perfect place for people watching. Pick up your favorite espresso, find a bench, settle in—or grab a seat at one of the outdoor cafés—and watch the stream of humanity passing by. From the south side of the square the view of the rose–colored Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is stunning. The church’s nuanced shades shift with the day’s light, as does the mood at the Jardin. Come during a weekday morning and it might be quiet and serene. Come on a weekend, or during a festival, and the square will be buzzing with people and activities. Families gather for ornate weddings at the Parroquia…strolling musicians play to appreciative crowds…and vendors hawk food, hats, balloon toys, and other sundry items. (On Sundays they will tempt you with exotic flavored ice creams.)
2. Take a Walk Through History
Join one of the two-hour historic walking tours offered by the non-profit Patronato Pro Niños group. The guides provide an engaging overview of the town’s regional history and culture. The town’s namesake, Ignacio Allende, instigated the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), which resulted in the overthrow of Spanish Colonial rule. You’ll learn the historical significance of many local buildings and churches, while meandering through the town’s core. It’s a great way to get your bearings and a feel for the town’s layout. The first stop is at the stunning Parroquia church, with a side trip into its inner chambers. Elements of this churches striking design are reminiscent of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona. All tour proceeds go to a good cause.
3. Watch the Sun Set From the Luna Rooftop Bar
The view of the Parroquia, and the surrounding rolling residential streets, is breath-taking from this romantic rooftop bar. Come an hour before sunset and pick your perfect spot. Order a fancy cocktail before watching the rose-colored Parroquia transition from shades of pink to dusky rose. Most drinks are $7.50 and the menu also includes tasty tapas and finger food.
4. Visit the Open Food Markets
Every Tuesday you can find fresh, colorful produce, and almost anything else you need, at the Tianguis de los Martes outdoor market. It’s held on the eastern outskirts of town. For $12 we walked away with a jam-packed bag of fresh fruits and veggies. On Saturdays the Tianguis Tosma is held in the San Antonio neighborhood. This upscale organic market offers an amazing array of specialty organic produce and food products for the health conscious. It’s also a social scene for expats. This is the best place to pick up gourmet items such as pâté, Mexican and French cheeses, and wild mushrooms. Come at lunchtime for the inexpensive, tasty options. There’s also a live band, so you can practice your salsa after lunch.
5. Explore the Art Scene
San Miguel is well known for its art scene. Since the 1930s, the town has attracted artists from around the world, and there are art galleries scattered throughout the town. The Fabrica Aurora—in the Guadalupe Fractione—is a hip, remodeled factory that houses a large collection of artists’ galleries. From paintings to metal sculptures, fabric wall hangings to home décor, an amazing mix of art and design can be found in this single location. But be sure to also visit the Artisans’ Market, in northeast San Miguel. This is where you’ll find traditional Mexican arts and crafts.
6. Enjoy the Sound of Music
We were delighted that live music is performed all around town, and often with no charge. If you love music, consider visiting during one of the world-class international music festivals. Jazz, classical, opera, and Mexican traditional music are regularly performed, usually in intimate settings. We attended a live classical music performance at St. Paul’s Church. Tickets sold for $12.50 each.
Couples’ dancing is also a popular pastime. If you enjoy salsa, ballroom, tango, or flamenco dancing, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to kick up your heels.
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