San Miguel de Allende, located 150 miles north of Mexico City, is coveted for its Spanish colonial architecture, cutting-edge restaurants and design-forward luxury hotels. Over the last century, the city has transformed from a sleepy town to a cosmopolitan destination.
Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site, the colonial town has been attracting creatives since 1938, when Chicagoan painter Stirling Dickinson became the director of Escuela de Bellas Artes, aiming to make San Miguel an international arts hub. With plenty of arts events, Mexican handicraft markets and contemporary galleries to explore, his vision has come to fruition.
With 18th-century facades basking in the warm light and serene colonial courtyards tucked behind discreet archways, San Miguel’s magic is only revealed when you embrace its relaxed pace. So let your curiosity lead the way through its winding, cobblestone streets, but read on to make sure you don’t miss any must-see spots along the way.
Beat the chilly mornings with a warm drink at Ki’bok Coffee — the Tulum outpost known for their organic, fair-trade coffee. But save breakfast for La Sacristia Café (Canal 36), where local favorites like chilaquiles are savored on the leafy patio or inside the cozy cafe, set in a building that dates back to 1743. A portion of proceeds are donated to native producers.
A 15-minute walk north lands you at Fábrica La Aurora, a sprawling complex with a plethora of galleries, antique shops and art installations to explore. Afterwards, head to Mercado de Artesanías: this alley of indoor and outdoor stalls spans several blocks and boasts a wide variety of affordable Mexican handicrafts. Continue past the southern end to Ignacio Ramirez Market for fresh flowers and produce.
Save your appetite for a late lunch at Don Taco Tequila (they open at 2pm). Their creative margaritas and vegan tacos (also available as lettuce wraps) are loved by vegetarians and carnivores alike. A couple of blocks north you’ll find Templo de la Concepión, a mid-18th-century Catholic church featuring a grand altar and striking oil paintings. Behind it lies Escuela de Bellas Artes: this tranquil former monastery-turned-arts-school serves as a gallery for local art and a venue for music and film events.
No visit to San Miguel would be complete without perusing the town’s boutique shops. Mixta, in an 18th-century home, has been a go-to for thoughtful Mexican fashion and home decor for 14 years. Around the corner lies Mercado Collective, a fair-trade shop filled with boho-chic home decor. Sindashi is where you’ll find hand-painted dresses while newcomer La Modernista offers a bright collection of goods from Spain.
Read more: Everything you need to know before shopping for Mexican folk art
Dinner is classy comfort food at brasserie-meets-steakhouse Bovine. Giant shareable plates of locally butchered meats (think 45-day-aged beef) are balanced with lighter seafood and seasonal vegetable dishes in a sleek, art deco-inspired space. Continue your sophisticated evening at Quince, one of the town’s most popular rooftop bars (and there are many). Arrive after 8pm for the live music and complement your view of La Parroquia with a dessert from in-house bakery Boulangerie Bleu — they’re considered some of San Miguel’s finest.
Start your day at Lavanda Cafe, known for their lavender-infused drinks and Mexican-inspired poached egg breakfasts. After your early breakfast (the line starts around 9:30am), head over to Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, distinct for its neo-Gothic facade and pink wedding-cake towers. Consider lingering for Sunday service: the church’s soaring ceilings have exceptional acoustics for the choir.
History buffs will want to visit Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende across the street. This former home of Mexican independence hero Ignacio Allende offers a deep dive into the town’s rich history. Next on your antiquity tour of San Miguel is Templo de San Francisco, an 18th-century neoclassical church that features carved stone figures and a churrigueresque facade.
To see a modern reinvention of a historical property, head to Dôce 18 Concept House. The 18th-century building was a thriving family-run housewares factory in the 1940s; today it houses upscale fashion and design shops, its own boutique hotel, and a cafeteria with plenty of fancy fast-casual options. After lunch, the one-hour tasting at Casa Dragones — one of the country’s best small-batch tequila producers — is a must.
Round out the afternoon with a self-guided gallery tour. First stop is Galeria Nudo, a modern gallery showcasing locally and internationally acclaimed Mexican artists. One street over lies Galeria Tao, where the nature-inspired works of Mexican designer Miguel Arregui are displayed in a magnificent stone building. Next is Galeria Casa Diana: a diverse, rotating collection of international contemporary art has made it an art-lovers destination for almost 20 years. Make sure to not miss the boutique shops between your gallery stops — such as Juana Cata (Recreo 5), known for Oaxacan textiles, and Recreo San Miguel, where luxury garments are produced by local collectives.
Dinner is at The Restaurant, set in an 18th-century colonial home. Take your pick between Japanese skewers and sushi inside at The Bar at the R, where lively DJ tracks are spun in front of a giant wall of vinyls, or The Restaurant’s main international menu of seasonally-inspired dishes, best experienced in the peaceful, heated Moroccan-style courtyard. Finish your evening in El Jardin park, where mariachis serenade swooning couples under the manicured trees. Warm up as the evening cools with the best churros in town at San Agustín, accompanied by one of their steaming hot cocoas.
Where to stay
Art-savvy travelers will want to rest up at Hotel Matilda, where neutral tones and natural materials provide a sleek backdrop for dramatic contemporary works by noted artists, a pristine infinity pool, and vibrant epicurean events, such as supper clubs and culinary theater evenings. Design-lovers seeking an intimate stay will like Hotel Amparo — each of the five guest rooms has its own design and is sprinkled with thoughtful embroidery. Hacienda-style boutique hotel Mansion San Miguel offers more budget-friendly accommodation without sacrificing service.
How to get there
Leon/Guanajuato Airport (a two-hour drive from San Miguel) is the airport of choice for most, while Queretaro Airport is an hour away. Several affordable buses run daily from Mexico City’s Central Norte terminal (a 3½-hour drive from San Miguel) — ETN TuriStar offers the most comfortable and reliable service.
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