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The 20 Best Things to Do in Guadalajara for First Timers

Guadalajara Cathedral

Guadalajara is the capital of the state Jalisco in western Mexico. It is known for mariachi music, tequila, and its colonial landmarks. If you want to experience Mexican culture during your time in Mexico, Guadalajara is a superior destination to the more tourist-focused spots, such as Cancun or Playa del Mara. No matter what your interests, you will find plenty of activities and attractions to fill your time in this interesting city, but planning your itinerary will help you to get the most out of the experience and avoid missing the city’s best features. Here are the 20 best things to do in Guadalajara for first-timers.

Zoologica Guadalajara

20. Enjoy a Day Out at Zoologica Guadalajara

A great day out for animal lovers is a trip to Zoologica Guadalajara, and it is one of the top attractions for families visiting the city. Not only is it the largest zoo in Mexico, but it is also considered one of the most important in Latin America. One of the most notable features of this zoo is that the animal enclosures are so spacious. There are several ways to explore the zoo, including on-foot, as part of a safari tour, or from a bird’s eye perspective on the cable car ride. One of the latest additions to the zoo is an aquarium, and there is also a petting zoo for younger children to enjoy.

Lake Chapala

19. Visit Lake Chapala

Lake Chapala is approximately an hour outside Guadalajara, and it is the largest freshwater lake in Mexico. There are several small islands within the lake, and a popular activity is to take a boat trip out to see these islands. Another popular activity is taking a stroll along the lakefront Malecon. Several towns sit along the lakeshore, including Ajijic and Chapala, and you can visit them during your visit.

Parque Mirador

18. Hike in Parque Mirador

There are some beautiful areas to explore in the area surrounding the city for those who enjoy spending time outdoors. One area to explore is Parque Mirador, which is a great place to enjoy a short hike. The elevated viewpoint offers spectacular views across the surrounding area. Once you have finished your short hike, you can enjoy a meal from Restaurant El Mirador.

Avenida Chapultepec

17. Have a Night Out on Avenida Chapultepec

Guadalajara is like a different city at night, when it comes alive with music. For a good night out in the city, head to Avenida Chapultepec, as this is the best place to party. It is a hip street that is lined with restaurants, bars, and clubs. Therefore, you can grab a bite to eat before enjoying drinks and live music for the rest of the evening. In the middle of the avenue is an island, and a market is held there every weekend.

Parque Colomos

16. Stroll Around the Gardens in Parque Colomos

In most parts of Guadalajara, it is busy and has the typical urban buzz you expect to find in large cities. However, there are some places for you to visit to enjoy greenery and tranquillity. One of the best places to get away from the city vibe and enjoy beautiful surroundings is at the gardens in Parque Colomos. The park is in the northwest part of the city, and it is one of Guadalajara’s largest green spaces. The park has lots of walking paths and picnic tables. One of the highlights is the pretty Japanese gardens.

Birreria las 9 Esquinas

15. Dine at Birreria las 9 Esquinas

Although there are many outstanding restaurants in Guadalajara, one that is definitely worth visiting is Birreria las 9 Esquinas. The specialty at this restaurant is birria, which is a local stew that is usually made with goat or lamb. As Birreria las 9 Esquinas is such a popular restaurant, it is likely you will have to wait for a table.

Attend a Festival

14. Attend a Festival

Guadalajara is the second-largest city in Mexico, so it is hardly surprising that it is used as a venue for a myriad of events and festivals throughout the year. Each of these has a different focus, with examples including music, performing arts, food, and art. Make sure you check what is on in the city at the time of your visit to avoid missing the opportunity to get involved in one of the city’s exciting festivals and events. One of the most exciting events is the International Mariachi Festival at the end of August. There are street parades and free concerts during this festival, and it is a brilliant way to experience the local culture.

Teatro Degollado

13. See a Performance at the Teatro Degollado

If you want to watch a performance while you are in Guadalajara, then the best place to do so is at the Teatro Degollado. Throughout the year, there are opera and symphony performances to enjoy, and the theater also hosts various events and festivals, and it is one of the main venues for the mariachi festival. Even if you do not want to watch a performance, you should take time to view the neo-classical exterior of the building. When there are no shows on at the theater, it is free to enter to see the incredible murals.

Stalls at Mercado Libertad

12. Peruse the Stalls at Mercado Libertad

The Mercado Libertad is an exciting place to spend some time. It is a huge indoor market in the historic center of the city, and you can buy almost anything from the maze of stalls. Therefore, it is a fantastic place to pick up a couple of souvenirs. However, it is the food court that is the highlight of the market, and many of the stalls serve local specialties.

Craft Beers

11. Sample the Craft Beers

Although Guadalajara is typically associated with tequila, the city also has a rapidly expanding craft beer scene. There are plenty of places where you can try some of the locally produced craft beers, which are the perfect beverage to help you cool down in the Mexican climate. One of the best places is Patan Ale House, as this drinking establishment has a vast array of craft beers from which you can choose. You can also grab a bite to eat at this venue, as they have an innovative bar food menu. If you are there are the weekend, there is also a DJ playing music, so it is a fun night out.

Los Guachimontones

10. Take a Trip to Los Guachimontones

Los Guachimontones is an archaeological site that is approximately a 45-minute drive from Guadalajara, and it is well worth making an effort to visit the site during your vacation. The site is famous for its unique circular stepped pyramids, and there is nothing like them anywhere else in the world. There is evidence that the site dates back to the Teuchitlan tradition, which is a pre-Colombian society. There are day trips from Guadalajara to the site, and it is possible to hire a tour guide.

Wrestling Match

9. Watch a Mexican Wrestling Match

A fun activity to enjoy in the evening is watching a Mexican wrestling match. These are hosted at the Arena Coliseo every Tuesday night. To make a real night of it, you should catch the Red Pub party bus. It is a red, English, double-decker bus that is kitted out for party-goers. A ticket for the party bus includes entry to the wrestling match, transportation to and from the event, and a free beer on the party bus. Even if you are not a fan of wrestling, it is a fun night out. Also, Mexican wrestling is different from American wrestling, so you may find you enjoy it more than you expect.


8. Go Shopping in Tlaquepaque

Tlaquepaque was once a separate city, but the urban sprawl of Guadalajara means it is now part of the Guadalajara municipality. It is one of the best areas of the city for those who want to enjoy some retail therapy. It is the ideal place to buy some souvenirs of your trip, and the area is famous for its hand-painted pottery. Make sure you visit the Mercado de Artesanias while you are in this area, as the market has a great vibe and you will see goods made by local craftspeople.

Local Cuisine

7. Try the Local Cuisine

Trying the local cuisine when visiting a new destination is all part of the vacation experience. There are plenty of amazing local dishes to try when visiting Guadalajara, but one of the best local specialties is the tortas ahogadas. It is a sandwich made from birote bread and chopped fried pork that is covered in chill sauce, then served with salsa, white onion, and radishes. You may see this dish on many café menus, and it is also sold by street vendors.

Enjoy the Tequila

6. Enjoy the Tequila

One of the things for which this part of Mexico is known is its tequila production. The drink is named after the town of the same name, which is just a short trip from Guadalajara. In the town, you can visit one of the distilleries and sample the goods. However, if you are only interested in drinking tequila, you will find that most bars in the area serve it in various forms.

Cultural Institute Cabanas

5. Go to the Cultural Institute Cabanas

Goats on the Road recommends visiting the Cultural Institute Cabanas during a stay in Guadalajara. When it was built in 1791, it was originally used as a hospital and an orphanage. However, it later became a cultural institution. One reason to visit is the architecture, as it is a fine example of neo-classical design. Visitors can explore various courtyards and galleries, and the highlight is seeing the work of local artist Jose Clemente Orozco. The best time to visit this attraction is on Tuesdays when the entry is free.

Live Mariachi Music

4. Listen to Live Mariachi Music

Guadalajara is famous for mariachi music, so you should try to listen to some of this unique style of music during your vacation. You will plenty of mariachi bands around the city, including street performers and groups that perform in restaurants and bars. It is even possible to hire local mariachi bands to serenade you and your loved one.

Take a Free Walking Tour

3. Take a Free Walking Tour

One of the best ways for first-timers to familiarize themselves with the city and see many of the top sights is to take a free walking tour. There are many different types of walking tours available that each has a different focus. Many focus on the historic landmarks, some combine sampling the local cuisine with a tour of the city, and other tours have an artistic theme. You can choose the type of tour that best suits your interests. It is a good activity to enjoy at the beginning of your vacation.

Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco

2. Visit the Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco

The Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco houses the stat’s government offices. It is open to visitors during the week but closed at weekends, and there is no charge to visit. The main reason that people should visit this building is to see the amazing artwork inside. There are many socialist-realist murals by Jose Clemente Orozco, a local artist.

Guadalajara Cathedral

1. Go to Guadalajara Cathedral

According to The Whole World or Nothing, the best thing to do in Guadalajara for first-timers is to visit Guadalajara Cathedral. Not only is it one of the most significant landmarks in the city’s historic district, but it is also an architecturally interesting structure. During the cathedral’s history, it has suffered significant damage due to various fires and earthquakes, and the damaged sections have been replaced with structures in various architectural styles, including renaissance and gothic. Therefore, the cathedral has many interesting architectural features. It is free to go inside the cathedral and see the beautiful features and artwork.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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