Monterrey, the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon, is one of the largest cities in Mexico and is known as a modern industrial and technological hub. There are many things to do here, from exploring the city's museums and plazas, to visiting its large parks and monuments, as well as discovering the old neighborhood. Day trips into the surrounding Sierra Madre mountain range offer a range of experiences for nature and adventure lovers. Here's our guide to the best Monterrey has to offer.
Monterrey owes a lot of its wealth to the steel industry and when the Monterrey Foundry folded in the 1980s, this industrial complex was transformed into a large public park. Around the green areas, there are numerous steel structures and pieces of machinery that stand as a testament to the park's previous usage. You can enjoy a number of recreational activities here: inline skating and bike riding are popular activities as well as running and walking. There are play areas for children as well as several museums, an arts center, and even a Sesame Street theme park for the youngest visitors.
Enjoy the View from the Asta Bandera
The largest monumental flag in Mexico waves at the top of the Cerro del Obispado (Bishopric Hill) and from here you can see some great panoramic views of the city and the Sierra Madre mountains beyond it. There are special ceremonies held here on certain holidays, such as Flag Day on February 24 and Mexican Independence Day on September 16, but you can enjoy the views any day of the year. The Palacio del Obispado, one of the city's oldest buildings, is also located on the hilltop and has an impressive baroque facade and houses the Regional Museum of Nuevo Leon.
Ride a Boat along the Paseo Santa Lucia
Throughout the day, small riverboats make their way along the Paseo Santa Lucia, an artificial river that connects the Parque Fundidora with the Macroplaza, Monterrey's main square. Enjoy the views from the leisure of a boat between 10 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. daily, or explore the mile and a half stretch of the riverwalk on foot.
Monterrey's Museum of Contemporary Art, the MARCO, has an impressive permanent collection featuring great artists such as Siqueiros, Leonora Carrington, Rodolfo Morales, Brian Nissen, and Rodrigo Pimentel, to name but a few, but also organizes temporary exhibits throughout the year. Take your photo with the huge bronze sculpture of a dove, La Paloma by Juan Soriano, who greets visitors at the museum's entrance. MARCO is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On Wednesdays admission is free and the opening hours are extended to 7:15 p.m.
Take a Stroll Through the Barrio Antiguo
When you get tired of the modern feel of this big city, check out the Old Town, which is located near the cathedral. Here you can stroll cobblestone streets and see the historical area, which has mansions dating from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as an abundance of cafes, bars, and restaurants. Once the sun goes down, check out the area's clubs and concert halls. On weekends, vendors set up stalls selling jewelry, art, antiques and vintage items. The bohemian feel of this area makes for a nice change of pace from the rest of the modern industrial city.
Gain insight into the region's history at any or all of Monterrey's three excellent history museums. The Museo de Historia Mexicana offers a broad overview of the country's past, with five rooms each looking at a different period, from pre-Hispanic times to the present day. The Museo del Noreste, connected to the previously mentioned museum by a footbridge, focuses specifically on the history of the northeast area of Mexico. The Museo del Palacio, located in the neoclassical government palace in the center of town, offers a peek into the history of the city of Monterrey.
All three museums are closed on Mondays. The Museo del Palacio has free admission every day, and a ticket purchase at either the Museo de Historia Mexicana or Museo del Noreste is good for both museums.
If you're interested in celestial bodies or have a general interest in science, you'll enjoy spending an afternoon at Monterrey's Planetarium. The Planetario Alfa has an observatory with two telescopes, an IMAX theater, as well as an aviary and a museum. They host interactive exhibits that are great for children, who will also enjoy feeding the birds in the aviary. The planetarium is closed on Mondays. Free shuttles depart from the Alameda Park in downtown Monterrey (at the corner of Washington and Villagrán) several times a day.
Eat Regional Specialties
The cuisine of northern Mexico is based on meat, beans and they tend to prefer wheat over corn tortillas, although in a modern city like Monterrey you'll find a wide variety of foods. One of the main traditional dishes to try here is called cabrito ("little goat"), which is a kid cooked by roasting on an open pit, or al pastor style on a spit, and usually served with beans and tortillas. Another regional specialty is machaca (sometimes called machacado), which is shredded dried beef or pork that is rehydrated and served with a sauce, or in tacos or flautas (deep-fried tacos). Vegetarians will still find plenty of options, especially in Barrio Antiguo there are vegan and vegetarian food stalls and restaurants.
Although this is a small museum, in its display rooms that are designed to look like a mid-19th century home, you can learn about the history of regional sweets from the state of Nuevo Leon and how they're made, the ingredients used (some fruits that you may not be familiar with) and see the traditional utensils used in the process. There's also a shop where you can purchase some more sweets for the rest of your stay.
Go Cave Exploring
The amazing cave system at the Grutas de Garcia was discovered in 1843 but is estimated to have formed over the past 60 million years. Located in the mountains about 20 miles (30 kilometers) away, or a 45-minute drive from the city, this is an excellent choice for a day trip from Monterrey. Ride a cable car with stupendous views up to the entrance of the cave, or hike up along mountain paths, and then once inside the cave, be surprised by majestuous theaters connected by tunnels as well as interesting formations of stalactites and stalagmites.
See an Impressive Waterfall
The Cascada Cola de Caballo ("Horse Tail Waterfall") is located in the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) from Monterrey city. This 82-foot-tall waterfall comes down in a formation that looks like a horse's tail. It's an easy trek around the falls with several observation points where you can take photos and enjoy the tranquil views of the water bouncing off the rocks and the surrounding vegetation. After visiting the waterfall, make a stop at nearby Villa de Santiago, a charming colonial town.
Part of the old steel foundry in Parque Fundidora, Museo del Acero Horno3 offers several different experiences. You can visit the foundry, see the machinery and some exhibits about the steel industry, and go all the way to the top of the structure in the elevator. But if you're looking for an adrenaline rush, try the H3 Canopy adventure in which you descend the 230 feet (70 meters) from the top of the structure through a series of zip lines, rappels and a suspension bridge.