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 charming old neighborhood. Monterrey is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and day trips into the surrounding Sierra Madre mountain range offer a range of experiences for nature and adventure lovers.
Take a Stroll in the Macroplaza
The name "Macroplaza" for Monterrey's main city square isn't hyperbole because it's actually massive. In fact, it's the biggest city square in Mexico and one of the biggest in the world. The Macroplaza sits right in the middle of the colorful Barrio Antiguo neighborhood, so it's nearly impossible not to come across it at some point during your trip to Monterrey.
The plaza is filled with monuments and important buildings, but none of them compare to the Faro de Comercio, or Commerce Lighthouse. The rust-colored structure soars nearly 230 feet into the sky and is visible from almost all parts of Monterrey, and at night it puts on a light show which is why it's called the lighthouse. Take a stroll through the Macroplaza on a sunny day to see the lighthouse and other monuments, or just to enjoy the open space inside the bustling city.
Parque Ecologico Chipinique
The ecological park Chipinique is just 15 minutes outside of the city center by car, but you'll feel like you've driven hours away from the city the moment you enter this nature reserve. It's a favorite of the locals for hiking, cycling, and jogging, and the reason why is apparent from the breathtaking scenery. Wildlife is abundant, from native birds to the adorable raccoon-like coati. Bring a backpack with snacks and drinks to reward yourself with a picnic after your hike, as it's worth spending a full afternoon in the park. If you have a vehicle, you can drive directly to the top of the mountain and begin your hike from there for a less strenuous trek.
Explore Fundidora Park
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, like inline skating and bike riding. 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 (Bishop's 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. To walk along the scenic path is just under a mile and a half, and it's a gorgeous way to spend a day seeing the best of Monterrey. However, you can also take a riverboat for an even more memorable experience. Boats depart daily between noon and 8 p.m. and the cost is 100 Mexican pesos, or roughly $5, with discounts available for kids and seniors.
Appreciate Modern Art at the MARCO
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, which greets visitors at the museum's entrance. MARCO is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Wednesdays, admission is free for all visitors.
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.
Learn About Mexican History
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.
Eat Regional Specialties
The cuisine of northern Mexico is based on meat, beans, and a preference for wheat tortillas over corn, 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 in tacos or flautas (deep-fried tacos). Vegetarians will still find plenty of options, especially in Barrio Antiguo where there are vegan and vegetarian food stalls and restaurants.
Sample Sweets at the Museo del Dulce
The small but whimsical Museo del Dulce, or Museum of Sweets, is designed to look like a mid-19th century home, and it's here you can learn about the history of regional sweets from the state of Nuevo Leon and how they're made. You'll get to see and taste the ingredients used, including lots of local 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. But be careful, since Mexican candy often blends sweetness with something surprisingly spicy.
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.
Get an Adrenaline Rush at Hornos3
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.