San Miguel de Allende is the ideal town to explore on foot, with two caveats. Cobblestone streets are lovely but challenging to walk on, and San Miguel is quite hilly, so expect some steep climbs. Wear comfortable walking shoes!
Begin your walking tour in San Miguel's main plaza, the heart of town. In other places in Mexico, the main square is called the Zócalo but here it is always referred to as the Jardín (pronounced har-DEEN), the Spanish word for garden. Neatly manicured laurel trees provide shade. There are paths running through green areas and plenty of benches so you can have a seat and pass the time.
The kiosk in the center of the square is occasionally used by bands, at other times local children climb the steps and use it as a play area. During the hottest time of day there are few people here, but as the sun goes down it begins to fill up, and in the evenings you'll find the square bustling with activity.
There is free wi-fi in the Jardín; the signal is stronger on the north side near the municipal government building. Stop by the tourist information office at Plaza Principal #10 for a free map and details about the area's attractions. Sightseeing tourist buses depart from here several times a day.
The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is the towering neo-gothic structure to the south of the Jardín. In fact, only the facade of the church is neo-gothic, the rest of the building dates to the 17th century, and is baroque in style. The facade was added in the late 19th century after the original facade and towers had deteriorated. Zeferino Gutierrez, a local stone mason and architect, is responsible for the distinctive look of the facade, which is unique in Mexico. Some say he got his inspiration from postcards depicting European gothic cathedrals. The facade has its detractors: many opine that the look of the church doesn't fit in with the rest of the town. Without question, it has become the emblematic symbol of San Miguel de Allende.
This church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel. Some visitors confuse this church for a cathedral. A cathedral is the principal church of a diocese, at which a bishop presides, regardless of the style of architecture. In the state of Guanajuato, there is a cathedral in Guanajuato city, but not in San Miguel. The church here is a local parish church, usually referred to as "La Parroquia."
Casa de Allende
The family home of independence leader Ignacio Allende is located across from the southwest corner of the Jardín. This two-floor baroque colonial mansion now houses a museum, the Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende. A statue of the hero is displayed in a niche in the corner of the building. Above the entrance an inscription reads: "Hic Natus Ubique Notus" which means "Born here, known everywhere."
Ignacio Allende, along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo, was one of the leaders of the Mexican independence movement. He was born here in 1769 to a wealthy Creole family (Mexicans of Spanish descent). Read a biography of Ignacio Allende. In 1826 the name of the town was changed from San Miguel el Grande to San Miguel de Allende in his honor.
Besides historical information about the town and region, the museum also contains a biographical exhibit on Ignacio Allende with emphasis on his role in the independence movement. A few of the rooms are furnished to show what it would have looked like during his lifetime. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm, closed on Mondays.
Directions: From the Casa de Allende, walk south on Cuna de Allende, the street that runs between La Parroquia and Casa de Allende. Walk one block then turn left on Hospicio street to the Casa de Sierra Nevada hotel.
Casa de Sierra Nevada
As you wander the streets of San Miguel de Allende, you will catch glimpses into lush green courtyards, like the one pictured here. This is Casa de Sierra Nevada (#42 Hospicio street), one of San Miguel's luxurious boutique hotels. If this hotel is out of your price range, you can still consider taking classes at the cooking school, or having a meal at the hotel restaurant Casa del Parque, or indulging in a pampering spa treatment at the Laja spa.
Sign up for cooking classes at Sazón cooking school to learn about the traditional Mexican cuisine of this region. Learn more: Sazón Cooking School in San Miguel de Allende.
Directions: Turn left on Recreo street.
Shopping for Treasures
As you stroll San Miguel de Allende's winding streets you'll pass many boutiques and galleries selling art and handicrafts from all over Mexico. Don't resist the urge to go in and browse. This is one of the great pleasures San Miguel offers. A great spot to pick up fine quality art and handicrafts is Tesoros gallery at #8 Recreo street.
Directions: Continue north along Recreo. At Correo street you jog to the left and continue north, the street is called Corregidora here. Walk one block and you'll see San Francisco church.
Templo de San Francisco
The Templo de San Francisco was built between 1779 and 1797. This was formerly the church of Saint Anthony of Padua. The elaborate stonework of the facade is considered one of the finest examples of Churrigueresque in the state of Guanajuato. St. Francis of Assisi stands at the very top of the facade. Below there is a depiction of the crucifixion, and sculptures of Saint John and Our Lady of Sorrows. The bell tower, which is neoclassical in style, was added in 1799 by architect Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras. Inside the church, you'll find paintings depicting the death of St. Francis.
To the left of the Templo de San Francisco is the Templo de la Tercer Orden (church of the "third order"), which is built in the typical style of the Franciscan missions of the colonial period.
Directions: Continue one block north along Juarez street. At Mesones cross the street and turn right, and enter the plaza where you'll see a large statue of a man on a horse.
Plaza Cívica Ignacio Allende
A large statue of Ignacio Allende mounted on a horse dominates this plaza, formally the Plaza Cívica General Ignacio Allende. There are trees and benches here, and you will find balloon sellers, and people passing the time. This plaza dates to 1555 and was the original gathering place and market area of the town before the Jardín Principal became the main square.
The building in the foreground is the former convent of San Francisco de Sales, which was at one time a school. Both Juan Aldama and Ignacio Allende, heroes of the Mexican War of Independence, studied here.
Directions: The Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud is at the far end of the plaza.
Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud
The large sea shell which forms a prominent part of the facade is the first thing you notice when looking at this church. The Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Church of Our Lady of Health) dates to the 18th century and was designed by Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro. This church was formerly the chapel of the San Francisco de Sales school. The interior has an altar dedicated to Saint Cecilia, patroness of music and musicians. On her feast day, November 22, musicians play at the church entrance.
Directions: The Templo del Oratorio is the next building west of here.
Templo del Oratorio
Construction began on the Templo del Oratorio church in 1712. The original chapel faces east of the Oratory; this more modern baroque facade faces south. There is a beautifully ornate chapel inside this church dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto. It is notable for its fantastically ornate décor with walls and gilded altars.
Directions: Head east along Insurgentes, then south one block on Reloj, then continue east along Mesones. The Teatro Angela Peralta is on the corner of Mesones and Hernández Macias.
Teatro Angela Peralta
Located on the corner of Mesones and Hernández Macías streets, the Teatro Angela Peralta dates to the late 19th century and has a neoclassical style. Construction began in 1871 and the theater was inaugurated on May 20, 1873, with a concert by opera singer Angela Peralta, "the Mexican nightingale" from whom the theater gets its name. There is a theater in Mazatlan which is also named after the same acclaimed soprano. The building was restored in the 1980s and hosts plays, concerts, dance performances, variety shows, children's shows, and films.
Directions: Continue south along Hernandez Macias. The Templo de la Inmaculada Concepcion is on the corner of Canal and Hernández Macias.
Templo de la Inmaculada Concepcion
Best known as "Templo de las Monjas", this church was built between 1755 and 1891. Architect Zeferino Gutierrez who built the facade of La Parroquia was in charge of construction. It is said to be inspired by the chapel of Les Invalides in Paris.
Directions: If you're tired, you can head back to the Jardín from here; it's just a block away. If you still have energy to continue, head south along Hernández Macias and follow it down to Ancha de San Antonio.
This mansion, built in the 17th Century, was originally used as a weekend retreat by Count Tomas de la Canal. It now houses a cultural institute which offers classes in language and arts.
Check the Instituto Allende website for details about classes offered here: Instituto Allende.
The Mirador is a lookout point which offers the best view of the San Miguel de Allende. It is on the southeast side of town. You can get here on foot, but it's a steep climb, so you may be better off taking a taxi. The sightseeing trolleys that depart several times a day from the Jardín stop by here. There is a handicrafts market and a cafe here, so you can have some refreshment while you enjoy the wonderful view.