The old-fashioned tour trolley rumbles along the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
“Look inside those open doors!” gushes our trolley guide.
Hidden behind the large half-open doors, we glimpse magnificent Baroque and neo-Gothic mansions, built around garden courtyards with fountains. Many house boutique hotels, designer shops, restaurants and art galleries.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Miguel is one of Mexico’s most beautiful colonial cities. Its entire historic center – more than 24 blocks – looks as if it popped right out of a fairytale.
And taking a trolley ride through the city is one of the best things to do in San Miguel de Allende when you first arrive.
Apart from being fun, the trolley ride gives you a good overview of the key San Miguel de Allende attractions.
Then over the course of your visit, you can return to the different sights and enjoy exploring them more leisurely.
About San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende (aka “SMA”) is found at 6,000 feet above sea level in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico.
It has no beaches.
So why visit San Miguel de Allende?
Because it makes up for that lack in spades – with its art, architecture, culture and wonderfully pleasant not-too-hot and not-too-cold climate.
San Miguel de Allende is safe and one of the world’s hottest (as in most fabulous) spots to visit.
It’s raked in oodles of awards for “best city.”
In 2021, it topped Travel + Leisure’s list of the 25 best cities in the world. (It even beat out Florence, Kyoto, Rome and Porto.)
In 2018, SMA was named the “best small city in the world” by Condé Nast Traveler for the second consecutive year.
In 2013, Condé Nast Traveler readers also voted it the world’s best city for its “great atmosphere, excellent restaurants, culture and ambience galore.”
When you’re ready to explore beyond Mexico’s usual sun-and-sand holiday destinations, San Miguel de Allende should be at the top of your list.
Try to stay a few days.
If that’s not possible, you can at least visit on a day tour from Mexico City.
35 Things to do in San Miguel de Allende
Okay, ready now to take a closer look at what to do in San Miguel de Allende?
1) Take the trolley
Let’s start with a little more about that trolley ride…
We crane our necks to see where the guide is pointing.
The city was an important center along the old silver route – when Spanish mines supplied more than a third of the world’s silver.
Today, the heart of San Miguel de Allende is studded with well-preserved 17th and 18th century buildings lining higgledy-piggledy cobbled roads.
Most buildings are painted in orange, rust and pink colors; strict guidelines ensure renovations conform to historical standards.
The problem is there are too many beautiful buildings vying for our attention to let us focus on just one!
Our heads swivel like that of a bobblehead doll clinging to the dashboard of an old car.
While the bumpety-bump trolley tour shows us the best places to see in San Miguel de Allende, it’s too quick.
The only solution is to revisit some of those sights on foot immediately afterward…
Map showing the San Miguel de Allende tourist office:
See this link to see the location of the tourist office (Consejo Turistico de San Miguel de Allende) on Google Maps.
2) Gawk at La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel
The San Miguel de Allende church known as La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel (Church of St. Michael) is the town’s most iconic sight.
If there’s one thing you absolutely must see in San Miguel de Allende, it’s this.
Mind you, you can’t exactly miss it. Just look for the soaring pink spires rising up from the church’s pink neo-Gothic façade.
The local stone mason who built it got his inspiration from a postcard picture of Gaudi’s quirky Sagrada Familia in Barcelona – or so the legend goes.
If there’s no service going on, you’re welcome to enter the church and have a look inside too.
But you won’t be able to take pictures of the interior.
3) Retire here
Some 80,000 residents live in the actual town.
About 20% are expatriates. Most are from the United States; the balance are from Canada and Europe.
They came to visit San Miguel de Allende. Then they stayed.
They’re an engaged lot of talented people who paint, sculpt, make jewelry, offer art and culinary classes, run bakeries and beguiling boutique hotels, raise funds for restoration projects, teach Spanish, operate restaurants and volunteer.
Basically, they’ve helped turn this Mexican colonial city into a thriving, friendly, cultural community.
If you’re looking for a great place to retire, consider San Miguel de Allende.
You’ll be in good company!
The cost of living is less than, for example, in the U.S. (Except that housing prices have gone through the roof in recent years as more and more expats move to live here.)
And the climate is mild year-round, averaging in the 70s F most days.
It’s no wonder so many expats choose to retire in San Miguel de Allende!
4) Tour the San Miguel de Allende mask museum
One of those very interesting expats (mentioned in #3 above) is Bill LeVasseur.
One moment, the former advertising executive and his wife were building a retirement home in San Miguel.
The next, he became the curator of a remarkable non-profit mask museum called Another Face of Mexico.
(LeVasseur has spent more that 30 years collecting Mexican masks. His passion for ceremonial Mexican masks has also led to frequent speaking engagements at American universities).
The museum showcases more than 500 indigenous Mexican masks.
After we set up an appointment, Le Vasseur invites us to first meet over a glass of wine at his B&B, Casa de la Cuesta (which the retirement home morphed into).
He tells us how he’s traveled all across rural Mexico, collecting ceremonial masks used in dances and rituals. Then he tours us around the museum across the lane.
The variety of masks is bewildering.
We see masks adorned with bull horns and boar bristles, and death masks with devil figures.
One strange mask is in fact a thick wooden belt with a horse’s head the size of a football sticking out the front.
It symbolizes the Spanish general on his horse, leading the Christian charge against the Moors during the Arab occupation of Spain.
The whole exhibition is a fascinating introduction to the important role that masks play in Mexico’s many native cultures.
Visiting the museum is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting things to do in San Miguel de Allende!
5) Read a book in the library
Run by volunteers, the public library (Biblioteca Publica) in San Miguel de Allende has the second largest collection of English and Spanish books in Mexico.
But wait. It’s not just a library.
Offering English language versions of many different newspapers, a café and an inviting courtyard with seating areas, the library is also a central gathering place for expat residents to meet and socialize.
For you as a visitor, it’s a great place to orient yourself in SMA.
The colorful ceiling and wall frescoes inside are worth checking out too.
For book nerds (that’s George!), popping into the library will be one of your favorite things to do in San Miguel de Allende.
6) Admire the Sanctuary of Atotonilco
You’ll find the Sanctuary of Atotonilco about a 15-minute drive away from San Miguel de Allende.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the church is decorated with the most amazing frescoes.
They’re so beautiful that the church has been dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.”
Read more: See our post on the Sanctuary of Atotonilco (Mexico’s Sistine Chapel)
7) See the Church of the Immaculate Conception
The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion) is another impressive church to see.
Like La Parroquia (#2 above), it’s found in the heart of San Miguel de Allende. Crowned by a cupola decorated with Corinthian columns, the church rises beside a striking yellow convent on Canal Street.
“Back in the 1700s, the enormously wealthy Canal family’s 16-year-old daughter wanted to be a nun, so she asked the King of Spain if she could build a convent for 72 nuns,” our trolly guide rattles off on our tram tour.
Known locally as Las Monjas (The Nuns), the church still operates for the sisters of the convent.
8) Dig the plants at the botanical garden
Okay, don’t actually “dig” the plants.
But if all that art and architecture begin to overwhelm, you can find serenity outdoors at El Charco del Ingenio.
Created by a private citizens’ initiative, this 67-hectare botanical garden and nature preserve on the town’s outskirts is home to a sprawling array of cacti from around the world.
The man-size, Y-shaped cucharilla, over 300 years old, gets our vote as the most unusual cactus.
Miles of hiking trails also wind through peaceful countryside overlooking a river carved into a valley floor, home to egrets and ducks.
Sip a cactus juice – refreshed, you can easily tackle the scenic 15-minute walk back to town.
9) Try fried grasshoppers
This is definitely one of the more unusual things to do in San Miguel de Allende.
Fried grasshoppers are a popular local snack.
They’re good as a salty crunchy topping on guacamole – or so we’re told…
10) Check out the lovely hotels
San Miguel de Allende is home to many fabulous and artsy hotels and B&Bs.
They usually have very pretty courtyards, and you should pop in and take a peek at some of them.
They make for great photo backgrounds too.
Eager to know about accommodation? Jump to recommended B&Bs and luxury hotels in San Miguel de Allende (at the end of this post)
11) Go horseback riding
Yep. One of the best outdoor things to do in San Miguel de Allende is to go horseback riding.
Several tour operators offer horseback riding tours that take you out into the countryside and down exploring the bottom of Coyote Canyon, where the river La Virgen winds its way.
Operating since 2000, Coyote Canyon Adventures is a well-known company which gets excellent reviews.
Book a half-day horseback riding adventure with them to gallop through traditional cattle ranches (if you wish), ride down into the canyon and enjoy an organic ranch-style lunch.
12) People-watch at El Jardin
This one is pretty easy. You’ll probably do it anyway without any planning.
Plant yourself on a bench among the rose bushes of El Jardin – the main garden square – and engage in some good old-fashioned people-watching.
We’re particularly amused by the residents who putter by on ATVs (very practical vehicles, by the way, for those hilly cobbled streets).
13) Sip drinks at a rooftop bar
At sunset, rooftop bars are popular for drinking in the views (as well as the margaritas).
Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar nails the rooftop bar experience.
On top of the deluxe Rosewood hotel – overlooking the Gothic-inspired La Parroquia church, twinkling lights and terracotta roofs – Luna is hands-down the best place at sunset for stupendous views of the city.
Bartenders mix up inventive cocktails like hibiscus and tamarind margaritas.
The “Oasis San Miguel” drink even contains artisanal ice cubes made of green tea, lemon and Angelica.
Perhaps order Baja-style lobster tacos and other tapas to go with those drinks?
And when the sun sets, you’ll be totally transfixed by the changing light and colors as the sky first turns gold, then pink and finally a deep velvet purple.
If you get chilly, heat lamps and cozy blankets add warmth as you settle back into down-filled cushions.
Yes, this San Miguel de Allende rooftop bar is magic, pure and simple!
There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in the city – it’s one of the most heartwarming things to do in San Miguel de Allende.
Perhaps help look after children at Centro Infantil de los Angeles, a free daycare center and preschool for children of low-income working parents.
Or volunteer at Feed the Hungry SMA.
This U.S. backed non-profit organization has been preparing and delivering school meals in mostly rural communities for some 35 years. Helping hands are needed to assemble direct mail campaigns, pack food and deliver meals.
15) Smile at the Toy Museum
Want to feel like a kid again?
With such a cultural side, it’s probably no surprise that there are several museums in San Miguel de Allende.
But the most fun one is its delightful toy museum, the Museo La Esquina.
Read more! Feel playful at the Mexican Toy Museum in San Miguel de Allende
16) Browse the local market
Named after a famous Mexican poet, the Ignacio Ramirez market is full of fresh and exotic Mexican fruits and vegetables, flowers, spices, cheeses and snacks (the roasted corn on the cob with chili and lime is great!), as well as clothes, shoes, talavera pottery, children’s toys, embroidered bags and more.
It’s the oldest market in San Miguel de Allende – bustling with life and very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Drink a fresh-squeezed orange juice. Watch what people buy to make for dinner at night. Breathe in the different spicy and floral scents as you wander the aisles.
17) Visit Fabrica La Aurora
If you like art, then make your way to Fabrica La Aurora – one of the top San Miguel de Allende tourist attractions for arts and crafts lovers.
It’s a very interesting collection of art studios, art galleries, jewelry shops, home decorating stores and cafés, all housed within an old fabric factory.
You’ll see all sorts of high-end original paintings, hand-woven textiles and sculptures.
On the first Saturday of each month, there’s an “Art Walk” where the studios and shops stay open late, live music is played and drinks and snacks are offered.
18) Eat at great restaurants
Don’t get us started on the food scene – we may not stop! But we’ll try to be brief…
From lowly (but delish!) tacos to imaginative tasting menus, San Miguel de Allende is a foodie paradise.
One of the yummiest facts about Mexican food is that it can be very creative and sophisticated – and San Miguel’s restaurants are proof of this.
One of the best restaurants in San Miguel de Allende is The Restaurant.
With a lovely Moroccan courtyard setting near the main square, it’s popular with expats (try the tuna tartare with wasabi, corn and avocado).
When it pours one evening, the candle-lit, cave-like La Grotta is our cozy refuge for soul-satisfying, wood-oven pizza.
Want to try a bit of everything at one time?
How about tasting the best mole enchiladas, traditional ceviche, authentic tacos, fresh fruit sorbet (traditional nieve de garrafa) and two desserts for lunch on a walking tour?
If this makes you drool, check out this 5-star-rated San Miguel walking-and-food tour, featuring six local food stops.
19) Drink in the view from El Mirador
For a bird’s eye look at San Miguel del Allende, make your way to El Mirador – a terrace with panoramic views of the city.
SMA is amazing at street level. But from above, it possibly looks even better.
To get there, walk up the 15 or 20 minutes from the main square (El Jardin). It’s a little bit of a cardio workout, but, hey, you want to burn off some of those churro-induced calories, right?
Alternatively, the trolley (see #1) also rumbles its way up to the Mirador. Or you can take a taxi.
20) Soar in a hot air balloon
One of the most adventurous things to do in San Miguel de Allende is to soar above the town in a hot air balloon. Globo San Miguel has been offering hot air balloon rides over San Miguel for more than 25 years now.
It’s fascinating to watch the balloon get inflated.
(We went hot air ballooning over Cappadocia, in Turkey, and the anticipation watching the whole procedure was almost as exciting as the ride itself!)
21) Tour the archaeological site of Cañada de la Virgen
Canada de la Virgen is a fascinating archaeological site, located about 15 miles from San Miguel de Allende.
Occupied by the Otomi people between 540 and 1050 A.D., the site consists of a complex of four pyramids (specially aligned with the movement of the planets), a ceremonial causeway and an ancient man-made pond.
To appreciate the newly discovered 40-acre site, you need to walk about two miles.
Keep your eyes open for wild stallions galloping in the distance!
22) Go wine tasting at nearby vineyards
Not only is San Miguel known for its art scene and architecture, it’s also an up-and-coming destination for wine lovers.
One of the best day trips from San Miguel de Allende is visiting the local wineries.
There are several different wine areas to explore.
Cuna de Tierra is one of the most popular wineries – it’s also the oldest winery in Guanajuato state. Their red wines are award-winning. Make sure to visit their wine cellar.
Other wineries nearby include San José la Vista Vineyard and Tres Raices.
If you head towards Queretaro, you’ll find the popular San Lucas & San Francisco sister wineries and Toyan Vineyard. At the San Lucas & San Francisco wineries, you can enjoy a wine tasting and visit their lavender workshop.
Two more wine tasting areas to explore are Celaya and Dolores Hidalgo.
23) Shop for souvenirs at the Mercado de Artesanias
If you’re passionate about supporting local artisans then this is the place for you!
You’ll find all kinds of goods like bags, hand-embroidered shawls, jewelry, clothing, pottery and so much more.
There are also street food vendors here if you’re in need of a snack, but the market is mostly known for its great Mexican souvenirs – some of the best in San Miguel de Allende.
Many items are small and easily packable, which means they’ll travel well in your suitcase.
A walk through this local market is a must when you visit San Miguel de Allende.
24) Enjoy a tacos-and-tequila tour
Is there a better pairing than tacos and tequila? We think not.
This tacos-and-tequila tour combines history, culture, food and drink for an afternoon full of fun. Visit family-owned restaurants and try some of the locals’ favorite dishes alongside delicious cocktails.
The tour lasts for three to four hours, and you’ll want to wear comfortable travel sandals or shoes since you’ll be doing lots of walking.
This is one of the most fun activities in San Miguel de Allende – don’t miss it!
25) Soak in natural hot springs
Two options for hot springs are nearby – Escondido Place and La Gruta Spa.
They pump water from natural hot springs into man-made pools, some of which are made to look like caves.
Bring your own towel, otherwise you have to buy one there (and they’ll be overpriced).
Both hot springs have restaurants onsite as well as spas where you can get a massage.
They’re popular places to visit in San Miguel de Allende, so get there early if you want the place to yourself. They’re favorite spots for families and children later in the day.
26) Photograph the Templo del Oratorio
The Oratorio de San Felipe Neri church (or Templo del Oratorio) dates back to the 18th century, and the only thing more impressive than the exterior of this historic building might be the interior.
On the east end of Insurgentes street near Plaza Civica, you can stand in awe of the domed baroque architecture. It’s one of the must-see places in San Miguel de Allende!
As the appearance of all buildings in the historic district is regulated, its exterior paint was made in a similar way to that used in the 1600s.
Inside the church, you can see 33 different oil paintings of Saint Philip Neri (San Felipe Neri) throughout his life. He’s the 16th century Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Oratory.
27) Take a day trip from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato
For another great day trip from San Miguel de Allende, check out the small colonial town of Guanajuato.
Located just under two hours away from SMA, it makes for a fun change of scene.
If you want a deluxe experience, this private tour includes transportation from SMA to and from Guanajuato, your own tour guide and lunch.
28) Learn about the local craft beer scene
Craft beer has become popular in many cities over the last few years, and San Miguel is no exception.
The most popular craft brewery is Cervecería Dos Aves.
Since they opened in 2012, they’ve accumulated an impressive number of awards for the different beers they’ve produced – from a Belgian golden strong ale to stout.
You can find their beers at many local restaurants. Or have a beer at their local taproom – this is one of the most fun things to do in San Miguel de Allende, guaranteed!
29) Chill out at a café
Coffee brewing happens to be an art in San Miguel de Allende.
And hanging out at a local café, watching the flurry of people go about their business, is a much-loved pastime in SMA.
So pop into a café for a cappuccino, beer or glass of wine and rest your feet for a few minutes. Maybe eat a bite too.
It’s a great way to take a break from a full day of San Miguel de Allende sightseeing.
30) Visit the home of Ignacio Allende
Ignacio Allende was an officer in the Spanish army who turned revolutionary – he supported the fight for Mexican independence against Spain.
He was eventually beheaded by the Spaniards, and you can learn more about him in the family home of Ignacio Allende (built in 1764), now a museum.
This is a simple museum. But it’s good stop and worth at least a quick visit if you’re interested in the first Mexican Revolution.
31) Take a day trip to Santiago de Queretaro
Another one of the fun things to do in San Miguel de Allende is to take a day trip to Santiago de Queretaro.
It’s a little more than an hour’s drive away. (By bus, it takes longer.)
This city is known for its beautiful, well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. It’s clean, well-maintained and absolutely gorgeous. The historic city center is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are plenty of local restaurants, boutiques and museums to explore while you spend the day walking the quaint streets.
It’s worth making the trip to Queretaro if you have more than 3 days in San Miguel de Allende.
32) Check out the whimsical street art
If you’re up for a scavenger hunt, why not check out some of the popular street art? A 10-minute walk from the historic center of SMA brings you to the neighborhood of Guadalupe.
This is a spot known for its art scene, and many building walls are decorated with huge murals. It’s fun to wander the streets and be surprised by the next mural that pops into view.
The mural program was started to tame the rough edges of once-gritty Guadalupe.
Now, artists live in Guadalupe and many people visit each day to check out the beautiful paintings.
33) Pop in to Doce 18
A place where you can eat, drink, shop local and stay? Sign us up!
Doce 18 is a very cool modern space that’s home to fine dining, casual and grab-and-go options for food. In the center, there’s a gorgeous bar for drinks.
You’ll also find over 15 different designer boutiques plus a beautiful modern-style hotel.
The whole space has a modern/industrial design vibe with lots of greenery and exposed brick walls. It’s definitely one of the must-see places in San Miguel de Allende.
34) Take a cooking class
If you’re interested in food, one of the best San Miguel de Allende activities is taking a cooking class. Learn from local chefs how to cook some of those fantastic Mexican dishes!
Check out Pura Vida Kitchen to make salsa and guacamole and learn to cook with local vegetables.
For classes on traditional Mexican foods like tamales and mole, you’ll love learning from Marilau at Mexican Ancestry Cooking School.
Want to learn some new tricks while cooking in an 18th-century mansion? Sazón Cooking School may be for you. Some of their classes include Mexican Specialties, Healthy Mexican Cooking and Regional Cuisine.
Finally, Chef David Jahnke offers courses on basic to advanced cooking techniques as well as traditional Mexican dishes.
35) Stroll the streets
But our favorite experience?
Simply soaking up the colonial charm while getting lost in San Miguel’s tangle of atmospheric narrow streets.
Just strolling the cobblestone lanes and alleys – peering into various nooks and crannies – is really one of the top things to do in San Miguel de Allende.
Blue fountains? Colonnaded passageways? You never know what you’ll come across around the next corner.
One ancient winding street we walk leads up to Paseo del Chorro, with old water chambers and a clock tower.
And when the sun sets and the town’s wrought-iron lamplights cast a golden glow, the town feels absolutely magical.
If you decide then and there that you’re never going to leave, or will return to live here permanently, you won’t be the first person to do so.
That’s our round-up of the best things to do in San Miguel de Allende!
No doubt you can see why the city is so popular among travelers.
Visiting SMA is one of the top things to do in Mexico.
If you haven’t been yet, you’ll want to include this beautiful city in your itinerary the next time you go to Mexico.
Where to stay in San Miguel de Allende?
Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada:
Rosewood San Miguel:
Another one of the best hotels in San Miguel de Allende is the Rosewood San Miguel, a swank historic-looking hacienda.
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende: Check rates and availability
Casa de la Cuesta:
Owned and run by Another Face of Mexico’s mask museum curator and his wife, Casa de la Cuesta is one of the best B&Bs in San Miguel de Allende. It’s very charming and gets great reviews!
Casa de la Cuesta: Check rates and availability
With 32 modern rooms and suites, this stylish boutique hotel has a pool for lounging and an excellent restaurant.
Hotel Matilda: Check rates and availability
How to get to San Miguel de Allende
More San Miguel de Allende travel information
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We’ve also written about San Miguel de Allende for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles and Compass magazines. And we’re super excited that our articles won a couple of travel writing awards!
Photo credits: 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 17 to 24, 29, 33, 42 to 45, 47, 52, 54 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 3, 6, 8, 12, 53 Visit San Miguel | 11, 14, 30 to 32, 56 Rosewood San Miguel | 26 Casa Schuck | 27 L’Otel | 28 Coyote Canyon Adventures | 35 Fabrica La Aurora | 37 The Restaurant | 39 Erik Reinecke, Wikimedia | 49 to 51 Doce 18 | 55 Belmond | 57 to 59 Hotel Matilda