Skip to Content

Home / Culture / 15 Things to do in San Miguel de Allende: A fairy-tale colonial city

15 Things to do in San Miguel de Allende: A fairy-tale colonial city

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

The old-fashioned tour trolley rumbles along the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende.

Look inside those open doors!” gushes our trolley guide.

Hidden behind the large half-open doors fronting the streets of this colonial Mexican town, 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’s entire historic center – more than 24 blocks – looks as if it popped right out of a fairytale.

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.

Contents: San Miguel de Allende attractions

What to do in San Miguel de Allende | 15 awesome experiences

Where to stay in San Miguel de Allende | 3 lovely hotels

Getting to SMA | Flying to Leon or bus from Guadalajara

Paseo del Chorro, San Miguel de Allende
An ancient winding street in San Miguel de Allende leads up to Paseo del Chorro, with old water chambers and this clock tower (we walked there after our trolley ride)

Things to do in San Miguel de Allende

At 6,000 feet above sea level in the heart of Mexico, San Miguel de Allende (aka “SMA”) has no beaches.

There are many wonderful attractions in San Miguel de Allende to explore
We left our hearts in San Miguel de Allende

So why visit San Miguel de Allende?

Because it makes up for that lack in spades with its art, architecture and culture – and its wonderful climate.

Things to do in San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende at the magic hour

It’s safe and one of the world’s hottest (as in most fabulous) spots to visit.

In 2018, it was named the “Best Small City in the World” by Condé Nast Traveler for the second consecutive year.

The colors of SMA are a visual treat for the eyes

San Miguel has even been rated the best city in the world.

In 2013, Condé Nast Traveler readers voted it the world’s best city for its “great atmosphere, excellent restaurants, culture and ambience galore.”

It’s certainly one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico.

San Miguel de Allende is considered one of the best cities in the world
San Miguel de Allende is one of the best cities to visit in Mexico (if not the world)

When you’re ready to explore more of Mexico beyond the usual sun-and-sand holiday destinations, San Miguel de Allende should be on top of your list.

Try to stay a few days at least. If not possible, you can visit on a day tour from Mexico City.

Ready now to take a closer look at what to do in San Miguel de Allende?

1) Take the trolley

A trolley tour is a good way to get a quick look at the main things to see in San Miguel de Allende
A trolley tour is a good way to get a quick look at the main things to see in San Miguel de Allende

Let’s start with a little more about that trolley ride…

We crane our necks to see where the guide is pointing.

An important center along the old silver route – when Spanish mines supplied more than a third of the world’s silver – San Miguel 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.

Yellow, red, ochre, pink -- San Miguel de Allende's buildings are so bright and colorful!
Yellow, red, ochre, pink — San Miguel de Allende’s buildings are so bright and colorful!

The problem is there are too many beautiful buildings vying for our attention to let us focus on just one!

Our heads swivel like those bobblehead dolls you sometimes see inside cars.

If anything, the bumpety-bump tour is too quick. The only solution is to revisit on foot some of those sights immediately afterward…

San Miguel de Allende's buildings are a picturesque blend of Baroque and neo-Gothic architectural styles
San Miguel de Allende’s buildings are a picturesque blend of Baroque and neo-Gothic architectural styles

San Miguel de Allende trolley tour:

Tours: Two companies offer the tours on an old-fashioned trolley: Tranvia Touristica and Transportadora Turistica Imperial.

Duration: The tours are about 90 minutes long.

To book: Check with the San Miguel de Allende tourist office on the northern side of El Jardin for days and times of the English-speaking tours.

Map showing the San Miguel de Allende tourist office:

2) Gawk at La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel

Of all San Miguel de Allende attractions, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is a highlight
Of all San Miguel de Allende attractions, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is a highlight

The San Miguel de Allende church known as La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is the town’s most iconic sight.

You can’t miss it. Just look for the soaring pink spires rising up from the church’s pink neo-Gothic façade.

SMA’s iconic cathedral lit up at night

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

San Miguel de Allende is a very desirable city to live in

Some 80,000 residents live in the actual town.

About 20% are expatriates. Most are from the U.S.; 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.

Expats teach Spanish to English-speaking visitors in San Miguel de Allende
Expats teach Spanish to English-speaking visitors

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.

Teachers, artists, university professors... They all love to retire in San Miguel de Allende
Teachers, artists, university professors… They all love to retire in San Miguel de Allende

The cost of living is also less expensive 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 mask museum

One of those very interesting expats 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.

The ceremonial masks in the museum have been crafted by local artisans across Mexico
Bill LeVasseur, owner and curator of the San Miguel de Allende Mask Museum, has spent more than 25 years collecting Mexican masks

The museum showcases more than 500 indigenous Mexican masks. (LeVasseur’s passion with ceremonial Mexican masks has also led to frequent speaking engagements at American universities).

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.

Jaguar head mask at the San Miguel de Allende mask museum
This mask looks like the head of a jaguar

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.

San Miguel de Allende Mask Museum
The ceremonial masks in the museum have been crafted by local artisans across Mexico

Mask museum, San Miguel de Allende:

How to visit: Visits to the mask museum are by appointment only.

For more information and to book: See the Another Face of Mexico’s website.

5) Admire the Sanctuary of Atotonilco

Things to do in San Miguel de Allende? See the Sanctuary of Atotonilco
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sanctuary of Atotonilco is painted inside with intricate murals and frescoes

About a 15-minute drive away from San Miguel de Allende, you find the Sanctuary of Atotonilco.

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)

6) See the Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception, San Miguel de Allende
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built as part of a convent by a teenage girl in the 1700s

The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion) is another of the San Miguel de Allende churches to see.

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.

7) 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.

Cacti at the San Miguel de Allende botanical gardens
Cacti at the San Miguel de Allende botanical gardens

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, then refreshed, you can easily tackle the scenic 15-minute walk back to town.

El Charco del Ingenio:

Opening days: The San Miguel de Allende botanical garden is open every day of the year.

Tours: Guided tours are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 am.

Admission cost: Small (50 pesos).

For more information: See the garden’s website.

8) Try fried grasshoppers

Fried grasshoppers
Fried grasshoppers anyone? George says they taste good! Janice passes…

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…

9) Check out the lovely hotels

Hotel Mathilda is a thoroughly modern hotel
Hotel Mathilda is a thoroughly modern hotel with a bright colorful pool area

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)

10) 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).

Many of the locals ride ATVs to get around the city

11) 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.

At sunset, there's no better bar in San Miguel de Allende than Luna
At sunset, there’s no better bar in San Miguel de Allende than Luna

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?

Cocktails and tapas anyone?

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 blankets add cozy warmth as you settle back into down-filled cushions.

Yes, this San Miguel de Allende rooftop bar is magic, pure and simple!

Luna has beautiful views of the pink Parroquia San Miguel de Allende church
Luna has beautiful views of the pink Parroquia San Miguel de Allende church

12) 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.

The Toy Museum is probably the most whimsical San Miguel de Allende museum
The Toy Museum is probably the most whimsical San Miguel de Allende museum

Read more! Feel playful at the Mexican Toy Museum in San Miguel de Allende

13) Visit Fabrica La Aurora

If you like art, then make your way to Fabrica La Aurora.

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, textiles and sculptures.

Love arts and crafts? Then you’ll love Fabrica La Aurora

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.

14) 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 best restaurants in San Miguel de Allende is The Restaurant.

Award-winning, The Restaurant dishes up creative international plates

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.

There are many great San Miguel de Allende restaurants!
Pizza, steak, seafood or tapas – there are many great San Miguel de Allende restaurants!

Where to eat in San Miguel de Allende?

Check out these articles for more restaurant options:

  • On Travel and Leisure magazine: “Restaurants in San Miguel de Allende”
  • On Rosewood Hotels: “How to Eat Your Way Through San Miguel de Allende”
  • On the Travel Mamas blog: “Best San Miguel de Allende Restaurants for Families and Other Local Food Tips”

15) Stroll the streets

What lies behind these wooden doors?

But our favorite experience?

Simply soaking up the colonial charm while getting lost amid San Miguel’s tangle of narrow atmospheric streets.

Sunset in San Miguel de Allende
Sunlight streams through this colonnaded passageway

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.

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.

A blue fountain in San Miguel de Allende
Blue fountains? You never know what you’ll come across when strolling San Miguel de Allende

Where to stay in San Miguel de Allende?

Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada:

We stayed at the colonial-style Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada. Exquisite!

Read our review: See our post on colonial living at the Belmond Casa De Sierra Nevada

Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada

Check rates and availability here

Rosewood San Miguel:

Another 5 star hotel in San Miguel de Allende is the Rosewood San Miguel, a swank historic-looking hacienda.

Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

Check rates and availability here

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.

How to get to San Miguel de Allende

Fly to San Miguel de Allende:

Leon International Airport is a 90-minute drive from San Miguel de Allende.

Bus to San Miguel de Allende:

Take the excellent first-class bus from Mexico City or Guadalajara (a four-hour drive). The first-class bus service in Mexico is almost like flying first class – really! Check ETN or Primera Plus.

We took ETN to Guanajuato, stayed in Guanajuato for several days, then took another ETN bus to San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel de Allende packing list

1) Layers | Bring a sweater and light jacket in winter (December to February) as it gets cold in the evenings.

2) Cute and comfy sandals | Do your tootsies a favor and check out these fab travel sandals for both men and women that we’ve sussed out!

3) Suntan lotion | The sun can be strong.

4) Cool shades | We’re a fan of Ray-Bans.

5) Good camera | You won’t want to miss those great shots of San Miguel de Allende’s colonial architecture. We love our Sony mirrorless camera – it’s small enough to throw in your purse or backpack, but it takes awesome photos!

As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Experience more of Mexico!

Read our posts on:

Zihuatanejo | Want a great beach vacay? See the best beaches in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa.

Mexico City | Fabulous museums. Gorgeous art. A rich historical center. There are oodles of cultural activities in Mexico City to enjoy.

Puerto Vallarta | Where to stay? You’ll love these beautiful boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta.

Cabo San Lucas | Check out our ultimate Los Cabos travel guide. It’s packed with info on where to play, stay and eat.

Ready to book your trip?

See the following helpful services:

Our Travel Resources Guide | Get airline booking tips. Discover great travel, tour and car rental companies. And read useful trip planning info!

Booking.com | Score a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one.

Vrbo | Get your own apartment or villa, instead of a hotel.

GetYourGuide | Check out local tours and book tickets to attractions.

Our Travel Shop | Find the best travel gear.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!


Pin this to Pinterest!

Hey, do you love SMA? Then pin this!

Best things to do in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

We first wrote 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: 5, 6, 8 to 11, 16 to 22, 24, 28, 34 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 3, 7, 12, 33 Visit San Miguel | 13, 25, 26, 27, 36 Rosewood San Miguel | 29 Fabrica La Aurora | 30 The Restaurant | 35 Belmond


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Caribbean Villas
Vacation like a multi-millionaire at these posh Caribbean villas!
← Read Last Post
Bicycling on River Cruises
Two-wheeling on the best ocean and river cycling cruises!
Read Next Post →

Tammy Ourand

Saturday 3rd of August 2019

We spent 2 months in SMA - December and January 2019… I can not understand why this is a desired retirement community. The winter months get down to 32 degrees at night- there is no heating in the majority of homes and hotels … including the high end hotels . With that being said- you will have bitterly cold showers for your morning, we showered in mid afternoons most of our stay. There are fireworks being shot off any given day any given hour. I’m talking the sonic boom type of explosions that rattle your soul in the middle of the night. While it’s charming for the first few days … it quickly gets old at 3am day after day. The locals set fire to the fields - no one could seem to explain this phenomenon to us. If you are sensitive to air pollution- be warned this is not the place for you. We loved SMA as a destination for a few days … but our 2 month booking was entirely too long and the thought of retirement in such a cold and polluted environment really confused us. We met retirees that had bought into the dream and bought homes in the area - only to give up the dream a year or 2 later. There were lots of nice homes for sale… I’d say, please visit for an extended stay before you decide it’s a place for retirement.

Janice and George

Saturday 3rd of August 2019

You're right. Visiting a place on holidays is very different from living in that destination!

When traveling, we've often thought - Wouldn't it be lovely to retire here? But then when you're on holiday, you don't contend with things like banking, doctors, grocery shopping, pharmacies, house insurance and repairs, lawyers, car ownership and all the host of things you deal with when you live in a place (and these can be more challenging in a foreign country). We agree with your advice that it would always be wise to rent an apartment or home first in your desired retirement destination (preferably for more than just one winter) before buying something and making the permanent move.

When we visited SMA in January, the temps did dip down at night, but we quite enjoyed snuggling in warm blankets, and then being blessed with sunny daytime temps in the very comfortable 70s. And we had hot showers :-).

Thanks for sharing your experience. The fun part about just a 2-month booking is that you have the freedom to try out a new place for your next winter getaway :-).

Cacinda Maloney

Sunday 11th of January 2015

Oh how I love San Miguel de Allende!! I have actually stayed at Bill's place, La Casa de Cuesta, that I found years ago, it was fabulous and the mask museum was a plus!!! (as well as the most fantastic breakfast I can ever remember!)

Beatrice

Monday 1st of December 2014

Vibrant, colourful and adventurous...

Becky Padmore

Monday 1st of December 2014

What a characterful looking place and I love the masks! :-) Must add to my wish list!

Janice and George

Tuesday 2nd of December 2014

The mask museum is pretty cool - definitely a must-do when visiting San Miguel de Allende!

Irene S. Levine

Friday 28th of November 2014

Your post made me want to return to San Miguel de Allende. So much to see and do in this colonial city~