San Miguel de Allende is a historic city in the heart of Mexico, which is considered not only one of the most beautiful places in Mexico, but one of the most beautiful places in the world! It’s a unique place to visit because of its beautiful 18th-century Spanish architecture and its relevance in Mexican history. It’s a very vibrant place, and the photos I’ve seen of the city’s baroque Spanish architecture have been imprinted into my head… I knew in a heartbeat that I needed to visit someday. San Miguel is any art lovers dream — with it’s stunning colonial architecture, beautiful churches and thriving arts scene, we fell in in love with this picturesque little city as soon as we arrived.
Set high in the mountains of central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato, San Miguel is worthy of it’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status, filled with quaint cobblestoned streets, artisanal craft shops, hot springs and some of the most inventive restaurants. It has really wonderful street art and brightly painted buildings, it’s practically bursting with color. San Miguel de Allende has been recognized as the “Best Small City in the World” in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021. What’s not to love about this gorgeous city?
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” — Rabindranath Tagore
We are excited to share the details of our trip and our recommendations with you. Here are suggestions on what to see, where to stay, what to eat and explore! Before we get into the details, here are a few pictures that were taken in the heart of San Miguel de Allende!
What to see in San Miguel de Allende?
- Visit La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel Church — The massive Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel church is the most iconic site in San Miguel de Allende. The two pink towers can be seen from all over town. It is one of the most photographed churches in Mexico. These strange pinnacles were designed by indigenous stonemason Zeferino Gutiérrez in the late 19th century. He reputedly based the design on a postcard of a Belgian church and instructed builders by scratching plans in the sand with a stick. The rest of the church dates from the late 17th century.
- Hike up to the Mirador for the Best View of San Miguel de Allende — Mirador is the Spanish word for “viewpoint” or “lookout”. The best view of San Miguel de Allende is from the Mirador located just a 15-minute walk from the center. It’s not really a “hike” — you can walk on the paved street the entire time, however it’s a bit steep. If you don’t want to walk you can take a taxi or the local tour trolley. From the Mirador you can see the church and its beautiful towers and domes, and all the colorful houses and flowers in San Miguel.
- Walk Around the Historic Center of San Miguel de Allende — El Jardin is the heart and soul of San Miguel; it’s the city’s main plaza, and where all the action revolves around. The historic center of San Miguel de Allende is very easy to walk around and admire the colorful homes and Baroque architecture. The buildings are from the 1600s and 1700s and still in very good condition. The entire historic district is a little less than 2 acres in size, so it’s really easy to see everything and you don’t have to worry about getting lost or missing anything! To preserve its colonial heritage, all the buildings in the historic district must be painted a certain color with paint made from organic substances, just like they would have used in the 1600s.
- Visit the street art and stroll along the cobblestone streets in San Miguel de Allende — Plan to spend 1-2 hours walking around and hunting down the street art in this radiant neighborhood. There are also many charming cafes for relaxing in the afternoon. It’s a quiet area if you want to escape the crowds of the center.
- Take a Food Tour of the Best San Miguel de Allende Restaurants — Often one of the biggest decisions when traveling is figuring out where to eat. The best way to solve this problem is by taking a food tour. Taste of San Miguel offers food tours with local guides who live in San Miguel, and know exactly where to find the best restaurants there. With Taste of San Miguel, you can take a food tour for lunch or dinner and you’ll get to sample the best dishes from 5-6 different restaurants, all while learning fun facts about the city. You can rest assured that you will have some of the best food San Miguel has to offer and learn something too!
- Do not miss the “Sistine Chapel Of Mexico or The Sanctuary of Atotonilco — The Sanctuary of Atotonilco is a historic church near San Miguel de Allende. It was built in the 1600s. The church is nicknamed the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico” because of the ornate Baroque murals that almost completely cover the walls and ceiling. The murals depict classic scenes from the Bible and were painted over a period of 30 years by a single Mexican artist named Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre. The murals are painted in a style called Mexican folk Baroque. Indigenous influence can also be seen in the paintings. Because of its well-preserved architecture and murals, the Sanctuary of Atotonilco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Wander through the Artisans Market in San Miguel de Allende — If you’re looking for authentic, handmade souvenirs for a very good price, the Artisans Market in San Miguel de Allende is the place to go. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, the market is fun to walk around and admire the colorful pottery and textiles. The shopkeepers are not pushy and will not try to pull you into their shop or convince you to buy anything. You can walk through the market and shop in peace.
Where to stay?
San Miguel is small and everything is centered around the Jardín, where you’ll find restaurants, shops, cafes, bars, museums, boutiques, street vendors and more. The expat culture, combined with gorgeous architecture, has created a selection of B&Bs and hotels, including private homes converted into boutique hotels of varying sizes. We highly recommend staying anywhere close to the Centro or Jardín as it is convenient to walk to all the attractions, restaurants and shopping.
For our trip, we stayed at Casa Biblioteca which was located right in the middle of Centro on a quiet street, so we were a few steps away from all the attractions. We didn’t have to take a taxi during our entire trip, and we walked everywhere. Casa Biblioteca is a complex of 6 luxurious apartments with exquisite modern-Mexican décor, walking distance to Jardin, Parroquia and all the best restaurants, art galleries and shops that made this a great location for us.
If you prefer something quieter away from the non-stop activity of the Centro, Juarez Park neighborhood is a good option where you have the Rosewood hotel, and smaller boutique properties such as Hotel Matilda, Posada Corazón, and Antigua Villa Santa Monica.
What to eat?
- Quince Rooftop Restaurant: Quince offers the most amazing views of San Miguel de Allende and La Parroquia. Quince Rooftop has been named both ‘The #1 Rooftop Destination in the World’ in 2018 and ‘The #1 Rooftop Restaurant in the World’ in 2021. The restaurant is elegant and hip, and serves up some of the most inventive cocktails, handcrafted by award-winning international mixologists. Boulangerie Bleu is the in-house French bakery, serving unique and special pastries made by Quince’s French-trained pastry chef. We celebrated my husband’s birthday at this restaurant, and we would definitely go back!
- Panio Bakery and San Agustin Churreria: “Kouign Amman” from Panio bakery has to be my favorite pastry ever. It’s like a croissant with buttery flakey layers, and the layers have sugar in between them. The outside is crispy, crunchy and caramelized, and the inside is soft, sweet, and gooey! San Agustin is a very popular Churreria in San Miguel de Allende. We had Dulce de Leche and Condensed Milk stuffed Churros and they were so good!
- Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar: Luna Tapas Bar offers a breathtaking rooftop experience with unobstructed views of the city’s majestic skyline, the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, bell towers, rolling hills, and more! They serve really good Mediterranean-inspired tapas. There is no better spot to watch the sunset and take in the fading lights across the city’s palette of burnt sienna, earthy pink, and warm yellow hues.
- La Azotea: This rooftop restaurant is truly a hidden gem that doesn’t even have a sign on the street. It’s a tapas restaurant that offers views of three different churches, including, of course, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, but also Iglesia de San Francisco and Templo de la Purísima Concepción. The combination of the view, dining and drink options make this a spot well worth the effort to find!
- La Colmena Panaderia the Blue Door Bakery: La Colmena is a historic bakery over 100 years old located inside the Centro. This is the perfect place to grab a quick breakfast on the go before you head on the road trip to Atotonilco and checkout the Sistine Chapel of Mexico!
- La Parada Peruvian Restaurant: San Miguel’s La Parada — literally “The Stop”— offers food from the Andean nation. Owner Juanito is best known for his ceviche, Los Fresquitos, coastal dishes served tapas style. They also serve an authentic pisco sour in a rustic-chic setting.
How to get to San Miguel de Allende?
To get to San Miguel de Allende from the Mexico City Airport, you can take a taxi, airport shuttle or a bus. Bajigogo shuttle direct from the airport to SMA costs $80 USD per person one-way if there are more than two people. Private Taxi is about $200 one-way from Mexico city to SMA. We chose to take the taxi from Mexico city to San Miguel for our trip. You can also fly into Queretaro Airport and take a 90-minute taxi or shuttle from there, but airfare to Mexico city is typically a lot less than flying into other airports.
May we recommend?
Our recommendations for anyone hoping to travel to this spectacular destination:
- Getting Around in San Miguel — San Miguel is a very walkable city, and you can get to most places by walking within 20 minutes. Your main point of reference will be La Parroquia. It’s the main church in the main garden square, called El Jardin. You can see (and hear) the church from most places in the city, so it’s easy to orient yourself if you get lost – just head to El Jardin! This area is also a fun place to sit and people watch. It’s the liveliest spot in the city! If you do want a taxi, they are very cheap ($1-2 USD) and are great for getting home if you don’t want to walk the cobblestones. They are all over the place so just flag down a green taxi. The light being on or off on top doesn’t seem to indicate anything in my experience.
- What to pack — San Miguel is in the mountains, so it’s cool in the evenings and warmer in the daytime. You’ll need a light jacket if you are planning to be out late into the night.
- Local Transportation — San Miguel is a very walkable city, but there are times you might want to get a taxi and it is very inexpensive to hire a taxi. Anywhere within SMA is about 60-70 pesos, but drivers may charge extra outside of Centro.
- Learn a few Spanish words — English is well-spoken, but try to use some of your Spanish vocabulary to get around, it will go a long way! You can use Spanish Dictionary, Duolingo and Google Translate. My husband speaks Spanish, so this was not an issue for us, but a few words of Spanish would help a lot.
- Download Google Maps for Offline Use — Before you leave the USA go to San Miguel de Allende on your Google Maps app. Hit the three bars on the top left and select “Offline Areas”. Select “Custom Area” and then click “Download” with the map over San Miguel. This will allow you to use Google maps in San Miguel even when you don’t have wifi or cellular service!
“Piérdete en el mundo y encuéntrate contigo mismo.”
“Get lost in the world and find yourself at the same time.” — Unknown
So let your next adventure take you to this amazing destination… San Miguel de Allende is one of those destinations that you truly need to experience for yourself. Be adventurous and explore all the wonderful things this colonial city has to offer!
And remember… Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!