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Guadalajara is the heart of Mexico and one of the country’s biggest cities. It’s known worldwide for its historic and cultural heritage, and for being home to fundamental elements of Mexican culture like mariachi music and tequila. Its name, Guadalajara, means “river/valley of stones” and has Andalusian Arabic origins.
In recent years, the city has grown exponentially thanks to investors and it’s now one of the most important tech hubs in the country. Many international companies have a presence in the city, like IBM, Oracle, and Intel.
Besides renowned international companies, Guadalajara is also home to many Mexican remarkable personalities like former Miss Universe winner Ximena Navarrete, Formula 1 driver Checo Perez and boxing world champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. It has also given birth to acclaimed film personalities like director Guillermo del Toro and actor Gael Garcia.
Widely known as “The Pearl of the West”, Guadalajara is a top destination with lots of free attractions and sites, and for the tourists, it offers a unique fusion of traditional Mexican culture and a modern lively atmosphere.
If Mexico evokes ideas of Caribbean beaches and all-inclusive resorts, Guadalajara will prove the famous quote that “(…) everyone is wrong about other countries” and show you a side of Mexican culture you didn’t know existed and which goes beyond famous Narcos scenes, also filmed in the city.
Here are some ideas of amazing free things to do in Guadalajara.
Top Free Things to do in Guadalajara, Mexico
A 20 min drive from Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque is worth the visit. An artistic and colorful city, it is well known for its art galleries, mariachi music, and local crafts made of ceramics or pottery. It’s also an ideal place to find home furniture or decorations.
There are many great spots to take photos like the “umbrella street” and many others decorated with papel picado (bright colored paper cut in different shapes).
Walk the main avenue “Independencia” packed with shops, restaurants, and traditional decorations. Go to Mercado Benito Juarez to find amazing local souvenirs, typical food, and even piñatas.
To eat, I recommend “El Abajeño”, a local restaurant where you can enjoy live mariachi music and have a cazuela (tequila drink with soda and fruits).
Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento
One of the most beautiful churches of Guadalajara, “Templo Expiatorio del Santisimo Sacramento” has a unique design with a Neo-Gothic architectural style. Its construction began in 1897 but was not finished until 1972 and it stands out because of its 15m-high mosaic stained glass windows and huge stone pillars.
At 9 am, noon, and 6 pm, the clock tower has a door that opens and the 12 apostles march out. A great place to see this is from “Expiatorio” park. The church is open every day from 7 am to 11 pm. Visit in the afternoon during weekends when the square is filled with vendors and delicious food stands.
Tonalá Street market
On Thursdays and Sundays, Tonalá transforms into a huge street market that covers dozens of streets and has nearly 4,000 merchants. This market has a wide variety of colorful crafts, decorations, and furniture, perfect for buying some local souvenirs to take home.
You can also have a delicious lunch from the food stands that sell typical dishes like tortas ahogadas (similar to a sandwich but with birote bread, and drowned in salsa) and pozole (traditional soup and stew with pork meat and corn).
The origin of this flea market dates back to pre-Hispanic times when it was the meeting point for indigenous people of the area to exchange their merchandise. The famous market is open from 8 am to 4 pm every Thursday and Sunday, and it’s a 30-minute drive from the city center.
Palacio de Gobierno
This impressive building houses the Jalisco state’s government offices and is home to some of the finest murals by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco. The most iconic mural is a 400 sq meter painting of Miguel Hidalgo, one of the main contributors to Mexico’s Independence from Spain. You can admire this mural on the main staircase inside the palace.
“Palacio de Gobierno” has a free entrance and it’s located near the city’s Cathedral and “Teatro Degollado”, in the historic center. There’s also a multimedia museum, where you can learn more about Guadalajara and Jalisco state’s history.
Completed in 1618, Guadalajara’s Cathedral is one of the city’s main landmarks. The city was founded in 1542 in this location, which was the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Galicia at that time. In 1560, the Catholic archdiocese moved to the city and the King of Spain ordered the construction of a new cathedral.
The building has a neo-gothic architectural style that can be observed in its towers. The Cathedral has been damaged by many earthquakes and part of the structure was rebuilt and finished in 1854. The stunning interior includes a “Last Supper” depicted on the stained glass above the altar. You will also find a Gothic crypt with gold-leaf columns, where the remains of archbishops rest.
Take a stroll in “Plaza de Armas”, where the Cathedral is located, and enjoy a lovely view of the Cathedral and the surrounding colonial buildings.
A gorgeous neoclassical theater, “Teatro Degollado” is home to Guadalajara’s philharmonic. It’s a 5-floor building with a red velvet and gold interior. The entrance has a cost, but admiring it from the outside is just as wonderful.
Its facade, designed by the Mexican artist Benito Castañeda, consists of 16 Corinthian columns sustaining a triangular image of the god Apollo and his nine muses carved in white marble.
It is one of the best-preserved theaters of Latin America and a true work of art. If you wish to do a guided tour of the interior (for an additional cost), visit from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm.
Plaza de los Mariachis
If you’re a music fan this spot is a must. Head to “Plaza de los Mariachis”, the birthplace of mariachi music. Packed with quaint old buildings, this place may seem like a normal narrow street by day, but at night, bands play song requests from visitors seated along the street and the atmosphere turns lively with loud mariachi music.
“Plaza de los Mariachis” is also a good place to taste local dishes and watch traditional dances. This street is ideal for solo travelers looking for inspiration and catching a glimpse of the traditional Mexican culture. Visit from Monday to Saturday from 12 pm to 1 am, or on Sundays from 1:30 pm to 3 am.
Basílica de Zapopan
Built in 1730, “Basílica de Zapopan” is an architectural and religious gem. Pilgrims visit it all year round to pray to “Nuestra Señora de Zapopan”, a Virgin statue in the interior of the church. On October 12 every year, thousands of pilgrims visit the church and kneel in front of the Virgin statue.
The best time to visit the “Basilica de Zapopan” is on Friday and Saturday evenings, at 9 pm, when there’s a video show; a fascinating light and sound show projected in the facade of the church. See this show and learn more about the history of Zapopan and its church.
This monumental square goes from “Teatro Degollado” to the “Instituto Cabañas” museum in the city center of Guadalajara. It has a fascinating mix of colonial architecture and contemporary sculptures and fountains.
Visit on Sundays despite being the busiest day of the week, because it’s when you’ll find lots of crafts at great prices, local snacks from street vendors, and performers doing traditional dances.
“Plaza Tapatía” has many cool cafes and excellent restaurants, this makes it the perfect spot for a Sunday stroll.
Biblioteca Iberoamericana Octavio Paz
This public library is an iconic landmark in Guadalajara. It first served as a school and temple when it was built by the Jesuits in 1591. Later, in 1791, it became the first University in the city. Years later, it became the government’s Legislative Palace.
It was until 1925 when it became part of the University of Guadalajara and was decorated with murals from outstanding artists like David Alfaro Siqueiros and Amado de la Cueva. In 1937, the building was sold to an American company and was demolished, only the temple and the Loreto chapel remained standing.
Finally, in 1991, it was restored and transformed into the Octavio Paz Iberoamerican Library.
The library has played an important role in the area and has participated in the Guadalajara International Book Fair, the most relevant literary event in the Spanish language. Remarkable literary icons like Mario Vargas Llosa and George R.R. Martin attended the event.
The building is worth a visit due to its architectural beauty and interior design. Visit from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 9 pm, or Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm. The entrance is free.
“Mercado Libertad”, also known as “Mercado de San Juan de Dios”, is another popular marketplace full of colorful arts and crafts. It’s the largest indoor market in Latin America, with an area of 40,000 sq meters and 3 levels. You will find everything here! From clothes, video games, and films, to fruits, meat and sweets, and everything in between.
This market offers a wide variety of low-budget local products and cheap eats. It’s open every day of the year from 8 am to 8 pm.
Where to Stay in Guadalajara
Here’s a map of some of the best places to stay in Guadalajara, Mexico!
This article was contributed by Lilian Arjona, Content & Community Manager at Solo Female Travelers Tours. Lilian Arjona is a Digital Marketing Specialist with a passion for travel and culture. She has been to more than 45 countries and has lived in Florence, Barcelona, Tokyo and New York.