26 Must-Visit Attractions in Guatemala City

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As Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City can often be overlooked by tourists in favour of colonial Antigua, beautiful Lake Atitlan, or pretty Flores, the gateway to Tikal. However, there’s more to this city than first meets the eye – whether you’re in town for a few days or more, here are 14 must-visit attractions to add to your list.

1. Mercado Central

Market

Textiles in Panajachel, Guatemala
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Walk through the seemingly endless maze of underground passages to explore the lively Mercado Central. It may not be as pretty as the open-air markets in Antigua or Chichicastenango, but the handicrafts found here are often much cheaper. Browse stalls selling leather goods, wooden masks, and woollen blankets… but keep an eye on your belongings, as pickpockets lurk here.

2. La Aurora Zoo

Zoo

Brown bear posing at Zoológico La Aurora, Guatemala City, Guatemala
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The Guatemala City zoo is well maintained and organised, and if you’re an animal lover it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours. The zoo has several exhibit areas, including the African savanna, the Asian subcontinent, the Mesoamerican tropics, and a farm. The zoo’s proximity to the nearby Children’s Museum makes this a convenient day out if you’re travelling with kids.

3. Museo Popol Vuh

Museum

Located within the Fransisco Marroquin University, this stylish and modern museum documents the different stages of indigenous Guatemalan culture and history. Named after the ancient Mayan sacred book, Museo Popol Vuh showcases intricate pre-Hispanic figurines and statues, carved wooden masks, burial urns, traditional textiles, and many other Mayan artefacts, and also displays colonial paintings and gilded wood upon its walls.

4. Mapa en Relieve

Museum

This enormous open-air topographical map of Guatemala is a great place to begin your adventures in the county. At a staggering 1:10,000 scale, with exaggerated volcanic peaks that appear even more dramatic and precipitous than they are in real life, this quirky map allows you to get a feel for the landscape of Guatemala.

5. Palacio Nacional de la Cultura

Building

Woman stood in front of Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, Guatemala City
Sean Boyd / Unsplash
On the north side of Parque Central is the magnificent Presidential Palace. Built between 1936 and 1943 by prisoners on the orders of the infamous dictator General Jorge Ubico, today this palatial building is a museum and cultural centre. Take a couple of hours to explore its quirks; the grand banquet hall, with its ornate stained-glass panels, ironically represents the virtues of good government.

6. Metropolitan Cathedral

Cathedral

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Hector Pineda / Unsplash
Also called the Cathedral of Guatemala City, the Metropolitan Cathedral sits right at the heart of the city, and boasts an interior design that stands as a shining example of colonial art and architecture. The layout mirrors the form of the Latin cross, while in front of the cathedral are 12 pillars – a tribute to the murders and disappearances of thousands of people during the Guatemalan civil war during the 1960s. Inside the cathedral are 14 paintings by revered 17th century Mexican artist Pedro Ramirez.

7. Guatemalan National Theatre and Miguel Ángel Asturias Cultural Centre

Natural Feature

Formerly a military fortress, Guatemala’s national theatre is made up of five different complexes and boasts outstanding acoustics and views across the city. Inspired by Mayan culture, the theatre takes the shape of the volcanoes that surround it, and plays host to spectacular shows, from ballets to operas and concerts.

8. Paradigma Café

Cafe

Guatemala has long been known for exporting top quality coffee, but only recently has the national market enjoyed the beans. These days Guatemalans, and visitors, come from far and wide to sample the coffee at Paradigma Café, run by former barista champion Raúl Rodas. Geek out over the beans and brews, or simply enjoy an excellent array of coffees. Recommended by Jack Guy.

9. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología

Museum

The Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología is home to Guatemala’s largest collection of ancient Mayan artefacts. Showcasing jade jewellery, traditional masks and stone sculptures – many of which were found at temples in Tikal – there’s also an excellent ethnography section dedicated to the language, costumes and dances of the indigenous Maya peoples. The archaeology section is also home to large-scale model of Tikal.

Cervecería Centroamericana

Cervecería Centroamericana has brewed the large mainstay of Guatemalan beer since 1886, and most visitors to the country will have tried Gallo, its flagship beer. This brewery manufactures beverages that include Gallo Light, Victoria lager, the dark bock beer Moza, and Malta Gallo malt liquor, and offers fun, informative tours in both Spanish and English. You’ll need to make a reservation (at least a week in advance) but the tour itself is free – and ends with some free samples!

Museo Ixchel de Traje Indigena

Museo Ixchel de Traje Indigena offers visitors the chance to learn about Guatemala’s iconic Mayan textiles. The museum has excellent exhibitions showcasing indigenous dress and arts and crafts, and documents the history of these garments as well as the Mayan influence on the country’s history. It also has an art gallery downstairs, a children’s section, a café, library, and an ethical shop that sells textiles made by local weavers.

La Bodeguita del Centro

To discover the bohemian beating heart of Guatemala City, head to La Bodeguita del Centro. This creative hangout has live music from Tuesdays to Saturdays including everything from rock to jazz to classical, and there’s plenty of poetry readings, discussions and forums going on here too. The walls are adorned with prints of Che Guevara, Bob Marley, John Lennon and Vincent Van Gogh, and entrance is free every night apart from Fridays and Saturdays.

Biblioteca Nacional

Bookworms will be in their element at the sleek Biblioteca Nacional, which casts an impressively modern shadow in a plaza packed with colonial architecture. Built by famous local muralist, sculptor, engineer and architect Efrain Recion (who also built Guatemala’s National Theatre), this library is home to over 150,000 books and newspapers, and also houses abstract concrete reliefs and façade work.

Iglesia La Merced

This pretty yellow church is based on the original church in Antigua, Guatemala, and even contains gold-plated Baroque altars from the original building. Built in 1918 in a neoclassical style, this church bizarrely became the headquarters of the Guatemalan police force, but is now a museum packed with elaborate paintings, religious statues and sculptures from the 17th and 19th centuries. A must for architecture fans.

Jardin Botanico

It may be small, but Guatemala City’s Botanical Garden is very, very pretty. Located at the northern end of Zona 10, the gardens contain an impressively extensive collection of plants that are managed by the Universidad de San Carlos. Your ticket price also includes admission to an adjoining natural-history museum.

El Portal

Che Guevara reportedly used to drink here during his time in Guatemala City, and little has changed since. The decor remains the same, and the staff wear traditional whites. Sit down and order a beer and you’ll get free snacks at the same time. There are lots of screens around, too, so it’s a great place to spend a few hours if you’re into sports. Recommended by Jack Guy.

Casa Mima

Guatemala City has several excellent museums that charge admission, but the best free museum is Casa Mima, a fascinating cultural centre housed in a 17th-century house. Exploring this museum is like stepping back in time to the 1870s; set up like a functioning home with original furniture, decorations, belongings, antiques and clothing from the period, the Casa Mima house gives you a unique insight into how an upper middle-class Guatemalan family would have lived. Walk through the kitchen, explore the living room and bedrooms, admire period costumes and old photographs, and get involved with the guided visits and cultural activities that take place every day.

Megapaca

If you’re someone who enjoys digging around thrift shops, Guatemala City’s Megapaca will leave you breathless. Megapaca is a clothing chain that relies on enormous loads of used clothes, usually donated from the U.S., to stock its stores. Unlike other thrift shops, a Megapaca only sells quality clothing; nearly 60% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line, so being able to purchase cheap-yet-decent clothing is essential. There are now over 50 Megapaca stores in Guatemala, but the one in the capital is the biggest and best. Take the time to wander through this maze of clothes and you’re sure to find some truly unbelievable bargains.

Genetic Majestic

Genetic Majestic club – previously called Pandora’s Box – has been the go-to destination for Guatemala City’s gay crowd since the 1970s. These days, however, the crowd is more mixed, although it’s still the largest gay hangout in town. It’s also the best place in the city to enjoy trance and dance music, and the two dance floors are almost always heaving. If you’re feeling more chilled, there’s also a rooftop patio and areas of the club that are more relaxed. For those people looking to party, Friday nights are all you can drink.

Las Cien Puertas

Las Cien Puertas (100 doors) is one of the oldest bars in Guatemala City, and it’s also one of the coolest. Located in a colonial arcade (Pasaje Aycinena in Zona 1) that’s said to have 100 doors (hence the name), this trendy bar is as eclectic as it is hip. Nearly every inch of the walls is covered in graffiti, and new patrons are invited to sign their names before leaving. In the early evening El Portal is a great place for a quiet drink with friends, but as the night goes on the late opening hours draw night owls from around town. Essentially a bar, cafe and coffee shop, having a drink here is a must.

The ‘Eiffel Tower’

Guatemala City obviously doesn’t have a replica of the Eiffel Tower, but a running joke among locals is that Zone 9’s Tower of the Reformer is the next best thing. Built in 1935 to honor 100 years since the birth of former Guatemalan President General Justo Rugino Barrios, the Tower of the Reformer pays tribute to Barrios’ liberal reforms and desire for social freedom.

The chicken bus

Guatemala is famous for its chicken buses, and these photogenic vehicles are the primary means of transportation for most locals. Donated from the US, these old school buses are customized in three ways: first they’re shortened, so they can better navigate Guatemala’s winding hills and roads, then a faster engine is put in, and finally they’re painted in a variety of bright colors and patterns. Because of the relatively low literacy rate, the buses are color-coded in relation to their destinations.

La Erre

This cultural centre is housed in a cavernous building in the centre of Zone 4, and has forged a reputation for hosting innovative art shows, musical events, and other cultural happenings. Check out the programme at laerre.org. Recommended by Jack Guy.

Mercado 24

Guatemala City is home to 23 public markets from which Mercado 24 buys its ingredients. In addition to this commitment to using local ingredients, the restaurant is known for its innovative menu. There aren’t many places in the capital where you will find calamari and snook tostadas on the menu. Recommended by Jack Guy.

Trova Jazz

Check out the events programme at the Trova Jazz music venue for the chance to see local acts in an intimate atmosphere. The drinks are cheap, the sound is good, and there are a variety of musical styles on show that go far beyond the eponymous jazz. Recommended by Jack Guy.

El Principe Gris

If craft beer is your thing, El Principe Gris is the place to be. Craft beer lovers aren’t exactly spoilt for choice in Guatemala City, but this little place is the epicentre of the movement. There are artisanal lagers, coffee stouts, and IPAs served up in a welcoming environment. Plus there are sausages for when you get peckish. Recommended by Jack Guy.

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