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.
La Aurora Zoo
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.
Museo Popol Vuh
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.
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!
Mapa en Relieve
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.
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.
Palacio Nacional de la Cultura
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.
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.
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.
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.
Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología
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.
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.
Guatemalan National Theatre and Miguel Ángel Asturias Cultural Centre
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.
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.