A Tour of Guatemala City's Architectural Landmarks

Guatemala City
Guatemala City | © Fernando Reyes Palencia / Flickr

Freelance writer

Guatemala City is full of beautiful colonial buildings and interesting architectural landmarks. From the unique Mapa en Relive to the impressive Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, here are the sights and buildings that you absolutely must visit.

1. Palacio Nacional de la Cultura

Building, Museum

© Fernando Reyes Palencia / Flickr

The imposing Presidential Palace sits on the north side of Parque Central, and you should definitely take a couple of hours to explore the ins and outs of this fascinating building (tours are available). Built between 1936 and 1943 by prisoners on the orders of dictator General Jorge Ubico, today the palace is a museum and cultural center. This palatial building has dozens of interesting quirks; ironically the stately banquet hall, with its intricate stained-glass panels, is meant to signify the virtues of good government.

6A Calle, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala +502 2239 5000

Guatemala City © Fernando Reyes Palencia / Flickr

2. Explore Mapa en Relieve


The Mapa en Relive is one of Guatemala City’s most famous and unique landmarks. This huge open-air topographical map is at an astonishing 1:10,000 scale, with overstated volcanic peaks that are even steeper than they are in real life. An accurate 3D replica of Guatemala’s unusually varied landscape, it depicts the jungles, volcanoes and lakes that this country is known for. It’s even more impressive when you consider it was built more than 100 years ago, without the use of modern technology.

3. Metropolitan Cathedral


The Metropolitan Cathedral is located in the heart of the capital and is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. Also known as the Cathedral of Guatemala City, the spectacular interior design beautifully showcases the very best of colonial art and architecture. The layout of the cathedral is in the form of a cross, and at the entrance of the cathedral are 12 pillars – a tribute to the deaths and disappearances of thousands of locals during the Guatemalan Civil War of the 1960s. There are also 14 paintings by famous 17th-century Mexican artist Pedro Ramirez inside.

4. Biblioteca Nacional


Guatemala’s stylish Biblioteca Nacional casts an impressively modern shadow in a square that’s otherwise packed with colonial architecture. Built by famous Guatemalan muralist, sculptor, engineer and architect Efrain Recion (who also built Guatemala’s National Theatre), this sleek library houses more than 150,000 books and newspapers, and is also packed with impressive abstract concrete reliefs and façade work. Not just for bookworms!

5 Avenida 7-26, Guatemala +502 2232 2443

5. Iglesia La Merced


La Merced Church
© SdosRemedios / Flickr
This striking yellow church is based upon the original La Merced church in Antigua – inside there are even gold-plated Baroque altars that were taken from the original building. The church has a strange history; built in 1918 in a neoclassical style, for a period it was the headquarters for the Guatemalan police force. These days the church is a museum that houses many elaborate paintings, religious statues and intricate sculptures from the 17th and 19th centuries. A must-visit for architecture enthusiasts – don’t forget your camera!

6. Guatemalan National Theater and Miguel Ángel Asturias Cultural Centre

Building, Theater

Guatemala’s National Theater was built as a military fortress, and this unique building is made up of five different complexes. In honor of Guatemala’s Mayan culture, the theater is shaped like the volcanoes that circle the city, and it has remarkable acoustics and views. Come to explore the building, then stay for a show; from ballets to operas and concerts, they’re unlike anything you’ve seen before.

24 Calle 3-81, Guatemala +502 2208 7777

7. Tower of the Reformer

Guatemala City’s Tower of the Reformer is known for being the capital’s very own Eiffel Tower. Built in 1935 to honor 100 years since former Guatemalan President General Justo Rugino Barrios was born, the Tower pays homage to Barrios’ liberal reforms and quest for social freedom. Located in Zone 9, it might not be as pretty as the real Eiffel Tower, but a running joke among residents is that it’s definitely the next best thing…

7A Avenida, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala +502 2422 1800

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