Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city and as such, the western capital of Jalisco state is dotted with plenty of places full of historical intrigue, lengthy backstories and world-class architecture. From Catholic edifices to spooky cemeteries, here are the top ten historical sites in Guadalajara you should make time to visit.
Would a guide to the best historical buildings in Guadalajara be complete without a mention of the iconic double-spired cathedral which looms over downtown? The short answer: no. Built between the 16th and 17th centuries, the yellow domed cathedral is an instantly recognisable staple of Guadalajara and also sits at the heart of the historic centre, making it the perfect spot to begin your explorations.
While most everyone will stop by the cathedral, fewer people head to the equally beautiful but architecturally distinct Templo Expiatorio. This ornate and highly elaborate-looking edifice wasn’t even finished until the second half of the 20th century, and it certainly has a newness about it, but the exemplary Neo Gothic style makes it worth a visit. While its French stained-glass windows are pretty, its German clock is arguably even better.
Switching back to the historic centre for a hot second, the Teatro Degollado is a must-see of Guadalajara’s historic centre. Easily the most famous and important theatre in Guadalajara, it’s also significant on a grander, country-wide scale too. Even if you don’t find time to catch a show there, take a look at the sleek Corinthian columns which are topped by a relief depicting the muses. The interior is just as dramatic and arguably even more luxurious.
Guadalajara’s Hospicio Cabañas is a UNESCO World Heritage listed, neoclassical building which is perhaps best known for its José Clemente Orozco murals on the interior. However, it also has a rich history beyond the world of Mexican Muralism—it was once both a hospital and orphanage and is now home to a Cultural Institute. This is supposedly the most visited attraction in Guadalajara too.
Just set off to one side of Guadalajara’s tranquil but pigeon-filled Plaza de Armas, which itself centres on a delightful wrought iron kiosk, Guadalajara’s Palacio de Gobierno is, as most Government Palace’s are in Mexico, an impressive feat of architecture. Completed in the mid-18th Century, and much like the Hospicio Cabañas, this Baroque edifice also contains a few notable works by muralist José Clemente Orozco.
If you want to take a break from ogling buildings and really get into the nitty-gritty of Jalisco’s human history, then a stroll around the Rotunda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres is essential. Comprised of a collection of busts – all of famous people from Jalisco – this mini plaza is also a great place to cat-watch and read a book.
For a spookier introduction to Guadalajara history, then dare yourself to take a night time (or daytime) tour of the Panteón de Belén, the city’s most famed cemetery. This graveyard was the site of the first memorials for many of the famous people from Jalisco which can now be seen at the Rotunda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres, and rapidly filled up following numerous epidemics in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
You’ll almost certainly pass by the Arcos de Guadalajara at least once if you spend any time at all in the city, given that they’re on a main road which connects the centre with one of the Guadalajara bus stations. But why are the ‘Guadalajara Arches’ considered a historical site? Well, they’re Neoclassical, reminiscent of the French Arc de Triomphe and were once supposed to serve as the entranceway to the city. Guadalajara’s rapid expansion had other ideas though.
One of Guadalajara’s lesser-known historic sites comes in the form of El Acueducto, which, as the name suggests, is a simple aqueduct that was intended to separate Guadalajara from Zapopan, a neighbouring municipality. Building started on the structure in 1900 and nowadays it’s bordered by residential buildings.
Supposedly designed by four prominent Mexican artists (Dr. Atl, José Guadalupe Zuno, David Siqueiros, and Amado de la Cueva), as well as two architects – Casa Zuno is a 1920s Guadalajara building it would be easy to overlook. Casa Zuno features both tezontle (a reddy-brown volcanic rock) and limestone, simultaneously marrying together the colonial and neoclassical. Bacchus—God of Wine and Revelry—even makes an appearance in one of the top corners.