Guadalajara 3 hour Walking Tour of Historic Downtown

Guadalajara 3 hour Walking Tour of Historic Downtown

Cathedral Guadalajara

by Dorothy Bell

Photos by Bill Bell

(Driving to Guadalajara is easy but sometimes driving in Guadalajara can be bit daunting.

Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico with 4.5 million people. If you are a first timer you will probably get lost even if you have a map. Go there with the clear understanding that it is a busy large city with lots of traffic. Your goal, if you drive, is to spot the blue signs with a church and follow the signs to “Centro.”

From the Coast, Toll Highway 15D will end and you will pass a military checkpoint. Continue straight. You will continue straight pass the ring road and continue straight past a Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco on your right. Shortly afterwards you will see signs and take a right fork towards Centro.

If you get lost pull over and flag a cab. Ask him to take you to the Hotel Francis or any other Hotel you have arranged. It will cost less than $5 and be worth it to your nerves and spouse.

(Once you are settled into a hotel we start the tour at the Cathedral.)

Map of the Tour

Guadalajara Walking tour map

1. Guadalajara Cathedral 7. The Chairs
2. Plaza de Armas 8. Institute Cultural Cabanas
3. Palace of the Governor 9. Paseo Hospico
4. Calle Pedro Moreno – The Street of Weddings 10.  Teatro Degollado. & Plaza de La Liberacion
5. Plaza de Los Mariachis & San Juan de Dios
11. Plaza Guadalajara
6. Libertad Market (San Juan de Dios Market)


Let’s Begin the Tour

1. Guadalajara Cathedral

While facing the Plaza de Armas, you enter the cathedral from the side facing the Plaza de Guadalajara. Go up a few steps and through the large thick wooden doors.

The Guadalajara Cathedral or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima

guadalajara catedral

Guadalajara’s first cathedral was built across the street from the Teatro Degollado – 4 blocks away from its present site and in 1541 was declared a dioceses. It was a modest building created with adobe walls and a thatched roof.

Thirty three years later the roof caught fire when neighbors fired guns, and bullets landed on the roof. It was said that the incident happened during the celebration of a mass.

King Philip of Spain ordered construction of a new Cathedral in 1568.  It was completed on the present site in 1618. All went well for 200 years when an earthquake hit and the dome and square towers collapsed. The replacements were also destroyed by earthquake 20 years later.

New towers were constructed and completed in 1854 and the Pope declared the cathedral a minor basilica. However six earthquakes since that time have damaged the present building and the dome and north tower show structural damage.

The beauty of the cathedral amazes and is a beautiful fusion of classical lines: Mostly Baroque in style with Neo-Gothic towers crowned with yellow tiles from Sayula, a town located about 60 miles south of Guadalajara. The fine Gothic interior has 3 beautiful small chapels and nine altars throughout with paintings by some of Mexico’s finest artists. The French organ (located above the main entrance) is considered by many the largest in Mexico. The altar is made with marble and silver and the stain glass windows (imported from France) are stunning.

Guadalajara santaThe remains of many bishops, 3 cardinals, and the heart of a former president are interned here. The relic of Mexico’s as “Santa Inocencia” are also displayed.

(Santa Innocent was a young girl who, against her father’s wished, studied the catechism. Secretly she borrowed a white dress from the nuns and received her first communion. Her father was furious and stabbed her in the abdomen. Friends took her to the cathedral where she died. She is remembered by many children when they attend Sunday school in Mexico)

Remember that this is a place of active worship. Wear respectful clothing (no shorts, thongs etc) and do not take photos during a service. Be discrete. This is not considered a tourist attraction by the followers. Look for signs regarding photography and use of flash.

Exit through the doors you entered and turn left until the end of the block. You will now see the Kiosk and the Plaza de Armas

2. Plaza de Armas

Guadalajara Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas, which means Square of the Weapons, is considered the cultural center of Guadalajara. Laid out in the classic style with the church flanking one side and the palace of the governor to the right side, it is known locally as Plaza Major because it is the main square of the historic center of the city.

The Plaza began as an open meeting place for the community in the 19th century. Traditionally squares and plazas throughout Mexico were used as the focal point for social interaction in the community: a place for mothers and fathers to watch their toddlers and small children, for lovers to flirt and kiss, for old men and women to chat, gossip and feed pigeons.

The plaza was remodeled in 1910 to commemorate the Centennial of Mexican Independence. The ornate wrought iron bandstand imported from France in 1909 is featured in the middle of the square. It was a gift from Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. Concerts are performed here by the State band at 6:30pm.on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

The square has interesting statues; Grecian figures depict the nature of the four seasons are located at each corner of the plaza as well as a number of small classic statues of female figures representing various musical instruments.

The plaza retains that traditional relaxing vibe. Sit and enjoy the wrought iron benches, children with balloons, strolling vendors and lively Mexican social scene.

Walk towards the Palace of the Governor. It is guarded by security but the entrance is simple. Smile. No admission fee. Walk in the portal and turn toward the staircase to the right.

3. Palace of the Governor – Palacio de Gobierno

Governors Palace Guadalajara_small

The lavish Palacio de Gobierno is located on the Plaza de Armas Eastern flank. It is a two story baroque styled building complete with menacing gargoyles

The palace began as a modest adobe building constructed in 1643. The current building was completed in 1790 and was occupied by the governor of the state of New Galicia, an area that comprised the current states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Nayarit, Zacatecas as well as Jalisco.

In 1810 during the Mexican War of Independence it became Miguel Hidalgo’s residence. It was here from this palace where he issued a proclamation to abolished slavery.

The Palace also served as the official seat of Mexico from February 14 to March 20, 1858 when Benito Juarez and the cabinet lived in Guadalajara.

The building is now used for state offices.

“Lucha Social” Mural by Jose Clemente Orozco depicting Miguel Hidalgo issuing the Cry for Independence (1937)

4000 square meters.

EPSON scanner image

Jose Clemente Orozco painted the Mexico’s Father of Independence Miguel Hidalgo in the main staircase of the Guadalajara Palacio de Gobierno. The painting is called “Lucha Social” meaning “social struggle”or “Social Fight”

It is one of the most powerful murals in Mexico and represents the calling of people to act against dependence of Spain and unjust laws. It is Hidalgo in the night with the torch of freedom lighting the way.

It is also the chaos of battle with dirt, greyness and the color of hell. Men are slaughtered, impaled by a bayonet. Burned.

Incredibly moving.

The much smaller mural of Hidalgo on the second floor in the government chamber depicts Hidalgo signing the decree to abolish slavery. This was Orozco’s last mural.

Exit as you entered the building and turn left. Walk to the end of the block and turn left again onto Calle Pedro Moreno.

4. Calle Pedro Moreno – The Street of Weddings

Guadalajara wedding dresses

Moreno – a large pedestrian thoroughfare that will take you down one of the most interesting streets in all of Mexico. Every other store sells wedding dresses and accessories. The dresses are beautifully crafted and made of the most luxurious materials. They are truly amazing in all styles and prices. Take pictures and enjoy the street ambiance.

guadalajara more wedding dressesBesides wedding attire you will see dress for Chrisenings and elaborate dress for Quincineras. This is the place to buy and prices are unbelieveably inexpensive for the detail and quality of work.

Take a left at Moreno and stroll 5 blocks past the dreams of little girls.  There are a few interesting hat shops on your left just before you climb the stairs on the pedestrian overpass. Libertad Market is straight ahead but go to your right and cross the street. The Temple of San Juan de Dios is before you.

5. Plaza de Los Mariachis & Temple San Juan de Diosmariachi sq 

Mariachi SquareGuadalajara is the birthplace of the Mariachi genre of music and Mariachi Square is the center of the action. It is a simple small open square surrounded by restaurants. Teams of Mariachis play here, practice here, get work here. You will see all sizes and shapes, males and females, young and old if you sit long enough. It is worth a coke or beer to sit and listen or if you would like – 3-4 songs cost approximately $20 us. Mariachi Square is best enjoyed in the late afternoon or evening.

Cross the street to your North and enter one of the many portals to the market

6. Libertad Market (San Juan de Dios Market)

Libertad market Guadalajara

Before you enter the market make sure your money is secured safely away. The market can get very crowded and is a perfect place for pickpockets to ply their trade.

Libertad Market is three levels of glorious shopping that flows out onto the street and plazas beside it. You can get everything from DVD’s to live exotic birds. Electronic equipment to leather goods. This is Mexico’s second largest City but first largest outdoor market market.

Here you can get tourist souvenirs or knock off designer clothes. There are typical Mexican market food stalls if you are hungry or conversely there is a fresh food market on the main floor in the back and east side. Watch out for the pigs heads hanging from big hooks. Great photo opportunity.

If you would just like to sit for a moment and take it all in, walk to the back of the market and you will see an open courtyard where you can sit on steps and people watch.

Exit on the north side of the market and walk North on Paseo Herreros and up the stairs to Paseo Hospico and take a right.

7. The Chairs  “La Sala de los Magos”

guadalajara chair

guadalajara chair 2OMG! What are these! There are a number of bronze sculptured chairs by Alejandro Colunga in an open space in front of the Hospicio Cabanas. Imagination gone wild!
Bring out the cell phones because no-one is going to believe this.

guadalajara chair 3Colunga is a Guadalajaran self taught artist that enjoys people touching his work. “I love it when people are drawn to one of my works and want to touch it or sit on it, since touch is the most intimate and universal sense we have.”

The name “La Sala de los Magos” means room of the Magos or Living room of the Magicians. Each chair depicts a magician melting- transforming into a piece of furniture. Note the legs of the chairs are legs. The feet are human feet.  Absolutely delightful!

Turn and go to the ticket booth at the Cabanas.

8. Institute Cultural Cabanas

cultural cabanas

Cabañas 8, Las Fresas, 44360 Guadalajara, Jal., Mexico
Hours: 10 – 6 Tuesday to Sunday

Small admission fee
Guadalajara CabanasMan of Fire – Jose Clemente Orozco

A world Heritage site. A beautiful old hospital complex of buildings used as a workhouse, hospital and orphanage has 106 rooms and over 20 patios. It was developed and financed in 1791 by the Bishop of Guadalajara Juan Ruiz de Cabanas. It is all built on one level to facilitate the cripples and elderly. It was briefly used as an army barracks in the mid 1800’s.

In the 1930’s Jose Clemente Orozco created stunning frescoes about Mexico’s history inside the chapel including his famous “Man of Fire.” There are 57 murals that grace various walls and ceilings.  It is an incredible collection of powerful paintings – a national treasure.

In 1980 the Cabañas Cultural Institute moved inside the building and filled the space with art and learning and 20 years larer was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From here exit and walk the long walk down Paseo Hospico.

9. Paseo Hospico

guadalajara fountain

Paseo Hosico is a very interesting pedestrian boulevard. As you leave the Cabanas and the bronz chairs, you walk alongside a very long fountain. Take your time. The Paseo has small plazas with art, fountains and handicraft vendors. Lots of park benches along the way.

As the street leads towards the Cathedral, the expensive jewelry shops make way for more practical vendors. Plastic shops, bargain basements, ice-cream kiosks

Continue along the Paseo as it turns into Calle Morelos. You are now at the Teatro Degollado.

10. Teatro Degollado. & Plaza de La Liberacion

guadalajara degolato

Teatro Degollado

opera house

Neoclassic in design, the Teatro Degollado is the focal point of the cities cultural scene.

Located on the Plaza de la Liberacion, it was built in response to the demand for theater in the 1800’s. Governor Santos Degollado signed the official decree to build the structure December 12 1855 and the first stone was laid in in March 1856.

It is an amazing architectural structure. The facade has 16 Corinthian columns holding up a roof with pyramid framed scene depicting Apollo and the nine muses.

Inside the theater is equally impressive. The red and gold walls hold numerous highly regarded paintings. The marble floor. Incredible crystal chandelier.

Performances are delightfully varied from classical to contemporary. Opera to ballet folklorica.

Take a moment to reflect over a coffee or latte outside on the patio.

Plaza de La Liberacion

There is always something going on in the Plaza de La Liberacion. Concerts, demonstrations, dancing. The large square often is the focal point for public performances.Look for the statue of Miguel Hidalgo breaking the chains of oppression for his people.

Continue to walk towards the Cathedral

Hotel Fraces CourtyardHotel Frances

Just before you reach the Cathedral you can spot Hotel Frances to your left facing the back of the governors palace. It is the oldest hotel in the city. Originally built in 1610 the Frances offers lots of charm albeit a little worn around the edges.

Hotel FrancesLive Mariachi music Friday nights in the central courtyard. We love staying here, and at night hear the clip clop of horse and buggies as they make their way around town.Go here to see the Hotel Frances Web

11. Plaza Guadalajara

The Plaza in front of the Cathedral is a perfect place to end the tour. Here you will see two outdoor cafes and if you hit them in the late afternoon, one will have live music. If you are hungry look for the suit of armour with a stairway leading up to a second level. Cafe Antiqua is a good find. Ask for a table beside the patio so you can cee the Cathedral and the plaza life below.

antigua viewView from the balcony at La Antigua


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