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San Miguel de Allende was just named the Best City in the World by Travel and Leisure readers and its been on the list for years. So, does it live up to the hype?
First of all, it has been over ten years since either Alex or I have traveled outside of the US, and San Miguel del Allende is the first International destination we really spent time in together. So, we were immediately amazed. We would definitely suggest going there if you are given the opportunity.
The Travel and Leisure voted on on cites based on these criteria: sights/landmarks, culture, food, friendliness, shopping, and value, and we will cover our experiences with all of those things.
We do agree with the article that SMA is gorgeous, magical, and easy to navigate. And while we loved it, we wouldn’t necessarily call it the best in the world for us. We feel like most of the things to do there are very consumer-based like shopping, dining, drinking, and going to spas. And after walking for hours, eating a few meals out, visiting the Mercado de Artesanias, and popping into a few shops, we felt like there wasn’t much more to do for us.
Make sure to keep reading to find out the one mistake we made
Our favorite activity in a new city is just walking around and taking in the charm, architecture, colors, and sounds of the city. And the good news is, there is a lot of that to do.
Our best list:
- El Jardín
- Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud
- The colorful streets
- Mercado de Artesanias
- The fresh food
- A fun surprise
1. El Jardín
This is a gorgeous shady public park with a gazebo in the center of the city. From here you can see some of the most well-preserved examples of Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Neo-Gothic architecture and the most beautiful buildings in the city.
The star of the city center is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Its ornate and towering pink sandstone spires have been compared to a wedding cake, but to us it was more like a really beautiful compass arrow . It is one of the reasons that San Miguel de Allende is so easy to navigate. You can often spy the pinnacles poking out of the skyline while navigating San Miguel’s surrounding streets.
2. Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud
While Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is the main character, Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud seems like the understated underdog… until you get closer. I (Emily) actually love this church a bit more than its big sister. The churrigueresco style is so elaborate and ornamental with the scalloped arch and all the textures that it stopped me in my tracks. It is just a 5 minute walk from El Jardín right off of Plaza Cívica.
3. The colorful buildings and doors
These are just a few of the colorful sights you will see when strolling around San Miguel de Allende. Most of the buildings are ochre, olive, apricot, or cítron in color with a few bright blue mixed in. All the doorways are intricate in some way, wether they are carved wood, vibrantly colored, or draped in floral decorations.
There is something about this level of attention to detail that makes you want to know what lies behind each door. So many of them are mysteries!
4. Mercado de Artesanias
As a maker and crafter, the Mercado de Artesanias was immediately intriguing to me. Once I saw it, Alex could hardly drag me away. Luckily, he had enough patience with me while I picked out a hat and then dragged him back the next day to get a wallet that I regretted not buying the first time.
Note: If you are looking to purchase similar items, Etsy is a great place. Make sure it is a shop that supports fair trade and handmade artisan work and a living wage for the artist. Many traditional styles and items are too often copied by mass produced fashion and this takes wages away from the native artisans that actually created the products (and have been doing for centuries). Here are some shops I recommend for a similar hat and a similar wallet.
Watch us shop at Mercado de Artesanias on YouTube
5. The Fresh Food
American food is trash. I said what I said.
But, in all seriousness, the main noticeable difference between restaurant food in Mexico and the United States is freshness. Every meal we had out was so clearly made with fresh ingredients. Its reputation for gastronomic culture is one of the things that keeps driving visitors to San Miguel de Allende and we can attest it is justified. We didn’t even eat at expensive restaurants and they were all delicious. To get this quality of meal in the U.S., you would pay at least USD $50 a plate (more likely above that) and we paid on average USD $15 a plate. That includes drinks and entrees. Our highest bill was around USD $35.
As you may know, we have food allergies, and we had no issues finding-allergy friendly and vegan options. Here are the places we ate at and loved. They were all able to accommodate dairy/milk, egg, gluten, and nut allergies.
- Mama Mia, Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias #91, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
- Manipura Restaurante vegano, Jaime Nuno 1 B, Guadalupe, 37710 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
- Fenicia Lebanese Restaurant, Zacateros 73, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
- Don Taco Tequila, Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias 83, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
6. Truck Full of Broccoli
Ok, I’m kind of joking because I freaking love broccoli. But, part of what can be charming about this city is seeing things we are not used to seeing in most places in the United States.
It pretty much made my life to walk around the corner and stumble upon a pickup truck overflowing with my favorite green veg.
We found this very close to the Ignacio Ramírez Market which is a farmer’s market loaded to the gills with fruit, veg, hot food stalls, and craft venders.
So, how much time does it take to see all of San Miguel de Allende?
We recommend 5 days.
We were in San Miguel de Allende for 10 days total, but some of those were work days. We spent 5 afternoons out and about the city and we felt like that was the right amount of time to spend. We got to do everything we wanted to do in a leisurely manner. And remember, for us that meant taking the time to shoot video content for YouTube as well as do a few reels and photoshoots for Instagram. So, if you are there entirely for vacation, 5 days is definitely enough time to explore San Miguel de Allende.
Stay longer if…
…you like shopping, dining, nightlife, spas, and relaxing.
For us, we get bored and antsy after just a few hours of relaxing. Then, we begin to look for something else to do. That is why we opted out of going to the nearby Mayan Baths. When I inquired about appointments for massages, they told us we had to stay there for 7 hours! OMG NO! Apparently, they only have a few timed entry and exit options (10-5, 11-6, 12-7). And yes, I asked them to clarify, and they said you do have to stay the whole time. And we are not sure how strict they are about it, but we were also not about to find out.
If being “locked” in a spa for 7 hours sounds like your idea of heaven instead of our idea of hell, then you would probably love a little extra time here.
We did take one spa day… err few hours
As mentioned, we typically aren’t big on relaxing “activities” in general. But, when it comes to a day spa for a few hours, we love it.
We visited Float Sano and highly recommend it. We had a couples package with 45 minutes in the infrared sauna and an hour long massage for USD $133.60. Yes, that was for BOTH of us! It was the perfect amount of time for us to spend at a spa.
We then went for a relaxing late lunch and drink at Mama Mia, which had the perfect post-massage atmosphere. Although it offers Mediterranean fare, it also has distinctly Mexican food, decor, and music.
One mistake we made:
We thought since we had a car, we would save some money by staying in a suburban condo complex about 20 minutes away from the city center. For us, this was a mistake.
We love walking and typically walk miles a day, but the route into the city was not very walkable. Technically, yes it is possible. But, it involved a busy road without pedestrian infrastructure in place.
When we check in to our condo, the guard at thee gate advised us not to try to drive into the city. In fact, we were pretty much warned off of it. When we asked why, he said the roads are small and parking is scarce.
Luckily, the condo offered a free shuttle into San Miguel de Allende. We took the shuttle the first three times we went into the city. While it was convenient, we didn’t like being held to their schedule. The shuttle only operated from 10am-4:30pm and didn’t run on Tuesdays. So, we took our chances and drove our car in. The first day we drove in it was later in the day, so we had to park further out. It was about a 15 minute walk, which was not bad for us. We parked in free street parking making sure we weren’t in a no-parking zone. (no estacionamiento en español). We drive a small SUV, and while the roads are a bit smaller than we are used to in the U.S., but they were totally manageable. It was not difficult and our car was perfectly fine when we returned.
The next day, we decided to get up early and try to make it into town for a sunrise photo and video shoot. We arrived at dawn and got absolutely premium free parking. So, if you are willing to walk or get up early, it’s not really a problem.
Also, we did not want to drive in the dark, so staying outside of the city center meant that we never got to experience the magic of San Miguel de Allende at night. So, this is definitely something to consider.
Best City in the World?
We love it, but we have other favorites. It is preposterous to think we could all agree on which city is the best in the world. So, we should take these lists with a grain of salt. But, we should pay attention because there are lots of reasons that San Miguel de Allende is insanely popular. I would not pass up any opportunity you might have to find out if you think it is the best in the world.