San Miguel de Allende is one of Mexico’s most picturesque colonial cities. Home to stunning baroque architecture, twisting cobbled streets and its famous pink sandstone church, this is an easy family destination if you’re looking to explore Mexico beyond its beaches. Located in the state of Guanajuato, in central Mexico, the city was originally founded in 1542 and is famous for being the first municipality that declared itself independent from Spanish rule during the Mexican War of Independence.
The years post-independence, however, saw the town’s fortune begin to fade. Until, that is, the beginning of the 20th century when foreign artists, drawn by the blue skies and beautiful architecture, began to move in. Since then, San Miguel de Allende has continued to be a magnet for both artists and foreigners and today it’s renowned for its art, culture and festivals.
For families it’s a safe and relaxed place to explore by foot (many of the roads are pedestrianised), although if travelling with infants forget the pushchair, these cobbled streets are not stroller-friendly! Here are 10 fun things to see and do in San Miguel de Allende with kids.
1. Play at the Toy Museum
Museo La Esquina is hands down one of the best places for kids in San Miguel de Allende. This Mexican toy museum is the work of Angélica Tijerina who began collecting toys as a young child. Over the years she has amassed an impressive collection of over 1,000 one-of-a-kind folk toys dating back more than 50 years.
Set over three floors, the museum houses everything from traditional cars, trains and dollhouses to a collection of toys dedicated to Mexico’s traditional fairs and fiestas. There are toys made from fabric, clay, tin, iron, papier-mâché, wood, corn husks and more. It’s a fascinating collection and my kids loved it! Children’s workshops and classes with local artisans are also offered.
2. Get your Sugar Fix
Mexico is well known for its pan dulce, literally “sweet breads”, delicious pastries served with breakfast. We started every day of our stay in San Miguel de Allende with breakfast – and pan dulce – at Cumpanio, a wonderful bakery and restaurant in the heart of the town. Traditional pan dulce include croissants and pain au chocolate as well as Mexican staples such as conchas (“shells”, a type of sweet bun in vanilla or chocolate) and rollos (“rings”, like a Danish pastry). At Cumpanio, however, they also serve the most delicious cream-filled doughnuts!
Another popular sweet spot is Churrería San Agustín. Owned by a famous Argentine actress, Margarita Gralia, queues of people line up outside this cafe waiting for a plate of churros con chocolate. Churros are not dissimilar to doughnuts, although they are long in shape, deep-friend and smothered in sugar. My kids were in heaven!
3. Take a Trolley Ride
One way to get a feel for the city is to hop on board the antique-looking trolley bus for a tour of the central streets and surrounding areas. An onboard commentary (Spanish only) tells you a bit about the history of the town too. Stops include the El Chorro, the town’s waterworks and public laundry, where some Mexican women still come to wash clothes today, and the perfect hilltop spot for a panoramic snap of San Miguel. The trolley tour is also great when little legs get tired! Tours run regularly from 7am daily.
4. Discover the City’s Doors
The colourful city streets are great for wandering (although steep!). One of our favourite things were the old wooden doors that mark the entrance to artists’ studios, galleries, boutiques, cafés, restaurants and even churches. Weathered and worn, some of these carved doors are simply beautiful. They come in varying sizes and with differing degrees of detail but they are all unique.
We developed an ‘I Spy’ game with a door theme, which turned out to be a great way to get kids’ up and down the hilly streets.
5. Get Back to Nature
One of my favourite places in San Miguel was El Charco del Ingenio, the Botanical Gardens and Nature Reserve located just outside the city centre. These gardens extend over 170 acres but don’t expect perfectly manicured lawns, this is one of those wonderfully wild reserves characterised by native scrubland, a canyon and wetlands. Various pathways wind their way through the reserve past an incredible array of cacti to various lookout points. There’s a Conservatory of Mexican Plants, home to cacti and other native plants, many of which are endanger.
There’s also a Children’s Garden, an interactive space designed to connect kids and nature. There’s a Scent and Touch Labyrinth, the Pollinators Garden, the Solar Observatory and, of course, a slide! I would recommend that you arrive early, before it gets too hot, and remember to bring water with you when wandering the trails. There’s a gift shop and cafeteria on site.
6. Visit the Pink Church
San Miguel’s iconic pink church, La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel (otherwise known as La Parroquia), towers above the city skyline. Although it looks very much like a cathedral, it is in fact a local parish church, just a very grand one. The building itself dates back to the 17th century but the pink limestone facade was added in the late 19th century when it was decided that the church needed sprucing up. The facade is gothic in style and if you think it looks familiar it probably does; legend has it that the architect responsible, Zeferino Gutierrez, used a picture postcard of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona as inspiration.
7. Go Play!
There’s a playground in Parque Juarez in the south of the city that my kids enjoyed for an hour or two. It’s not huge and is limited to swings, slides and a climbing frame, but it’s a great way for little kids to run off some steam – if they have any energy left after hiking up and down the hilly streets all day!
8. Scream for Ice Cream
We didn’t make it to nearby Dolores Hidalgo but I wish we had. This neighbouring town is famous for ice cream that vendors sell daily in the central square. But this is not just any old ice cream, here you can choose from a variety of flavours including shrimp, avocado and even octopus! But if you don’t fancy a scoop of fried pork skin or shrimp ice cream then they also sell more traditional flavours.
In San Miguel itself, there’s BOSCO Gelato, just near La Parroquia. This little ice cream shop might not have the same kind of weird and wonderful flavours but its homemade ice cream is delicious.
9. Visit the Market
San Miguel’s daily market is a lively, colourful spot and a great place to see local life in action. In addition to the fruit and vegetables on display, you’ll find chillies, dried mushrooms, herbs, honey and more. The Mercado de Artesanías is in the alleyway between the food market and and Calle Loreto. It’s not the best market for crafts but it’s a fun place to wander around, particularly for kids. They can even test their bargaining skills if they like!
10. Go Cycling
We didn’t go on a bike tour when we visited San Miguel as our kids were too young but if you’re visiting with teens then the bicycle tours run by Bici Burro would be a great way to see the surrounding countryside. This family-run outfit gets fantastic feedback from visitors. They offer a number of tours and have 27 aluminium speed mountain bikes in small, medium, large and extra large sizes, as well as all the safety gear.
Where to Stay in San Miguel de Allende with Kids
If you want to splash out then the Rosewood is amazing. Even if you don’t stay there, it’s worth visiting for a drink on the rooftop to watch the sun set over this pretty town. Other hotels that come recommended for families include the centrally located Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada, the charming Hacienda El Santuario and Casa Misha, which families rave about.
Tips for Travelling with Kids
- Pushchairs and strollers cobblestone streets are no match for San Miguel’s cobblestone streets, if travelling with young kids then bring a baby carrier, backpacker or sling.
- There are lots of good restaurants in San Miguel de Allende, I’ll be posting my favourites soon!
- Bring good walking shoes for hiking the city streets.
- Semana Santa (Easter) is a particularly busy time to visit San Miguel de Allende, book accommodation well in advance if visiting over this period.
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