San Miguel de Allende has been voted the world’s best small city four of the past five years by Condé Nast Traveler readers, and it’s easy to understand why. This historic town in the central Mexican highlands boasts 16 authentic Mexican Baroque churches in an area of barely 10 square blocks. These tightly packed architectural masterpieces share the town’s quaint, meandering cobblestone streets with hundreds of shops and homes dressed in rich shades of amber and red. Brightly colored doors open to lush courtyards and elegant palacios built from the wealth of conquistador-era silver mining. Layered on top of this historic Spanish Colonial architecture is a hip, vibrant community that lures visitors who relish all there is to see and do—both historic and modern—in this charming getaway.
Stroll the Centro Historico San Miguel’s historic center boasts an unusual mix of architectural styles from the 17th and 18th centuries, dominated by ornate Mexican baroque, with some buildings dating back nearly 500 years. Guided tours are plentiful, or you can explore on your own and linger at your favorite church, market, shop or restaurant without any pressure to move along.
Take a Home and Garden Tour To experience some of the most beautiful private courtyard gardens and homes, join the weekly House and Garden Tour on Fridays at noon. The group departs from La Biblioteca de San Miguel de Allende, where you can also purchase tickets. Buy your tickets in advance.
Shop San Miguel is a treasure trove of small stores run by creative local proprietors. The town’s merchants specialize mostly in art, design, crafts and interiors, with a surprising degree of diversity and sophistication for such a small community. Among them is the Fisher Weisman Collection at Sollano 16, which offers dazzling lighting fixtures, furnishings and unique jewelry. Lovers of outdoor décor and hand-made ceramics flock to Trinitate, located in a former cloister and chapel of La Parroquia, the town’s picturesque main church. Camino Silvestre caters to nature lovers and is renowned for its beautiful blown-glass hummingbird feeders.
Attend a Festival Residents of San Miguel brag that their hometown has more festivals than any other town in Mexico, and they may be right. Rarely a week goes by without some celebration of a patron saint or revolutionary hero, or another miscellaneous excuse for a street party, invariably with fireworks. One of the biggest is La Alborada in late September, which honors San Miguel’s patron Saint Michael with parades featuring mojigangas (huge papier-mâché puppets), conchero dancers, gauchos on horseback and xuchiles (tower-like offerings of flowers erected for the celebration). Before planning the dates of your trip, check online for the town’s scheduled celebrations.
Visit Pre-Columbian Ruins Take a short cab ride to Canada de la Virgen, a unique archaeological complex of religious structures built by the Otomi Indians between 540 and 1000 A.D. Only small tours guided by the site’s archaeologists and employees are permitted, and climbing to the top of the site’s 15-meter high stone pyramid, which the Otomi designed as a giant celestial compass, is unforgettable.
Experience a Tequila or Mezcal Tasting Tequila and Mezcal are as diverse and complex as any wine, whiskey, or bourbon—and many deserve to be sipped, not shot. If you like tequila, book a private tasting at Casa Dragones’ chic, high-style tasting room (casadragones.com). If you prefer mezcal, compare several different makers with a flight at La Mezcaleria (Correo #47-A, Colonia Centro). Or better yet, do both.
Take a Flight in a Hot Air Balloon One of the most memorable ways to view San Miguel and the surrounding countryside is from a hot air balloon at dawn. This unique experience is well worth arising before sunrise. coyotecanyonadventures.com
Take a Cooking Class
Study the bold flavors and rich history of regional Mexican favorites at the Sazón Cooking School after a colorful, bustling market tour with your teacher Chef Ruben Yanez Hernandez to select your ingredients. Housed in a magnificent 18th-century mansion turned luxury hotel, the teaching kitchen accommodates private groups of up to 12 people. belmond.com
Dine San Miguel is truly one of Mexico’s culinary hotspots, with options ranging from traditional to ambitious, including lively cantinas (El Manantiel), patio spots (La Parada and The Restaurant), view-laden rooftops (La Posadita and Bistro Antonia), and hip, modern restaurants (Moxi and Aperi). Charming bakeries, laid-back coffee houses and fresh food stalls—mostly around the markets—provide quick and delicious alternatives.
Stay Hotel Rosewood, reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda, enjoys spectacular views of town and the iconic spires of the town’s main church. A notable spa, rooftop tapas bar, tequila bar and fine restaurant indulge guests and visitors. (rosewoodhotels.com/en/sanmiguel-de-allende)
Hotel Matilda, with its traditional Spanish Colonial exterior and a modern, minimalist interior, is a study in contrast. The hotel boasts a renowned spa and is located only three blocks from the town’s main square. hotelmatilda.com
Casa Schuck, originally an 18th-century villa, was restored in 1969 to be a grand private residence once again. Its owners later transformed it into a 10-bedroom boutique hotel that retains its lovely architecture and intimate outdoor spaces only blocks from the town center. casaschuck.com