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Ted Campbell By
Posted 26 Apr, 2021 | No comments
Posted in: Mexico, Things To Do

The state of Queretaro contains natural wonders, magic towns, and four World Heritage sites. Its high elevation location on the Central Mexican Plateau makes the weather warm and pleasant year-round.

The city of Queretaro, officially called Santiago de Queretaro, is the capital and largest urban area in the state. It was a crucial city in the Mexican War of Independence, and many of the main attractions in Queretaro relate to its fascinating history.

Today, the many things to do in Queretaro make it a standout among the Spanish colonial cities of central Mexico. Its convenient position puts it within easy reach of other famous cities like Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Morelia, and Mexico City.

queretaro colourful streets

I visited regularly during the 10 years I lived in Mexico, often as a part of longer trips between Mexico City and Guadalajara.

Whether it was hiking in the mountains or exploring the charming downtown area, I always ended up discovering more possibilities for activities in Queretaro. It’s one of the best destinations in Mexico, find out why in this post.

Here are the 15 best things to do in Queretaro, Mexico.

1. Explore the Centro Historico

One of the best things to do in Queretaro is to explore the historic center. It’s full of plazas, gardens, statues, fountains, and historic buildings of baroque and neoclassical architecture.

Several pedestrian streets (called andadores) cross the historic center, meaning that exploring the city by foot is one of the best things to do in Queretaro when you first arrive.

You can wander around and discover things on your own, or you can choose to take a free walking tour

Queretaro’s main square is the Plaza de Armas, also known as the zocalo. Along the north side is the historic building the Casa de la Corregidora, which is the government palace today.

historical buildings in queretaro

It was built at the end of the 17th century. A little over 100 years later, this residence was the home of Miguel Domínguez Aleman, the corregidor (mayor) of the city, and his wife Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez.

Today, she’s better known as the Corregidora (hence the name of the building) and is one of the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence, which lasted from 1810 to 1821.

A tall statue of Josefa Ortiz is in a smaller square nearby, and you can see the name “Corregidora” used to name landmarks, streets, restaurants, and all kinds of businesses throughout the city.

In the months leading up to the war, the “literary meetings” Josefa Ortiz lead in her home were actually a cover for planning the rebellion. Later, she played a key role in the war by sending organizers a letter put together with letters cut out of newspapers.

Entrance to the building is free, and it’s open every day from 7 AM to 7 PM.

A block away, the Theater of the Republic is another one of the top places to visit in Queretaro. This classic old-time theater is an important venue for cultural and civic events.

West of the zocalo, the Zenea Garden (Jardín Zenea) is a tranquil spot, and relaxing in the shade of its central gazebo is one of the best things to do in Queretaro on a hot day.

Numerous vendors in the park sell Mexican-style ice cream and snacks like marquesitas, a rolled-up crepe filled with cheese and sweet ingredients like Nutella.

Instead of walking around the historic center, you could also see these top attractions in Queretaro from the tourist trolley (tranvia in Spanish). There are two routes, and each takes about one hour. Each route costs 120 pesos (about $6 USD), or it’s 200 pesos (about $10 USD) for both.

2. Travel the Wine and Cheese Route in Queretaro

Ask any young Mexican what to do in Queretaro and the answer will most likely be to experience the popular cheese and wine route.

where is queretaro map

The state of Queretaro has at least 11 artisanal cheese farms and 18 vineyards, each located in a different lovely location.

The best time to visit is from June to August, when the grape harvest is accompanied by cultural events and celebrations that commemorate wine production.

You can rent a car and map out your own route, or you can go with the experts. Among many possible tours are this one and this one, which follows a cheese and wine route in the magic town of Tequisquiapan.

3. Learn Some History at the Queretaro Regional Museum

Right across the street from the Zenea Garden, the Queretaro Regional Museum is located in the former San Francisco convent. The six rooms of the museum have exhibits and artifacts about the historic and artistic wealth of the state.

You may even find that the old convent itself, built in the 16th century, is the museum’s primary draw, especially its gorgeous central courtyard of arches and pillars.

Entrance costs 65 pesos (about $3 USD) and it’s free on Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday.

4. Appreciate Art at the Queretaro Art Museum

If you’re more interested in art than history, then you’ll want to check out the Queretaro Art Museum.

Similar to the Queretaro Regional Museum, the building containing the exhibits is half the attraction. It’s in the beautifully restored San Agustin monastery, which was built in the early 18th century.

Today, its extensive collection features paintings and sculptures from the 17th to 19th centuries. The museum is free (donations are encouraged), and it’s closed on Monday.

5. Take a Selfie at the Templo de Santa Rosa Viterbo

With more than 200 years of history, the Templo de Santa Rosa Viterbo is one of the emblems of the city, and it’s definitely one of the top things to see in Queretaro.

queretaro center

This functioning church is popular with travelers not only because of its ornate baroque architecture but also for the small park next door and a prime selfie spot: the row of big letters spelling out “QUERETARO.”

6. Marvel at the Santa Clara Church

Dating back to 1607, the Santa Clara Church was one of the most important convents in New Spain. Today, it’s more famous for its slightly more recent history as the place where Josefa Ortiz was held prisoner.

Like other places to visit in Queretaro, it’s also known by another name: the Parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The church has an amazingly detailed interior, and the site contains a free museum and gallery with artifacts and old photographs.

Don’t miss the tall arch containing a fountain and a statue of Neptune in the small plaza between the church and the pedestrian street.

7. Browse for Characteristic María Dolls 

Admiring local crafts is one of the best things to do in Queretaro to have a real local experience.

The Maria doll is one of the most representative souvenirs from Queretaro State. Made by the Otomi people, it’s more than a toy, but also protection from evil spirits.

You can browse for genuine Maria dolls and chat with the friendly ladies selling them at the little stands on the Libertad pedestrian street in the historic center.

8. Wander Through the Cemetery of Illustrious Queretanos

After you’ve learned something about the role of Queretaro in the Mexican War of Independence, you can pay your respects to its heroes at the Cemetery of Illustrious Queretanos (Panteón de los Queretanos Ilustres).

The cemetery is part of the Templo de Santa Cruz, yet another old convent that’s one of the best things to see in Queretaro.

Constructed over the site of a decisive battle between the Spanish and the native Otomi people, it was later the last refuge of Emperor Maximiliano. (More on him in #10 below.)

The convent’s courtyard features the legendary Arbol de La Cruz, which instead of fruit produces cross-shaped thorns. Today, the convent is a school, although guided tours are available. Also at the site is the Museum of Contemporary Art of Queretaro.

9. Photograph the Aqueduct from Queretaro’s Lookout

Right next to the cemetery is another of the top things to see in Queretaro: the aqueduct, an architectural wonder and World Heritage Site.

things to do in queretaro visit the aquaduct

Completed in 1726, the aqueduct’s 74 baroque arches are emblematic of the city. Strolling their 1.3-kilometer length is one of the best things to do in Queretaro for those who enjoy long walks.

The aqueduct is lit up after dark, and you’ll get a stunning panoramic view of it from the Mirador de Los Arcos (Lookout for the Arches), which is located directly to the east of the Cemetery of Illustrious Queretanos.

10. Travel in Time with the Legends of Queretaro

In the evening, in many cities in Mexico, local performers reenact noteworthy and dramatic moments from history. Called Leyendas (Legends), this experience is especially interesting in a place with as many stories as Queretaro.

Watching these characterizations of political intrigue and romantic tragedy in the surroundings where they actually took place is certainly of the best things to do in Queretaro to gain a better understanding of its history.

On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 6:15 and 7:15 PM, head to the Queretaro zocalo (Portal Bueno, specifically) to discover the tales hidden in the streets, squares, and old houses of the city. You may find that listening to the Legends is the closest you can get to traveling back in time.

Among other stories, you’ll hear about the impossible love between Don Juan Antonio de Urrutia y Arana and Sor Marcela, who was a nun from the Capuchinas convent. The legend says that he built the aqueduct to provide water to the convent where she lived. 

Of course, you’ll need to know Spanish to understand the words, but the performance itself is worth seeing even if you don’t know the language.

It costs 200 pesos (about $10 USD) per person and no reservations are necessary—just show up and look for the people in costume.

11. Climb into the Past at the Cerro de las Campanas

Located to the west of the historic center, the Cerro de las Campanas (Hill of the Bells) is one of the most historic places to visit in Queretaro.

This was where Emperor Maximiliano and two of his two generals were executed by firing squad in 1867. This action marked the end of Second French Intervention in Mexico and the brief reign of Mexico’s only emperor.

Today, it’s a tiny national park next to the Autonomous University of Queretaro on the other side of the hill.

Along with a museum, there’s also a small chapel on the site, which was built in memory of Austrian-born Maximiliano in 1900 when Mexico and Austria finally resumed friendly relations.

At the top of the hill is a massive statue of Benito Juarez, the much loved Mexican president who held office before, during, and after the Second French Intervention in Mexico.

Yes, Mexican history is complicated, but visiting the museum should help you sort it all out. It costs only 16 pesos (less than $1 USD) and is closed on Monday.

12. Eat in the Market like a Local

The big and busy Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez “La Cruz” Market is the best place in Queretaro to experience the local vibe and taste typical food.

things to do in queretaro eat food

Along with the usual produce, meat, and consumer goods, the market also has many small restaurants and food stands with local specialties. As with any market (or restaurant) in Mexico, always choose the busiest one you see.

A great place for gorditas de migaja is at Gorditas de Lupita y el Güero. Gorditas are something like a small round sandwich, but with “bread” made of corn dough fried hard. Inside is chicharron (chucks of pork rinds), and they’re topped with cheese, pieces of nopal cactus, and salsa.

Another popular dish is enchiladas queretanas. What makes them different from traditional enchiladas is that the rolled-up tortillas are filled with fried chicken, potatoes and carrots. Then, they’re drenched in guajillo chili sauce.

Almost every restaurant in town serves enchiladas queretanas, including the popular neighborhood spots in the market.

13. Get Away from It All on Tzibanzá Island

Relaxing in a luxury safari-style cabin is one of the best things to do in Queretaro when you’re tired of city noise, crowds and traffic.

La Isla Tzibanza is an artificial island in an enormous reservoir in the far eastern part of the state. Its campground has log cabins on stilts, swimming pools, and activities like fishing, kayaking, and boat trips.

Prices start at $1,200 pesos (about $60 USD) per person, per night. This includes parking, the boat trip to the island, and three meals a day.

In summer, reserve by phone or through Facebook at least 6 months in advance because there aren’t many cabins on the small island.

14. Gaze up at the Peña de Bernal

The Pena de Bernal is the third largest monolith in the world. About 50 minutes away from the city of Queretaro, this tall rocky tower can be seen from the highway for many miles in all directions.

pena de bernal top activities in queretaro

Visiting the Pena de Bernal is your best bet for what to do in Queretaro if you enjoy outdoor activities.

Hiking, rock climbing, and rappelling are easy to arrange in town, or you can choose from several different tours, such as this one and this one.

The colorful small town, officially known as San Sebastian Bernal but commonly known as Pena de Bernal, hosts different festivities in January, March and May. They involve organized hikes, dances, marathons, and even artisanal mask contests.

Other attractions in Pena de Bernal include a viceregal building called the Castle, an 18th-century chapel called Las Animas, and the Santa Cruz chapel, where the most devoted people from the town walk to the atrium on their knees.

The town also has craft shops, spas, and temazcales (Mexican-style sweat lodges), along with delicious gorditas, enchiladas, and other traditional dishes.

15. Seek Adventure in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve

Besides being one of the most ecologically diverse areas in Mexico, the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve contains five Franciscan missions built in the 18th century.

The missions were designated a World Heritage site in 2003 due to the cultural and artistic value of their New-Spanish baroque facades. They’re easily among the most beautiful things to see in Queretaro.

As they’re outside of the city, if you don’t have a car, then the best way to see them is with a tour. There are so many fun activities in Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, including hiking, mountain biking, and caving. You can do all three on this tour.

Now You Know What to Do in Queretaro

Whether it’s colonial architecture, monuments, or lurid legends, the center of Queretaro is jam-packed with history.

Fortunately, for people who love to walk, its many pedestrian streets make wandering around on foot one of the best things to do in Queretaro.

Impressive natural beauty can be found all over the state, especially in the Sierra Gorda and the Pena de Bernal, the third-highest monolith in the world.

Add to this a wine and cheese route that’s famous Mexico-wide, and you have a top Mexican destination with nice weather, excellent food, a convenient location, and a friendly vibe.

I hope you found some good suggestions from this list of things to do in Queretaro. If you visit, I’m sure you’ll end up discovering a few more.

Looking for more Mexico posts?

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Ted Campbell

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Ted is a writer and university professor who moved to China in 2020 after living in Mexico for 10 years. He has a Master’s Degree in English Education and has taught ESL/EFL in four countries and many different types of schools. While in Mexico, Ted traveled extensively, climbed volcanos, went on epic bike rides, explored underground rivers, ate countless types of tacos, learned Spanish, and wrote two guidebooks. You can read his stories about living and traveling in Mexico on his blog No Hay Bronca.
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