Santiago de Queretaro, often just referred to as “Queretaro City” is the capital of the Central Mexican state of Queretaro and it’s a charming one. There are plenty of things to do in Queretaro to warrant spending a long weekend here, but if your schedule allows you time to stay longer, you certainly won’t be short of things to do.
With its cobblestone streets and gorgeous pastel-coloured stores and buildings, Santiago de Queretaro is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico. It is also famous for its role in the Mexican-American war and for its contributions to Mexican traditions and culture.
However, on a global scale, Queretaro is something of an unknown and it is often overlooked in favour of its more popular neighbour, San Miguel de Allende. I have been living in Mexico for the last two years and after travelling extensively across 13 different states, I finally took the time to visit Queretaro this October and I was not disappointed.
I would go as far as to say that it was one of my favourite cities in Mexico, which is a bold statement for someone who has visited dozens of them! In this guide, we will look at the best things to do in Santiago de Querétaro – from the “must-see” highlights to the off-the-beaten-path hidden gems.
Things to do in Queretaro Mexico in 2023 and beyond
The capital city of Santiago de Queretaro is a sprawling metropolis that is today home to much of Mexico’s industry. Many automotive, food production and homewares companies from the United States and Canada have opted to make Queretaro their base in recent years, investing billions of dollars into the region.
After Monterrey, Santiago de Queretaro is home to the second-highest GDP per capita in Mexico. Many Mexicans relocate here for work and the quality of living here is generally very good.
While the fringes of the city are surrounded by industrial complexes, hi-rises office complexes and modern apartment buildings, the city centre retains its old-fashioned colonial charm and feels like venturing back in time. This is where you ought to base yourself during your time in Queretaro, and this is where most of the points of interest on this list are.
Old town Queretaro is a UNESCO-protected world heritage site and it has been recognised as such since 1996. Since most of Queretaro’s main attractions are focused around one area, you can get around the city on foot, and it is very safe and easy to do so.
It was the Otomi Indians that originally founded Queretaro before the Spanish arrived in 1531. For decades, the Otomis, Chicamecans, Tarascans and Spanish settlers lived peacefully in this city and each indigenous group has left its mark on the local culture and architecture.
Learn about Lele, the Queretaro Mascot
As you make your way around Queretaro, you will constantly come across the image of a colourful little doll with vibrant clothing and plaited hair. This little doll, known as “Lele” or “Soloyol” has become something of a symbol of Queretaro and Mexico in general, in recent years.
The doll’s roots can be traced all the way back to the pre-Hispanic era when the Otomi people would create little dolls out of clay, and give them corn for hair. The doll was supposed to protect children from evil spirits and they were often placed on the graves of deceased children.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, the dolls were modified and made with ribbons and patterned textiles instead of clay to become more colourful and function more as juguetes (toys) than as some form of spiritual symbol. Today, you will see Lele everywhere.
Her image is painted on large street art murals across town, and virtually every tourist store in town sells bags, coin purses, fridge magnets and clothing depicting her face. When you wait at a pedestrian crossing in Queretaro, the lights don’t display a red or a green man. Instead, they display a red or green Lele doll running or waiting patiently.
Indigenous women sell colourful little dolls from wicker baskets in the Plaza de Armas, Jardin Zenea and other spots around town. A small Lele muñeca (doll) should set you back no more than around 100 pesos and buying one is a nice way to support the indigenous artisans.
Aside from the standard doll, artisans have now started branching out and making seasonal variations. For instance, little witch (“bruja”) Leles and Leles with skeleton makeup for Dia de Los Muertos.
Sample the Pedo de Monja local chocolates
Many people do not realise that chocolate was actually invented in Mexico, and it was the ancient Aztecs that started producing snacks and beverages using cacao several thousand years ago.
You will find some excellent artisanal chocolatiers across Mexico and Queretaro, in particular, has a lot of extra special confectionary stores from which you can purchase edible gifts and Mexican souvenirs.
You can find a speciality type of truffle here known as “pedo de monjas” (literally “nuns farts”). Although the name is alarming, the taste is rather divine.
The chocolates are made by hand and consist of bite-sized milk chocolates filled with a fondant truffle made of almonds and liquor. You will also find that many of the local bakeries sell “pedo de monja” inspired cakes.
Experience Queretaro by night
As a university town, Queretaro really comes to life at night. While as a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea not to go wandering around Mexican cities at night, Queretaro is usually teeming with life in the evenings, and its historic centre is perfectly safe to enjoy by night,
Alquimia (C. 5 de Mayo 71, Centro Histórico) is a stylish spot for cocktails, tequila and mezcal that would rival the 1920s prohibition-themed bars in NYC. The Tudor Cocktail Club (C. Venustiano Carranza 50, Centro Histórico, La Cruz) is another great choice for classic and bespoke cocktails, while Libreria Sancho Panza (C. Venustiano Carranza 39-2, La Santa Cruz) is a cute coffee shop and bookstore concept space that serves non-alcoholic beverage, hot chocolates and coffee with beans from across Mexico into the late evenings.
Indulge in the Queretaro food scene
While Mexico City may get all of the attention for being at the forefront of Mexico’s foodie scene, Queretaro boasts some excellent restaurants too. In fact, sampling the regional and international fare at a different eatery every night is a highlight of visiting.
For elevated Mexican cuisine in a gorgeous colonial mansion setting, stop for dinner at Maruca (C. 5 de Mayo 93). Patrons dine inside the spectacular interior courtyard surrounded by water features and fresh flowers and the service is unparalleled.
If you want to sample the cuisine from different parts of Mexico but you won’t have the opportunity to travel elsewhere on this trip, stop by Maria y su Bici (C. 5 de Mayo 91) – a restaurant whose chefs hail from all over Mexico and serve up sumptuous Oaxacan and Yucatecan delicacies like tender, steaming hot plates of cochinita pibil and relleno negro.
Take an afternoon stroll through Alameda Hidalgo
Alameda Hidalgo is to Queretaro what Central Park is to New York City or what Hyde Park is to London. This leafy green space is a popular rendezvous point for locals who come here to walk their dogs or catch up on the local gossip (“chisme”) while sipping takeout coffee on the benches.
On a nice sunny day, it’s pleasant to come sit here a while or to pack a picnic and sit on the grass. Keep your eyes peeled for the contemporary artwork pieces scattered in and around the park.
On the outskirts of the park, on the intersection of Av. Prov. Luis Pasteur and Calle 21 de Marzo, you will find the Hachiko dog sculpture. This adorable little statue was a gift to Mexico from Japan and represents a famous dog who symbolises loyalty.
Hang out in Jardin Zenea and the plazas of Queretaro
The historic centre of Santiago de Queretaro is characterised by its various plazas and parks, each of which is charming in its own right. The Jardin Zenea, flanked by the impressive Templo de San Francisco de Asis, is one of the best places to people-watch.
On Sunday evenings, older locals don their Sunday best and meet beneath the bandstand in the northern corner of the park, to dance to folk and classical music. There is often a live brass band that performs to a delighted audience in accompaniment.
Nearby Plaza de Armas is also interesting. This is essentially the main square (“zocalo”) of the city and it is surrounded by restaurants that often host mariachi and other live musicians.
Here you will also find the Governor’s Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) where contracts were signed to guarantee Mexico’s independence from the Spanish during the Mexican Revolution. At night, this grand structure which now operates as a government building is often illuminated in different colours.
Check out the street food stalls in Jardin Zenea by night
Whatever time of day you pass by Jardin Zenea, you will see indigenous women selling artisanal gifts and sewing handmade Lele dolls. The area really comes to life at night when dozens of street vendors set up their stalls.
You can find every edible item imaginable here and the steamy, smoky stalls are an attack on all the senses. To make like a local, pull up a plastic stool beneath one of the tented stalls and dine as you watch your food prepared fresh right in front of you.
If you have a sweet tooth, you will love browsing along all the stalls selling traditional Mexican desserts like flan, gelatin and jericallas.
Immortalise your visit to Queretaro at Mariano Matamoros
A short distance from Jardin Guerrero, you will find a narrow alleyway lined with cafes and bars known as “Mariano Matamoros”. These trendy alternative hangout spots with their al fresco seating feel more reminiscent of being in Europe than Latin America.
For breakfast or brunch, stop by Cafe Monalisa, a charming spot with shabby chic decor, and a menu serving flavoured coffees, delicious French pastries, Mexican “pan dulces” (sweet breads), and breakfast classics like molletes, chilaquiles, enfrojoladas, omelettes and eggs cooked to taste (“al gusto”).
Next door, La Celestina bar and Jaguar Azul are great, unpretentious places to grab an artisanal beer or two while listening to some classic rock.
The alleyway itself has been designated as a spot for street art, and the walls on either side have been adorned with various paintings and murals of everything from self-portraits to political expressions. (Some are excellent whereas others make it evident that someone has simply taken great pleasure at being permitted to go crazy with a spray can!)
At night, you will see groups of students coming here to add to the artwork so if you have a spray can or even just a sharpie, you can join in and immortalise yourself on the alleyway too.
Shop at independent boutiques and artisanal stores
There are some charming boutique stores throughout Queretaro that would rival those that you will find in stylish San Miguel de Allende. Calle Venustiano Carranza and Calle 5 de Mayo are particularly interesting.
Here you will find stores owned by independent Mexican designers where you can find excellent one-of-kind accessories and clothing pieces. There are also stores selling natural cosmetics, skincare products and candles, as well as many stores selling old vinyl records and music memorabilia.
For the latter, check out El Ruido de Fondo, while Gad sells cosmetics made with natural ingredients and herbal products, and X sells handmade heels, shoes and boots for women in every colour imaginable.
In many ways, this little section of town is reminiscent of New York’s Greenwich Village, with many quaint coffee shops and quirky stores set inside the most unsuspecting buildings.
Take a day trip to Bernal
Less than an hour away from Santiago de Queretaro awaits the pueblo magico of Bernal, best known for its unique Peña de Bernal rock formation. This huge monolith is the third largest in the world, after the rock of Gibraltar and the Pan de Azúcar in Brazil, and it is visible from virtually every street, passageway and balcony in town.
If you want to climb the rock, you can do so with a licensed guide. However, regardless of whether you do or dont, Bernal makes a great day trip from Queretaro City and there are various reputable local tour companies that offer excursions here each day that include a pickup and drop off at your hotel.
While you are in town, be sure to sample the local walnut custard desserts (natillas de nuez) at Dulces Bernal (Benito Juárez 2) and maybe organise a tasting of local wines at one of the village bars.
(Today, Queretaro has established itself as the second-largest wine region in Mexico after Baja California.)
Learn about Queretaro’s rock music reputation
Locals will often affectionately refer to Queretaro as “Quereta-rock” on account of the (somewhat random) popularity of classic rock, punk, and heavy metal music here. There are often live musicians in Jardin Guerrero on Friday and Saturday evenings who set up their guitars and drum kits and play the likes of Guns n Roses, Aerosmith, and other classic rock to groups of locals that gather in the park.
For live music, head to the Zeppelin Music Factory (Calle Independencia 186, La Pastora) on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night or to La Encrucijada Rock House (Avenida Universidad 67, San Sebastian) between Thursdays and Sundays.
Enjoy views of the city skyline from the Mirador de Los Arcos
The Aqueducto de Queretaro, also known as “Los Arcos” is an 18th-century aqueduct that consists of 74 large arches and runs along the eastern side of the city. If you head to the “Mirador de Los Arcos”, (and you should because there are lots of beautiful churches and cute bars and restaurants in the area), you are met with a lookout point that offers excellent views of the full-length of the aqueduct, as well as beautiful panoramas of the city skyline on the whole.
This is a great place to stop and take photos, particularly just before sunset.
While the principal function of the aqueduct was of course to supply clean water to the residents of Santiago de Queretaro, there is also a moving local love story behind its construction.
It was a rich Marquis named Juan Antonio de Urrutia y Arana Perez de Inoriza y Chávarri (what a name!), who funded its construction after falling in love with a local Capuchin nun named Sor Marcela. Unfortunately, she was unable to reciprocate his love and affection, having dedicated her life to God.
However, she spoke with Juan Antonio about the people’s concern about the lack of clean water in Queretaro and built the aqueduct as a gift for her and the local people.
It took about 12 years for the arches to be constructed and the people were so grateful to the Marquis, that they created an elaborate statue of him which still stands in the Plaza de Armas today.
Take a themed walking tour
A great way to delve further into the history of Queretaro and to gain more information and context about the buildings, churches and plazas that you see, is to explore with a local on a walking tour. This is also a nice way to get your bearings when you first arrive in town.
You will find several tour guides pitching their services around Jardin Zenea. One of the most fun ones is a Queretaro tour with theatrical performances, which sees you led around town by a guide dressed as Miguel Hidalgo (one of the founding fathers of Mexican independence), and various actors reenact key parts of local history to make their storytelling even more entertaining.
Best Queretaro walking tours and guided tours
Queretaro walking tours start from as little as $10 per person. Some of the best options are shortlisted below for your consideration.
Book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- Santiago de Queretaro tour with theatrical performances
- Walking tour of Queretaro centro historico occidente
- Trolley tour around downtown Queretaro
- Queretaro city tour in a classic Ford T vehicle
Admire the churches of Queretaro
Ornate Catholic churches adorn virtually every street corner in Santiago de Queretaro and even if you are not religious, you will find it hard not to appreciate their beauty. Often, their interiors are just as beautiful as their outer facades – their walls are adorned with vibrant, intricately designed frescoes and religious sculptures and icons made out of precious metals.
Many date back several centuries. Close to the Mirador de Los Arcos, look out for the Templo y Exconvento de la Santa Cruz (C. Damián Carmona 5, La Santa Cruz) – a 16h century church with gorgeous courtyards and an interesting thorny tree that has grown in the shape of a cross.
Just off of Jardin Zenea, you will find the city cathedral – the Templo de San Francisco or the Queretaro Cathedral, whose architecture is a mixture of baroque and neoclassical styles. You can visit most Queretaro churches for free and admire their interiors, provided that you are respectful and mass isnt taking place.
Look out for the statue of the Conchero Chichimeca dancer
There are a couple of interesting statues scattered around Queretaro City that depict indigenous dancers. One depicts an indigenous Conchero Chichimeca dancer and sits outside the Temple de San Francisco on the corner of And. 5 de Mayo.
The other, labelled “Fuente Danzante Conchero Del Cerro Del Sangremal” doubles as a fountain and awaits at the intersection of Calle de las Artes and Calle 21 de Marzo, on the corner of Alameda Hidalgo.
The statues pay homage to the Otomi and Chichimeca Indians and a myth that exists about a battle between the Spaniards and the native people in the 16th century. Interestingly, the feather headdresses of the dancers have been made from a material that allows them to blow in the breeze of the wind.
During my visit, locals were performing a ritualistic celebration and dancing around the statue.
Visit the El Cerrito Archeological Site
The El Cerrito archaeological site is a former Chupícuaro settlement renowned for its towering stone pyramid, which is located just a short drive away from Santiago de Queretaro. The ancient city dates back to around 300 BC and the pyramid shares similarities with those at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, and the grand pyramid of Cholula in Puebla.
It is believed that the pyramid’s purpose was mostly spiritual and that the structure was designed for the worship of a curvaceous, feminine goddess of fertility. Indeed, excavations in the area have uncovered many shapely statues and carvings of this female deity.
Get a history lesson at Museo Regional de Queretaro
Even if you don’t consider yourself as being much of a “museum person”, it is well worth stopping by the Museo Regional de Queretaro which is housed inside the gorgeous 16th-century ex-Convento de San Francisco.
The seven permanent exhibition halls here showcase different aspects of Mexican history and culture. For instance, the Querétaro en la Historia Mexicana exhibit explores the Spanish colonization of Mexico and the Mexican-American war which ended in Queretaro and resulted in a huge loss of territory for Mexico.
The prehispanic exhibition hall displays hundreds of ancient artefacts that were excavated from the region and the lives of the Otomíes, Nahuas, Tarascos, Pames and Jonaces people that once inhabited Central Mexico.
You could easily spend half a day in this interesting museum and its temporary exhibition halls often host art and history exhibits from across the world. The museum is open from 9 am until 6 pm from Monday to Friday and general admission is just MXN 90.
See a creepy collection of more than 2,000 insects from across the world
If you are not overly squeamish, you can pop inside the Queretaro Insects Museum (Museo de Bichos Querétaro) during your time in the city. The museum showcases a private collection of more than 2,000 insects (some living, some preserved) collected by enthusiast Jesús Puente.
Pass through rooms filled with displays of beautiful butterflies from South America, stick insects from Asia, and gigantic beetles, cockroaches, scorpions and tarantulas from the Queretaro region. If you are brave enough, you will be invited to handle some of the living tarantulas.
Check out what events are taking place in Queretaro during your trip
When you have decided upon your travel dates, it is worth doing a quick Google search to see what events are taking place in Queretaro during your trip as there always seems to be something going on. Live musicians from across Latin America and the world often perform here.
In November/December of each year, you can catch the “Feria de Queretaro” – a family-oriented fair that features a rodeo, a circus, historical re-enactments and equestrian activities.
The Mexican road race (La Carrera Panamericana) passes through here, and at the end of October/early November, there are huge celebrations for the Day of the Dead. (Dia de los Muertos).
View the exhibits at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
The Queretaro Museum of Contemporary Art (Manuel Acuña Esq Avenida Reforma Oriente) is completely free to visit and is housed inside a former convent. There is a good collection of modern art created by numerous established and emerging Mexican artists, as well as some very enigmatic interactive pieces.
FAQs About Visiting Queretaro Mexico
Do you have any questions or concerns about visiting Santiago de Queretaro and its surroundings for the first time? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are shortlisted below for your consideration.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Is it worth visiting Queretaro?
Queretaro Mexico is well worth visiting, and despite being overshadowed by San Miguel de Allende to the north, you might find that you like Queretaro even more as it feels more “authentic” with very few Western tourists, while still being safe. The city is one of the most beautiful colonial settlements in Mexico and you can easily pass a pleasant weekend by just taking the time to meander around the various streets and plazas here.
What is Queretaro known for?
You might be met with blank stares when you mention Queretaro to a lot of international travellers. However, within Mexico, Queretaro is famous for its role in the Mexican-American war, as well as its contributions to Mexican culture.
The city was made the temporary capital of the country during the 19th-century war with the United States and in 1848, the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed here, ending the conflict.
The “Lele” dolls are considered one of the most important contributions to the Mexican cultural identity and the “pedos de monja” candies, despite their silly name, are something of a delicacy sold in Queretaro and the neighbouring state of Guanajuato.
How many days should I spend in Queretaro?
If you are short on time, you can explore most of Queretaro’s historic centre in a day. However, at the very least, I would recommend spending at least 2-3 days here.
This allows you plenty of time to explore the city parks, plazas, museums and street food markets at a relaxed pace without hurrying. On your third day, or if you choose to stay longer, you could consider taking day trips out from Queretaro to Bernal or some of the wineries in the region.
Final thoughts on the best things to do in Queretaro Mexico
One of the best things to do in Queretaro is to simply set aside a few days here and take the time to get lost in the city’s historic old town, wandering down its various cobbled streets and promenades with no set plan, stopping here and there to step inside an old church or convent or grab a steaming cup of mocha coffee at a cute unassuming cafe.
A visit to Queretaro is not so much about checking sightseeing activities off a list, but taking the time to appreciate and fall in love with a beautiful historic place.
As I mentioned, I have been living in Mexico since January 2022 and after visiting dozens of cities, Queretaro is one of my favourites. Maybe it will be one of yours too?
If you are planning a trip to Mexico for the first time, you might also enjoy reading these Mexico travel tips to know before you go. Of course, you are also welcome to reach out to me if you need anything.
Safe travels! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo