30/05/2024

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11 Best Things To Do In Morelia, Mexico (+ Why Visit)

7 min read
11 Best Things To Do In Morelia, Mexico (+ Why Visit)

Morelia was easily the biggest surprise during my most recent one-month trip through central Mexico. It’s a hugely underrated city with a wonderful charm!

I must confess I had only planned to pass through Morelia briefly on my way to the Monarch butterfly colonies further east. But seeing what a lively and authentic city it is made it an easy decision to stay longer.

Why visit Morelia

Morelia doesn’t typically feature on the usual Mexico itineraries, but it’s incredibly beautiful, UNESCO-listed, and a joy to explore.

Unlike some other parts of Michoacán state, it isn’t known for having major security issues, so the mere fact that it’s in Michoacán shouldn’t stop you from visiting.

With its lush plazas, arched arcades, and many churches, Morelia reminded me of Spanish cities like Madrid or Seville, probably due to the many well-preserved colonial-era buildings. It’s highly walkable, welcoming, and very picturesque.

Most of the historical buildings were built using a rock known as Piedra Vieja, which looks a bit like ancient limestone. Due to local building codes, even the newer buildings use this traditional material, giving the city a lovely aesthetic.

Arguably it lacks some must-see “bucket list” sights — there is no such thing as Chichén Itzá here! But Morelia is not so much about screaming big attractions as it is about the small museums, the cozy walking streets, and the friendly vibe.

Things to do in Morelia

Take a walking tour through the center

I always find it rewarding to explore the city streets with a guide, but even moreso in Morelia, where appreciating the details, architecture, and history will give you a much better perspective.

As far as I know, there isn’t a “free” (or donation-based) walking tour in Morelia, but I booked this private walking tour in English which was still reasonably priced and gave me wonderful insights I’d never otherwise would have had.

See the incredible murals by Alfredo Zalce

Admission fee: free
Location: Google Maps

If I hadn’t been tipped by a local to check this out, I would have surely missed it! Inside the state government building of Morelia, you can check out a series of impressive murals painted by one of the great artists of Mexico, Alfredo Zalce.

They depict timeless scenes of rural life and traditions and they’re a great example of Mexican muralism that’s different from the Diego Rivera murals you can see in Mexico City.

Entry is free, but it’s a government building in active use, so they ask you to sign the guestbook first.

Apparently they don’t get many visitors; a public servant was surprised to see me admiring the murals and spontaneously offered to take my picture.

See the Morelia Cathedral

Opening hours: 6 AM – 9 PM
Admission fee:
 free

Location: Google Maps

This instantly eye-catching baroque cathedral built using pink limestone is impossible to miss, as it’s situated along Morelia’s main square. You can take a peek inside or just admire the detailed facades from outside.

In the arcades around the cathedral square you can find many cafes and restaurants where you can sit down with a lovely view of this 18th century construction.

Check out the exhibitions at Palacio Clavijero

Opening hours: 10 AM – 6 PM (closed on Mondays)
Admission fee:
 free

Location: Google Maps

The cultural center is free to enter and houses a number of changing exhibits inside the former monastery. Besides the contemporary art exhibits, the building is worth seeing as well, with some beautiful ceiling art above the arches.

I caught an excellent exhibition of works by Gustavo Munroy, a Mexican artist whose stark paintings feature a lot of skulls and cacti.

Witness millions of butterflies

While this is not technically a thing to do in Morelia, you can get to it from either here or the capital, so it’s highly worth mentioning if you’re visiting between November and March.

Millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from the US and Canada to several small forests in Mexico. It’s an unbelievable sight that will make you in awe of nature!

It’s particularly spectacular in the morning as the butterflies slowly wake up and set off from their tree tops in large kaleidoscopes (yes, that’s the official name for a swarm of butterflies).

The biosphere reserve is about 2.5 hours east of Morelia, putting it within day-trip range. If you have at least 2 days to spare, I would recommend staying the night in Anguangueo and seeing the butterflies by yourself in the early morning, which is what I did. Otherwise, it’s easiest to do as a day trip by organized tour from Morelia as public transport will take a lot longer.

Check out this private Monarch butterfly tour departing from Morelia, though be advised that if your date is outside the butterfly season, you won’t see any availability.

 

Try the Morelia candy at Museo del Dulce

Opening hours: 10 AM – 8 PM 
Admission fee:
MX$25.00 – MX$30.00

Location: Google Maps

Morelia is known for its sweets and there are a few different ways to indulge your sweet tooth while you’re there.

Firstly, the Mercado de Dulces Y Artesanias is where you’ll find all kinds of handmade Mexican candy and various other crafts. It’s a bit tourist trappy, as these types of markets often tend to be, but it’s still fun to have a look around.

The Museo del Dulce (sweets museum) is arguably the better place to stop, showing you how traditional “ate de Morelia” is made. The staff making the sweets here will dress the same way they did in the 19th century, turning it into a bit of an attraction.

Stroll along the Callejón del Romance

This alleyway with flowers and fountains has been locally branded as a kind of “lover’s lane”, where couples leave padlocks and inscriptions for good luck.

There is not much to see per se, but it’s a nice corner to find some cocktails at night and soak up some ambiance.

Stroll through Bosque Cuauhtémoc

Truth be told, Morelia’s biggest park is not much to write home about, unless you’re really desperate for some shade.

Still, you can catch some of the local life unfolding here and there are a few sights in- and near the park.

While strolling through I was lucky enough to see a hummingbird fluttering from flower to flower, though I can’t guarantee she’ll be there!

The park is mostly worth going to for the two small museums inside it…

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Alfredo Zalce (MACAZ)

Opening hours: 10 AM – 7.30 PM (until 6 PM on weekends)
Admission fee:
free

Location: Google Maps

This 19th-century mansion houses several floors with regional contemporary paintings and sculptures. It’s small and it was under renovation when I visited, but given that entry is free, I could not complain.

Museo de Historia Natural MUHNA

Opening hours: 10 AM – 3.30 PM 
Admission fee:
MX$25.00

Location: Google Maps

This fun little museum is a nice one to tackle if you are with kids, as the displays of taxidermy and dinosaur models should be quite entertaining for them. There are some organs and babies in formaldehyde which are a bit creepy but interesting nonetheless!

Admire the aqueduct

Most guides seem to start by mentioning aqueduct, but it is a bit more of a landmark than an attraction. You’ll naturally come across it when you walk through Morelia.

It was built between 1785 and 1788 and supplied the city with water until 1910. Its 253 arches still remain and you will bump into it for sure when exploring the east side of the center.

So… now you know what to do in Morelia!

Just keep in mind that being in Morelia is less about ticking big things to do off a list and more about enjoying the ambiance.

As you stroll around, you will no doubt bump into churches and convents that are beautiful but need not be listed in detail. And there are fun little shops and small museums that are best stumbled upon by accident.

Part of the fun is seeing the little details and taking time out for some specialty coffee, brunch, or dinner in the many patios and plazas.

If you’re wondering, yes, Morelia is rather safe! Knowing this allows you to explore by foot and enjoy its underrated historic center.

Morelia safety

I definitely felt very safe in Morelia. While that is just one traveler’s experience, I would easily equate Morelia with other tourist-friendly cities in Mexico like Oaxaca, Puebla, or Mérida. Don’t worry, just go.

It’s the capital of Michoacan, a state which does have major security issues in certain areas and which gets mentioned negatively in reports. However, it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.

Drug-related violence has affected mainly rural and southern areas in Michoacan. US and UK government travel advisories specifically exclude Morelia from any warnings about Michoacan overall. Just take normal precautions that you’d take anywhere.

While not a huge international travel destination, Morelia is an easy place to visit thanks to its domestic tourism, so there’s nothing to stop you from exploring this Mexican city away from the typical hotspots!


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Posted JUL 03, 2023

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