Last Updated on September 13, 2023 by Nellie Huang
Heading to Mexico’s most modern metropolis? Here’s our complete guide and detailed list of things to do in Monterrey.
On my first trip to Monterrey, I had no idea what to expect, but I was truly surprised to find a modern metropolis, brimming with world-class museums and glitzy neighborhoods. As a thriving economic powerhouse, Mexico’s third-largest city boasts soaring skyscrapers and colossal malls, but it equally shines with an impressive cultural scene that includes top-notch art centers and entertainment attractions.
But what truly sets Monterrey (which translates to mean ‘The King of Mountains’) apart is its dramatic backdrop — the imposing Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. With jagged peaks and colossal hills, this natural wonderland in northeastern Mexico offers a plethora of outdoor experiences just beyond the city limits.
In this guide, I’ve picked out the best things to do in Monterrey and I’ve mapped them out like a walking tour. I also included things to do around Monterrey, as well as best time to visit, safety tips and recommendations on hotels and restaurants.
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Monterrey
- 1. Start at Macroplaza
- 2. Watch the Faro Light Show
- 3. Visit the Catedral de Monterrey
- 4. Admire Contemporary Art at MARCO
- 5. Wander around Barrio Antiguo
- 6. Browse the Sunday Antique Market
- 7. Try Monterrey’s Traditional Dish: Cabrito
- 8. Visit the Palacio de Gobierno
- 9. Explore the Museo de Historia Mexicana
- 10. See the Museo del Noreste
- 11. Stroll along Paseo Santa Lucía
- 12. Take a Boat to Parque Fundidora
- 13. Explore the Lungs of the City
- 14. Be Blown Away at the Horno3 Museum
- 15. See a Concert at Arena Monterrey
- 16. Shop in Zona Rosa
- 17. See the Upscale District of San Pedro
- 18. Try Craft Beers in Barrio Antiguo
- 19. Drink in Views at Cerro del Obispado
- 20. Visit the Museo Regional de Nuevo León
- Things to Do Around Monterrey
- Monterrey Travel Guide
Things to Do in Monterrey
1. Start at Macroplaza
Monterrey’s beating heart lies within the sprawling Macroplaza, a monumental square that ranks among the world’s largest. The main square may look pretty barren, but that’s because it had only been created in the 1980s following the demolition of a substantial chunk of prime real estate.
Today, it’s a hub for cultural and civic activities with the occasional celebrations held here, and shoeshiners and street vendors setting up shop in the square. Depending on the time of year, Macroplaza often hosts concerts, festivals, and cultural events.
2. Watch the Faro Light Show
Commanding attention within the Macroplaza is the striking Faro del Comercio (Lighthouse of Commerce), a towering brick-red structure soaring to a height of 70 meters. Designed to resemble a lighthouse, this monolithic landmark was constructed to celebrate commerce and progress in Monterrey.
Every evening, the Faro del Comercio projects powerful green lasers into the night sky, creating a striking visual display. This light show was intended to symbolize Monterrey’s commitment to innovation, trade, and the future.
3. Visit the Catedral de Monterrey
Just across the thoroughfare from the Faro, you’ll find the baroque-style Catedral Metropolitana de Monterrey. The city’s cathedral looks surprisingly petite compared to its grandiose counterpart in Mexico City. Inside its hallowed confines, a central nave forms the shape of a cross, flanked by an array of niche chapels.
4. Admire Contemporary Art at MARCO
To the south of the Cathedral is the Museo de Contemporaneo Arte, known as MARCO. The Museum of Contemporary Art is regarded as one of Mexico’s premier contemporary art museums. It houses a diverse collection of contemporary art from both Mexican and international artists. The museum often hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events, making it a dynamic space for art enthusiasts.
5. Wander around Barrio Antiguo
Just to the east of MARCO is the once-neglected historic downtown, Barrio Antiguo that has undergone a complete transformation and become my favorite area in Monterrey. This was once a crime-ridden neighborhood plagued by clashes between narco gangs.
But in recent years, the crime has reduced substantially and Barrio Antiguo is now undergoing a revival of sorts. There are new coffee shops, quirky cafes, bars that sell craft beer, and small independent shops that are bringing people back to this historic area. The historical houses are being restored, their walls splashed with bright paint and mural art.
The pedestrianized street of Calle Morelos is filled with cool bars, outdoor cafes and small knicknack shops. Stop by the Mercado Barrio Antiguo, a lively food market where you can try different street foods and craft beers. Keep walking, and you’ll come across Libros Café Y Detalles, a charming bookstore that also has a cafe with lots of books and interesting things on the shelves.
6. Browse the Sunday Antique Market
Calle Mina in Barrio Antigua is closed off to traffic on Sundays and transforms into the Corredor del Arte. It’s a fun, outdoor market with antiques, crafts, and all sorts of little things to discover. The whole neighborhood comes alive, and locals come here to find special items like second-hand clothes, old records, and antique home items.
Walking further south to Calle Jardón, you’ll find one antique shop after another. One of them is D’Michaus Antiques, which is like a treasure trove of metal items, bronze sculptures, old paintings, and comfy old leather chairs.
7. Try Monterrey’s Traditional Dish: Cabrito
Cabrito, a beloved culinary treasure of Monterrey, is a regional specialty that has gained fame both within Mexico and around the world. At its core, cabrito is a young goat slow-roasted over an open fire to perfection. The meat is usually seasoned with a blend of spices, including achiote or annatto for a hint of color and earthy taste.
The best place to try cabrito in Monterrey is El Rey del Cabrito, in the southern end of Barrio Antiguo. This bizarre yet entertaining spot has a kitschy design; its interiors are adorned with cowboy outfits and black-and-white photos. But its food is unrivaled and portions are huge! The star of the show here is cabrito al pastor (roast kid goat), served with tortillas, totopos, different sauces and broth. You can see the goat meat being slow-roasted over an open flame by the main entrance.
8. Visit the Palacio de Gobierno
Head back to Macroplaza and continue walking a few minutes northwards, and you’ll come across the Esplanada de los Héroes, a stately promenade adorned with monuments honoring revered Mexican figures, including Miguel Hidalgo and Benito Juárez.
This splendid esplanade overlooks the imposing Palacio de Gobierno, a government palace bedecked with resplendent stained-glass windows. Dating back to 1908, the stunning neoclassical Palacio de Gobernio is the longtime seat of state politics. It’s also home to the Museo del Palacio, which is sadly temporarily closed for restoration. Check its official website for updates of when it’ll reopen.
9. Explore the Museo de Historia Mexicana
If you only have time for one museum, make it the Mexican History Museum which is just a hop from the Palacio de Gobierno. Poised by the fountains and inviting pools of Plaza 400 Años, the Museo de Historia Mexicana is a multi-level, modern museum that brings you on a journey through Mexican history, spanning from the pre-Hispanic era to the 20th century.
Within its halls, over 1200 artifacts stand on proud display, including venerable Olmec stone heads and an authentic locomotive. Your admission also grants you access to the Museo del Noreste (read next point), seamlessly connected to its counterpart via a striking glass-enclosed bridge.
10. See the Museo del Noreste
Next door stands the Museo del Noreste (MUNE), an equally fascinating museum that delves into the history, traditions, and multicultural aspects of northeastern Mexico. It’s a great place to learn about the region’s indigenous heritage and its role in shaping Mexico’s history.
Its permanent installation focuses on regional history that includes the states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Texas, from present day to remote times. The visit becomes a downward journey through different stages of history through intermediate floors or mezzanines connected by ramps.
11. Stroll along Paseo Santa Lucía
Both museums mentioned are located along the modern riverside promenade, Paseo Santa Lucía. The boardwalk was built in 2007, as part of the celebration of the Universal Forum of Cultures Monterrey. Stretches for approximately 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) along the Santa Lucía River, the promenade meanders through the city’s downtown area up to the beautiful green lungs of the city, Parque Fundidora.
Take a leisurely walk along the pathway, where you can admire art installations and sculptures, cross several pedestrian bridges and see man-made waterfalls along the way. The riverwalk is also lined with cafes and restaurants, with outdoor tables that spill out onto the walkway. Restaurante Tenerias has the best spot, with the perfect setting for a romantic dinner.
12. Take a Boat to Parque Fundidora
A popular way to soak up the beauty of Santa Lucia River is to catch a boat from the Fountain of Life (Fuente de la Vida) in the center of the Plaza 400 Años right by the Mexican History Museum. A return journey on the boat costs 100 MXN (US$5) and it takes around 30 minutes to go from Fuente de la Vida to Parque Fundidora. You can get tickets right by the fountain.
But be prepared for potential waits, particularly on bustling weekends. I had to wait for 30 minutes to board the boat, and actually wished I’d just strolled along Paseo Santa Lucia. Still, it was a very relaxing way to float on the river and see the city from the water’s perspective.
13. Explore the Lungs of the City
At the easternmost point of the Paseo Santa Lucía promenade lies Parque Fundidora, an expansive green oasis that has breathed new life into what was once an industrial wasteland. Today, a network of jogging trails and bike lanes crisscross this park, affording stunning vistas of the iconic Cerro de la Silla mountain. There’s so much to do in this massive park that you can easily spend the entire day here.
Rent a bicycle (40 MXN or US$2 per hour) to explore the sprawling green space or hire a rowboat to glide across the park’s tranquil lake. Parque Fundidora is also home to several museums and eco-adventure parks, including Expedición Amazonia Park. Parque Amazonia has a whole plethora of activities, ranging from ziplining to bungee-jumping and an obstacle rope course.
14. Be Blown Away at the Horno3 Museum
Amongst the plethora of museums you can find in Parque Fundidora, the Horno3 Museum is the most impressive! This former steel blast furnace has been ingeniously transformed into a cutting-edge, interactive museum dedicated to Mexico’s steel industry. The museum promises to captivate visitors from the moment they set foot inside, from the steam-emitting rocks at the entrance to the open-air caged elevator ascending to the summit, offering dramatic panoramas of Monterrey.
The showstopper is the hourly furnace spectacle, projected from the towering Horno3 structure. It includes a live fire show as well as a fun and informative presentation on the history of Monterrey’s steel-making industry. Try to visit on a weekend if you want to go zip-lining and rappelling from the tower’s apex (you’ll need to book in advance).
On the museum’s rooftop is the contemporary cafe and restaurant, El Lingote, offering creative fusion cuisine and craft beer selection, all while providing breathtaking views of the surrounding park.
15. See a Concert at Arena Monterrey
Also located within the greenery of Parque Fundidora, Arena Monterrey is the city’s biggest indoor stadium, celebrated for its striking architectural design and versatility. With a seating capacity of 17,599, the arena serves as a premier venue for all kinds of national and international sports, national and international cultural events, conventions and exhibitions. Michael Bublé, Sam Smith, and Evanescence have all performed in the arena in 2023.
16. Shop in Zona Rosa
In the city center, the vibrant Zona Rosa is a modern district to the west of Macroplaza, crisscrossed with pedestrianized shopping streets. It’s a great area to go for a stroll, people-watch, and stop by the many cafes for a coffee. One of the biggest malls in this area is Galerías Monterrey, where you’ll find a wide range of international and local brands.
Zona Rosa also has its share of cultural attractions, including the Pinacoteca de Nuevo León, an art museum featuring works by regional artists. If you’re interested in contemporary art, be sure to check out the galleries showcasing local talent.
17. See the Upscale District of San Pedro
San Pedro Garza García, commonly referred to as San Pedro, is one of the wealthiest areas in the whole of Mexico. In San Pedro, you’ll find wide, tree-lined avenues, upscale shopping centers, and an array of gourmet restaurants and cafes. It’s a hub of business and commerce, housing numerous corporate offices and serving as a significant financial center in Mexico.
San Pedro embraces its cultural and artistic side with a variety of galleries, museums, and cultural centers. The Museo del Vidrio (Glass Museum) is a standout attraction, showcasing the artistry and craftsmanship of glassblowing in the region. The district is also backed by beautiful pinetree forests and the Chipinque Ecopark.
18. Try Craft Beers in Barrio Antiguo
One of the best things to do in Monterrey at night is to check out the bars in Barrio Antiguo. In the evening, Barrio Antiguo truly comes alive with many quirky bars and eclectic nightclubs. My local friend brought me to Almacén 42, a super cool bar made from shipping containers, and we had a great time drinking beer and watching the live band. The bar offers 42 different craft beers from all over Mexico and a tasty menu with snacks and tacos to share.
Right across the street is La Oveja Negra Taverna, a place that serves German beers and delicious German food like bratwurst and roasted pork knuckle. Nearby, Cafe Iguana is a famous nightclub where many famous bands have played. They cover different types of music and are at the center of Monterrey’s alternative music scene.
19. Drink in Views at Cerro del Obispado
For the best views of Monterrey, head to Cerro del Obispado, located just west of downtown and reachable by car. The hill stands at a mere 2542 feet (775m) above sea level, but once you reach the top, it feels way higher than that.
A spacious circular lookout point stands at the summit of the hill, offering breathtaking 360-degree panoramas of the cityscape and the enveloping Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. Dominating the center of this Mirador del Obispado is Mexico’s largest monumental flag, proudly displayed on a towering 100-meter pole.
This spot comes alive on Mexico’s Independence Day, serving as the stage for lively dance performances, captivating light shows, and dazzling fireworks. Additionally, visitors will find convenient amenities at the park entrance, including a parking lot, benches, and restroom facilities.
20. Visit the Museo Regional de Nuevo León
Directly below the lookout is the Palacio del Obispado, a striking mustard-yellow structure originally constructed to house the seat of religious authority in Nuevo León. In 1902, President Porfirio Díaz repurposed the building, transforming it into the Museo Regional de Nuevo León El Obispado, which officially opened its doors in 1952.
Today, the museum showcases a compelling collection of artifacts, with a focus on the building’s rich religious history, providing visitors with a fascinating glimpse into the past. It’s free to enter, you just need to leave your name in the guestbook.
Things to Do Around Monterrey
21. Hike up Cerro de la Silla
Cerro de la Silla is one of Monterrey’s iconic mountains and one of the most popular spots to go hiking. Named after a saddle due to the strong resemblance, Cerro de la Silla has a peculiar shape around its peaks. The mountain has 4 main peaks, the highest being North Peak at a height of 5970 feet (1819m).
Hiking Cerro de la Silla can range from moderate to challenging, depending on the trail you choose. The two most common routes are the “La Antena” trail and the “La Virgen” trail. Both trails begin at the same trailhead, which is located in the Parque La Huasteca, on the eastern outskirts of Monterrey.
- La Antena Trail is the easier and more popular route, covering 4 to 5 kilometers (2.5 to 3 miles) one-way. The round trip usually takes around 4 to 5 hours. While it involves steep sections and uneven terrain, it doesn’t require technical climbing skills.
- La Virgen Trail is shorter, around 2-3 km (1.2 to 1.8 miles) one way, but this trail is more challenging and it can take 4 hours or more for the round-trip looper. It involves steeper inclines, rocky sections, and some scrambling.
22. Go Hiking in Chipinque Ecological Park
For an invigorating morning adventure, head straight to Parque Ecológico Chipinque, just 19 km (11 miles) outside the city. Situated on the southern fringes of the city, it’s a short, albeit steep, 15-minute drive from the immaculate streets of the upscale San Pedro district. Several hiking and mountain biking trails weave through dense deciduous forests and ascend to rocky summits, including the 2,200-meter-high Copete de Aguilas. I took just 1 hour to hike up from the park entrance to the mesilla (plateau).
Doing a morning hike to Chipinque is one of the most popular things to do in Monterrey, especially for locals. It does get crowded on weekends, so make sure to come early. The visitor center provides invaluable resources, including maps, trail guidance, and permits. A word of warning: the area is home to a population of black bears, and sightings are not uncommon. Avoid solo hikes or deviating from designated paths.
Entry tickets (M$70) must be purchased online in advance. To reach Chipinque, catch bus 130 from the junction of Vasconcelos and Gómez in the San Pedro area or opt for an Uber ride from downtown, typically costing no more than M$150.
23. Try Canyoning in La Huasteca Eco Park
For those seeking an adrenaline rush, I recommend heading to Parque Ecológico Huasteca awaits just 16 km (10 miles) west of the city center, in the outskirts of Santa Catarina district. In contrast to Chipinque, Huasteca showcases colossal limestone spires that pierce the sky, standing above the dizzying walls of the Cañón de la Huasteca. These walls, adorned with prehistoric glyphs crafted millennia ago, recount the enduring pilgrimage of the Huichol people over countless generations.
Today, La Huasteca beckons rock climbers and avid hikers with a diverse selection of climbing routes, ranging from beginner-friendly to advanced circuits, attracting enthusiasts from across the globe. Accessible via bus 505 from Avenida Doctor Ignacio Morones Prieto or a convenient Uber ride (around M$200 each way from the city center).
24. Explore the Caves: Grutas de Garcia
Approximately 64 km (40 miles) northwest of downtown Monterrey lies one of Mexico’s most extraordinary cave systems, the Grutas de García. Stretching for over 3.5 km (2 miles) within the Sierra del Fraile, these caves trace their origin to nearly 60 million years ago when they lay submerged beneath the sea. If you look carefully, you can still see marine fossils embedded in the cave walls, evidence of their ancient aquatic history.
The easiest way to get to the cave is on the scenic teleférico (aerial tramway), that ascends 750 meters and reaches the cave in just five minutes. But it’s temporarily closed for maintenance. Alternatively, a manageable 1.5-kilometer hike along a well-paved path serves as an option. If you’re traveling solo, it’s wise to book a day tour so you’ll have a guide and you won’t be hiking solo.
Upon entering the cave, two paths await exploration: one extending 2.5 kilometers through 16 distinct chambers; while the other, a shorter route of 1 kilometer, leads to 11 chambers. Both routes unveil equally remarkable, vast chambers adorned with stalactites and stalagmites. Highlights include “la Octava Maravilla” (the Eighth Wonder), an immense column formed by the fusion of a stalagmite and stalactite, and “el Mirador de la mano“, a stalagmite resembling a colossal, gnarled hand.
25. Take a Day Trip to Santiago
If you’re not the outdoorsy type and want to explore the more cultural side of Mexico, here’s a day trip worth doing to experience the charm of a small Mexican town. You can easily book a half-day tour to visit both Santiago and Cola de Caballo waterfall.
Located approximately 40 km (25 miles) south of Monterrey, Santiago is a pueblo magico (magic town) with a quaint small-town feel, colonial architecture and cozy restaurants that offer homecooked meals. Its central square is flanked by little shops and cafes. I had lunch at La Casa de la Abuela with my friend and I highly recommend a stop here for traditional regional food.
One of the highlights of a day trip to Santiago is the chance to visit the stunning Cola de Caballo waterfall (translates to mean ‘hair of horse’). This natural wonder is a breathtaking sight, with water cascading from a height of 25 meters into a crystal-clear pool below. Santiago is also located next to the Presa Rodrigo Gómez, a reservoir created by a dam. Locals love to come here on weekends for fresh seafood.
Monterrey Travel Guide
Whether you’re visiting Monterrey for a week or a year, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance. Having travel insurance has helped me through the times when we lost our luggage, our flights got canceled/delayed, and when we had our valuables stolen. You never know what’s going to happen, so it’s always wise to have insurance. Read my guide to getting travel insurance.
Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.
How to Get to Monterrey
Monterrey’s General Mariano Escobedo International Airport (MTY) is a modern and well-connected airport. There are direct flights to Dallas, Houston, Miami, and New York.
It also serves Mexico City, Guadalajara, Cancun and other major cities in Mexico. You can find flights to Monterrey from other airports in Mexico for as cheap as US$50 round-trip. The airport is located approximately 24 kilometers (15 miles) from the city center.
Getting around Monterrey
Monterrey has a pretty decent public transportation system compared to other parts of Mexico. Metro Monterrey has three lines that cover various parts of the city, but it doesn’t reach many parts of the city. While public transportation is cheap, it can take a lot longer than taking a taxi due to the traffic.
Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Didi are widely available in Monterrey. They are safe and relatively inexpensive. I took the Uber everywhere I went in Monterrey and rarely spent more than US$10.
Monterrey is rather spread out, so if you’re planning to tick off all the things to do in Monterrey, renting a car is a viable option. Several car rental companies operate in Monterrey, and the city has well-maintained roads and highways. However, be prepared for traffic congestion during peak hours, and make sure to familiarize yourself with local driving regulations.
I always book my car rental from Discover Cars as they offer the best prices and excellent customer service. An economy rental car in Monterrey costs just $80 for a whole week, which is less than $15 a day. The current price for gas is 23.50 MXN (around $1) per liter.
How Many Days to Visit Monterrey?
To experience all the things to do in Monterrey, I recommend spending at least 1 week in Monterrey. This will give you enough time to explore the barrio antiguo, visit the museums and galleries, and venture out of the city to go hiking in the surrounding mountains. I spent 5 days in Monterrey and still didn’t feel like it was enough!
Best Time to Visit Monterrey
Monterrey experiences a semi-arid climate with distinct seasons. Fall (September to November) and spring (March to May) are the best times to visit Monterrey. The weather is pleasant, with mild temperatures ranging from the low 60s to the mid-80s Fahrenheit (15-30°C). Both seasons are ideal for outdoor activities, including hiking and exploring the natural beauty surrounding the city. The parks and landscapes are lush and vibrant during this season.
Summers (June to August) can be hot and dry, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 90°F (32°C) and occasional thunderstorms. Winter is the coolest season in Monterrey, with temperatures ranging from the low 40s to the mid-60s Fahrenheit (5-20°C). While it’s not as cold as some other parts of Mexico like Copper Canyon, Monterrey can experience chilly evenings, especially in December and January.
Is it Safe to Travel to Monterrey?
Monterrey was battling drug wars as recently as 2012. However, the city has made significant strides in improving its safety situation in recent years and crime rates have dropped substantially. The efforts to enhance safety and security in Monterrey include increased police presence, improved surveillance systems, and collaborations with local communities.
Always stay updated on local advisories, follow guidelines from official sources, and avoid risky areas, particularly at night. I’ve included only the safe areas in this list of things to do in Monterrey. The main area to steer clear of is the crime-plagued barrio of Colonia Independence, across the highway from centro.
Where to Stay in Monterrey
Hotels in Monterrey are incredibly affordable and provide amazing value. You can stay in a four-star hotel in the city center for less than US$80/night. I definitely recommend staying in the city center where you can explore the historic sites and downtown attractions on foot.
Luxury Option: Safi Royal Luxury Valle
For a luxurious experience, Safi Royal Luxury Valle offers elegant rooms and suites, a spa, fitness center, and multiple dining options. It’s located in the affluent San Pedro Garza García district, known for its upscale shopping and dining. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Gamma Monterrey
Housed in a 1912 neoclassical building, the grand Gamma Monterrey is a solid mid-range option with a central location and well-priced rooms. I stayed here and absolutely loved being able to walk to all the attractions in Monterrey. Gamma Monterrey offers comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and a rooftop terrace with great city views. Check rates here.
Mid-Range: Best Western Centro Monterrey
Best Western Centro Monterrey offers a comfortable stay with contemporary rooms, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool. The hotel’s central location makes it easy to explore Monterrey’s attractions, and it’s within walking distance of the Macroplaza and the historic downtown area. Check rates here.
Budget: Ibis Monterrey Valle
Located in the San Pedro district, Ibis Monterrey Valle offers affordable accommodation with modern amenities. It’s conveniently situated near restaurants, shopping centers, and public transportation, making it a great choice for budget-conscious travelers. Check rates here.
Is It Worth Visiting Monterrey?
Monterrey is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Mexico and it offers such a different experience to other Mexican destinations. If you’re keen on trendy, upscale experiences, Monterrey is surely deliver with the best restaurants, museums and hotels you can find in all of Mexico.
I hope you’ve found this list of things to do in Monterrey useful. For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- 5-Day Mexico City Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Mexico City
- 30 Best Museums in Mexico City
- Visiting Teotihuacan, Mexico City Pyramids
- Best Day Trips from Mexico City
- Copper Canyon 10-Day Itinerary
- El Chepe Train: My Complete Guide
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