Things to see and do in Merida
There are plenty of things to see and do in Merida on a budget, a city of over a million people that is over 400 years old. Besides the centro historico, where most tourist attractions are located, there are many charming neighborhoods, shopping malls and parks.
Open top bus tour Explore Merida, the “White City” of the Yucatan, on a panoramic bus tour. Marvel at the architecture of its magnificent cathedral and Spanish colonial buildings. See the most important sites in the city on this 2-hour guided excursion.
Plaza Grande is the city’s central square. It is the heart of the historic center of town. The central park is pleasant to sit in and watch people, and it is surrounded by impressive historic buildings.
San Ildefonso Cathedral The second oldest Cathedral in the New World, the Cathedral of San Ildefonso. Merida’s cathedral is built on top of the Mayan city of T’ho. Many of the stones used in the construction of the cathedral and other old structures in Merida were taken from the Mayan temples of this ancient city. Using the Maya as slaves, the Spanish forced them to destroy their own city and religious center to build a new one for their conquerors.
Museo Macay Museum of Contemporary Art
Casa de Montejo, the 1549 palace of Montejo the Conquistador. Now converted to commercial use (a Banamex bank with handy ATMs), don’t miss the elaborate sculpture around the main doorway, including figures of Spanish Conquistadors standing on the heads of conquered native Maya — a graphic illustration of the new order the Conquest imposed.
Ayuntamiento , the old City Hall, with a distinctive clock tower.
Governor’s Palace, where it is free to go inside and upstairs to see the beautiful murals depicting local history. Every morning at 9.30, the tourist office offers a free guided tour around the Plaza Grande.
El Paseo Montejo is a charming tree-lined street, lined with houses developed by the henequen-industry barons. It’s a wonderful place to walk in the evening. Have a dish of ice cream, look at the renovated mansions. If you are walking during the day, make sure to go to the bakery at the Plaza de La Bandera circle (across from the McDonald’s). The baked goods are delicious. Right outside, a family sells tamales every evening (and has been for decades). The tamales are cheap, fresh and absolutely delicious. Alternatively rent one of the horse drawn carriages, called calesas, they will drive you up and down the grand boulevard. You can catch a calesa at the Plaza Grande and take a trip down Paseo de Montejo and back.
Museo Regional de Antropología (Regional Museum of Anthropology). Since the archaeological pieces were moved to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in 2012 the Palacio Canton offers exhibitions. Tue-Sun: 8am-5pm, fee 55 pesos. If you are hungry or thirsty afterwards, Hennessy’s Irish Pub is just on the other side of Paseo de Montejo, a favorite hangout for both locals and visitors. The food and drink are reasonable, in a variety of settings (indoor, outdoor, non-smoking, smoking, etc.).
Quinta Montes Molina Another of the Paseo’s grandest old mansions is also a museum, just north of Calle 35, it is still owned by the original family. Guided tours of the lavish interior Mon-Fri, fee 75 pesos tours are in English at 9am, 11am and 3pm.
Teatro Peón Contreras at the intersection of Calles 60 & 57 (2 blocks north of the Zócalo) is the city’s grand Opera House. The current structure was designed by a visiting Italian architect and opened in 1908 replacing a less opulent earlier theater of the same name. The theater is the center of Mérida’s culture and in 2011 was renovated with a new stage and updated air conditioning. If opera, symphonies, and ballets aren’t to your taste, the building is still worth a look for the impressive architecture. There is also a sizeable art gallery downstairs with changing exhibits.
Museo de la Ciudad de Mérida at Calle 56 at 65 (the old post office building, 3 blocks east and 1 south of the Zocalo). The Museum of the City of Mérida provides more evidence of the city’s long history and rich culture. Admission is free, with guides who speak Spanish, English, and French. The museum has a very interesting permanent exhibit, as well as changing art exhibits upstairs. An added bonus is that the museum is just across the street from Merida’s central market, Mercado Lucas de Galvéz.
Museo de los Ferrocarriles en Yucatán, Railroad Museum, 43 at 48. Rail buffs will love this mostly outdoor museum near the train station north east of Centro. lots of quirky old locomotives. Wed-Sun, fee 20 pesos.