Monterrey is very much a cosmopolitan city. If you are looking for “Old Mexico” then this place is not for you. But, if you are curious about spending some time in a modern capital city that combines urban comforts and natural wonders, then Monterrey is definitely worth seeking out.
We headed south from Texas for a week of exploration - mostly in the form of rock climbing. While Monterrey is the third-largest city in the whole country of Mexico (and the second most productive with a GDP (PPP) of US$123 billion), it is also located in a geologically unique area - we are talking massive limestone mountains and rock outcroppings that stretch towards the sky, with a few dots of green here and there in the form of spiky fern-like plants.
While we didn’t head down south for the city itself, we were definitely pleasantly surprised once we arrived and did our first bit of exploring. While the city is massive - it has a lot of character and a lot of different places to explore. Here are seven experiences and places to explore in “Sultana of the North.”
7 Places to Explore in Monterrey
| Check out the Macroplaza
Otherwise known as La Gran Plaza, this landmark is the fifth largest plaza in the world and the largest in Mexico (it extends 400,000 square meters). The Macroplaza is a great place to start your exploring of the city for off of it are a lot of the main sites. Including, the Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo Leon, Faro del Comercio, a large monument that shoots a green laser at night (not joking), the Cathedral de Monterrey, and the Jardin Hundido, a small, slightly hidden park in the middle of the plaza.
Because of its size, the Macroplaza is worth spending at least a couple of hours in. Or, spend the day there wandering around the different buildings - including the various museums and churches that line its edges. You can also find restaurants and cafes in the area.
| Tour the Museum of Contemporary Art
Also known as MARCO, this museum is located just off the Macroplaza and near the hip district of Barrio Antigua. Stop in to see a wide array of artwork across 11 different exhibits. Once done inside, make sure to spend some time out in the sculpture garden (maybe with a coffee or two).
And don’t forget to check out the enormous statue of a dove (it weighs in at 4 tons) in the front titled, “La Paloma.”
| Walk around the Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo León (Government Palace)
This building is hard to miss - mainly due to its enormous size, and stately air. While it is a government building, it is also an awesome spot to explore - especially the interior, which has a beautiful open atrium-like area that we saw a good handful of people taking photos of (including many brides). There is also a local tourism booth with helpful information on the many things to do in the city.
| Wander along the Santa Lucia Riverwalk
The Santa Lucia River, which connects the Macroplaza with Fundidora Park is a great way to explore the downtown area on your own two feet (or by small riverboat if you are feeling fancy). The river, which is entirely manmade, was completed in 2007 and today stretches about 1.5 miles long. Along the way you will see fountains, art installations and numerous restaurants, cafes and shops.
We suggest doing the walk early in the morning (before it gets too hot) and stopping off along the way for some coffee or a small meal. Or if you aren't a morning person, hit the river around dusk when the city itself kind of comes alive. We did it both ways and the morning it was a lot quieter, but in the evening there were more stalls set up selling food and crafts, live music and an overall lively feel.
| Spend the afternoon in Fundidora Park
Once you finish the River Walk, make sure to spend a bit of your afternoon wandering around Fundidora Park. The park sits on the site of the old Fundidora Monterrey, a steel foundry company that was of great importance to the economic development of the city during the early 20th century. As you walk around the 360-acre park you can still clearly see remnants of the old factory.
Fundidora Park has two lakes, 23 fountains, 16 buildings, including a large indoor arena that would hold concerts and sporting events, an indoor amphitheater, museums, and art centers. There is also a 2.1-mile long track that circles the park - perfect for a nice walk or run in town.
| Spend an evening in the hip Barrio Antiguo district
No trip to Monterrey is complete without at least one night spent out in the hip district of Barrio Antiguo. The main hub of the area is Calle de Morelos, which is home to modern bars, breweries (we really liked Almacen 42), restaurants and markets (make sure to check out Mercado Barrio Antiguo for some top-notch food). While the area comes alive at night, it also has a good number of funky cafes that are worth a stop in the AM - including Libros Café y Detalles, a small corner café stocked with books.
Our Airbnb was right next to this district and absolutely loved it. Almost every night we walked around and looked at the unique buildings, restaurants and bars. We also stopped in at a restaurant called Thai Thai, which of course served Thai food. It was delicious. So if you can get an Airbnb close by it is 100% worth it.
| Head out of town to Monterrey’s many natural areas
As you might have guessed, we headed down to Monterrey mostly for some exciting outdoor adventures. Even though the city is massive - and sprawling - it is also very close to multiple national parks and natural spaces. Including, La Huasteca National Park, Potrero Chico (famous for climbing), La Estanzuela Monterrey, a large natural park with waterfalls, and Chipinque, an ecological park with limestone mountains and awesome hiking trails.
While the city is fantastic and definitely worth checking out, at least for us, Monterrey stood out for its amazing location and wide array of outdoor adventures. So definitely make sure to take advantage of the city's numerous national and ecological parks.
Monterrey is a bustling metropolis with a lot of hidden character and culture. While at first glance it just seems like a normal urban center, once you get down into the heart of it, you will see that it has a lot to offer. Plus, because of its lack of main tourist attractions and characterization of being just one big industrial complex, it still feels completely under the radar and totally off the beaten path. Perfect.
We suggest spending at least five days there, mostly so you have adequate time to check out not just the city itself, but the many outdoor areas that line the city.
Where to Eat
| Thai Thai, Barrio Antiguo
Delicious Thai food in a hip little restaurant off one of the side streets. While it was relatively expensive for Monterrey (about $8-$10 USD per plate), it was very tasty.
|Almacen 42, Barrio Antiguo
Tight, industrial style brewery that also serves up flavorful taco plates. Come for the long list of beers on tap, stay for the tacos and atmosphere.
Can you tell we had a favorite area for food? This large market (mercado) is right across from Almacen 42, and is a great spot to go if you don't know exactly what you are craving. Inside are various food stalls, serving food anywhere from ramen to sushi to more tasty tacos.
Where to Stay
We stayed near the Barrio Antiguo District, which is also very close (within walking distance) to the Macroplaza, Fundidora Park and the city's various museums. Other areas to look for a spot include the Centro area (the other side of the Macroplaza, closer to Plaza Garabaldi), the Obrera District which is even closer to Fundidora Park, or if you want to be very close to nature, head towards either Potrero Chico (stay in the town of Hidalgo) or La Huasteca (there are some nice modern apartment buildings nearby, like this one here).
| Some Airbnb's to Check Out
Modern Loft near the Macroplaza
Urban Penthouse closer to the Sierra Madre Mountains
Entire Apartment right next to Fundidora Park
House with a pool and walking distance from La Huasteca National Park
How to Get to Monterrey
| Monterrey is well located for both driving and flying. It is roughly a 3.5 hour drive from McAllen, Texas, 8.5 hour drive from Houston, Texas or roughly a 10.5 hour drive from Mexico City.
| Flights regularly land in Monterrey, from various major cities within Mexico and the USA - including, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. We search for most of our flights on Skyscanner, a great site for good deals.
xx stay adventurous,