Check out the churches, museums, monuments, and other historical sites that make the city of Puebla a UNESCO World Heritage Center.
Start your sightseeing at the center of town, the zócalo (main square), from which it’s easy to reach many of Puebla’s highlights on foot.
If you’d rather not walk, Turibus runs bus tours of Puebla that depart daily and frequently, starting at 11 a.m., from the Calle 16 de Septiembre side of the square. Try the route that includes downtown and the Cinco de Mayo forts, which gives you a nice overview of the city.
Since the city’s founding in 1531, the zócalo has served as a community-gathering place, where everything from political rallies and worker protests to concerts and holiday celebrations still happens today. The square previously hosted public hangings and bullfights, too — but a fountain has long since replaced the gallows, and matadors now slay 800-pound beasts in a proper ring.
“The zócalo remains the core cultural, political, and religious center of the city of Puebla,” contributor Socorro Santin Nieto says on the state’s Web site. “It is an important part of everyday life for its inhabitants, as demonstrated by the citizen protests against the current mayor’s proposal to alter it in order to install an underground parking lot.”
The south side of the square is flanked by Puebla’s main cathedral (Av. 16 de Septiembre at 3 Oriente). The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the tallest in Mexico, was built in several stages during the Colonial era.
According to the state’s Encyclopedia of the Municipalities of Mexico, clergyman Francisco de Leyva laid the first stone in August 1536; three years later, the cathedral opened for worship. After undergoing lots of “repairs,” the church was consecrated in April 1649, but the facades and 240-foot-high towers were finished later.
Construction was finally completed in 1768. The majestic structure combines Baroque, Mannerist, Neoclassic, Renaissance, and other styles to produce a unique religious landmark. Tourists are welcome Monday through Saturday, but to appreciate the church in its full Catholic splendor — candlelight, choir, pipe-organ music — attend the mass delivered by the archbishop most Sundays at 10:00.
The Archdiocese of Mexico claims that the Puebla and Mexico City cathedrals, which shared an architect in Francisco de Becerra, “look like twins.” They really do not.
Nearby, the Amparo Museum (2 Sur #708, between 7 and 9 Oriente) hosts traveling exhibitions and houses an impressive array of religious and pre-Hispanic art. Its permanent collections include various interpretations of the Virgin of Guadalupe and more than 2,000 artifacts from the pre-Classical to post-Classical periods, or roughly 2500 B.C. to 1521 A.D.
A recent temporary show, “The Scars of Faith,” featured rare art from the Franciscan and Jesuit evangelists as they worked to establish missions in America while it was northern New Spain. Admission is free on Mondays, and the Amparo is closed on Tuesdays. For information about the museum and others nearby, see “Top 5 Museums for a Rainy Day in Puebla.”
Heading north, the street 2 Sur takes you past the zócalo and the Casa de los Muñecos (2 Norte #2, between 2 Oriente and Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza). The so-called House of Dolls gets its name from the grotesque human figures that decorate its brick and Talavera facade.
Legend has it that the tiles depict — and were installed to ridicule — the city council members of 1792, who tried to stop then-owner Agustín de Ovando y Villavicencio from building a mansion taller than City Hall. He ultimately won.
The 18th-century estate later served as a yarn warehouse, various retail stores, and the city’s first movie theater, El Lux, according to the Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP), which in the 1980s restored the site’s original architecture and opened a cultural complex. Today the elaborate edifice accommodates a restaurant/bar and a New Interactive University Museum that mounts art, photography, and other exhibits.
The Barrio del Artista is “a perfect place to enjoy a good cup of coffee and, of course, to check out the galleries that house permanent expositions by poblano artists, as well as a few works of outdoor theater,” professor Miguel Ángel Herrada notes on the city’s tourism website.
Fine-arts fanatics shouldn’t miss a midday stroll through the Barrio del Artista, or Artists Quarter (6 Norte between 4 and 6 Oriente). The one-block area, once part of a Colonial market, was converted into individual workshops by a group of artists led by José Márquez Figueroa in the mid-20th century. On any given day, visitors can observe painters at work in their small studios and, of course, buy finished pieces.
The small plaza in front of Café del Artista is where writer and director José Recek Saade staged theatrical events; he is honored, alongside poet María Sánchez Robredo and barrio founder/painter Márquez, with a bronze bust.
A commemorative plaque recognizes musicians Rafael Hernández Marín and Bernardo San Cristóbal, who penned the beloved and well-covered anthem “Qué chula es Puebla” (“How Pretty Puebla Is”). Hernández was actually one of Puerto Rico’s most important 20th-century composers, but he lived in Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s and put together many musical scores during the “golden age” of Mexican cinema.
A short walk up 6 Norte takes you past Puebla’s main theater (6 Norte and 8 Oriente), which is considered one of the oldest in the Americas. The Teatro principal opened in 1760, but just a few decades later was used as an artillery hold during the War of Independence and, afterward, as a bullfighting ring.
These activities left the theater “noticeably deteriorated,” the city’s tourism website notes. It was refurbished in 1820 only to suffer major structural damage in a 1902 fire. The theater was re-inaugurated in 1920 and its structure was updated again in 1941. The fountain out front, however, is from the Colonial era.
The extremely heavy, buttressed walls of the Templo de San Francisco were built as high as possible — the tower is 189 feet tall — to make the church seem like a fortress where soldiers of Christ lived.
Across the street, the nearly 500-year-old Templo de San Francisco (12 Oriente and Boulevard 5 de Mayo) rises above most of the buildings around it. Founded in 1531, when the first Mass was celebrated in “a shed with a palm roof,” it is the oldest Catholic church in the city. According to the state’s website, the gorgeous temple and adjacent monastery still in use, today were completed in 1585.
The remarkable Baroque facade, which features gray stone and brick covered with Talavera, is not the original one; it dates to the 18th century. Inside, to the left of the main altar, is the chapel of Our Lady the Conqueror, so named for a small image that Hernán Cortes brought to the Americas.
The chapel is the final resting place of Sebastian de Aparicio Prado, a Spanish trader turned monk. He was dubbed Mexico’s “first cowboy” after introducing the wagon, which unburdened indigenous workers and later declared a saint for his missionary work. He died in 1600, but his “uncorrupted” mummified body is on display on the chapel’s altar.
In the adjacent Paseo de San Francisco, which may be accessed on foot via the pedestrian overpass, a large Talavera fountain with benches anchors a small park. Here, you can sit in the shade and imagine what the city was like back when the Almoloya River ran through it.
The river now flows through a tube beneath the boulevard, but the old public laundry facilities that once took advantage of its water supply still exist. Look for the entrance, marked by a plaque that says Los Lavaderos de Almoloya, on the street behind the park. (Note: You can peek inside but can’t go in unless a public event is held; the space is now used for art exhibitions and other affairs.)