There’s plenty going on in this bustling metropolis. But with five million people crammed into a valley with limited space, transport can be anything from mildly confusing to downright terrifying. Park the car, grab some walking shoes and discover 6 of the best things to do and see on foot in Monterrey.
In the short time we spent in this lively city its diversity, colour and energy drew us in. That being said, the eight lane roads in the middle of the city, tangled fly overs and seemingly ever changing road rules had us stressing behind the wheel.
The mountain city is Mexico’s wealthiest, though rising tides haven’t lifted all boats. Rambling slum neighbourhoods, obvious by their vibrantly coloured shacks, abruptly end where they meet the strip malls, golf courses, hotels and restaurants of the wealthier barrios. The class divide is very apparent and firmly established by area. This division while stark, seems to have given rise to a city that caters to many walks of life. Mimosas and art galleries for breakfast, street tacos and mariachi for lunch, you can do it all in Monterrey.
Located in a basin between three mountain ranges, Monterrey is bordered on all sides by dramatic peaks, soaring granite cliffs and cloud-topped plateaus. It makes for incredible views that shift as you make your way through the city.
While the mountainous backdrop provides some fantastic vistas, it also means space is not in huge supply. And with 1.1 million people in the city, and closer to 5 million within the metropolitan area, that space comes at a premium. Nowhere is this more evident than on the crowded roads. Rather than compete with the daily traffic, we decided to discover the best of Monterrey on foot.
Power Walk the Parque Fundidora
Start your day with a brisk walk through this impressive green space in the heart of the city. The Parque Fundidora is a great place to exercise, wander or picnic.
Converted from a disused steel factory, the sustainable park covers an area of 142 hectares. Now an archeological industrial site, impressive rusted metal monoliths rise up periodically from the green park.
The park has three and a half kilometres of road and tracks for walking, jogging and cycling. It also sports a number of sections with exercise equipment, playgrounds for children as well as food stalls, paid attractions and rides. Fundidora has plenty of tables, sunny grassy spots and cool shaded areas to relax or picnic.
Home to an arena, man-made lake, arts and expo centre the park is host to many events and exhibitions throughout the year. You can find out what’s happening at Fundidora here.
The park offers all day parking (between 6am and 11pm) for 100 MXP.
Amble Along the Santa Lucia River Walk
The walk features murals, fountains and sculptures alongside the meandering man-made river. You can also find bars, cafes, restaurants and food stalls along the way to take a break and grab a drink.
You can either hoof-it the entire 2.5km or jump aboard one of the small tour boats that make their way along the canal. We walked, using it to navigate from the Parque Fundidora, where we parked our car, to the central district where you can find most of the action in Monterrey.
Saunter Up and Down the Macroplaza
Right in the heart of heart of downtown, you can find one of the largest town plazas in the world. The Macroplaza offers 400,000 square metres of statues, fountains, monuments, gardens and squares.
Aside from a great place to wander, relax and photograph, the plaza is where many of Monterrey’s cultural and historical landmarks are found. Historical and modern government buildings, churches, and museums can all be seen on and around the plaza.
We decided to escape the midday heat by ducking into Monterrey’s contemporary art museum, MARCO, located at the southern end of the plaza. A journey into the weird, wonderful, and downright bizarre. Many exhibits had us scratching our heads, but perhaps we just don’t get it. The MARCO offers free admission on Wednesdays.
The surrounding area has many attractions as well including the Morelos walking street, Barrio Antiguo and Santa Lucia River Walk making the Macro plaza a great place to start, end or rest during your exploration of Monterrey.
March to the Mercardo Juarez to Sample Cabrito (and Waddle Home)
Cabrito, roasted goat kid, is a regional delicacy and a must try when in Monterrey. The most common style is the cabrito al pastor, whole baby goat, spit roasted over charcoal, though a number of other styles are also popular. You can find goat braised in sauce, oven roasted goat with seasoning or the more adventurous cabrito sangre, roast goat basted in blood and served with various bits and pieces of offal. We decided to keep it traditional and track down some cabrito al pastor.
There are plenty of restaurants synonymous with this local dish, the most famous being the gaudy El Rey del Cabrito. However, we opted to eschew table cloths and silverware for a more stripped back dining approach. We headed toward the plastic tables and chairs of the Mercardo Juarez.
On the second floor of the Mercardo, where most of the restaurants are found, you can find Cabrito El Pipiripau (they also have an area downstairs serving the same food). A portion of cabrito al pastor, served with tortillas, fresh vegetables and salsa was plenty for the two of us and set us back 200 pesos or $10 USD.
The succulent goat is mouth watering on its own, but dressed in a tortilla with salsa and lime it is perfection. The water in Monterrey is treated so you should get away with eating the fresh vegetable accompaniments. Of course, there is always an element of risk at street and market vendors, but that’s part of the fun.
While you may have marched here it will be a waddle home so plan accordingly and wear your stretchy pants.
Strutt Your Stuff in Barrio Antiguo
This colourful, colonial, historic quarter can be found in central Monterrey, just to the east of the Macroplaza. The area dates back to the city’s founding in the 16th century, and buildings here date back as far as the 18th century. Since then, the Barrio’s cultural significance to the city has waxed and waned several times. Most recently it has been earmarked for restoration as a cultural center, following a decline in the 90s and 00s due to the violence that plagued the city.
Aside from walking the suburb to take in the architecture and colour of the buildings, this a great area to find some of Monterrey’s best, restaurants, bars and cafes. The barrio comes alive in the evenings when the heat of the day has subsided and the locals come out to play. Most popular amongst the city’s young affluent local crowd. We took the opportunity to sample some of what this local dining and drinking precinct had to offer.
La Casa del Maiz
Authentic food in an eclectic, semi-restored historic building. Latin MTV blared from televisions throughout the restaurant during our meal, but seemed to fit the vibe. The food was delicious, the portions generous and price fair. Grab the house enchiladas or the quesadillas and you won’t be disappointed.
Above the restaurant is the Akbal Lounge, a cosy bar with great decor and attentive service.
Skip Me Muero de Hambre on the main walking street of Barrio Antigua. If the three different floors dedicated to three different cuisines wasn’t enough of a red flag, the tacky attempt at kitsch decor should have been. Beside the location, there is very little to recommend this restaurant. The restaurant boasts average food, an army of disinterested waiters, awful wine and high prices. Head off the main street for more authentic food and better service.
Housed in what looked to be an empty lot between two buildings, someone has capitalized on this space using old shipping containers. The decor is fun if not groundbreaking. The atmosphere is friendly and busy in the evenings. Most importantly there is a wide variety of delicious cold beer on tap and decent prices.
Almacen 42 offers an array of 42 Mexican beers from a variety of breweries and pour sizes for sampling (180ml) through to enjoying (500ml). Settle in for an evening of tasting locally crafted beer. If you’re staying for dinner they have a American menu with real smoked meats, burgers and comfort foods like mac n’ cheese.
Almacen 42, like many local bars doesn’t open until 5pm.
Skip the Sierra Madre Brewing Co. nearby. Sierra Madre’s beers are more expensive without the selection, or quality to match. With its tired sports bar format, you won’t be missing anything in regards to atmosphere here either.
Mercado Barrio Antiguo
Not your typical Mexican market, this mercardo is in fact an upmarket food hall with numerous small eateries and bars serving up everything from paella to sushi to burgers. A great place to grab a snack or go for dinner with a group who can’t agree on what to get.
Head upstairs for two upscale restaurants with outdoor dining and a view of the bustling street below.
Hike (Climb or Bike) the Parque la Huasteca
Ok, perhaps this isn’t walking distance from Monterrey’s city centre, but you can hike once you get here. Exploring the breath taking granite cliffs of the Cerro San Rafael was definitely a highlight of our time in Monterrey.
Just twenty minutes from downtown this ecological park can be explored at your leisure. Rent bikes, book tours, hike or rock climb this incredible natural park.
We spent a weekend camping at the entrance to Cañon de Guitarritas. Completely undisturbed but for a couple of cyclists who came to inspect the ancient rock carvings that adorn the canyon.
If you plan to camp in the park, it can get busy and even dangerous overnight around the entrance. Make sure you continue driving to the end of the road where an older man, operating a fence will take a small donation (20 MXP or so) to allow you to continue to the quieter less explored areas of the park.
You can find our campsite here.
The Nuts and Bolts
Where to stay in Monterrey
In Monterrey, it is very difficult to camp in your vehicle. Expensive parking lots with complicated times and rules dominate the city. We opted to stay further outside the city in nearby Guadalupe. Here there is a Walmart where you can camp overnight and use the bathrooms when the store is open between 7 am and 11 am.
During the day we drove into Monterrey and parked the car at the Parque Fundidora for 100 MXP (6:00am – 11:00pm).
Verging on a global city, there are hundreds of hotels to suit all tastes and budgets. Check out these great options downtown near the majority of attractions and avoid the traffic in Monterrey.
Fiesta Americana Monterrey – At the upper end of the scale this hotel offers modern decor, large rooms and is right in the heart of the action.
Krystal Monterrey – Fabulous service, top notch facilities and a beautiful building are all on offer at this very central hotel.
Hotel Monterrey Macroplaza – An economical option right on the central plaza, offers fantastic location, and good facilities, although the rooms may be a little tired.
Hostal Hare Krishna – Stay in the heart of Barrio Antiguo on a budget and meet like minded travellers at this popular hostel.
What to do and see in Monterrey
- Parque Fundidora – Stroll through this impressive steel works come park in the heart of the city. Free and open between 6am and 11pm.
- Santa Lucia River Walk. – This man-made canal is home to murals, sculptures and fountains and links Parque Fundidora with the Macroplaza. The river walk is free and always open.
- Macroplaza – The 7th largest plaza in the world is home to many of Monterrey’s historic and cultural attraction including government buildings, monuments, and museums. Be sure to visit the weird and wonderful exhibits of the MARCO (free on Wednesdays). The plaza is free and always open.
- Barrio Antiguo – Home to historic buildings and centuries of history, this ancient neighborhood is being restored to its place as a key cultural barrio. Set amongst the colourful historic buildings are many of the city’s best cafes, bars and restaurants.
What to Eat in Monterrey
- Mercado Juarez – Head to this bustling city market to sample cabrito al pastor, a regional delicacy of spit roasted baby goat, served with tortillas, salsa and veggies for 200 MXP or $10 USD per serve (big enough for two. You can also sample cabrito at one of the many specialised restaurants, the most famous of which is the El Rey de Cabrito.
- La Casa del Maiz – Authentic food served in a cheerfully decorated, crumbling historic building in the middle of the Barrio Antiguo.
Where to Drink in Monterrey
Almacen 42 – 42 local beers are on tap in this laid back bar built from shipping containers. Almacen 42 also serves up American fare including smoked meat, bbq and comfort food classics.
Akbal Lounge – A cosy bar with great decor and attentive service above La Casa del Maiz.
The Koala Cafe – Adequate coffee, comfortable seating, fast wifi, good prices and cold air-conditioning make this as good a choice as any for a cafe in the downtown. Although you will be spoiled for choice in Monterrey.
What Services there are in Monterrey
4g is available throughout the city.
The water in Monterrey is treated and should be safe to drink. However, some areas may use older plumbing where contamination from older pipes is a risk. In the city center, tap water should be fine and modern hotels and restaurants are safe to eat and drink at.
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