Puebla - Mexico's design destination

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Just a couple of hours from Mexico City, the charming city of Puebla can sometimes be overlooked by visitors heading towards the coast. But stop off for a couple of nights and you’ll be rewarded with fascinating museums and arty attractions – both old and new. Beneath a skyline that’s punctuated with tiled domes and intricate church towers, Puebla offers up endless design inspiration. Get to know its artisan crafts scene, workshops and museums during a short break in the creative city.

Beautiful buildings

Recognised as an official ‘Memory of the World’ by UNESCO, Biblioteca Palafoxiana was the first public library in the Americas when it was founded by Bishop Juan de Palafox in 1646. It’s now home to more than 45,000 volumes, but chances are you’ll be too busy gazing at the towering Baroque bookcases and dramatic arch-vaulted ceiling to think about reading anything.

Talking of Baroque, the recently opened Museo Internacional del Barroco is a celebration of this influential artistic period – despite being set in ultra-modern surrounds. Designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, its sweeping white interiors and minimalist aesthetic are the perfect backdrop to the lavish excesses of 17th- and 18th-century paintings, altarpieces and costumes that lie within.

A walk around the city’s palm-tree studded main square – the Zócalo – reveals even more awe-inspiring architecture, from the grand Palacio Municipal and the glittering gold interiors of the Rosary Chapel to Casa del Alfeñique. Resembling a gingerbread house, thanks to its red tiles and white window frames, this museum dedicated to local traditions is named after the traditional Mexican sweet that’s made from sugar paste.

Marvellous museums

To see several of Puebla’s main sights in one picture-perfect panorama, head up to the rooftop bar at Museo Amparo, but not before you’ve had a pre-Hispanic history lesson. The museum is home to a permanent collection of 700-plus artefacts, as well as a packed calendar of temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists.

Nearby, Museo Taller Erasto Cortés showcases etchings by the esteemed artist as well as works by other modern-day Mexican creatives, while the final stop on your arty adventure should be San Pedro Museo de Arte. Built in 1541 it was once a hospital and today its rooms and covered courtyard are the elegant setting for paintings from the past 200 years.

Then, for interiors that look just as good as the art that fills them, add Cocina del Ex Convento de Santa Rosa to your sightseeing itinerary to peek inside a Baroque-style kitchen that’s decorated with traditional Talavera tiles and filled with pots and pans used to create Puebla’s world-famous mole poblano – a rich chilli and chocolate marinade and sauce.

Fine food and stylish shopping

If you’ve worked up an appetite, there are plenty of good-looking places to pick up sweet treats lining Avenida 6 Oriente – or calle de los dulces, as it’s known to locals. Family-run confectioners like La Gran Fama have been selling candied sweet potato, crystallised peaches and Tortitas de Santa Clara here for centuries from behind their ornate counters. The latter are shortbread-style biscuits filled with pumpkin seed cream and are traditionally eaten to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which is when the Mexican army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Delicious old-school liqueurs are on offer over at La Pasita. Varieties include the evocatively named sangre de la bruja, or witch’s blood, that’s made blackberry and hibiscus. Located close to the colourful buildings of Callejón de los Sapos, where a weekend flea market attracts bargain-hunters from miles around, the intimate little bar is filled with antiques and trinkets. In addition, there are plenty of handicrafts for sale every day of the week at El Parián artisan market in the historic San Roque square, while Blvrd Héroes del 5 de Mayo is home to the Barrio del Artista – a row of cute workshops and studios. For more retail therapy, Taller Uriarite Talavera is the place to pick up pottery – from hand-painted plant pots to tiles and tableware, you’ll want to leave plenty of room in your suitcase for these beauties.

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!