There are so many amazing Merida, Mexico things to do, it can be hard to narrow down what you simply can’t miss on a trip to this stunning colonial city.
We shared how we would spend 2 days in Merida, Mexico already but wanted to compile a list with the top things to do in Merida for those who may have more time and want to DIY their own experience.
A lot of travel blogs include day trips you can take from Merida in their list of Merida, Mexico things to do. However, we want to keep this list of the best activities within the city. We have an entire blog post dedicated to the awesome day trips you can do from Merida that you can check out here.
You can also see some of the popular tours below.
We 100% recommend doing some of these day trips. They are once-in-a-lifetime experiences to see flamingos in the wild, visit one of the seven wonders of the world, learn about sisal at an old hacienda, visit a Mayan village for the most amazing cochinita pibil of your life, and swim in cenotes!
These blogs might also interest you if you’re headed to Merida:
- Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Merida, Mexico
- The Perfect 2 Days in Merida, Mexico
- 17 Yucatan Dishes You Can’t Miss
- Is Merida, Mexico Safe to Visit?
- 17 Best Restaurants in Merida, Mexico You Can’t Miss
- 11 Amazing Merida Day Trips You Don’t Want to Miss
Now, let’s dive into the 18 essential Merida, Mexico things to do that you simply can’t miss!
1. Learn about Merida’s history on a free walking tour
Merida was inhabited by Mayans for thousands of years before Spanish colonization. The city we see and know today was founded back in 1542 making it one of the oldest cities in the Americas. The best way to learn about Merida’s rich history is on a free walking tour.
There are several free walking tours you can take in Merida. I opted to take the free walking tour provided by the Merida Tourism Board. Go to this tourism board office in the Plaza Grande and sign up for the free tour around 9:00 am. The tour starts promptly at 9:30 and they can limit the tour groups.
Our tour lasted just under 2 hours with a bilingual guide who was passionate about Merida’s history. We recommend doing this tour first when you arrive in Merida because it will help you get your bearings in the city.
2. Stroll the Plaza Grande
The Plaza Grande is the largest square in Merida in the heart of El Centro. Its official name is “La Plaza Principal” but the Merida locals call it Plaza Grande. This beautiful plaza is where you’ll find the Government Palace, the original city hall, the Merida Cathedral, the oldest building in Merida, and is home to the colorful Merida sign.
We highly encourage you to walk around the plaza taking in the architecture of the buildings, pop inside the cathedral, watch the pigeons fly, and relax under the shade in the plaza. On Sundays, the Plaza Grande transforms into an outdoor market. The streets are filled with street vendors and people are selling every type of good imagable.
The city often holds events in the Plaza Grande too. When we visited in January, they were celebrating the anniversary of the city (482 years) and had concerts every night in the Plaza. No matter when you’re visiting Merida, a stroll in the Plaza Grande is a must.
3. Walk inside Merida’s Government Palace
Most visitors walking around Plaza Grande don’t realize they’re able to visit the current Government Palace. This building which dates back to 1892 once housed the Spanish Royals before the independence of Mexico. There are beautiful murals painted on the second story by Fernando Castro Pacheco which share part of the Yucatan’s history.
There are guards out front of the Palace entrance, making it a bit intimidating to go in. But as long as the doors are open you are free to go in (without camera equipment).
4. Walk and shop around Centro
Another essential Merida, Mexico thing to do is walk around and shop in Centro. El Centro is the historic center of Merida and where most tourists stay during their visit. It’s packed with colorful buildings, uneven sidewalks, super cute shops, and fantastic restaurants.
El Centro is a great place to pick up a souvenir or buy yourself a Guayabera. Guayaberas are a special dress or shirt made in the Yucatan from sisal and cotton. These shirts and dresses are hand embroidered and traditionally worn as formal wear.
We spent a whole day walking up and down the different streets in Centro admiring the doorways, shopping at stores, and cooling off with a paleta or drink at a cantina.
5. Take a picture of the giant Kissing Chairs
As you stroll around the Centro, you’ll likely find yourself in Parque de Santa Lucía. This lovely plaza is a popular destination thanks to Las Sillas Gigantes or giant kissing chairs. These iconic white chairs that face each other in an S-formation can be found throughout the Yucatan.
Inspired by the French (who played a very important part in Merida at the turn of the century) these chairs forced people to talk and offered distance between young lovers.
Merida pays tribute to their special design and role in Yucatan culture with these massive chairs perfect for a photo opp. This plaza has several popular restaurants and a really great chocolate shop, Ki’Xocolatl. If you venture down the street a bit you can get the tastiest gelato with super funky flavors at Pola.
6. Walk the Paseo de Montejo
The Paseo de Montejo is a famous boulevard in Merida just off El Centro. This street was designed after the Champs-Élysées boulevard in Paris and is where the hacienda owners lived during the Sisal production boom of the early 1900s.
The mansions were abandoned once demand for sisal plummeted after Nylon was introduced, but still are lovely to admire and imagine them during their former glory.
The buildings are absolutely stunning! There are several fantastic shops along the boulevard along with loads of restaurants with outdoor terraces to relax and have a drink or a bit to eat.
🚲 On Sundays, they shut the boulevard down and make it available for biking and pedestrians only (BiciRuta). If you arrive early enough (8:00 – 8:30 am) they even have free bikes you can use!
7. Take a tour of one of the old Merida mansions
Several of the mansions that line Paseo de Montejo have been turned into museums. If you’re into history we highly encourage you to visit one or two of the museums. They range from free entry to as much as $15 entry.
Below is information on each of the museums you can visit in El Centro and on Paseo de Montejo.
- Museo Casa Montejo (in Plaza Grande) – This is the oldest building in all of Merida and belonged to the Spaniard conquistador who was sent here in the mid-1500s. The facade is the only original part of the home. The rest has been reconstructed to resemble the original decor and design of the home. The museum is free to visit. Open Tuesday – Saturday 10 am – 6 pm and Sundays 10 am – 2 pm.
- Quinta Montes Molina – Historic home tour for a mansion built at the turn of the century. $60 – $85 MXP depending on age. Open Everyday 10 am – 6 pm.
- Montejo 495 – Historic home tour for a mansion built at the turn of the century. $125 – $250 MXP depending on residency (Yucatan resident or tourist). Open Tuesday – Sunday 9 am – 5 pm.
- Palacio Canton (Museum of Anthropology) – An old mansion turned into the Yucatan Museum of Anthropology. Great history of the Mayan culture and a look into the Sisal industry. $95 MXP. Open Tuesday – Sunday 8 am – 5 pm.
8. Visit the Monumento a la Patria
At the end of Paseo de Montejo is a large Mayan Monument, called “Monumento a La Patria“. This Monument to the Fatherland was built in the 1950s to celebrate the Yucatan’s Mayan culture and the history of Mexican independence. The monument is covered in important dates from Mexico’s history surrounding the detailed statue with the rear having a placard for all 32 states of Mexico.
This is a very popular photo spot and is an easy walk down Paseo de Montejo. You’ll also find another colorful Merida sign here in case the one in Plaza Grande is too busy!
9. Eat delicious Yucatan food
The Yucatan is very proud of having several traditional foods you can’t find elsewhere in Mexico. There are tons of Yucatan specialties you should try when visiting. Things like salbutes, panuchos, polcanes, cochinita pibil, relleno negro, and the list goes on.
One of our favorite things to do in Merida is eat ALL the food. We tried so many new dishes on our last trip to Merida and were blown away by its complex and sometimes unusual flavors. We have two entire blog posts all about what Yucatan dishes you should try and the 17 best restaurants in Merida to eat at.
But no matter what, put eating Yucatan food at the top of your list of Merida, Mexico things to do.
10. Visit El Gran Parque de La Plancha
One of the newest attractions in Merida is El Parque de La Plancha. Considered Merida’s “Central Park”, this massive 22-hectare park is home to 2 museums, a 5,000-seat amphitheater, a food court (that is not quite filled in yet), several fountains, a train car perfect for kids, walking paths, and a skate park. This family-friendly destination has something for everyone to enjoy.
Since it was inaugurated (by Mexico’s President) in November 2023, it’s still a new attraction. The trees on the walkway haven’t quite grown in yet so we recommend going on an overcast day!
11. Visit one of Merida’s many markets
Merida is home to several traditional markets. Mercado Lucas de Galvez is known for its quality produce and meats, making it a great place to shop for a cooking class or to cook something in your vacation rental.
Mercado San Benito is a huge indoor market with several pastor stalls, produce and meat vendors, along places to get things like your shoes repaired, votives for your altar, and countless other things.
A popular and centrally located market to visit in Merida is Mercado Santiago. This food-focused market is home to one of the best restaurants in Merida, Taqueria La Lupita. It’s packed on the weekends and such a great place to get a feel for authentic Mexico.
12. Admire traditional dances at Noche Mexicana
On Saturday nights from 9:00 to 11:00 pm, you can admire traditional dancing Noche Mexicana. This is an event put on by the Yucatan government that showcases different folkloric dances from across Mexico, including Vaqueria from the Yucatan.
We happened to walk by the dance performance without any knowledge it was happening and loved it so much! It’s so fun to watch the talented dancers who do a ton of ensemble changes. It seems they changed the day of the week this event is put on (it used to be Mondays), so make sure to check the hours on Google (click here).
If you aren’t able to catch this on Saturday night head to Mercado 60 on Sunday. At 8:00 pm they have a few of the same dancers come to showcase the different dances from the 32 Mexican states in a more intimate setting.
13. Watch the ancient Mayan game Pok Ta Pok
Another event to try and catch on Saturdays in Merida is Pok Ta Pok. In Plaza Grande in front of the Cathedral, there is a reenactment of the ancient Mayan ball game. The ball game is brutal and requires players to get a ball through a hoop without using their hands, feet, or head.
In traditional days the game could go on for days, and the leader of the losing team was sentenced to death. 😳 This is a popular event so I recommend arriving before 8:00 pm to get a seat on the bleachers.
14. Visit Dzibilchaltun
Most people visiting Merida make a day trip to visit one of the seven world wonders, Chichen Itza, or the less famous but equally impressive Uxmal. However, what many visitors don’t know is that there are ruins much closer to Merida just 30 minutes by car. Dzibilchaltun was part of the Mayan city where Merida now stands.
These ruins have a few impressive buildings, including Templo de las 7 Muñecas along with a beautiful cenote. The cenote was once open to the public for swimming but was closed during the pandemic and has yet to re-open. When we last visited they said it would open in the future but did not give any idea as to when that might be.
The cost to visit Dzibilchaltun is around USD 15 or $95 MXP. If you’re a national or resident (like us) you can get in for free on Sundays! This is a great place to come on the spring solstice. The Pyramid of the Sun lines up perfectly with the sun in passing and creates a beautiful show through the pyramid opening!
When you’re visiting check to see if they are offering a special light show in the evening. In January of 2024, they had a special “Paseos de Luz” at Dzibilchaltun (and Chichen Itza). The tickets were a bit spendy nearly $700 MPX per person (non-resident) but it was worth it to us and was a cool experience (Spanish only).
15. Take a cooking class or food tour
We believe food is the best way to get to know a culture. You should be trying all of the local specialties are restaurants around Merida, but a way to enhance your experience even further is going on a guided food tour or taking a cooking class.
Food tours are a great way to get more guidance on what you are eating and learn more about the regional foods. You also can find more local spots to try it because you’re getting to tour with a true local!
We took a cooking class when we were in Oaxaca and it was one of the best meals of our entire trip. We didn’t get to do a cooking class on our last trip to Merida, but this one is on our list of things to do when we return.
16. Eat a Marquesita from a street vendor
This may seem like an odd essential Merida, Mexico thing to do but it should be at the top of your list. Marquesitas are a street food from the Yucatan. Picture a crepe and waffle put together filled with edam cheese, a local specialty. You can add in something sweet like Nutela or cajeta if you desire, but I think they are perfect as-is.
We got one toward the end of our trip and wished we had tried it at the start so we would have a Marquesita every day. They are heavenly! We loved the marquesita we got from Marquesita’s el Tony but there are loads of places to get them throughout the city.
17. Have a drink and some botanas at a Cantina
Cantina’s are a thing in Merida. Each evening these bars open their doors for cheap drinks and free botanas (snacks). Some Cantina’s like Dzalbay or La Negrita, are a bit more upscale. While others like Cantina Montejo are a bit rougher around the edges.
There are dozens of cantinas scattered across Merida. We love starting our night off at one of these drinking spots. The vibe should be low-key and a place you can let loose and have a good time. If it’s a true cantina it will serve you a free botana (like a Spanish tapa but Mexican style) with your drink order.
18. Shop at Merida’s Saturday Slowfood Farmers Market
We love a good farmers market. You won’t find a farmer’s market like you might be accustomed to in the United States and Canada in most places in Mexico. But Merida is an exception to that rule.
Merida’s large expat community has helped bring together loads of different vendors (most of which are Mexican) to sell their organic produce and other goods. This Slowfood Market is every Saturday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. We LOVED this slow food market focused on bringing the community together and selling local fresh products.
There’s something to enjoy for everyone in Merida and no shortage of awesome things to do. Hopefully, this list has helped you plan your trip to Merida and make the most of your time in this wonderful city. If you find any cool new places for us to explore when we return, please share them in the comments below.