Looking for the best things to do in Oaxaca? Don’t miss this guide to the top attractions and places to visit in one of Mexico’s most vibrant cities. 

Let me tell you something… Oaxaca is a vibe.

The capital city of the Mexican state with the same name. If you are looking for an authentic Mexican travel experience, this city, complete with its well-preserved indigenous culture and stunning baroque architecture, should be at the top of your list. 

Set in a backdrop of mountains and lush valleys, Oaxaca de Juárez is perhaps best known for being a melting pot of indigenous cultures and people. The survival of those cultures is  largely thanks to the isolated mountainous terrain that surrounds the city. 

Whatever the reasons, the end result is a diverse and eclectic place. In fact, it was one of my favourite destinations on my Mexico itinerary

Settle in. It’s time to discover the top things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Take a Sneak Peek at My YouTube Video on Oaxaca!

Best Things to do in Oaxaca

Explore the Zócalo (Central Square)

Oaxaca’s Zocalo (central square), the Plaza de Armas is a lovely spot at the heart of the lively city. Shaded by tall trees and surrounded by historic architecture this is the best place to start exploring Oaxaca.

Home to the Governor’s Palace and 16th-century cathedral – you should plan to spend at least a couple of hours strolling around the square and popping into the buildings on it.

Don’t just think it’s old buildings and not much else. Each time I visited, something different would be happening – it hosts a neverending parade of different festivals throughout the year, including the rather unusual Radish Festival on 23rd December.

Take a Oaxacan Cookery Class 

Julianna Barnaby At the cooking class in Oaxaca

The food in Oaxaca is incredible! So it makes sense that learning how to make some delicious Oaxcan dishes should be at the top of your list during your time in the city.

I made a beeline and booked a traditional cooking class with a renowned local chef and found out why this region’s gastronomy is so famous along the way.

It all kicked off with a stroll through the Mercado de Abastos accompanied by a local chef. Together, we picked out the freshest ingredients on our pre-prepared list.

After our trip to the markets to source local ingredients, we set down to making our chosen dishes.

All that was left to do after was… feast – and good gracious, what a feast it was!

Visit The Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán (Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán)

The former Convent of Santo Domingo is one of the best examples of baroque architecture in Mexico. It is located right in the centre of the city and highlights the architectural wonders of the Dominican order of the 16th century. 

Inside the temple, you can marvel at the excellent plaster artwork dedicated to the Dominican family. A genealogical tree representing both the spiritual and earthly life of the family can be spotted. You’ll also see ornate gold leaves and fruits that hide the figures of Saint Dominic and the Virgin Mary.

gilded interior

The church of Saint Dominic is one of the most important places to visit in Oaxaca and requires reservations beforehand.


Book a guided walking tour of the city, to really get to know its interesting and complex history.

Shop for Souvenirs at Casa de las Artesanías de Oaxaca

This is one of the top markets for souvenirs. At La Casa de las Artesanías de Oaxaca, you can find a wide selection of handicrafts and artisanal products made by locals.

The market consists of interconnected rooms offering different items. Some rooms are devoted to woollen rugs, one to woodcarvings, and several to ceramics. 

Delve into the Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca (Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca)

Exhibit inside the Museum of Cultures

The Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca (Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca) is a must if you have even the remotest interest in the city’s history and culture.

Sometimes local museums can be a bit of a snooze, not so with this one – I spent the best part of an afternoon engrossed in the exhibits, which are spread over two floors. It takes you on a jaunt through archeological and ethnologic collections related to Indian cultures as well as colonial exhibits.

Top Tip

The most famous exhibit on display at the Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca is the Mixtec Treasure from Tomb 7 at Monte Albán. The collection features gold pectorals and bracelets, a skull lined with turquoise, jade earmuffs, rings, and fake nails, and polished crystal goblets.

Stroll Through an Oaxacan Street Market

Tlacaloula Market

The street markets in Oaxaca are a must-visit when you’re in town. There are so many markets in the city that you’d need to be there months to work your way through all of them, but here are the top ones for your list.

Market 20th November (Mercado 20 de Noviembre)

Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Perhaps the most famous of the street markets is the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Translated to the 20 November Market (named after the street and not because it’s only open on that date), this market is best-known for the Pasillo de Humo.

Pasillo de Humo is the nickname given to the famous smoke aisle, where you will be greeted by an array of grilled meats. This section of the market has a unique way of operating.

Meat from the Pasillo

The process starts at the entrance, where you receive a tray of onions and chillies. After that, you proceed to the meat stall of your choice, where you hand in your tray of veggies.

Your meat of choice is charcoal-grilled, along with your tray of chillies and onions. Keep a keen eye out for vendors walking around offering sides to partner with your meat, then tuck in.

Oaxaca Artisan’s Market (Mercado de Artesanias de Oaxaca)

This vibrant and colourful market dedicated to artisanal clothing is one for the books. You will find a great variety of women’s fashion and limited items for men, but all hand-made by locals to the style of Oaxaca.

Mercado de Abastos

Dried garlic at mercado de abastos

This is one of Oaxaca’s largest and most lively markets. It may lack organisation and signage, but it makes up for that with unique sights, sounds and delicious smells.

This market sells everything from traditional handicrafts to delicious local food like chapuline (grasshopper) tacos.

I recommend getting there as early as possible to beat the crowds and to give yourself enough time to explore the market in its entirety. 

Food + Drink

Chapulines or grasshoppers are a Oaxacan speciality – buy them roasted with lime and chilli while you’re in the market

Marvel at the Architecture of the Church of Our Lady of Solitude (Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad)

Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

This church, built in 1690, is dedicated to the patron saint of Oaxaca.

It’s a striking affair – one of the highlights is limestone cobbled atrium with a raised colonnade. You should also keep an eye out for the eight sculpted angels, each attached to a chandelier that makes it look like they are holding them in the air. 

There is a small museum in the back that displays the history of this small church. If you’re looking for a low-key sight with lots of history, this is it.

Pop Into The Oaxaca Textile Museum

The Oaxaca Textile Museum is located inside Casa Antonieto and showcases the ancient art of textiles. This is one of the most appraised handicrafts of the region and throughout the world.

The museum displays nine exclusive collections highlighting unrepeatable textiles. These include the tlámachténtli (a local fabric), girdles, rebozos (shawls) from Santa María del Río, and fragments of a huipil embroidered with feathers. 

There are also temporary exhibits that you can view via free guided tours every Wednesday. This exhibit includes a restoration workshop.

Top Tip

You can purchase textiles directly from the artists who display their works during these temporary exhibits. 

Breakfast at Café la Antigua

Café la Antigua is a local restaurant that is best known for its hearty Mexican-style breakfasts. I’ll let you in on a little secret – they really are some of the best in town.

The owners source their coffee locally and brew it using solar panels, which is a truly sustainable way of doing business. They also host the occasional live music performance, so be on the lookout for this.

Top Tip

Try and nab a table in the peaceful courtyard for your meal.

Try Authentic Food at La Popular

As the name suggests, La Popular is one of the more popular restaurants in the city so be sure to get there early if you don’t want to queue. If you’re looking for a quick bite of some authentic Oaxacan food, this is the place to go.

I recommend the soft tacos, which are always great. There are many antojitos (Mexican snacks) available, so don’t settle for anything too big and try a bit of everything.

Browse the Works at the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo

The Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo is a museum of photography that’s dedicated to the late Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

Set in a colonial building, past exhibitions have included ones dedicated to Man Ray, Nacho Lopez and Walter Reuter, alongside up-and-coming photographers. They regularly host workshops too.

Sink a Mezcal (Or Three) in One of Oaxaca’s Many Mezcalerias 

Mezcal is distilled from the agave plant and artisanal mezcal makers will use the classic method. This involves cooking it inside earthen pits that are lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal before being distilled in clay pots.

Oaxaca produces around 70% of the country’s Mezcal, which is how it earned the nickname ‘Capital of Mezcal’. There are Mezcalerias, artisanal mezcal bars, all over the city highlighting the state’s diverse agave plants and their unique flavours. Here are the two you need to have on your radar.

La Mezcalerita

Los Amantes Mezcaleria

La Mezcalerita is a small, rustic mezcaleria is quite typical of the style of mezcalerias in Oaxaca. There is a bar downstairs and a trendy rooftop upstairs where you can enjoy some smoky mezcal drinks and a variety of light snacks. I highly recommend.

In Situ Mezcalería

In Situ’s dedication to the craft of Mezcal is pretty much unrivalled… with what the owners claim to be the largest mezcal collection in Mexico. 

The founders of this mezcaleria are writers and editors of books on mezcal, so their knowledge of the drink runs deep. They also offer a variety of craft beers and cocktails.

Book a Table at Pitiona

Pitiona is a rooftop restaurant where you will come for the food and drinks but stay for the view. This is an excellent place for brunches as it only opens around noon.

It’s a Mexican-European gastro bar so expect to pay a bit more than the average food stall, but you won’t be disappointed by the quality. Plus, you get to eat while taking in an aerial view of the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán bell towers.

Take a Peek at the Aqueduct Arcos De Xochimilco

One of Oaxaca’s hidden gems, the Aqueduct Arcos De Xochimilco is an arched aqueduct system that was built in the mid-eighteenth century to bring fresh water from the hillsides of Cerro de San Felipe into downtown.

There is now a modern system in place to deliver fresh drinking water, but some parts of the original aqueducts remain. It makes for a serene picnic spot, so I recommend bringing some snacks and a book if you’re looking to take a break from the city for a bit.

Chow Down at Tacos Del Carmen

This is the first street food stall entry on this list and is a local favourite. If you’re looking for fast, friendly, and authentic Oaxacan food, then look no further than Tacos Del Carmen.

Their tacos are uniquely rolled tacos, which makes them easy to eat and dip into the homemade salsa that comes with it. They also serve empanadas, quesadillas and Mexican pizzas.

Nab a Reservation at Criollo

Nab a table at Criollo, one of the most stylish restaurants in Oaxaca. Established in 2016, you’ll find it within a bohemian UNESCO heritage house. Staff welcome guests in the courtyard dining room.

Their focus is on using seasonal and local ingredients to prepare dishes. They offer a seven-course tasting menu that always comes with snacks, a salad, catch of the day, and desserts.

Cocktails at Sabina Sabe

Sabina Sabe is a popular mezcaleria and grill that deserves to be high on your list of places to go in Oaxaca, Mexico. The name is an ode to Mazatec medicine woman María Sabina and their love of mezcal is evident from the wide selection available.

Apart from the exceptional collection of mezcal, they also offer cocktails made from Oaxacan ingredients. Local ingredients are at the heart of their dishes too.

Pair Mezcal and Food at Los Danzantes

Fancy pairing your mezcal and food? Head to Los Danzantes, one of the best restaurants in the city.

They distil their own mezcal using sustainable methods and local ingredients from the area. The vibe at this restaurant is great with its semi-open-air patios and quirky interior decorations.

Try the Happy Hour at Tobaziche

This restaurant/bar is perfect if you find yourself in downtown Oaxaca looking for light bites, a cocktail, or an early dinner. They usually have a happy hour special that runs from 4 pm to 7.30 pm.

They have a great selection of high-quality mezcal and the staff here have a decent knowledge of the products. I recommend popping by on the weekends when there is sometimes live music playing.

Grab a Late-Night Bite at Lechoncito de Oro

After a night out, you will typically see people lining up at this late-night stall trying to get their post-party food fix. They are known for their tender pork tacos topped with crispy pork rinds and spicy green salsa, so this food joint is not for those on a diet.

Things To Do Near Oaxaca 

While the city centre has much to offer, I cannot recommend getting a car and exploring the surrounding areas enough. Go forth and adventure!

Spend Sunday Morning at Tlacolula Market

Woman cooking chickens at Tlacaloula

Of all the places I visited during my time in Oaxaca, I have to be honest, Tlacolula Market was up there with the best. 

This sprawling weekend market takes over the small town of Tlacolula de Matamoros each Sunday when locals from across the state and tourists alike descend to wander between innumerable stalls.  

Freshly-grilled chicken, homemade cheese, dried chillies – it’s a sensory exploration of Oaxacan cuisine you have to visit.

Keep an eye out for stallholders making tejate, a traditional indigenous drink that’s made using maize and cacao – you’ll spot them kneading the mixture before adding water and serving to the inevitable long line of customers. 


Don’t have your own transport? Book onto a tour from Oaxaca city. 

Mezcal Tasting at Gracias a Dios Mezcal Distillery 

The bottles at the distillery

There are plenty of cool mezcal distilleries in Oaxaca state but my pick of the bunch is Palenque Gracias a Dios Mezcal. This is not only a mezcal bar where you can do a tasting, but it’s also a working agave farm where they take you through the process of making mezcal.

A tour guide takes you through the mezcal distillery process, from plant to product. After your tour, you can enjoy a tasting at their rustic-looking bar, where you have the opportunity to try and buy some of the rarer mezcals, like GAD Sierra Negra.

See the Petrified Waterfalls at Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua is a natural wonder and easily one of the most beautiful places in Oaxaca. Located 70 kilometres outside of the city, translated, the name means ‘the water boils’.’ But despite its name, there is no boiling water in the pools at the top of the falls.

The waterfalls here are special, and many refer to them as ‘petrified waterfalls’. Why are they given this name? When the high-mineral content water streams out and makes contact with the air, it calcifies, leaving behind a solid waterfall jutting from the cliff’s edge.

Top Tip

The best time of day to visit these falls is when the park opens at 9 am (tourists typically arrive at noon).

Day Trip to Monte Albán Archaeological Site

Monte Alban was the historic capital city of the indigenous Zapotec people. 

The ancient capital was built in the central valleys of Oaxaca, and many believe that it has connections to Teotihuacán. How was this archaeological site found nearly 500 kilometres away from Teotihuacán, near DMXC, linked to it? By the style of its buildings, ceramic, and murals. 

Oaxaca’s famous archaeological site has ten zones. It can take a long time to explore the ruins. I, therefore, recommend that you participate in a guided tour of Monte Albán to hone in on the most important sights.

Things to Do Around Oaxaca: Practical Tips for Your Trip

Where to Stay in Oaxaca?

I recommend staying in the Santo Domingo area of the city. It’s near all the sightseeing spots, bars and restaurants in the area. 

Los Pilares Hotel (Mid-Range)

Located in the bustling Santo Domingo neighbourhood of Oaxaca city, it’s a great base for sightseeing. Los Pilares Hotel features a charming colonial-style Oaxacan house with a small outdoor pool and free onsite parking. 

Check Rates and Availability for Los Pilares Hotel on Booking.com | Tripadvisor

Hotel Oaxaca Real (Mid-Range)

This mid-range hotel, also in the central Santo Domingo neighbourhood, has everything you might need during your stay in Oaxaca. This restored colonial mansion boasts an outdoor pool, a poolside bar, and rooms with cable TV.

Check Rates and Availability for Hotel Oaxaca Real on Booking.com | Tripadvisor


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