With its narrow valley location, Guanajuato has always been a city where space is at a premium. While most cities in Mexico follow the grid plan of standard Spanish Colonial settlements, that just wasn’t feasible in a town that sprouted up around a river snaking between mountain peaks (and the mines they contain). Instead of growing out block by block, Guanajuato grew to blanket the surrounding hills and creep up the mountainsides.

All of which means that many houses in Guanajuato are fairly small and accessed via narrow passageways that snake over the topography. But the Spanish, for all their faults, recognized that even crowded, maze-like cities needed public spaces, perhaps even more than cities with the room for grids. People needed places to spend time outdoors, and they certainly weren’t doing that in their houses, clinging to the sides of the mountains.

What ended up appearing was a city dotted by plazas: some at major crossroads, others hidden behind narrow passages. Here are the most interesting ones that we’ve found. Also, for you map nerds (like us): we linked the photos to a Google map of each location.

Jardín de la Unión:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Jardin de la Union

This plaza/garden is located in the dead center of the historic town, surrounded by restaurants and lined with benches sitting below carefully manicured Indian Laurel trees. It’s always cool and shaded here, which facilitates a nonstop stream of people walking in and around the garden and the central bandstand.

Plaza Baratillo:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Plaza Baratillo

One of the oldest plazas in the city, Plaza Baratillo is located a bit off the beaten path, a block behind the Jardin de la Union, but it’s still quite populated. This plaza is surrounded by some of the oldest (and still most brightly painted) buildings in Guanajuato, and it features a beautiful, slowly dripping fountain. All told, it’s the epitome of a guanajuatense plaza.

Plaza Mexiamora:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Plaza Mexicamora

You need to wind your way through several alleys to get to Plaza Mexiamora, and there aren’t many shops, restaurants, or hotels nearby, which means this is a quiet and peaceful place to sit, rest, and relax. Enjoy the quiet while you have it.

Plaza de Los Ángeles: 

Plazas of Guanajuato - Plaza de Los Ángeles

Located right on the main drag through town and consisting of a big cascade of steps, Plaza de Los Ángeles is a great place to sit and watch people heading toward Callejón de Beso or standing in line for the ATM. It also leads to the alleyway up to the statue of El Pípila.

Plaza de La Paz: 

Plazas of Guanajuato - Plaza de La Paz

Okay, Plaza de La Paz may actually be smack in the center of town (if not, it’s awful close). A triangle of gardens fronting the Our Lady of Guanajuato church and an adjacent row of restaurants, it’s the crossroads between the university, the tourist center, and several bus stops. Everything in Guanajuato seems to pass through La Paz.

Jardín Embajadores:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Jardin Embajadores

This large stretch of public space called Jardin Embajadores is about a half mile away from the tourist center, but it’s worth the walk. It’s a beautiful place to sit under the trees and watch the children from the surrounding neighborhoods play in the empty fountain. Bonus: taco stands and free wi-fi in the park.

Plaza del Ropero:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Plaza del Ropero

Plaza del Ropero doesn’t look like much, but that’s the point. A plaza is really just a wide spot in the narrow streets where a weary pedestrian can catch her breath and relax. Or maybe even pretend that she won’t have to get up and slog through the crowds and traffic in a few minutes. Some of these plazas simply provide respite for those who trudge up and down and all around the hills of this city.

Plaza de San Fernando:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Plaza San Fernando

Just off the main street (Avenue Benito Juárez), Plaza de San Fernando is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle. It’s surrounded by restaurants and shops; home to assorted sunning dogs. Not only does it have the requisite fountain, but it also has a wide open cobbled space that allows for great views of the colorful houses piled up on the surrounding mountains.

Plaza San Roque:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Plaza San Roque

Located just a little ways beyond Plaza San Fernando, in front of yet another church, Plaza San Roque is a sleepy open stretch of paving stones. It also has stadium seating for outdoor night-time movie showings.

Jardín de Reforma:

Plazas of Guanajuato - Jardin de Reforma

Just beyond Plaza San Roque is the back door to Jardin Reforma, which is a pleasant little enclave of trees (with a fountain, of course). Some days there are tents set up with bargain priced books. But the most impressive part is the front colonnade entrance, which harkens back to Guanajuato’s golden age of wealth.

So there you have it, a crash course in the plazas of Guanajuato. There are more than these, of course, waiting around the bend of a road or at the top of a set of steep stairs, and discovering them as they erupt from the confines on a winding alley is one of the most enjoyable things about wandering Guanajuato.