Orizaba: culture, gastronomy & city strolls

Julia Holland | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Orizaba is one of the largest cities in Veracruz while still falling under the coveted category of a "pueblo magico", or small, magical town. Locals and Mexican nationals call Orizaba "La Ciudad de las Aguas Alegres," or "city of the happy waters", due to a rushing Rio Orizaba that runs through the city on its way down from the Peak of Orizaba, Mexico's tallest mountain. Orizaba is a bustling cultural center with beautiful cobblestone streets, museums, and preserved governmental and royal structures that existed in the time of Cortes. There are countless historical landmarks and cultural goings-on to explore in Orizaba. Considering all the sites there are to see, I will dedicate this article as a continuance of my first, which explored Orizaba's natural attractions. This time, I will be focusing on more culture and gastronomy of Orizaba. Luckily, all of the important sites are within walking distance of each other, so you can mark off numerous attractions on your itinerary in one one-day city stroll.

© istock/spacewalk

Town Square: Palacio de Hierro, Catedral de San Miguel, Museo del Arte del Estado

Every colonial town or city in Mexico has a large town square in front of a large cathedral, with other major cultural establishments lining either side. Being one of Mexico’s oldest towns, Orizaba’s Town Square is as authentic and historical as they come. 

© istock/spacewalk

The colonial baroque-style Catedral de San Miguel is the city’s first and main cathedral built by Franciscan monks in 1642. You can admire the architecture and magnificent crystal light fixtures within the chapel and tour the adjoining ex-convent, known as el Exconvento de San Juan de la Cruz, built one century after the cathedral’s construction. 

The town square also houses the Iron Palace (Palacio de Hierro), a stunning European art-nouveau-style architectural feat designed by French engineer Gustave Eiffel who also designed France’s Eiffel Tower. Inside the palace, you can grab a beer at the Museo de la Cerveza or Museum of Beer.

© istock/spacewalk

Lastly, the impressive Museo del Arte del Estado occupies an equally majestic building that has been a church, hospital, and jail over its centuries-long existence. Today, you can admire over 700 works from local and national Mexican artists, including 36 pieces by Diego Rivera.      

© istock/spacewalk

Mercado de Artesanías and Mercado Melchor Ocampo

A few blocks from the plaza principal, or town square where all the historical colonial buildings, museums and theater are located, are two traditional outdoor markets worth visiting: Mercado de Artesanias and Mercado Melchor Ocampo

The Mercado de Artesanias is mainly a local artisan market, with vendors selling traditional indigenous paintings, pottery, clothing, and more. This is a great place to purchase souvenirs or authentic art pieces for your home.

A few blocks away, the Mercado Melchor Ocampo is at once a flea market and a traditional outdoor food market. Food markets in Mexico are the best places to sample the most delicious Mexican cuisine, watching the lively market scene of vendors shouting prices, colorful displays of produce and Mexican sweets, and open grills and flat tops serving the most amazing street food you will taste. 

© istock/Elijah Lovkoff

Veracruz is known for its amazing coffee, and Veracruz has a special coffee drink known as Picardia Orizabena, made from sweetened condensed milk, coffee liquor, and a shot of espresso. Not only is it delicious, but it will surely give you a jolt of energy that will fuel the rest of the day’s activities.

Paseo del Rio de Orizaba and Animal Conservatory

After savoring a delicious meal of traditional Mexican eats and drinks, you are ready for a stroll. You can thus hook up with the city’s unique Riverwalk, the Paseo del Rio de Orizaba. The Paseo del Rio de Orizaba is a 5-km stone-paved pathway along the Rio Orizaba where you can admire the beauty of the surrounding cityscape and see the oldest working bridges in Veracruz, dating to the mid-16th century.  You will also come across a slew of murals, shady green parks, and playgrounds where you can take pictures, rest, or let the kids play.

© istock/gogadicta

At the northern end of the Paseo del Rio Orizaba lies the Ecoparque and Reserva Animal, which is essentially a small zoo where you can see spider monkeys, deer, bears, tigers, jaguars, hippopotami, and many more animals. 

After starting your day with a cultural tour of the main plaza’s many museums and historical buildings of Orizaba, you can make your way to the lively artisan and gastronomical markets to shop for souvenirs and sample Mexico’s amazing gastronomical bounty. After a hearty lunch, you can take a leisurely stroll along the Paseo del Rio Orizaba, admiring the urban art and natural surroundings of this beautiful and enchanting city.

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