Iglesia de San Francisco
The Church of St. Francis, built by its namesake Franciscan order between 1800 and 1851, is known for its ornate wooden altar. A small museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the church's history
Iglesia de la Merced
Step inside this lovely church dating from 1813 to see its baroque interior. Many of the elaborate paintings and sculptures originally adorned La Merced in Antigua, but were moved here after earthquakes devastated that city. The church also has two small museums.
Centro Cultural Miguel Angel Asturias
The city's fine-arts complex consists of the imposing Teatro Nacional and the open-air Teatro al Aire Libre. Named for Guatemala's Nobel Prize-winning novelist who spent much of his life in exile for opposing Guatemala's dictatorship, the hilltop cluster of buildings overlooks the Old City. Check out the performance schedule while you're here and pick up a ticket if something strikes your fancy. The only way to see the theater, other than attending a performance, is to take a 1½-hour tour
Catedral Santiago de Guatemala
Built between 1778 and 1867, Guatemala City's cathedral replaced the old Catedral de Santiago Apóstol in Antigua, which was destroyed 1773 earthquake. The structure is a rare example of colonial architecture in the Old City. Standing steadfast on the eastern end of the Plaza Mayor, it is one of the city's most enduring landmarks, having survived the capital's numerous 20th-century earthquakes. The ornate altars hold outstanding examples of colonial religious art, including an image of the Virgen de la Asunción, the city's patron saint.
Off a courtyard on the cathedral's south side—enter through the church—stands the Museo de la Arquidiócesis de Santiago Guatemala, the archdiocesan museum with a small collection of colonial religious art and artifacts.
Palacio Nacional de la Cultura
The grandiose National Palace was built between 1937 and 1943 to satisfy the monumental ego of President Jorge Ubico Castañeda. It once held the offices of the president and his ministers, but now many of its 320 rooms house a collection of paintings and sculptures by well-known Guatemalan artists from the colonial period to the present. Look for Alfredo Gálvez Suárez's murals illustrating the history of the city above the entry. The palace's ornate stairways and stained-glass windows are a pleasant contrast to the gritty city outside its walls. Your guided visit includes a stop at the presidential balcony off the banquet room. If the palace is a must on your itinerary, call ahead to confirm that it is open; the building occasionally closes for presidential functions.
A seemingly endless maze of underground passages is home to the Mercado Central, where inexpensive handicrafts from the highlands are sold from the many stalls. While not as pricey as the open-air markets in Antigua or Chichicastenango, the leather goods, wooden masks, and woolen blankets are true testaments to Guatemalan design and craftsmanship. There are skilled pickpockets in the market, so keep your belongings close.
Encircling this historic square are landmarks that survived the 19th- and 20th century earthquakes. In the center of the plaza is a fountain where children sometimes splash while their parents relax on the nearby benches. Photographers perch here on weekends, putting up small backdrops of rural scenes—you can have your picture taken in front of them. On Sunday, the best day to go, the plaza is filled with vendors and local families relaxing on their day off.