Tlacotalpan's city center is small and compact and can be easily walked around in a hour or so. The key attraction is the elegant colonial architecture - legacy of the time when the town was flourishing - and the "most elegant houses in Mexico" (according to the inhabitants), painted in bright colors and decorated with colonnades, arcs, elegant window-grates and porches (note the cover photo posted), as I have seen in no other part of Mexico.
The whole city center is well maintained and almost excessively manicured. The Main Square has a kind of strange layout, with two churches overlooking the square, the Cathedral, the church you will also see from the river with the high bell tower, and the Templo de la Candelaria, the light blue church resembling a wedding cake. Beside the Main Square there are a couple of more squares and few remarkable buildings to notice that you won't have any trouble finding just wandering around.
The walk in the city center is pleasant and enjoyable but, surprisingly, the street life is poor with no much going on. It can get very hot during the central-day hours, in the event, the riverfront is a good escape.
See more photos about architecture in the City Center in my Travelogue.
Agustín Lara (1897-1970), musician-poet and bohemian, is one of Mexico's most prolific and dearly loved musicians of all times. His career spanned nearly 50 years and he is arguably considered a Mexican legend. A number of distinguished international interpreters have interpreted his songs, included Frank Sinatra, Julio Iglesias, Caetano Veloso and Plácido Domingo. I am not sure whether he was born in Tlacotalpan or he just called Tlacotalpan home, anyway he has linked his name to this town that honors him today with a tiny museum.
The museum, hosted at the top floor of a colonial building one block off the Main Square, is just a collection of photographs and few memorabilia belonged to the artist; if you don't know who Agustín Lara is, it is unlikely you will learn it by visiting the museum, but all in all it is a pleasant and relaxing visit.
If my recollection is right, I paid for the ticket MXP20-. The visit will not take more than 30 minutes.
If you would like to learn more about the artist, this website provides a good introduction.
Head to the riverfront in the morning hours to see people from other villages coming into town via the river to sell their staples such as cheese and seafood. Just a taste of local daily life.
At time of my visit, with very few exceptions, all restaurants were lined up along the riverfront in the city center, in the area just named Zona de Restaurantes. There are few restaurants, one next to the other, and they all seemed to me selling the same food at the same price. On the menu basic seafood dishes such as sopas de mariscos, cockteles, pescado al gusto along with few basic meet dishes, all served in a very rustic environment. I picked a restaurant by chance and my feeling is my meal would have not been any different if I had gone to one of the other restaurants next door.
All those restaurants are open at lunch only. When the sun sets, the whole riverfront shuts down and the only chance you have for a meal is one of the couple of more restaurants in the main square.
If you after any kind of nightlife by coming here you are way away from your target. There is no nightlife whatsoever in Tlacotalpan, at least that I noticed, and all what you can get is a meal and a drink in the Main Square.
Occasionally some shows take place in the Main Square like the Saturday night I was there where I happened to assist to a traditional dance show (I guess it was fandango) played by local teen boys and girls.
Tlacotalpan is easily reached from the city of Veracruz by a ~2-hour bus ride, with buses running hourly during the day hours.
In Veracruz, get to the ADO bus station and ask for buses to Tlacotalpan (buses are not operated by ADO but the bus station is the same). Buses make a number of stop on the way; once in Tlacotalpan, buses will drop you in the city center, in the main street along the riverfront, few blocks away the Main Square. Once off the bus, you can walk to your final destination.
On the way back, buses depart and arrive from/to the same places that on the way in.
There is no much to see or do in Tlacotalpan and you can strictly visit the town in a couple of hours. From Veracruz you can make it in a day-trip if you don't mind the four hours total trip. That I know, few tours address Tlacotalpan in day-trip from Veracruz along with a couple of other destinations in the area.
However Tlacotalpan is all about relaxing and enjoying the slow pace of life so that by rushing you will not get the best from your time spent here.
I arrived in Tlacotalpan with a morning bus from Veracruz and departed the very next morning, spending in town basically one full day and one night. It worked out fine for me and I recommend the same arrangement.