This was going to be a ‘TOP 10’ list but I couldn’t choose! If you include day trips to Teotihaucan and Puebla, there’s plenty to keep one busy in Mexico City for at least a week! Did you know that this city has more museums than New York, Madrid or Paris?! You could omit museums and galleries if its not your thing but you’ll still need to include Casa Azul and probably one or two Rivera murals and then you’ll probably get hooked and add a few more and so your list grows and grows……
We spent just 4 nights in the city. Allowing for most of a day in Teotihuacan and a national holiday where pretty much everything was closed, we did remarkably well I think! So my list begins with the highlights we experienced and then continues with those we didn’t get to…
What we saw:
Everything starts at this massive square (3rd in size after Red Square and Tiananmen Square). Officially named Plaza de Constitución, at one point there was to be a monument erected in the centre but the plan was cancelled after the base was constructed. The Spanish word for base is ‘zócalo’ and that’s where the square’s unofficial name came from!
(New year in Zócalo – Stages set for festivities and queues for ice-skating)
(Beautiful architecture around the square enriches the city’s historic centre)
(Aztec shaman performing a spiritual cleansing ritual on the square)
2. Cathedral Metropolitana
The Cathedral was built on a sacred Aztec site. It is said that Cortés himself laid the first stone – taken from a ransacked Aztec temple. As this is also the site of an extinct lake, the cathedral needs constant maintenance due to sinkage of the ground in the area. This is Latin America’s oldest and largest cathedral. Inside, you will find towering ceilings, a fabulous high altar, 16 side altars and numerous works of art.
3. Palacio Nacional
This is another public building that was constructed on an Aztec site. Today it is one of the largest government buildings in the world and home to the offices of the President . Inside are gardens, courtyards and over a dozen Rivera murals. It is free to enter with ID or passport.
4. Templo Mayor
This was one of the largest temples in the Aztec empire and the site of worship and sacred offerings. The Spanish demolished the buildings and the site was gradually covered over and forgotten. In the late 1970’s, some electrical workers came across a piece of 15th century sculpture. This was the beginning of the Templo Mayor excavation. Now you can visit a museum on site and you can wander among the ruins.
5. Palacio de Bellas Artes
The theatre was commissioned for celebrations of the Centennial of Mexican Independence in 1910. Construction began in 1904 but, due to political instability and problems with the plans – the building was too heavy for the soft subsoil – it wasn’t completed until 1934 (it has in fact sunk about 4 metres since 1934). The white marble Art Nouveau structure is one of the most notable buildings in the city. By the time they got around to decorating the interior, Art Nouveau had given way to the Art Deco movement which is reflected in its staircase, balconies and a Tiffany stained glass curtain. Inside are exhibition halls, museums and the National Theatre. Walls are adorned with murals created by many of Mexico’s finest artists.
6. Palacio Postal
This post office has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1907. There is gold everywhere, a domed ceiling of leaded glass, tiled marble floors and splendid staircases. You can admire the old elevators or have a look around its own museum. The best part is watching locals in and out doing their business as usual, totally oblivious to the splendour!
7. Secretaría de Educatión Pública
Originally a convent, this building is best known for the 235 murals that cover the walls of two courtyards. As with the palace, for admission you just need to produce ID or a passport.
8. Alameda Central
Built in the 16th century, this is the oldest park in the Americas. The viceroy of the time intended to plant poplars (álamos in Spanish) hence the name. The plan failed because they took so long to grow but the name stuck! Until the 19th century the park was restricted to the wealthy of the city but is now open for all to enjoy the paths, fountains and monuments.
9. Diego Rivera Mural Museum.
‘Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central’ is a 50 foot mural with hundreds of characters from 400 years of Mexican History strolling through the park.
The mural was originally located in the Hotel Del Prado. The hotel was condemned after an earthquake in 1985. The mural was saved and relocated in pieces to this site close to the park.
10. Grand Hotel Ciudad de Mexico
Before it became a hotel, this was the Mercantile Centre – one of the first department stores in the city. The 60 bedrooms were all the original shops in the store. As we obviously didn’t stay here, I won’t be reviewing it(!) but we did pop our heads in to have a look at the beautiful ceiling and balconies. Looks familiar? It was used in the opening scenes of the 2015 James Bond movie Spectre.
11. Plaza Garibaldi
Here you will find mariachi bands in their colourful matching suits wandering the square day and night, soliciting business from visitors. Famous singers are immortalised in metal statues. Seedy enough and probably not the place to go looking for an ATM but busy with tourists and close to the city centre and public spaces to feel comfortable.
(There are restaurants on the square or just pop into the mercado for lunch)
12. Plaza Santo Domingo
In the 19th century, this was where the illiterate went to have scribes write their letters. Inside the church, you will find Senor de Rebozo (Lord of the Shawls). The faithful offer him a shawl in thanks for answering their prayers.
13. La Casa de los Azulejos
The exterior of this 18th century palace is covered in traditional tiles from nearby Puebla. One story claims that a countess living in Puebla, returned to the city when her husband died and had her house remodeled in Puebla style. Another version is that a man told his useless son that he would ‘never build his house of tiles’ – i.e. he would never amount to anything. In defiance, the son added the tiles to the family home when he inherited it! The interior is equally ornate with a glass ceiling, fountain and murals.
All the above are in the city centre and and easily managed on foot. The next few are accessed by public transport.
14. Basilica of Our lady of Guadalupe
In 1531, Our Lady appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego and spoke to him in his native language. She requested a shrine be built on the site of her apparition. The bishop demanded proof. Mary appeared a second time and told Juan to collect roses from a particular place. They were neither native to the region nor in season. Juan collected the roses and brought them to the bishop in his apron. When his apron fell open, the image of Our Lady was imprinted on the fabric. This image is now venerated in the basilica.
The first basilica was built in 1660. It has suffered the same fate as many other buildings in the city due to sinking ground. The circular basilica was built in the 1970’s on the same plaza. The original apron hangs in the new basilica. Second only to the Vatican, the complex has 17 – 20 million visitors per year – many thousands making their way here on her feast day – December 12th.
Meaning ‘place of the coyotes’, Coyacan was originally a rural village that has become a popular neighbourhood for locals and visitors alike. Many visitors head here for the Frida Kahlo museum and stay on to have a wander through the quiet streets, the parks and the mercado.
16. Casa Azul
Frida Kahlo spent most of her life in this house and it is one of Mexico City’s main attractions. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in her world. There are a few paintings on display as well as collections, artifacts, her clothes and painting materials, etc.
17. Paseo de la Reforma and the Angel of Independence
The avenue was originally modeled after the great avenues of European capitals.
Lovely for a stroll, there is plenty to look at and admire. The most noted piece of sculpture is the Angel of Independence which was inaugurated in 1910 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war of independence.
Stretches of the road are closed to traffic on Sundays to allow cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the facility.
18. Chapultepec Park.
Paths, trees, fountains, statues, lakes, vendors, animals, birds, museums – its all here! Known as the lungs of Mexico City, its twice the size of Central Park. You could spend a full day in this area alone. Not that you’d be alone of course – you’ll have to share with the 250,000 daily visitors!
Situated about 50km from the city, Teotihaucan was one of the largest cities in the ancient world. Here you can climb the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon or walk the 2.4km Avenue of the Dead. An incredible experience.
Wracking my brains here but can’t make it to 20!!!
If I ever go back, the following will be on my list:
20. Museo Nacional de Antropologia
This is the one that got away! The largest and most visited museum in the country, it takes at least a day to do it any kind of justice! If you get there before me, make sure to wear your Fitbit – a visit is equal to 5.5kms!!
The Venice of Mexico – a trip along the ancient canals in a brightly coloured trajinera seems to make for a great activity (although looking at the number of boats in photos it must be anything but peaceful!!)
22. Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera
Rivera’s birthplace is now a museum dedicated to his life and work
23. Arena Mexico – Lucha Libre
If Mexican wrestling is your thing then this is the place to go!!!
24. Explore some neighbourhoods away from the centre:
25. Day trip to Puebla
26. Museo Soumaya
I’d probably visit just to see the building itself!
And that leaves:
28. Chapultepec Castle
29. Monument a la Revolutión
30. Trotsky museum
31. National History Museum
I’m sure there’s more – but that list will keep anyone busy for a few days!!