Mexico City's Must-See Landmarks for First Timers

The Torre Latinoamericana and Palace of Fine Arts near Alameda Central Park in Mexico City
The Torre Latinoamericana and Palace of Fine Arts near Alameda Central Park in Mexico City | © Elijah Lovkoff / Alamy

Northern England Writer

For a first-time visitor, Mexico City can seem overwhelming. It’s home to the largest cathedral in Latin America, the biggest inner-city green space and some of the most iconic pieces of architecture, both historic and contemporary; how could you possibly choose where to begin? To make it easier for you, here are our must-see landmarks in Mexico City.

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Ángel de la Independencia

The towering Ángel de la Independencia monument stands on Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City’s principal avenues, which makes visiting this iconic chilango (native)landmark an opportunity to also soak up the attractive surrounding areas. Put up during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz in 1910, Ángel de la Independencia is dedicated to those who fought for independence and is topped with the recognizable golden Greek goddess of victory, Nike. It now also acts as mausoleum to the heroes of the revolution, including Allende and Javier Mina.

Zócalo

Realistically, it’s impossible to not visit the Zócalo during your stay in Mexico City. This wide open and peculiarly empty plaza, formally known as Plaza de la Constitución, is flanked on all sides by important museums, government buildings and art galleries, and also serves as the central point of the historic quarter of Mexico City. The best times to visit this plaza is during festivals when it throngs with people and food stalls, as well as concerts and music.

Castillo Chapultepec

Used in the Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet (1996) film, Castillo Chapultepec is so much more than just a backdrop to an Oscar-nominated movie. Set on a hilltop in the magnificent Bosque de Chapultepec, it was once the home of former Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I, and his wife Empress Carlota. Long gone are its days of royalty, however; it now houses the Museo Nacional de Historia, an excellent museum that ranks as one of the best in the entire city.

Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe

Given its religious importance and architectural beauty, the sacred Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe is a must-visit on any trip to Mexico City. Legend dictates that the Virgin de Guadalupe – who features on religious icons country-wide – appeared to Cuauhtlatoatzin in the 16th century on the cerro (hill)where the Basílica now stands. Celebrated on the 12 December, the status of the Virgin de Guadalupe is such that this is the third most visited religious destination in the world, only beaten by sites in Japan and India.

Ciudad Universitaria

Literally translating to university city, Ciudad Universitaria is the Coyoacán campus of UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and one of the most notable landmarks in Mexico City. UNAM may be the largest Latin American university and highest ranking Mexican university, but academic reasons alone don’t make it the great landmark that it is – that comes from the incredible artistic detail that dominates its campus. David Alfaro Siquieros murals cover the walls, and it is even a recognized Unesco World Heritage Site.

Catedral Metropolitana

The Metropolitan Cathedral sits on the northern side of the Zócalo and is the largest cathedral in the Americas and oldest in Latin America. Built using stones taken from the ancient Aztec temple – the site of which it sits precariously atop – this cathedral is a masterpiece of three distinct architectural styles that mark the three centuries that it took to construct. With Xalapan-designed bell towers, the majority of the architecture is gothic and Spanish in inspiration.

Museo Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is as emblematic of Mexico as tacos and tequila, so it makes sense that her former home (now a museum/art gallery dedicated to her life) should make the must-see Mexico City landmarks list. Colloquially known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), it can be found in the quirky Coyoacán district and makes a great starting point for a day in the surrounding area. Get there early to beat the almost constant flow of tourists that visit daily or book through Culture Trip to enjoy this as one of the major highlights on our five-day Mexico City tour.

Cineteca Nacional

Architecturally beautiful and culturally crucial is the Cineteca Nacional. Dedicated to preserving, cataloging and spreading the word about Mexico’s cinema scene, there are various rooms dedicated to directors such as Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Galindo. Any cinephile will be in heaven at the Cineteca Nacional, but equally, there’s plenty of interesting material to interest even the casual visitor.

Estadio Azteca

Home to the generally reviled Mexico City football team, Club América, and also to the Mexican national team, is Mexico’s largest football stadium: Estadio Azteca, colloquially known as El Coloso de Santa Úrsula (The Colossus of Santa Úrsula). This is well worth a visit for the unrivaled atmosphere it plays host to on match days.

Arena México

Come not for the architecture, but for the show. Arena México is home to the infamous – and ridiculous – luchas libres (free fighters). Wrestlers in glittery, sequined Spandex and over-the-top acting make for a regular day at Arena México. While it sounds outlandish, this is definitely one of Mexico City’s defining experiences.

Torre Latinoamericana

Torre Latinoamericana towers over the historic center of Mexico City and is the perfect place to visit if you want a bird’s eye view of the sprawling metropolis capital. The Empire State Building of Mexico is now known for its 41st-floor bar-cum-restaurant, Miralto, and from there you can get some spectacular views of the distant and glittering lights of the city’s outskirts.

Monumento a la Revolución

We round off our guide to the must-see landmarks of Mexico City with a monument to the revolution which liberated the country from Spanish rule. Now a mausoleum that contains the remains of Pancho Villa, Venustiano Carranza and Lázaro Cárdenas, this dome-topped arch is considered the largest triumphal arch in the world and took 28 years to complete.

Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the hotels in Mexico City that you’ll be talking about forever, or treat yourself to a luxury boutique hotel stay. Inspire your itinerary with the must-visit attractions in Mexico City. And don’t forget to soak in the skyline of Mexico’s capital with a drink at its best rooftop bars.

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