Magical Places in Mexico City All Locals Can Be Proud of

Bosque de Chapultepec is also known as the lungs of Mexico City
Bosque de Chapultepec is also known as the lungs of Mexico City | © Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lauren Cocking
Northern England Writer14 September 2021

Mexico City is a fantastic place to visit, never mind live; so it will come as no surprise there are numerous magical sights, sounds and destinations that make all Mexico City residents proud. Here are our picks for the best spots that every chilango would revel in bragging about, from ancient buildings to national parks and even freaky-looking dogs.

Catedral Metropolitana

Cathedral, Museum
Map View
Catedral Metropolitana on Zocalo, Mexico City
© David Crossland / Alamy Stock Photo
Not only is the Catedral Metropolitana one of the most spectacular and historic buildings in Mexico City, but it’s also the oldest cathedral in the Americas and one of the must-visit Catholic destinations in the capital. Situated on what was once the site of sacred pre-Hispanic monuments, the cathedral was built using stone stolen from the adjoining Templo Mayor and was formerly the location of the impressive Aztec Sun Stone, which can now be found in the National Museum of Anthropology.

Xochimilco

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
Map View
Blurred water at colorful Xochimilco on a Saturday afternoon, Mexico City, Mexico.
© Brian Overcast / Alamy Stock Photo
When we say Xochimilco, which is in itself one of the 141 wonderful pueblos originarios (original towns) in Mexico City, we actually mean the trajineras (boats) and chinampas (floating gardens) in the neighborhood. Often referred to as the Venice of Mexico City, Xochimilco is best known for these brightly painted canal boats that have been ferrying tourists, chinampa workers and residents up and down the canals in the city for decades. If you’re planning a trip then why not book Culture Trip’s five-day Mexico City tour where you’ll be entertained by a mariachi band as you float along the water.

Plaza de las Tres Culturas

Ruins
Map View
Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Three Culture Square) at Tlatelolco - Mexico City, Mexico
© Diego Grandi / Alamy Stock Photo
While Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco has sadly been the site of some of Mexico City’s worst tragedies in recent history (the 1968 student massacre), it is still a place of which residents can be proud, given that it combines the three cultures that make up modern Mexico; pyramids mark the Mesoamerican past, the Torre de Tlatelolco in the background signals the present day, and the colonial Templo de Santiago represents Spain’s influence on the country.

Bosque de Chapultepec

Park
Map View
aerial view forest of Chapultepec. urban park in Mexico City. (Photo: Luis Gutierrez / NortePhoto.com). vista aerea del bosque de Chapultepec. pa
© NortePhoto.com / Alamy Stock Photo
The city-center Bosque de Chapultepec, also known as the lungs of Mexico City, is one of the largest inner-city parks in the western hemisphere, right up there with Central Park in NYC. It is also home to some of the top museums and galleries in Mexico City, such as the Museo Tamayo and the Castillo de Chapultepec, the latter of which offers magnificent views over the surrounding area. It’s no wonder 15m visitors come to the park annually.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Building
Map View
Palace Bellas Artes, Mexico City
© Donisl / Alamy Stock Photo
The gleaming white façade of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, in combination with the sparkling orange-tiled roof, has made it one of the most recognizable edifices in the country and a true source of pride for locals. It’s best known for its magnificent combination of art nouveau and art deco architecture, as well as for housing some of the most impressive murals in the city and a Tiffany glass curtain.

Espacio Escultórico

Park
Map View
Espacio Escultorico, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
All of Ciudad Universitaria could have been included on this list, from the instantly recognizable Central Library to the beautiful modern MUAC, yet we think the Espacio Escultórico beats them any day. This open-air sculpture park is one of the best budget-friendly attractions in the capital, filled with quirky, picture-perfect exhibits and lots of Instagram potential.

Cuicuilco

Archaeological site
Map View
geography / travel, Mexico, Mexico City, ruins, pyramid of Cuicuilco, built: 500 BC, exterior view, Additional-Rights-Clearance-Info-Not-Available
© INTERFOTO / Alamy Stock Photo
Cuicuilco is the archaeological site that has one of the few round pyramids in Mexico – with Guachimontones in Guadalajara being another – so it’s one of those places you can’t pass up if you’re in town. Perfect for exploring, picnicking and generally just escaping the day-to-day rat race of Mexico City, Cuicuilco is the ideal escape for history and culture buffs.

Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros

Art Gallery, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros. Ciudad de Mexico.
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
If you love murals but want to get off the beaten path, swing by the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros in Nápoles. While it still holds as much appeal to locals as the other mural hotspots in the capital, it is largely ignored by tourists, despite being one of the coolest examples of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s work.

Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo

Museum, Art Gallery, Historical Landmark
Map View
Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo  - Mexico City
© Neil Setchfield / Alamy Stock Photo
Sure, Kahlo’s Casa Azul steals the spotlight when it comes to Kahlo-fuelled tourism in Mexico City, but many forget that she and her husband Diego Rivera also shared a house-cum-studio in the San Ángel district – the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo. Architecturally beautiful, it’s quieter and cheaper than other Kahlo attractions and hemmed in by picture-perfect cactuses.

Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones

Park
Map View
Picture taken near Mexico City
© Gerardo Borbolla / Alamy Stock Photo
Desierto de los Leones is not, as the name could perhaps suggest, filled with lions. Rather, it is one of the greatest national parks in Mexico City and widely considered to be the oldest protected biosphere in Mexico, perfect for running, bike riding and camping. It also plays host to one of the most tranquil picnic spots in the capital, the gorgeous old Carmelite convent.

Museo Dolores Olmedo

Building, Museum
Map View
Museo Dolores Olmedo with famous collection of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera,  Mexico City, Mexico
© Jon Lovette / Alamy Stock Photo
A haven for Rivera and Kahlo fans, the fantastic collection of artwork housed in the building and grounds of the huge yet tranquil Museo Dolores Olmedo complex in La Noria should easily be a source of pride for the casual chilango (people from Mexico City). However, you can’t forget about the wealth of bizarre, emblematically Mexican xoloitzcuintle dogs that call it home, too. And it’s free on Tuesdays!

San Ildefonso

University
Map View
Museum and Cultual space in Centro -Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso,  Mexico City, Mexico
© Jon Lovette / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the oldest buildings in the country, the Colegio de San Ildefonso is an unmissable sight for both locals and visitors in the Mexican capital. Founded in 1588 by Jesuits, it is widely considered to have been the first university in the country, a huge center of learning, and also the undisputed birthplace of Mexican muralism.

Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Library
Map View
View of the interiors of architectural landmark Vasconcelos Library (Biblioteca Vasconcelos) in Mexico City, Mexico.
© R.M. Nunes / Alamy Stock Photo
Easily one of the most beautiful libraries in the city, the Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Santa María la Ribera (not to be confused with the Old Biblioteca Vasconcelos by Metro Balderas) is an Alberto Kalach-designed architectural and literary masterpiece. Known for its space-age, vertigo-inducing suspended shelves and a Gabriel Orozco whale skeleton sculpture, there is also an underrated botanical garden here, too. No, it doesn’t have an English-language section, but who cares when its beauty is universally understood?

Parque Nacional Cumbres del Ajusco

Park
Map View
If you split Mexico City down the middle, into two separate halves, one half would be the city center and the other would be formed of the sprawling Parque Nacional Cumbres de Ajusco. That should give you some idea of the size of this magnificent walking, hiking and jogging destination within the city limits of the Mexican capital. When you visit, make sure to explore one of the highest peaks in the country – the Pico del Águila.

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museum
Map View
The National Museum of Anthropology (Spanish: Museo Nacional de Antropologia, MNA) is a national museum of Mexico.
© Inge Johnsson / Alamy Stock Photo
As the most visited tourist attraction in the country, and one of the world’s most renowned anthropology museums, how could any local fail to be proud of the magnificent Museo Nacional de Antropología? It has an expansive and excellently curated collection of permanent and temporary exhibitions that showcase the pre-Hispanic, Mesoamerican history of the country plus some extraordinary architecture, making it a must-see.
These recommendations were updated on September 14, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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