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 12 must-see landmarks in Mexico City.
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. Erected 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.
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.
Used in the Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet 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 12th of December, the status of the Virgin de Guadalupe is such that this is the third most visited religious destination in the world, beaten by sites in Japan and India.
Literally translating to ‘university city’, Ciudad Universitaria is the Coyoacán campus of UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and one of Mexico City’s most notable landmarks. UNAM may be the largest Latin American university and highest world-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.
Mexico City’s 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 museum/art gallery dedicated to her life should make the 12 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 full day out in the surrounding area. Get there early to beat the almost constant flow of tourists that visit daily.
Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, Mexico, +52 55 5554 5999
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 like 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.
Home to the generally reviled Mexico City football team, Club América, and also to the Mexican national selection, is Mexico’s largest football stadium: Estadio Azteca. Colloquially known as El Coloso de Santa Úrsula (The Colossus of Santa Úrsula), it will have to make room for Cruz Azul in 2018 after their current stadium is demolished. However, this is well worth a visit for the undoubtedly unrivaled atmosphere it plays host to on match days.
Come not for the architecture, but for the show. Arena México is home to the infamous – and ridiculous – luchas libres (free fighters.) Grown men (and women) in glittery, sequined spandex and over-the-top acting make for a regular day at Arena México. While it sounds quite outlandish, this is definitely one of Mexico City’s defining experiences and warrants the inclusion on this 12 must-see landmarks rundown.
Dr. Lavista No. 197, Doctores, Ciudad de Mexico, México, +52 55 5588 1561
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.
Eje Central 2, Centro, Ciudad de México, México, +52 55 5518 7423
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.