The Top Museums in Mexico City

The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is a must-visit museum in Mexico City
The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is a must-visit museum in Mexico City | © drvega / Alamy Stock Photo

Northern England Writer

Mexico City is brimming with museums – more than 150 of them, in fact – which is no surprise considering its rich historical and cultural past. From the remains of ancient civilizations and a museum dedicated to the drink of the gods to the preserved home of a famous Russian revolutionary, the capital is bursting with intriguing curiosities.

1. Museo del Templo Mayor


In the heart of Mexico City, only a few meters from the historical center known as the Zócalo, is the Museo del Templo Mayor. This site provides a surreal experience, as amid modern buildings lie monumental vestiges of the ancient city known as Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs had built the legendary city by making artificial islands known as chinampas on Texcoco Lake. Like in other cultures, Aztecs used to build several layers of construction above the first foundations. Only the first remains and it retains some of the original colors painted in it. If the Spaniards had not destroyed it, it would be approximately the same height as the Roman Coliseum. Besides the ruins, there is a museum in which you can see original objects found in the temple.

2. Museo del Pulque


Pulque is the beverage of gods. This pre-Hispanic drink was used only in sacred ceremonies, and its consumption was forbidden to people younger than 60 years old or those who hadn’t been good to society. Several punishments were involved for those who dared to break that prohibition, even death. In this museum, you can learn more about the history of this fermented drink, how it is made and its current uses. Best of all, at the end of the tour, you can go to the pulquería-restaurant in the museum and taste not only pulque in its traditional presentation, but also curados, which are beverages made with fruits and other typical drinks.

3. Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes


A fixture of the historic center is the distinctive silhouette of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes. An absolute must-see in the city, from both inside and out, it was the first art museum in the capital. Thankfully, it’s been joined by many others since its inauguration in 1934 – however, it still ranks as one of the best.

4. Museo Interactivo de Economía


This museum demonstrates, in a dynamic way, that economy is not only about money. Throughout four floors you can find several exhibitions, games, simulations, discussions, forums and many other activities. It explains, in an easy, digestible and fun way, topics such as the impact of economic activities on the environment, how the economy works and how to save, use banks and make investments. Set in a modernized building that was a convent a few hundred years ago, it also has some recreations of businesses that used to be in the same building in the 1800s, including a photo studio and a tailor shop.

5. Museo de Antropología e Historia (MNAH)


Like a guardian placed among mortals, a monolith of the terrible God Tlaloc watches over the entrance of the Anthropology Museum. And as if you were on a quest, you will arrive at an enormous wall as white as the clouds with the national shield carved into it. Passing it, before you proceed to the 11 exhibit halls beyond, a colossal umbrella-shaped fountain 82ft (25m) tall that rumbles like a waterfall welcomes you to the museum. Here, you will find artefacts that provide insights into each Mexican civilization throughout different historic and prehistoric eras. Since every region of the country has its own language, clothing and customs, this museum is a titanic work of many anthropologists, museographers, scientists, historians and sociologists. Some life-sized structures are also placed in the gardens surrounding the museum, so that walking through them feels like a truly immersive jungle discovery of ruins. You can spend an entire day here, and guided visits are recommended.

6. Castillo de Chapultepec /Museo Nacional de Historia


This is an impressive castle at the top of the only hill in Bosque de Chapultepec. The location was once a sacred place for Aztecs. After construction of the castle was completed, the building served several purposes. It was used as a military school in 1841, and in the 19th century Maximiliano of Habsburg and Princess Carlota of Belgium lived here for some years during some political turmoil. This museum hosts exhibitions about the conquering of Tenochtitlan, the independence from Spain, and the Mexican Revolution. You also can see magnificent murals made by some of the major muralists in Mexico.

7. Museo del Zapato


A wonderful little place almost hidden in the city center, designated only by an iron sign hanging in the entrance with the form of a shoe upon it, is the Museum of the Shoe. Here, you will find a peculiar exhibition about footwear used in different countries and historical times, from those worn by Aztecs and the ones donned by Egyptians to a replica of the boots used in the Apollo 11 mission. You can also see the traditional footwear worn in every state of the Mexican Republic, which varies for each locality. The collection even includes shoes used by Mexican and other world-famous personalities, such as a golden pair worn by Queen Elizabeth II.

8. Museo Frida Kahlo


Museo Frida Kahlo is the perfect balance of both art gallery and museum. Known as the Blue House (Casa Azul) for its eye-catching color scheme, Museo Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most instantly recognizable and iconic attractions. Her house and gallery space is a must-visit museum on the Mexico City scene, featuring serene gardens with cats nestling among the cacti. Each room is like walking into one of her paintings: immersive, vibrant and distinctly Frida. If you’re planning on visiting, why not book a place on Culture Trip’s five-day Mexico City tour, where you’ll be able to stop at Kahlo’s Casa Azul and view her colorful artwork.

9. Papalote, Museo del Niño


If you have kids, this museum is the perfect choice. There are regular temporary exhibitions and the museum is designed so that every visitor can learn about science in a playful way. The Papalote also has a mega IMAX screen on which you can see scheduled documentaries and a digital spherical dome like a planetarium with projections about the universe. Thursday nights are programmed for adults, so you can make giant bubbles, play with Lego, and pretend to be a kid or remember the joy of learning all over again.

10. Museo Soumaya (Plaza Carso)

Building, Museum

Here you can find several pieces of art from all over the world. It is free and open 365 days of the year. It has a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, with gorgeous sculptures and paintings made by master artists including Dr. Atl or Van Gogh. There are also free workshops with topics related to current exhibitions. There are two other museums named Soumaya in Mexico City, all of them property of the Fundación Carlos Slim, but they are smaller, and the exhibitions at Plaza Carso are always stunning.

11. Museo de Arte Popular


The Museo de Arte Popular is so much more than just a building full of spectacular pieces; it’s a window into Mexico’s artistic cultural history. With permanent exhibits divided into categories, and temporary shows like Ana María Casanueva’s Con Las Manos En La Masa (Hands in the Dough), it’s immersive and unmissable.

12. Anahuacalli


This is a unique museum built by painter Diego Rivera as his legacy to the people of Mexico. He wanted to build a city of arts with an architectural design that joins past, present and future in harmony with nature. The grounds surrounding Anahuacalli are covered by rugged vegetation and volcanic stones, products of an eruption of the Xitle volcano. The museum exhibits a gigantic collection of pieces made by pre-Hispanic artists. On the upper floor, there’s a painting studio that would be the dream of many painters – big and full of light – and here you can see some sketches for his mural paintings. Following in Diego Rivera’s footsteps, the museum hosts several art classes.

13. Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico

Library, Museum

This relatively young museum opened in 2008 and houses a private collection of thousands upon thousands of toys. Spread over four levels in the Cuauhtémoc area of Mexico City, the museum most recently added a room of toys made in Mexico. A rare find, Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico is an excellent place to go for childhood nostalgia. The top-floor library is worth checking out for the vibrant murals.

14. House Museum León Trotsky


In Mexico City, you can find a lot of house museums, which are museums situated in the homes of famous people. One of the most interesting is this building, where the revolutionary Russian philosopher León Trotsky lived from 1939 to 1940. The curators have preserved almost all of the original furniture and you can appreciate the little towers that Trotsky built to prevent an attack after he escaped from the Stalin regime. Unfortunately, his fears proved to be correct, since he was assassinated by the Russian government at this house in Mexico City only a year after moving in. A fugitive, idealist, friend of Diego Rivera and lover of Frida Kahlo, this revolutionary left Russia to become a part of Mexican history.

15. Museo Memoria y Tolerancia


Museo Memoria y Tolerancia is a museum dedicated to honoring and remembering the tragic atrocities committed by mankind. Permanent exhibitions focus on genocides such as the Holocaust, Darfur and Guatemala, as well as those that reflect on Mexico’s own cultural heritage and identity. Stark walls, minimal design and open-plan spaces make the experience all the more impactful.

16. Museo Casa Luis Barragán

Building, Museum

A masterpiece in modernist architecture, Museo Casa Luis Barragán is the only individual building of its kind to have been named a Unesco World Heritage site in Latin America. Built in 1948, the architecture is astounding and vividly displays Barragán’s unique blend of Mexican and modernist perspectives. Preserved exactly as the architect left it, it now plays host to a fantastic museum.

17. Museo del Objeto del Objeto


Our final top Mexico City museum is in the hipster Roma neighborhood and is suitably quirky. Museo del Objeto del Objeto (Museum of the Purpose of the Object) specializes in intriguing themed exhibitions that are always excellently curated.

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