As one of the biggest capital cities in the world, Mexico City is one the most popular tourist destinations in the Americas. The history of this ever-changing country, along with its art, gastronomy and unique culture, have amazed and left thousands in awe and wonder. Here is a list of the best things to see and do in order to discover the highlights of this bustling and exciting city.
Mexico City’s main square is La Plaza de la Constitución, also known as Zócalo. This historic place was Tenochtitlan’s main ceremonial center in the times of the Aztecs and even nowadays retains its importance in Mexico City. With an enormous area of 57,600 square meters, Zócalo is one of the largest squares in the world. At Zócalo, you can also see the stunning Metropolitan Cathedral (the largest of its kind in the Americas), the National Palace and spontaneous shows of Aztec dancing and music. Do look out for the beautiful architecture of the surrounding buildings.
Designed in the 1860s by Ferdinand von Rosenzweig, the Paseo de la Reforma is modelled after the great European avenues and boulevards. Stretching diagonally across the heart of Mexico City, this boulevard contains many of the capital’s tallest buildings such as the Torre Mayor. Many famous monuments and statues are situated along the Paseo, one of the most famous being the Angel of Independence. Apart from the historical monuments, walking along the Paseo offers an excellent chance to see public art exhibitions, taste Mexican cuisine in the many restaurants and cafés and see the latest architectural points of interest in Mexico City.
The Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Park, is famous for being one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere. The 686 hectares (1,695 acres) of park and woodland have had a long history, and since the Spanish Conquest, the park has been transformed from a retreat for Aztec rulers into a huge tourist attraction. Aside from visiting the park, which has been split into three different sections, there are other attractions within it, including the Museum of Anthropology (see below), the Rufino Tamayo Museum, and the magnificent Chapultepec Castle, which is also the National History Museum.
The Museum of Anthropology, located in the Bosque de Chapultepec, is one of the finest museums of its kind in the world. Because of its unique collection of artefacts from the Mayan civilization, the pre-Columbian Mexico and pre-Hispanic periods, it has become the most visited museum in Mexico. The museum is located in a building which is an architectural masterpiece in itself, consisting of an umbrella roof supported by a single column, symbolizing a mythological tree, eagles and jaguars. Highlights of the museum include the 16th-century Aztec statue of Xochipilli, a reconstruction of the 8th-century Mayan Tomb, and the Piedra del Sol, the Aztec calendar stone.
A bright blue museum referred to as ‘La Casa Azul‘ (The Blue House) is dedicated to the life and work of one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, Frida Kahlo. The artist was born, grew up and ultimately died within the walls of this blue house, whose 1950’s décor has been kept the same as it was when Kahlo’s husband donated it with the aim of turning it into a museum in her honor. The museum, which not only offers a collection of Kahlo’s artwork as well as that of her husband Diego Rivera and of other artists, but also offers artefacts, photographs and personal items, portraying the reality of Kahlo’s life amidst Mexican art. Look out for the helpful audio tour to guide you through the house.
An impressive Art Nouveau and Neoclassical building, called Palacio de Bellas Artes, is where the most important cultural center in Mexico resides. Inside is an even more stunning sight: the marble interior, primarily Art Deco in design. The Palacio de Bellas Artes aims to support Mexican artists and the national culture, by hosting many exhibitions and theatrical performances. However, it is most famous for holding and preserving stunning murals by Diego Rivera and Siqueiros. The arts truly flourish in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which should definitely not be missed during any visit to Mexico City.
At the center of the universe (in the eyes of the Aztecs) lie the remains of the Templo Mayor. This sacred temple was among the most important and was dedicated to both Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc – the god of war and the god of rain and agriculture. The archaeological site offers the chance to not only explore the temple and its altars, but also remains of houses and other buildings. The on-site museum which supplements the exploration of the ruins brings Tenochtitlan to life and recounts the mysteries of the Aztec civilization, many of which are still waiting to be discovered.
Walking around Coyoacán is possibly one of the most exciting ways to discover Mexico City. In this colorful area of the city, there is so much music, theater and dancing happening that you would not know where to start. Cafés and cantines offer traditional Mexican snacks and meals at good prices as well as providing locals with a place to sit with a good book. The arts thrive in this quaint area of the city, without leaving behind the folklore and artisanal crafts of Mexican culture. Look out for the Coyotes Fountain in the Coyoacán Park.
This agricultural borough is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which offers fun together with culture and is the perfect location for an entertaining day out. The picturesque historical centre and long pretty canals are well worth seeing. Trips on the brightly colored trajineras – gondola-like Mexican boats – are a favorite of many tourists who desire to see the wildlife preserve and floating gardens. Mariachi bands to not go amiss at Xochimilco: the musicians float along the waterways, playing their hearts out, and some even sell tacos, tortillas and other Mexican snacks. Look out for the colorful and lively Xochimilco market.
Being one of the most important churches in Catholicism, the Basílica of Guadalupe is the second most visited holy place in the world, after the Vatican. Dedicated to Our Lady of Gaudalupe who is said to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, two basilicas boast different styles of beauty. Originally only one basilica existed, but had to be replaced when it began to sink dangerously. Both are now open to the public. The modern basilica even guards the Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin’s cloak which has an image of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, a most important part of the beautiful basilicas.