Mexico City’s historic centre, known as the centro histórico or centro, is the heart of the Mexican capital and one of the spots that all first-time visitors to Mexico City should aim to explore, even if just for a day. Having said that, there’s more than enough going on in the historic centre to warrant staying far longer. Here are ten must-dos of downtown Mexico City.
It’s practically impossible to go to Mexico City and not visit the zócalo, a.k.a. the central square. However, most people fail to realise that the appeal lies in the surrounds, rather than the open expanse of pavement of the plaza itself, which features only a giant flagpole at its core. Instead, when heading to the zócalo, admire the Palacio de Gobierno building and other nearby edifices, before spreading your net a little wider and exploring the rest of what the centre has to offer.
Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral actually lies just off the zócalo, but this sinking, wonky, looks-like-it-could-fall-down building is worthy of its own entry. As with most Mexican cathedrals, the one in Mexico City has an interior dripping with gold and an exterior that’s ornate as heck, even despite the numerous destructive earthquakes that shake the very wobbly foundations upon which it sits each year.
You don’t have to venture beyond the historic centre of Mexico City to get a glimpse of some ancient ruins, because just to the right of the Metropolitan Cathedral lies the Templo Mayor. Outside, you can see the remains of the structure, while the museum gives a comprehensive history of the Templo Mayor and civilisation that once constructed it. Fun fact: the pillaging Spanish actually destroyed the Templo Mayor and used the stones to build the cathedral.
Once known as Plaza Santa Cecilia, Plaza Garibaldi was renamed in 1920 and has since become strongly associated with the most Mexican genre of music, mariachi. Even though this genre is typically associated with the western state of Jalisco, Plaza Garibaldi is the best place to enjoy it in the capital, as every day and night you’ll find musicians offering up songs for a fee. Be careful in the area after dark.
One of the most instantly recognisable buildings of the Mexican capital, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is known for its ombre yellow and orange roof tiles and mish mash of architectural styles. Outside it abides by Neoclassical/ Art Nouveau architectural stylings, whereas the interior is pure Art Deco. Now home to some famous murals, a couple of museums and a Tiffany stained-glass curtain, Bellas Artes is a Mexico City must.
As well as stopping by the important buildings, you must find time to stuff some food in your face in Mexico City’s historic centre. One of the most popular taco joints in the zone is El Huequito, whereas Pastelería Ideal will satiate the appetite of any sweet tooth.
After picking up some snacks, move the party over to the Torre Latinoamericana, the massive skyscraper which dominates the skyline of downtown Mexico City. While this building has a viewing platform, settle for heading one floor below to the bar and order a beer while you watch the sun set over the capital. It might not be the cheapest watering hole in the centre, but it offers up some of the most unrivalled views.
For history and culture fans, there is no better museum than the Museo de la Memoria and that’s saying something in a city which supposedly has more than 150 museums! While they have permanent exhibitions at the Museo de la Memoria, the rotating temporary exhibits are always absolutely excellent too.
The historic centre can be somewhat overwhelming and chaotic, so if you’re looking for some respite from the hustle and bustle of the downtown, plonk yourself down in Alameda Central and people watch. This well-groomed, spacious urban park (of sorts) has lots of water fountains and is always full of people going about their business. Read a book or just soak in the surroundings.
Finally, we can’t discuss the historic centre of Mexico City without touching on the street art that takes over so many of its nooks and crannies. While the roster of urban murals is ever-changing, just strolling around the centre you’re likely to stumble on some masterpieces. So even though Roma and Condesa often steal the street-art limelight, the historic centre definitely has lots to offer.