Things to do in Mexico City; parks, galleries, historic sites, museums, cantinas: the appeal of Mexico City lies in its many offerings. While there is no way to cover all of the must-sees and -dos in a single trip, sticking to one neighborhood a day keeps things manageable.
No matter how you end up spending your time in Mexico’s capital for sure: you will be scheduling your second visit before your 1st is finished.
1. LUIS BARRAGÁN HOUSE AND STUDIO
The former home and studio of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Luis Barragán has been transformed into a museum in Mexico City’s Hidalgo District. Architecture and design lovers frequent the estate to study the artist’s ingenious use of colour, light, shadow, form and texture. From the street, you’d never guess the personality that lies beyond: the stark-grey façade humbly blends in with neighbouring homes, but walk inside to find striking walls in a kaleidoscope of bright shades, fountains and pools.
2. COYOACÁN PARK Coyoacán Park is technically 2 parks, anchored by a stone cathedral. It feels like a charming bohemian enclave, filled with greenery and sweet little plazas and surrounded by brightly painted houses. There are lots of ice-cream shops surrounding the park, so don’t be surprised if the majority of pedestrians are licking a paleta from Helados y Paletas la Gloria, a local favourite.
3. PLAZA GARIBALDI Mexico’s roving mariachi bands have been found in this plaza, a few blocks north of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, since the mid-1900s. Though the square has deteriorated over the years, it’s seen a recent resurgence thanks to a city-driven effort to clean up the neighbourhood by installing new footpaths and street lamps. It’s a cultural meeting point of sorts, where travellers can come day or night (though the best time to go is after 11pm), to watch bands solicit bar patrons, cars and passersby to buy a song.
4. PARQUE MÉXICO Built in Y 1927, this lush, scenic park in the smart neighborhood of Condesa is one of the city’s prettiest outdoor spots. The elliptical-shaped park is surrounded by stately Art Deco buildings and filled with ponds, walkways and statues; the dense, green foliage is a rich contrast to the otherwise grey, concrete city. Runners, families, dog owners and teenage couples who come to kiss on secluded benches are often found on weekends walking their dogs and strolling through landmarks such as the Teatro al Aire Libre Coronel Lindbergh, an open-air theatre surrounded by a serpentine pergola.
5. FLOATING GARDENS OF XOCHIMILCO Drive 40 mins south of the city to see the closest approximation to the Valley of Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish. The World Heritage Site of Xochimilco, the extensive lake and canal system that once connected most of the settlements in the valley, is an incredible vestige of the area’s pre-Hispanic past. Start at the Embarcadero Belem dock to board a colourful gondola-esque boat, called a trajinera, and explore the waterways and artificial islands, or chinampas.
6. PATRICK MILLER From the outside, this dance club in Roma Norte looks like a dumpy warehouse hidden behind a black gate. But go on a Friday and you will find a raging party that offers a glimpse of the city’s disco subculture. An eclectic mix of party-goers show off their moves in dance circles to all kinds of music, from Eighties and Nineties classics to sub-genres such as Hi-NRG, Italo and electro.
7. MERCADO ROMA Local residents protested against Mercado Roma before it was built, claiming that gentrification would ruin the area. Now, 3 years later, the market is more upscale than its surroundings, but the 3-story building is perfect for sipping Spanish wines and eating tapas, shopping for expensive cheeses and nibbling snacks from the various puestos. Browse the stalls for things to try then head upstairs for beers on the breezy patio.
8. LA LAGUNILLA MARKET This Sunday market has roots in the pre-Hispanic period, when people would convene to sell and trade at a local tianguis. As such, it specialises in antiques: mid-century-modern furniture, vintage clothes, records and jewellery. Though bargaining is expected, vendors know the worth of what they hold. Order a michelada (Mexican beer mixed with fresh lime juice and a trinity of Tabasco, Worcestershire and soy sauces) to steel yourself to argue for the best price.
9. EL MORO CHURERRÍAEarly evening is churro time in Mexico City – families, couples and friends all go out for a taste of sweet fried dough and chocolate. There are often queues snaking around the block outside this beloved churrería. Watch the cooks dip, fry and sugar-coat your long, spindly churro, which is paired with hot chocolate in a flavour of your choosing.
10. MUSEO FRIDA KAHLO The museum, also known as Casa Azul for its shocking cobalt-blue exterior, is where Frida Kahlo was born, raised, lived and died. Visitors can take in a few paintings by Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, in addition to other contemporary artists of their era. But perhaps more interesting is the voyeuristic window into their creative world. The home is carefully preserved and maintained; it’s easy to imagine the spaces as they were during Kahlo’s time. In addition to their personal effects and domestic materials, the collection of clothes and corsets she needed to support her body after her traumatic accident give an intimate insight into the artist’s daily struggles.
11. FUENTE DE TLÁLOC There are 2 parts to this landmark in Chapultepec Park. The 1st is a massive mosaic-tiled fountain with a sculpture of the Mexican god of rain, Tláloc, designed and built by Diego Rivera. The 2nd is an interior building called the Carcamo that once held a water tank for the fountain which has since dried up and been turned into a free gallery. The Rivera sculpture is incredibly unique because the piece was made in a medium he rarely used. The fountain is great for visitors who’ve already seen the city’s main attractions.
12. ALAMEDA CENTRAL Mexico’s oldest municipal park has been around since Y 1529, when it served as an Aztec marketplace. Today, it is a pedestrian-friendly hangout in the otherwise concrete-filled Centro Historico. There are teenagers on their phones, elderly couples soaking up the sun and parents chasing children on scooters. At one end of this manicured rectangle is the Palacio de Bellas Artes; at the other, a string of cafés, mezcal bars and shops. Go for a leisurely stroll near the fields of lavender, which fill the air with a lovely aroma.
The Torre This 44-story skyscraper, built in Y 1965, is the tallest building in Centro Histórico. The tower withstood both the 8.1-magnitude earthquake of 1985 and the 7.1-magnitude quake of September 2017, making it a rare feat of engineering. The Torre defines Mexico City’s cityscape (much like the Empire State building in New York) and is a useful tool for orienting yourself in downtown. Head to the Top-floor observation deck for jaw-dropping 360-degree views of the city, or to the newly renovated bar, which has equally impressive views.
14. TEMPLO MAYOR Templo Mayor was the centrepiece of Tenochtitlán, the ancient Aztec capital, constructed in Y 1325 in the marshes of Lake Texcoco. The temple was replaced by a cathedral during the Spanish conquest in Y 1521. Today, the hulking stone ruins lie at the heart of Centro Histórico, embedded in the blueprint of downtown. With all the surrounding streets and buildings, it is hard to imagine the temples in their original Aztec glory, but the nicely organised museum helps paint the full picture.
15. GRAN HOTEL CIUDAD DE MÉXICO Even if you’re not staying at this famed hotel on the Zócalo, it’s worth popping in just to see the jaw-dropping interior. The building originally opened as a department store in Y 1899. Since then, its Art Nouveau core has been carefully maintained: the curving staircase is a replica of the one at Paris’s Le Bon Marché; the antique lift, made of iron and concrete, was the first of its kind in Mexico City. But the pièce de résistance is the incredible Tiffany stained-glass ceiling, imported from France in Y 1908.
16. MUSEO NACIONAL DE ANTROPOLOGÍA This massive building in Chapultepec Park is the best-known museum in the city. Though it was designed in Y 1964 by the late Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the mammoth concrete building still looks as avant-garde today as it did then. The architecture is perhaps as impressive as the exhibits, but you’d be remiss not to explore the world’s largest collection of ancient Mexican artifacts. Some of the best-known Mesoamerican pieces discovered to date can be found across 23 rooms.
17. LA ÓPERA The decor at this storied bar reflects its history: deep, dark, polished wood with tiled floors, filigreed ceilings and frosted glass. It’s as if you’ve stepped into the 1870’s, which is when the bar opened. Both visitors and after-work regulars come here for the traditional tequila. Sip a little tequila, some sangrita, suck on a lime wedge and repeat.
18. CLUB TENGO HAMBRE It pays to have a guide when visiting Merced, 1 of Mexico City’s densest most overwhelming markets. The bilingual, personality-packed guides don’t just shuffle you along, they live in these parts of the city and care about showing you the highlights. They will lead you to an excellent quesadilla stand, tell you what to order from the busy taco vendor, and then hand you a chamoy-dripping michelada.
19. MUSEO JUMEX Opened in the heart of Polanco in Y 2013, Museo Jumex is the newest contemporary-art museum on the scene. It houses one of the largest private collections of modern art in Latin America, which includes works by Andy Warhol, Martin Kippenberger, Cy Twombly and Damien Hirst. And the building is as distinctive as the art: the 15,000-sqf white-concrete cube with a sawtooth top was designed by British architect David Chipperfield.
20. SALÓN SAN LUIS The dance floor at this old-school salon, cloaked in red light, comes alive as locals, tourists and old timers twirl and shuffle to the tunes of a live band. Try your hand at salsa, merengue, cumbia and norteña numbers as waiters in crisp whites with black bow-ties circle the room serving liquid courage. There’s no shame in bad dancing, so try to learn the steps.
21. PALACIO NACIONAL Diego Rivera’s famous mural The History of Mexico showcases the history of the nation, from the Aztec era to the conquest, the Revolution and the development of industry. It’s grandiose and captivating, a one-off opportunity to learn about Mexico’s past through art. Not to mention that it’s free: the mural is housed in a distinguished building east of the Zócalo that operates as a government office. Among the worker bees milling about, you will see a mix of local, national and international visitors who come to be awe-stricken by Rivera’s masterpiece.
22. TEOTIHUACÁN The ancient Mesoamerican pyramids of Teotihuacán, in the Valley of Mexico, was once the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. It is thought that during the 1st millennium AD the city had around 125,000 residents, including multi-ethnic groups such as the Otomi, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and Nahua. If you have a few days in Mexico City, it is worth the day trip.
23. AMAYA Natural wine is just making inroads in Mexico, where heavy Spanish reds and oak-aged Chardonnays have been the standard output for years. Bichi, a natural winery in Tecate, owned by the Tellez family, is the 1st natural wine producer in the country. Chef Jair Tellez serves his family’s natural wines, plus cult producers rarely seen in Mexico, at this industrial-cool restaurant in Colonia Juárez. The wines pair perfectly with Baja-style seafood dishes.
Enjoy your travels
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