Mexico’s capital city is home to more than 20 million people and enough restaurants, museums, and parks to keep almost all of them happy. Whether you want to dive deep into the history of the pre-Hispanic cultures that called this area home or you want to eat your weight in tacos, Mexico City has a little something for everyone.
1. The Zocalo
Mexico City’s Zocalo, or main square, is home to some of the city’s richest history. It’s the location of the original Aztec city, Tenochtitlan, and you can still see remnants of this ancient civilization at Templo Mayor.
In addition to the ruins of the Indigenous culture that thrived here pre-colonization, the Zocalo is also home to the Palacio Nacional (the presidential palace), a building which has been the seat of government since the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Bring an ID to access the interior of the museum where large-scale murals painted by Diego Rivera can be found.
The Metropolitan Cathedral draws the most visitors. It’s free to explore the interior and once a day visitors can pay 40 pesos to explore the depths of the crypt.
2. Pyramids of Teotihuacán
The Pyramids of Teotihuacán are about an hour north of the city center, but can be easily visited by public bus from the Northern Bus Terminal or by booking a tour that picks you up from your hotel in the downtown area. The pyramids are one of the only sights around Mexico City that are open 365 days a year and it costs 75 pesos per person to enter.
The main path of this ancient city is known as The Avenue of the Dead. At one end, you’ll find the Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon) which stands 141ft. Visitors can climb roughly halfway up this pyramid for views over the valley. The larger of the pyramids, the Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun), stands at 213ft and you can climb all the way to the top to get an insight into the scale of this kingdom when it was home to more than 100,000 people.
3. Tacos al pastor
There aren’t many Mexican foods that originate from Mexico City, but the humble al pastor taco is one of them. The taco, made from marinated pork and cooked on a spit much like a shawarma, is a fusion of Lebanese culture and Mexican cuisine, and it makes for one of the most delicious bites you can have in Mexico.
The inclusion of pineapple is a source of fierce debate among locals and chefs alike, but no matter your allegiance you should experience both places in the city that claim to have created this delectable taco. El Huequito in the Centro Historico is on the no-pineapple team, while El Tizoncito in Condesa stands firm on the inclusion of pineapple in their version.
4. Museo Nacional de Antropología
If there’s only time for one museum while visiting Mexico City, the Museo Nacional de Antropología (Anthropology Museum) should be it. This is a great place to start any trip to Mexico City – visitors can learn about the history of this wonderful country, as well as the different Indigenous groups that founded the culture still prevalent in post-colonial Mexico today.
Everything is superbly displayed, with much explanatory text translated into English. At the entrance, you will find the starting point for free one-hour guided tours in English (four daily except Sunday, 10:30am to 5pm; reservation recommended), which are very worthwhile to make sense of Mexico's complicated history.
5. Chapultepec Park
Chapultepec Park is the largest city park in the Western Hemisphere and once inside you’ll discover a plethora of activities to keep you busy. The park is home to the National History Museum, which also happens to be inside the only castle in North America where actual royalty has lived.
Chapultepec is also home to the city’s main zoo, which is free to enter, as well as the Papalote Museo del Niño (Children’s Museum). Sunday is the park’s big day, as vendors line the main paths and throngs of families come to picnic, navigate the lake on rowboats and crowd into the museums.
6. Folkloric Ballet
This show is one of the best in the city and can be viewed either inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes or outside the Chapultepec Castle if you are visiting during the Christmas season. The Folkloric Ballet is a collection of the most famous dances from around Mexico including local dances from the states of Jalisco, Guerrero and Veracruz.
Each dance has costumes that are unique to their region of origin and the choreography has been perfected throughout 70 years of live performance.
7. Museo Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo has become synonymous with Mexico City in recent years and her former home is now one of the most visited museums in the country. Almost every visitor to Mexico City makes a pilgrimage here to gain a deeper understanding of the painter (and maybe to pick up a Frida handbag). Arrive early to avoid the crowds, especially on weekends; book tickets online to jump the queue.
If you'd like to have more insight into Frida's artistic life, you can also visit the Anahuacalli Museum. Her husband, renowned artist Diego Rivera, built the museum to house their collection of pre-Hispanic art. The Fridabus travels here from Museo Frida Kahlo on weekends at 12.30pm, 2pm and 3.30pm for adult/child M$150/75. Tickets can only be bought from Museo Frida Kahlo and are return tickets, but only start from Museo Frida Kahlo (there are no ticket sales at Anahuacalli).
The colorful trajineras (gondolas) of Xochimilco have long been on the must-do list of tourists visiting Mexico City, but there’s more to this historical region of the city than micheladas or mariachi bands. The chinampas of Mexico City are a vivid reminder of the city's pre-Hispanic legacy. Xochimilco (Náhuatl for ‘Place where Flowers Grow’) was an early target of Aztec hegemony, probably due to its inhabitants’ farming skills. They piled up vegetation and mud in the shallow waters of Lake Xochimilco, a southern offshoot of Lago de Texcoco, to make the fertile gardens known as chinampas, which later became an economic base of the Aztec empire.
While most of the water in Mexico City was slowly drained by the Spanish, Xochimilco remained untouched and today local farmers are continuing this ancient tradition in order to create food for the city and save the strange-looking axolotl, a type of salamander native to these waters.
On weekends a fiesta atmosphere takes over as the waterways become jammed with boats carrying groups of families and friends. Local vendors and musicians hover alongside the partygoers, serving food and drink (now with alcohol limits). Midweek, the mood is much calmer.
9. World-beating cuisine
In recent years Mexico City has emerged as a major destination for culinary travelers, as Mexican chefs win the sort of praise formerly reserved for their counterparts in New York and Paris. Even street food has been refined for a growing trend of boutique food trucks, gourmet markets and converted buildings.
The trendiest cafes, ample vegan options and hottest restaurants for contemporary cuisine show up in Roma, centered on Álvaro Obregón and from there along Orizaba, which is bookended by two plazas loaded with restaurants. Picturesque Colima caters to fine dining.
Pujol and Quintonil regularly make their way onto lists of the world's best restaurants and it's not hard to see why. Their menus combine Mexican ingredients and culinary traditions with cutting-edge innovations.
10. Lucha Libre
Line up next to locals to cheer on the masked heroes at the lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) bouts. One of Mexico City’s two wrestling venues, the 17,000-seat Arena México is taken over by a circus atmosphere each week, with flamboyant luchadores (wrestlers) such as Místico and Sam Adonis going at each other in tag teams or one-on-one. There are three or four bouts, building up to the headline match. Intermissions feature folkloric dancers. Tickets are nearly always available at the door.
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