A friend told me that Al and I were considered to be the experts on Mexico City. And since we’ve been there at least a dozen times, I guess we are.
He was going there for six days in April. What would we recommend?
Ooh, a challenge! So here are the things I would recommend in roughly the order I would recommend them to a first-time visitor to ‘el D.F.’, as the locals call it.
Of course, in checking out the goings on in the city I found a number of things I haven’t seen and would love to. If I haven’t been there but it sounds interesting I have marked it with a *NBT (Not Been There).
Hey Phil, maybe six days aren’t enough. And, do you want some company?
Quick note: Most of the 150 museums in Mexico City are closed Mondays. And it turns out the entire Chapultepec Park is closed too.
1. Historic Centre (Centro Histórico) of Mexico City.
The Palacio National, located in the Zócalo (Main Plaza), has amazing original murals by Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, Fernando Leal, Ramón Alva, Fermin Revueltas and José Clemente Orozco. Templo Mayor, Aztec ruins discovered while putting in a metro line. An archeological site with an excellent museum.
*NBT Mexican Wrestling, the Luchas Libres. Most nights but Friday nights at 8:30 are usually prime. Matches are held at Arena Mexico. Tickets can be purchased from Ticketmaster.
2. Chapultepec Park, the Hill of Grasshoppers.
1600-acre park filled with a zoo, carnival rides, museums, a castle, and more.
- Museum of Anthropology; this was the number 1 sight back in 1976, the first time I arrived in the city, and is still highly-rated today. It’s huge, filled with pre-Hispanic history and I remember feeling totally overwhelmed. There are voladores (flyers) out front. (mna.inah.gob.mx)
- There is a Modern Art Museum along with the Tamayo Museum, both featuring the work of Mexico’s greatest modern artists.
- *NBT Fuente de Tlaloc, Bosque de Chapultepec II Sección. Fountain designed by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
- *NBT Casa Luis Barragán: This contemporary home, design by architect Luis Barragan, was completed in 1948 . Today, the museum contains his residency and studio, just as the architect left it before his death in 1988. Note: need to book ahead! (casaluisbarragan.org)
3. Teotihuacan, City of the Gods.
A huge Meso-American complex open 365 days a year. It is located outside of Mexico City; go there by local bus rather than tour group, just for the experience! Buses make the trip from Mexico City’s north bus terminal to the Pyramids about every 30-60 minutes.
I highly recommend to get there right as it opens. If you do you can simply walk up the pyramid of the sun. Once the tour buses start pulling up it will easily be a 2-hour lineup wrapping right around the pyramid to get up. It’s even busier on the weekends. There’s a Grotto Restaurante nearby with tour-bus-sized tables and decent food.
4. San Ángel & Coyacán, two pricey suburbs where communists and intellectuals used to roam
Experience has told me that the prices in the cafés of these two neighbourhoods are astounding, four times the prices near the Zócalo.
That said, Lonely Planet has recommended the *NBT San Ángel Inn just across the street from the Museo Casa: “Now housing a prestigious restaurant, the former pulque hacienda is historically significant as the place where Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata agreed to divide control of the country in 1914.”
I might take a peek but wouldn’t eat there unless the prices are listed. As noted, check the prices before ordering; even a coffee or una cerveza in these neighbourhoods can seriously set you back!
Coyoacán has Frida Kahlo’s House and the *NBT Leon Trotsky House. Near Frida’s house is the National Museum of Popular Culture which I love.
Recommended by Huffington Post: Tostadas Coyoacan, in the market, offers tostadas with a myriad of tasty toppings. Because it was recommended by a major news source several other eateries have taken almost the same name. We went to the ‘original’ one, very good and inexpensive. They don’t serve beer but you can buy it in the nearby 7/11 and drink it with your yummy tostado.
5. The Best of the Rest of the City
*NBT Soumaya Museum, is a swoop of silver, designed by the Mexican architect Fernando Romero, with a collection of art works spanning 3,000 years.
Palacio de Bellas Artes, early 20th-century architecture located in the Centro Histórico.
*NBT The Dolores Olmedo Musuem complex features a collection of pre-Hispanic, colonial, folk, and contemporary art, including a large collection of works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Deigo Rivera Museum.
The Metro. We go every where on the Metro; it’s the best 5 peso ride in the world! Avoid rush hours; be very aware of pickpockets – I wear a money belt when I take it, hold onto my camera and phone – and have fun. Some of the stations have Aztec ruins in them, another a science exhibit with stars overhead and one line has a station that opens directly into the massive La Merced market where we bought some kitchen essentials: a lime-squeezer and a mojalcate. There is so much stuff here. Busiest on the weekend; try visiting it during the week.
6. Xochimilco, the Floating Gardens, best on Sunday.
Xochimilco, formerly the floating gardens of the Aztecs; now a floating festival on Sundays when Mexican families cruise down the waterways on boats – when we were there we joined up with a mother and daughter who couldn’t afford a boat on their own. There was just the four of us on a boat meant for a large family and we had a great time. Boats full of Mariachis who would play requests and smaller boats buzzed around selling snacks and food!
*NBT ‘La Isla de la Muñecas’, or the Island of the Dolls, creepy-looking place in Xochimilco.
7. University and Nature Reserve.
UNESCO Heritage site, founded 1551. Current campus was designed in the late 1940s as a symbol of post-revolutionary Mexico. Mosaic Wall on library; also mosaic exterior on the Olympic stadium.
Reserva Ecológica Pedregal San Ángel: botanical gardens at the UNAM are free, open until four pm. The dark volcanic rock creates a dramatic backdrop for the cacti that grow there.
8. *NBT Tlalpan, a colonial town within a city.
Take the Turi Bus to Tlalpan or the bus south on Insurgentes until the Fuentes Brotantes stop. The market in this colonial town offers many handmade items and fabrics. The Tlalpan Chapel was designed by Luis Barragán.
9. Outside of Mexico City.
10. Puebla, beneath the Popocatepetl Volcano.
Just two hours from ‘el D.F.’ is the colonial city of Puebla making it a day trip but it’s there’s enough going on that you might want to stay awhile. The historic center of Puebla has preserved baroque cathedrals, palaces, and azulejos (tiled houses) dating back to the 16th century. Buses travel to this UNESCO Heritage city from TAPO Bus Terminal in Mexico City.
One of my favourite things to do in Mexico is to stay in an interesting town and then go on by local bus to explore nearby villages. Puebla has a bunch but I have *NBT: Cholula (a ‘Pueblo Mágico’ under a snow-covered volcano with hundreds of churches; a Talavera Pottery Museum; Container City, a complex of galleries, bars and shops; and the world’s largest pyramid), Tochimilco, Atlixco (under the snow-covered slopes of Popocatépetl volcano), Zacatlán de las Manzanas plus two more ‘Pueblos Mágicos’, that are always worth exploring: Cuetzalan & Pahuatlán.
If you’re thinking of heading to Puebla check out my menu from the state of Puebla featuring specialities of the region.
Tacos Pastor at one of my favourite taquerias in Mexico D.F. It’s near the Zócalo; I can’t remember the name but perhaps this photo will help you recognize the cook!Speaking of street food, Mark Wiens describes himself as a full-time travel eater. He writes one of the best food guides around with the bonus that his selections are usually inexpensive and always authentic! https://migrationology.com/travel-guides/mexico-city/
Our favourite place for breakfast in the Zócalo area is the oldest bakery in the city: La Vasconia, baking since 1886. They have trays and tongs, and we select pastries, pay for them at the cash register, then go around the corner where there are a few tables set up and order Café con leche or Chocolate caliente. They also serve eggs in various Mexican styles, and for lunch there is a rotisserie with the most amazing-smelling chickens.
Remember to try out all the unfamiliar exotic fruits, most of them are delicious!