I’ve made no secret of my love affair with Mexico and Mexico City is the place that made it happen. I’ve visited enough times to know my love is here to stay. Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, I’ve come up with a few things you must do when visiting. Be careful: you might just fall in love too.
Must do #1 Ride the Turibus
One of the things I always tell first timers to do when visiting Mexico City is ride the turibus. You might think riding the bright red doubledecker bus is just too touristy. But let’s face it- you are a tourist and Mexico City is large. 21 million large. Utilizing the the bus allows you to see neighborhoods you might not get to see otherwise. It also gives you a nice overview of the city and takes you to some really amazing points of interest. Bonus, if you choose the hop on/hop off tour option, it’s a very cost effective way to see the city.
Most of the tours also take you on the Paseo de la Reforma. Probably the most famous street in Mexico City, the Reforma is a wide European style boulevard that cuts through the city, highlighting some of it’s best features and buildings. There is art, lush green parks and the popular, commemorative Monuments, placed strategically in the traffic circles.
It’s super easy to catch the bus from various locations and you can ride every day of the year. There are many tour options, including themed tours and night tours. For those of you that have been more than once, last year I took the night tour of the Reforma and the monuments. I loved seeing the city in a different perspective and lit up at night. Check the Turibus website for offers and prices.
Must do #2 El Zocalo
Mexico City has some really beautiful neighborhoods- Polanco, Roma and Condessa, to name a few. But the true heart of Mexico City is the Historic Center that includes it’s main square or El Zocalo. The largest square in Mexico and third largest in the world, it’s been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the area upon which the city and it’s entire civilization, dating back to the Aztecs, was built.
Since it is so large and serves as a main gathering place, the Zocalo serves many purposes: political, spiritual, and artistic. From art and food festivals to gardens and traditional dance ceremonies or even protests, there’s always something exciting going on.
The Zocalo is also the center of government in Mexico City. Must see buildings includes the National Palace, where the President reenacts the call to war or “el grito” that triggered the Mexican War of Independence every September 15.
Another building must see in the Zocalo is the detailed and ornate Metropolitan Cathedral. The original cathedral dates back to 1573, and other sections were added in subsequent years. With twenty five bells, sixteen chapels and two of the biggest organs in the Americas, it’s huge. It’s also on list of 100 most endangered sites because of dropping water tables and sinking. This is due to the fact that Mexico City was basically built on a lake.
While the Zocolo is a definite must do, it’s what’s under the Zocalo that brings us to #3.
Must do #3 Templo Mayor
Long before Mexico City as we know it was built, there was Tenochtitlan, home to the ruling Aztecs or the Mexica people. When the city was conquered by the Cortes and the Spaniards in 1519, the Templo Mayor, their main temple for worship, was ransacked and torn down. Wanting to erase the evidence of the Aztecs, The Spaniards built over these Aztec structures.
While existence of the temples were never forgotten and objects were found from time to time, excavation wasn’t a priority until, in the late 70’s, when the Mexican electric company discovered a large disc from the 15th century. That discovery caught the attention of the right people and excavation work was started in earnest.
To date, they’ve found thousands of objects and the work is still ongoing. The indoor covered Templo Mayor Museum, near the ruins, houses some of the objects. You can visit that museum (for less than $4 USD) and then wander around the site outdoors on a series of trails that have been built for maximum viewing.
You can see the disc that was discovered in the 70’s on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
It’s quite a sight to see the Aztec ruins in the middle of the city, knowing that you are looking at the ruins of what the Spaniards saw when they came to conquer Mexico City.
Must do #4 Plaza Garibaldi
While Mexico is credited with the origin of many music genres, no doubt Mariachi is it’s soundtrack of life. For this reason, no visit to Mexico City would be complete without visiting Plaza Garibaldi. Roaming mariachi bands travel from all over Mexico to Mexico City, just to be able to sing to the people that visit. While traditional mariachi bands consist of at least two violins, two trumpets, one Spanish guitar, one vihuela or a high-pitched, five-string guitar, you will find groups of all sizes in Plaza Garibaldi.
Located near the Historic Center, it’s just a short walk from the Zocalo. Open all day and night, the real fun and carnival atmosphere doesn’t start until after 10 pm. There are cantinas, restaurants and street food, as well as murals featuring famous Mexican singers.
If you’ve always wanted to be serenaded by a mariachi but are unsure of what song to request, here’s a few of my favorites Mexican classics that are easy to pronounce if you don’t speak Spanish:
- Mexico Lindo y Querido
- Mujeres Divinas
- El Rey
- El Ultimo Beso
- Volver Volver
Must do #5 Eat Churros
You can eat churros in a lot of countries but there’s something extra special about eating churros in a Churreria as cute as El Moro and that has been around since 1935.
El Moro was opened by a Spaniard living in Mexico who longed for the churros he used to get in his hometown. He wanted them so much, he opened his own restaurant and named it after the Arabic or Moor, who made the churros back in Spain. El Moro was born.
If you’ve never had them, churros are basically flour, water and salt. Once fried to a golden crisp brown, they are rolled in sugar and sometimes cinnamon. Crispy on the outside but dense and chewy on the inside. To get even more of a sugar high, order one of the eight hot chocolates available for sipping and dipping.
El Moro has five locations, open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. So when the craving hits in the middle of the night, there’s no excuse.
Must do #6: Visit a Museum
If you are the type of person who doesn’t usually visit museums when you travel, you might want to reconsider when in Mexico City. There are said to be around 150 museums in the city. With all those to choose from, it should be easy finding something that appeals to everyone.
The National Museum of Art, the Museo Nacional de Culturas and the Museo Soumaya are all exceptional museums that I’ve been to.
Museo Soumaya is the museum I visited most recently and is pictured below. As you can see, the exterior is so gorgeous! At six stories tall and covered by 16,000 aluminum tiles, it’s a photographer’s dream. You might be tempted to take your photos and not go inside.
But you should go inside. There are works from Monet, Renoir, Degas, Rivera and van Gogh, just to mention a few. Among the sculptures, gold and silver items, the museum has almost an entire floor devoted just to old coins, medals and banknotes.
They also have temporary exhibits and shows. When I was there, they were presenting a show based on different types of dance, with elaborate costumes and really fun music.
The museum is located in Nuevo Polanco and admission is free. There is also a cafeteria and a museum store in the property.
Must do #7: El Torre LatinoAmericana
As one of the world’s first skyscrapers to have been built on land prone to earthquakes, The Latin American Tower was the tallest building in Mexico City for many years. While it’s no longer the city’s tallest, it’s still worth a visit for it’s impressive views. Most notably you get a great view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
At 44 stories high, there is a platform for viewing on the top floor and on the 37th floor, there is a restaurant and bar.
You can also learn about the history of the tower in two museums on the premises.
Open every day from 9 am to 10 pm, admission is $120 MXN which is a little less than $7 USD at the current exchange rate.
“Taking it as a whole, Mexico is a grand city, and,
as Cortes truly said, its situation is marvelous”
Edward Burnett Tylor
Mexico City has an abundance of things to see and do. Way more than the seven I listed. When I was making my list, I tried to come up with different things than what I normally see on other lists about Mexico City.
A few other things not mentioned here but that are very much worth doing are:
- Palacio de Bellas Artes
- Chupultepec Park
- La Casa de Azulejos
- Street food
- Alemeda Central
- Teotihuacan & the Pyramids (outside Mexico City)
So what are you waiting for? Have you booked your ticket to Mexico City yet?
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