There are few cities in the world that can justifiably boast such a rich (and often troubled) history as Mexico City. From the ancient Aztec era and the country’s conquest by Spain to the Mexican Revolution, there is almost (make that ‘actually’) too much to try to cram in during one visit. We suggest scheduling in visits to specific neighbourhoods – one per day should see you right.
Since its recovery from being damaged by an earthquake in 1985, Juárez has undergone quite the renaissance. The historic buildings that are still standing – textbook examples of gorgeous urban architecture – are now home to an intriguing and diverse array of cafés, bars and boutiques. If you’re looking for nightlife (and, frankly, who isn’t?), then this uber-cool hub will hit the spot.
HOTEL: GRAN HOTEL CIUDAD DE MEXICO
There are iconic hotels and iconic hotels – and then there is Gran Hotel Ciudad De Mexico. Located in the centre of the city, this is Art Nouveau architecture at its most grandiose and luxurious. From its exemplary Tiffany-style stained glass ceiling (imported from France in 1908) to its incredible Louise XV chandelier this place is a stunner.
ART: MUSEO FRIDA KAHLO
Because of the building’s cobalt-blue walls, this museum – dedicated to the life and work of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo – is also known as the Blue House. Originally the family home of Kahlo, contained therein are the artefacts of a painful but creatively expressive life: from her distinctive art work and a personal art collection to personal mementos. The museum is one of the most visited in Mexico City.
TOURIST SIGHT: TEOTIHUACAN
Located about 40km northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan is an ancient site (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987) that is the most visited archaeological zone in Mexico (as well as being one of the world’s most important). Known nominally as ‘the birthplace of the gods’, Teotihuacan covers a surface area of over 80 sq km, so there’s enough ground to cover for a perfect educational day trip.
SWEET TREAT: EL MORO CHURRERÍA
Founded in 1935 by Spanish immigrant Francisco Iriate, this foodie famous churrería is renowned for its constant supply of churros (fried dough pastry shaped as thin pipes). The way the churros are created is alone worth a visit here: the chefs spiral wet skinny dough into hot oil, flip the dough, and then cut into strips. Add either sugar, cinnamon, and/or hot chocolate for a breakfast/between-meal snack.
DINNER: LO OPERA
Talk about the grandest architecture in a colonial restaurant you have ever seen! Periodic polished furnishings, stained-glass windows, tiled floors, lattice ceilings and a strong sense of history pervade Restaurant Le Opera. While you’re perusing the menus, it might be no harm to pop into the adjoining bar (founded in the 1870s) to see some bullet holes left by a previous visit in 1910 by Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa.
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ARCHITECTURE: MUSEO SOUMAYA
A non-profit cultural museum that comprises two buildings (Plaza Loreto and Plaza Carso), Museo Soumaya has an astonishing 65,000-plus works of art from over 30 centuries – from pre-historic Hispanic cultures to the likes of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. The collection is regarded as one of world’s most complete of its type. Designed by Fernando Romero (the son-in-law of the museum’s founder, Carlos Slim), the museum is the most visited in Mexico
SHOPPING: MERCADO COYOACÁN
Coyoacán (translated as the “place of coyotes”) has the claim to fame of being influenced by two of Mexico’s most famous artists: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. That’s part of the reason why shopping at the Mercado is so fulfilling – if you’re looking for great local art, fabrics, handmade goods and Frida Kahlo t-shirts then they’re right under your nose. The same could be said for the aromas from the amazing food (seafood and barbacoa, especially) on display.
MUSEUM: TEMPLO MAYOR
Historically, the Templo Mayor was the primary temple of the inhabitants of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan (which is now Mexico City), and so the titular museum is dedicated to the display of many thousands of objects and artefacts that were found in various excavating projects over the years. The four-storey museum has eight main exhibition halls, each dedicated to a different theme.
PEOPLE WATCHING: PLAZA GARIBALDI
In downtown Mexico City, between Calle República de Honduras and Calle República de Peru, Plaza Garibaldi hosts what many regard as the city’s primary people-watching spot. It is also home to mariachi bands, so when you sit down at any table outside any café, bar or restaurant, don’t be surprised to be cajoled into paying for a vibrant tune or two. Optimum times of the week to experience the delights of mariachi are Friday and Saturday, from midnight onwards. As for the Plaza itself – it’s a brilliant place to visit but keep your wits about you.
FOOD TOUR: EAT LIKE A LOCAL
Your tour guide is more like a cool friend than an officious pointer, with an approach that keeps independent street food and market vendors at the front. It is also a sustainable operation, with a portion of the funds received from bookings going towards buying English language lessons for children and providing financial skills to single mothers and women in the markets.
BAR: SALÓN SAN LUIS
It’s quite simple: you can’t visit Mexico City without, at very least, looking at people dance the night away. Enveloped in shiny lights, Salón San Luis is a classic, old-school salon/ballroom that quickly comes alive with people dancing to an orchestra playing the best, most atmospheric salsa and cumbia you’ve ever heard. Fancy taking a trip back to the 1950s? Step right up.
ART: DIEGO RIVERA, PALACIO NACIONAL
The National Palace is the seat of Mexico’s federal executive, but the building is perhaps better known for a mural by Diego Rivera – the History of Mexico. Located on the second floor of the building, Rivera worked on the mural from 1929 to 1935, depicting in vivid scenes centuries of turmoil as experienced by his people.
LUNCH: MERCADO ROMA
Foodies, beware: you could get stuck in here for pleasurable hour after hour. This upscale food market opened a few years ago, and takes its cues from the kind of streamlined food halls you would find in New York City or Los Angeles. Enjoy gourmet produce and artisanal lip-smackers of every shape and variety from over 50 farm-to-fork vendors.
HERITAGE: THE FLOATING GARDENS OF XOCHIMILCO
It means ‘the place of flowers’, and when you see it you will know why. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Xochimilco consists of a sequence of canals that surround Mexico City. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery as they glide gently along the waterways on trajineras – colourful boats – and discover more about the history of the ancient channels.
Article Written by Tony Clayton Lea