No, it’s not New York City— Mexico City boasts a population of 8.5 million and endless things to do.
I spent a week a Mexico City and barely scratched the surface, exploring a few of its many neighborhoods and major sites. Most people skip Mexico City and straight for Cancun— don’t— you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful museums, churches and breathtaking archeological sites in the country.
These are a few of the unmissable sites, as well as some quirky favorites.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Perhaps the city’s most iconic landmark, the Palacio de Bellas Artes stuns visitors with its gorgeous facade– and I’ll let you in on a secret, the best view is from Don Porfirio Cafe, a great place to grab a snack or hot drink. Here you can take in the views of the Palacio and surrounding Alameda Central, the oldest public park in the Western Hemisphere.
But you’d be missing out if you didn’t see a show inside, this beaux-arts wonder offers biweekly traditional Mexican dances. For 1h30, you’ll be led through the history of Mexico and experience the dances of both indigenous, Spanish colonial and folk performances. If you’re lucky, you might even get pulled up out of your seat! See the box office for tickets, you’ll want to book in advance. And while you’re inside, check out some of the Diego Riviera murals and other contemporary art on display.
Museums and Art
I’m a museum nerd, so when I found out Mexico City has over 150 museums I got a bit excited but didn’t know where to start.
For culture/ethnology and archaeology, definitely check out The National Musuem of Anthropology, which has an enormous collection of everything from giant Aztec stone artifacts to traditional Oaxaca clothing. It’s also all housed in an architecturally-stunning building.
If you’re a fan of Diego Riviera, you can’t miss his murals inside the National Palace and Chapultepec Castle, massive folk-style pieces depicting Mexicos history from the 1600s to the Mexican Revolution.
The Palacio des Bellas Artes also features some of his work, and if you aren’t satisfied after those, then you can also check the Diego Rivera museum. We opted out and instead went to the Frida Kahlo museum, which is inside the home they lived in together.
The best collection of Diego and Frida’s work however, is at the Museo Dolores Olmedo.
For general Mexican art, from all periods, visit the National Art Museum (MUNAL), which showcases Mexican realism, impressionism, and neoclassical sculpture, as well as some contemporary art in their permanent collection.
Vibrant boats drift along this ancient Aztec canal south of Mexico City. Hop on with some friends for a ride, where you’ll pass floating mariachi bands, cerveza-salesmen and merchants with wooden dinghies full of flower crowns.
Boating down the canal makes for a great beginning to your weekend of partying with friends, or a lazy Sunday afternoon with the family. Xochimilco is a popular spot for bachelorette parties, and it’s not hard to see why.
There are two places to catch a boat, but I’d recommend Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas, where the rate are less expensive, its a little less touristy and the trajineros aren’t as rude. Worth the trek. Go with a group to split the cost, as most skippers won’t let you join larger parties.
This up-and-coming neighborhood in Mexico City is a great place to try traditional food– I don’t mean tacos or quesadillas, there are some restaurants with nothing but giant insects on the menu. (No thanks!)
Be sure to sample any of the many Aztec-style dishes, which are Mexican specialties you won’t find in restaurants in the U.S., as well as mole.
Mole is a southern Mexican dip made from many ingredients (a mix of chilis, chocolate, beans, tomatoes and other fruit, spices, and really whatever else is laying around– just make sure to ask if the house mole has chicken broth or not, some places use non-veg ingredients for flavor). It’s a little bit of an acquired taste, but its the national dish so it deserves a shot!
The Old Town: Centro Historico
Mexico City’s Centro Historico is full of gorgeous government palaces, pedestrian streets, shopping and well as monuments and museums. There are often events taking place in Zocalo square. I was lucky to stumble upon a traditional Aztec dance, where hundreds of dancers were praying. On the side, shamans in large headdresses played instruments and performed ritual blessings on locals.
There’s also the impressive 16th century Baroque Cathedral, as well the Templo Mayor, remains of the most important Aztec religious site in the city. You can easily spend an entire day in this neighborhood.
Walk away from the square, down Moneda street and you’ll find neighborhood of colorful houses and bustling street-food and produce markets. Restaurants in the square itself are pricy, so I recommend grabbing a bite here instead.
Mexico City is a lesser-traveled part of this country, but should not be missed. A melting pot of rich cultures, the largest city in the western hemisphere boasts enough sites for at least a week of exploration. Next time, now that I’ve seen the major sites, I’m looking forward to checking out Roma and more of the local neighborhoods.
Also– while you’re in Mexico City, you’ve got to visit Teotihuacan and a pulqueria, but those deserve their own post. Subscribe or follow me on instagram @tristans_expeditions for more!