Mexico’s capital is one of the liveliest and largest cities in the world, with a renowned arts and culture scene (an entire district was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site) and some of the best cuisines in the Western Hemisphere. Even better, Mexico City is affordable and safer than you might expect. Sprawling across nearly 60 municipalities, el Ciudad de México promises its visitors an unforgettable stay, perfect for the frugal, culture-loving traveler who feels at home in a large, crowded place.
Much-maligned Mexico City is cleaning up its act these days. Revamped public spaces are springing back to life, the culinary scene is exploding and a cultural renaissance is flourishing. On top of all that, by largely managing to distance itself from the drug war, the nations capital remains a safe haven of sorts.
Photo by aljuarez
History of Mexico City
The city, now known as Mexico City, was founded as Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs in 1325 and a century later became the dominant city-state of the Aztec Triple Alliance, formed in 1430 and composed of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan.
In 1962, at the dawn of the Jet Age, President John F. Kennedy strode across the red-carpeted tarmac of the Mexico City Central Airport into the arms of President Adolfo López Mateos for a traditional abrazo.
It was Kennedy’s third time to go to Latin America for a state visit, as he built support for the Alliance for Progress, his pan-hemispheric social and economic cooperation plan. Between all the standard stops, including an honorary luncheon at the National Palace and a bilateral meeting at the Mexican presidential residence, his hosts squeezed in a tour of Unidad Independencia, a massive new housing complex, on the southern outskirts of the capital.
Best Time To Go To Mexico City
The best time to visit Mexico City is between March and May, even though the streets are pretty crowded this time of the year. Your trade-off is beautiful weather, especially considering the city’s winters can be chilly and the summers can be rainy. You’ll want to prepare yourself for the high elevation, as Mexico City sits about 7,382 feet above sea level, by drinking plenty of water, slathering on sunscreen, and taking it easy (and limiting alcohol intake) on your first few days.
Top 15 great things to do in Mexico City, Mexico
La Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls)
Photo by FlyingCrimsonPig
The world-renowned La Isla de la Munecas or the Island of the Dolls is one of the scariest places on the planet, but there is a real tragedy behind it.
Hundreds of photographers and thrill-seekers travel to the haunted Island of the Dolls every year, but it was never meant to be a tourist attraction. Eventually, Don Julian transformed the entire island into a kind of bizarre, (for some) horrifying, doll-infested wonderland.
Mercado de Sonora
Photo by bonus1up
For just about anything that ails you, theres a solution in the Sonora Market, the largest esoteric market in Mexico and is a must-see for those interested in mysticism. Local vendors have an answer to any of life’s daily troubles in the form of a magic soap, a holy water spray, or ritual pamphlets.
The market is located in the Colonia Merced Balbuena neighborhood of the Venustiano Carranza borough. This area used to have exclusively narrow streets, but a number of main thoroughfares (called ejes) were built, around the same time as the market, and now surround most of the complex. While there were many changes, the old, narrow streets are still behind the market.
La Casa Azul
Photo by Helga Salinas
From the outside, La Casa Azul is a simple structure in the Coyoacan district that would likely be overlooked if not for its striking shade of blue. But beyond the sky-colored concrete lies a world that once brought two of Mexico’s most famous artists into contact with Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
Located in one of the most beautiful and old districts of Mexico City, Casa Azul was converted into a museum in 1958, four years after the painter’s death. Today it is one of the busiest museums in the Mexican capital.
Cafebreria El Pendulo
Photo by nan palmero
El Péndulo elevates the café-bookstore concept exceptionally well, inviting you to linger for hours over coffee and pastries in its large, two-level cafe (there are even tables on the second floor’s balcony). Books in Spanish and English line sagging shelves and you can sit in precarious piles on the floor. Staff will happily help you search for music or a movie from their extensive inventory of CDs and DVDs.
The store will stir up your imagination, or at least give you something to look at as you stir your coffee.
Photo by Artotem
Named from the late wife of its millionaire owner Carlos Slim, the Museo Soumaya is the shimmering highlight in Mexico Citys vast art gallery collection. This museum explores the role of art and culture in human life. It also includes art by luminaries such as the French sculptor Rodin.
Santuario Nacional del Angel de la Santa Muerte
La Santa Muerte is probably the most popular idol in Mexico after Santa Maria de Guadalupe. This attention was condemned by the Vatican, which sees the reverence for the skeleton saint as blasphemous. Suspiciously perceived for sometimes being associated with drug trades and criminality, the Santa Muerte is the idol of the destitute, the one who lost hope and is outcast by the Catholic Church.
5 Altars to the Holy Death
1. Alfarería 12, Col. Morelos
2. National Sanctuary of Santa Muerte, Bravo 35, Col. Morelos
3. Corner of Alhóndiga and Soledad, Center
4. Arteaga almost corner Soto, Col. Guerrero
5. Prairie 20A between Zavala (Uruguay), Centro-Merced
City of Books at Biblioteca Vasconcelos
Photo by Timothy Neesam (GumshoePhotos)
The world is teeming with stunning libraries, but precious few manage to seamlessly cater to design, the people, and history in such an admirable manner as Mexico Citys Biblioteca Vasconcelos.
The president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, inaugurated the library on May 16, 2006. He stated that this was one of the most advanced constructions of the 21st century and that it would be spoken of throughout the world.
Photo by alex.ayala
Coyoacan, a former village and now one of the 16 boroughs of Mexico City, is a historic center. It is a popular place to visit, especially on weekends, because many of the original layouts, plazas, and narrow streets have been preserved and these date from the 16th to the early 20th centuries.
The village, later municipality, of Coyoacan, remained completely independent of Mexico City through the colonial period into the 19th century. In 1857, the area was incorporated into the Federal District when this district was expanded. In 1928, the borough was created when the Federal District was divided into sixteen boroughs.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House Studio Museum
Photo by Pasha Kirillov
House-Studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is one of the most important cultural landmarks of Mexico City, both for being the place of residence and studios of two of the most important artists of the 20th century, as well as being the first construction of the modern movement in the American continent.
The home is, in fact, two separate buildings, a smaller blue one for Frida and a larger white and terracotta-colored one for Diego. Located in one of Rivera’s former studios, this museum has a small collection of his paintings.
Casa de los Azulejos
Photo by Gildardo
The Casa de los Azulejos or “House of Tiles” is an 18th-century palace in Mexico City built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family. The building is distinguished by its facade, which is covered on three sides by blue and white tiles of Puebla state. This beautiful house is covered with tiles, a symbol of success in the colonial era.
The palace remained in private hands until near the end of the 19th century.
Photo by Cuauhtli08
Before Spanish colonization, Templo Mayor served as the religious center for the Aztec people. When Spanish conquerors arrived in the late 14th century, the temple was among those destroyed and built over.
The on-site Museo del Templo Mayor houses a model of Tenochtitlán and artifacts from the site and gives a good overview of Aztec, or Mexica, civilization. Pride of place is given to the great wheel-like stone of Coyolxauhqui (She of Bells on her Cheek), best viewed from the top-floor vantage point.
A quirky and charming restaurant founded by artists. You can come and join with your friends for a good coffee or just a snack. There are also munchies and desserts, hot dogs, chicken wings, nachos, and French fries. For those who prefer a complete meal, there are the salmon specialty with tamarind sauce and the chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese among other options.
Probably the most bizarre, and at the same time the best, restaurant you’ll ever visit is the Minichelista in Mexico City. The space is filled with tiny nooks and crannies where you can dine at a table made from the motorcycle handlebars as you sit in a closet with your date.
Museo Casa de León Trotsky
Photo by @jesusdehesa
This is the house where Trotsky, the exiled Russian leader, lived the final three years of his life in the 1930s.
The Leon Trotsky House Museum (Spanish: Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky), located in the Coyoacán borough of Mexico City, honors Leon Trotsky and an organization that works to promote political asylum. The center of the complex is the house where Trotsky and Natalia Sedova, his second wife, lived from April 1939 to August 1940. It was also where Trotsky was murdered.
Basilica de Guadalupe
Photo by ALEX MARDUK
The hill where the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego is now one of the most visited religious sites in the world. Guadalupe is the patroness of Mexico and is a very important national symbol. In the basilica, you can see the original mantle of Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin with Her miraculous image on it.
The shrine was erected near the Tepeyac Hill, told to be the site where Our Lady of Guadalupe believed to have appeared to Juan Diego. It is also known as La Villa de Guadalupe, or simply La Villa, as it has several churches.
Museo del Objeto del Objeto
The Museo del Objeto del Objeto (Museum of the Object [purpose] of the Object [item]), or MODO, is the first museum in Mexico dedicated to designing and communications. It was opened in 2010 based on a collection of commercial packaging, advertising, graphic arts, common devices, and many other objects dating back to 1810 collected by Bruno Newman over more than 40 years. He deemed the objects beautiful, others original, but all interesting. The museum today holds close to 90,000 objects from the last 200 years.