The largest city in the Americas, Mexico City is not a place that you can see in 2 days; it has 16 different boroughs and is home to over 8 million in the city (and over of 21 in the greater Metropolitan area). There are so many unique parts of town worth exploring, so much art and history that dates back to the Aztecs and before. There is a lot to see in the Valley of Mexico. To truly get a sense of how big the city is, take a trip high above to the Torre de Latinoamericana, where you can see endless city stretching off in all directions.
Fortunately, we gave ourselves a full two and a half days, so we had time to see everything… Like all major cities in the world, it’s impossible to become a local unless you are. It would take years of living here to truly understand Mexico City. As a city that draws in residents from around Mexico, the city embraces and absorbs the best of the country has to offer all in one place. The quality and selection of food here were unparalleled.
Mexico City is as incredible as you have heard; it has a definite buzz that is hard to grab hold of when you’re just visiting but leaves you with a sense that you at least got to glimpse at its greatness.
You will never see Mexico City in a day, so don’t try. Instead, try to find a few key things you want to explore or find a different part of town, and just wander until you’re amazed. We will have to visit this city on several more occasions to truly understand Mexico City, but we did a lot in our first two and a half days here, but due to our limited time this will always be just a snapshot of the city.
The vast range of tourist attractions in the city are too long to list – from the ruins of Teotihuacan to the top of the Torre Latinoamerica – you will not be disappointed and around every corner, you will find new ways to be impressed by Mexico City.
The view of Palacio de Bellas Artes from above. 2017
We strongly dislike the idea of declaring that these are “the best” or “most important” things to see in Mexico City, as lists are always subjective and each visitor will have a different list based on their experiences and expectations. By the next time we get back from our next visit to Mexico City, our list will probably look much different than it does today.
So, in no particular order, these are the “6 Incredible things we did in Mexico City”.
6 Incredible things we did in Mexico City:
1) Palacio de Bellas Artes
One of the most beautiful and stunning buildings in the city, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is a concert hall still used today for major events and movie premieres and hosts art exhibits from around Mexico.
The Palace of Fine Arts was completed in 1934 and is an important cultural landmark in the city. It is located on the western edge of the historic city center, and is surrounded by the Alameda Central Park and is the perfect place to start your tour of the city.
The outside of this building is stunning, made of Marble that sparkles in the sunshine, and a distinct orange and yellow roof you can spot from a distance while you approach. It is designed in the Art Nouveau style and looks like an opulent palace. It is sometimes known as the “Cathedral of Art in Mexico” as it hosts important theatre, opera and other shows in the massive concert hall.
Inside you will find many great art pieces from some of Mexico’s most famous artists, including the spectacular murals that we discovered inside, such as the Carnival of Mexican Life by Diego Rivera. The inside is decorated in an Art Deco theme and is an incredible achievement in itself, especially the ceiling of the dome.
When we visited the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the concert hall was closed as they were preparing for the world premiere of the new Disney movie Coco, and there were people busy putting together last minute art pieces and decorations for the big event. It was definitely worth the visit.
2) Torre Latinoamericana Building
It’s hard to feel how big Mexico City is until you’ve seen it from above. Climbing the 44-story Torre Latinoamericana Building is a popular way to first experience the size of Mexico City.
The building was completed in 1956, and for many years was the tallest in the city, standing at 182 meters (nearly 600 feet). It is recognized as an architectural landmark, as it was built to withstand earthquakes in the highly active seismic location of the city.
It has performed well, withstanding many earthquakes, including the 1985 earthquake, which registered as an 8.1 and violently shook the city, causing massive damage and killing over 5000 people. The Torre Latinoamericana was untouched.
The viewing platform at the top of the tower is the place to visit. From here you can see the endless city stretch off in all directions. You can see distant skyscrapers along Reforma, and the views of both Plaza Zocolo and the Palacio de Bellas Artes from above are incredible. From here, you can begin to understand the sheer size of the city and recognize that you’re not going to see the whole city in one visit.
3) Plaza Zocolo & Historic Center
Plaza Zocolo – the Plaza of Independence – is one of the central locations in the heart of Mexico City, and the entire section of the Historic Center of Mexico City is UNESCO World Heritage designated.
Where else can you see history dating from the Aztecs, Spanish Colonial and modern-day Mexico, all within a few blocks of each other? Here you will see cathedrals and colonial buildings, famous Aztec ruins at Plaza Mayor surrounded by an ever-evolving city and growing cit
Plaza Zocolo is the centerpiece of the historic center, and is the largest in Latin America, able to hold over 100,000 people. This is where the Spanish built the center of their city when they began what would be modern Mexico city in the 16th century. The Historic Center of Mexico contains the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the aforementioned Aztec Ruins at Templo Mayor, amongst other great attractions.
The main street that connects the Zocolo to the Palacio de Bellas Artes is Calle Madero, a pedestrian-only street lined with restaurants and shopping. Before you visit Zocolo, first take the time to climb to the top of the Torre Latinoamericana Building, as you get a great view of this area from above.
4) Paseo de la Reforma
Paseo de la Reforma cuts diagonally across the city, and today is home to some of the tallest buildings in the city. This major avenue is modeled after the grand boulevards of Europe and is a living part of the energy of CDMX.
In the 1860’s, during the French Intervention, the government of Benito Juarez was overthrown and the new Emperor Maximillian began building the Paseo de la Reforma, which stretched from the city center to his imperial residence Chapultepec Castle located to the south-west.
Its original name was the “Paseo de la Emperatriz” – Promenade of the Empress – but when the Juarez government was later restored, it was renamed after the Guerra Reforma (Reform War). Today this long road is home to some of the tallest buildings in Mexico – including the Torre Reforma, the tallest building in Mexico at 246 meters (over 800 feet).
The street is used for parades, protests, and celebrations, and forms an integral part of the city’s make up today. The street is lined with tourist attractions, luxurious restaurants and hotels, office buildings, public art exhibitions, and worth taking a walk along during a visit to Mexico City.
5) Museum of Popular Art
There are many different museums and art galleries worth exploring in the heart of the city and the “Museo de Artes Populares” was our favourite.
The museum is built into an old fire hall and has a large indoor plaza with balconies looking down from each of the 4 floors. The museum aims to protect Mexican Handicrafts and folk art while promoting the work of modern-day Mexican Artists.
The museum has done an amazing job of collecting and promoting the vast history of art in the country. They are most famous for hosting the annual “La Noche de Los Alebrijes” – Night of the Alebrijes – a parade of massive fantastic creatures made of cardboard or wood and painted in bright colours. This tradition began in 2007 and features art from Central Mexico and Oaxaca.
We visited in November, so much of the artwork being featured during the Noche de Los Alebrijes – artwork that was destined to end up at the museum – was instead still on display along Paseo de Reforma, where they would be used in the parade. We visited just before the Day of the Dead, so there were many skulls and other “death” themed displays.
Teotihuacan means “the place where the gods were created”. It was a religious and ceremonial center for a long lost civilization that pre-dates the Aztecs. This ruin complex is located about an hour outside of the city, and worth dedicating at least half a day, or more if you have the time.
Both of us have visited impressive ruins from around the world, from Machu Picchu to Tikal, and the Pyramids and architecture of this ancient city are equally impressive. Not much is know about the original inhabitants of the city. It pre-dates the Aztecs but influenced all of the civilizations that would come after it. The city was massive and what remains today is a huge sprawling complex; you could easily spend hours wandering around and still not appreciate everything.
The two main structures – the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon – are beautiful examples of the building techniques and capabilities. Between the two is the avenue of the dead, and the complex is massive. We didn’t have time to do everything, but we definitely recommend visiting as soon as possible, as it seems likely that they will close the staircase soon, in order to preserve the ruins.