Mexico City - Attractions
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Mexico City is not easily conquered. You might start with a half-day or full-day city tour, easily arranged upon arrival (cost is $15-30 US per person). Another option is to tackle the city in sectors, devoting a day or two to each area of the city. For most areas, walking is the vest way to explore. English guides are available at many attractions. There are over a dozen first-rate tour operators that provide tours, excursions, and customized outings .For a complete list of operators, see page II-5 & 6 in this Guide. For those wanting to venture further, there are fascinating day and overnight trips to neighboring towns, and the states of Hidalgo, Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, and Tlaxcala. (See MEX-7 and the Puebla/Tlaxcala chapter for more details).

Within Mexico City there are basically three geographic areas of interest:

  1. Historic Center: a compact 60-block sector replete with Aztec and Spanish colonial influence; includes the Zócalo, Avenida Madero/Juárez, the Alameda park, several fine museums and important historic sits. The entire zone was declared a national historic monument in 1980. The U.N recognized the area in 1987 as a "#World Heritage" site. In 1999 the Mexico City Tourism Authority announced a $300 million collaboration with private sector million collaboration with private sector investors to rehabilitate and renovate the area in an effort to entice visitors, raise living standards, and reduce crime.
  2. Paseo de La Reforma/Chapultepec Park: spans several kilometers along the city’s grand east-west, French-inspired avenue; an area with strong European influence; outstanding museums (including the Anthropological Museum, children’s Papalote Museum and Chapultepec Castle) and the stylish Zona Rosa and Polanco areas.
  3. Southern Mexico City: the southern sector includes the National University, ruins of Cuicuilco, the floating gardens of Xochimilco, the colonial neighborhoods of Coyoacán and San Ángel, and several excellent museums.

To fully appreciate the historic spectacle of Mexico City, one needs to begin at the city’s heart: the Zócalo, or main square of the city. From here you can easily walk between several attractions. This area can also be explored aboard new trolley buses that tour the Historic Center. Tours depart from the Museo de la Ciudad (three blocks south of the Zócalo on Av. Pino Suárez). The half-hour tour highlights historic points of interest. Tours depart daily, beginning at 10am (English tour at 11am only).

Built by the Spaniards atop the ruins of the Aztec’s main temple complex, this is the second largest square in the world. For centuries it has been a meeting place and center for religious and political demonstrations and celebrations. It is an imposing, unpretentious square that has witnessed a continuum of historic development since the fourteenth century. When first settled by the Aztecs in 1321, the area was a marshy wetland in the center of an island. The Aztecs developed their majestic capital city on this site, and by the early 1500’s nearly 80 temples, palaces and buildings stood on and around what is today the Zócalo. With the Conquest, Aztec buildings were razed by the Spaniards and their Indian allies. From the rubble, a new city was built. The Spaniard’s audaciously constructed their main religious and governmental buildings on the exact sites used for the same function by the Aztecs. This political ingenuity helped them impose Spanish rule and subjugate the city’s inhabitants. The Zócalo will undergo a major facelift in 2000. Plants, grass and benches are being re-introduced, returning the square to its pre-1950’s appearance. On the east side of the plaza is the imposing National Palace. It occupies the exact site of Moctezuma’s former palace. It is one of the oldest government seats in the world, and still houses the President’s Office and the Ministry of Finance. The original structure dates back to 1693 ; the third floor was added in 1928. Of primary interest are the sweeping, epic Diego Rivera murals that blazon the inner hallways of the building. Rivera worked for six years to complete what is considered his finest work. The vibrant frescoes depict five centuries of Mexican history. There is also an interesting museum of artifacts from the Benito Juárez era (currently being remodeled; reopening winter ‘97/’98). Notice the large bell hanging over the main entrance. It is the bell rung by Father Hidalgo in 1810 in Dolores, Guanajuato to begin the War of Independence against Spain. The mammoth Metropolitan Cathedral was begun in 1572, and not completed for some 250 years. This fact is reflected in the structure’s mosaic of architectural styles. It is the largest church in all of Latin America, and houses many art treasures of the colonial period. (Major interior restoration is currently underway, including the lowering of whole sections of the building.) The Cathedral’s immense horizontal sprawl is accentuated by the fact that the eastern side of the building is sinking into its spongy foundation. The adjoining parish church, El Sagrario was built in 1749 and is an excellent example of the ornate "churrigueresque" (Latin-American baroque) style. Before leaving the main square, stop by the Hotel Majestic for a visit to their roof-top restaurant, offering sweeping views of the Zócalo. Another hotel worth seeing is the stately Gran Hotel, an exquisite example of turn .of .the-century styling. It too is on the squate’s western edge. At the northeast corner of the Zócalo is the incredible Templo Mayor archaeological site and museum. A chance discovery by electrical workers digging for cables in 1978 led to a major excavation of two square city blocks. Here lies the genesis of the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. A series of ramps and walkways takes visitors through the remains of the main ceremonial pyramid of the ancient city. By 1521, the Templo Mayor measured 200 feet in height, and encased six smaller structures built by previous rulers. An excellent museum is nearby, with over 3000 artifacts attractively displayed in 8 salas (rooms), an enormous model depicting the Aztec capital, and a huge carved stone disc of exquisite craftsmanship. Excavation work at this massive site continues. In the fall of 1994 archaeologists announced the discovery of two large chambers containing over 100 feet of decorative carvings painted over 5 centuries ago. A short walk to the south of the Zócalo is the Supreme Court Building, home to a massive mural by José Clemnte Orozco. Further south, at the corner of Pino Suárez and República del Salvador streets, are two interesting sites. The Museum of Mexico City is housed in a stately eighteenth century mansion. Notice the enormous serpent´s head at the base of the building’s foundation, believed to have come from a temple that once occupied the site. Across the street is the Iglesia de Jesús, final resting place for conqueror Hernán Cortés. His remains are in a vault near the main altar. Just outside the church you’ll also find a monument depicting by Moctezuma as he entered the city on Nov. 9, 1519.

Just to the north of the Zócalo, at the corner of Argentina and Rep. De Venezuela streets is the Ministry of Education, Home to Diego Rivera’s first great mural work. Nearby is the Plaza Santo Domingo, historically the city’s second most important plaza. Surrounding the plaza were three of the city’s second most important plaza. Surrounding the plaza were three of the city’s most powerful institutions: the customs house, a Dominican church, and the office of the Inquisition. Today the colonial archways lining the western side of the square are home to dozens of scribes, who can be hired to compose anything from love letters to business documents.

A block away on Calle Justo Sierra is the Museo de San Ildefonso. Housed in a former Jesuit college that dates to 1749, this museum features works of colonial era painters and 20th century Mexican muralists (Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros). An enormous Mayan art exhibit is open here.

Heading west from the Zócalo along Avenida Madero you´ll go through several important sites. Lining the street are several colonial mansions, and dozens of silver shops. The Palace of Iturbide is an elegant eighteen century building wonderfully restored into a museum. Next door is the Church of San Francisco, the site of the city´s first convent built in 1524, and former site of Moctezuma´s private zoo.

Across the street is the ornate, 16th century House of Tiles, one of the prettiest baroque structures en Mexico. It Was built in 1956 by a Spanish count. Inside is Sanborn´s Restaurant, a lovelly Moorish patio and a mural by famed muralist Orozco. The National Arts Museum ( at Tacuba No. 8 ) houses Mexican art (mostly paintings) from the colonial era en its 22exhibit areas. Works depict Mexican landscapes by native artists interpreting classic European styles. IN front of the building is the work of Mexico´s greatest sculptor, Manuel Tolsá. Known as El Caballito, or the little horse, the massive equestrian statue of Spanish King Carlos IV is one of world´s finest bronze sculptures.

The imposing Palace of Fine Arts lies further to the west. This impressive marble palace, built between 1905-34 is a handsome venue for the world famous Ballet Folklórico. Performances on Sundays at 9.30am and 8.30pm, plus Wednesdays at 8.30pm only, ask your hotel concierge about tickets or phone 52-5-529-9320, fax 52-5-529-1701, or Ticket Master, tel. 52-5325-9000. Tickets cost $ 100-$375 pesos. The building is also home to works by Mexico’s celebrate muralists, an art history book store, and symphony, ballet and opera performances. A recent renovation project included the opening of two new exhibit halls. A 19,000 sq. ft. marble covered plaza with flower beds and statues now faces the Palacio.

Across the street is the Alameda Park, established in 1541 on what was then a lake bed. It is the oldest and most traditional park in the city. This oasis of greenery is embellished with fountains, a Moorish kiosk imported from France, and a regal, marble monumental to ex President Benito Juarez. The park is surrounded by several museums and historic points of interest. Note: A $79 million convention center and five-star hotel are planned for the site formerly occupied by the now demolished Del Prado Hotel.

Around the park are several points of interest, including the Franz Mayer Museum with its eclectic collection of artifacts and antiques. The museum is housed in a masterfully-restored 17th century former hospital. Also of interest is the charming Hotel De Cortes, housed in a former convent built in 1780. Nearby is the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, new home for Diego Rivera’s "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park," a stunning fresco that vividly recalls the history of the park.

Tlatelolco, Reforma, Chapultepec Park & Polanco

About 2 km. North of the Alameda is the area known as Tlatelolco, site of several historic events, some glorious and others tragic. The area served as a satellite city to the Aztec capital, and was the site of the area’s major marketplace. It is also here that the last battle to take the capital was fought in 1521. More recently, the area has been the site of a bloody political demonstration just days before the 1968 Olympic Games, and its massive housing projects suffered horrendous damage during the earthquake of 1985. The major historic attraction is the Plaza of Three Cultures, a fascinating site that dramatically portrays the city’s history. The plaza juxtaposes three periods of the city’s history. Atop the excavated remains of Aztec temples, in what was once the Aztec temples, in what was once the Aztec’s most important marketplace, is a church dating back to 1609. Nearby stands the modern Foreign Ministry building. A few kilometers to the north, lies the second most visited religious shrine in the world. Known affectionately as La Villa, the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most sacred spot in all of Mexico. It is here in 1531 that an Indian named Juan Diego received from the Virgin, a cloak imprinted with Her image. The enormous Basilica where the cloak is on display can accommodate 10,000 worshipers.

One of this hemisphere’s most impressive European art collections is at the Colegio de San Carlos. Located just east of the Revolucion metro station a few blocks north of Reforma, the collection is housed in a gracious mansion once the home of 19th century leaders Santa Ana and Iturbide. The lovely building was designed by colonial-era architect and master sculptor Manuel Tolsa. It contains an exquisite collection of 160 paintings by European master. Works date to the 14th through 19th centuries and include artists Goya, Rembrandt, Rubens, Pissarro and Van Dyck.

The city’s famous Plaza Garibaldi is also nearby (six blocks north of Bellas Artes). Mariachi bands congregate here at all hours, and robust Mariachi music pours from the Plaza and its surrounding bars and clubs. The site is best visited in early evening hours (8-10 pm) due to rough late evening atmosphere.

The elegant Paseo de la Reforma spans downtown Mexico City from west to northeast. This grand boulevard was built during the reign of Emperor Maximilian, the Austrian Archduke who ruled Mexico from 1864-67. The boulevard was designed to connect the Emperor’s residence at Chapultepec Castle with the Zocalo. It was modeled after the Ave. Louise in Brussels (birthplace of Empress Carlota). Today it is like a wide urban canyon, lined with towering office buildings, banks, hotels, and a few colonial mansions. Punctuating the boulevard are dozens of bronze statues, pedestrian promenades, and several enormous traffic circles (known as glorietas).

There are three circles of significance. First is one honoring Columbus with a statue of the explorer mounted on top of a huge pink marble pedestal. Next is the monument to Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor. Interesting bronze carvings depict the Spaniard befriending and then torturing the ruler. Next is the graceful Independence Monument, a tall, slender column topped by an eight ton golden statue of the Goddess of Liberty (referred to as the "Angel"). Statues of the Independence movement’s main figures surround the base of the monument, and the remains of several heroes are buried here (now open to the public). It is a popular ceremonial site for national and foreign dignitaries.

Back on Reforma near the Independence Monument is the Fashionable Zona Rosa, or "Pink Zone." Sort of a "Greenwich Village Mexican-style" the Zona Rosa is a 21 block neighborhood about half way between the Zocalo and Chapultepec Park. Although it has lost some of its glitter in recent years, it’s still an attractive neighborhood filled with the city’s finer shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants, bars and discos. Many of the buildings are attractive two-story homes built in the 1920’s. The are a couple of interesting markets: the Mercado Londres for handicrafts and the Plaza del Angel, a native market specializing in antiques and curio cabinets. The chic La Rosa shopping mall has European fashions, cafes and shops.


Capping Paseo de la Reforma at its western end is Chapultepec Park, a vast cultural and recreational attraction spanning 2,100 acres. Interestingly, the park has been in service for over 500 years – the Mexico (Aztecs) used the wooded area as a refuge and summer retreat for its nobility. Visitors can enjoy five of the country’s finest museums, two lakes, a zoo with pandas, an amusement park with one of the world’s largest roller coasters, a miniature railroad, fine restaurants, a botanical garden, and kilometers of quiet walkways. Four of the city’s finest hotels – Camino Real, Nikko, Presidente Inter-Continental, J.W. Marriott – border the park. Don’t miss these Park attractions…

* NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY: arguably the finest archaeological museum in the world. There are 26 exhibit halls covering some 100,000 square feet of exhibits! Each room is dedicated to a portion of Mexico’s 30 centuries of human evolution. You’ll see thousands of artifacts, including burial tombs, giant Olmec stone heads, exquisite pottery and ceramics, the famous Aztec Calendar Store, and a reconstructed Mayan temple. In 1997 the new Mayan exhibit halls opened. All the exhibit halls surround an enormous central courtyard that is partially covered by a gigantic 5,300 sq.ft. "umbrella" resting atop a sculptured bronze column. Plan on spending several hours. English speaking guides are available. Fine gift shop on site; closed Mondays.

* CHAPULTEPEC CASTLE: Begun in 1785 atop a 200-foot-high hill, it was originally intended to be a weekend retreat for Spanish viceroys. Upon completion in 1841 it became a military academy which earned infamy as the last stronghold against the U.S. invasion in 1847. Maximilian converted the castle into his private residence in 1864, and it later served as home to Mexican presidents until 1940. Today it is the fine Museum of Mexican History with displays, antiques, artifacts and vibrant murals by famed Mexican painters O’Gorman, Orozco, and Siqueiros.

* FERIA DE CHAPULTEPEC: This recently upgraded amusement park has a new ferris wheel and one of the world´s largest roller coasters. Expect big crowds on weekends.

* MUSEO PAPALOTE: The park’s newest attraction has caught the attention of museum directors around the world. Opened in late 1993, and located across from Mexico’s presidential mansion (Los Pinos), this interactive "touch-and-do" children’s museum is being hailed as one of the world’s finest. Housed in a brightly tiled cluster of unusually shaped buildings and spanning 33,000 sq. ft., the museum contains a five-story maze, an enormous musical keyboard (like in the movie "Big"), and hundreds of exhibits for kids.

* CHAPULTEPEC PARK ZOO: Recently re-opened following a two-year $32 million renovation, this is Latin America’s best zoo. It features 1,300 animals representing 220 species housed in natural habitat settings. The zoo’s main draw is its family of five Chinese panda bears. There is also an aviary and a rare black rhinoceros. Admission is free; closed Mondays.

Other museums in the park include the Museum of Modern Art and the sleek Tamayo Museums, both favorites of art lovers.

Another interesting site, the Museo del Caracol houses dioramas depicting social and political events throughout Mexican history. The museum’s spiral hallways end in a room containing Mexico’s 1917 Constitution.

The "high fashion" center of Mexico City, this stylish neighborhood to the north of Chapultepec Park is home to many of the capital’s chic boutiques, trendy restaurants and hip night spots. Dozens of European designer shops line Avenida Presidente Masaryk. Many of the city’s most popular new restaurants are here, including Spagos, Los Alcatraces, Chez Wok, and Casa de Campo (see Dining section for details).

To reach the southern suburbs of the capital, head south on Avenida Insurgentes, reputed to be the longest boulevard in Mexico. You’ll find some of Mexico City’s more attractive suburbs. Not to be missed are two of Mexico City’s most pleasant burroughs, San Angel and Coyoacan. SAN ANGEL is picturesque village that has somehow maintained the atmosphere of a remote mountain retreat. In colonial days it was a fashionable enclave for the city’s aristocrats. Its meandering cobblestone streets, thick walled opulent mansions, and gardens make San Angel a pleasant respite from the clamor of Mexico City. Make your first stop at the Convento del Carmen, built in 1615. It houses a fine museum of colonial art, and an exhibit of several frightening mummies in its cellar. The adjoining church is resplendent with gold leaf, Pueblan tile, and century-old oil paintings. Across the street is a small plaza where painters hawk their works.

A short walk from here is the beautiful Plaza San Jacinto, a lovely tree-covered square that invites relaxation and reflection. It was here in 1847 that a band of 50 deserters from the U.S. Amy were branded and hanged by the invading U.S. military. The fifty former Texans of Irish descent had decided to fight with Mexico in the Mexican-American war, and, in the end, paid the ultimate price. A plaque on the north side of the square immortalizes these Mexican heroes. On the west side of the square is the site of the famous Bazaar del Sábado, Mexico City’s most loved Saturday market. Each Saturday, skilled craftsmen sell a wide array of high quality treasures at excellent prices. Next door is the Casa del Risco, a colonial home which boasts a remarkable fountain of broken porcelain, tiles, sea shells, and antique china plates. The fountain’s obvious Oriental flair testifies to Mexico’s importance as a conduit for trade between the Philippines and the Old World.

Also in San Angel is the famous San Angel Inn, a marvelous restaurant in a former colonial home – not to be missed! COYOCAN lies about a mile east of San Angel and is also a throwback to Mexico City´s colonial days. The area has strong Pre-Columbian ties, and was occupied by some 6,000 houses when the Spaniards arrived. Following the conquest, it nearly replaced Tenochtitlan as the site for the new capital city. While similar to San Angel, the city is larger and more bohemian.

Begin exploring at the Plaza Hidalgo and the adjoining Jardin Centenario, a large park lined with outdoor cafes. The entire area has been restored and renovated. Several interesting museums are in the area. Don’t miss the Frida Kahlo Museum. This is where the now-famous painter was born and lived for 25 years with her husband Diego Rivera. Inside are examples of her work, and burdensome life. A short walk further on is the Leon Trotsky Museum. The former home of one of the Russian Revolution’s most important figures. He was killed in this home in 1940 by an assassin wielding a pick axe. Another fascinating museum attraction near Coyoacan is the Museo Anahuacalli, housing painter Diego River’s exquisite collection of over 60,000 Pre-Columbian art and artifacts. This fortresslike, pyramid-inspired building of rough tezontle volcanic stone has thousands of pieces (mostly pottery and stone figures), some dating back to 2,000 B.C.

Also in the southern region of Mexico City is the mammoth National University, founded in 1550. The modernistic campus was opened in 1954 and hosted the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. The campus is an outdoor gallery of mural art and sculpture. Enrollment stands at over 250,000 students. Nearby are the circular ruins of Cuicuilco, reportedly the oldest man-made structures in the Western Hemisphere. Further south lie the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco (so-chee-MEEL-ko). In Aztec times, with prime farmland being scarce, the Indians developed a system of floating reed mats loaded with soil and used as gardens. Visitors float in flat bottomed boats through what’s left of a once enormous agrarian canal system that fed the Aztec capital. Years ago, this was a primary attraction for visitors, and today it is still somewhat popular with foreign tourists, especially on weekends.

Xochimilco was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The site has benefited from a massive restoration effort. The creation in 1993 of the "new" Xochimilco Ecological Park has as its goal the preservation of this unique pre-Hispanic engineering wonder. The new park is a combination ecological park/natural history museum spanning over 400 acres. Guided tours available in several languages. Another southern Mexico City attraction is the Nuevo Reino Aventuras amusement park. Following some refurbishing and upgrading in 1994, the park is now Mexico City’s most popular "adventure kingdom." It is the largest of its kind in Latin America with 45 rides grouped into six internationally themed "villages" (similar to Florida’s Epcot Center). Open daily during July-August, and Fri.-Sun, the rest of the year.


Location 48km northeast of Mexico City
Period Classic
Culture Teotihuacán
Lifespan 500B.C. –700 A.D.

This 13 square mile "City of the Gods" was the first major urban area in the Western Hemisphere, and is perhaps the most aweinspiring site in Mexico. Once inhabited by an estimated 200,000 residents, Teotihuacán was the most advanced urban center of its time. It served as the religious, political and commercial Mecca of Mexico, spreading its influence well into Central America. The city and culture heavily influenced later Toltec and Aztec societies. It was here that the cult of Quetzalcóatl the (Plumed Serpent) was developed. He is a deity that plays an important role in Aztec, Toltec, and late Mayan culture.

A visit to Teotihuacán is unforgettable, due to the sités monumental scale and artistic grandeur. Principal structures include the Pyramid of the Sun, a massive 215 foot-high pyramid, the smaller but equally awesome Pyramid of the Moon, the grand Avenue of the Dead, the Temple of Quetzalcóatl with its enormous ornamental snake heads.

A major research center has recently opened to support further study of the Teotihuacán culture. An auditorium, student workshops, library and museum are housed in a restored building near the site´s entrance. Newly discovered caves opened in late 1998.


Location State of Hidalgo, 96 km north of Mexico City
Period Post -Classic
Culture Tolteca
Lifespan 900-1200 A.D

The militaristic Toltec culture dominated most northern and central Mexico in the early Post- Classic period, and strongly influenced later Aztec society. The term " toltec" means master craftsmen, and this site has revealed the Toltec´s rich artistic past..

The site is also rich with legend. It was from here that the human-god Quetzalcóatl was barnished in987 AD. He headed east ( settling at Chichen Itzá), promising to return one day. By one history´s most remarkable coincidences, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his ships appeared off Mexico´s east cost on the exact day and year of the ruler´s prophesied return. This gave Cortés an enormous advantage against the Aztecs, as he was accepted as the long-awaited god returning to reclaim his empire.

Tula is important for its colonanadesm ball courts ( believed to be the first in Mexico), fine stone carved figures, and most of all, for its four 15 foot-high atlantes, or stone soldiers. These towering basalt figures resembe totem poles, and are the main feature of the site.

Othe intersting and relaxing side trips from Mexico City include the richly Spanish city of Puebla, and nearby Tlaxcala to the east. ( See separate section in this Guide for details).


As you´d expect in a city of Mexico City´s stature, there are endless shopping opportunities. There are cosmopolitan, ultra modern shopping malls and department stores, bustling marketplaces, and quaint shops spread throughout the city. Here´s a summary of where to head.

Shopping Malls & Department Stores

AVENIDA Insurgentes is the commercial spine of Mexico City and many of the city´s best malls are in the southern section of this avenue. Perisur, Plaza Centro, and Santa Fe are the city´s poshet malls. Liverpool, El Palacio de Hierro, and Suburbia are some of the city´s top department stores. In Zona Rosa there is la La Rosa Mall, plus several international desi gners´ shops such as Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Fiorucci, and Cartier

The residential area of Polanco, near Chapultepec Park, is loaded with small boutiques and trendy shops. Polanco´s top shopping malls include the Pabellón Polanco, Plaza Centro, and the Plaza Masaryk.

Near downtown is the Bazar del Centro, a restored 17 th century mansion with elegant boutiques and jewelry shops.

Traditional Markets.

Public markets abound in Mexico City, some specializing in a particular category of merchandise such as clothing, handicrafts, antiques. Here are a few worth visiting.

La Lagunilla. Famous for its colorful, bustling atmosphere, antiques, and lots of good junk!
Mercado LaMerced: fascinating food displays.
Mercado Ciudadela: handicrafts from all over Mexico, with several workshops on site.
Mercado Londres: excellent handcrafts sold from over 200 stalls, in the heart of the Zona Rosa.

For silver jewelry, head downtown to Avenida Madero, just west of the Zócalo. Over a dozen of the city´s finest jewelers have shops in this area.

Fine handicrafts area featured at FONART stores- government operated shops sprinkled throughout the city that feature fine native craft items at reasonable prices. There is one in the Zona Rosa on Londres, and another across from the Alameda Park at Juárez 89.