Moon Mexico City
By Julie Meade
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Baroque palaces and energetic streets, old-school taquerías and contemporary art: explore the contrasts of this beguiling metropolis with Moon Mexico City.
- Experience the City: Navigate by neighborhood or by activity with color-coded maps, or follow a self-guided walk through Mexico City’s most interesting neighborhoods
- See the Sights: Wander the ruins of Tenochtitlán at the Museo del Templo Mayor or visit Frida Kahlo’s home. Explore the colorful of Mercado de la Merced, admire Mexico City’s sleek contemporary art museum, or venture into the past at the National Museum of Anthropology
- Get a Taste of the City: Sample your way through charming cantinas and cutting-edge cuisine, before polishing it off with traditional pulque
- Bars and Nightlife: A dazzling array of traditional dance halls, chic nightclubs, and hip mezcal-centric hideaways means that Mexico City parties well after the sun goes down
- Trusted Advice: Julie Meade spent 10 years in living in Mexico, and she shares her cultural and artistic expertise on her beloved city
- Itineraries and Day Trips: Head out to Cuernavaca, Puebla, or the ancient pyramid ruins of Teotihuacán, or follow itineraries ranging from family friendly tours to a lazy market Saturday, all accessible by bus, train, or public transit
- Full-Color Photos and Detailed Maps so you can explore on your own
- Handy Tools: Background information on the landscape, history, and culture of Mexico City, plus an easy-to-read foldout map to use on the go, packaged in a book light enough to toss in your bag
Looking to experience more world-class cities? Try Moon Buenos Aires. Exploring more of Mexico? Check out Moon San Miguel de Allende or Moon Yucatán Peninsula.
DISCOVER MEXICO CITY
Mexico City occupies a piece of land that seems destined for conflict and grandeur. Blanketing a broad alpine valley, it was once Tenochtitlán, an island city that was the most populous in the Americas—and by some estimates, the world—during the 15th century. Razed during the Spanish conquest, Tenochtitlán’s ruins lie beneath the modern metropolis, which covers 1,480 square kilometers and has a population over 21 million.
Amid the urban sprawl, there are lovely residential enclaves, architectural landmarks, and a multitude of cultural treasures, from dazzling pre-Columbian artifacts to artist Frida Kahlo’s childhood home. For those who love to eat, there is no better place to explore Mexico’s varied palate. The city’s famous food scene runs the gamut from relaxed street-side taco stands to elegant fine dining.
Mexico City defies expectations. It’s a city of contrasts, where baroque palaces rise above streets noisy with traffic, old-fashioned coffee shops filled with seniors sipping café con leche stand beside generic convenience stores, and contemporary art galleries adjoin hole-in-the-wall bakeries and auto-repair shops. Travelogues and photo essays struggle to capture the true essence of a place so vast and multifaceted. Many of the descriptors most closely associated with the capital—crime, pollution, poverty—belie a city that is beguilingly low-key and friendly, rarely gruff, and invariably worth the effort it takes to explore. In this and every way, Mexico City is a place you must experience to understand. Come expecting one city and you’ll likely find another, but the contrasts, both jarring and delightful, define this mad metropolis, one of the most singular and marvelous places on Earth.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Museo del Templo Mayor: Mexico City’s tumultuous history is visible at the ruins of the Templo Mayor, a great temple-pyramid that was destroyed during the 16th-century Spanish siege of Tenochtitlán. The museum showcases artifacts recovered from the archaeological site (click here).
2 Palacio de Bellas Artes: With its grand marble facade and opulent art deco interior, the incomparable Palacio de Bellas Artes is one of Mexico’s most striking buildings, as well as a keynote arts institution (click here).
3 Museo Nacional de Antropología: Take a grand tour of the many pre-Columbian cultures in Mexico through artifacts and art. The most impressive rooms are dedicated to the people who lived in Teotihuacán and in what is today Mexico City (click here).
4 Museo Frida Kahlo: A superbly talented painter and a beloved icon the world around, Frida Kahlo is celebrated at this lovely and intimate museum housed in her childhood home (click here).
5 Teotihuacán: Admire the views from the top of two spectacular temple-pyramids at the country’s most-visited archaeological site, a day trip just outside the city limits (click here).
6 Cantina Culture: These relaxed neighborhood bars are quintessential to Mexico City. Spend a few hours enjoying the convivial atmosphere with a shot of good tequila in hand (click here).
7 Classic Cuisine: Mexico City’s tremendous food scene is reason alone to visit the city. You’ll find ace eats in every price range and in every neighborhood, from old cantinas and street-front taquerías to fine dining (click here).
8 Traditional Markets: The city’s colorful and atmospheric markets are where locals shop for everything from home goods to used LPs. If you only have time to visit one, make it Mercado de la Merced (click here).
9 Pulque: This fizzy fermented beverage, made from the sap of the maguey cactus, is a capital tradition. As the younger generation discovers this drink, it’s experiencing a deserved revival (click here).
10 Contemporary Art: With the opening of new museums and the continued excellence of many long-running galleries, there’s never been a better time to be an art lover (click here).
EXPLORE MEXICO CITY
THE BEST OF MEXICO CITY
DAY 1: THE CENTRO HISTÓRICO
▪ Metro: Zócalo
Mexico City’s Zócalo, one of the largest public squares in the world, is located in the same open square that once stood at the center of the Mexica city of Tenochtitlán. Take a moment to feel the power and history of this grand plaza, then stop in to the northern wing of the Palacio Nacional, where Diego Rivera’s breathtaking murals chronicle life in the pre-Columbian city, during the Spanish conquest, and through the ensuing centuries of industrialization.
To the north of the plaza, you can visit the remains of Tenochtitlán’s holiest site, a twin temple-pyramid that adjoined the city’s central plaza, at the fascinating Museo del Templo Mayor. Though much of the temple was destroyed by the Spanish and then buried for centuries beneath the colonial city, its base was uncovered in the 1970s, along with hundreds of artifacts, now held in the on-site museum. It’s one of the Centro’s most moving sights.
Have lunch at El Cardenal, just a block from the Zócalo, widely considered one of the best traditional Mexican restaurants in the city. After lunch, head east along Madero, stopping to see the current show in the Palacio de Cultura Banamex and making note of two iconic buildings just before the Eje Central, the Casa de los Azulejos and the Palacio Postal. Take a turn around the Palacio de Bellas Artes, one of the city’s flagship cultural institutions, where the gorgeous art deco interiors are as opulent as its elaborate marble facade. It’s worth the admission fee to ascend to the top floors of the building, where there are interesting murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, as well as contemporary art galleries.
Dusk is the perfect time to start a tour of the Centro’s many cantinas. Begin by sipping a tequila at the grandest old joint, Bar La Ópera, on Cinco de Mayo. Next, head to Salón Corona for tasty tacos and mugs of beer. If you’re up to it, make one last stop to old-time cantina Tío Pepe, another historic watering hole with an excellent atmosphere.
DAY 2: CHAPULTEPEC AND THE CONDESA
▪ Metro: Chapultepec, followed by Sevilla
Set aside the morning to tour the Museo Nacional de Antropología, a vast and fascinating museum dedicated to pre-Columbian and modern-day cultures in Mexico. You won’t have time to see the whole museum. Streamline your visit by focusing on the spectacular rooms dedicated to the Mexica people, as well as the Teotihuacán galleries. Back outside, take an hour or two to explore a bit of the surrounding Bosque de Chapultepec on foot, strolling past the multidisciplinary cultural center Casa del Lago Juan José Arreola, the pretty manmade lake beside it, and the industrial facade of the Museo de Arte Moderno as you make your way to the Castillo de Chapultepec, set atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the park and the Paseo de la Reforma. It’s worth visiting for the views alone, though the legendary building and the history museum it houses offer an interesting glimpse into Mexico’s past.
Just below the Castillo de Chapultepec are the main gates to the park. From here, take the Metro one stop from Chapultepec to Sevilla, then walk into the Roma Norte for a late lunch at Contramar, an ultra-popular, always-bustling seafood restaurant near the Glorieta de las Cibeles. There’s often a wait around lunchtime, but the food and atmosphere are ace.
After lunch, spend a few leisurely hours watching dogs romp and children play in Parque México. Stroll along Avenida Amsterdam, snapping photos of the Condesa’s distinctive art deco architecture and enjoying the people-watching in the many neighborhood cafes. Wrap up the day with a drink at one of the neighborhood’s trendy bars, like the hip pool hall Salón Malafama or good-time standby Pata Negra.
DAY 3: COYOACÁN
▪ Metro: Viveros
If you arrive in Coyoacán via the Metro stop Viveros, you can admire old country mansions and towering trees while walking into the heart of neighborhood via avenue Francisco Sosa. Peek into the rust-colored Moorish-inspired hacienda that is home to the Fonoteca Nacional, an interesting sound archive and gallery space. Down the road, take a breather in charming Plaza Santa Catarina, a quiet, cobbled square popular with locals and their dogs. Once you arrive in the center of town, spend some time people-watching in Jardín Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario, the two old-fashioned public plazas at the center of the neighborhood.
Grab a mocha at long-running coffee shop Café El Jarocho, then wander through the Mercado Coyoacán, where you can snack on a tostada or two (the market is famous for them) to tide you over till lunch. From there, it’s a few blocks to the Museo Frida Kahlo, a moving museum dedicated to the life and legacy of its namesake artist. Walk back to the Jardín Centenario for a late lunch on the patio at Los Danzantes, and accompany your meal with a shot of their house brand of Oaxacan mezcal. If you want to extend the evening, drop in for a drink at nouveau cantina La Bipo, just a few blocks away.
DAY 4: SAN ÁNGEL AND UNAM
▪ Metrobús: La Bombilla, then CCU
Saturdays are a popular time to visit the colonial-era neighborhood of San Ángel, where the weekly Bazaar Sábado attracts some excellent artisan vendors, including some modern designers. From there, stroll through the neighborhood, stopping for a bite in one of the pretty restaurants around the Plaza San Jacinto or touring the wonderful Museo de El Carmen, housed in a colonial-era Carmelite monastery. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera fans will prefer a short walk out to the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera, the former adjoined homes the couple shared in San Ángel.
From San Ángel, take the Metrobús along Insurgentes to the CCU stop, then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the cultural center on the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) campus. Have a very late lunch at contemporary Mexican restaurant Azul y Oro, then spend a few hours in the light-filled Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, one of the finest contemporary-art museums in Mexico City, opened in 2008. From there, wander into the northern section of the Espacio Escultórico de la UNAM, a massive outdoor sculpture garden built atop an expanse of volcanic rock in the 1960s. Head home early and prepare for your next-day departure or continue your travels with Day 5.
MEXICO CITY WITH KIDS
Mexico City is large, loud, and relentlessly urban, yet it’s a remarkably agreeable place to visit with your family. Here, children are treated with respect and kindness, graciously welcomed at most restaurants and hotels, and often granted free admission to museums and other cultural institutions. Even more compelling, the capital’s rich history and diverse local culture make it a truly magical and eye-opening place to visit—at any age. A few smaller and boutique properties do not accept children, but Suites del Ángel is a good and economical choice for a family, with small sitting rooms that can be converted to a second bedroom. Just around the corner, the ultra-posh St. Regis has a children’s center with arts and crafts, story time, and other kid-centric activities on-site.
FRIDAY: CENTRO HISTÓRICO
The Centro Histórico is a magical neighborhood, filled with old palaces, bustling with visitors, and buzzing with years of history. Start with breakfast in the historic dining room at Café de Tacuba, then walk down to the Zócalo, where you’ll often find brightly dressed concheros (also called “Aztec dancers”) performing a rhythmic dance to the beat of a drum.
For older children, Diego Rivera’s extensive murals inside the Secretaría de Educación Pública, or SEP, north of the Zócalo, provide an engaging look into Mexican history and popular culture—as well as Rivera’s communist political views. There are often free English-speaking tour guides wandering through the plaza, who can help provide context and background for Rivera’s work.
Have lunch at Balcón del Zócalo, a fun Mexican restaurant with gorgeous views of the cathedral and plaza, then walk down Cinco de Mayo to the Dulcería de Celaya, one of the oldest and most charming sweet shops in the city. From there, it’s an easy stroll along the pedestrian avenue Madero to the Torre Latinoamericana. Take the elevator to the 44th-floor observation deck, which affords tremendous vistas of the city in every direction, including the snowcapped volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl to the south.
From there, cross the Eje Central to the Alameda, peeking into the Palacio de Bellas Artes. You can tour the opulent main theater, where on most Wednesday and Sunday evenings, the colorful Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández performs traditional Mexican folk dances—a good reason to return to Bellas Artes a few days later.
Finally, let the kids stretch their legs along the paved paths in the Alameda Central, Mexico City’s oldest urban park, which was remodeled and expanded in 2012. On warm days, children often run through the park’s many attractive fountains while their parents relax on park benches. Wrap up the day with a sugar-topped churro and creamy hot chocolate, the signature combination at old-fashioned Churrería El Moro, in business since 1935 and open 24 hours, 365 days a year.
Though you can visit Xochimilco any day of the week, it is most festive on the weekends, when local families and revelers come to float along the old canals, a small remnant of the vast system of waterways that once ribboned the Valley of Mexico. You can take the light rail from Metro Tasqueña all the way to Xochimilco, though lighter traffic on Saturday mornings can make taxi or Uber an easy option too.
Enlist the kids to help pick out a trajinera, one of the colorful flat-bottomed boats typical to Xochimilco, and plan to spend a few hours exploring the canals. The main tourist corridor is often jammed with boaters, giving it a light-hearted atmosphere, though you may also want to ask the driver to go farther into the canals, to see the floating gardens, or chinampas, where people still live and grow food. Order quesadillas and other snacks from the vendors paddling by in canoes, and consider commissioning one of the floating mariachi bands for a tune.
Back on dry land, take a taxi (or the train to La Noria) to visit the former home of philanthropist and art collector Dolores Olmedo, now her namesake museum. Housed in an old, beautiful hacienda, the Museo Dolores Olmedo contains a large collection of work by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, among other modern artists, as well as her collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. It’s particularly delightful to wander the grounds, where peacocks and xoloscuintle (Mexican hairless dogs), Olmedo’s favored pet, roam freely.
Closed to automobile traffic every Sunday, the Paseo de la Reforma fills with cyclists, roller-bladers, pedestrians, and dog walkers. Get an early start on the day to ride a bike (or simply stroll) along Reforma, checking out the many famous monuments, like the Ángel de la Independencia, as you make your way to the Bosque de Chapultepec’s main entrance.
Families flock to the Bosque de Chapultepec on Sundays, when museums are free and the footpaths are filled with vendors selling balloons, balls, tacos, fresh fruit, and bubbles, among other treats. At the base of the Cerro de Chapultepec, a small motorized train will take you up the hill to the Castillo de Chapultepec; it has marvelous views of the park and the Paseo de la Reforma, while the period rooms bring the opulence of 19th-century Mexico City to life.
Save Chapultepec’s children’s museum for tomorrow; instead stop by the Casa del Lago Juan José Arreola, a wonderful cultural center that often has concerts and special workshops for kids. And even small children will enjoy the eye-catching interactive exhibits and video installations at the Centro Cultural Digital, just outside the main gates. From there, you can walk through Chapultepec along the Paseo de la Reforma, where there are often interesting photo exhibitions hanging along the famous green fence that encircles the park.
Cross the Paseo de la Reforma to Los Panchos for a casual lunch of tacos, quesadillas with handmade tortillas, and carnitas.
MONDAY: CHILDREN’S MUSEUM AND CONDESA
Though the Bosque de Chapultepec is closed to visitors, the children’s museum Papalote Museo del Niño is open on most Mondays throughout the year (check the website for an updated calendar)—and noticeably less crowded during the week than on a Saturday or Sunday. Take a taxi into Chapultepec’s Segunda Sección to spend the morning at this big, interactive museum, where your kids will get a chance to practice their budding language skills (all exhibits are in Spanish).
From there, it’s easiest to take an Uber ride, as taxis rarely circle the park; alternatively, the Metro stop Constituyentes is a five-minute walk, and with just one transfer you can arrive at Metro Sevilla, on the north edge of the Condesa neighborhood. Spend the afternoon wandering in and around Parque México, visiting the duck pond and the playground, and watching local kids ride bikes and kick soccer balls in the outdoor amphitheater Foro Lindbergh. Stop in for a double-scoop cone at throwback ice-cream parlor Neveria Roxy, and wrap up the day with a plate of tacos at El Tizoncito, which has been serving capital families for decades.
MEXICO CITY: PAST AND PRESENT
Mexico City’s streets tell the story of its past, with institutions, architecture, and landmarks that are testament to 500-plus years of culture and change.
DAY 1: CENTRO HISTÓRICO
In the 1970s, the ruins of the Templo Mayor, a twin temple-pyramid at the heart of Tenochtitlán, were unearthed after more than four centuries under the city floor. After an extensive excavation that demolished a number of colonial-era buildings beside the Catedral Metropolitana, the archaeological site was opened to the public, alongside the fascinating Museo del Templo Mayor, which contains dozens of pre-Columbian artifacts recovered from the site.
Though they haven’t received permission to continue demolitions, archaeologists surmise that even more ruins lie beneath the 17th-century palaces on the street República de Guatemala, as evidenced recently at the Centro Cultural de España, a contemporary cultural center overseen by the Spanish government. In a planned expansion of the space, belowground construction unearthed Mexica ruins, believed to have been part of a calmécac, a school for young Mexica nobles. The ruins are on display in the on-site Museo del Sitio, in the center’s basement, a lovely complement to its avant-garde program of music and art events. After your visit, grab a coffee and a snack on the rooftop cafe, which overlooks the cathedral.
- On Sale
- Nov 15, 2016
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Moon Travel