The Best of Mexico City

Original open uri20160815 3469 1jr4qrz?1471297403?ixlib=rails 0.3
The Best of Mexico City
Centuries in the making, Mexico City has more culture than you could consume in a lifetime. From pre-Hispanic civilizations whose sites and rituals endure, to ultra-modern art and design with global influences, there's plenty to see and do here.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Julie Schwietert Collazo
  • 1 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 1jr4qrz?1471297403?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Active Archaeological Sites
    Before it was Mexico City, this high-elevation valley spreading out among a ring of mountains was Tenochtitlan, an Aztec stronghold founded in 1325. Though nearly seven centuries have passed, the remains of the largest city in the pre-Hispanic Americas are still visible today, and several are active archaeological sites. The most accessible is Templo Mayor, next to the cathedral, on the edge of the Zócalo; it was uncovered by electrical workers in 1978. Another is Tlatelolco, where discoveries of bones and structures still occur regularly. You can walk the grounds or periphery of each.
    Photo by Julie Schwietert Collazo
  • 2 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 bsb80h?1471297407?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Mexican Muralism
    Even people with a casual interest in art have probably heard of Diego Rivera, often referred to as the master of Mexican muralism. The art form that so dominated mid-20th-century Mexico wasn't limited just to Rivera; famed colleagues included David Álfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, among others. Their work can be found throughout the city, in both private and public institutions, but to see some of their most representative pieces visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where these muralists' works form part of the permanent collection. For more mid-20th-century work, visit the campus of UNAM, where the entire facade of the library is covered with an impressive mosaic by Juan O'Gorman.
    Photo courtesy of Mexico City Tourism Promotion Fund
  • 3 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 1f2kb77?1471297413?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Modern Mexican Art
    Art has always thrived in Mexico City, and the 21st-century art scene here has so far proven itself to be every bit as fascinating and robust as it was in the previous century. The city continues to add to its roster of museums—ranking alongside Paris for sheer quantity—and supports an ever-growing variety of galleries and alternative art venues. Museo Universitario del Chopo presents provocative contemporary work, as does MUAC on the UNAM campus. Museo Soumaya is the varied collection of one of the richest people in the world, Mexican telecom giant Carlos Slim, and it sits right next to Museo JUMEX, another outpost for contemporary work. For alternative spaces, seek out independent spots like Lulu and Biquini Wax.
    Photo by Julie Schwietert Collazo
  • 4 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 1yz458s?1471297425?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Modern Mexican Architecture
    Mexico City architecture has a long and storied history, and architects have been trying to live up to—and yet stand apart from—the greatness of Aztec pyramids and temples ever since the pre-Hispanic period. The mid-20th-century was a golden age for Mexican architecture, with Ricardo Legorreta, Luis Barragán, and Mario Pani pioneering a range of styles and philosophies. The city's role as host of the 1968 Summer Olympics encouraged grand, uniquely Mexican spaces that can still be visited, including Palacio de Deportes and the stadium at UNAM. Today, Mexican architecture continues to be cutting-edge; one of the most exciting areas of design is green building—evidenced, in part, by the inclusion of living walls made of plants.
    Photo courtesy of Mexico City Tourism Promotion Fund
  • 5 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 7id3zu?1471297434?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Craft Culture
    The rich tradition of making crafts by hand continues in Mexico, and artisans working in a wide range of styles and media bring their goods to the capital from all over the country. Two of the best places to find their wares are La Ciudadela and Mercado de San Juan (be sure to specify the craft market of San Juan, not the food market). Both of these markets specialize in the sale of domestically made handcrafts, and you can find everything from beaded masks and animal totems made by the indigenous Huichol people to stuffed animals from Chiapas. Other finds include embroidered clothing, the famed black pottery from Oaxaca, and jewelry, mirrors, glass, and tile work from other regions.
    Photo by MarĂ­a Lourdes Alonso/age fotostock
  • 6 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 un3rfj?1471297438?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Explore by Neighborhood
    "There is no taking refuge . . . , no use sitting in the hotel bedroom, fumbling with guide books; it is here, one is in it." So wrote Sybille Bedford, a British writer, arriving in Mexico City in 1950. Her observation remains true today. Many first-time visitors feel overwhelmed and don't know how to begin exploring this massive city. The answer is to pick a neighborhood. For all its sprawl and seeming chaos, Mexico City is well-organized into neighborhoods, each with its own identity. Centro Histórico is the city's historic heart, full of colonial and pre-colonial architecture and museums of every ilk. Condesa, San Rafael, and Roma are young, hip, and artsy. Polanco is upscale and exclusive. Choose one that appeals and dive in.
    Photo by Wendy Connett/age fotostock
  • 7 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 11ntzvi?1471297445?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Mexico City Nightlife
    There are plenty of ways to spend the evening in Mexico City, whether you're looking for a quiet spot to share drinks and conversation or a raucous club where you can dance to live music any night of the week. Condesa, Roma, and Polanco are home to hip bars, including a growing number of speakeasy-style spots like the popular Jules Basement, while Zona Rosa contains the center of the city's LGBT nightlife scene. Its streets are lined with clubs and bars both small and large, catering to a variety of interests. There are plenty of wine bars and craft beer spots, too—try Xampañeria—as well as traditional cantinas.
    Photo courtesy of Jules Basement
  • 8 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 11pthw?1471297449?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Unmissable Xochimilco
    Mexico City has many attractions inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and they are all worthy of a visit. One that absolutely can't be missed, though, is Xochimilco. Located in the southern part of the city, it's not the most convenient spot, but the trip is worth the incredible cultural experience that awaits. Hire the services of a captain of one of the 200+ trajineras—colorful, elaborately decorated gondola-like boats—to take you on a float along the canal. As you laze along the water, other trajineras will glide past with an enticing variety of services and treats: mariachi bands, micheladas (a beer drink), corn on the cob, and more. Not just for tourists, it's especially popular on Sundays.
    Photo by John Woodworth/age fotostock
  • 9 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 wfg4rk?1471297454?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Fiestas and Festivals
    Mexico City loves a party, and there's no shortage of opportunities to experience a fiesta, given the number of festivals and ferías that occur each year. Forget Cinco de Mayo (which is not, as is often believed, Mexico's independence day); come in mid-September to stand alongside thousands in the Zócalo to shout el grito—"Viva México! Viva México! Viva México!"—and celebrate more than 200 years of Mexican independence. For a more subdued display of pride and faith, visit on December 12 for the feast day of the Virgen de Guadalupe, which many Mexicans commemorate by making a pilgrimage to the capital's basilica. The thousands of believers arriving at the basilica is a sight you won't soon forget.
    Photo by Chico Sanchez/age fotostock
  • 10 / 10
    Original open uri20160815 3469 1q8ks04?1471297458?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Mexico City's Markets
    Although big-box stores and chain retailers have arrived in Mexico, they have not managed to completely destabilize market culture in the capital. The cherished neighborhood market is a tradition that reaches back over centuries (Tlatelolco was the Americas' biggest market during the pre-Hispanic period), and it remains robust today. In addition to local fruit and vegetable markets, there are many specialty markets; visiting any of them is a fun way to while away the better part of a day in the capital. Some favorites include foodie temple, Mercado San Juan; craft-centric La Ciudadela; the so-called "Witches' Market" of Sonora, which peddles potions and charms; and Jamaica, a 24-hour flower market.
    Photo by Paul Miles/age fotostock