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The Best of Mexico City

Active Archaeological Sites
The Best of Mexico City

Centuries in the making, Mexico City has more culture than you could consume in a lifetime. From the enduring sites and artifacts of pre-Hispanic civilizations to ultramodern art and design with global influences, there's plenty to see and do here.

Photo by Susana Laborde
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    Active Archaeological Sites
    Active Archaeological Sites
    Before it was Mexico City, this high-elevation valley spreading out among a ring of mountains was Tenochtitlán, an Aztec stronghold founded around 1325. Though nearly seven centuries have passed since then, remains of that city—the largest in the pre-Hispanic Americas—are still visible today, and several are active archaeological sites. The most accessible is the 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 Susana Laborde
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    Mexican Muralism
    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 Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, among others. Their pieces can be found throughout the city, in both private and public institutions, but to see some of their most representative ones, visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where these muralists' output forms part of the permanent collection. For more mid-20th-century work, check out the campus of UNAM, where the entire facade of the library is covered with an impressive mosaic by Juan O'Gorman.
    Photo by Jordana BTP
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    Modern Mexican Art
    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 that of the previous century. The city continues to add to its roster of museums (by some calculations, only Paris has more), and supports an ever-growing variety of galleries and alternative venues. Museo Universitario del Chopo presents provocative contemporary works, as does MUAC on the UNAM campus. Museo Soumaya provides a home for a collection from one of the richest people in the world, Mexican telecom giant Carlos Slim, and it sits right next to Museo Jumex, another outpost for current art. For alternative spaces, seek out independent spots like Lulu and Biquini Wax.
    Photo by Aníbal Barco
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    Modern Mexican Architecture
    Modern Mexican Architecture
    Mexico City architecture has a long and colorful 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 middle 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 los 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 by Andrea Anaya
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    Craft Culture
    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. One of the best places to find their wares is La Ciudadela. This institution specializes in the sale of domestically handmade pieces, and you can find everything from beaded masks and animal totems fashioned by members of the indigenous Huichol people to stuffed animals from Chiapas. Other discoveries include embroidered clothing, the famed black-clay pottery from Oaxaca, and jewelry, mirrors, glass, and tile work from other regions.
    Photo by María José Flores
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    Explore by Neighborhood
    Explore by Neighborhood
    "There is no taking refuge . . . , no use sitting in the hotel bedroom, fumbling with guidebooks; 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 neatly organized into neighborhoods, each with its own identity. Centro Histórico is the city's legendary heart, full of colonial and precolonial 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 Diego Berruecos
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    Mexico City Nightlife
    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 the Zona Rosa contains the center of the city's LGBT nightlife scene. Its streets are lined with bars and boîtes 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, like Tío Pepe.
    Photo courtesy of Hanky Panky
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    Unmissable Xochimilco
    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 to get to, but the trip is worth the incredible cultural experience that awaits. Hire the services of a captain of one of the 200-plus trajineras—colorful, elaborately decorated gondola-style 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 (beer cocktails), corn on the cob, and more. Not just for tourists, it's especially popular on Sundays.
    Photo by Aníbal Barco
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    Fiestas and Festivals
    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 ferias 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 zocalo to shout at the closing of the patriotic Grito address—"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 Virgin of 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 Ariette Armella
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    Mexico City's Markets
    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 those that hawk local fruit and vegetables, 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 the foodie temple Mercado San Juan; the 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 Gabriel Batiz