The Best Museums in Mexico City

Mexico City is second only to Paris when it comes to its number of museums, and many museums offer free admission. Check out the world-class exhibits—for fine art, historic artifacts, archaeology, artists’ houses, and more—at some of our favorite CDMX cultural institutions.

10 Dr. Enrique González Martínez
The massive building occupied by this museum has a fascinating history. Built in the early 20th century in Germany for an international art and textile fair, the structure represents the “Jugendstil” style, which dates back to the 1850s. It was bought by a Mexican firm in 1902 and shipped to Mexico City, first by boat, and then by train. Since its arrival more than a century ago, it has served numerous functions, including the temporary location of the Museum of Natural History during the country’s centennial celebration. Today, the building, which was remodeled between 2006 and 2007, is home to Museo Universitario del Chopo, whose interests and collection depart radically from the traditional. Contemporary, underground works in visual art, literature, and music are all exhibited here, and workshops and special events are held on a regular basis. The museum also has a full calendar of film selections each month.
Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
The cobalt-blue-and-brick-red residence where now-legendary Mexican visual artist Frida Kahlo grew up—and at times lived with husband Diego Rivera—is one of the city’s most consistently packed attractions; buying tickets in advance is strongly recommended. That said, the visit is essentially (and justifiably) mandatory and offers fascinating glimpses into this extraordinary woman’s life and work. In addition to holding some of her paintings, the house also functions as a showcase for her library, astounding wardrobe, and collection of pre-Columbian artifacts; it additionally bears witness to her close association with left-wing politics. What’s more, the museum portrays the artist’s struggles with depression, marital infidelities, disability, and illness. The house’s garden—home to a modest café and mostly bashful felines—makes for a great breather before more strolling in the Coyoacán neighborhood.
Av. Juárez 8, Colonia Centro, Centro, 06010 墨西哥城 CDMX, Mexico
More than 10 years in the making, the Museo de la Memoria y Tolerancia (Museum of Memory and Tolerance) may seem somewhat out of place if you don’t know much about Mexico City‘s immigrant population and the capital’s role in Jewish history... and that’s one reason the museum is worth a visit. In addition to explaining how the city’s Jewish population burgeoned during the mid-20th-century, and, of course, memorializing the Holocaust, the museum features permanent exhibits documenting genocides that have occurred elsewhere, including Latin America and Africa. Themes are somber, of course, but the aim is to prevent future episodes from occurring by educating visitors about the importance of memory and tolerance.
15 Dr. Olvera
The story behind the founding of the Museo del Juguete Antiguo México (Museum of the Antique Mexican Toy) is almost as charming and intriguing as the collection of toys itself. Roberto Shimizu, Sr., who founded the museum with his son, Roberto Shimizu, Jr., began collecting toys when he was a child and in the decades since, has amassed a collection of literally millions of toys. He decided it was important for the collection to be accessible and visible to the public, partly to document the history of toy-making in Mexico and the world. The space occupied by the museum covers several floors, but it’s barely large enough to showcase all of Shimizu’s treasures, which he has catalogued carefully in numerous notebooks and binders. That may be hard to believe, given the fact that the museum is crammed wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with toys of every type: from plastic soldiers to board games and Barbies to model trains. The museum is a cabinet of curiosities for the kid in all of us.
Insurgentes 3000, Ciudad Universitaria, 04510 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
If you happen to be on the hunt for Mexican designer jewelry and you’re already at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (University Museum of Contemporary Art), then be sure to stop by the museum’s large store, where the work of more than 200 designers is on display. The pieces tend more toward contemporary than traditional, though there’s a style and piece for practically every taste. And if you need a scarf, shawl, or purse to complement your newly acquired ring, bracelet, or necklace, the store sells those, too.
Colima 145, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Housed in an art nouveau mansion, MODO—Museum of the Objective of the Object—is an odd keyhole into everyday pre-21st-century life. You’re up close with items ranging from washing machines that were used in the 1800s to funky skateboards from the 1970s.
Blvd. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303, Granada, 11529 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
The Museo Soumaya, financed by Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico, has the ambitions of the Guggenheim Bilbao from the outside. It’s a stunning building whose sweeping, soaring curves couldn’t help but make it an instant landmark near Polanco, one of Mexico City‘s ritziest neighborhoods. Inside, the museum recalls the Guggenheim New York, with galleries off of a ramp which spirals down (or up) the building. Unfortunately the museum’s permanent collection isn’t as impressive as those at either Guggenheim. The Soumaya does have some strengths—one of the world’s largest collection of Rodins and some especially noteworthy colonial Mexican works—but it can feel hit or miss, with many undistinguished pieces. Slim’s museum is free, however, so you won’t regret paying admission even if you just pass through quickly to take in the building itself and some highlights.
Blvd. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303, Granada, 11520 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Much of Mexico City’s fervid contemporary art movement—galleries and collectors abound; the scene is now a launching pad for Mexican artists looking to conquer the world—can be traced to art patron Eugenio López Alonso, heir to the Jumex packaged-juice fortune, who over decades has amassed Latin America’s most extensive contemporary art collection and brought dozens of artists to the international spotlight. The collection’s flagship museum, itself a work of art by the British architect David Chipperfield, is a surprisingly intimate exhibition space that supports a rotating calendar of shows; the basement bookstore will delight bibliophiles and design freaks alike. Right nearby lies the Museo Soumaya, whose dramatic architectural form (which earned it the nickname “the Blender”) makes up for a collection some consider erratic.
Museo 150, San Pablo Tepetlapa, 04620 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
They intended it as their gift to Mexico, and what a gift it is. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two of the most famous artists of the 20th century, worked with renowned Mexican architect Juan O’Gorman to create Museo Anahuacalli, a temple-like structure that houses the 50,000+ pre-Hispanic objects Rivera collected during his lifetime. The museum, whose design was also influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and his notions about the role of the physical environmental in the conceptualization and construction of buildings, also showcases hundreds of pieces of artisan and craft works representative of Mexico. Note that the museum is not open on Monday or Tuesday.
Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Gandhi S/N, Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Housed in a 1964 structure whose modern lines and central fountain greatly complement what’s on view, this anthropology museum is a repository of the most important pre-Hispanic treasures modern Mexico has discovered. The works are displayed in exhibits that trace the entire history of the Americas’ indigenous population, from the Bering migration to the present day. Exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) in scope, many visitors choose to jump ahead to “greatest-hits” galleries focusing on name brands like the Aztecs (to see their misnamed calendar stone); the Maya and their artifacts; or the Olmec culture, famed for its colossal (and quite sensual) head sculptures dating back to Mesoamerica’s earliest recorded eras.
Revillagigedo 11, Colonia Centro, Centro, 06050 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
There is so much to see and do in Mexico City, but this place should be on the itinerary of anyone interested in the incredibly varied world of Mexican folk art. The space is spacious and bright, which means the vibrant colors of, well, everything, really pop. Embroidery, papier-mâché figures, ceramics, fantastical wooden alebrijes--the whole country is represented. It makes you realize how rich and diverse Mexico‘s artistic traditions are. The museum is not overwhelming (unlike, say, the awesome anthropology museum). It’s a nice hour or so, close to the historic center. But give yourself time to browse the gift shop.
Av Mexico 5843, La Noria, 16030 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Art patroness and businesswoman Dolores Olmedo Patiño lived at this Xochimilco area estate that became a museum in the 1990s. An impressive ode to Mexican identity, the MDO features a wowza collection of Riveras, and Kahlos, alongside pre-Hispanic and Mexican folk art. The treasures shine amid an extraordinary setting that includes dramatic gardens and lots of critters, particularly peafowl and hairless xolo dogs. Families love weekend visits that often include special arts activities for the wee ones.
AFAR Journeys
More From AFAR