Even the most ambitious travelers have difficulty exploring all of Mexico City, so you should carefully plan your days. Popular activities include exploring the famous Metropolitan Cathedral. Favorite cultural institutions are the National Palace presidential residence and the Palace of Fine Arts. Also, be sure to stroll the Central University City Campus, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s famous for its 20th century architecture.
The origins of Mexico City date back to 1325, when the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan was founded and later destroyed in 1521 by Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes. The city served as the capital of the Vice-royalty of New Spain until the outbreak of the Independence War in 1810. The city became the capital of the Mexican Empire in 1821 and of the Mexican Republic in 1823 after the abdication of Agustin de Iturbide. During the Mexico-US war in 1847, the city was invaded by the American army. In 1864 the French invaded Mexico and the emperor Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg ruled the country from the Castillo de Chapultepec and ordered to build Avenue of the Empress, today’s Paseo de la Reforma promenade.
Porfirio Díaz assumed power in 1876 and left an outstanding mark in the city with many European styled buildings such as the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Palacio Postal. Diaz was overthrown in 1910 with the Mexican Revolution and this marked a radical change in the city’s architecture. The 20th century saw the uncontrolled growth of the City beyond the Centro Historico with the influx of thousands of immigrants from the rest of the country. In 1968, the city was host to the Olympic Games, which saw the construction of the Azteca Stadium, the Palacio de los Deportes, the Olympic Stadium and other sports facilities. In 1985 the city suffered an 8.1 Magnitude earthquake. Between 10,000 and 40,000 people were killed. 412 buildings collapsed and another 3,124 buildings were seriously damaged in the city.
The city is located 2,200m above mean sea level. Some people may have breathing difficulties at high altitudes and experience difficulty when breathing. The altitude is equivalent to more than 7,200 ft. This is far higher than any metropolitan area in the United States. If you live closer to sea level, you may experience difficulty breathing.
Mexico City’s night life is like all other aspects of the city; it is huge. There is an enormous selection of clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, and variations and combinations there to choose from. There is incredible choice, from ultramodern lounges in Santa Fe and Reforma, to centuries-old dance halls in Centro and Roma. There are also pubs in Tlalpan and Coyoacán and clubs of every stripe in Insurgentes, Polanco, Condesa and the Zona Rosa.
Officially known as Plaza de la Constitución, El Zócalo is the main public square and one of the most recognizable places in Mexico City. It contains a giant Mexican flag at its center and has been the centerpiece of public gatherings since the days of the Aztecs. The site also hosts annual, widely attended religious events during Holy Week and for Corpus Christi. Several historic buildings also border the square, including the city’s national cathedral, the National Palace, and federal buildings. You could spend about one to two hours looking around the Zócalo, and some travelers suggest you start your visit at sunset. Mexican soldiers march out into the square at sunset to take down the flag, offering a great photo opportunity. Some travelers even recommend heading to the square more than once. I went almost every day during my stay because the many people around like school children in uniforms, wind-up harmonica players, soldiers, tourists, vendors, etc, gave the square so much energy and a great ambience.
Considered the cultural center of Mexico City, thePalacio de Bellas Artes,Palace of Fine Arts, is a must-visit. The palace prominently showcases the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, and much of the interior features beautiful marble and imposing, vaulting glass windows. In addition to its architectural grandeur, the building often hosts cultural events in the national theatre, including music, dance, theatre, opera and literary performances. The palace also holds several famous Mexican murals, including the work of the famous Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo. On the top floor you’ll find the National Museum of Architecture, which showcases the work and lives of famous Mexican architects.
Flanking the Paseo de la Reforma in downtown Mexico City, El Ángel de la Independencia is column monument topped by a bronze depiction of the Greek goddess Victory, one of the most beloved symbols of the city. Originally built to commemorate Mexico’s war with Spain for independence, the structure has also evolved into a mausoleum for war heroes.
In recent years, El Ángel has become a favorite gathering place for sporting-event and political rallies, and some engaged couples consider it good luck to stop by here before getting married, as a sign of your new independence from your parents. You can also find crowds of visitors waiting to enter the column base or climb the more than 200 steps to the top of the tower.
Mexico’s national cathedral — the vaulting, austere, ornate church on the Zócalo‘s north end — was once the site of an ancient Aztec precinct, so it has housed the city’s spiritual core for centuries. The cathedral was built between 1573 and 1813 after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán and is considered one of Mexico City’s many must-see attractions.
Depending on your interest in Mexican history or architecture, you could spend between an hour and a full day at the cathedral. I have been to nearly all the Great Cathedrals of Spain, France or Italy. The Metropolitan Cathedral is equal to any. It is amazing in hundreds of different ways.
Highlights of the cathedral include five naves and 14 chapels, a painting by famed Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and underground catacombs. The cathedral is open daily and admission is free.
Torre Latino-Americana for stunning views of the city. Its central location, height (183 m or 597 ft; 45 stories), and history make it one of Mexico City’s most important landmarks. Enjoy a nice lunch in the restaurant at the top of the tower and take avantage of the amazing view.
Plaza Garibaldi to enjoy the Mariachi. The square is surrounded by cafés and restaurants much favored by tourists, and in these and in the square itself groups of musicians play folk music. Most of these groups are “mariachis” from Jalisco, dressed in Charro costume and playing trumpets, violins, guitars and the guitarrón or bass guitar. Payment is expected for each song, but it is also possible to arrange for a longer performances. For sure, you will have a lot of fun.
A visit to Mexico is not complete until you experience the fantastic Mariachi Bands.
So many more things to see and visit in this city. You need to come more than once. Stay in the main places and it is not dangerous at all. No more than in New York or any big cities in the world….
See my report on Hotel Cortes for a pleasant stay in Mexico city.