Mexico City was founded on what was once the ancient Tenochtitlán, after the Aztecs are said to have witnessed an eagle perched atop a nopal while devouring a snake. You’re unlikely to see anything quite like this in Mexico’s capital nowadays, but you will see a huge range of stunning attractions that hark back to the city’s origins and rich history.
If it’s your first time in Mexico City, we recommend starting with the following sights, which range from spacious parks to world-class museums and the monuments that give this metropolis its distinctive character.
Best sights and attractions in Mexico City
The architecture will impress you. It’s impossible to see the entire museum in one day, but seeing the Coatlicue will change your perception of one of Mexico’s most important museums. After 54 years, it was necessary to restore its two great murals: The World of the Maya (Leonora Carrington) and the Map of Meso-America (Ernesto Vázquez y Luis Covarrubias).
Stepping foot in Chapultepec is obligatory for any Mexico City resident, and equally for its visitors, being that it’s one of the spaces that best maintains its tradition and history. In the first section, there’s the sense of art and history, that house museums and cultural buildings like the Museo de Arte Moderno, the Museo Tamayo and the Museo Nacional de Antropología, in addition to the legendary Castillo de Chapultepec, scene of the Batalla del Molino del Rey y of the assault of the Colegio Militar, during the North American Intervention of 1847.
Its official name is Monumento a la Independencia. It’s a meeting point and a starting point. While those who step foot here may not know it, they are standing on the remains of those who made this country. Before becoming the headquarters for important social protests and rallies, the monument was a mausoleum formed by a slanted zócalo, a quarry-stone column standing 35 meters high, and the statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the top – designed by architect Antonio Rivas Mercado.
It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, the work of Italian architect Adamo Boari. Its construction ended in 1907 on orders from Porfirio Díaz. It combines various styles: Italian renaissance, gothic and Spanish plateresque. The details in the design are the most surprising aspect. The iron work, for example, was brought from Italy, and the quarry stone is from Chiluca. The design is elaborate and detailed, with gargoyles adding to its lovely aesthetic.
At the south end of the city you find a living vestige of what was the great Tenochtitlán, with its canals and chinampas, its green plots of land, full of vegetation and fresh air. Xochimilco was named a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site in 1987, and its neighborhoods still breathe tradition and respect for nature. Its Náhuatl name couldn’t be more apt, Xochimilco means “place of fertile earth of flowers.” There are nine dock areas where you can board a trajinera.
On December 15th, they inaugurated the first part of the galleries from within the Eiffel structure: the Galería Estructura 1910, which has three floors, small auditoriums and spaces where they have interactive installations that tell about the monument’s history. At its highest point – 65 meters – is the lantern. The visitors go up in the original elevator from 1938, that rises on an incline, between the monument’s two copper domes.
The selling point of this museum – the most visited in all of Mexico City - is that it was the house where Frida Kahlo was born, lived her life and died. This house is history in itself, being that it became a meeting point for the city’s Bohemian set in the 1930s-40s. Diego Rivera lived here as well, and continued to live there after their divorce, in a separate room that now presents part of the muralist’s pre-Hispanic collection.
The flat, treeless Zócalo is one of Mexico City’s most iconic places. A multifaceted destination, it’s never short on activities such as concerts, plays, book and science festivals, job fairs and a lot more. La Plaza de la Constitución, colloquially known as “el Zócalo” for its wide-open space, was also called the Plaza de Ánimas is days of New Spain. Its current name was given in honor of the area’s prominence during the signing of the Constitution of Cádiz (1812).
It’s a place with traces of glorious encounters, and since its beginnings with el Santo and Blue Demon, being the headquarters of the boxing games in the 1968 Olympic Games. Nowadays it’s a cathedral in which every Tuesday (the “popular” day due to its cheaper prices), Friday and Sunday, people line up to celebrate the great union of a physical and magical spectacle that is lucha libre.
The construction of Bellas Artes was completed by Italian Architect Adamo Boari. The Palace is famous not only for its architecture, but for its collection which houses 17 murals by Mexican artists which were created between 1928-1963. Standout murals include El hombre controlador del universo (1934) by Diego Rivera; La Katharsis (1934) by José Clemente Orozco; Tormento de Cuauhtémoc (1951) by David Alfaro Siquieros; among others. The Palace also is home to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes and a principle room, which is an excellent place to enjoy operas, chamber music and theater.