Mexico City can be rather overwhelming the first time you visit this colossal city. There is so much to see and do, but where to start? Here are my top ten absolute favourite places to go when we have guests in town, and I thought I would share them with you.
Something that you should keep in mind when you are planning your excursions, is that the majority of museums in Mexico infuriatingly only have the information in Spanish! Which really upsets me as the majority of tourists who visit Mexico are from the U.S, Canada and Europe. So you may want to think about hiring an English speaking guide – whom conveniently tend to hang outside the museums…hmm the cynical side of me smells a scam!
Another tip that I have for you is don’t try to cram your days with activities. Pick and choose what you want to do, you have to keep in mind that Mexico City is huge and coupled with terrible traffic there is only so much you can do in one day – so don’t stress!
1. San Angel Saturday Art Market, Lunch at San Angel Inn
Every Saturday the neighbourhood of San Angel is swarmed with various artists who set up shop in the two squares displaying their artwork, handicraft and mexican artifacts. It is easy to spend an hour or two strolling around the square looking at all the art work and talking with the artist. All of whom are more than happy to have a little chat with you.
Around the main square there are lots of places where you can grab a bite to eat which are very good. However about a 10 minutes walk or a short taxi ride away is the beautiful San Angel Inn which serves the best and most elegant margaritas in town and the food is very good. They have an enchanting courtyard and the interior immediately transports you back to a bygone era with waiters adorning bow ties and suites.
2. Frida Khalo Museum & Coyoacan
One of my favourite museums in Mexico – and a bonus – there is English signs and information! Before moving to Mexico I had heard of Frida Khalo, but I didn’t really know anything about her, which is why I really enjoyed this museum, as it gives you a rather detailed glimpse into her life. The museum is in her childhood home, and is well curated. You get to see many of her paintings and sketches as well as see how her bedroom and kitchen was set up during her life there – it really is very interesting.
A short walk from the museum and you will be in the center of Coyoacan. Again, there are a number of restaurants you can choose between around the square – but we went to one called Ceveceria recently, being a chain, I really didn’t have very high expectations of this place, but the sea food was fantastic and incredibly fresh, and I would go back in a heart beat – The shrimp burger was amazing!
If you want something more local – you should go into the Coyoacan Market – at the back of the market you will find the food stalls. Look for people who are wearing aprons with Don Guerrero’s on them, they make fantastic carnitas (pork tacos). The market it self is also fun to explore, as it is crammed packed with everything from pet food, costume shops and every day appliances.
3. Dolores Olmedo Museum
I have only recently discovered the Dolores Olmedo Museum and it really is with regret as it is a beautiful museum. Set in and around the home of the late Dolores Olmedo it has now become one of my favourite attractions in Mexico City.
Dolores Olmedo was an incredibly wealthy business women, whom acquired an extraordinary amount of pre-hispanic, colonial, folk, modern and contemporary art throughout her life. She was also very well known for her friendship with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and owns an impressive collection of both their works. All of which she donated to the museum which she named after herself in 1994. Disappointingly when we went to visit the museum all their work was on loan to a museum in Germany, and was not coming back to Mexico until next year (2014)!
However, there is still so much to see at the museum, and what I loved the most was that they had opened up her private rooms where you can see her vast collection of ivory, china, paintings and furniture – all of which are pieces of art in their own right. The grounds surrounding the museum are beautiful with large grassy lawns and exotic flowers, with peacocks, geese, ducks and Xoloitzcuintles (pre-Hispanic hairless dog) roaming around. A bit of tranquility in this hectic city!
You are also really close to Xochimilco the famous water canals, so it may be worth combining the two in a days outing.
Xochimilco is really a neighbourhood in the south of Mexico City, but it is best known for its canals, which are left from what was an extensive lake and canal system that connected most of the settlement of The valley of Mexico.
Tourists and Mexican residents alike can rent the colourful gondola type boats known as trajineras and spend a few hours being pushed up and down the canals. There are a few points of vague interest along the banks such as a reptile zoo and a few nurseries, but really you go to Xochimilco to eat, drink and be merry!
I suggest going with a group of friends – bring a picnic or just buy food from the various food vendors who are also in boats and will pull up next to you, hire a mariachi band to get you in the festive mood and open a bottle of tequila and enjoy your afternoon :)
5. Teothiucan and lunch at La Gruta
You can’t visit Mexico City without an outing to the famous pyramids of Teothiucan. Located about an hour drive out of Mexico City the entire complex is really impressive. I would suggest going early, as the sun is pretty vicious out there so bring hats and sunscreen! You should budget at the very least half a day visiting the pyramids.
Close to the pyramids (Gate 5) is a fantastically quirky restaurant called La Gruta – which means ‘cave’ in Spanish. As the name suggests the restaurant is literally in a massive cave. After a hot morning climbing up and down pyramids, the unapologetically touristy restaurant offers a much needed cool respite. They serve traditional Mexican food, and depending on what time you are there, they have a 30 minute cultural show which admittedly is rather tacky – but it is still a fun experience.
6. Zocalo and Down Town
There is so much to explore down town, so many museums to visit that you could spend days just wondering around the heart of the city. My favourite attractions down town are the Cathedral on the Zocalo (city square), The Templor Mayor Museum which is just around the corner http://www.templomayor.inah.gob.mx/, and The Palacio Bellas Artes which is Mexico’s National Theater.
However, just exploring the streets leading off the Zocalo is interesting, you will see that each street is dedicated to a specific trade. If you are down town, I suggest having lunch at Cafe Tacuba, which is located on Calle Tacuba relatively close to Bellas Artes.
Cafe Tacuba is housed in an old building and is one of the cities oldest eating establishment. The interior is lively and incredibly Mexican, and there is generally a nice mix of tourists and locals – during the week, it seems as though it is very popular business lunch establishment.
7. Castillo de Chapultepec
Did you know that Chapultepec Castle is the only genuine Castle to be found in the whole of the Americas? And did you know that Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet filmed part of the movie in the castle? Well, either did I until I moved here.
Chapultepec Castle has served many functions since it was built in 1775, ranging from a Military Academy, Imperial residence, Presidential home, an observertary, and today it is Mexico’s National History Museum. The museum is very good – but surprise, surprise it is all in Spanish! Apparently non-spanish speakers have absolutely no interest in Mexican history – so I would again recommend to go with a guide, or pay one of the English speaking guides that loiter outside the gates.
If however you do not get a guide, I still think it is worth to go for a look. The castle is perched on top of Chapultepec hill and not only is it a beautiful building but you have superb views of the surrounding areas.
Not really a tourist attraction per se – however, it will take you to all the noteworthy tourist attractions. Styled as a hop-on-hop-off tourist bus, there are 2 different city routes you can take depending on what your interest is, and they actually have a number of full day tours to near-by attractions outside of Mexico aswell.
When I first moved to Mexico, I would always take my visitors on the Centro Circuit bus – because 1 it was easy, and 2 I had no idea where I was going! It was also a great way for me to get an idea of the city and get my baring in a safe and secure manner.
9. Ballet Folklorico
During your stay you really must plan for one night to be spent at the Ballet folklorico which is show in the Museu de las Bellas Artes. A rather contemporary ballet interpreting traditional Mexican folk dances as well as telling the story of Mexico’s history (you can read my previous post here). Not only is the Ballet itself so vibrant and fun to watch, but the theatre in Bellas Artes is spectacular.
I suggest shelling out a bit of extra money, and sitting as close to the stage as you can so you can really enjoy the atmosphere.
10. Lucho Libre
And finally – who doesn’t like grown up masked men fake wrestling and midget gorillas? OK – so this may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is definitely worth going to see one show while you are here! The atmosphere is electric, the crowd excited and this is where a nice grey haired granny taught me the majority of my Spanish swear words!