Mexico City - 5 places you must visit
- an introductory guide to a hugely diverse city
Mexico City is huge and hugely diverse. It can be completely overwhelming to decide which places to go and where to start exploring. If you only have a few days in the city and want to make sure you get the most out of it, here are five very different experiences that will give you a great insight into Mexican culture and history as well as the diversity of Mexico City.
Coyoacán is the most folkloric and traditional area of Mexico City. It is like a village that was forgotten between high-rise buildings and two-storey highways. But make no mistake, it is far from deserted. Coyoacán is the one of the most touristy neighbourhoods in Mexico City. Home to Frida Kahlo’s famous blue house and picturesque cobble-stone streets, it is a major tourist magnet. However, if you walk a little further away from the Kiosko de Coyoacán and the famous Fuente de los Coyotes (by the way, the name Coyoacán means “place where they have coyotes”), you will find quiet streets and beautiful houses.
Just a few minutes from the centre of Coyoacán, the little place in front of Santa Catarina Chapel is a great place to relax. The cultural centre opposite the chapel offers courses of all kinds. In the Café Ruta de la Seda on Santa Catarina Park justa block a way, you can get some excellent fresh bread and sandwiches. And the cheese factory next to it sells delicious home-made goats’ cheese. Away from the busy fountain, Coyoacán has the charm of a small village. It’s hard to believe it is in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities.
2. Museum of Anthropology
If you’re interested at all in Mexico’s cultural heritage, then the Museo Nacional de Antropología is a must. I’ve been to many archaeological sites in Mexico, but the display in the Museum is a lot more informative and all-encompassing. Since the most spectacular findings from excavations all over the country have been brought to Mexico City to be displayed in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, indigenous cultural is a lot more palpable in the Museum than in the actual sites. Also, the curators of the museum have done a great job in making it interesting and vivid. It is huge. We only managed one of the two floors in one visit, and still did not have the time to inspect the displays in great detail. The ground floor displays the ancient history, divided into the various regions of Mexico, and the upper floor exhibits the modern-day lives of indigenous communities.
With the entry fee at a very reasonably 75 mxn per person, you might even consider visiting twice. The architecture is also very interesting and the downstairs café offers some delicious cakes to restore your energy.
3. Colonia Roma
Another neighbourhood where you can easily forget that you are in a big, bustling metropolis is La Roma. Recently made famous by Alfonso Cuarón’s movie with the same name, Roma has been the most-hyped neighbourhood in Mexico City for some time now. And for a reason. The tree-lined avenues of Roma Norte are full of inviting cafés, restaurants and libraries. Art galleries and cultural centres make use of the area’s glamorous early 20th century art deco and art nouveau buildings. It used to be the fanciest neighbourhood in town, but when the earthquake in 1985 hit the area, the rich families moved to the outskirts of the city, abandoning their damaged houses or renting them cheaply. For a number of years, Roma was not a neighbourhood tourists would visit. Fortunately, this has changed. You will still see quite a few derelict buildings, but mainly refurbished houses and European-style establishments. And the popularity of La Roma is still on the rise.
The Museo del Objeto del Objeto (MODO) on Calle Colima is one of the must-see places in Roma. They have changing exhibitions around a specific topic. When we were there, the topic was México a Color. However, we were rather disappointed by the exhibition which focussed on industrial goods rather than the rich colours of indigenous arts and crafts.
In terms of food and drink, there are so many options and we have only tested a few. For a great atmosphere and interesting cocktails, I would recommend Tepatio, just opposite MODO. If you want to try real Mexican street tacos, the friendly man selling tacos on the corner of Mérida and Colima attracts a queue for a reason: The tacos are cheap and delicious. As a plus, he has several vegetarian options. In terms of baked goods, Panadería Rosetta on Colima/Orizaba is absolutely delicious.
4. Museo Chapultepec
Although I was not so convinced by the idea of visiting a European-style castle in the middle of Mexico’s capital, I was more than glad I did end up going to Museo Chapultepec. Not just that the architecture is actually a lot more interesting than it looks from the outside, the castle is actually full of Mexican history. I have learned more about the Mexican Revolution, the American invasion and the historic figures that so many of the streets in Mexico are named after in Museo Chapultepec than in any other museum or historic site I have visited. I strongly recommend this museum to get your Mexican history basics in in a fun way. Bear in mind that you have to walk up the hill to the museum and that it is forbidden to bring in any food or drinks. There is a locker hut at the bottom of the hill in Parque Chapultepec, but no one will actually tell you that you’re not allowed to bring any water bottles or snacks until you reach the entrance to the museum. So better leave your bags in the locker right away.
Since you’re already there, I also suggest you have a stroll through Parque Chapultepec, one of the favourite weekend destinations for the inhabitants of Mexico City.
5. Street Art Tour in Doctores
The last item on the itinerary is a bit of a contrast to the previous program. This is on purpose. The locations described above only depict a fraction of what Mexico City and Mexico in general is really like. The vast majority of Mexicans cannot afford eating in a restaurant in La Roma and doesn’t even dare venturing into the area of the rich for a Saturday stroll. What you see in Roma, Condesa and Coyoacán is only representative of a small fraction of Mexico. If you go to Tepito, the area around Tacubaya metro station or even just the market streets behind the Zócalo, you will see another face of Mexico. However, I would not recommend you do that as a tourist if you don’t have a specific reason to go there. First of all, you are likely to get robbed, and secondly, those areas are crammed, dirty and quite frankly not very interesting.
If you still want a taste of how the other half live while seeing some culture, I suggest you take a street art walking tour that will lead you through the Doctores neighbourhood. The area is about to be gentrified, but still is a lot cheaper (and less safe) than the adjacent Roma. And it is the cradle of Mexico’s street artists. Our guide Rodrigo from Freetour.com was very knowledgeable about the neighbourhood. We did not only learn about graffiti artists but also about recent urban development in the zone and the tag-language used by drug gangs.
If you only manage to do those five things on your trip to Mexico City, you will still get a good insight into Mexican history and cultural heritage and get to know the City from different angles. The Zócalo, the main square with the city hall etc., is skip-worthy in my opinion.
By the way, if you are looking for a place to stay during your trip, I can highly recommend renting an Airbnb in Roma or Condesa. Those quiet but central areas are safe, central and you can go out for dinner and drinks on foot. We were super happy with the accommodation we stayed in. If you’re new to Airbnb, use my coupon code to get 30 Euros off your first stay.