15 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Mexico City
Mexico City, known to many as the city of the eternal spring, is one of the planet's most loved capital cities, and its shining metropolitan skyline has been the top draw for millions of tourists each year since the mid-20th century.
Beyond its astonishing skyline, Mexico City has an equally beautiful historic center: miles of old city houses painted in glorious pastel hues, many of them now national monuments. Perhaps surprisingly, there is plenty of great urban architecture on this sprawling metropolis' less-visited eastern flank. If you want to get under the city's surface, the area has a surprising number of excellent museums and galleries.
Some of the best sites to visit in Mexico City include the magnificent and imposing Metropolitan Cathedral, fascinating museums of art and history, historic plazas, and the art deco mosaic-adorned Legislative Palace. If you prefer to explore the city by car, there are endless enticing drives, but for maximum enjoyment you should pack a bike or motorcycle for rides along the city's shady boulevards.
Beyond these impressive sights, Mexico City's top attractions for tourists are its many cultural and sporting events. From major soccer games to world-class circus acts, here are the best sites to visit when you're planning your next vacation to Mexico City.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Palacio de Bellas Artes, also called Palacio de los Deportes, is the main home of Mexico's national opera and ballet. It has been the location for some of the greatest international opera performances of the 20th century, including Puccini's Tosca, Strauss's Salome and Honegger's The King and the Girl. The Palacio, built for the 1929 World Fair, covers 13.3 million square meters (14 million sq ft) and is one of the largest buildings in the world. Its exterior has been given the nickname "Le Colosseum" by Mexican architects as it is a 1,700-meter (5,600-foot) radius circular building with a 4-meter (13-foot) roof and 2,115 tons of masonry. The interior of the Palacio de Bellas Artes is also impressive with its various exhibition halls including the Masterpieces hall, which houses some of the most famous works in Mexico's art history including Francisco Romero's Napoleon and Josephine, Cezanne's The Card Players, and sculptures from Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
Museo Nacional de Antropologia
Mexican National Anthropology Museum (Museo Nacional de Antropologia), founded in 1920, is a primary focus for the historical anthropology, archaeology, and ethnology of Mexico. Its collections, which feature nearly 50,000 pieces, cover a wide range of pre-Colombian art, ceramics, costume, and artifacts from the Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, and Olmec cultures. The museum's collections also include pieces from the southern area of Mexico, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas. The 2nd floor features temporary exhibits on themes related to pre-Hispanic art and ritual artifacts. More interesting are the daily sessions of guided and informal talks in Spanish. Visitors can visit the museum by appointment, but entry is free.
Museo de Arte Popular (Museum of Popular Art)
This museum presents an interesting, well-presented collection of art that captures the essence of Mexican culture. Unlike many museums, it offers not only art and artifacts from a single geographic area, but also the art of artists all over Mexico, including Teotihuacan, Oaxaca, and Tabasco. The well-curated and inexpensive museum is housed in a lovely 18th-century colonial mansion and hosts free weekly performances and other cultural events.
Museo del Templo Mayor
Conceived as a cultural complex to commemorate the area's role as the capital of the ancient Aztecs, Mexico City's Museo del Templo Mayor is a must-see for anyone interested in the site's history. The museum contains its first major archaeological excavation site, showing the vestiges of the original structures. Located within the Teocalli's massive pyramidal towers, artifacts cover a period of several thousand years and include jewelry, pottery, statues, paintings, murals, and remains of elaborate rooms and large ceremonial spaces. The huge entryway was completed in 2006 with a glass roof designed to simulate an Aztec or a Mayan sunlit chamber. The exhibit is split into four sections: Beginnings, Ceremonial Spaces, The Templo Mayor, and The Sacred Precinct. Other noteworthy spots in the city include the metro systems and underground stations; the Praque Imperial de Mexico, a stunning example of 19th-century architecture and its amazing collection of decorative art; the Parque San Juan Bosco, which offers fantastic views of the city and the iconic Metropolitan Cathedral; and the Museo de San Juan de Letrán, with its panoramic mural that, like the Parque San Juan Bosco, offers views of the old capital.
Museo de la Ciudad
The Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico (Museum of the City of Mexico), one of Mexico's most renowned cultural institutions, presents exhibitions of art from many epochs and cultures. Founded in 1935, the museum has five sections, focusing on pre-Hispanic art, colonial art, French art, Latin American art, and contemporary art. It holds more than 4,000 paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects from all epochs of Mexican art, from the Maya to the present day. The museum's collection also includes a large number of important works of European art, especially of Spanish painters, and the museum has a special collection devoted to 20th-century Mexican art.
Museo Rufino Tamayo
Mexican muralist, painter, sculptor, and engraver Rufino Tamayo was one of Mexico's most important art figures of the 20th century. Born in 1918, Tamayo was instrumental in the revival of Mexican painting in the 1950s, having used an airbrush to produce immense, vibrant murals of everyday life and social protest in the cities of Mexico, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The Museo Rufino Tamayo (Rufino Tamayo Museum) in Mexico City is a collection of works produced by Tamayo in this period. The museum was opened in 1963 as a museum to celebrate Tamayo's career. Today it has some 120,000 pieces on display, representing the full range of his work from the 1950s to the present, including 2,500 graphic works in addition to paintings, sculptures, and drawings. There are also videos and audio-visual presentations, where Tamayo speaks about his life and career.
The Zócalo, or main square of Mexico City, is the location of the Cathedral of Mexico, with its iconic twin spires reaching 88 meters above the green space in front of the ornate Gothic-style building. This is the site where Huey Tovar was crowned the first emperor of Mexico in 1521, under the Christian Spanish rule, and where Miguel Hidalgo was executed in 1811 for demanding liberty and independence. The best-known building in the area is the National Palace, designed by Italian architect Antonio de Torres Quevedo. The palace was built in the Renaissance style, but was remodeled in the Neoclassic and Art Nouveau styles. Built between 1830 and 1889, it was the first major example of an important urban style, or Mexican Neoclassicism. The national palace is surrounded by its original gardens, the largest in Mexico, which feature artworks like sculptures of early Mexican presidents, obelisks, a fountain, and statues of Spanish knights riding on horses. Other interesting points of interest in Mexico City's Zócalo include the Teatro de la Ciudad, the historic home of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Palacio de Ministries, the Palacio Municipal (Municipal Palace), the famous Aztec pyramid, the Temple of Mexico, and the National Museum of Anthropology.
Mercado de San Juan
The Mercado de San Juan is one of Mexico's most iconic and original markets. The market attracts a unique mix of people, each individual bringing something new to the mixture to make this fair unique. Old and new residents alike gather to spend their mornings and evenings for a true experience in one of Mexico's biggest cities.
Palacio Nacional, Chapultepec Castle
The Spanish built two huge fortresses here, first in the late 1540s and again in the early 1620s. The second of these, the original Palacio Nacional, is a truly spectacular building. Today this enormous palace, which houses the Mexican federal government, is considered a national monument and is among the most splendid buildings in the world. The stately main building was built in 1685 and is also a national monument. There is an extensive and important collection of art from 17th-century Mexico. The palace is best reached by bus or subway. The Palacio Nacional is in a colonial neighborhood just northeast of the city's center, about 2 kilometers from the intersection of Calles Miguel Alemán and Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Built between 1754 and 1853, Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec) looms over the site where the once mighty Aztec Emperor Montezuma met Cortés at the end of the 15th century. The original Hapsburg-era fortification no longer stands, but the castle's impressive yet picturesque grounds have been preserved. Chapultepec Castle is accessed from the Cuauhtémoc Park, reached by crossing Chapultepec Avenue and following the signs. Chapultepec is home to one of Mexico's best-known museums, the National Museum of Anthropology, with an important collection of Mayan, Aztec, and Olmec artifacts, and to the Museum of Art, with a large collection of Spanish painting. Chapultepec is also one of the most important museums in Latin America, with an extensive collection of Mummies, some dating back to AD 400. The excellent museum is located in the Chapultepec Castle, accessible on foot, or by bus, both free, although ticket offices have opened around the castle.
Central Park is the largest urban park in the Western Hemisphere, occupying some 2,430 acres, two-thirds of which are in New York City and one-third in Mexico City. Highlights include the boating lake and boat rentals, which are popular among young locals, and the New York Botanical Garden, with its 55 acres of rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas. Apart from the jungle walks, the playgrounds, and the sporting facilities, the rest of the park is a huge expanse of meadows, tree-covered hills, and scrubby bushes, where city folk go for walks, jogging, or for less strenuous recreational pursuits.
Basilica de Guadalupe
The Basilica de Guadalupe is the most famous Catholic pilgrimage site in Mexico. It is the original image on the Jalpan silver coin, is frequently depicted in Latin American art, and has long been associated with Marian apparitions and with the conversion of the indigenous peoples of Mexico to Christianity. The Basilica, just over 4 kilometers from the heart of Mexico City, is on the north side of the Templo de Guadalupe (Temple of Guadalupe). Built between 1531 and 1611, the cathedral owes its appearance to many changes over the centuries. It is in the form of a cross, with a central portal formed by 20 large semi-circular arches on each side of the central tower. The original interior was destroyed by fire in 1534, but was rebuilt and modified for centuries, until, in 1746, the present form of the church was constructed. The interior of the church is decorated with a number of paintings and altarpieces depicting the Guadalupana, the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus and her parents, Sts. Catherine and John the Baptist. The Guadalupana and St. Catherine are believed to have appeared in 1531 on the hill near the Templo de Guadalupe. The day-long celebration of the festival of Guadalupana on 13 December is the most important Catholic holiday in Mexico. There is a big Marian and Christmas Festival in December and New Year's Eve is celebrated with celebrations around the country.
Museo Casa del Lago
Museo Casa del Lago is a beautiful restored 18th-century hacienda (a farm house) that is both home and open-air museum for contemporary Mexican art. Located in the small village of San Sebastián in the state of Mexico, the museum features the work of Mexican artists such as Guillermo Tovar de Teresa, Jesús Reyes Heroles and Manuel Felguerez; the collections include sculpture, paintings and folk art. Just a few minutes' drive away is a beautiful pond and little fountain at the entry to the museum. While you are here, take a stroll in the nearby town, which is an impressive mixture of colonial churches and Maya ruins, and even the colonial town of Cuernavaca with its marvellous modern art galleries.
Teatro de la Ciudad
Located in the center of Mexico City, Teatro de la Ciudad is the capital's only remaining pre-Revolutionary theatre, constructed in the mid-18th century as a Teatro de Variedades (Variety Theatre). However, despite its elaborate Neoclassical façade and the archways of the balcony level, the interior has been somewhat altered, and now houses a wide variety of dance and music performances. The building has also been used for a number of movies and TV productions and on occasion, rock concerts. Those interested in the theatre's historical significance should visit the small but informative Museo Fundación Teatro de la Ciudad. Visitors can also get a taste of the operatic concerts and musical performances staged in the theatre, and visit the theater's offices. The box office will tell you about scheduled events and keep the public up-to-date on performances, shows, and music concerts held on the building's upper level.
Museo Casa de Azteca
Museo Casa de Azteca (Mon - Fri: 0900 - 1800 / Sat, Sun, holidays: 0900 - 2000) is located at number 27 Condesa de la Sota in Mexico City and is home to one of the most important collections of pre-Hispanic art of the Americas. The museum is on two floors and is divided into two parts. It is divided in two by the corridor that has a mural painted by Diego Rivera that celebrates the Aztec and Spanish cultures. The first section has the exhibits from pre-Hispanic Mexico, especially objects from Tlaloc, the god of water, and an impressive cast of animal-faced gods. Many of these are the original ones from the now-destroyed pyramid of Tizoc-Itzcoatl, which was also the heart of the Mexica empire at the time. It was also important to the Mayan culture. The second section of the museum has the exhibits of the Colonial Mexican era. There are many treasures on display, such as the portrait of Hernan Cortes by Diego Rivera and a ceramic figure of Pope Paul VI. There are also beautiful clothes made for Aztec rulers, more religious pieces, and a strange wooden contraption that is supposedly a 21st-century reproduction of the Aztec Calendar-Stone.