Beginner’s guide to Mexico City

Beginner’s guide to Mexico City

Mexico City is known for its richness in art, history, and gastronomy. The city claims to have more museums than any city in the world, making it the ideal travel destination for history buffs. It can be hard to know where to start in the most populous city in North America. This list will guide you through all the marvel, beauty, and surprises Mexico City has to offer.

Where to stay

This is a 2-bedroom home with 3 floors and an unbeatable location in the middle of Mexico City

Featuring a perfect blend of modern and vintage decor, this stunning Mexico City home will sleep up to four. Light fills the space from floor-to-ceiling windows on each of the three floors. The home is in La Condesa, a fashionable area with tree-lined streets and a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, and boutiques.

Rent this 2-bedroom house in La Condesa

This modern apartment in Roma Norte features a private balcony

In search of the perfect home base for your Mexico City adventures? This sunny apartment with a private balcony in the trendy Roma Norte neighborhood sleeps up to four guests and is within walking distance to the glorious Cibeles Fountain.

Book this modern apartment in Roma Norte

This 2-bedroom apartment offers an oasis in the middle of Mexico City

Hit the streets for internationally renowned entertainment, shops, and culture, and then recharge with relaxing city views. Equipped with every comfort you enjoy at your own home, this 2-bedroom apartment offers an oasis in the middle of the city. With the ability to sleep up to five guests, the apartment is ideal for groups of families or friends.

Rent this light-filled oasis in Roma Norte

This chic 2-bedroom apartment in Roma Norte features a private outdoor terrace for guests to dine alfresco

Also located in Roma Norte, this chic 2-bedroom apartment is within walking distance to the city’s major cultural attractions, including major museums and world-famous plazas. The private outdoor terrace offers guests the chance to relax and dine alfresco. Previous guests rave about the unbeatable location and modern design.

Stay in this 2-bedroom apartment with a terrace

Places to visit

1. Castle of Chapultepec (Castillo de Chapultepec)

This castle has served numerous purposes. Originally a military school during the Mexican-American War, the castle eventually became the residence of Emperor Maximilian of France.

Fun fact: During the time that Maximilian took over the castle, it was located on the outskirts of the city. Therefore, he ordered the construction of a boulevard similar to the Champs-Élysées that would connect the castle to the city. Known as Paseo de la Reforma, this avenue is now filled with tourist attractions, luxurious restaurants, office buildings, and public art exhibitions.

2. Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes)

The Palace of Fine Arts is the first national theater in Mexico where composers have debuted their work. If you want to get a sense of the magic that has been performed within these marble walls, listen to “Huapango” by Jose Pablo Moncayo. This palace is not only known for its performances, but also for its murals by Diego Rivera, who you’ll see on the 500 peso bill.

Fun fact: One of the most famous murals displayed here is “Man at the Crossroads.” This mural was originally commissioned by the wealthy business family the Rockefellers, in New York. But once Diego painted Soviet leader Vladmir Lenin in it, the Rockefellers ordered the mural to be covered and thereby destroyed before it was finished. In 1934, Rivera ended up re-creating this painting to later be displayed in the Palace of Fine Arts.

3. Angel of Independence (Ángel de la Independencia)

Just as Paris has its Eiffel Tower, Mexico has the Angel of Independence. This monument in the heart of the city is a focal point for political rallies, protests, and celebrations.

Fun fact: This monument is a hotspot for “quinceañeras” — equivalent to a sweet sixteen but for 15-year-olds. It’s very common during the day to see girls with beautiful gowns getting their photos taken here.

4. Frida Khalo’s house (Casa de Frida Khalo)

Also known as “Casa Azul,” this home is where Frida Khalo grew up and eventually lived with Diego Rivera until she passed away in 1954. Containing collections of work from both artists, this home gives a unique insight into their daily lives.

Fun fact: In 1953, a hospital stay threatened Khalo’s attendance at her first solo exhibition in Mexico. Against doctors’ orders, she made an incredible entrance, pulling up in an ambulance as if in a limousine.

5. Pyramid of Tenochtitlan (Pirámides de Tenochtitlan)

Formerly known as the capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan was conquered and destroyed by the Spanish in the mid-16th century. There are two pyramids that visitors can climb: the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. Historians still don’t know exactly what these pyramids were for, although it is assumed they were used for sacrifice. 

Fact: You may remember Hernán Cortés from your high school history class. Cortés was a famous conquistador who traveled to Mexico and was received peacefully. Cortés and his men eventually captured and killed the indigenous people of Tenochtitlan.

6. Xochimilco (soo-chill-mill-ko) also known as trajineras

Listen to live music with a cold Corona in hand as you float along the canals on a flat-bottomed boat. After a long day of exploring the city, this is just what any tourist needs. 

Fun fact: If you’re feeling brave, take a stop at Doll Island. Originally owned by Don Julián Santana, this island is full of dolls hanging from trees and buildings covered with cobwebs. The island was named in the 1950s when its owner began to hang these dolls for protection against evil spirits.

Museums to explore

1. Museo Memoria y Tolerancia

This museum was created to spread awareness about genocide and other human rights crimes committed throughout history. The first few floors feature artifacts from the Holocaust and other genocides in places like Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia, Darfur, Guatemala, and Yugoslavia.

Fact: The museum is divided into two sections: Memory and Tolerance. The Memory section showcases extreme cases of massacres, while the Tolerance section addresses issues such as dialogue, discrimination, human rights, the power of the media, and the richness of diversity. 

2. Museo Soumaya

This museum was founded by the richest man in Mexico, Carlos Slim. Considered one of the most complete collections of European masters, this museum features the works of artists such as Auguste Rodin, Salvador Dali, and Tintoretto.

Fun fact: The museum is named after Slim’s late wife, Soumaya Domit, who passed away in 1999.

3. The National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropologia)

The National Museum of Anthropology is the most visited museum in Mexico City, as it contains the world’s largest collection of ancient Mexican art. One of the most interesting things you’ll see in this museum is the Stone of the Sun, also known as the Aztec calendar. 

Fun fact: Keep an eye out for interesting exhibitions, as they change regularly. The Romanov exhibition held some years back included objects belonging to the Russian Czars.

Things to eat

1. Grasshoppers

During the pre-Hispanic times, insects were many Mexicans’ main source of protein. Today they continue to be popular delicacies. At the city’s famous Mercado San Juan, they can be bought by the kilo and sampled on the spot.

2. Mole

Mole is a traditional sauce used in Mexican cuisine that is primarily made of cocoa. In centrally located Mexico City, you’ll be able to experience dishes with both savory and sweet versions of this sauce.

3. Tacos

Mexico City is known to have some of the best street food in the world, especially when it comes to tacos. There’s no judgment if you choose to eat these delicious tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

4. Hot Chocolate

Mexican hot chocolate is extremely rich and has a different taste than your typical Swiss Miss. It also gives you a great excuse to order churros or pan dulce as an accompaniment.