Mexico City has a really bad wrap, the department of tourism needs to work on some rebranding. Most people think of it as a place that is crime ridden and polluted, where you get kidnapped in taxis and choke on car exhaust. We found it very safe, clean and really charming. There was a heavy police presence in the touristy areas, and people everywhere cleaning up trash and sweeping the sidewalks. It was nothing like I expected. We walked everywhere (when we were not on the Metro), even at night, and felt safer than we do in most parts of San Francisco.
Away from the historic center, in one of the many neighborhoods filled with cafes, bars and sidewalk restaurants, you will feel more like you are in Europe or Argentina than Mexico. My only advice, (and this is just personal preference), don’t stay in the busy and touristy Centro Historico, just enjoy the sites there and then leave to relax in the more tranquil neighborhoods. The Centro Historico (while a lovely UNESCO World Heritage site) has a different feeling than other parts of the city, it is full of people, and a little rougher than other neighborhoods of Mexico City. We loved escaping to the Zona Rosa (where we stayed), Chapultepec, Roma Norte, Condesa, Coyoacan…. where there was little traffic, large tree lined sidewalks, parks to escape the hustle and bustle, and tons of wonderful outdoor bars and cafes.
Outside of eating and drinking, here was the lowdown on our favorite parts of Mexico City.
Museo Nacional de Antropologia
We stayed here for half a day and felt like we did not even scratch the surface.
In the center of the Zocalo is this federal building where you can see Diego Rivera’s breathtaking mural Epic of the Mexican People. I am a huge fan of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. I minored in art history during my undergraduate studies and always dreamed about seeing these murals one day. Seeing them in person, the scale, the color, the ability to capture the raw feelings of the Mexican independence movement and all that was lost from the Spanish conquest really moved me. Diego, a socialist, wanted his art to be available for everyone to see and felt like murals were the best way to share his art with the masses. He also used his art to very effectively mock the upperclass, portraying them as grotesque caricatures. He also idealized peasant farmers and pre-Hispanic civilizations. His art is a look into the soul of Mexico.
Secretaria de Educacion Publica
If you like Diego’s murals, there are over 120 in the beautiful old convent. It is free and definitely worth a visit.
Bosque de Chapultepec
One of the largest urban parks in the world and a great place to escape the sun and busy streets. This park is full of museums and could keep you busy for days. It reminded me of some of the parks in Paris.
Catedral de Metropolitina
One of the largest churches in the Americas. Not the prettiest I have seen, but in the Zocalo and worth a visit. If you wondered where all the Spanish slave mined gold went, the alters in this church will give you a clue…
Palacio de Bellas Artes
On Wednesdays and Sundays ballet Folklorico de Mexico preforms here. I heard it was worth the $20 ticket.
The oldest park in the city and the site of old Aztec markets. A nice place to escape the bustle of the centro historico. Beware, lots of teenagers smooching.
Paseo de la Reforma
This impressive street was built in 1865 by Emperor Maximilian to look like Paris’s Champs-Elysee. The funny thing was, before I knew that fun fact I told Sam it looked like Paris. This street is shut down to cars on Sundays so people can bike. Super fun!
Francisco I. Madero
As part of the revitalization of the Centro Historico, this street was blocked from traffic, the buildings were restored and now it is the busiest pedestrian street in the city. There is a similar street in Buenos Aires that it reminded me of.
This area is really beautiful and had some of the cutest restaurants, bars and street food we saw in Mexico City. We came here to see Frida Kahlos house that is now a museum, but spent the rest of the day enjoying the area.
This area is just fun to walk around and get lost. So many impressive buildings, I get why the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We barely scratched the surface of Mexico City, I think you could spend a month here and still not see everything. But it is a city worth seeing and opening your mind to. Imagine a city with 20 million people full of culture, energy, history, art, food…how could you not love it? I just wish we could have seen a soccer game….