The Top 8 Cultural Experiences in Mexico City
Featured destinations: Mexico City
Published 02 March 2017
With archaeological sites, colonial-era buildings, historic cantinas, an extensive cuisine and more museums than any other city in the world, Mexico City is undoubtedly one of the planet’s best places for travellers in search of a culture-rich destination.
Chaotic as it is, the sprawling megalopolis of 21 million residents is sure to satisfy your search for knowledge; here, Claus Gurumeta shares his top eight cultural activities to experience in Mexico City:
The Zocalo, Mexico City
Mexico City’s main square, the Zocalo, surrounded by some of the city’s top must-see places, is a spectacle in itself. Located in the heart of Mexico City’s historic centre, the Zocalo is over 35 square miles and is large enough to host over 210,000 people. The square is home to fabulous events year-round, ranging from parades to free concerts to public art exhibits and major celebrations. Even on a slow day, the Zocalo will be packed with street vendors and street performers, making a stroll on the square a truly cultural experience any day of the year.
Templo Mayor, Mexico City image: Claus Gurumeta
Templo Mayor Ruins
One block north from the Zocalo, you’ll come across Templo Mayor. Before the Spanish invaded the country, the bustling city of Tenochtitlan – what is now Mexico City – was the most prominent urban area in the Americas. At the heart of the city, a complex of temples towered high above its surroundings, with the great pyramid, Templo Mayor, at its centre. When the Spanish took over the city, they proceeded to dismantle the ancient Aztec temples, and use the material to build their own city. Miraculously, although only the foundations of the temple survived the carnage, priceless archaeological artifacts have been preserved. Today, visitors can admire not only the many priceless artifacts, but also the surviving ruins of the temple complex. Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City image: Claus Gurumeta
Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City image: Claus Gurumeta
The majestic Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, located on the north end of the Zocalo, boasts that it is the largest cathedral in the Americas. The Cathedral was inspired by Spanish gothic cathedrals and was built over a period of 240 years starting in 1573; thus, different art styles spanning this period can be found on its décor. The exterior facades and portals are intricately carved with figures, many depicting saints and angels and entire scenes from the bible, as well as Mexico’s coat of arms. Inside, multiple altars and the cathedral’s 16 chapels are decorated with gold and works of art as much as four centuries old.Palacio Nacional, Mexico City image: Claus Gurumeta
On the east side of the Zocalo, the National Palace of Mexico is a grand government building and local attraction, which includes a small museum and an extensive cacti-filled botanic garden. Visitors are welcome to enter the National Palace free of charge, and will be greeted not only by the beautiful colonial architecture of the building, but also by mural after mural of one of the country’s most prominent artists – Diego Rivera. The murals depict the story of Mexico through the ages, starting from the Aztecs until the start of the 20th Century, the time at which they were created.
The Sun Stone, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City image: Claus Gurumeta
National Museum of Anthropology
Mexico City is regarded as the city with the most museums in the world, with over 140 of them covering all areas of knowledge from history to science, to arts, entertainment, and more trivial subjects like toys and clothes. My tip for first-timers to this metropolis is to start with a visit to the National Museum of Anthropology. Found in Chapultepec Park, the museum has an incredible collection of archaeological artifacts from various pre-Columbian cultures around the country, as well as post-colonial items that highlight the merging of Mexican and Spanish cultures into one.
Gardens of Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City image: Claus Gurumeta
Another top attraction in Chapultepec Park is the prominent Chapultepec Castle, which claims to be the only castle in North America to ever have been inhabited by a sovereign. Chapultepec Castle has a long history since its completion in 1863, having been home to an emperor, a military school, an observatory, and the official residence of multiple presidents. Now a museum, the castle allows visitors a glimpse into the royal lifestyles of early Mexico, and also has a number of murals, antique furnishings and colourful stained glass windows. While there, make sure to step out into the gardens to admire some of the most beautiful views in the city!
Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City image: Claus Gurumeta
Frida Kahlo Museum
Although she only managed to produce 143 pieces of art in her short life, Frida Kahlo has become one of Mexico’s most beloved figures. Her vibrant pieces, most of which were self-portraits, can be found in some of the world’s top museums, but Mexico City is home to one dedicated entirely to her life. Housed in the “casa azul,” the cheery blue house where she lived most of her life, the museum has a great collection of mementos. Surprisingly, you won’t see many of her paintings here, but you’ll get a chance to see various sketches which inspired her masterpieces, as well as get a glimpse into her everyday life, including her diary and some of the body casts she wore after her painful surgeries, imaginatively decorated by Frida herself.
Xochimilco, Mexico City
The floating Gardens of Xochimilco may surprise those travelers who visit Mexico City expecting to see nothing more than a concrete jungle. Before Spanish colonization, the entire former city of Teotihuacan was a waterway haven, a series of floating islands that were the lifeline of the city. Today, most of the city has been paved over, but for the floating gardens of Xochimilco, located roughly 24km south of the city centre. In Xhochimilco, you can rent out a flamboyantly-decorated punt known as a trajinera; a punter will take you through a network of canals and a floating market formed by other trajineras selling flowers, food, and even a song or two by a mariachi band.
For Holiday ideas to Mexico City, take a look at our Mexico City Holidays page.