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All About México City

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Paseo de la Reforma Mexico City

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México City is...

the capital of México, very old, the worlds largest city, the financial, political and cultural center of México, the nightlife capital of México, one of the worlds great cities, huge, one of the world's most difficult cities to drive in, filled with exciting things to see and do, sinking, an energetic metropolis or just an incredible place to visit. 

The correct answer is...All of the above!

México City is definitely all of the above...and much, much more.  This is truly one of the most interesting and diverse cities in the world.  México City holds many pleasant surprises for those who choose to vacation here. Travelers to México often overlook this city because most of the country's tourism promotion is directed toward Mexican beach resorts.

México City should be on your "Must Visit" list if you are a fan of world-class museums, archeological treasures, international cuisine, incredible shopping experiences, stately mansions, colonial neighborhoods, dazzling nightlife, inviting plazas and gardens or great city parks.  The National Museum of Anthropology is one on the world's great museums, and could easily occupy a short vacation by itself.

Don't let the sheer size of México City scare you, most tourists will most likely confine their visits to three or four well defined areas of the city and maybe some easy side trips.  Depending on where you stay, many attractions will be just a short distance away and those that are not so close can be reached fairly easily.  A great way to get a feeling for the city is to enjoy drinks or dinner from the 45th floor of the World Trade Center.  Bellini is a revolving restaurant that offers stunning views of the whole city.  If possible, get settled in before sunset.

Organized tours, taxis, city buses or the modern subway system (during off peak hours) should be considered over attempting to drive in this city.  (See: Practical Advice)  The traffic here is legendary, and for very good reason.  For side trips to the nearby colonial towns or archeological sites a rental car is fine, as the highways and toll roads surrounding the capital offer pleasant driving conditions.

México City, now  the center of, business, culture and  government for the country, was once the center of the entire Aztec empire.  The current Zócalo, or town square, is built on the same spot where once stood Montezuma's palace.  Many of the old mansions and public buildings in the area were built hundreds of years ago using the stones from the Aztec temples that were destroyed by the Spaniards.  The Zócalo is Latin America's largest main square at over 13 acres.  Despite it's size, the zócalo tends to get crowded in the evenings and on weekends. 

Monuments, parks, fountains and great tree lined avenues are everywhere you are likely to visit within the city. Skyscrapers sit beside splendid examples of colonial architecture, archeological sites share space with modern day structures and freeways lead to charming neighborhoods of colonial buildings and peaceful plazas.  Museums are around just about every corner and the rich heritage of México's colonial past is evident almost everywhere.  There are many places, within México City,  to escape the fast pace of the city and where you will feel like you are in a different world within a few minutes time. 

Paseo de la Reforma, the city's main thoroughfare, will give you an immediate idea of why México City has been referred to as the "Manhattan" of Latin America.  This elegant boulevard is lined with dozens of magnificent monuments including the much-photographed Independence Monument, which has become the unofficial trademark of México City. Sharing the precious space along Paseo de la Reforma are modern high-rise office buildings, embassies, luxury hotels, colonial mansions, more monuments and shaded pedestrian promenades.

Chapultepec Park is an enormous green area in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of this fast paced city.  This park is the city's largest, covering over 2000 acres, and it contains enough of the city's attractions, including three of the most important museums, that a short vacation could easily be devoted just to the attractions within the park. 

Alameda Park, near the zócalo and Palace of Fine Arts, has been around since1541, making it the city's oldest park. The park has also been an Aztec market and was also the site of burnings, hangings and executions in the old days.  With it's walking paths, numerous fountains and a Moorish kiosk, this park is full of, old style, traditional charm.  This refreshing oasis is a great place to rest or relax and enjoy some green space for a while, if you are walking near the historic center.  There are also a couple of monuments here that are, themselves, worthy of a visit. On weekends there are often salsa or rock bands playing, an excellent Sunday puppet theatre for the kids is often active around noon.  Many interesting colonial style buildings and museums surround this park.

The neighborhoods, or colonias, of Centro Histórico, Zona Rosa, Polanco, Roma, Condesa and Lomas de Chapultepec are all fairly close each other and also to Paseo de la Reforma. These are the principal areas in the central part of the city that are most popular with tourists.  In the southern part of the city the suburbs of San Angel and Coyoacan along with the Floating gardens of Xochimilco are places you should definitely visit during your stay.

México City is a great vacation destination for the entire family.  There is something interesting and entertaining for everyone.  For those seeking a taste of authentic Mexican culture there is more than enough to keep you occupied for the entire length of your vacation.  A vacation here, combined with a couple of short side trips should be just enough to make you wonder when you are going to return and why you haven't visited before.  

Also, if Mexico city doesn't interest you, plan your next vacation at the best hotel in Puerto Vallarta.

México City Historic Center
See also:  Our printable Historic Center map.

The Plaza de la Constitución, more commonly known as the "Zócalo" is a must on any visitor's list of things to do in México City.  This is a great place to get a feel for the areas history and to start your exploration of the city.  Within just a few blocks of the Zócalo, in all directions, are some of the city's finest examples of city history, architecture and art.  More than 1500 buildings in this relatively small area of the city have been declared historic or artistic monuments. 

The Zócalo once contained the pyramids and palaces of Moctezuma and was the exact center of the Aztec empire.  To this day the it is center of much activity and the very heartbeat of México City.  It is here that the country celebrates it independence with the "El Grito" on September 15th, every year.  The Zócalo is the second largest  public plaza in the world (only Red Square in Moscow is bigger), covering over 13 acres. 

Historic Center - Attractions

Zócalo Government Palace
Templo Mayor Palace of Fine Arts
Templo Mayor Museum Metropolitan Cathedral
Museum of México City Alameda Park
 Regina Coeli Temple National Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Cathedral

Palace of Fine Arts

Things to Do and See...near the Historic Center

Attractions near the Historic Center

Paseo de la Reforma

Chapultepec Park

Independence Monument Chapultepec Castle
Diana Fountain Zona Rosa
National Museum of Anthropology Rufino Tamayo Museum
Polanco Plaza Garibaldi

The Suburbs

San Angel


San Angel is one of those places that will stay in your mind for long time.  This setting is as close as you are likely to get to the colonial neighborhoods of Old México.  Shaded plazas, narrow winding streets paved in cobblestone and walls of ancient stone covered with multi-colored bougainvillea all seem to etch a spot in your heart.  This is a community of brightly painted colonial era homes, mansions and haciendas that seem to block out the city sprawl that has now invaded most of the area.  The Saturday market is famous for quality art work, handicrafts and pottery. 

One of the México's finest restaurants, the San Angel Inn, is located here and the ambiance of this converted hacienda is unbeatable, except by their expertly prepared menu and impeccable service.  San Angel has it's own small tourist office (5277-6955) that will answer questions about the colonia.  They also offer free, guided walking tours of San Angel, Saturdays only  at noon, 2 PM and 4 PM.  San Angel is also home to several museums, including the Museo Studio Diego Rivera, where the famous artist once lived and worked.  

Coyoacán, near San Angel, is another enchanting colonial neighborhood in which you can actually feel the tranquility and colonial charm of Old México. The, tree shaded, twin central plazas are the center of most of the activity and can be down right entertaining on weekends.  The narrow colonial-era streets, the plazas, bookstores, bars and cafés all tend to impart a Bohemian atmosphere on this charming city.  Calle Francisco Sosa, not much more than a narrow cobblestone passageway, is supposedly México's oldest street.

Coyoacán is home to several museums, most noteworthy being the Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsy museums, both located in the former homes of their namesakes. The Anahucacalli Museum houses Diego Rivera's collection of pre-Hispanic art. Coyoacán hosts a Sunday bazaar in the main plaza that is considered extraordinary, but it can get rather crowded.  

A c t i v i t i e s
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México City, with it's magnitude of interesting activities, can keep visitors busy from early morning until late at night, seven days a week.   There is so much to do in this city that it can seem overwhelming, especially if this is your first visit.  Relax, try to set your priorities, based on your particular interests and the length of your stay.

There are bullfights at Plaza México most Sunday afternoons, November through March, charreadas or Mexican rodeos are held at Rancho del Charro in Chapultepec Park, most Sundays at noon.  You can possibly catch a professional soccer match (varied schedules - mostly weekends) at Estadio Azteca or Estadio Olímpico.  There are two large amusement parks with roller coasters and other exciting rides.  An abundance of modern multi-cinemas, show (almost) current movies, all over the city and in all of the malls.  Free weekend concerts, poetry readings, magic shows and other impromptu events are often held in and around Alameda park, the Zócalo or in Chapultepec Park.

There are cultural activities of different types in many different locations being presented every day and night, year round.  These events can take place at many different locations throughout the city.  For information and up to date schedules, try checking with the México City Tourism Office located at Amberes 54, on the corner of Londres, in Zona Rosa, Tel. 5525-9380 between 9 AM and 7 PM. Multilingual operators are available.  Another good place to find out what is currently going on in town is the Friday and Saturday editions of "The News", México City's English language newspaper.

Chapultepec Park is an enormous green area in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of this fast paced city.  This park, the city's largest covering over 2000 acres, contains enough of the city's attractions that a short vacation could easily be devoted to the activities just within the park.  The park contains three of the city's most important museums, an amusement park with an old style wooden roller coaster,  the only genuine castle in North America, México's largest zoo and the residence of the president of México, Los Pinos.  For water lovers there are lakes with paddleboats, also an aquatic park with water slides, tunnels and a wave pool. 

Chapultepec Park also contains special attractions, which are sure to steal the hearts of the youngsters traveling with you.  Just west of the Museum of Modern Art is the Centro de Convivencia Infantil which is a unique adventure style playground that also has an aviary, monkeys, some domestic animals, a giant King Kong and artistic face painting.  Adults will be refused entry - unless children accompany them.  Papalote Museo del Niño is a hands-on children's museum with tunnels and slides, giant soap bubbles and all kinds of scientific and technical games and gadgets.  The attendants are all young themselves and very child friendly.  Also, an IMAX big screen theatre, shops and snack bars.  Nearby is an amusement park with scaled down rides for kids and Atlantis, a marine park that features trained dolphins, sea lions, bird shows and a marine cave museum.

The floating gardens of Xochimilco are another of México City's many "Must Do" attractions. The ancient floating gardens have been around for about 700 years and still operate, basically the same, as they did in Aztec times.  Here you can rent brightly painted boats, called trajineras, for about ten dollars and hour, including driver (he'll use a pole to push the boat along the canals).   You cruise the ancient canals at a leisurely pace and once you are out of the dock area you will likely be approached by boats with mariachi or marimba bands, photographers, and vendors of food, drink and handicrafts.  This is a favorite attraction of visitors and locals alike and one you surely will not want to miss.  On weekends, especially Sundays, the gardens tend to get very crowded and a fiesta like atmosphere prevails.  If you prefer a little peace and quiet visit Xochimilco during the week.  Xochimilco is located in the southern section, about 15 miles south of downtown.

G o l f   a n d   T e n n i s
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Golf courses in the city tend to be very private, but there are ways to get on a few of the courses.  Tennis is another matter, as México City boasts some very nice tennis facilities. The city's weather is usually very agreeable for either sport. 

S h o p p i n g
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México City offers an incredible range of options for the serious shopper.  México City is home to some of the largest and most modern shopping malls in Latin America.  These malls feature upscale shops, chic restaurants, fast food courts, high-end department stores, multi-cinemas and some of the most imaginative displays you will see anywhere.  The malls and some truly unique shopping neighborhoods are spread out all over the city.  

Mercados (market places) are another popular shopping experience to be found all over México City.  The many local mercados range in size from small, impromptu, flea markets set up in minutes to sprawling outdoor affairs selling furniture to elaborate buildings with 200 or 300 separate stalls selling everything under the sun. 

Downtown, in the general area of the Zócalo, there are numerous shops and market places, some located in converted colonial era mansions.  Some of the areas markets sell only curios and trinkets; others sell serious antiques, custom jewelry, fine gold and pearls. On Sundays, La Lagunilla market hosts a flea market of interest to those who collect antiques or coins.    

In the always-lively Zona Rosa district you will find a treasure trove of small shops and small walk in shopping arcades housing art galleries, jewelry stores, boutiques and silver stores. This area is home to numerous, one-of-a-kind, crafts and antique stores.  Flea markets tend to pop up in some areas of Zona Rosa on the weekends.  In Zona Rosa you will also find many sidewalk cafes and some of the city's more popular restaurants and clubs.  

Condesa is a fashionable, but relaxed, neighborhood south of Zona Rosa that has become popular with the artistic crowd.  The many art deco buildings and old European style townhouses are a pleasant and peaceful diversion from the busier pace of the adjoining neighborhoods. This is a great area to spend a leisurely afternoon strolling among the many boutiques, art galleries, bistros, and sidewalk cafes that have made this area popular with locals. Parque México, a well kept green area, offers a somewhat quiet area for relaxation.

Polanco is an upscale residential and commercial district that is filled with elegant shops, boutiques and malls, selling high-end silver items, designer fashions, crafts, Talavera pottery and china.  The Presidente Masaryk area of Polanco is where you will find the shops of famous designers such as Gucci, Christian Dior and Hermés along with some incredible restaurants and sidewalk cafes thrown in for good measure.  This area is often compared to, the ultra trendy Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles.

The Southern section of the city is the favorite area of many México City veterans.  The Perisur and Coyoacan malls are located here.  Due mainly to their elegant colonial atmosphere, the suburbs of San Angel and Coyoacán are considered by many to be the only place to visit when vacationing in the capital.  San Angel is famous for it's Bazar Sábado (Saturday Market) held in Plaza San Jacinto, the indoor market is supposed to feature the higher quality goods, but the outside portion is known for better prices.  The San Angel Inn, one of the city's fine restaurants, is located here.  The inn is a great place to rest after a day of shopping and sip an early afternoon beverage on their colonial patio. Coyoacán has it's own, less famous, version of Bazar Sábado but the day is changed to Sunday.

R e s t a u r a n t s
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Dining in México City dining can be one of the most memorable experiences of your trip. With over two thousand restaurants to choose from, México City has something to please everyone.  Branches of some of the world's most famous restaurants are represented here and there are some local restaurants that are known for their quality, the world over.  Every cuisine imaginable is represented along with local favorites such as Tortilla (or Aztec) Soup, Chilies Rellenos and Cochinita Pibil, a tender pork loin, wrapped in banana leaves then seasoned and baked, Yucatan style.  If you are happen to be a seafood aficionado, rest assured the better restaurants will get fresh supplies daily.

Mexicans tend to have their main meal between two and four in the afternoon.  This meal is usually eaten at a leisurely pace and is very often combined with a business meeting or family get-together.  The dinner hour usually starts much later, around 9 PM, and usually consists of a somewhat lighter fare or even just coffee and dessert.  If you are planning on dining late, it is probably a good idea to call for reservations, at the same time check to see if a dress code is enforced.

N i g h t l i f e
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Nightlife in México City is amazingly diverse, starts late and covers just about every form of entertainment imaginable.  From small salsa clubs and crowded discos to live concerts featuring the world's most popular stars.  Ballet, theatre, folkloric shows, opera and philharmonic orchestras are every bit as common as the all night disco and drinking scene. Boxing and wrestling events are held on most weekend nights. At Garibaldi Plaza the numerous Mariachi bands often play into the wee hours of the morning. 

When the sun goes down México city comes to life and you have an incredible array of entertainment to choose from.

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