Self-guided walking tour of Mexico City centre
Mexico City, dated from the 16th century, is one of the oldest capital cities in the Americas. With a population of about 9.3 million, it is the most populous city in North America. Nowadays, the city is an important global hub for business, culture, and education. Mexico City boasts more museums than any other city worldwide. There are also many theatres in the city, but London and New York have more. Mexico City’s historic centre and Xochimilco borough, inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage list, represent the historical continuity from the ancient Aztec capital to the capital of New Spain. Since the city and country have the same name, Mexico City is also known as CDMX, Ciudad de Mexico. This self-guided city centre walking tour allows you to do it at your preferred pace and make stops to see the interiors of the buildings or visit a museum. Check out a map of the tour at the end of the article. Also, an article about the other walking tour of Mexico City will follow shortly, so come back for more. Let’s start this tour with the central square.
The Zocalo, officially the Plaza de la Constitucion, is the heart of Mexico City and its central square. It was the centre of the ancient Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, destroyed by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. One of the square’s main attractions is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built on the ruins of the Great Temple. Today, the Plaza de la Constitucion is one of the largest squares in the world.
This cathedral was built from 1573 to 1813. Materials for its construction were initially taken from the destroyed Aztec pyramids and structures. The cathedral boasts two bell towers, a central dome, and three main portals. Its four façades contain portals flanked by columns and statues. Highlights of the cathedral include five naves, fourteen chapels open to the public, underground catacombs, and a painting by famous Spanish artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo. It is home to two of the largest 18th-century organs in the Americas.
Great Temple Archaeological Site & Museum
The Great Temple is dedicated to exploring the centre of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and learning its rich history. The site includes several Aztec structures, buildings, pyramids, and shrines. The primary remaining Aztec monument is the Great Temple, which was built in the 14th century. The temple was dedicated to the war god Huitzilopochtli and the rain god Tlaloc, and each had a shrine at the top of the pyramid with separate staircases. The site was only rediscovered in 1978. Today, all of this is complemented by a museum whose permanent collection is among the most important in the city.
Our next stop is Plaza Santo Domingo.
Plaza Santo Domingo
A relatively small square a couple of blocks from the Zocalo, Plaza Santo Domingo will surprise you with its beautiful colonial buildings surrounding it, such as the former Palace of the Inquisition, the Old Customs Building, and the spectacular 16th century Catholic Temple, which gives this square its name. The Portal de Santo Domingo building, also known as the “Portal of the Evangelists”, takes up most of the west side of the square. Legend has it that Fidel Castro purchased a fake passport there in the 1950s, allowing him to cross borders and plan the Cuban Revolution. Today, it is still a major centre for printing invitations, academic theses, and certain kinds of official certificates. In the middle of the square is a statue of Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, a rebel who fought with Mexico to gain independence from Spain in the early 19th century. After following Republica de Cuba Street for a while, turn left onto Republica de Chile Street and check out some of the many Quinceanera dress shops there.
Quinceanera tradition and dress shops
In Mexico, a girl celebrating her 15th birthday is called a quinceanera. The Quinceanera is one of the most important celebrations in Mexican culture. It is still practised in Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as in Latino communities in the United States and elsewhere. The Quinceanera tradition celebrates a girl’s journey from girlhood to young womanhood. The highlights of the tradition are god, family, friends, music, food, and dance. A quinceanera traditionally wears a ball gown, with her Court of Honour dressed in gowns and tuxedos. While it was usual for girls to wear white dresses in the past, now girls can choose from a wide variety of colours for their special day.
Continue your way to the Theatre of the City.
Theatre of City
The current theatre building was built at the beginning of the 20th century and was initially named after famous Mexican actress and singer Esperanza Iris. For many decades, it hosted prominent shows in the country. It was completely restored at the turn of the 21st century and nowadays is one of the most important theatres in the city. The theatre is the premier performing arts stage with more than 1,300 seats and regularly welcomes many national and international performance troupes. Programmes include musical productions, dance, theatre, opera, operetta, zarzuela, interdisciplinary shows, cinema, festivals, and other productions.
Address: Donceles 36, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de Mexico, Centro.
Mexico City Legislative Palace
The neoclassical building of the Legislative Palace on Donceles Street was opened in 1911. The palace served as the Federal Chamber of Deputies of Mexico and later was the principal seat of the Mexico City Legislative Assembly. In 1957, the women’s right to vote was recognised there, and they voted for the first time soon after.
Address: Ignacio Allende 11-19, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de Mexico, Centro.
National Museum of Art
The National Museum of Art is one of the many museums in CDMX, but this one perhaps holds the most value. Formerly a palace, the museum has an extensive collection of artwork from ancient times to the present. In addition, Mexican art from the second half of the 16th century to the first part of the 20th century is on display there. This museum is also a brilliant example of the architecture of the early 20th century.
Address: C. de Tacuba 8, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de Mexico, Centro.
If you cannot imagine a post office as a palace, you must visit Mexico City’s Postal Palace to see the elegant architecture of this more than a century old building. The Postal Palace of Mexico City, also known as the “Correo Mayor” (Main Post Office), is located near the National Museum of Art. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century when the Post Office became a separate government entity. The complex design of this building, which was the most modern of the time, included a very eclectic style. When the 1985 earthquake struck Mexico City, the building was heavily damaged. In the 1990s, restoration work brought it back to its original appearance. Go in there and marvel at the interior of the building or visit a museum.
Address: C. de Tacuba 1, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de Mexico, Centro.
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is Mexico City’s grandest and most important performance space. This stunning Art Nouveau masterpiece is an artistic centre and a venue for notable opera, dance, music, art, and literature events. It is home to the National Museum of Architecture and the National Theatre. The iron and Marotti crystal domed roof fills the space with natural light. Also, check out murals by famous Mexican artists on the top floors of this white-marble palace. The first floor exhibits murals by Rufino Tamayo, while the second floor features paintings by Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and others. Notice the controversial mural by Diego Rivera that was repainted at the palace after its original was destroyed at Rockefeller Centre in the US because it included the portrait of Lenin. The name of this smaller-scale mural is Man, Controller of the Universe.
Address: Av. Juárez S/N, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de Mexico, Centro.
House of Tiles
The House of Tiles was initially built as a palace during the 18th century by the Count of the Valle de Orizaba family. This beautiful house is covered with tiles and is a symbol of success in the colonial era. Ownership of the building changed hands several times until two enterprising young Americans, Walter and Frank Sanborn, converted the House of Tiles into a stylish restaurant in 1919. Now it is owned by Carlos Slim, the telecoms magnate who bought the Sanborns chain in 1985. This is a great place to learn history and art or have coffee or light refreshments. Go in there and take a look around, you do not have to purchase anything.
Address: Av. Madero 4, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de Mexico, Centro.
Latin American Tower
This 44-storey skyscraper, built in 1965, is the tallest and one of the most emblematic buildings in the historic city centre. The tower miraculously withstood two severe earthquakes in 1985 and 2017, making it a rare feat of engineering. If you want to see the city from the top of the tower, you have two options: one is to pay the entrance fee and go to the observation deck, and the other is to visit Miralto restaurant and bar on the 41st floor. The restaurant is a perfect place to have a meal or drink while enjoying 360º views of one of the largest cities in the world. The dishes at Miralto combine traditional flavours of Mexican food with international elements. According to the Newshub 360, it is one of the top restaurants in Mexico City, and the prices of the dishes are moderate, in my opinion. So I recommend the restaurant for the views. Ask the staff how to get there and use your saved entrance fee money for a drink.
Address: Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 2, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de Mexico, Centro.
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Author: Anita Sane