Set over 2400m above sea level in a shallow mountain bowl, and crammed with over twenty million people, Mexico City is one of the world's most densely populated urban areas. Although it does have a high crime rate, and some terrible pollution, the capital is nowhere near as intimidating as you might expect. Nonetheless, you may still prefer to take it in a couple of days at a time, taking off in between to recharge in the smaller, neighbouring colonial cities.
The city radiates out from the Zócalo, or main square, as much the heart of the modern capital as it was of the Aztec city that once sat here. Immediately to its west, in the streets between the Zócalo and the garden known as the Alameda, is the city's main commercial area. Beyond that, the glitzy Zona Rosa, with trendy Condesa to its south, stretches towards Chapultepec Park – home to the incredible Museo Nacional de Antropología – and the rich enclave of Polanco, while Avenida de los Insurgentes leads down to the more laid-back barrios of San Ángel and Coyoacán. Around the outer edges of the city are shantytowns, built piecemeal by migrants from elsewhere in the country. Hidden among these less affluent communities are a number of gems, such as the pyramids of Tenayauca, Santa Cecilia and Cuicuilco, and the canals of Xochimilco.
The Distrito Federal of Mexico is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. Known colloquially as D.F., the Federal District is a good point to start on a journey of discovery of the Mexican Republic.
Mexico City overflows with interesting sites to see, from pre-Columbian to modern and cosmopolitan. Visitors are enchanted by the vibrant culture, unique cuisine, internationally renowned art, mariachis, traditional handicrafts, architecture and the ubiquitous fiesta. Shopping, urban trekking, breathtaking views, interesting museums, theaters and entertainment from dusk to dawn are also an inherent part of the city's activities.
The Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Woods) and surrounding area is located just outside the city center. Several museums are tucked away within this enormous green space, including the Museo Nacional de Antropología , Rufino Tamayo Museum , Museo de Arte Moderno , Papalote (kite) and the Museo Nacional de Historia . The most important and visible attraction in the park is the Castillo de Chapultepec , a sumptuous castle whose rich history reflects the entire history of Mexico itself. Nearby is La Feria , the city's oldest amusement park. Los Pinos, the official residence of the President of Mexico, is nestled inside these woods, along with the Auditorio Nacional , the city's large and modern auditorium which stages world famous performances. Just north of Chapultepec is the elegant commercial and residential neighborhood of Polanco. This district is popular amongst the city's affluent residents; excellent restaurants, designer boutiques and world class hotels are found here. A scenic stroll down the beautiful Paseo de la Reforma leads to the Fuente de la Diana Cazadora and to the landmark Monumento a la Independencia also known as El Ángel (The Angel).
The Zona Rosa is an area near the center of the city that is bustling with activity and entertainment. Known for its array of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops, it is an ideal place to relax with a drink or a bite to eat while people-watching. Stop in at the Museo de Cera (Wax Museum) in the vicinity. Also in the area is the Central de Abastos , one of the largest markets in the city.
Down Paseo de la Reforma, across Avenida Juárez is the historic part of the city. The Palacio de Bellas Artes is found here, along with the Torre Latinoamericana . Continue down the colonial Calle Plateros (Madero) to reach the Zócalo / Plaza de la Constitución , the city's enormous main square, on which its founding institutions were erected, including the Catedral Metropolitana , the Palacio Nacional for government, along with the ancient Templo Mayor. The diverse origins of Mexican cultures are apparent here, illustrating its inherent mix. The Centro Histórico also offers architectural sightseeing, shopping and a chance to experience city life.
Down the tree-lined Avenida Insurgentes, dotted with shops and entertainment, is the colonial neighborhood of San Ángel. Here, you will find the monument to General Álvaro Obregón , named for the ex-president whose forearm and hand—with a ringed finger—floats poised under glass inside the scenic Jardín de la Bombilla,. Among other sites are the Templo del Carmen, Jardín del Arte, Plaza San Jacinto , and the Ex-Convento del Carmen, famous for its collection of mummies on exhibit.
You could easily dedicate a full day to meander the cobblestone and unpaved streets around the city's most attractive area, Coyoacán. Coyoacán is a traditional colonial district filled with churches, parks, gardens, plazas, museums and book shops. From the 1920s to the 1950s it was a haven for such bohemians and intellectuals as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Novo, and has retained that aura up to present day. Because of its past residents and interesting history, this is where you will find such interesting places to visit as the Museo Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli , the Museo Frida Kahlo , and the Museo León Trotsky .
Food is more than simple sustenance in Mexico; it is a way of life, an essential ingredient in the vibrant culture of this country, through which family, friends and lovers come together. In a city this big, it is not surprising that there are many different areas in which to seek out good restaurants, although some in particular stand out.
The areas of Chapultepec and Polanco have a wide array of dining options in a pleasant part of town. Visitors to the area can start their day with a spectacular view of the Bosque de Chapultepec . Mi Viejo Pueblito serves up amazing traditional Mexican foods like tacos, and parrilladas. If you're not in the mood for a whole meal, but still want the authentic Mexican atmosphere, María Bonita is a fun bar with a large variety of snacks. If you're more the type to wing it, along the Avenida Mazaryk in Polanco there is an upbeat atmosphere with sidewalk tables and a younger crowd in places like Area Bar and Terrace .
For those who prefer a quiet, cosmopolitan atmosphere, the Zona Rosa area is the best choice for a drink and light entertainment. La Marinera serves up traditional Mexican seafood in a lively atmosphere. Focolare offers a great experience combining live music with delicious, traditional specialties in the heart of Zona Rosa. And when you're done eating, stop in at Bar Frida , the Frida Kahlo themed bar that's almost more of a gallery than a watering hole.
Head to the Centro Histórico for a taste of the city's heritage and have a bite to eat in the famous Restaurante Bar Cafe Tacuba on the street of the same name. La Casa de las Sirenas offers a wide variety of cuisine served alongside musical entertainment to make for a fun dining experience. Or if you're in the mood for something a little fancier, Los Girasoles will provide you with haute Mexican cuisine next door to the Mexican Senate, so you may spot some very powerful people dining alongside you. L'Heritage offers international cuisine in a beautiful, historic building. The Casa de los Azulejos , part of the Sanborn's chain of restaurants is also found here.
The beautiful, cobblestone streets and romantic plazas of San Angel are home to some of the best restaurants in the city. The restaurant at the San Angel Inn has been serving delicious local cuisine for many years, and the added bonus of wandering musicians makes this an unforgettable dining experience. Brasserie Q offers up amazing French food in an authentic atmosphere. Stop by Tasca Manolo for dishes from all over Spain served up in an ancient mansion. Pardiños serves up fresh seafood from the Mexican state of Veracruz while Mauna Loa specializes in Chinese food with Hawaiian and Polynesian decor and entertainment after 9p.
Spend the day in the colonial neighborhood of Coyoacán enjoying great food and mingling with writers, intellectuals and artists who flock here, as did the painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in their time. Flor y Canto offers up all things traditional, from the haute cuisine to the decor and atmosphere, while Bistro Voilá offers French food in a relaxed, bistro atmosphere. El Hábito serves up superb food along with an entertaining cabaret show, all in the historic home of a well known Mexican writer. For something a little more exotic, Fun Lom offers diners what some consider to be the very best Peking Duck along with other delectable Chinese dishes.
Mexico City has boundless opportunities for any visitor or local, no matter what you may be in the mood to do, from historical sights to ultra-modern museums. Here are a few options for touring around this dynamic city.
Start at the Hidalgo underground station and take the green exit leading to the Alameda Central , one of the city's main parks, where you can visit any of the numerous statues here or the monument to Beethoven. Nearby, discover the Museo Alameda , where Diego Rivera's most famous mural is housed. Painted in 1948, his Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Central Alameda) was brought here after the 1985 earthquake, was rescued from the rubble of the Hotel Prado. This mural reflects Rivera's view of Mexican history and his childhood memories within the framework of a typical Sunday stroll in the city's central park. At the far end of Alameda Central, the Plaza de la Santa Veracruz is where the Iglesia de San Juan de Dios is found, displaying its wonderful facade—the oldest in the city. Next door, the Museo Franz Mayer houses an interesting collection of Mexican applied arts and the Museo de la Estampa (Print Museum) exhibits a series of Jose Guadalupe Posada's engravings of the Calavera Catrina. To one side, the Iglesia de la Santa Veracruz , the plaza's namesake, is one of the most important baroque buildings in the capital, for its architecture and for the brotherhood Hernán Cortes established here in gratitude for his safe arrival in the Mexican port. The remains of the Spanish sculptor, Manuel Tolsá are buried here. The nearby palatial white marble wonder of the Palacio de Bellas Artes housing several museums, includes the Museo Nacional de Arquitectura and boasts murals by Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros and Tamayo. The Palacio Nacional is in the vicinity, as are other Federal District governmental buildings. The Cafe Tacuba awaits the hungry, with Mexican food, mariachis and the rhythm of rondallas (street musicians) to finish off the day.
Bosque de Chapultepec
One of the few remaining "lungs" of the city, the green expansiveness of the Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Woods) is a popular place, particularly on Sundays. It is divided into three sections by large avenues with lakes, museums and other sites of interest for outdoor fun. Near the underground station Chapultepec, is the first section of the woods where it is easy to get around on foot. Upon exiting the underground, stands the Monumento a los Niños Heroes . Dating from 1952, this semi-circle of six columns stands tall commemorating six young soldiers who died defending the Castillo de Chapultepec upon the invasion of the United States in 1847. At that time the castle served as the Colegio Militar. From here, follow the signs to the Castillo and at the foot of the hill a small red brick, Germanic-style building from the 19th-century houses the Casa de los Espejos (House of Mirrors)—for a bit of distorted, playful fun. Part of the Castillo itself dates from 1785, home to the Viceroy of Nueva España and in 1843, it became the Colegio Militar. Later, Maximilian of Hapsburg and his wife Carlotta arrived in Mexico in 1864, refurbishing it for use as their private residence. The original furnishings remain on view in some of its halls, as remnants of their occupants. It currently serves as the Museo Nacional de Historia and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. Visit the lake , zoo or the expansive Museo Nacional de Antropología . Finish the tour off with a bite to eat at any of the restaurants in or near the park, like Adonis , which offers up Lebanese food in nearby Polanco.
Zócalo/ Plaza de la Constitución
Mexico City has always been cosmopolitan, revealing centuries of history hidden in its streets and buildings. Take the underground to the Zócalo / Plaza de la Constitución station where the Palacio Nacional and the Catedral Metropolitana are situated. Take Calle Guatemala behind the Cathedral to the alleyway called Pasaje Seminario, where the journey begins into the origins of the history of Mexico at the Templo Mayor . These ruins of the ancient Aztec ceremonial city of Tenochtitlán date back to around 1325 and underwent seven stages of construction. The Temple's museum houses a monumental sculpture of Coyolxauhqui and the Caballero Águila (Eagle Knight). Moving on, the Catedral Metropolitana and Sagrario Metropolitano exemplify the church's influence in Mexico. The Calle República de Brasil leads to the Plaza de Santo Domingo where the Museo de la Medicina stands, dedicated to all things related to medicine, in the same location where once the Palacio de la Inquisición served the purposes of the Inquisition. Traveling down Calle Argentina the Colegio de San Ildefonso with its 19th-century facade was once the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria until 1978, when it became a cultural center. Inside there are numerous murals by three renowned revolutionary muralists: Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera. It is said that the painter Frida Kahlo first met Diego Rivera here. If you are in the area in autumn, you're in luck. September and October are the season for the traditional chiles en nogada (Stuffed Poblano Chile Peppers) to be savored at the Hostería de Santo Domingo on the corner of Calle Palma, upon crossing the plaza. Created especially for the Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, who played a crucial role towards Mexican independence, this delicacy reflects the three colors of the national flag. Finish the walking tour at Calle Madero where the Torre Latinoamericana stands, along with the mansion of the Conde del Valle de Orizaba, known as the Casa de los Azulejos , dating back to 1737. The revolutionary Emiliano Zapata and his men had breakfast here upon entering the capital, and later Jose Clemente Orozco embellished it with his mural Ominsciencia ("Omniscience"), which is now a delicious restaurant for you to refuel after your tour.
Mexico's popular traditions, customs and natural reserves are found further south, including Tlalpan and Xochimilco where delightful trajineras (small covered boats) take the traveler through the legendary Aztec canals known as chinampas. Nearby, San Angel and Altavista are, without a doubt, two commercial districts that command tourist attention for their shops, sites of interest, restaurants and nightclubs such as Rioja , Casa de los Cántaros and Bar Mezzanote . Located just south of the city, the cultural, entertainment and recreational options are countless. The Casa de la Cultura San Angel and the Ex-Convento del Carmen are two worthwhile sites to see for those interested in art in its various forms of expression. A few steps away, the Museo Carrillo Gil is situated.
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