Ballet Folklórico de México
This is probably Mexico's most accomplished dance company and academy, which performs classic, regional dances from all over the country both in Mexico city and abroad. The performances are super colorful, if a little kitschy, visual feasts that are great to take kids to: Part of the fun is checking out all the regional costumes from traditional indigenous outfits to Mariachi ensembles. Founded by ballerina and choreographer Amalia Hernandez in the late 1950's, her legacy continues to this day, with several performances a week at Bellas Artes. In December and January, they also perform in the evenings outside of Chapultepec Castle, which makes for a fun holiday activity.
Biblioteca José Vasconcelos
Eje 1 Norte (Mosqueta), Buenavista
This massive public library is absolutely striking and worth the journey for anyone with an interest in architecture. Designed by Alberto Kalach, amazingly, the bookshelves actually form part of the building's structure, so that the individual book spines fill the space with thousands of colors. A Gabriel Orozco whale skeleton hangs in the lobby and there's a well-manicured botanical garden outside, just a couple more reasons why this space is so awesome to hang out in, regardless of whether you're checking out a book.
Castillo de Chapultepec
Bosque de Chapultepec
Fun fact: Mexico was, for a short time, under the rule of Maximilian I, a puppet emperor put in place by Napoleon III. The empire didn't last long, but his 18th-century castle on a hill overlooking Chapultepec Park remains. Today it's the National Museum of History, adorned in historical murals by José Clemente Orozco, Juan O'Gorman, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and displaying costumes and historical ephemera from the 16th-century on. The most exciting rooms, though, are the ones that show exactly how the Emperor and his wife lived in the castle; meanwhile, the views of the park below are stunning.
Bosque de Chapultepec
Encompassing the zoo, the botanical gardens, several man-made lakes, museums, a system of aqueducts developed by the Aztecs, and crowned by Mexico's one-time emperor Maximilian's castle, Chapultepec Park is unsurprisingly one of the largest city parks in the world. The center of all the action is right off the Paseo de la Reforma near the Museum of Anthropology, where most of the park's major attractions are located through the grand wrought iron entrance gates. Hike up to the castle and get lost on the way, discovering its many kid-friendly features, including a scenic lake where you can rent pedal boats.
Arena México, 189 Dr. Lavista, Colonia Doctores
These kitschy acrobatic matches of "good guy" vs. "bad guy" masked wrestling have been a folkloric staple since the 1940's, when the original masked hero, El Santo emerged. His career spanned decades both in wrestling matches and in the movies he starred in from the late '50s into the '80s. Legend has it that he slept with his mask on, and even his family never saw him without it. Nowadays it's Mistico, Blue Panther, Último Guerrero, and Negro Casas who draw crowds for the luchas, where scantily clad women present the heroic fighters, acrobatic feats take place in the ring, and the audience snacks on potato chips drowned in chili sauce and liter-sized beers.
Teotihuacan, Estado de Mexico
Depending on traffic out of Mexico City, you can get to this mysterious Pre-Columbian pyramid complex in about an hour and a half. It's hot, it's visited by droves of tourists, and there is little to no respite from the sun, but it's worth the schlep to see some of the best preserved ruins in the country. It's still unclear exactly which Mesoamerican group settled down here, but Teotihuacan's influence was felt all the way to Guatemala, and the Aztecs considered it a holy city. With tall, climbable pyramids—some of the tallest in the world—built to honor both the Sun and the Moon, and some incredibly well preserved ancient wall murals, it's a pretty great introduction to Mexico's ancient roots. The temple of Quetzalcoatl is one of the most magnificent looking, decorated with sculptural representations of the plumed serpent god, while the often-missed Tepantitla complex, behind the Pyramid of the Sun, has spectacular frescoes of prominent gods and holy figures in Mesoamerican mythology. Many archaeological findings from the site are at the Museo de Antropología, though the on-site museum provides a solid introduction to the area.
The national university (UNAM) is located on a sprawling campus in the south of the city, and worth a full day's trip down to explore the area. The campus is also known as Ciudad Universitaria, and it is indeed so big that it is like its own city. Hit a Pumas soccer game in the Olympic stadium, check out the monumental murals by Juan O'Gorman and David Siqueiros, enjoy Modernist Mexican architecture in its full splendor, discover the hidden Sebastián, Manuel Felguérez, and Mathias Goeritz sculptures in the overgrown sculpture garden, and then catch the latest exhibition at the awesome Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC). In short, there's a lot to do.
Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas, Avenida Mercado 133, Xochimilco
Granted, these colorful, gondola-like boat trips are of one of the classic tourist activities in Mexico, and you'll need to summon all your hardcore negotiating skills when hailing a trajinera, but spending the afternoon cruising the ancient canals in this area by boat is a lot of fun. Many local families head here for long, lazy afternoon cruises, accompanied by hired mariachi groups who serenade them via boat. Beers and snacks can be hailed on the canal too, meaning you don't have to pack too much of a picnic.
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