The Mexico City Guide
It feels like Mexico City is going through a major moment, where all the things that used to make it such a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, are just that much better now. We’ve always loved the tacos and the incredible street food that you can find on practically any corner, but now chefs like Enrique Olvera at Pujol and Jorge Vallejo at Quintonil are deconstructing classic recipes and taking them to the next level. Then there’s the art scene, where it’s no longer just about iconic 20th-century artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but about new, world-class art institutions like the Soumaya, and the Museo Jumex that have both landed in the last five years. Even tequila has possibly been outdone by hundreds of boutique mezcal brands that spring up on an almost monthly basis. The list goes on. Basically, Mexico City, or CDMX—as it’s now known—just got a whole lot awesomer.
TeotihuacanTeotihuacan, 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.
XochimilcoEmbarcadero 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.
Museo Memoria y ToleranciaPlaza Juarez, Centro Histórico | +52.55.5130.5555
With a focus on human rights atrocities around the world, from an extensive exhibition on the Holocaust, to Darfur, Armenia, and Guatemala, this intelligently designed museum encourages empathy, tolerance, and commitment. After witnessing the devastation and horrors that have occurred around the world, visitors (literally) see a ray of light, and enter a room where they're encouraged to make a choice between ambivalence and committing to take action. All in all, it's actually an uplifting experience. In a country not unfamiliar with human rights abuse, this fantastic museum is making an important case for tolerance. Having partnered with Sesame Street (Plaza Sesamo), they've also developed an outstanding curriculum for kids which includes activities around bullying, a rampant problem in Mexican schools these days.
Ballet Folklórico de México| +52.55.5529.9330
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.
Castillo de ChapultepecBosque de Chapultepec | +52.55.4040.5228
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.
Chapultepec ParkBosque 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.
Museo SoumayaPlaza Carso, Blvd. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303, Colonia Ampliación Granada | +52.55.1103.9800
This museum holds the collections of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and is named after his wife, Soumaya. Spread across two buildings, the newest of which was designed by Slim's son-in-law, Fernando Romero (with advice from Frank Gehry and Ove Arup), the collection includes important works by ancient masters, the Impressionists, and the largest collection of Rodin's sculpture outside of France, just to name a few of its greatest hits. It's pretty grand by Mexico City standards and the Slim family wins major PR points for making the entrance and tours of the collection completely free to the public.
Museo TamayoPaseo de la Reforma 51, Bosque de Chapultepec | +52.55.4122.8200
While the arrival of the Museo Jumex certainly brings some stiff competition in the contemporary art arena, the Museo Tamayo, open since the 80's, housing muralist Rufino Tamayo's entire collection, has still got it. They've brought everyone from Sophie Calle, to Wolfgang Tillmans, to Francis Alÿs, to Yayoi Kusama—whose exhibition last year broke attendance records—to the Mexican audience, complementing each show with film series, talks, educational programs, and their famous jazz nights. Originally designed by two of Mexico's most prominent modernist architects, Abraham Zabludovsky and Teodoro González de León, the museum, which is nestled in Chapultepec park, has recently undergone an expansion and refurb. Meanwhile, the newly appointed curator, Juan Gaitan, will undoubtedly continue to shake things up in the years to come.
Museo Franz MayerAv. Hidalgo 45, Centro Histórico | +52.55.5518.2266
Franz Mayer was a German immigrant who lived in Mexico in the early 20th-century and amassed an enormous collection of decorative arts—everything from silver, to furnishings from the 16th-century on, to talavera tiles and pottery made in Puebla. Although he did acquire pieces in Europe and around the world, much of his collection was made in Mexico, and visiting the museum is a window into the elegant and elaborate furniture, paintings, and decorations that decorated the upper crust's homes during the colonial period. Upon his death, he left his collection and a generous trust to the Banco de Mexico, which opened the museum to the public in the '80s in an elegant, restored 16th-century ex-monastery. Aside from Mayer's inheritance, the museum continues to acquire special pieces and collections, and puts on great contemporary design exhibitions, too.
Archivo de Diseño y ArquitecturaCalle Francisco Ramirez Garza, Colonia Ampliación | +52.55.2614.1063
Housed next to Casa Luis Barragan (he designed the gardens here), this design gallery and archive hosts small, tightly curated exhibitions on everyday design—everything from the evolution of Oaxacan pottery, to the role of the "copy" in design, to cycling in Mexico City. Aside from the exhibitions, the space itself is a pretty, peaceful respite from the city streets in this little residential pocket of architectural delights. Owner architect Fernando Romero has big plans for the gallery, though, which will be housed in a much splashier space in the years to come.
Museo Dolores OlmedoAv. México 5843, La Noria, Xochimilco | +52.55.5555.0891
Dolores Olmedo was one of Diego Rivera's greatest patrons and her home, an ex-hacienda near Xochimilco, houses her collection of his works through the years, along with those of other artists and craftsmen she supported during her lifetime. While the collections are magnificent, and a real window into the breadth of Rivera's talents and career, the expansive grounds themselves—gorgeous native gardens that are home to her beloved hairless Xoloescuintle dogs and a family of peacocks—are a heavenly respite from the city's busy streets. In October and November, the museum puts on an awesome Day of the Dead display, as Doña Lola always did when she was alive.
Museo de Arte PopularRevillagigedo 11, Centro Histórico | +52.55.5510.2201
Housed in a beautifully restored Art Deco building in the Centro Histórico, this museum is home to Mexican folk handicrafts and textiles from around the country. It's a nicely manageable museum and a great place to bring kids, with weekend workshops that teach everything from paper maché to how to make amate paper. Don't miss the museum shop, which is one of the best places to find quality regional crafts.
Templo MayorSeminario 8, Centro Histórico | +52.55.4040.5600
When Hernan Cortés and his army of Spanish conquistadores arrived in México city—then Tenochtitlan—they raised the Aztec capital, destroyed its temples, and used many of the building materials to erect their own palaces and, famously, the Cathedral. There are few remnants left of what was once the capital of the vast Mesoamerican Empire, but the ruins of their most important temple, the Templo Mayor, which is located right next to the Zócalo, were discovered in the late '70s and have been open to visitors ever since. The site is an active archaeological dig, with some pretty impressive ancient frescoes, and an on-site museum displaying the thousands of ancient artefacts—elaborate offerings made for the gods—discovered here over the years.
Palacio NacionalPlaza de la Constitución, Centro Historico | +52.55.3688.1255
Built on the site of the last Aztec emperor's home, this enormous Palace was once the home of Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, and has been the seat of Mexican government since gaining independence from Spain. While there are tours of the palace's architecture and a few galleries dedicated to the 19th-century president Benito Juarez, the real highlight is Diego Rivera's massive mural representing the entire history of the Mexican people from its indigenous origins, to the Spanish conquest, to the arrival of Marxist ideology—Rivera was an ardent communist. Like many of his murals, it's a historical who's who. The Palace is sometimes closed to visitors, so it's worth calling ahead.
Palacio de Bellas ArtesAv. Juárez, Centro Histórico | +52.55.5512.2593
The Adamo Boari-designed, Beaux Arts palace is the crown jewel of the Centro Histórico with impressive marble interiors and massive murals by practically every major national muralist from Diego Rivera, to David Alfaro Siqueiros, to Rufino Tamayo. There's usually a worthwhile visiting art exhibition here, though the real highlight is catching a performance in the theater, which boasts a glass Tiffany curtain designed by the famed landscape artist Dr. Atl.
Biblioteca José VasconcelosEje 1 Norte (Mosqueta), Buenavista | +52.55.9157.2800
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.
KurimanzuttoGob. Rafael Rebollar 94, San Miguel Chapultepec | +52.55.5256.2408
Monica Manzutto and her husband José Kuri's gallery is probably the first to roll off anyone's tongue when talking about the contemporary art scene in Mexico. Together with their pal Gabriel Orozco, probably Mexico's most famous contemporary artist, in the early 2000's they came up with the idea of presenting the work of their contemporaries in pop-up spaces all over the city (and the world). Of course, nowadays, those artists—among them, Daniel Guzmán, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Damián Ortega—are big names and so is Kurimanzutto, which settled into a gorgeous gallery space in 2008, with quite the roster of local and international artists. Don't miss this gallery: The exquisite Alberto Kalach-designed space is worth the visit alone—it's one of our favorite examples of contemporary architecture in the city.
Museo JumexMiguel de Cervantes Saavedra # 303, Polanco | +52.55.5395.2615
The David Chipperfield designed Museo Jumex opened in 2013 during the annual MUCA art fair, making a big splash on the international art scene. Opened by Eugenio López Alonso, the owner of the major juice company by the same name, it houses his private collection of contemporary art, which includes pieces from Robert Gober, Dan Graham, Gabriel Orozco, Vanessa Beecroft, and more. Aside from all the big-name exhibitions, the cool thing about The Fundación Jumex is that it's seriously investing in the local scene, sponsoring and commissioning works by local artists and supporting local arts publications, galleries, and initiatives. The much smaller, appointment-only Gallery, the original outlet for Lopez Alonso's collection, is a bit of trek out of town but worth it for more cutting-edge, often site-specific exhibitions, along with a growing library dedicated to contemporary art.
Galería Nina MenocalRafael Rebollar #56, Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec | +52.55.5564.7209
The Cuban-born Nina Menocal is the legendary force who has propelled the careers of many contemporary Mexican and Cuban artists and curators, among them the now legendary Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who she showed in Mexico in the early 1990's. Aside from presenting the work of established international artists like Rosa Brun and Atelier Morales, Menocal also organizes small buying trips to Cuba for serious collectors. The gallery is by appointment only. Photograph by Patrick Pettersson
Galería OMRPlaza Río de Janeiro 54, Colonia Roma | +52.55.5511.1179
If there's one gallery to watch now it's OMR. Opened by husband and wife Jaime Riestra and Patricia Ortiz-Monasterio in the 80's on a quiet plaza in the Colonia Roma, it has since established itself as one of the major Mexican galleries on the international arts scene. This year, it's opening a new space on Córdoba 100, and their son Cristobal is taking over. With a roster of both local and international heavyweights like Candida Höfer, James Turrell, Pia Camil, and Jorge Méndez Blake, we're curious to see what Cristobal, who is known for curating some of their more cutting-edge contemporary shows, has in store.
Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida KahloAv. Altavista esq. Diego Rivera, San Angel | +52.55.8647.5470
This is one of the main stops on the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo pilgrimage, as they lived in this home on and off for twenty years. Their muralist friend Juan O'Gorman designed the now iconic house specifically for them, with separate buildings for each, united by a drawbridge between the two (they notoriously needed a lot of space from one another). It's a quick stop that's mostly worth it for the architecture, with a small temporary exhibition space, a few rooms dedicated to both artists, and Diego's studio, where he made many of his most famous paintings surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and huge paper maché Judas sculptures.
Museo AnahuacalliMuseo 150, Coyoacán | +52.55.5617.3797
Muralist Diego Rivera was a major collector of pre-hispanic artefacts, and the Anahucalli, built out of volcanic stone and designed by Diego Rivera himself, houses all 60,000 pieces he acquired from archaeological digs across the country. The collection is as impressive as the building itself which Rivera designed as his studio with advice from none other than his pen pal, Frank Lloyd Wright, which incorporates pre-hispanic motifs while trying to meld into the local surroundings as much as possible. The best time to visit is around Day of the Dead (November 2nd), when the museum puts together one of the most awesome ofrendas, with thousands of marigold petals, sugar skulls, candles, and regional folk art.
Museo Frida KahloLondres 247, Coyoacán | +52.55.5554.5999
Frida may be Mexico's most famous icon, making her home, the Casa Azul, a must-see destination. Tucked away in pretty, colonial, Coyoacan is the house where she grew up and eventually came to rest. After she died, Diego Rivera with whom she had a tempestuous marriage, donated her house to the government and it opened as a museum in the late '50s. Not only are many of her most famous works housed here, but many of the rooms are exactly as she left them. One of the highlights is definitely her kitchen and the adjacent dining room—she was a great chef, too—which are decorated in Mexican folk handicrafts she collected from around the country, and a traditional, wood-fired oven where she cooked legendary banquets. Diego asked that one room remain untouched, and when it was finally opened in 2004, they found a treasure trove of her clothes. A few choice garments are on display until December 2016, in a small but stunning little exhibition.
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.
Museo Mural Diego RiveraBalderas y Colón, Centro Histórico | +52.55.1555.1900
While it's host to temporary exhibitions on contemporary artists and muralists, the whole point of visiting this teensy museum is to see one of Diego Rivera's most famous murals, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, which survived the building that housed it in the 1985 earthquake that ravaged the city. Like in many of his murals, it's a Marxist critique of the upper-echelons of the ruling class, and history buffs get their kicks from trying to identify all the historical figures he painted in, Frida included. Located in the Centro Histórico, it's a quick, easy stop on a full day of sightseeing in the area.
Casa BarraganGeneral Francisco Ramírez 12-14, Colonia Ampliación | +52.55.5515.4908
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood near Chapultepec park, you'll find a handful of homes and gardens designed by Mexico's only Pritzker prize winning architect, Luis Barragan. His home, which he designed in its entirety, from the structure to the furniture to the color palette, is pretty much exactly as he left it and open for reserved tours only. They're generally conducted by lucky architecture students who, aside from showing you around the house, demonstrating his playful tricks with light and optics, are happy to share juicy tidbits about his life. If you get bitten by the Barragan bug—it tends to happen—they'll also hook you up with the contact information for some of the other local houses he designed like Casa Engstrom and Casa Gilardi. Though they're not open to the public, the owners sometimes let visitors in for pre-arranged visits.
Museo de AntropologíaAv. Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Gandhi, Bosque de Chapultepec | +52.55.5553.6865
For anyone who's even remotely interested in pre-Hispanic culture, this museum is a must. It houses many of the most important findings from archaeological digs across the country, from the original Aztec calendar which was unearthed in Mexico City, to enormous monolithic stone Olmec heads from Veracruz, to all the treasures found in the Mayan tomb of Pakal in Palenque. Meanwhile, outside the museum stands an enormous monolith of Tlaloc, the god of rain. Legend has it that when he arrived in Mexico City, there was an almost catastrophic rainstorm. In short, it's a lot to take in, but worth it: It's a 101 crash course into pre-Hispanic culture.
Lucha LibreArena México, 189 Dr. Lavista, Colonia Doctores | +52.55.5588.0266
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.