In this Expedition, we’ll explore some of the sites in the capital city that best reflect the city’s art, culture, history, and architecture.
Castillo de Chapultepec
The Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle) is in Chapultepec Park on the western edge of the city center. In the Aztec language Náhuatl, chapultepec means “grasshopper’s hill.”
The castle was built in 1863 as the home of Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez. In 1864, Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota moved in. Over the years, the castle also served as a military academy, a presidential home, and an observatory. Today, the castle is the Museo Nacional de Historia (National Museum of History).
Museo del Caracol
The Museo del Caracol (Caracol Museum), next to the Museo Nacional de Historia presents the story of Mexico from its independence to the present through dioramas, models, maps, and documents. Caracol means “snail”—the building is spiral-shaped.
Monumento a los Niños Héroes
Built in 1952, the Monumento a los Niños Héroes (Monument to the Boy Heroes) honors 6 cadets who died during the Mexican-American War. Despite being outnumbered, the boys, aged 13 to 19, maintained their posts during the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847.
Museo de Arte Moderno
The Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) features art by contemporary Mexican artists. The museum’s design is modern as well; dome and wedge-shaped galleries showcase paintings and sculptures. Frida Kahlo’s famous painting “The Two Fridas” is on display here.
Monumento a las Águilas Caídas
The Monumento a las Águilas Caídas (Monument to the Fallen Eagles), memorializes the members of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force (FAEM), who fought alongside the Allies in World War II. Familiarly known as the “Aztec Eagles,” FAEM fought in the Pacific theater.
Alameda Central—an alameda is a grove of poplar trees—is a park located in the historic heart of Mexico City. It was built in 1592 on the site of a former Aztec marketplace. In the 18th century, it was expanded, and symmetrical intersecting walkways and fountains were installed. Back then, the park was reserved for the nobility, but after Mexico won its independence, it was opened to all.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is located at the western edge of Alameda Central Park. One of the theater’s unique features is a folding stained glass stage “curtain” created by Tiffany’s. The curtain has close to a million pieces of glass.
Monument to Beethoven
The Monument to Beethoven, a gift from the city’s German community, stands in a circular courtyard in the park. The famous German composer never visited Mexico, but the country has a long tradition of classical music.
Torre Latinoamericana, one of the few skyscrapers in Mexico City, was built to withstand earthquakes. That’s because the city is located in an active seismic zone. Since it was built in 1956, the skyscraper has withstood two powerful earthquakes.
Iglesia de la Santa Veracruz
Built in 1586, Iglesia de la Santa Veracruz (Santa Veracruz Church) is one of the city’s oldest churches. It was rebuilt in 1759 after nearly 2 centuries of earthquakes and floods, during which time the structure had become dangerous.
Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) is the oldest and largest cathedral in Latin America. It took over 300 years to complete and presents a variety of architectural styles. Hernán Cortes, the Spanish conquistador who brought down the Aztec Empire, tore down Aztec temples and used the stones in his own building projects.
The cathedral was built with stones from the nearby Templo Mayor. Over time, the cathedral sank into the dry lakebed that is Mexico City, but portions were reconstructed and preserved.
The Bell Towers
The cathedral’s two bell towers weigh over 127,000 tons and probably had something to do with the structure’s sinking. The architect Manuel Tolsá designed the towers, as well as the three statues—Hope, Faith, and Charity—on the church’s main façade.
Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall was first built in the 1500s by Hernán Cortes, who designed it like a fortress. However, the building, which houses the Government of the Federal District, was rebuilt in a Neoclassical style in the 18th century.
Plaza de la Constitucion
The Plaza de la Constitucion, also known as the Zócalo, was built over the center of the former Aztec capital Tenochtitlán. Once Tenochtitlán’s main ceremonial center, it is now the Mexico City’s main square.
The Palacio Nacional (National Palace) stands where the Aztec ruler Moctezuma’s palace once stood. Through the years, the palace has served many purposes. Today it is home to the executive branch of Mexico’s government—the president’s offices are located here.
Monumento a la Revolución
At the center of the Plaza de la República stands the Monumento a la Revolución (Monument to the Revolution), built in 1932 to commemorate the Mexican Revolution. Visitors to the monument can ride an elevator to the observation deck at the top and visit the subterranean Revolutionary Museum. Together, the massive columns form a tomb that contains the remains of revolutionary heroes and is known as the “Pantheon of Outstanding Men of the Revolution.”
Plaza de la República
Plaza de la República (Plaza of the Republic), located to the west of Alameda Central, was built to showcase the Monumento a la Revolución. The plaza serves as a social and cultural gathering place. Tecnogeist, an annual electronic music and multimedia festival, takes place here.
De La República
The avenue that circles Plaza de la República is known simply as De La República. Lined with hotels, restaurants, and retail stores, this avenue is a busy tourist destination.
Torre Ejecutiva Pemex
The Torre Ejecutiva Pemex (Pemex Executive Tower) is the second tallest skyscraper in Mexico City. Built in 1976, this 214-meter high building was designed to withstand earthquakes measuring up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.
Plaza Mariana, located in northern Mexico City, is one of the most popular religious destinations in the world. Each year, millions of people visit the religious center on the plaza. In December alone, over a million people make the pilgrimage to the Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, also on the square. The Templo Expiatorio Cristo Rey (Antigua Basilica), built in the 16th century, is the oldest structure on the square.
Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe
Built in 1974, the Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe (Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe) was constructed where Juan Diego claimed to see the Virgin Mary in 1531. It’s one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world and can fit over 50,000 visitors.
Templo Expiatorio Cristo Rey
The Templo Expiatorio Cristo Rey (Antigua Basilica) was first built in 1531, and then rebuilt in 1709 after the structure began to sink. Juan Diego’s tilma (cloak) which bore an image of the Virgin Mary was stored here until 1974.
Parroquia de Santa María de Guadalupe
The Parroquia de Santa María de Guadalupe (Santa María de Guadalupe Capuchinas Parish Church) was a convent built in 1787 for the Capuchin Order of nuns. Over time, the building sank into the ground and the nuns had to move to a different location.
The religious center opened in 2010 and welcomes about 20 million visitors each year. The building’s rooftop design was based on Pope John Paul II’s Marion Cross coat of arms, with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe replacing the “M.”
Parque Hundido (Hundido Park) began as a Christmas tree forest in the early 1900s. In the late 1930s, the site was developed into a public park. Hundido means “sunken”—the sunken landscape of the park blocks out the noise of the surrounding city.
Plaza José Clemente Orozco
Plaza José Clemente Orozco was named after Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949), who revived mural painting in the 1920s. José painted with his right hand only—his left hand was amputated after an accident in his youth.