A Guide to Visiting Downtown Mexico City and the Centro Histórico

La Ciudad de México is one of the world’s great cities. While the urbanization extends through the entire federal district and into neighboring Mexico state, there is nothing like at stay in Downtown Mexico City’s Centro Histórico to experience some history. The administrative capital of New Spain and later the Mexican Republic was built in the central plaza of Tenochititlán. There is a reason why this is called the City of Palaces and it is going to require some time to take it all in.

  • Introduction
  • A Brief History of Mexico City
  • Things to do in Downtown Mexico City
    • Zocalo
    • Cathedral
    • Templo Mayor
    • Palacio Nacional
    • Wrestling
    • Alameda Central
    • Barrio Chino
    • Torre Latinoamericana
    • Palacio Postal
    • Palacio de Iturbide
  • Museums in Downtown Mexico City’s Centro Historico
    • SEP
    • San Ildefonso
    • Franz Mayer
    • Bellas Artes
    • Arte Popular
    • Memoria y Tolerancia
    • Museo Nacional de Arquitectura
    • Palacio de la Inquisicion
    • Plaza Santo Domingo
    • Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico
    • Tequila and Mezcal
    • Plaza Tolsa
  • Where to Eat and Drink in Downtown Mexico City’s Centro Historico
    • El Cardinal
    • Azul Historico
    • Cafe Tacuba
    • Casa de las serenas
    • Sanborns
    • Casa del Pavo
    • Al andaluz
    • Casa del Pavo
    • Mercado San Juan
    • Mercado la Merced
    • Cantina La Opera
    • Salon Corona
    • Garibaldi
    • Restaurante Mexicano
    • Cafe La Habana
    • El Huequito
    • Especial
    • Toluca
    • Arandas
    • Hidalguense
    • Cesi Cecina
  • Hotels in Downtown Mexico City’s Centro Historico
    • Grand Hotel
    • Grupo Habita
    • Hostel
  • Transportation
  • When to go
  • Is Mexico City safe?

Mexico City is one of those destinations that you will never finish covering. You come to Mexico City with a list of five things that you want to see. You cover those five things but in the process, you learn about ten more things that are even more interesting than the original list. And that’s how Mexico City has been for me for the last decade. A list of places that I want to visit that gets bigger the more I go.

A Personal Note on Downtown Mexico City’s Centro Histórico.

I have had a love affair with Mexico City since 2006 when I first visited for a Manu Chao concert in the Zocalo. Considering I only had two days to explore there was no reason to leave the Downtown area. I was reading Carlos Fuentes, drinking mezcal and looking for underground clubs. Nightclubs literally underneath the old buildings in the historic core.

Manu Chao Concert in the Zocalo
Manu Chao Concert in the Zocalo from La Jornada

The concert was amazing but I would never do it again. The free concert attracted more than 100,000 people to the main plaza with little crown control. There came a point where it was hard to breathe because people were pushing so hard. I got there seven hours early so I could be right up front but I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into.

At one point a bottle-throwing contest broke out between the left and right side of the Zocalo. People brought some beers and when they would finish one they would chuck the empty bottle as far as they could. I watched a bottle break on a guy’s head just an arm’s length away from me and chards of glass cut him on the neck. A kid that I had been talking to earlier started huffing a solvent and turned into a zombie in front of my eyes.

Touring the Templo Mayor, the National Palace, and the Metropolitan Cathedral before watching Aztec danzantes open up a major concert event was life-changing. I had never been to a concert like that before and it set in motion some really big trips to Mexico.

I will never forget that first trip to Downtown Mexico City’s Centro Histórico. Apart from the nostalgia, I want to see it all.

A Brief History of Mexico City

Everybody has their own agenda but the Zócalo and Centro Historico is the obvious place to start. The most important thing to remember is that before this was Mexico, before this was part of Spain, this was the center of world for the Mexica people. The Aztec danzantes are there everyday to remind us that before this was Mexico City it was called Tenochtitlan. Make sure to visit the Templo Mayor in the northwest corner of the Zócalo before visiting the cathedral and Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional.

Tenochtitlan, Mexcio
Tenochtitlan, Mexcio

It is hard to comprehend the size of Downtown Mexico City but you can think about each neighborhood like it were its own city. Each neighborhood has a different feel and provides a distinct experience. When you go from the historic core to La Roma to Santa Fe and back to Coyoacan you will realize that these neighborhoods could easily be their own cities and world-class destinations at that. Just remember that traveling at rush hour is not an option and traffic is always a consideration.

Things to do in Downtown Mexico City