Mexico City – 8 Best Historic Places to visit

Mexico City is a megacity packed with history. In our travel guide, we will show you the 8 best historic places in Mexico City. We start at the Monument to the Mexicanidad with the beginning of the settlement all the way to the contemporary Palacio de Bellas Artes. So we lead you to central vivid places as well as lesser-known places to enjoy the city from a different angle.

Discover Mexico City – It all started with an eagle on a cactus

Mexico City is a city with big dimensions!

By means of size – the metropolitan area of Greater Mexico City is with almost 10,000 square kilometres and a population of more than 20 million gigantic.

And by means of momentous events throughout almost 700 years of history. The city has a lot to offer!

After having spent about a week in Mexico City, I want to share some of our favourite spots

Come along and follow our footsteps. We will take you on a journey showing you the history….. and give you an impression of the city’s unique spirit.

mundolore mini travel guides for the best historic places in Mexico City

If you prefer to read the information as individual guides rather than reading through all at once, or plan a trip to Mexico City with this information, just head over to mundolore.

For this, I’ve created mini travel guides for all these amazing historic places. In these travel guides, you’ll find additional information and stories about these places and photos as well as general info (opening times, maps, recommended duration, addresses).

mundolore is also a free trip planner website.

mundolore mini travel guides Mexico City Travel Guide.
Within mundolore you’ll find all historic places of this travel guide as individual mini travel guides. You can also use mundolore to plan your trip. It’s a free trip planner, too. Click on the image and explore.

So let’s begin our discovery of Mexico City.

Explore the 8 Best Historic Places in Mexico City

A good place to start is the Zócalo, the main square in the city centre. Southeast of the Zócalo, you will spot an interesting group of statues – the Monument to the Mexicanidad.

Monument To The Mexicanidad

Where it all began – A godly prophecy foreshadowed the location of a big city

The statues of the monument capture a historic moment – the founding of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, in 1325. Tenochtitlan means something like “Place of the prickly pear“.

Why this funny name?

Because the Mexica (known today as the rulers of the Aztec Empire) believed in a prophecy. The location of a huge city would be foreshadowed by an eagle with a snake in its beak sitting on a cactus.

The prophecy came true. The Mexica people actually saw an eagle with a snake on a cactus – on an island in the former Lake Texcoco within today’s Valley of Mexico. That’s where the forerunner of Mexico City was founded.

The Monument of the Mexicanidad in Mexico City
How it all began … with a prophecy of an eagle on a cactus. – The Monument to the Mexicanidad.
The Monument to the mexicanidad
A statue of Mexica people, the rulers of the Aztec Empire.

So the Aztec people built a big main temple in their city. You can still find some remains northeast of the Zócalo.

So, let’s cross the main square and let’s explore the remains of the Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor

A pyramid as the heart of the Aztec capital

During construction works in 1978 workers made an interesting finding. They discovered a pre-Hispanic stone disc of 3 metres in diameter and with a relief of the beheaded god Coyolxauhqui. This find led to further excavations that uncovered the remains of the Templo Mayor which was built in the 14th and 15th century as the main temple in the Aztec capital.

The temple was dedicated to the god of war (Huitzilopochtli) and to the god of rain (Tlaloc).

It is said that it was built at the exact same place where the Aztecs saw the eagle on the cactus.

In the hollow spaces between the walls of the pyramid, numerous sacrificial offerings were found. These finds, including the unique stone disc, can be viewed in a museum behind the archaeological site.

But don’t be afraid of skulls! You’ll see some … from sacrifice victims.

When the Aztec capital was captured by the Spanish in 1521, the Templo Mayor was almost completely destroyed and the city was renamed to Mexico City.

The Templo Mayor in Mexico City, the 2nd of the Best historic place sin Mexico City
The Templo Mayor archaeological site. Copyright: kitleong / 123RF Stock Photo

300 years of colonial rule followed, and as a result the Spanish built churches over the ruins of Aztec temples.

Just next to the Templo Mayor you find one of these prominent witnesses of colonial rule. Join us discovering the Metropolitan Cathedral.

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Metropolitan Cathedral

Watch your steps – on an uneven floor

The cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The cathedral underwent several construction phases between 1525 and 1813. Elements from different architectural styles including Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism go surprisingly well together.

The Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City.
The Metropolitan Cathedral combines various architectural styles.

Fortunately, the cathedral is still standing. Because the cathedral is built on weak clay soil causing it to sag into the ground. Comprehensive stabilisation works, especially after the big earthquake in 1985, prevent the worst. However, you will realise the uneven floor when entering the cathedral.

The numerous altars, paintings and figures inside are quite overwhelming!

Finally here are some places you shouldn’t miss: The Altar of the Kings (1718-1739) on the north end of the cathedral which is richly decorated with figures of canonised rulers. An interesting figure is the Lord of the cacao beans in the Chapel of Saint Joseph (third chapel on the left when entering through the main portal). Former worshippers brought cacao beans to him as offerings. Likewise the choir in the central nave is another must see – with a golden railing from Macao (China) and beautiful carved wooden seats.

One of the best historic places in Mexico City - the cathedral
The Cathedral is magnificent from the inside – truly one of the best historic places in Mexico City.

Let’s go on with our little history tour.

Mexico City was thriving for independence. The Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821) followed. And the city was recaptured from the Spanish in 1821. A famous monument dedicated to the heroes of this war is the victory column El Ángel.

El Ángel De La Independencia

El Ángel is watching over Mexico City

You can see it already from far – on the thoroughfare Paseo de la Reforma.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican independence, the victory column El Ángel was built in 1910. The groups of marble figures on the fundament are some of the heroes of the war.

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Some remains of the heroes are actually kept inside the victory column in its function as a mausoleum.

On the very top, the golden figure of the goddess of victory watches over the city.

Some “fun“ facts: The victory column is built on a massive cement fundament that avoids sinking into the swampy ground. However, everything around sinks several centimetres every year. So, the victory column is actually rising and new stairs have to be added regularly. Originally there were only 9 stairs, while today there are already 14.

The Monument of Independence in Mexico City.
El Ángel De La Indepedencia situated in the Paseo de Reforma is dedicated to the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821).
Close-up of the monument of Independency in Mexico City El angel de la independencia.
‘The Lion led by the Child’ and the golden goddess of victory are two of the main features of the victory column.

After the War of Independence, the battles in the city went on.

During the Mexican-American War of 1847, Mexico City was occupied by the U.S. Army. In 1863, French troops captured the city.

From 1864 to 1867 an Austrian Emperor ruled the city from his royal residence, the Chapultepec Castle.

The castle is another great place to explore and from which you have an awesome view of Mexico City. You might find a walk through the Bosque de Chapultepec, in which the castle is located, a convenient relief in contrast to the bustling city life.

Bosque de Chapultepec

The ‘lungs’ of Mexico City

The Bosque de Chapultepec with its rank vegetation provides enough room for recreational activities.

The inhabitants of Mexico City come to the park to relax from their daily routine. Merchants sell food, sweets and balloons. There are lakes, where you can take little boat trips. It also houses the Chapultepec Zoo and a few museums.

The Bosuqe de Chapultepec in Mexico City has some historic places in itself.
Enjoy some peace and rest in the Bosque de Chapultepec before continuing uphill to the Chapultepec Castle.

An important piece of history is also situated in the park. During the Mexican-American War in 1847 young soldiers, also known as Niños Héroes, gave their lives in their fight against U.S. forces trying to defend the Chapultepec castle. In honour of the Niños Héroes, the Heroic Cadets Memorial was built. Six columns – one for each of the six young military cadets – are standing next to a figure of a mother who is holding her sons in her arms. One son still fighting, the other one almost dead.

Hence, this is packed with history and really one of the best historic places in Mexico City to visit.

The Heroic Cadets Memorial is one of the best historic places in Mexico City
The Heroic Cadets Memorial was erected in honour of the young soldiers (Niños Héroes) who have died in the Mexican-American War in 1847.

Now, let’s get up to the castle and enjoy another piece of history and a magnificent view.

Chapultepec Castle

A castle on the grasshopper’s hill

Chapultepec Castle is located on the highest hill of the Bosque de Chapultepec. The name derives from the Nahuatl word chapoltepēc which means “at the grasshopper’s hill“.

It was a holy place for the Aztecs. I guess they had the same stunning view of their capital Tenochtitlan like we have today of Mexico City.

Chapultepec Castle was built at the end of the 18th century as a summer house. Later, it was a Military Academy, a royal residence and the official residence of the presidents of Mexico.

The Chapultepec Castle is a great lace to overlook Mexico City.
Beautiful garden of the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City.
There is a lot to explore in and around the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City.

Today, there is the Museo Nacional de Historia inside. Its exposition is about the Mexican history from the colonisation to the revolution. That is why it is part of our travel guide for the best historic places in Mexico City.

The fantastic view over Mexico City.
Enjoy the view!

Violent conflicts didn’t end in the 20th century (Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920).

However, the beginning of the 20th century marks the rapid growth of the city. One well-known symbol of the continuing development in the mid 20th century is the Torre Latinoamericana – one of the first skyscrapers of Mexico City, with a great observation deck!

Torre Latinoamericana

Spectacular view of a megacity – in an earthquake-proof building

The Torre Latinoamericana was completed 1956. Its roof height is 182m.

The engineers of the building did a good job, considering that it did not suffer from any damage during the big earthquake in 1985.

Though it is not the highest skyscraper in Mexico City anymore, its observation deck still provides an awesome view – at least on days when there is not too much smog covering the city.

Attention should be paid to the awesome bird’s eye view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes!

The Torre Latinoamericana gives a view on the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
The Torre Latinoamericana isn’t the most beautiful building in the city, but surely offers a stunning view over this megacity.
View on the Palacio de Bellas Artes from the Torre Latinoamericana.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes on the left side and the city that stretches almost endlessly on the horizon.

So, let’s have a closer look at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where we will also finish our tour of the best historic places in Mexico City.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes

Let’s finish our city tour with some beautiful architecture

The Palacio de Bellas Artes is a beautiful opera and concert hall.

Its main design from 1904 is from the Italian architect Adamo Boari. The building is made of heavy Carrara marble. Its dome is tiled with yellow and orange glazed bricks, which makes it such a beautiful sight from the Torre Latinoamericana.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes seen from the Torre Latinoamericana.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes seen from the Torre Latinoamericana.

Like almost every building or monument in the city, also the Palacio de Bellas Artes has to battle sinking into the swampy soil. It did already sink several metres over the years!

The stage inside is popular for its colourful glass curtain made by Tiffany in New York. The glass illustration shows the Valley of Mexico and the volcanos Propocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.

Furthermore, The Palacio de Bellas Artes is also known for its mural paintings from some of the greatest Mexican artists of the 20th century. Really worth a visit!

Got Inspired?

This concludes our tour of the 8 best historic places in Mexico City. We hope you enjoyed our little trip and that we inspired you to visit these amazing places in the future.

Or have you already been to Mexico City? Are you missing a place in this post that you would recommend to add to a trip?

Why not sharing your discoveries and inspire others? Share your experience and tips in a short mini travel guide on mundolore. We are looking forward to your tips.

Prepare and plan your trips with mundolore free trip planner. Just hop over to mundoloresign-up for your free account and enjoy a trip planning experience like no other.

Interested in the pre-Aztec time as well? Stay tuned, the next blog post will be about the imposing pyramids of Teotihuacan – located northeast of Mexico City (~50km). See you then!

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