The old city center or Centro Historico of Mexico City
, centered around the Plaza de la Constitucion, is an area clearly different from the rest of the city. Its colonial and European architecture and narrow cobblestone streets set it apart from the rest of Mexico City. It has an enormous amount of stores, street vendors, and especially crowds. Without a doubt, this area is one of the most popular areas in Mexico City.
The Centro Historico, the original foundation of Mexico City, was built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec empire capital established around 1325 and destroyed by the Spanish in 1521. It contains a large amount of old buildings that date back to the 16th century. Due to its importance, it was included in UNESCO's list of world heritage places in 1987.
Every Sunday Ave. Reforma is closed to motor vehicles due to "bike" day (confined streets for bicycle use only). It is strongly advised to avoid driving that brings you close to Ave.Reforma. If you are staying at any of the hotels in this area and have a flight scheduled on Sunday, it is advised to allow enough time to get out of the area if you're using a taxi. An alternative to get in and out of the area is the Metro (Subway).
Other areas of the city are also experiencing closings for bicycle use only.
Government web page that advises on routes that will be closed to vehicular traffic: http://www.sma.df.gob.mx/sma/index.php?opcion=25&t=2&v=bicicletas
This is probably the best way to reach the Centro Historico, however, all the stations in the area are consistently crowded, so be prepared and alert for pickpocketers.
There are various Metro lines that connect the Centro Historico with the rest of the city.
- Line 1 (pink) Pino Suarez, Isabel La Catolica and Salto del Agua Stations.
- Line 2 (blue) Zocalo (your best choice for direct access), Allende, Bellas Artes, Hidalgo and Revolucion stations.
- Line 3 (green) Hidalgo and Juarez stations.
The hop-in hop-off double-decker bus makes a stop just north of the Zocalo in Monte de Piedad street in the west side of the cathedral. The one-day pass costs $100 pesos.
By public bus
The RTP bus network rides along Eje Central Avenue. You may also ride a Microbus.
By trolley bus
The Trolley Bus rides along Eje Central Avenue. Ask the driver to drop you off at Madero street.
This is the least recommended way to get around Centro Historico since the streets are always jammed with hundreds of cars especially during weekdays.
If you dare to enter the area by car, you can do so through Reforma and turning right at Avenida Juarez which later becomes Francisco I Madero Street, or if you're coming from the south, you can reach through Calzada de Tlalpan which later becomes 20 de Noviembre Avenue.
There are several parking lots in the area (valet service) that charge $14.00 pesos an hour.
The best way to get around the Centro Historico is definitely by foot. All tourist attractions are within walking distance.
By tourist trolley
This trolley (in spanish Tranvia) departs from Juarez Avenue 66, between the Alameda and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Ride lasts 45 minutes around many interesting spots in the area. Operating hours Monday thru Sunday 10AM to 5PM.
There are a few pedicabs that can carry you within the Centro Historico.
- Plaza de la Constitución (El Zócalo). Measuring 240m long on either side, the Zócalo is one of the largest squares in the world. It is flanked by the Metropolitan Cathedral and Sagrario to the north, and the National Palace to the east, as well as a number of other historic buildings. A huge Mexican flag occupies the center, which is ceremoniously lowered and re-raised each day at 6PM. A wide variety of events may be hosted here, including concerts, demonstrations or other more typical social gatherings. On New Year's Day, practitioners of Mexico's indigenous religions gather to bless believers for the coming year; Mexican independence is celebrated in the plaza on September 15 and 16. (19°25′58″N,99°08′00″W)
Old City Hall with Independence Celebration decoration
- Metropolitan Cathedral, (north side of the Zócalo). The largest cathedral in the American continent. Designed by Claudio de Arcinieaga, construction started in 1573 and lasted for more than 300 years. Be sure to check out the side chapels where parishioners leave offerings for the various saints. For a bird's-eye view of the plaza, you can take a 40-minute tour (Spanish language only) of the upper levels and bell towers of the cathedral ($12 MXN). Free admission.
- Sagrario Metropolitano. A side chapel next to the Cathedral completed in 1769.
- National Palace (Palacio Nacional), (east side of the Zócalo). The palace in its current form began construction in 1693 and served as the Palace of the Viceroy of New Spain until the Mexican War of Independence, when it became the executive seat of the President (though today it is no longer his official residence). The walls inside the palace contain murals by Diego Rivera depicting the history of Mexico from the pre-Columbian age to the Nexican Revolution. You can also visit the Recinto Legislativo, a replica of the first Mexican Congress, and tour the home of Benito Juárez. Tours in English are free; ask for one at the information desk. Free admission with ID.
- Templo Mayor, (north-east corner of the Zócalo). Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. The site of the main Aztec temple of Tenochtitlan, it was destroyed by Spanish conquistadors in 1521, who then promptly erected the Cathedral roughly over it--but not quite. Centuries later, nearly completely forgotten, its actual location was discovered by accident in 1978 when electrical workers found a piece of a large stone disc depicting the goddess Coyolxauhqui. This sets off a few furious years of archaeological digging, resulting in a rather surprising (and extremely significant) discovery that nested underneath the original Aztec temple was six distinct smaller, older temples. You can see each layer walking through the dig site, and after that is the Museo del Templo Mayor, a four-story museum showcasing the many artifacts found on the site. $48 MXN, free for children under 12 and students with valid ID.
- Nacional Monte de Piedad, Monte de Piedad and Cinco de Mayo. Monday-Friday 8:30AM-6PM; Saturday 8:30AM-3:30PM, Sundays closed. This building, which was completed in 1758, was built on the grounds of the house of Aztec emperor Moctezuma and later the residence of the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes. The building was acquired in 1838 by the Nacional Monte de Piedad, a pawn shop established in 1775 that still operates today.
- Plaza Manuel Gamio, Seminario between Moneda and Guatemala streets. Features a open-air diorama of the old Tenochtitlan.
- Latinoamericana Tower, Eje Central Avenue and Francisco I Madero Street, . Working hours Monday thru Sunday 9AM to 10PM. Construction started in 1948 and was completed in 1956. This was Mexico's first skyscraper, boasting 44 floors and 182 meters. There is an observatory in the 42nd floor, entrance is $50 pesos.
- Palacio de Bellas Artes, Juarez Avenue and Eje Central, . Designed by Italian architect Adamo Boari. Its construction started in 1905, however due to the Revolution War, it was not completed until 1934.
- Plaza Manuel Tolsa, Tacuba 8. In this beautiful square you can find the Palacio de Mineria,National Art Museum and the statue of Spanish king Charles IV also known as "El Caballito" (the little horse).
- Palacio de Mineria, Tacuba 5. Formerly the Mining College, this building dated from 1792 features an old library and a chapel. It serves as venue for the yearly Mexico City Book Fair.
- Templo de San Francisco, Francisco I Madero 7. This church was started in the 16th century and completed in the 19th century. This temple was built in the grounds of the Zoo of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma.
- Templo de Felipe de Jesus, Francisco I Madero 9. Built in 1897 in the grounds of the former Vasque Church of Aranzazu.
- Palacio de Iturbide, Francisco I Madero 17. One of the oldest buildings in town, built in the late 16th century, it was first home to the local nobility and later the residence of Mexican Emperor Agustin de Iturbide. The building is owned today by the Cultural Trust of Banco Nacional de Mexico, the Mexican branch of Citibank.
- Banco de Mexico building, Cinco de Mayo and Eje Central Avenue. Office of the Mexican Central Bank built in 1925.
- Postal Palace, Eje Central Avenue and Tacuba, . Open Monday-Friday 8AM to 10PM, Saturday-Sunday 8AM to 4PM. One of the most beautiful buildings in the country and considered a National Heritage Building. Built in 1906, this European style building houses the main post office. Most of the materials used to build it were brought from Italy.
- Casa de los Azulejos, Francisco I Madero 4. This department store and restaurant is housed in the former residency of the Counts of the Valley of Orizaba. In the late 19th century it became the Sanborns store, founded by the Sanborn brothers, American immigrants in Mexico City.
- Plaza de Santo Domingo, located between the streets of Republica de Cuba, Brasil and Belisario Dominguez. The second largest square in Centro Historico after the Zocalo. It is surrounded by various important buildings such as the Palacio de la Inquisicion, Santo Domingo convent and the old Customs House.
- Suprema Corte de Justicia, Pino Suarez and Corregidora streets. This building was completed in 1945 and was designed by architect Antonio Muñoz Garcia.
- Plaza de la Fundacion, Pino Suarez and Venustiano Carranza streets. This place is allegedly where the Aztecs found the eagle eating a snake on top of a cactus (nopal), the divine sign of the gods to settle down and establish the city of Tenochtitlan. It features a sculpture by Juan Olaguibel made in 1970.
- Santa Teresa church, Licenciado Verdad 6. Originally built in 1678 and refurbished in 1845.
- Antiguo Palacio de la Inquisicion, Republica de Brasil 33. Built between 1732 and 1737. It was the head office of the Holy Inquisition, the religious authority famous for torturing heretic people. Today houses the Museum of Mexican Medicine.
- China Town in Dolores street. Recently re-conditioned, this street became a pedestrian-only street full of Chinese restaurants and stores.
- Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico, Plaza de la Constitucion (Zocalo). Also known as "Centro Mercantil", this building built in 1899 was once a luxurious shopping center. It was converted into a hotel in 1966. The lobby of this place was featured in the film "Frida".
- Plaza de las Tres Culturas, Lázaro Cárdenas Eje (between cross streets Av. Ricardo Flores Magón and Manuel González Eje; from the Metro, exit from Garibaldi station (line 8) and walk north on Lázaro Cárdenas, or from Tlatelolco station (line 3) and walk east on Manuel González). So called because in one city square you can see three different time periods of Mexico City's development mixed together: the pre-hispanic Aztec temple grounds of Tlatelolco, the 16th-century Spanish Church of Santiago, and a modern 20th-century skyscraper, now home of the University Cultural Center Tlatelolco (CCUT) for UNAM. The temple, like Tenochtitlan's Templo Mayor, was built in several layers and is now the site of continuing archaeological exploration; it occupies the largest amount of area, on the north and west side of the plaza. The entrance is on Lázaro Cárdenas; admission is free and there are English speaking tours each day at 1PM. If you're not around for the tour, you can guide yourself along the path (complete with English plaques) that takes you through the ruins, which deposits you in front of the Church of Santiago, on the east side of the plaza. The colonial church, built by Spaniards immediately after destroying the temple in their conquest of Aztec lands, was constructed using stones "borrowed" from the temple itself. Despite its weathered appearance, the interior is well-maintained and should still hold regular Mass, although doors may not always be open to the public. To the south, you'll see the modern-day tower and its adjacent buildings, which were built originally for the Secretary of External Relations (SRE), now headquartered across the street (though they still have offices in the church's adjoining cloister). Currently, UNAM runs the building as a conference hall and cultural center, and has a few exhibits open to the public: Memorial 68 (see Museums, below) and the Blaisten Collection, showcasing modern art.
Mexico City prides itself in having the largest number of museums in the world, and most of these museums are located in Centro Historico. Highly recommended are the Museo Nacional de Arte, Museo del Templo Mayor and Museo Franz Mayer. Remember most museums are closed on Mondays.
- Museo Nacional de Arte, Tacuba 8, . Tu-Su 10AM-5:30PM. Housed in the former Palace of Telecommunications, this beautiful Porfirian-style building was built in 1904 by architect Silvio Contri. The museum presents a permanent collection of early Mexican paintings as well as other temporary exhibits. $30 pesos.
- Museo Franz Mayer, . Housed in a 18th century building, houses the largest and finest collection of decorative arts in Mexico. The collection, including objects from Mexico, Europe and Asia ranging from the 16th to the 19th century was a donation of German-Mexican philantropist Franz Mayer.
- Museo del Templo Mayor, Seminario 8. Presents some archaeological findings of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.
- Museo Postal, Eje Central and Tacuba. Housed in the Postal Palace, features old postal stationery and mail boxes.
- Museo Nacional de las Culturas, Moneda 13. Tu-Sa 9:30AM-6PM. Housed in the former Mint building built in 1734. The museum is dedicated to anthropology of the world.
- Museo Jose Luis Cuevas, Academia 23. Tu-Su 10AM-6PM. Housed in the former convent of Santa Ines built in 1600. The museum's collection features works by Mexican artist Jose Luis Cuevas and also presents some works from Picasso and Rembrandt.
- Museo Nacional de San Carlos, Academia 22. Housed in a building dated 1785 originally conceived as the former Royal Academy of Beaux Arts. It is administered by the National University and features permanent and temporary painting collections.
- Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Puente de Alvarado 50. Permanent and temporary exhibits. Features paintings by Diego Rivera.
- Centro Cultural de España, Guatemala 18. This is the official cultural center from the Spanish Embassy and features temporary exhibits.
- Museo de San Ildefonso, Justo Sierra 16. Managed by the National University, this museum features great permanent and temporary exhibits.
- Museo del Estanquillo. One of the newest museums in the city.
- Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico, Pino Suarez 30. Presenting history of the city.
- Museo de la Caricatura, Donceles 99. Depicting the history of Mexican cartoons (political and amusing cartoons).
- Museo de la Luz, El Carmen 31 corner with San Ildefonso. Managed by the National University, this museum is mostly for students on everything to do with light (photography, electricity, vision, etc).
- Museo de la Medicina Mexicana, Republica de Brasil 33. Housed in the Inquisition Palace, this museum managed by the Medicine Faculty of the National University, shows the history of health care in Mexico since the 19th century. Features a great replica of an old pharmacy.
- Museo de la Indumentaria Mexicana, Izazaga and 5 de Febrero. Collection of traditional Mexican clothing.
Palacio de Hierro Department Store
- Museo de la Charreria, Izazaga 89 (near Isabel La Catrolica). This museum features everything about the Mexican Cowboy, known as Charro.
- Beer Museum, Bolivar Street 18. M-Sa 1PM-8PM. Sponsored by Grupo Modelo, brewer of Corona Beer.
- Museo del Calzado (Shoe Museum), Bolivar 27, 1st Floor. Private collection of old shoes from the 18th, 19th and 20th century. The museum belongs to the shoe store "El Borcegui", established in 1865 and still selling shoes today.
- Museo Nacional de la Estampa, Hidalgo 39. Features a collection of old engravings and other graphic arts.
- Memorial 68, Av. Ricardo Flores Magón 1, Col. Nonoalco-Tlatelolco (cross street Lázaro Cárdenas Eje; from the Metro, exit from Garibaldi station (line 8) and walk north on Lázaro Cárdenas, or from Tlatelolco station (line 3) and walk east on Manuel González), . 10AM-6PM daily. Located inside UNAM's University Cultural Center Tlatelolco (CCUT) at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (see Landmarks, above), Memorial 68 is a well-put together museum chronicling the events surrounding the police massacre of student protesters at Tlatelolco in 1968, around the time of the Summer Olympics, which were hosted in Mexico City that year. It's definitely worth a look, but all explanatory text and video interviews are in Spanish only, so brush up your vocabulary or bring a translator. $10.
Liverpool Department Store
Until the 1950's, the Centro Historico was the main shopping district of the City. Many of the prestigious department stores of the country such as Liverpool and El Palacio de Hierro opened their first stores here. Today, the area is still one of the busiest shopping areas of the city. The area has several streets dedicated to a particular kind of shopping, something inherited from the Spanish. Shopping in the Centro Historico is a real back-in-time experience as many of the spaces where the stores are located are truly historical.
- Republica del Salvador Street— The first half of the street (from Eje Central Avenue to Isabel La Catolica Avenue) specializes in all sorts of electronics. From spare and parts (speakers, wiring, transistors) to complete home theater systems, audio mixers and lighting for dance clubs. The other half of the street (from Isabel la Catolica to specializes in stationery and paper.
- Eje Central Avenue— You will notice that this street is full of street vendors. Be careful, the area is extremely crowded making it a paradise for pickpockets. Between the streets of República del Salvador and República de Uruguay, there is a shopping center known as Plaza de Computación. It's an enormous indoor market of little stalls hawking computer parts and electronics.
- Articulo 123 street— Specializes in appliances, from spare and parts to industrial vacuums and blenders.
- Victoria street— Specializes in lighting, from wiring and electric outlets to chandeliers and lamps.
- Donceles street— Specializes in photography.
- Republica de Cuba— Specializes in printing (books, posters, thesis). In this street there are a few libraries selling very old books (18th and 19th centuries).
- El Palacio de Hierro, 5 de Febrero and Venustiano Carranza streets. This department store was established in 1891. The name of this store, (The Iron Palace) was named like that after it was the first iron and steel building in the city.
- Liverpool (originally named as El Puerto de Liverpoool). This department store is housed in an Art-Deco building that was built in the late 1920's.
- Sanborns (Casa de los Azulejos), Francisco I Madero 4, . Department store and restaurant. A must-see for any visitor to Mexico City. Revolutionist Emiliano Zapata had breakfast here during his entrance to Mexico City in September 1916. This was the first store of the Mexican chain which was sold to Walgreens in 1946 and to Grupo Carso in 1985. There are more than 100 Sanborns stores in the country today.
- Sanborns (Casa Boker), 16 de Septiembre and Isabel la Catolica streets. This department store is housed in a building completed in 1900 named "Casa Boker" after a warehouse store with that name that still occupies part of the building.
- El Nuevo Mundo, 5 de Febrero street. Still contains old fashioned practices such as old-style shopping processes. When decide to buying something, the salesman will prepare a small receipt, then you take it to the cashier to pay.
- C&A, 5 de Febrero and Venuestiano Carranza streets. Netherlands based department store fashion retailer.
Arts & crafts
- Mercado de Artesanias de San Juan Letran
- Centro de Artesanias La Ciudadela
- La Ideal, Republica de Uruguay 36. Established in 1927. This is a good place for traditional bread, pastries and desserts. Ask for "Danes de Chocolate" the place's delicacy.
La Lagunilla and Tepito
Not far from Centro Historico, around 5 kilometers, lie two huge street markets: La Lagunilla and Tepito.
- La Lagunilla, Prolongacion Paseo de la Reforma and Francisco Bocanegra, just passed Eje 1 Norte. Sundays 10AM to 4PM. This street market features antiques and other new goods such as clothing, crafts, food, jewelry and toys. It is considered safe to stroll in this street market, but try to remain in the streets near Francisco Bocanegra and Comonfort, because beyond that the market eventually blends into Tepito where is a lot less safe.
||WARNING: Be careful. Tepito is a very dangerous place. If your curiosity gets the better of you, at least dress down, go with someone else, and arrive early in the day when it's less crowded. If you don't speak Spanish it's probably better to stay away. The area is known to be home of druglords and black market dealers.
- Cafe de Tacuba, Tacuba 28. Housed in a former convent, this institution serves up tasty Mexican dishes all day for reasonable prices. No reservations are accepted, but it is very popular so arrive early. Menu is in English and Spanish.
- Cafe La Opera, Cinco de Mayo 10. This restaurant has been serving Mexican food since the early 1900's and retains the same furniture since then. When you get there, look up to the ceiling, as you will see the famous gun shot accidentally fired by Pancho Villa.
- Cafe el Popular, Cinco de Mayo 52. A quintessential breakfast joint offering a range of tasty egg dishes for well under US$4 and surrealistically low chrome ceilings.
- Dulceria de Celaya, Cinco de Mayo 39. This confectionery shop sells old fashioned sweets. It was established in 1874 and still has its original cabinets from that age.
- Ostioneria Las Palmas, (in Centro). Fantastic ceviche, superior huachinango al ajillo; everything very fresh, very tasty and very inexpensive.
- La Terraza, Ave. Madero 73. Restaurant on the roof of the Hotel Majestic overlooking the Zocalo. Stunning panoramic views of the city.
- Tenampa, Plaza Garibaldi, Eje Central (In the corner of the Garibaldi square), M-Su 12PM-3AM. The original and most famous Mexican cantina, traditional home to the bohemians and mariachis of the 40s and 50s. Huge selection of tequila and mezcal, light Mexican food, and mariachi bands.
- Casa de los Amigos, Ignacio Mariscal 132, Col. Tabacalera (one block south of Metro station Revolución), ☎ +52 55 5705 0521, +52 55 5705 0646, . Established in the 1950's by the Quaker community in Mexico City, the Casa continues to be actively involved in local activities with a stated mission of promoting peace and international understanding. They run an affordable guest house (with either private rooms or dorm beds) with a two-night minimum, and is popular with international students or volunteers on extended stays, though there are still many who are "just tourists." $100mxn/night for dorm bed, $250/night for private room (shared bath), $350 for private room/bath.
- Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral, Donceles 95, Centro Histórico. A clean and safe hotel in a perfect location. Some rooms have partial views of the rear of the cathedral, but these are noisy due to the church bells. While rooms are quite simple, everything looks and feels fresh. With a Hosteling International card you can get a room for around 150 pesos a night.
- Hotel Principal, Bolívar 29, Centro Histórico Mexico City 06000, ☎ 55 5521 1333 ([email protected]). Clean, friendly, and well run hotel with a range of rooms. Most overlook a quiet inner courtyard. Doubles from a little over US$20.
- Hotel Majestic, Av Madero 73, Centro Histórico Mexico City 06000, ☎ 55 5521 8600 ([email protected]), . The location is great, the rooms are clean and comfortable but the service is vaudevillian. The restaurant on the top floor has a superb view of the Cathedral and Presidential Palace but the food isn't worthy of the ambience. $120 (double).
- Hostel Moneda, Moneda 8, Centro Histórico Mexico City 06020, ☎ 55 800 221 72 65. Cheap and lively hostel with a good bar on the top floor and free breakfast and internet access. It's a good place for backpackers looking to party.
- Hotel Tuxpan, Republica de Colombia, near the intersection with Republica de Brasil. A very good deal that is only a few blocks to the Zocalo. Clean with cable TV, nice restrooms, and mirrors on the ceiling. Only 110 pesos a night.
- Hotel Virreyes, Izazaga 8, Centro Histórico Mexico City 06080, ☎ 55 5521 4180 ([email protected]). A former luxury hotel turned funky backpacker hostel, the Virreyes has spacious rooms, albeit with simple thrift furniture and a lobby that turns into a cinema, music spot and a place to hang. Former Virreyes occupants include Hollywood stars Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie and Mexican prizefighter Kid Azteca.
- Hotel de Cortes, Av. Hidalgo 85, Col. Guerrero, Mexico City, 06000, ☎ 55/5518-2182; 800/908-1200 in U.S, . This charming and atmospheric inn has lodged travellers since its beginnings as a hostel for Augustinian missionaries. The former friars' quarters are comfortable, and continuing renovations and polishing are pleasing to those seeking a unique experience.
Overall, walking in the Centro Historico is safe. The best recommendation is to avoid those streets with an excessive amount of street vendors. Use your common sense.
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