Following an amazing morning at Teotihuacán and a great lunch at La Gruta, we wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Historic Center Mexico City before we jetted off to Quintana Roo the following day. With so many iconic buildings and fabulous architecture peppered around the city, it’s well worth a walk around. Its architecture dates back as far as the Aztec period, and it surrounds the huge Zócalo plaza. Our walking journey began at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the Historic Center. As one of the biggest cities in the world, as you can imagine everything is pretty spread out, so bring your comfy shoes!
The Historic Center of Mexico City
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is one of the city’s most beautiful and iconic buildings. It translates as ‘The Fine Arts Palace’, and is incredibly opulent. It hosts some memorable events in music, dance, and theatre, opera and has some incredible art exhibitions. The dome is so cool with its burnt orange to yellow ombre. You’ll get a better view later on in the post. The building has a very European vibe. Coincidental, then, that former Mexican president, Porfirio Diaz, was a huge admirer of Paris, and was later buried there.
Just to the left of the front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, you’ll find Park Alameda Central. In the spring, it looks so pretty with the purple jacarandas in full bloom.
You’ll soon come across the Hemiciclo a Juarez, a Neoclassic monument in homage to Mexican statesman, Benito Juárez. This area of Mexico City feels very European with its architecture, green spaces, fountains, and statues. There’s even a Parisian Metro station in art nouveau style just like in Paris.
Casa de los Azulejos
Just a short walk from the Palacio de Bellas Artes and Park Alameda Central, you’ll find the Casa de los Azulejos. Also known as the ‘House of Tiles’, it’s a distinctive eighteenth century building. Aptly, it’s famous for its facade covered in blue and white tiles from the Mexican Puebla. It’s stunningly beautiful and reminds me a lot of Spanish casas in Mallorca and Barcelona.
Once a private palace, nowadays, the building houses one of Mexico City’s most prolific chain restaurants, Sanborns.
We meandered around the surrounding streets, passing stalls selling traditional Mayan clothing.
Palacio de Correos
One of the most stunning and impressive buildings in the Historic Center of Mexico City you’ll see is just around the corner. El Palacio de Correos, or the Postal Palace, is so beautiful. It’s incredibly elaborate and decorative, with gold detailing wherever you look. It’s a mishmash of styles, from Moorish to Spanish to Art Deco details. Be sure to pop inside if you get the chance.
The building is actually still in order as a working post office. Completed in 1907, the Palacio Postal has stood the test against both time and earthquakes. Although it’s ornate from the outside, you’re pretty much blinded by glorious gold on the inside. It’s undoubtedly the most beautiful post office I’ve seen. You can even send Mexico City postcards directly inside to whoever you wish you had with you.
The next stop on our walking tour of Mexico City is the Plaza de la Constitución, or Zócalo. It’s the main square of Mexico City, and is the second largest square in the world, after Russia’s Red Square. In fact, it boasts the Templo Mayor, the centrepiece of Tenochtitlán, the ancient Aztec capital. The ruins remain today, even after their destruction during the Spanish conquest in 1521.
Zócalo is also commonly home to the largest Mexican flag in the whole country. I would have included a picture, but there was a ceremony in place which means taking the flag down.
Beautiful colonial architecture surrounds the square, including the Catedral Metropolitana. It’s actually Latin America’s largest church. It took an incredible three hundred years to build, and harbours eclectic styles as a result. It’s difficult to imagine the city as the cultural capital of the Aztecs, but you’ll have to use your imagination. The ruins scattered around will help, and there’s a great museum to help you envisage it.
Around Zócalo, you’ll find the main shopping district, with plenty of independent and chain stores. This is obviously the main tourist area and it can get pretty busy. People will try to sell you things along the way, but be polite and they’ll return the respect.
Back to the Historic Center of Mexico City
Returning from Zócalo, we made our way back to the Palacio de Bellas Artes feeling thirsty. I highly recommend going to the Sears opposite and heading to their eighth floor for the cafe. From here, you can enjoy prime views over the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes while you sip coffee.
Back on the street and I was handed a rose. As I said, Mexicans are just friendly, lovely people.
We also came across a protest. Before we visited, I had read about the frequency of protests in the city and being cautious of safety. This was completely controlled and peaceful. It was a group of university students protesting against rises in tuition fees.
The Angel of Independence, Historic Center of Mexico City
The last monument of our whistlestop tour of the Historic Center of Mexico City is the Angel of Independence. We cheated and got a taxi here for a better view. We could actually see it from our hotel at the NH Collection Reforma also, but we wanted an up close view.
The Angel was completed in 1910, marking 100 years of independence from Spain. It’s a winged statue of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. She holds a laurel crown in one hand, for triumph, and a broken three link chain. This symbolizes three centuries of Spanish rule in Mexico before it broke off. Today’s Angel of Independence is a duplicate, after the original tragically broke following an earthquake in 1957. Along with Reforma Avenue and its incredible monuments, the Angel of Independence brings a touch of Europe to Mexico. She’s also one of the most iconic images of Mexico City, so you simply must get a photo with her.
An Evening in Roma, Mexico City
We were dropped off in Roma, where we wanted to explore some of the nearby vintage shops. Check out fabulous Goodbye Folk‘s vintage boutique if you’re in the area. Honestly, a lot of the enjoyment of Mexico City is simply walking around the gorgeous neighbourhoods aimlessly. You’ll see all kinds of hidden gems and amazing streets and buildings.
How gorgeous is this street? I’d love to live down here!
After sprucing ourselves up back at the hotel, we set out for Roma once again for dinner and drinks. Our first stop: Licorería Limantour. It’s a classy bar clearly targeted at tourists. The drinks are good but a little on the pricier side. We passed this curious advert, which obviously has something to say about the underage drinking problem in Mexico.
Moving onwards and upwards, we went to a bar we’d heard a lot about, GinGin. There are a few of them about in Mexico City. As it would soon be my birthday in a matter of hours, we got the drinks in. I went for La Bruja Verde (the green witch). It’s a combination of gin, green apple juice, lime, and soda. It’s pretty tasty too.
Seeing in a Birthday
One of the key features of their bars is this fabulous array of copper skulls. I wish it wouldn’t be weird to have one of these in my house one day!
We got chatting with some new companions, and had some fiery shots to kick off my birthday right. Our server even did a little dance with a light for me. A great way to see in another year of my twenties indeed.
But what’s even better than seeing in a new year with shots, is seeing it in with beer and incredible al pastor tacos. Plus, the fact we had a flight the next day to Cancun for some sun.
More of my adventures to follow shortly.
Where are your favourite places to explore in the Historic Center of Mexico City? Let me know in the comments below.