Mexico City is not just the political and economic capital of Mexico. It’s also the country’s biggest brain trust and the place where artists, writers, philosophers and talented thinkers of all stripes come together to compare notes. They can be hard to find.
These are the 13 Mexico City public places where you’re most likely to find them and inspire your own sense of wonder. If they’re not there when you visit, rest assured, they’ll be back.
La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum)
Easily the best known of the “house museums” in the city, Frida Kahlo’s residence is not just an art museum, but a stunning portrait of mid-century intellectual life in Coyoacan. In addition to a few really good works, the museum is chock full of tantalizing personal effects from both Frida, husband Diego Rivera and plenty of their well-known international acquaintances.
Museo Casa Luis Barragan
Built in 1947, Barragan’s house, walking distance from Metro Constituyentes, is widely considered one of the greatest architecture museums in the country – and still home to Barragan’s incredible collection of art. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, visits are by appointment only but the Barragan remains one of the do-not-miss sites in the city.
The Mixcoac Neighborhood
The neighborhood where Mexican intellectual giant Octavio Paz grew up, Mixcoac is one of Mexico City’s Barrios Mágicos, those noted for being of particular interest to outside visitors. Strolling visitors pass the Glorieta de Goya roundabout and park, the Antiguo Obraje de Mixcoac, a historic textile mill, and the magnificent Centro Cultural Juan Rulfo. The famous Casa de la Campana (“House of the Bell”) and the Plaza Jaurégui are also well worth a visit.
Museo Dolores Olmedo
No privileged heiress here, Dolores Olmedo was a self-made businesswoman and one well-off enough to amass a collection of some of the most important 20th century artworks in Mexico. A frequent patron of Diego Rivera, Olmedo’s collections include some of his most important work, some from his wife, Frida Kahlo and work from Angelina Beloff, among others. Exhibition rooms are changed periodically and host temporary exhibits that change with the seasons.
Intellects the likes of Pita Amor, Sergio Pitol, Fernando del Paso, Leonora Carrington and Ramon Lopez Velarde made their homes here and poet Ramon Lopez Velarde had his home made into a museum. But pass a long stroll along the Avenida Alvaro Obregon in Roma Norte for endless cafes, some of the most fashionable restaurants in the city and museums and galleries thrown in for good measure.
Museo Casa León Trotsky
The socialism that never got a chance, Trotsky’s final 3 years were likely pleasant judging by the Coyoacan environs. These include La Casa Azul (#1 above). But in this, Trotsky’s final home, now another great “house museum,” NKVD agent Ramón Mercader actually succeeded in quashing the hopes of the working classes for another few generations. Personal items and furnishings are exactly as they were on that day in February 1940.
Coyoacán Centro Historico
Speaking of Coyoacán, already appearing twice in the list above, take to the historical center for 29 city blocks of some of the oldest city in Mexico City. A visit to the Zocalo will let you hit the surrounding cobblestones in style. The Twin Plazas of Hidalgo and del Centenario are historic and refreshing and give a good glimpse of how life used to be. And a wealth of nearby churches offer not just respite from the heat but always intriguing works of art and space for reflection.
Museo Casa Luis Buñuel
Spain’s most celebrated filmmaker took to the Del Valle neighborhood on Felix Cuevas street where he lived until the end of his life. Personal items and some scripts are on display, but so is an intriguing look into one of the twentieth century’s most intriguing filmmakers. Cinematic and creative workshops are sometimes held here, but most days it’s as brightly lit and nearly abandoned as surrounding residential Del Valle.
Nearly everyone from the “extranjero” ends up in Condesa anyway. It’s a multi-faceted street-by-street display of some of the country’s best architecture, but you’ll also find shops, cafes, nightlife and The Ruth Lechuga Museum (of literally, some 10,000 pieces of popular art from all over Mexico), The Holocaust Museum, and many of the best galleries and alternative spaces in the city.
Museo Casa de la Bola
13 rooms of late 19th Century high society finery, the furnishings and decorative art range from the 15th century straight through the 20th. But the villa itself dates from the 16th century when it was the center of a country olive oil estate. Today the building, grounds and gardens are a bit knuckle-biting in terms of overt luxury. In the west side, in seldom visited Tacubaya, it’s a good point to stop and reflect on your way in, or out of, far more glittery Santa Fe.
With far too much to recommend, the city center is a daunting labyrinth of the ancient, the merely old and the new. Take in one of the museums, a long coffee and a long walk. Several pedestrian-only streets make it more pleasant than ever, but wander the side streets for glimpses of what author Charles C. Mann called the “first Post-Modern, 21st Century City.” He was referring to the 16th Century. It’s been the center of the Western World for that long.
Casa del Lago
The cake at the center of Chapultepec Park, the “Lake House” was UNAM’s first off-campus Cultural Center. Opened in 1908 as a Biology Lab for the Ministry of Agriculture, it was the headquarters of the University Biology Department all the way till they moved to the main campus in 1959. As a cultural center, it truly shined and played host to many of the most important activist and insurrectionist artist’s groups of the late 20th Century. As host of an important documentary filmmakers group, it’s taken on special significance for the city’s cinephiles. Of course, just getting there through one of the largest city parks in the world is also an intellectual adventure.
Not nearly as well visited as some of the other collections celebrating Diego Rivera, the Anahuacalli was Rivera’s own museum dedicated to the preservation and display of the nearly 50,000 pieces of Pre-Hispanic art and artifacts collected during his lifetime. Completed after Rivera’s death, the museum is a stunning architectural work that lends a solemn weight to the museum grounds that include extensive ecological gardens. A few galleries are given over to Rivera’s own life and works, and views from the observation deck are not to be missed.
Mexico City is vibrant, vast and very important. Not just in terms of the space it occupies and the stone and brick from it’s made from, but Mexico City greeted more than 30 million visitors last year. That’s more than it’s entire metro-population (though not by much). Let’s look at why they came.
Last year, at about this time, The New York Times had named the city the number one travel destination for 2016. Tourism searches on Google showed Mexico City as not just a Latin American Favorite, but in the top five tourist searches in the world. And of course, people have been asking for the last several years if it wasn’t the Next Paris, or the Next New York or the Next SOMETHING.
The City government set itself to the task of figuring out just why people love coming here. These are the top 15 reasons they came up with, and ultimately they’re the reasons that Mexico City is Latin America’s favorite, and maybe your favorite too!
1) 185 museums, nine archaeological sites and four World Heritage sites? The cultural scene is enormous, rich and varied. There’s something for every kind of cultural traveler.
2) Fairs, festivals, conventions, meetings and extravaganzas cover music, food, movies, books, and trade in every kind of human activity, down to the annual clown convention.
3) Blockbuster events? Last year saw a Formula 1 race, an NFL game or two, the Tour de France, and a free Roger Waters concert in the city center.
4) Chosen for the sixth world C40 Mayors Summit in November of 2016, Mexico City is widely perceived as a world leader in combatting climate change.
5) The Metrobús system, originally based on one running in Bogota, Colombia, is now the biggest in Latin America. Stretching some 125 kms today, in 2017 no less than 90 Alexander Dennis Enviro500 double-decker buses will begin plying the length of Paseo de la Reforma, as Metrobus Line 7 officially opens.
6. The tourist program Sonrisas por tu ciudad, literally “Smiles for your city,” organized by the Secretary for Tourism, has benefited more than 200,000 people.
7. Mexico City’s Central de Abasto (pictured below), after more than 30 years sells 30,000 tons of merchandise (mostly food) and sells to about 30,000 people every day. It’s the largest shopping area in the world.
8. Mexico City was the first Latin American city to join the Rainbow Cities Network, which coordinates city-level actions to protect LGBTI citizens and residents.
9. Mexico City was chosen as the World Capital of Design for 2018, by the World Design Organization.
10. The Centro Histórico is the largest historical city center in Latin America, with 1,500 buildings designated as having historical, cultural, artistic or architectural value. That’s more than most tour guides can handle, but it’s also home the continent’s biggest Metropolitan Cathedral.
11. Mexico City’s first ever Day of the Dead parade was celebrated by more than 250,000 marchers, band members, onlookers and, yes, zombies.
12. The city’s El Médico en tu Casa program puts a “Doctor in Your Home.” It’s already recognized in America, Asia, and Europe, for bringing health services closer to people who can’t easily visit hospitals or clinics.
13. Mexico City also began the first Specialized Center for the Management of Diabetes anywhere in Latin America.
14. The Ecobici system (pictured below) is the biggest public bike system in Latin America, with 452 cycle stations and about 35 million trips made by 200,ooo riders every year.
15. And finally, the good old underground Metro network is the biggest in Latin America, too. With 12 lines 226 km in total length, about 5 million people ride it every day.
Source: CDMX government, with information from International CDMX and the 4th Governmental Report CDMX, 2016.
Casa Madero may have been the first winery in the Americas, founded way back in 1597, and way up in Coahuila. But Mexico’s predominant “beer culture” has always given wine producers something of a long shadow to grow up in. Aguascalientes, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Chihuahua all produce respectable wines, but it’s been the environs of Ensenada (the Guadalupe Valley, the Santo Tomas Valley, and the Ojos Negros Valley) that have really busted the Mexican wine scene out onto international lists of “respectability.” Some parts Coahuila (the Valley Of Parras, and Cuatro Ciénagas in particular) still hold their own – but most wine enthusiasts agree, Baja’s got the wine to beat.
Mexico exports wine around the world. According to the Mexican Wine Council, about 400 brands of wine are currently being produced in the country, and these increasingly appear on the international lists as being wines to watch (and to taste). But those lists aren’t everything. Even the most sophisticated drinkers know today that plenty is coming each year from Mexican wineries that’s worth taking note of.
Yes, you can still find plenty of good Mexican vintages mixed in with the international offerings on the shelves at Liverpool. But the wine shops below are pretty active at pushing good wines, from Mexico, onto more Mexican tables.
Vinoteca has three locations in and around the city and carries a wide range of Mexican wines, and still more around the country. They do a fair internet trade in wines too, but stopping in lets you pick the brains of their knowledgeable staff.
La Contra, also with shops all over the country, is one of the city’s leading advocates for the Mexican wine industry. With a capital location in Roma, it’s an easy and relaxed place to pick up recommendations, or indeed, to sample some of the best bottles coming in.
Address: Álvaro Obregón 130, local # 10, Colonia Roma Norte
Telephone: 5564 0966
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Á de Acento offers a very well-regarded restaurant, but the gourmet shop offers plenty that’s pure Mexican and well worth a bottle or two. In fact, prices are very reasonable, but there’s also usually something special hidden away in the shelves that inquiring customers will be very pleased to find.
Another in the list of combo restaurant and gourmet shops, Amaya has made a big splash with their list of “vinos raros.” Far from weird, many of them are fabulous. They’re also generally available in the shop, no reservation necessary and many of the best are, in fact, domestically produced!
Don’t expect friendly service. La Europea is still trying to figure out in which decade they’re doing business. But for all the wood-boxed bacalao these people sling during the holidays, they’ve always got a ton of good wine, too. With a good number of branches in and around the city, calling them one of the best wine shops in Mexico might be a stretch, but they do a lot of business, and for that, they always offer a ton of good Mexican wines too.
Si Mon is run by the chefs at Broka Bistrot, practically next door. And the emphasis is on local, good, and even inspiring wines. One of the best things about shopping at a wine bar is after all, that there is usually a bottle open. And for that, including Si Mon in a list of the best wine shops is practically a given.
Main Photo Above: Aborigen Valle Seco, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Courtesy of La Contra