48 Hours In Mexico City
By Francesca de Luca
A lifetime wouldn’t be enough to experience everything worth visiting and trying in Mexico City, one of the biggest, most complex and diverse cities in the world, a metropolis rich in tradition, culture and food. But, if you only have 48 hours to spend in the capital, follow our guide to what to do with 2 days in Mexico City and you’ll get at least the flavour of this amazing and always-changing city!
You have a long day ahead so put on comfortable walking shoes and start early at Chapultepec Park, the greenest areas of the city, rich not only in flora and fauna but also in art and history. Use one of the entrances close to the lake facing the National Museum of Anthropology, which is one of the most important museums in Mexico and Latin America, and a jewel for lovers of Mesoamerican Pre-Hispanic cultures. Once inside the park, walk around the lake from where you’ll have a picturesque view of the Castle of Chapultepec, the only royal castle in the Americas, and once official residence of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I.
Then head up the hill and pay a quick visit to the castle itself. From there, the panorama of the park and Paseo de la Reforma (or just Reforma as Mexicans usually call it), one of the main avenues of the capital, is spectacular. Before leaving the park regain your energy at the “Audiorama”, an incredible area of the park dedicated to music and books. Just sit on a bench and relax. Make sure it is only for a short time though as, there is no doubt, you will be tempted to spend there hours!
Head out of the park on Reforma, passing through two of its landmarks, the Torre Mayor and the Bancomer tower. This is a very modern and bustling street full of skyscrapers hosting offices, hotels, bars and restaurants. Stroll through this artery embellished with historical monuments like the Huntress Diana Fountain, the Angel of Independence and the monument of Cuauhtémoc. Once you reach the statue of Cuauhtémoc, head to the Mercado San Juan. Depending on how hungry you are, and how much energy you have, you can either get there by walking across the trendy neighbourhood of La Juarez, or by taxi.
At this gourmet market, you have plenty to try and discover among its huge variety of exotic meats, fresh fishes, insects, fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss out on tasty “chapulines”, grasshoppers panfried with lemon, garlic and chillies, a typical pre-Hispanic snack. For centuries these protein-rich and fat-free insects were the energy source of Aztec warriors, not meat! Then sit at the Don Vergas stall and try its rich ceviche cooked in the Sinaloa state’s style and its tacos gobernador (fried tortilla filled with shrimps). Queuing is worth it, I promise!
Once re-energised, head to the Zócalo, the main square in the historical centre, (formally Plaza de la Constitución), through the pedestrian street Francisco Madero and enjoy the incredible mix of historical buildings. The Zócalo, which was the main ceremonial centre in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and is one of the biggest squares in the world. Get a glimpse of the grand colonial buildings surrounding the square, including the Palacio Nacional, the presidential building that houses Diego Rivera’s mural, “Epic of the Mexican People in their Struggle for Freedom and Independence”.
Don’t miss a peak at the cathedral, an architectural masterpiece that took three centuries to complete and houses one of the largest playing organs you will ever see. And if you think you have to leave Mexico City to see ancient ruins, think again. Right at the back of the cathedral sits an archaeological site, unearthed in 1978, that showcases the remains of what once was a towering Aztec temple, Templo Mayor (the main temple).
Then take Calle 5 de Mayo and head to the gorgeous Palacio de Bellas Artes, which hosts world-renowned opera, dance and theatre against a backdrop of Mexican frescos, the most famous being Diego Rivera´s “Man, Controller of the Universe”, a recreated version of the original in New York’s Rockefeller Centre which was later destroyed after creative differences between the artists. Don’t miss a visit to the Palacio de Correos, the old main post office. Have a drink at Torre Latinoamericana´s bar on the 41st floor and enjoy the spectacular views of the city that never ends. Once relaxed, head to Monumento a la Revoluciòn, a landmark commemorating the Mexican revolution, and enjoy the chilled atmosphere around it. Both places are great as spots to watch the sunset! Once hungry, head for dinner at restaurant Azul Histórico for a traditional dinner or if you fancy some street food don’t miss out tacos at Los Cocuyos.
Start the day with a traditional breakfast at “El Cardenal” in San Angel. Everything is delicious but I recommend “enchiladas de cochinita” (tortillas soaked in chilli sauce topped with cochinita, a typical recipe from Yucatan), sweet buns. Now that you are ready to start the day go for a walk in the quirky cobbled street of San Angel, rich in art and history. Head to Plaza de San Jacinto, the main square, that hosts beautiful and colourful historical buildings. If it is Saturday don’t miss out El Bazar Sábado, a rich bazaar of Mexican handcrafts and art held in a gorgeous house from the Eighteenth Century. Visit the convent of San Jacinto and its beautiful garden. Stroll around the neighbourhood peaking into its churches and art galleries and glimpsing at its antique residences, called “casonas”, with their baroque, neoclassical and neo-colonial style.
After the stroll, take a taxi to the Central Library of Ciudad Universitaria (University City), the main campus of the UNAM, one of the most important universities in Latin America. At the time of its completion in 1954, it was the largest single construction project in Mexico since the Aztecs and was later declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Enjoy the campus´ amazing murals of Mexican artists Siqueiros and O'Gorman round the area of the Central Library. Check the UNAM website for guided tours organised by students as part of their internship. After that, head by taxi to the Sculpture Space, a 120-metre circular sculpture made of huge volcanic stones surrounding black lava soil which represents the cosmos according to the pre-Hispanic culture. Walk around the ecological reserve discovering other sculptures and get to the beautiful building of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC).
From there, call an Uber (any taxis you see on campus only work in this area) and head to the heart of the Coyoacán neighbourhood. Famous for “Casa Azul”, the house-museum of Frida Kahlo, which her fans cannot miss out, Coyoacán is also known for its colourful colonial architecture and vibrant atmosphere. Start on Calle Francisco Sosa, one of the quirkiest streets in the borough. This leads you directly to the hearth of Coyoacán, Plaza Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario where you can sit on a bench and enjoy some people watching. At this point you might be hungry, so go to “Mercado de Antojitos Mexicanos Juanita” on Calle Higuera to enjoy some Mexican tapas or head to the restaurant Los Danzantes if you fancy classic Mexican cuisine with a twist instead.
After you’ve eaten, head to La Condesa, a trendy area of the city rich in boutique shops, art galleries, bars and restaurants. Walk its tree-lined streets that are filled with finely restored Art Deco buildings in the area of Parque México and Calle Amsterdam. The borough’s nightlife is also rich, both relaxed and vibrant - if you can imagine this! - so find the place that suits you best and enjoy it!