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With such a rich cultural heritage and ancient history, it’s no surprise that there are hidden gems around virtually every corner in Mexico City - you just have to know where to look! So here are 5 secret spots in Mexico City that are loved by locals, so you can get off the path well trodden and into some local neighbourhoods, where the best food and the best art is kept hidden!
By Francesca de Luca
Santa María La Ribera, an old district built at the beginning of the 20th century, hides cultural and architectural gems. A Moorish-style kiosk, ironically designed by a Mexican architect to represent Mexico at an old world fair, is the masterpiece of the Alameda (the central plaza). The Museo de Geología, a Porfirato-period masterpiece of Beaux-Arts carved out of volcanic rock, sits in the North-East corner of the Alameda and is worth admiring even when the museum is closed.
If you want some peace and quiet while admiring some great architecture and interior design, you must visit the modern Vasconcelos library, which is just round the corner from the main square. Then check out the Museo Universitario del Chopo - housed in a glass and cast iron building - a renowned centre for avant-garde and provocative art. If you fancy some food at this point, head to Cochinita Mix for a traditional Yucatan-style taco of Cochinita Pibil or to Kolobok for some exotic Russian food. If you fancy a beer instead, pay a visit to the “cantina” Salón Paris, a Mexican old-style bar.
The Lagunilla market, located in the historical centre, has been Latin America’s trading centre for more than 400 years. Pay a visit to the Lagunilla´s Sunday antique market, where Mexicans go to spend some time with their families. The aim is the same for both: enjoying good food and looking through some antiques, art, collectibles, and oddities while listening to live music. Virtually a museum, there are hundreds of local stalls offering a particular specialty: furniture, lamps, cinematographic gadgets, hats, jewellery, vinyl records, old books, vintage and military clothing and also tattoos as well as haircuts and manicures. Keep your eyes open for some good bargains! The gastronomic offer is also of interest: from the pastor and suadero tacos, to the Michoacán beef as well as other snacks. Head to La Trinchera for a yummy pizza and some tasty Mexican craft beer.
After the Lagunilla market, pay a visit to the close-by Tlatelolco district, an historical and cultural jewel of Mexico City since the pre Colonial time, having been its first commercial centre. The most iconic place is Plaza de las Tres Culturas (the Square of the Three Cultures), a square where you can experience the three most important periods of Mexico’s history through its architecture – pre-Hispanic ruins, a colonial-period church and contemporary buildings. Its cultural scene is very rich and takes place mainly in the CCU - Tlatelolco’s University Cultural Centre, situated on the side of the main plaza.
Check its programme out as well as its permanent exhibitions, including Memoria 68, about the massacre during a students protest held in Tlatelolco in 1986. The district’s cultural vibe extends to its buildings’ walls that are covered in inspiring street art – don’t miss out the Chihuahua building, hosting the mural by the Spanish artist, Escif. If after all this walking, you fancy a beer and some traditional Mexican food, visit La Única de Guerrero, one of the most famous cantinas in the area.
If you want to discover the first National Park in the country, housed in a 17th century ex convent, head to El Desierto de Los Leones (the lions’ desert) by Uber. Don’t worry, there’s no desert, only a wild area populated by a great variety of trees, nor lions, as Leones was probably the last name of the family that helped barefoot Carmelitas friars acquire the legal possession of the property. The ex convent is surrounded by gardens which are enriched by underground tunnels, and there’s a deer reserve and miles of hiking trails that are rich in flora and fauna. The monks chose this spot as a place of meditation far away from the restlessness of the city and nowadays Mexicans choose it for a similar reason - enjoying nature and its silence, a rare thing in the capital, while having a picnic or going for walk. The park also hosts cultural events.
Despite being located in the far-out area of Xochimilco, most famous for its “embarcaderos” (boats running the area’s canals), paying a visit to the Dolores Olmedo museum is worthy. The museum is home to the collection owned by Dolores Olmedo, the combative Mexican art collector who turned her “hacienda” into a museum devoted to paintings by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the biggest joint exhibition of the two artists. The collection also includes an important selection of pre-Hispanic pieces belonging to the Olmec, Zapotec and Mayan cultures.
Surrounded by gorgeous gardens rich in Mexican plants and animals, including peacocks and Xoloitzcuintle dogs (the hairless breed loved by Rivera), the museum’s aim is to enhance the Mexican spirit. As you cross the huge gate it feels like being catapulted to an enchanted place. The museum also organises temporary exhibitions of both national and international artists.
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