Must Visit Historical Sites In Mexico City - Recommended by a Local Archeologist
By Roberto Vilchis, a local archaeologist who is passionate about his city’s rich and diverse history.
Edited by Matthew Wears
Mexico City is famous for many things; the amazing food, the crazy culture, even our music, but I don’t think there’s anything more important than our totally unique heritage. There aren’t many places where history and the modern world collide together in such a way as they do here. The entire place is pretty much overflowing with historical sites that go way back over one thousand years, all the way up to the hectic, present day CDMX that I know and love today. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived here my whole life, and in so many ways the beautiful and unique Mexico City historical sites have shaped my life, to a point where I really don’t think I’d be an archaeologist if I hadn’t been brought up in such a special environment. The city has been blessed with multiple eras that have crafted it into the rich and diverse metropolis that you see today, which of course will be on show as you walk around these incredible streets! For this list, I’m going to be picking my must-see Mexico City spots that I think everyone should see, so expect to find some places you might recognise, as well as some little gems that I think are well worth your time! So, let’s begin! These are my absolute must visit historical sites in Mexico City!
Plaza de las Tres Culturas
The Plaza de las Tres Culturas for me is the most emblematic place in the whole city, there’s nowhere that sums up the beauty of Mexican culture as well as its troubled past better than here. It really is one of the must visit historical sites in Mexico City, especially if you want to learn about one of my country’s darkest moments in time; the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. This was a horrific time for Mexico City and it’s still a very emotional memory for a lot of people, but it’s important to remember what happened here and reflect on just how far my country has gone since then. The square gets its name from the three distinct cultures that can be seen in the surrounding architecture, there’s Aztec, Spanish and our own Mexican building styles all on show in one small area, it’s the perfect place to see our distinct historical eras.
Cuicuilco Pyramid is one of the historic places in Mexico City that is not really visited by tourists too much, even though it’s a really amazing site and very interesting from an archaeological point of view. Would you believe it, but this is actually the oldest pyramid in middle Mexico dating all the way back to 100 years BC, which is older than the Teotihuacan Pyramids to the north. What I love most about this place is that it’s surrounded by modern buildings, there’s nowhere that I can think of that highlights just how much ancient history and the modern world come together in Mexico City so effortlessly. This really is a must-see Mexico City attraction for anyone who wants to go off the beaten path, and it’s completely free to enter too. This is located in the South of Mexico City quite near to where I live, and if you go with a local, you’re bound to find out all kinds of extra information.
Museum Of Anthropology
Next up is the Museum of Anthropology, which in my opinion is the most important historical and educational institution in the entire world! This is one of the most popular Mexico City attractions with both tourists and locals alike, it’s become such an important part of my city’s cultural heritage that I just couldn’t leave it out. It’s the largest museum in Mexico City and one of the largest in the world too. There seems to be no end to the archaeological artefacts that this place has to offer, there are hundreds of rooms that showcase some of the most important pre-Columbian remains ever found, including the iconic Piedra del Sol. One of my proudest ever achievements was to be featured here, it was amazing because this place had such a huge impression on me when I was growing up, to be asked by the director to have my work featured was a dream come true!
Centro Cultural de España
Another very important place that I really love is the Centro Cultural de España, which is actually an art museum although the building itself is one of the most interesting Mexico City historical sites. Firstly, the façade of the building is one of the finest examples of colonial architecture in the entire city, although it was actually badly damaged by a huge earthquake in the 1990’s, but thanks to the Spanish Government it has been restored to the building you see there today. My favourite thing about it has to be the ancient historic remains that are located in the basement of the building, it’s one of the best Mexico City hidden gems for me. Apparently when they were building a parking lot during the restoration period, they came across this site that was rich in archaeological artefacts dating back thousands of years, most of which is now on display!
Leon Trotsky’s House
There are so many treasures in the downtown of the Coyoacán district, the most popular of which is definitely the Frida Kahlo museum, which in my honest opinion is a little bit over rated. Instead I’m going to focus on one of the most underrated Mexico City hidden gems; Leon Trotsky’s house. Trotsky was a political refugee who was responsible for creating the Russian Revolution, and after two attempts were made on his life, he was eventually assassinated in his house in Mexico City. This incredible spot has been pretty much entirely preserved and many of the rooms haven’t been touched since his death in the 1940’s. It is now a museum which offers an amazing insight into his life, although I think it’s a real shame because a lot of people tend to skip it even though I think it’s totally a must-see Mexico City attraction.
The National University Of Mexico
We call this place university city, because it can honestly feel like a city within a city sometimes! It’s not just the size of the campus that is incredible though, but also its design – it is actually now a UNESCO World Heritage site because it has such amazing architecture. The most iconic place has to be the library building, it’s covered in beautiful murals that were painted by some of the 20th century’s most famous Mexican artists. This building alone has to be one of my favourite Mexico City attractions, and it looks at its most spectacular at night. The reason I’m picking the National University as a historical site is because throughout the years this has been the backbone of freedom and expression in the city. It was pupils from this very institution that were involved with the student movements in 1968, so I think it’s really deserving of a mention in this list of historical places in Mexico City!
For day trips in Mexico City, there’s nowhere better than the colourful wetlands of Xochimilco! I’m pretty sure you will have seen pictures of this place, it’s one of two Mexico City attractions that I think pretty much every tourist visits (along with Teotihuacan), and I can totally see why. The place is so interesting in terms of its history, did you know that the entire city originally looked like this at one stage? The floating gardens, or chinampas as we call them, were so great that they produced enough food to feed the city’s two-hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants! As well as this, Xochimilco also has a really incredible church and market area that are worth checking out, they’re very traditional and you can see a lot of cultural remains from the colonial-era here. This isn’t one of the things to do in Mexico City at night though, it’s best to stick to the daytime just to be safe.
Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones
This is another one that’s down in the south of the city, and it’s not just because I live here that I’m choosing these places, it’s because this area never seems to get the recognition it deserves, mostly because places like the historic centre of Mexico City seem to get all of the attention! The Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones is an incredible institution that focuses on the different interventions that have shaped Mexico City over the years, such as the French and the American invasions. The building itself was actually a monastery that played a vital role in the American war, you can even still see the bullet holes in the walls from the standoff that happened here, which I find just so amazing! This is another one of the Mexico City historical sites that seems to go way under the radar, so make sure you visit to get this place the recognition it deserves!
Just about everyone who visits Mexico City will go to Teotihuacan at one point, and I really don’t blame them! Even though this is undoubtedly the most popular place for tourists, it can’t be argued that this is one of the must visit historical sites in Mexico City. This UNESCO World Heritage site is pretty much incomparable in its size, condition and historical value, there’s simply no other place in the Latin America that offers such an important glimpse into the ancient ways of our ancestors. Undoubtedly, the jewel of Teotihuacan is the Pyramid of the Sun, a huge dominating structure that rivals the Great Pyramids of Giza in terms size and value. By far the most popular way of seeing this place is on a Teotihuacan pyramid tour, but take my advice for places to eat in Mexico City - stay clear of the restaurants out the front, they’re pretty much built entirely to rip tourists off!