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Francesca de Luca, passionate traveller embracing life in Mexico City.
Mexico City was once described as “an enchanted legend” by the Spanish conquerors at their arrival in the city in sixteenth-century because of its majestic architecture and culture. The city has been able to maintain its ancient charm and traditions whilst combining them with a modern feel and if you explore Mexico City off the beaten path you will discover a whole new world. That’s why “Chilangos,” as those who live in the Mexican capital are called, are so passionate about their city. There are 10 things to do in Mexico City that I personally feel everyone should experience if they are wanting to explore the local side of the city.
If you want to feel like you've stepped into a Mexican colonial town, you can’t miss the Coyoacán neighbourhood. Most famous for the Frida Kahlo Museum, Coyoacán is a very green residential area rich in art, history and colourful architecture. As one of my favourite unique things to do in Mexico City I often frequent this museum, which fills up quickly during the weekend with other Mexican families. Walk around Plaza Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario and enjoy people watching while eating an “elote”, a boiled or grilled corn on the cob that’s seasoned with butter or mayonnaise and topped with cheese and chilli powder. Every time I feel like experiencing one of the many cool things to do in Mexico City, I come to this charming neighbourhood where people sell handcrafts and food on every corner and the streets come alive with comedy shows and you can see pre-Hispanic dancing.
Ciudad Universitaria (City University) is the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which is one of the most important universities in Latin America. "Chilangos" love going there to relax, attracted by its murals, the central library, museums, a football stadium and an ecological reserve. The most iconic piece is the Sculpture Space, a 120-metre circular sculpture made of big volcanic stones surrounding black lava soil. I’m drawn to this art piece as it represents the cosmos according to the pre-Hispanic culture which is something that resonates with me. If you want to explore Mexico City off the beaten path, take a walk around the campus and appreciate a unique integration of art and nature as well as modernist geometric and ancient iconography.
While exploring the many cool things to do in Mexico City, be sure to visit the Cineteca Nacional (National Cinema). This is a fascinating complex where you can not only watch movies but also enjoy culture and architecture while drinking a coffee or just relaxing in one of the many green areas. As a film lover, I often attend the open-air cinema here, which is a great way to also experience another kind of nightlife in Mexico City. The Cineteca Nacional is a very modern building, which was designed by one of the most renowned Mexican architects, Michel Rojkind, and is loved by locals and visited by thousands of people every day. Being one of the most avant-guard and complete film archives in Latin America, Cineteca National’s mission is to preserve, catalogue and spread cinema in Mexico through numerous festivals, shows, exhibitions and rich movie listings.
Mexico is the country of colourful and traditional markets (mercados) where many locals still go shopping or have lunch. Even the capital is full of markets and visiting them is a good idea if you are looking for the best places to eat in Mexico City. My personal favourite is the San Juan market. Here you will find a huge variety of exotic products - meat, insects, fruits and vegetables, making it one of the more unique things to do in Mexico City. Try as many different things as you can and don’t miss out some sashimi or a ceviche, a fresh raw fish dish cured in citrus juices, at the “El Puerto de Alvarado” stand.
Not only great tech companies start in garages. La Casa de Toño, after beginning as a little homey restaurant (“fonda”) - literally in Toño’s garage - is now a successful chain serving traditional handcraft Mexican fast-food. If you are looking for the best places to eat in Mexico City, then definitely schedule in a stop here. The pozole, a hearty soup made traditionally of large hominy kernels and pork, is the king of the menu however all the “antojitos”, the Mexican word for tapas, are very yummy. Locals fill up the tables of this busy chain at any time – some of the branches are open 24/7 – however don’t be scared about the long queue outside as the speedy and efficient service will make the wait quick (consider a minute for each table ahead of your turn in average).
If you are looking for free things to do in Mexico City, then a visit to the greatest urban park is in order. It may be one of Mexico City's hidden gems, but Chapultepec can easily compete with New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park. It is the greenest area of the city, rich not only in flora and fauna but also in art and history. Locals love spending their weekends there walking, visiting one of the museums, rowing a boat in the lake or relaxing in the Audiorama, an area dedicated to music and books which were once home to a pre-Colombian cave. Chilangos like to say that Chapultepec has something to offer to everyone so discover your Chapultepec and its grasshoppers, as its ancient name possibly suggests.
Mexicans, like all Latin Americans, love their salsa beats and spending night-outs dancing until very late. Barba Azul is among the many fun things to do in Mexico City at night. It is a very traditional cabaret-style night club and I love coming here to dace and watch the colourful shows. Since 1950, Barba Azul has maintained its vibrant atmosphere thanks to its red lighting, great live bands and the famous "ficheras," women who dance with men for a few pesos. Opened from Tuesday to Saturday, it guarantees a good environment filled up with locals and offers a glimpse into the nightlife in Mexico City.
Seeking more free things to do in Mexico City? A very green and fun way to discover the area covered by El Paseo de Reforma, one of the most famous streets in the city, is using the bike path that opens on Sundays from 8 am to 2 pm. You can find various spots along the way where you can get a bike for free. I love to start my journey at the historical centre of the city, the Zocalo, and pedal to the park of Chapultepec. You can admire some amazing ancient and modern architecture. On top of that, Reforma always hosts a temporary exhibition, making it one of my top 10 things to do in Mexico City.
One of the other really cool things to do in Mexico is see "lucha libre." While it literally means free fight or Mexican wrestling, this phrase can be deceptive. Lucha libre is actually a colourful and acrobatic show more than a fight. That isn’t to say this is not dangerous, as the "luchadores" (fighters) perform jumps, flips and throws that are carefully choreographed, wearing colourful masks that turns them into gods, animals and ancient heroes. Be ready for a vibrant environment where insults and shouts will be the soundtrack. For locals wanting things to do in Mexico City at night, this is a good way for us to shrug off our shoulders the stress that builds up during the week. In the Arena Mexico, Fridays are the best nights for a "lucha libre" show.
La Condesa and La Roma are very trendy areas of the city no matter which time of day you visit. Locals love going there for a walk, shopping in the boutiques, or going to one of the many good restaurants and bars you’ll find there. The streets are filled with brightly coloured facades, and in La Condesa, there are plenty of finely restored Art Deco buildings and tree-lined streets in the area of Parque México (Mexico park) and Calle Amsterdam. Here you can truly experience the atmospheric nightlife in Mexico City, which is both relaxed and vibrant, perfect no matter what your style, from modern to bohemian, hipsters to rockers.
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