Historic Center Walk (Self Guided), Mexico City

Mexico City is a populous, high-altitude capital of Mexico, renowned for its wealth of history and tradition. The local landmarks are numerous and include, among others, the Baroque-style Catedral Metropolitana de México of the Spanish conquistadors and the Palacio Nacional, home to the historic murals by Diego Rivera. All of these are found in and near Plaza de la Constitución, the enormous main square of the city commonly referred to as the Zócalo. To see what else is there in the Historic Center of Mexico City, follow this self-guided tour and explore.
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Historic Center Walk Map

Guide Name: Historic Center Walk
Guide Location: Mexico » Mexico City (See other walking tours in Mexico City)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Metropolitan Cathedral
  • National Palace
  • Zócalo Plaza
  • Zocalo Market
  • Palace of Iturbide
  • Plaza Manuel Tolsa
  • Palacio Postal
  • Torre Latinoamericana
  • Casa de Azulejos
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes
  • Alameda Central Park
Metropolitan Cathedral

1) Metropolitan Cathedral (must see)

Dominating the Zocalo in Mexico City, the Catedral Metropolitana is the oldest and largest cathedral in Latin America. The church is also called the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City. Over the centuries the cathedral’s foundations have sunk into the soft soil beneath and, as a result, the cathedral and the nearby chapel did not have a level floor. The efforts of Mexico City’s administration led to its extensive reconstruction and by the year 2000, the structure was removed from the World Monuments Fund’s list of the 100 most endangered sites.

Catedral Metropolitana was built over the location of the destroyed Aztec palace of Moctezuma. The material used during its construction was from the destroyed palace. The design of the cathedral has several architectural styles including baroque, neoclassic and Churrigueresque. Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega drew up the initial plans for the structure. The foundations of the building were laid in 1567 and completed in 1788.

The church is filled with paintings, altarpieces and colored statues by well known Mexican artists and sculptors. The cathedral has two bell towers with 25 bells and two of the largest 18th-century organs in the Americas. A sound and light show, with a focus on choral music, takes visitors on a candlelit walking tour around the cathedral.

It's a functioning cathedral so be mindful of that, and try to avoid mass.
If you'd like to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime view of El Zócalo and the Cathedral, whether its an early breakfast or a late dinner (the latter allows you to dine when the square is beautifully lit up), have a fairly-priced meal on the balcony of a restaurant called "Balcon del Zocalo", located near the Cathedral on the 6th floor of the Zocalo Central Hotel. Eating a nice meal while looking at the National Cathedral from this perspective is an incredible sight to see!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-8pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
National Palace

2) National Palace (must see)

The Palacio National, a large building flanking the entire eastern part of the Zocalo in Mexico City, is the seat of Mexico’s national executive. The building stands on the location from where rulers of Mexico from the times of the Aztecs wielded power. Hernan Cortes, the Spanish Governor, demolished the palace of the Aztec King Moctezuma II to build this symbol of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

The Palacio Nacional is a large building with countless rooms, courtyards, and brass balconies. The second floor has vast expanses of murals by Diego Rivera portraying the history of Mexico. Construction of the building began in 1692 and at first, it was the home of Hernan Cortes. Later, the building became the residence of the Spanish Viceroys. The Palacio Nacional played a significant role in Mexican Independence and it houses a bell that was rung by Padre Miguel Hidalgo to proclaim independence from Spain in 1810. Hidalgo’s cry declaring independence is called the historic Grito Dolores.

On September 15th, the Independence Day of Mexico, crowds of Mexicans and foreigners gather at the Zocalo to hear the president of Mexico repeat the Grito Dolores from the balcony before the national anthem is sung. On the 2nd floor of the building, visitors can use the services of a guide to better understand the historical details portrayed in Diego Rivera’s murals.

Why You Should Visit:
An oasis of quiet and beauty just off the main plaza which is always brimming with people (and sometimes protests). Great little bookstore on site, as well as a branch of Fonart.

Since this is a government building, security is strict: you have to give up either your driver's license or passport to gain entry (easily retrieved on exiting). Bags, bottled water, hats and sunglasses are also prohibited. On the plus side, guards are polite and entry (free) is fairly quick.
Follow the signs across the courtyard, and see the vast murals depicting the history of Mexico, which are considered Diego Rivera's greatest work (he spent years painting them).

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Zócalo Plaza

3) Zócalo Plaza (must see)

The formal name of the main square in Mexico City popularly called Zócalo is Plaza de la Constitucion. It is the venue of every important Mexican event from the times of the Aztecs.

At first, the Zócalo was the center of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan and extended in front of the palace of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. After the destruction of Tenochtitlan, the Spanish conqueror, Cortes built a church that is now the cathedral of Mexico City. The plaza in front of the cathedral was paved with the stones from the palace of Moctezuma after its destruction by the Spanish. The square through history has been frequently flooded and periodically became a marketplace with makeshift stalls. The plaza was also paved and decorated several times over by different rulers and demolished and ransacked by their successors. Extensive repairs and beautification efforts are underway to improve the ambiance of the square.

The Zócalo has an area of 57,600 square meters that makes it one of the world's largest public squares, second only to the Red Square in Moscow. The square is an empty space with a large Mexican flag in the center. The flag is lowered every evening at 6 pm and visitors come to view the ceremony. Large gatherings, events and concerts take place at the Zócalo.

Why You Should Visit:
No trip to Mexico City would be complete without a wander around this amazing array of diversity/eclecticity.
In the Zócalo and its surroundings, one can appreciate the Mexican history written on the walls of each building that surrounds it, can enjoy the best cuisine in the city and can witness an entertainment event or national significance.

Go up to the Hotel Gran Ciudad de México's terrace for a great photo!
Sight description based on wikipedia
Zocalo Market

4) Zocalo Market (must see)

Zócalo Market is located to the right of the Cathedral. It can be recognized by its many colorful umbrellas. Here you will find a wide range of products, as well as souvenirs to take home from trip to Mexico City. Stroll through the hundreds of vendors and see what they have to offer!
Palace of Iturbide

5) Palace of Iturbide

The Palace of Iturbide is a large home in the Historic Center of Mexico City that is a cultural center that allows temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and hosts art workshops for adults and children. The Center is now the Palacio Cultura de Banamex run by the National Bank of Mexico.

The Palace of Iturbide was constructed by Miguel de Berrio y Saldivar, the Count of San Mateo Valparaiso and Marquis of Jaral de Berrio, a descendant of one of the original conquistadors. The count was the mayor of Mexico City and the house was built for his daughter as part of her dowry. His grandson through his daughter offered the house to visiting dignitaries including the man who became the Emperor of Mexico, Augustin de Iturbide. It was at the balcony of the house that Iturbide agreed to become the first Emperor of Mexico after the liberation from Spain.

The house was constructed between 1779 and 1785 and has three floors. The design is baroque with a courtyard surrounded by 18 arches with Tuscan columns. The building became a college of mining and later a hotel before its purchase and restoration by the national Bank of Mexico in 1972.

Visitors will enjoy contemporary art exhibits and other cultural activities in the atrium of the palace and browse at the small but well appointed book and art shop located in the museum.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Plaza Manuel Tolsa

6) Plaza Manuel Tolsa

Plaza Manuel Tolsa features a rectangular open space, located right in front of the old Tacuba Street. This plaza is famous for its masterpiece – an equestrian sculpture of Charles IV of Spain, known as El Caballito. It is a bronze piece of work made by the famous Manuel Tolsa. Around the square can also be seen several amazing architectural buildings, like Mining Palace, National Museum of Art and Postal Palace.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palacio Postal

7) Palacio Postal

The Palacio de Correos de Mexico is located in the Historic Center of Mexico City and was built in the early 20th Century during the reign of President Porfirio Diaz.

The main post office building was inaugurated in 1907 when the Post office department became a separate government entity in Mexico. Till 1907, the post office was a division of the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation. The design was by Italian architect Adamo Boari and Gonzalo Garita y Frontera, a Mexican military engineer constructed the building. The framework of the structure consists of steel frames on a large grid of steel beams. This engineering design has enabled the building to withstand earthquakes effectively compared to other buildings in Mexico City. The interiors have a combination of European and Mexican architectural styles. The building is constructed using a light translucent stone called Chiluca. In 1987, after extensive restoration work, the palace was declared an Artistic Monument.

The Palacio de Correos houses two museums. Downstairs is a museum that traces the history of the postal services in Mexico. Here visitors can also view interesting philately exhibits. On the 4th floor is the Naval Museum showing the history of navigation in Mexico using maps, models, photographs and maritime paintings by famous Mexican artists.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Torre Latinoamericana

8) Torre Latinoamericana

This monument in Mexico City is a member of the World federation of Great Towers. The architectural beauty and strength of the tower has made it a historical Mexican monument, a symbol of safety and one of the finest examples of construction engineering in the world. The building withstood the powerful earthquakes that destroyed many others in 1956 and 1985 and received the American Institute of Steel Construction Award of Merit.

The Torre Latinomericana, built in 1956, was one of the first skyscrapers in Mexico. The purpose of the tower was to serve as the headquarters of the La Latinoamericana Seguros insurance company. Part of the building is owned by the company even now. Two Mexican engineers, Dr. Leonardo Zeevaert and his brother Adolfo Zeevaert, designed and oversaw the construction with the help of American structural engineer Nathan M. Newmark. The tower stands more than 180 meters high and has 44 floors. It has a steel frame and deep seated pylons. These give the structure stability despite the high seismic activity of the earth below. For its 50th anniversary in 2006, the Torre Latinoamericana underwent renovations including complete refurbishment of the 37th to the 44th floors, the addition of a museum, and the remodeling of the Mirador or observation deck by architect Palle Seiersen Frost.

As one of the oldest skyscrapers in Mexico, the Torre Latinamericana has great historical significance and still remains a wonder of modern engineering in the world.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Casa de Azulejos

9) Casa de Azulejos

This ornate structure in Mexico City called the Casa de Azulejos or The House of Tiles has a unique facade of blue and white tiles. The Casa was built as the palace of the Counts of Orizaba in 1793. The family decorated the facade of the building with these tiles to show off their immense wealth.

Two theories exist about the origin of the tiles that form the facade of the Casa de Azulejos. It is commonly thought that the tiles were blue and white Talavera tiles made in the nearby State of Puebla. The other theory is that the tiles were made in China and shipped to Mexico on the Spanish Galleons. The building changed hands several times in the 19th Century. In 1919, two American brothers, Walter and Frank Sanborn saw the potential in renovating the property and converted the building into a cafe cum departmental store after extensive restoration. The result was a successful store that grew to become a chain of distinctive stores in Mexico. Today the Sanborn chain belongs to Carlos Sim, one of the world’s richest men.

The Casa de Azulejos is located near the pedestrian corridor Gante in Mexico City. The building has a central courtyard with a Moorish fountain that is now a quaint Sanborn cafe and a 1925 mural by the social realist painter Jose Clemente Orozco.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palacio de Bellas Artes

10) Palacio de Bellas Artes (must see)

The main opera house of Mexico City, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is not only an arena for musical performances but a treasure house of art and sculpture. It is the home of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, the Bellas Artes Orchestra, The Baile Folklorico, The Bellas Artes Chamber Orchestra and the National Dance Company.

The location of the Palacio de Bellas Artes was first an Aztec temple. The first European structure on the site was the Convent of Santa Isabel. Later the convent was closed down and replaced by lower-class housing under the reform laws. In the 19th century, the old buildings were destroyed and a new theater was built where upper-class Mexicans attended operettas, plays, and Viennese dances. In 1901 the old structure was demolished and plans were underway to build a new larger theater as a celebration of Mexican Independence. Italian architect Adamo Boari drew up plans to build an art nouveau and art deco style building but political, economic and geological hurdles stood in the way of the construction of the new opera house. In 1932 Mexican architect Fredrico Mariscal took up the task of constructing the building with Adamo Boari’s plans as the basis. The new theater opened its doors in 1934.

The building has a Beaux Art exterior and an interior clad in Italian marble. The theater has extensive murals by great Mexican artists including Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. There is also a unique stained-glass curtain that portrays a volcano and a valley in Mexico.

Why You Should Visit:
A stunning building and concert hall. Great for exploring the murals, art exhibitions, or watching the famed Ballet Folklórico de México in their home venue!

If you want to see the Tiffany "glass curtain", you can join a tour provided for free every Friday at 1:30pm.
If you want a great picture, go up the Latin-American Tower across the street and find your way to the observation deck.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Alameda Central Park

11) Alameda Central Park

Located between Juarez Avenue and Hidalgo Avenue in Mexico City lies a green oasis called the Alameda Central Park. The paved park has landscaped gardens, fountains and statues and is the venue for many civic events held by the city.

The site of Alameda Central Park was once an Aztec marketplace. The location became a park in 1592 under the orders of the then Spanish viceroy, Luis de Velasco. The park was named after the poplar trees, Alamo in Spanish, that were planted to provide shade for visitors. At first the venue was half its present size. Expansions in 1770 and 1791 resulted in the present extent of the Alameda Central Park. The park has been the center of celebrations in Mexico City especially the grand revelry on the day when Mexico attained independence in 1821.

Alameda Central Park has five fountains designed by the French in Greco Roman style. Statues were added to the park in the 19th and 20th centuries. The central kiosk was installed in the late 19th century. The park was lighted in 1868 with gas lamps before electric lamps were installed. Two well known statues at Alameda Central Park are a monument dedicated to Beethoven, donated by the German community, and the Despoire and the Malgre Tout statues sculpted by artist Jesus Contreras.

Alameda Central Park is a green recreational space in the midst of Mexico City where all classes of Mexicans and international visitors can enjoy quiet moments in tranquil surroundings.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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