A Walking Tour of Mexico City

Mexico City is a fascinating destination with a blend of old and modern attractions that is sure to delight. The best way to discover the historic district's many sights is on foot. Begin your walking tour in the main square, the Zócalo.

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The Zocalo

Mexico City Zocalo
Suzanne Barbezat

Mexico City is built on top of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. In the South East corner of the Zocalo is the spot where Hernan Cortes is said to have met Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor, in 1519. After the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, Cortes had the colonial town plan traced according to Spanish tradition, with the square at the heart of the city, surrounded by buildings which represent the colonial powers: the church and the government.

Interesting Facts

  • The official name of this square is the Plaza de la Constitucion, but it's commonly called the Zocalo.
  • This Zocalo is one of the largest public squares in the world, at 830 x 500 feet.
  • It is an important gathering place, used for festivals, cultural events, and demonstrations.
  • The Zocalo has gone through many incarnations. Now it is a large, paved space with only a huge Mexican flag in the center.
  • Zocalo means pedestal, or stand. In the 1800s a pedestal was set up in the center of the square for a monument to commemorate Mexican independence. The statue was never put in place and people began to refer to the square itself as the Zocalo. Now in many towns in Mexico, the main square is called the Zocalo.

Next stop on the Mexico City Walking Tour: The National Palace (Palacio Nacional)

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The National Palace (Palacio Nacional)

National Palace

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

The government building is located on the East side of the Zocalo. It is said to have been built on the grounds where Moctezuma's palace had stood.

Independence Day Celebrations

To celebrate Mexican independence, every year on September 15th at midnight, the president of Mexico rings a bell from the central balcony of the National Palace and shouts: "Viva Mexico!" The crowd gathered in the Zocalo responds: "Viva!"

Diego Rivera Murals

You may enter the building to see the murals that Diego Rivera painted between 1929 and 1952. These colorful murals show Mexican history from prehispanic times to the workers' movement of the 1930s.

  • Open every day from 9 am to 5 pm
  • Admission is free, but you need to leave an ID with the guard at the entrance

Continue your Mexico City Walking Tour

Exiting the Palacio Nacional, turn right, walk to the corner and cross the street. There is a small plaza beside the cathedral, called the Plaza del Seminario. Cross the Plaza and you will find an archaeological site, the Templo Mayor, the "Great Temple" of the Aztecs.

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The Great Temple (Templo Mayor)

The great temple

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

The main temple of the Aztecs was only part of a much larger sacred center of the great city of Tenochtitlan, which may have contained as many as 78 buildings. This temple was dedicated to the rain god, Tlaloc, and the god of war, Huitzilopochtli. The temple went through several phases of construction, each covering over previous layers in order to make the building bigger.

Excavation of the great temple began in 1978 when the stone sculpture of the moon goddess Coyolxauqui was unearthed by electric company workers. This piece and many others found here are on display in the Templo Mayor museum which was inaugurated in 1987.

You can see the ruins from the sidewalk, or pay the admission fee which allows access to the ruins and the museum. Read more about the Templo Mayor archaeological site and museum.

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The Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

Metropolitan Cathedral

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

The construction and decoration of this cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, took nearly 3 centuries. Construction began in 1573, and the building was dedicated, although still unfinished, in 1656. The cathedral is host to a mixture of styles, a result of being built over such a long period of time.

Sinking Building

The cathedral, like many buildings in Mexico City, is gradually sinking into the ground. Various factors contribute to this problem:

  • the city's soft clay subsoil
  • the considerable weight of the cathedral
  • uneven foundations, due to being built on top of prehispanic structures

Sophisticated restoration works begun in the 1990s have stabilized the building. Although restorers have been unable to halt the sinking altogether, they have corrected the tilting towers and ensured that the cathedral will now sink uniformly.

The interior of the cathedral is as impressive as its exterior, with many retablos dating from the 16th and 17th Centuries. One painting from the main altar that's particularly noteworthy is titled "The Assumption of the Virgin." It was painted by Juan Rodriguez Juarez in 1726 and was recently restored.

Continue your Mexico City Walking Tour

Exiting the Cathedral, turn right and go to the corner, cross the street and walk 1 block South to Francisco Madero Street. Madero Street was originally called San Francisco Street because there is a Franciscan church and monastery here. There are many historical buildings along this street, which in 2010 was closed to traffic and converted into a pedestrian street.

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The House of Tiles

House of Tiles

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Walk along Madero Street until you come to the corner of Filomeno Mata. Here you will see a house covered in blue and white tiles. This house, located at number 4 Francisco Madero Street, is covered in azulejos (tiles) from the state of Puebla, which is called talavera.

Built in the 16th Century, this mansion has an interesting history:

  • In 1737 the Count and Countess of Orizaba ordered the renovation of their home and the placement of the tiles.
  • From 1881 it functioned as a private men's club.
  • In 1917 it was converted into a drug store and soda fountain which eventually evolved into Sanborn's, a chain of restaurants and department stores, which is what it is today.

This is a good place to stop for lunch.

Directions: Exiting Sanborn's, walk 2 blocks North along Filomena Mata Street and you will arrive at the Plaza Tolsa, on Tacuba Street.

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Plaza Tolsa, El Caballito

El Caballito Monument in Plaza Tolsa
Suzanne Barbezat

Manuel Tolsa (1757-1816) was a Spanish sculptor and architect who arrived in Mexico in 1791. Some of his most famous works are:

  • the design of the Palacio de Mineria (across the street)
  • the conclusion of the Metropolitan Cathedral
  • this bronze statue of Charles IV

The statue is commonly known as El Caballito, meaning "little horse." It was originally placed in the Zocalo but when Mexico gained independence, the nation's first president, Guadalupe Victoria, had it removed. It resided in several different locations before being placed here, in the Plaza Tolsa, in 1979.

The impressive building behind the statue was completed in 1911 and since 1982 has housed the National Art Museum (Museo Nacional de Arte), which has a large collection of Mexican art, primarily paintings showing Mexico's art development between 1810 and 1950.

Museo Nacional de Arte

  • Open 10:30 to 5:30, Tuesday to Sunday
  • Admission: 30 pesos, free on Sundays

Continue your Mexico City Walking Tour

Walk along Tacuba Street to Lazaro Cardenas. The Palacio Postal is on the corner.

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Post Office Palace (Palacio Postal)

Palace post office

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

The Central Post Office is on the corner of Tacuba and Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas. This ornate palace was designed by the Italian architect Adamo Boari, who also made the plans for the Fine Arts Palace. President Porfirio Diaz inaugurated the building in 1907.

The impressive interior and the Postal Museum on the upper floors are well worth a visit.

Visitor Information

  • Check website for current hours
  • Closed Mondays
  • Admission is free

Palacio Postal

Continue your Mexico City Walking Tour

Exiting the Palacio Postal, you can see the Torre Latinoamericana, which is on the corner of Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas and Madero St.

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The Latin American Tower (Torre Latinoamericana)

Latin American Tower

TripSavvy / Jorge Castro

Built between 1948 and 1956, the Latin American Tower, with 44 floors, was for many years the highest building of the city. While it was being built, many people felt that a tower of that height would not be able to withstand Mexico City's frequent earthquakes, however this was put to the test in 1957 and again in 1985, and the building suffered no damage in either major quake.

Visitor Information

Most of the building is rented out as office space, but the upper levels are accessible to visitors.

  • The 37th floor has a restaurant and gift shop.
  • On the 38th floor, there is a museum with historical photos of the city, information about the construction of the tower, and archaeological pieces that were found on the site when the foundations of the building were being dug.
  • The 42nd and 43rd floors are observation decks.
  • The 44th floor is an open terrace, which can be windy.
  • Open Monday to Sunday from 9 am to 10 pm.
  • Admission is 60 pesos for adults, 50 pesos for children. This allows you to enter as many times as you like during the day.

There are some amazing views of Mexico City's historical center from the top floor of the Torre Latinoamericana.

Visit their website: Torre Latino (in Spanish).

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The Fine Arts Palace (Palacio de Bellas Artes)

Palace Arts Museum

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

President Porfirio Diaz ordered the construction of this building in the early 1900s. He planned to inaugurate it as part of the celebrations of the centenary of Mexico's independence from Spain. The Revolution broke out in 1910, interrupting the construction, so it was not completed until 1934.

Design of the Fine Arts Palace

The building's marble Beaux-Arts exterior with Art Nouveau elements reflects the Italian architect Adamo Boari's original plans, whereas the interior, designed by Federico Mariscal, has Art Deco elements. The theater's main attractions are:

  • a Tiffany stained glass stage curtain portraying a panoramic view of the Valley of Mexico with its two volcanos
  • murals by Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco

Visitor Information

The Fine Arts Palace is foremost a theater but it houses the Palace Museum as well as the National Museum of Architecture.

  • Open every day
  • There is a restaurant, a gift shop, and an excellent bookstore in the lobby
  • Free guided visits to the main theater to see the stained glass curtain are offered from Tuesday to Friday at 1 pm
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The Alameda Park

Alameda Park

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

The Alameda Park is beside the Palacio de Bellas Artes, occupying an area comparable to two large city blocks. This park, the first in the city, dates from the 16th Century. You will find many fountains, statues, and monuments interspersed with green areas.

Monument to Juarez

There is a monument to Benito Juarez on the South side of the park, called the Hemiciclo a Juarez, built in 1905. The semicircle of white marble columns was designed by Guillermo Heredia. At the top of the monument, there is a statue of Juarez with an angel placing a laurel crown on his head. Juarez holds a book which represents the Constitution of 1857.

This is the end of the walking tour. Take a well-deserved rest, and consider having dinner at the Hospederia Santo Domingo.