Mexico City’s beating heart is the Centro Historico which is full of intriguing archeological ruins, dramatic buildings, and mouth-watering Mexican fare. The vibrancy and activity of the historical centre is unbeatable and although Mexico has a lot to offer, it feels as though a trip would be incomplete without coming here. It’s a part of the world where centuries collide and the remnants of the city’s many years are out in the open. The Centro Historico, like the country it’s situated in, doesn’t really get going until after 10am, so if you want a peaceful walk around then you can have emptier streets before 10am. But, to be honest, there is a charm that comes along with the craziness, so why not experience both.
START AT ZOCALO
Plaza de la Constitucion lies at the centre of Mexico City, and thus, Mexico. The enormous square is known to all as Zocalo which is thought to come from the Spanish word zoccolo which means statue base/pedestal due to the unfinished monument in the square. This main square is steeped in history, surrounded by the Catedral Metropolitana and National Palace, and is often the site of movements and public events. Spend time marvelling at the square and wandering through the tiled porticos that surround it.
VISIT THE HOUSE OF TILES
The House of Tiles in Mexico City’s Centro Historico felt like a flashback to Portugal. An 18th century palace, the vibrant and colourful Casa de los Azulejos is covered in blue and yellow tiles produced in the Puebla region. It has been home to several notable Mexican residents during its time and the façade thought to have been created as a display of immense wealth. You can also go inside the House of Tiles and eat in the moderately-priced restaurant, allowing you to get a full view of the extravagant interiors including balconies and murals.
WONDER AT THE PALACIO DE BELLAS ARTES
Probably the most well-known building from the Centro Historico, the stunning Palacio de Bella Artes with its sunset-themed roof is still used for the city’s biggest opera, ballet, and concert events. Based off European styles and built in the early 1900s, the Palacio is the last and most important building ordered under the rule of Porfirio Díaz. You can get a great view of the Palacio from nearby terraces including the café at Sears across the road.
LOOK OUT FOR THE CATEDRAL METROPOLITANA
I say look out for it, but it’s pretty hard to miss. The massive cathedral sits on top of the archeological site of the Aztec Ruins and it is an impressive structure. Still missing some of its statues from recent earthquakes, the stunning Catholic church has been here for centuries with work first starting in the 1500s. As well as admiring the church from the outside, you can explore the dramatic interiors too.
SEE THE WORLD’S MOST FAAANCY POST OFFICE
The Palacio Postal, or Palacio de Correos, is not your average post office. You could easily imagine the world’s royalty setting up shop in here. Just a stone’s throw from the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This century-old building seems like stepping into a museum, but you will quickly discover that it’s just any other building for locals, as people line up at the counters to post letters and do business. It feels quite surreal but adds to the immense charm of the building. The most famous part are the staircases which cascade up through the atrium and look like something out of a movie. I also loved watching the old-school elevators which were still in operation!
EAT AT A LOCAL TAQUIERA
Throw your fears of street food out of the window because tacos from a local taquiera are completely unmissable. Plus, if you fear food poisoning then you miss out on the best delicacies the world has to offer – trust me. Mexico City is full of these hole-in-the-wall eateries serving up the best flavours the city has to offer. Luckily, the Centro Historico is absolutely packed and you would be hard pressed to walk a block without passing a handful. These tacos aren’t like the rip-offs you have at home, these are something special.
My favourite was Los Cocuyos at 57 Calle de Bolívar, these tacos are around 18 pesos each and bursting with flavour. These meats are cooked together in somewhat of a culinary hot-tub which sits on the counter. Ask for whichever meat takes your fancy (I liked beef and chorizo), and then it’ll come served with chopped onions, coriander, lime and help-yourself sauces.
GRAB SOME CHURROS FROM EL MORO
If you eat churros anywhere in Mexico City, it has to be El Moro. This famous churreria serves up the most delicious crispy churros from inside a tiled restaurant. The waitresses wear their famous blue and white uniforms, quickly darting from table to table to take orders. It’ll only cost you a few dollars for churros and chocolate dip, but the experience is pretty incredible and you would be happy to pay more. Plus it’s open 24 hours a day in case your churro craving strikes at an unusual time.
ADMIRE HISTORY AT TEMPLO MAYOR
Santo Domingo Plaza which sits near Santo Domingo Church is surrounded by many interesting buildings including the museum of medicine and torture (should I be insulted?), and these quaint printing shops which line the porticoes of the square. These printing shops, however, have a history that isn’t always above board… formerly manufacturing fake documents like licences, passports and even university degrees. I guess I chose the wrong time to visit Mexico City as a graduation trip, maybe in first year it would’ve been more handy!
SEE THE PRINTING SHOPS AT SANTO DOMINGO SQUARE
I must admit, Aztec history is not my forte (what’s the opposite of forte?) but learning about the somewhat grizzly history at Templo Mayor was pretty intriguing. The remnants of this Aztec city sit adjacent to Zocalo and the museum is easy to access. Seeing the remains of this Mesoamerican masterpiece was breathtaking, and it was hard to imagine how many more must sit underneath this massive metropolis.