Top Spots to See in Mexico City’s Historic Center (+ How to Spend One Day in It)

Mexico City Historic Center-min

Mexico City’s Historic Center (or Centro Histórico) is the heart and soul of the city. While walking along its streets you’ll find a mix of ancient civilization and modern urbanity, and little by little you’ll stumble upon many of the must-see spots in Mexico City. If you want to discover extraordinary architecture, unique museums, and dive into ancient culture, continue reading to find all you can see in the Historic Center of Mexico City.

Top Things to Do in Mexico City’s Historic Center (Centro Histórico)

Zócalo

The historic Zócalo, also known as Plaza de la Constitución, was the heart of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which today is Mexico City. After the arrival of the Spanish, the site continued being the center of the city throughout the colonial era (when it was called Plaza Mayor).

And because of Zócalo’s historic importance, this is one of the first places you should see when visiting the Centro Histórico. Also, around the plaza, you’ll find other Centro Histórico attractions like Palacio Nacional (National Palace), Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral), along with many other federal buildings.

Zócalo, Centro Histórico Mexico City

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Palacio Nacional

The historic long red building of the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) is the seat of the Mexican government and the official residence for the president of Mexico.  It’s located in the Zócalo, and it extends through the entire east side.

One of the highlights of the Palacio Nacional is that it houses the epic murals of Mexican artist Diego Rivera about Mexican history.

Catedral Metropolitana

On the north side of Zócalo is located the Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico’s Metropolitan Cathedral. This colossal construction showcases a mix of architectural styles and took more than 200 years to be completed by the hands of various architects who left their contribution to the impressive building you see today.

A visit to the Catedral Metropolitana must be a part of any itinerary to Mexico City as the impressive cathedral is the first and largest in Latin America.

Museo del Templo Mayor

Museo del Templo Mayor is one of the most important places in Mexico City’s Historic Center. Here lie the ruins of the massive temple pyramid that was one of Tenochticlan’s holiest sites before being destroyed and buried when the Spanish took over the city.

After many years, the structure was then rediscovered in the late 1970s along with many artifacts that can now be seen in the museum as a window to Mexico City’s pre-colonial past.

Torre Latinoamericana

Torre Latinoamericana is Mexico City’s equivalent to New York City’s Empire State Building. This building was once the tallest one in the city, but until today it remains one of the tallest in the Centro Histórico.

On the 44th floor of Torre Latinoamericana, you’ll find an open-air observation deck where you can have striking 3600 views of the city (tickets can be bought online in advance). On a clear day, this view can include the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.

Casa de Los Azulejos

Casa de Los Azulejos is a building in Centro Histórico that is distinguished by its façade covered in blue, white, and yellow tile (like the tiles found in Lisbon). The house was once the home of an aristocratic family, a workers’ organization, until late became the most charming location for a restaurant chain.

And even if you don’t want to eat at Casa do Azulejos, you can still enter to admire the interior patio.

Palacio Postal

Palacio Postal, or Correo Mayor, is one of the most distinctive architectural landmarks in Mexico City. This postal office may look like something coming out of a movie with its glass-domed ceiling, marble floors, gold cashier counter, old-fashioned elevator, and imposing connecting staircases.

And since it’s still operating as a post office, while here you can take the chance to buy a few stamps and send a postcard back home.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

One of the most iconic buildings in Mexico City, Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is actually located in Alameda Central, but since it’s at the outer edge of Centro Histórico, it deserves a spot here.

You’ve probably seen many pictures of this building when searching for Mexico City – and it’s not a coincidence! The Palace is one of the symbols of the city and the oldest and most important art museum in Mexico.

The marble façade with orange-yellow dome and art décor interior building houses on its 2nd and 3rd floors the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes which contains murals of renowned Mexican artists like Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera.

And on the top floor, there’s the Museo Nacional de Arquitetura with building floor plans, photos, and other archives related to the historic buildings of Mexico City.

Pro tip: the best views of the Palacio de Bellas Artes can be found at Finca Porfirio, a café located on the 7th floor of the Sears in front of the building.

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Places to eat in the Historic Center of Mexico City

  • Balcón del Zócalo – a rooftop restaurant in the Zócalo Central Hotel that serves Mexican food and offers unbeatable views of the plaza and cathedral.
  • El Huequito – a chain of taqueria in Mexico City mostly known for its wonderful al pastor tacos; start with an order of at least 3 tacos
  • El Moro Churreria – one of the must-visit places in Mexico City. El Moro Churreria is an institution and the perfect stop for a break with churros and hot chocolate.
  • Pasteleria Ideal – a classic spot that has a variety of delicious Mexican pastries and massive wedding cakes (which can be seen on the second floor).
  • Finca Don Porfirio – a café on the 7th floor of Sears. I wouldn’t say it’s a great place to eat, but it’s a good place to sip a coffee with pastry while looking over the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
El Moro Churreria, Mexico

How to get around Centro Histórico

The best way to see many of these attractions in Centro Histórico, like in other neighborhoods in Mexico City, is by foot.

If your hotel is in another neighborhood, you can reach Centro Histórico by metro (Zócalo station) or via Uber, which is an easy and convenient way to get around Mexico City.

Taxi in Mexico City

How to spend one day in the Historic Center of Mexico City

Here’s a suggested itinerary to see the best of Mexico City’s Historic Center in one day:

Start your day in Centro Histórico at Templo Mayor. After the museum, head on to Zócalo to see Palacio Nacional, Catedral Metropolitana, and the surrounding buildings.

Then, continue walking your way through the Centro Histórico to take a look at Casa de los Azulejos. On your walk here, you’ll probably see the Torre Latinoamericana, so now is your time to go up to the 44th floor if you want to.

After, walk towards Palacio de Bellas Artes where you can either go in to see the interior or go to the café for its strategic viewpoint.

Mexico City’s Historic Center FAQ

  • Is Centro Histórico Mexico City safe?

Mexico City is a big metropolis and, like in others around the world, it’s wise to be cautious. Avoid excess jewelry and be mindful of your belongings. Also, Centro Histórico isn’t the best place to wander at night.

  • What is the central square of Mexico City called?

The central square in Mexico City is called Zócalo, or Plaza de la Constitución.

What to Know for Visiting Mexico City

Visa

Mexico offers visa exceptions to visitors from various countries, including the US and the European Union, for stays up to 180 days.   Also, at the moment, there are no covid-19 restrictions for entering Mexico. Travelers don’t need to present proof of vaccination to enter the country, nor negative covid-19 test results. However, when planning your trip to Mexico, be sure to check the latest information and requirements for your specific country.  

Electricity

The voltage in Mexico is 127 V, and the power plugs and sockets are type A and B (the same as the US).    

Currency

The currency used in Mexico is the Mexican Peso (MXN). You can check the current exchange rate on Google.

Best time to visit Mexico City

The best time to visit Mexico City is during spring or fall (from September to November and from March to May).  Summers are typically rainy, and winters are chilly.

Where to stay in Mexico City

I recommend booking your hotels on Booking.com to get the best rate and other perks such as genius discounts and free cancellation if your plans change.   Some of the best hotels to stay in Mexico City are:

  • Downtown: this hotel is one of the Design Hotels in Mexico City that sits next to many attractions of the Centro Histórico. The building is a restored 17th-century palace with an outdoor pool on the rooftop with perfect city views.
  • Círculo Mexicano:  a lovely design hotel located in the heart of the Historic Center of Mexico City, so you’ll be able to walk to the Zócalo and Palacio de Bellas Artes from here. The best room at Círculo Mexicano is The Balcony Suite which offers direct views of the Catedral Metropolitana. Also, don’t forget to check out the hotel’s rooftop pool when wanting to cool down.
  • Nima Local House Hotel: a boutique hotel set in La Roma, close to some of the best cafés and restaurants in Mexico City. This 4-room hotel is lovely and the perfect place to unwind in Mexico City.
  • Four Seasons Mexico City: an award-winning 5-star hotel located in Juarez, near Bosque de Chapultepec. It has spacious and comfortable rooms, an Italian restaurant, a bakery offering Mexican and French pastries, and a cool cocktail bar. From here, you can walk along the charming streets towards the neighborhoods of Condesa and Polanco. The Four Seasons Mexico City is where I stayed, and I recommend it 10/10.
  • The Ritz-Carlton: a luxury hotel within walking distance from Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the top places to see in Mexico City. Here, the modern rooms offer impressive views of the city, and the indoor swimming pool is fascinating.

Best Day Trips from Mexico City

While in Mexico City, going on a day trip is one of the best ways to explore the sights near the city. So, here is a curated selection of the best tours from Mexico City.

Travel Insurance

Ever since the pandemic, travel insurance has become almost essential for every type of travel. My recommended travel insurance platform is SquareMouth – the best tool for searching for the best option amongst travel insurance companies. SquareMouth allows travelers to instantly purchase a travel insurance policy from every major provider in the US, and it also makes clear each policy’s COVID-related coverage.

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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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