Last week I presented my paper at a museum studies conference in Mexico City, and it was totally an amazing experience. Although I’ve been to other parts of Mexico before, it was my first time in the capital city. Here I’m showing you five things that I think you can’t miss in this fabulous place. This is by no means a comprehensive city guide, so just take it as a traveler’s notes.
- Mesoamerican Indian sites
- Templo Mayor
- Mexico City was built on top of the Aztec capital city Tenochtitlan, and Templo Mayor was one of the Aztecs’ main temples. The archeological site is right next to the Metropolitan Cathedral (seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico), on the southeastern corner of the Constitution Square. There is a multi-story museum dedicated to the temple, with the archeological findings organized and displayed by theme. Surrounding the site are the wooden walkways that allow us to see the different stages of development throughout the temple’s history. It is a very cool site to see if you are into Mesoamerican culture and just ancient cities in general.
- Home of the largest pyramid in the world (not Egypt, as many Mexican friends always proudly say). You will need to take a bus from Mexico City to get to Teotihuacan, and it’s about a 50-minute ride to the northeast. The Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon are located at the center of a pre-Columbian city, and today we can still see the broad avenues and urban layout of the surrounding area. Make sure to bring sunscreen and sunglasses while visiting, as it can take three to four hours to walk through the entire site and the museum.
- Historic city center
- The Constitution Square (or as the locals call it, Zocalo) is the historic center of Mexico City. If you remember the opening scene from 007: Spectre (2015), the Day of the Dead parade and the magnificent helicopter fighting scenes were filmed right here. I visited the city in late October and early November, so I was fortunate enough to see all the beautiful Day of the Dead decorations and installations, and to enjoy the live concert shows at night as part of the festival celebration.
- Madero Avenue is a pedestrian street linking the Constitution Square to the Palace of Fine Arts. Here you can find all kinds of street shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as museums. Many Spanish colonial buildings along this street have lavish Baroque designs, and you can actually go into some of the open-to-public buildings to see the beautiful decoration inside. For example, the Palace of Iturbide, or the House of Tiles. The Latin-American Tower is to the northern end of the street, which offers a panoramic view of the entire city on its observation desk.
- Mexico City hosts countless museums of all sorts of interests. Just to name a few that absolutely worth a visit.
- National Museum of Anthropology – It’s on the northern edge of the Chapultepec Forest in the western part of the city, famous for the Sun Stone, an Aztec calendar caved in the 16th century. The museum also has collections on artifacts and exhibitions on folklore across all the different regions of Mexico.
- National Museum of History – Located in the Chapultepec Castle in the Chapultepec Forest, the museum tells the history of Mexico from pre-Columbian time to the 20th century. Historical maps and documents are among the many things to see in this history museum. For those of you who come from Texas, it would be interesting to see how 1836 is portrayed from the Mexican perspective.
- National Museum of Cultures of the World – This is actually the venue of my conference. It is located to the southeastern corner of the National Palace, minutes of walk away from the Constitution Square. They have exhibitions on foreign arts and culture, and the anthropologists working there tell fantastic stories about how they curate the artifacts in their collections into themed exhibitions.
- I’m a huge fan of collecting local arts and crafts while travelling. Therefore, I would really recommend you to dig into the local markets (where the locals shop and eat!) to pick up things other than airport souvenirs that are specifically catered to tourists.
- La Ciudadela – This is maybe the largest arts and crafts market in Mexico, where you can find glassware, ceramics, colorful fabric, clothing and jewelries.
- Coyoacan Market – it is minutes of walk away from the Frida Kahlo Museum. The food vendors here are absolutely amazing for authentic Mexican tacos and tortillas.
- Xochimilko – The little town to the southern end of Mexico City is famous for waterways and boat tours. However, the central market in town is where you can find all kinds of fruits, veggies, flowers, and snacks.
- 21st century architecture
- The very modern aspect of Mexico City can be seen in the Polanco district, home to international corporations, brands, and huge shopping malls. My favorite place here is the newly opened Soumaya Museum. It hosts works by famous artists including Rodin, Dali, and Renoir. The spiral walkway design reminds people of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, but the galleries here are set on flat ground. The museum’s exterior is made of curved steel columns and aluminum tiles (therefore super shining in the daylight), and just in case you think this looks familiar in some way, Frank Gehry, the architect of Guggenheim Bilbao, works on this building as one of the engineers.
Now every time you may feel stuck in the middle of Texas and try to think about your next holiday destinations, consider Mexico City. It’s only two hours of flight away from Houston with very affordable airfare and accommodation. If you are an art and history buff like me, it’s even better. Mexico City offers a long lists of sites to see and things to experience. There is a reminder though: if you are an international student, check with our International Student Services before planning the trip, to see if you need additional visa or documents to enter Mexico. After all, it’s an international destination. When everything is set, go prepare yourself for a place and culture so different from Texas and the United States!
Mingqian Liu | Architecture
Mingqian is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Architecture