Average reading time: 5mins
Walking time: 30mins without stops (4.2kms)
For those with access to the Triposo app, you can find details for this tour by searching for: greenwok.travels – Centro Historico walking tour, CDMX. For those without, here’s a screenshot of the map.
After a hearty breakfast at Balcón Del Zócalo (my fave: huevos motuleños), head to the opposite side of the square, on the same side as the cathedrals. It’s number 1 on the map, and is the National Palace of Mexico. Entrance is free, but you’ll need to leave some I.d (driver’s license) with security at the door.
Inside, you’ll pass a cactus garden, turn right past the bookshop (down a small slope, important to note for later reference), through an open courtyard with a beautiful fountain, towards a staircase in the back-right corner. Pause to admire the overall history of Mexico in the biggest mural wrapping around the 3 walls behind and next to the staircase, before and after ascending. Combining history & art, Diego Rivera’s murals provide a picturesque introduction to Mayan culture, their way of life, and the traditions that influence Mexican (and Central American) culture to this day. Hot tip, if you need the loo before continuing, it’s free and towards the left, through a small courtyard (as you’re facing the exit/entrance).
2. Templo Mayor ruins. After collecting your id from security, exit the national palace and turn left. Templo Mayor is observable from the right hand side just before the cathedrals. Take a few moments to imagine the grand pyramid that once stood in this place, over a floating city (on Lake Texcoco). If you’re struggling to get a mental image, you can find a model in the Museum of Anthropology.
3. Zócalo, as known affectionately by locals, is the main square of CDMX. Officially, it goes by the name “Plaza de la Constitución” but if you ask a local where that is, I’d bet 10 pesos they won’t know. Take note of the uneven level of the ground as you walk from Templo Mayor towards the main Cathedral (second on your right), then step inside. Explore the cathedral (Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption, or Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos) and it’s chapels, the gold Altar de los Reyes, windows, and sizeable organ, but pay attention to the plumb line, hanging between the pues in the centre of the church. Affixed to the bell tower, this line traces the history of land subsidence caused by the weight of the building, soft clay soil (and the draining of water from the aquifer beneath the city). Bearing in mind the city’s history of earthquakes, the efforts to ensure the building is structurally sound have been remarkable. One more point of note, it’s possible to do a rooftop tour of the main cathedral, ask at the entrance for times.
4. From the cathedral, head outside the gate and turn right, aiming for the pedestrian street Francisco. I Madero. Joining the Zócalo to the Palacio de Belles Artes, this is the main artery for pedestrian access to CDMX. It will be busy, be aware of your belongings but enjoy the array of stores and touts vying for business. Officially named by Pancho Villa in 1914, to honour one of the most important figures of the Mexican Revolution (and for a brief time, President of the newly independent state). Follow the street – near the top on the left you’ll find the humble Temple of San Felipe Neri “La Profesa”.
5. Take a small detour into the church and compare to the grandeur of the catholic cathedral in the Zócalo. Exit to the left, back onto Madero, but quickly head to the opposite side of the street, and into the Sanbourns department store. Weave your way past books and chocolates into the traditional cafeteria (pictured above). There’s another Rivera mural on the staircase (toilets at the top of the first flight), but also observe the traditional dress of the waitstaff. Continue through the building, out to the street running parallel to Madero. Cross the street, then turn around and look back, appreciating the Talavera tiles that line the buildings exterior. Continue along the handicraft and book market (Condesa alleyway), to Calle de Tacuba. The National Museum of art should be across the street and to your right. Make note of the Spanish colonial architecture, then turn left, and enter the very different Post Office.
6. Exit the Post Office, turning left onto Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas. Walk two blocks, taking you back to the corner of Madero. Cross the street towards the ornate Palacio de Bellas Artes, and take a look inside. A great spot for photos is from the 6th floor cafeteria of the sears building, across the street (or the Torre Latinoamericana, like this one):
7. Alameda Park, and the National Monument. Your walking tour ends here. Take a gentle stroll through the Alameda, one of CDMX’s many beautiful green spaces. Admire monuments, statues, fountains and locals. Great spot for people watching too.
8. Optional extras: if you have time, start with the cemetery Panthéon de San Fernando. Mexico’s notables are at rest here, including Benito Juarez, the father of modern-day Mexico, who resisted the French occupation of Mexico, overthrew the Second Mexican Empire, restored the Republic, and used liberal measures to modernize the country.
9. Still more time? Head up to the bar/restaurant in Torre Latino Americana for a bird’s eye view of Mexico City (picture of belles artes, above). Or, take a long walk along Paseo de la Reforma, to the memorial of the revolution, Angel of Independence and Cuahuatemoc statues. Hungry instead? Head to the area around mercado San Juan and try the tacos al pastor from El Huequito, and for the brave, a Pulque from Las Duelistas. See our little black book for links & location.