Being the ninth largest city in the world and often reported as a place that isn’t safe for the local residents, let alone tourists, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Mexico City.
Actually, if I’m going to be completely honest with you, the only reason we really went to Mexico City at all is because it was on our route back to Australia.
But Mexico City was full of surprises.
For starters, some of its areas felt like we were strolling through Paris, not Mexico!
And we soon learnt that Mexico City has the most museums in the world. For unashamed proclaimers of lovers of museums and all thing culture, we began to feel like kids in a candy shop.
When we started researching things to do and see in the city, which was only about the day or two before we arrived, we began asking ourselves whether our one week stay would be enough to cram everything in.
It wasn’t – that’s certain – but here’s a rundown of some of the highlights of what we did manage to see and do while we were there.
6 cheap or free Mexico City attractions
1. Frida Kahlo Museum
A trip to Mexico City wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum, which is housed in her Mexican City residence.
Mexico’s most well-renowned artist, and arguably the best artist to come out of Latin America, Frida’s former home is an interesting insight into the sorrow-filled life she lived.
After being seriously injured in an accident when she was 18, in which she nearly lost her life and left her unable to bear children, she was crippled and often bed-ridden. The love of her life, Diego Rivera, also had a number of affairs, further cementing her depression. A lot of this comes out in Kahlo’s art, some of which is displayed in the home.
But the art isn’t the fascination for me – it’s the art studio. To see where Kahlo’s masterpieces were created was an interesting insight into how she lived her life.
You can also see where she entertained guests, something she loved to do, and her bed where she’d lay when she couldn’t find the strength to get up.
There was an exhibition on when we visited, showcasing the fashion inspiration that has been drawn from Frida – including designs by Jean Paul Gaultier – along with many of the self-designed corsets Frida used to wear.
Cost: US$5.35 during the week and US$6.70 at weekends. You have to pay a small fee if you want to take photographs.
Address: Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100
2. National Anthropology Museum
I’ve been to many museums in my time, yet – do I dare to say it? – I think the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City has been my favourite. The building itself is worth the trip, with a giant waterfall structure cascading down from the centre of ceiling in the main courtyard.
Leading off this centre space are a number of rooms, dedicated to different Mexican regions and cultures.
The best would have to be the Aztec section where you can see a giant sun dial / Aztec calendar, and replicas of Aztec ruins.
Other highlights are the giant stone heads of the Olmec civilization that were found in the Mexican jungles. Even more impressive than the fact they managed to get these mammoth heads into the building is the fact that they were carved by people thousands of years ago using basic tools!
Locations: Av Paseo de la Reforma y Calzada Gandhi S/N, Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560
3. San Juan Market
This market is the crème de la crème of Mexican markets. It does sell fresh grocery produce, but what it actually does best is gourmet restaurant food. But served up at market stalls.
Although don’t think plastic chairs and no table service, this is a Mexican market with a twist.
When we were at the San Juan Market, we dined at Gastronomica San Juan which possibly sells the best cheese in the whole of Mexico.
This stall, and quite possibly the whole market, is not the place to go if you’re after Mexican fare. Most of the food here is imported – and most of it comes from France.
But after travelling through Mexico for three months and eating nothing but their tasteless milk cheese, I was hanging to get my teeth into some goat’s cheese.
And that’s what we did. Actually, we got our teeth into a whole lot of different French cheeses, washed down with complimentary wine that came with our food.
Cost: Free. Well, not the food of course, and that’s kind of expensive for market food, although it’s worth it. But the market itself is free.
Address: Ernesto Pugibet 21, Centro Histórico
4. Popular Art Museum
The Popular Art Museum is essentially a museum of Mexican folk art and its one of the best we’ve seen. After we visited the Venators’ house in Valladolid and were blown away by their private collection of Mexican folk art, I was chomping at the bit to get to this museum.
Low and behold, one of the first things we saw as we walked in was a plaque dedicated to the Venators for their contribution to the museum.
It’s a newish museum and the luxury of this is that the building is state-of-the-art and the exhibitions outstanding.
My favourite was the room featuring the Day of the Dead skeletons, which were collected from all over the country. It made me realise that Mexican folk art is quite possibly my favourite kind of art.
Address: Calle Revillagigedo 11, Cuauhtémoc, Centro, 06050
5. Palacio de Bellas Artes
Into art deco architecture? Then Palacio de Bellas Artes is certainly for you. Even if you’re not a huge fan of modern art, which is what’s housed in this palace, a few hours spent here is worth it for the chance to ogle the building.
The huge palace displays Art Deco and its finest, with its marble staircases, windowed ceiling, towering columns, and impressive façade.
But for me, the highlight is the Diego Riviera murals. True, he may not have been the nicest of men when he was alive, but he did know a thing or two about art.
The other, lesser-known, artists who have also painted murals in the space are intriguing artworks to look at too.
The palace also has performances showing in its theatre nearly every day, and you don’t have to pay to get in if you see a show – just arrive early!
Address: Av. Juárez, Centro Histórico, 06050
6. Chapultepec Park
What I love about not just Mexico City, but Mexico as a whole, is that every weekend families flock to the parks. Family life is celebrated – market stalls do a bustling trade as parents and their children walk around, hand-in-hand, throughout the many parks in the country.
This seemed to be a common theme through not just Mexico but most of Latin America, although the Sunday family day jaunt seemed to be the most celebrated in Mexico.
It’s so amazing to see families out and about enjoying time with each other, without the kids glued to an iPad screen, or the parents on their mobile phones.
One of the best parks in Mexico City to get involved in this atmosphere is Chapultepec Park. Housing numerous museums, which you can stroll into for a small fee when you want a change of scenery, Chapultepec Park is massive. In fact, it’s one of the biggest parks in the Western Hemisphere, at over 600 hectares (1,600 acres) in size!
Dave and I had a delicious lunch on the outdoor tables, before going for a stroll beside the lake. I bought a handmade backpack from the market stalls, and then we enjoyed an ice-cream as we watched Mayans perform a traditional totem pole-like rope swing.
The perfect day out.
Address: In the middle of the city, it’s pretty hard to miss.