The smell of roasted corn, Aztec dancers showing off their moves, and ‘healers’ beckoning tourists to try a miracle cure: this is just a regular Monday afternoon in Mexico City. This vibrant capital city was once the capital of the Aztec Empire; today it's one of the most populated cities in the world with more than 22 million inhabitants. Most travellers taking flights to Mexico City stop over briefly on their way to other regions in Mexico, but stay a little longer and you’ll quickly discover what inspired the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Wandering through the streets of Mexico City is the best way to embrace its heritage and savour some authentic Mexican street food. The area of Zocalo is a good starting point from which to explore the city. Here Mayan ruins live beside modern buildings and colonial churches while dramatic Rivera murals adorn the walls. Art lovers coming off their Mexico City flights will make the museums their first stop. Kahlo fans can’t miss a trip to the Museo de Frida Kahlo in La Casa Azul and Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, where the famous couple once lived.
Mexico City climate
Because of its high altitude, Mexico City has pleasant summers and mild winters. May is the warmest month with temperatures reaching the high 20s (Celsius), and January is the coolest with temperatures generally in the teens and 20s, but night frosts are possible. The rainy season is June to September with July getting the most rain. February is the driest month.December and January also have the most smog, although the pollution levels are improving.
When to fly to Mexico City
The three-week Festival del Centro Histórico in March takes over the city with cultural events.
The holiday periods of Semana Santa (Easter week) and Christmas to New Year are particularly busy with Mexicans visiting the cities as well as tourists.
With its mild climate, you will be hard pressed to find an off season in Mexico City. For fewer crowds, booking flights to Mexico City during a non-holiday period is the best bet.
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Getting around Mexico City
Don’t worry about getting around in Mexico City, one of the biggest cities in the world. The public transport system is efficient and cheap. The metro runs from 6am until midnight and is clean and easy to use. The bus system is also extensive, but you might find it easier to use if you speak Spanish. Minibuses can be a better option than buses, since they are smaller, faster and more comfortable. They can drop you off anywhere along their route. With so many people in the city, public transport can be very crowded during rush hour. Be aware of your surroundings during rush hour and at night; crime levels are high on the subway and buses. Central Square’s cobble-stoned streets can be a lovely area to walk around. If you want to take a taxi, be safe and call ahead for one, instead of hailing a cab. Many hotels and restaurants can help you call a cab. If you’re planning on driving in the city, know that it can be a tricky place to maneuver and prices are high. Additionally, cars are prohibited from driving in the city one day a week. Find out which days you are restricted by checking the last number of your licence plate against a list at the tourist office. When smog levels are high, as they are in December and January, numbers can come up more than once per week.
Mexico City insider information
- The city lies on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec capital. There are ghosts of the past at every turn: the Mexican National Palace is built on the site of Montezuma’s Palace, while the Metropolitan Cathedral is built on the Temple of the Aztecs.
- The city has two Unesco World Heritage sites. The Historic Centre has the Metropolitan Cathedral and National Palace, and the Palace of Fine Arts is home to many of the city’s cultural events. Xochimilco Ecological Park is the other World Heritage site. It is made up of canals, lagoons and floating gardens and is often called the Venice of Mexico. A trip on a trajinera, a square-shaped, brightly painted boat, which carries up to 12 passengers, is a treat. It is possible to hire a floating mariachi band to serenade you too.
- The Basilica de Guadalupe is in the north of the city and very popular. Only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome gets more visitors each year.
- The Coyoacan and San Angel areas have great craft markets, while Santa Fe and Polanco offer a more upmarket shopping experience.
- One of the best places to admire the city is from Bellini, the revolving restaurant on the 45th floor of the World Trade Centre.
- Teotihuacan is Mexico’s most popular archaeological site. Tourists can climb up the Pyramid of the Sun, the world’s third-largest pyramid, and its companion, the Pyramid of the Moon.
- The world’s largest bullring is here too - the Plaza de Toros.
- Chapultepec Park is an enormous green park – more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) - in the centre of the city. It is home to the National Museum of Anthropology, the Museum of Modern Art, the National History Museum and Museum Rufino Tamayo.
- The city’s oldest park is Alameda Park. It dates from 1541.