Mexico City is mind-blowingly large. There’s so much to see and do that it’s overwhelming – definitely way too much for one trip. So it makes sense that conventional travel guides focus on the big attractions. Places like Teotihuacan, el Castilllo de Chapultepec, Templo Mayor, the Blue House, and the National Museum of Anthropology get most of the love.
And yes, those are all must-see sites – but they represent just a fraction of CDMX.
There are many other smaller, but equally interesting, places in Mexico City. And the nice thing is, since they’re not popular, they’re usually free of tourists! Which makes some of them very peaceful places to visit…
1) La Romita
La Romita is a tiny, ancient sub-neighborhood of Roma Norte. This pre-Columbian barrio was once called Aztacalco, back when it was beachfront property on the Aztec island of Tenochtitlan. After the Spanish conquered the City, they allowed a few Aztecs to remain in this one area. Later it became a notoriously dangerous den of murderers and thieves. But these days it’s safe. It offers inviting narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, and one of the oldest buildings in Mexico – a small Spanish chapel built in 1530. Visit La Romita here. Cost: free
2) U.S. National Cemetery
There are American military cemeteries all around the world. But did you know that there’s a one-acre American military cemetery located in the heart of Mexico City? It’s true. This place is controversial though; many Mexicans resent it. Because unlike other foreign American military cemeteries, where the occupants are revered as liberating heroes, the dead here were all invading soldiers – the men who helped conquer Mexico in 1847. The cemetery is here. Cost: free
3) Plaza de Los Arcángeles
This is my favorite plaza in the City, located in the southern San Angel neighborhood. Unlike most Mexican plazas, which are usually symmetrical, this one has an irregular shape. And it’s so full of green plants and bubbling fountains that it seems like a lush private garden. A very nice place to sit and contemplate life. You can find the plaza here. Cost: free
4) Museo de El Carmen
El Carmen is an ex-convent that’s been converted into a museum. The museum is interesting. But the real attraction is down below in a cool, dark crypt underneath the convent. Twelve mummified nuns and priests are displayed here in glass-covered coffins. This is one of the creepiest places I’ve been to in the City. Cost: $52 MXN
5) Casa Gilardi
Luis Barragán was a Pritzker Prize-winning Mexican architect. The Casa de Luis Barragán is a major tourist attraction and UNESCO heritage site in CDMX. But located just a few blocks from the more famous house, in San Miguel Chapultepec, is another building he designed – Casa Gilardi. The family he built it for still lives there, and they give private tours daily. This is the busiest site on list, since it’s not well-known to tourists, but quite popular with Mexicans. An amazing example of modern Mexican architecture. Cost: $200 MXN + $500 MXN for photos
This pretty neighborhood is overshadowed by it’s more famous neighbors – San Angel and Coyoacan. Chimalistac was built up around a river during the Conquistador days. The river dried up long ago, and the river bed was converted into a long, snake-like park winding through the entire neighborhood. All the original Spanish bridges are still there. Also check out the gorgeous Fuente en el Huerto and the old Church in the northern part of the barrio. Cost: free
7) Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky
This is another attraction that’s eclipsed by a neighbor. Frida Kahlo was Trotsky’s lover, and her world-famous Blue House is located several blocks away. If you want to skip the long lines there, then Trotsky’s House is a great alternative. Well-preserved and fortress-like, Trotsky survived one murder attempt here before he was eventually killed at his desk by an assassin with an ice-ax. You can find the museum here. Cost: $40 MXN + $15 MXN for photos
8) Sala de Arte Publico Siqueiros
David Siqueiros was a talented Mexican artist. A passionate and complex man, he spent time in prison for his failed assassination of Leon Trotsky. Oh, and he also tried to kill the president of Mexico! Despite his murderous ways, Siqueiros left a legacy of great art all over the City – including this beautiful gallery in the Polanco neighborhood. Cost: $14 MXN
9) Espacio Escultórico
This outdoor art project sits on the enormous UNAM campus, at the southern end of the City. It’s a giant ring of 64 massive concrete blocks set in a cave-riddled lava field. The circular design was influenced by the nearby Cuicuilco pyramid. This place is not well-known to foreigners and there were just a few University students when I visited. Cost: free
10) Museo del Cárcamo de Dolores
Most tourists see the Diego Rivera murals at places like the National Palace and the Public Education Building. But there are smaller, less-famous examples of Rivera’s work all over the City. One of them is located in Parque Chapultepec, at the site of the old city water plant. Rivera painted his mural inside the water tank (cárcamo means sump). The plant operated for years like that – with the mural completely submerged in water. Eventually they closed it and converted it into this museum. Cost: free
If you’re gonna visit the popular parts of CDMX, be prepared for massive crowds and long waits.
But if you want to go off the beaten path in Mexico City, avoid the lines, and see parts that most tourists never visit?
Then this list is a good place to start!