Diego Ávila, manager of the bookstore Casa Bosques, the exclusive stockist of AUGUST Journal in CDMX, shares a list of his top Mexico City spots—because even a city of 22 million residents knows how to keep secrets.
This is certainly a street of firsts. Back in the 16th century, Moneda Street was home to the very first printing press, the very first university, and the very first mint in the Americas. Two hundred years later, the first Academy of Fine Arts in North America also opened its doors on a corner of this street. Moneda also serves as the gateway to the eastern half of the city’s historic center, which is among the most well-preserved. Most of the original buildings remain the same, and the street has changed little in more than three centuries. Pay attention to the height of the buildings—and a peaceable lack of modern high-rises—that allow the historic church domes to remain the most predominant urban elements.
Another overlooked street, López is a hidden gem for any architecture lover. Bookended by the Palacio de Bellas Artes to the south, López houses great examples of Art Deco and Bauhaus-inspired architecture (mainly apartment buildings). Apart from being a great way of getting to the market of San Juan—well-known for its amazing food and exotic ingredients—López Street intersects with Victoria, a fascinating street of stores consisting exclusively to lamp and lighting vendors. Of note: Right next to the Mercado San Juan, pay attention to the stark contrast between two neighboring structures, an eclectic French-inspired church and the giant antenna of a windowless building next door, an eery structure that would befit the headquarters of any well-respected villain.
Stop for a second in the busy intersection of Pino Suárez and República del Salvador streets, and you will find an Aztec sculpture of the god Quetzalcoatl right at the foot of the former baroque palace of the Counts of Santiago de Calimaya. This placement, far from being a sign of Spanish dominance, as it’s sometimes said to be, shows how New World nobility began to take pride and embrace the region’s pre-Hispanic heritage, in order to set themselves apart from the Iberian-born Spaniards, thus making it a symbol of proto-Mexican identity.
Jamaica Flower Market
From pop-up street stands to hipster gourmet halls, markets are big deal in Mexico City. Located next to an avenue that was once a canal providing straight direct access to the farming fields of Xochimilco, Jamaica is the flower market of the city. The water of the canal has been replaced by pavement, and the boats, by cars, trucks and a subway—but the market of Jamaica has retained its character and function as the city's main flower supplier. Of note: To see the market at its most vibrant, visit around Mother's Day (May 10th) or Day of the Dead (November 2nd).
Housing Diego Rivera’s personal collection of pre-Hispanic art and objects, the Anahuacalli was designed by the artist himself in a “Neo-Aztec” manner—a style that seeks to recover the forms, lines and aesthetic of the Aztec culture. This museum is a total work of art: Even its walls and floors are covered with murals made with colored stones, inspired by pre-Hispanic mural paintings. The museum is nestled within its own natural reserve, a volcanic stone landscape that used to cover this part of the city and now lies hidden beneath the urban sprawl. This same volcanic landscape also inspired architect Luis Barragán to design the neighborhood of El Pedregal. Entrance to the Anahuacalli is free if you have a ticket to Casa Azul (the Frida Kahlo museum), though the museum remains greatly outshined by the famous cerulean-blue home.
Museo de Arte Popular / Folk Art Museum
Right behind the 24-story Hilton Hotel, the former Art Deco fire station built in 1927 is the home of the Folk Art Museum and its collection of Mexican handcrafts from all around the country. Numerous competitions and lecture series are regularly organized by the museum in order to spread awareness and knowledge of the numerous types of crafts that exist in Mexico. If, for some reason, visiting the whole museum is not possible, a stop to its gift shop, a well-curated exhibition in its own right, is mandatory—and everything is for sale.
Las Arboledas / Torres de Satélite
In the 1950s, a growing necessity to build housing for a rapidly increasing population led to the suburban development of Satellite City on the outskirts of Mexico City. Built from scratch, this brand new city needed a visual identity, and Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz were chosen for the task. Inspired by the towers of San Gimigniano in Tuscany, they conceived a group of five towers to be seen from fast-moving cars, the view constantly changing as one drives on the freeway. Even as Mexico City swallowed the former Satellite City (usually known merely as Satélite) a few decades later, the towers remain as indisputable markers of the area’s modernist utopian dream. Not far from Satélite, the San Cristóbal Stables and the Fuente de los Amantes (Lover's Fountain), two of Barragán’s most representative works, can be found nearby. Both are open for visits, but the Stables are for currently for sale and the next owner may be less welcoming with visitors, so its future as an open venue, at least for now, is uncertain.
In a city overtaken by big brands, and where glitzy, glass buildings house the majority of new hotels, Grupo Habita has restored an 18th-century palace in the historic center and transformed it into a design oasis containing a boutique hotel, a budget hostel, two restaurants, a terrace, and a collection of shops and cafés where Aztec and Oaxacan chocolate recipes can be found alongside fashion designs by Carla Fernández.
The most-visited Catholic shrine in the world, second only to the Vatican, the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe (commonly known as La Villa). It consists of two basilicas (one ancient and the other modern), a convent, three stand-alone chapels, a rose garden, a sacred art museum, a graveyard, and a huge plaza with a pilgrimage center. But if you happen to be more into sightseeing than religion, the Capilla del Cerrito (Chapel of the Little Hill) offers, on a clear day, a breathtaking view of the city’'s skyline framed by both the arena-like shape of the new basilica, and the baroque dome and bell-towers of the old one. Of note: The original 18th-century basilica is the only church in the world to have a bell tower in all of its four corners.
Bosque de Chapultepec is one the most popular and visited places in the entire city. However, despite being one of the largest parks in the world, Chapultepec contains several hidden gems that remain overlooked, even by the locals. Featuring Aztec-inspired designs, the fountains of Nezahualcoyotl, Xochipilli and Tlaloc remain as charming as they do unknown, while the Monument to the Squadron 201 is a classical gem dedicated to the Mexican soldiers who fought in the Pacific during World War II. Of note: Don't skip the castle, either—aside from the ageless allure typically bestowed by royal palaces, the Alcazar offers one of the best views of the city.
Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market
Rising in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, in 1910, Muralism is the only artistic style to emerge from a distinctly Mexican origin. Diego Rivera’s well-known murals in the National Palace and the Fine Arts Palace are among the best-known, but the walls of several public buildings also feature prominent large-scale paintings. At a time when many Mexicans could not yet read or write, these murals were created to teach them about the country's history and foster a nationalistic pride. Visit the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market, built in 1934 as the ideal modern market, and behold its walls, covered with murals by students of Diego Rivera. Of note: Enter the market's main entrance and take the stairs to the community center on the second floor, and you will find yourself in the middle a small mezzanine covered from floor to ceiling in murals, including one by the great Isamu Noguchi.
UNAM Central Campus / Espacio Escultórico
The volcanic landscape that seduced Luis Barragán, the murals that kick started Mexican art, and the architectural ideas proposed by the Bauhaus: all are elements that meet and blend in the Central Campus of the National University of Mexico, commonly referred to as Ciudad Universitaria (CU). Arranged around the central park of Las Islas, the university buildings—the Central Library, the Dean's office, the different faculties, and the stadium where the 1968 Olympics were inaugurated—mix murals with glass and concrete, and are home to thousands of students and scholars, as the country’s largest and most prominent university. South of the campus, the Espacio Escultórico was conceived as a place for land art, and thanks to the surrounding natural reserve, it maintains the feeling of an isolated place in the middle of nowhere, even as it finds its place at the center of a metropolis that’s home to 22 million.