With just one day to spend in the town centre we were advised to take the Big Red Bus and rush all over the city. Instead we decided to stay in and around the town square, taking in a few of the main sights of the Centro Historical.
The city is centred around the Plaza de la Constitution, but everything from locals to official guide maps and the nearby subway stop call it the Zócalo.
Zócalo means base, and comes from the huge monument planned to be built in the square – they only got around to building the base so the name was adopted as a dig at the government.
Our hotel bordered the Alameda Park, home to the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Just along from here we emerged into the Zócalo, right alongside the Catedral Metropolitano de la Asuncion de Maria. After years of earthquakes and floods the front of the cathedral has a decided lean, but repairs have been completed so it’s safe for now.
The cathedral was built in the mid-1600s and is one of the oldest churches in the Americas. The inside wasn’t very busy, but silence is expected so as not to disturb the worshippers.
Across the road from the cathedral is the Palacio National, not only an art museum but home to a number of government offices. Entrance is free and well worth an hour.
Inside, the passageways surrounding the courtyard are decorated by the works of Diego Rivera (husband of Frida Kahlo). The main stairway between levels has a giant mural showing major events throughout Mexican history.
Our last last stop on a day sightseeing in Mexico City lay between the previous two attractions – an alleyway round the side of the cathedral leads to a ticket office for the Templo Mayor.
The site is closed on Mondays, so we had to rush back the following morning.
Mexico City Visitor Tips
I hadn’t taken into account the sudden change in altitude – Mexico City is at 2240m (7350ft) above sea level. The lack of oxygen, combined with the very dry atmosphere, made walking around on the first day very tiring. As it’s the capital, rehydration drinks and cafes are available everywhere, and much appreciated. Maybe the bus tour wasn’t such a bad idea after all!