Explore the Brilliant Buildings of Mexico City
Discover Mexico City by creating a travel itinerary that takes you to some of this unique urban landscape's most iconic architectural sites.
Visits to Mexico City are usually planned around taco stands, mezcal bars and market tours.
However, must-do lists filled with building names can provide just as much excitement as they lead to rock-star architects, revolutionary painters and intriguing historical tales. We recommend you insert these architectural destinations into Google Maps the next time you land in Mexico’s capital city.
Discover Luis Barragán's Work
Mexico’s late Pritzker Prize-winning architect is revered the world over for his clean-lined, minimal Modernism and ability to relate outdoor spaces to interior architecture. Book the guided tour of Luis Barragán’s house and studio (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and you’ll come face to face with his innovative use of natural and artificial light as well as his ability to play with bold colour.
If you prefer free-styling, grab one of the many app-accessed bicycles in the city and ride through the leafy Condesa suburb in search of some of Barragán’s smaller residential projects. Find their addresses on the Barragán Foundation website.
Be a Bookworm
Entering Biblioteca Vasconcelos feels like stepping into the lower level of an immense cruise ship and seeing it piled high with books. This monumental public library in downtown Mexico City will impress even those who don’t care much for reading. Cavernous central areas make the books towering on open bookshelves appear to float overhead, with the floor-to-ceiling windows enhancing the jaw-dropping effect.
And although the Central Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Coyoacán is less impressive from within, it’s also worthy of an hour’s contemplation from the outside. Completely covered in mosaic art by Mexican architect and artist Juan O’Gorman, its facade tells the story of his country’s cultural past through images.
Delve Into History
The city’s bustling historic centre is where you’ll get a true sense of Mexico’s capital being home to over 20 million people. Find calm refuge inside Templo Mayor, where archaeological remains of a pre-Hispanic Aztec temple continue to be excavated. Towering over this is the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built by the Spanish conquistadors who destroyed the Aztec temple to build their church. Its baroque facade, impressive bell towers and gold-splashed altars will leave you gawking.
Afterwards, wander down pedestrianised Madero Street to Palacio de Bellas Artes, a cultural centre that presents itself as an eclectic mix of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau exteriors and Art Deco interiors. Here you’ll find gigantic paintings by Mexico’s most famous muralists: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco.
Mexico City is said to have more than 150 institutions, so you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to museums.
Refine your search by allowing the architecture to lead you. Hop in a pink city taxi to the Polanco district, where Sir David Chipperfield’s sawtooth-roofed Museo Jumex stands alongside the mirrored steel-clad Museo Soumaya (pictured above).
In Chapultepec Park, the staggered concrete structure that houses Museo Tamayo (which also showcases a selection of contemporary art) appears to grow out of the ground as you cross the road from the park’s verdant botanical garden.
Close by is the National Museum of Anthropology. Its courtyard pond and ‘The Umbrella’ fountain with storytelling pillar make for an impressive entry to the exhibition halls that document the history of humanity and of Mexico.
Visit Kahlo and Rivera
While most Frida Kahlo fans check in to her blue-walled Casa Azul (Blue House) in Coyoacán, it’s the other home and workplace she shared with her husband Diego Rivera that calls the attention of architecture devotees. Designed by Juan O’Gorman in the early 1930s, the property comprises three buildings that show off Mexico’s first architectural examples of functionalism.
Kahlo’s house-study (painted in blue) and Rivera’s home-studio (in white and red) are connected by a rooftop bridge, from where the third independent building, which held a photographic laboratory, can be appreciated from above. Plus, behind Rivera’s floor-to-ceiling studio windows, you’ll still find part of his collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts and Mexican crafts.
Hit the Movies
Even if you don’t have time for one of the art house movies at Cineteca Nacional de Mexico or its amphitheatre, a stop here is mandatory for lovers of futuristic-looking spaces. Renovated and expanded by Rojkind Arquitectos, the complex is covered by a hovering aluminium canopy whose triangular perforations allow for architectural shadow play. The park-like space on the ground floor is designed for the public to enjoy as if it were their own garden, so grab a coffee from the café and revel in your own Mexican movie moment.
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