Mexico City | Culture, Kahlo & Folklore

Even though I had originally planned three full-day excursions during my four nights layover in Mexico City, I had to step down from the gas pedal as the tour to Santiago de Querétaro had been more strenuous as expected. Silly me had forgotten sunscreen and my lucky charm hat at home and so I did not only bring wonderful pictures and memories back with me, but also quite a bad sunburn on my arms, my neck and my head. So instead of crawling up and down the streets of Puebla and Cholula underneath the merciless Mexican sun, I decided to stay in Mexico City itself and take it slow. As it proofed in the end, not a bad idea at all. Because there is always something to do and see!

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I started the day with a late rise and an extensive workout at the hotel´s gym before heading downtown around noon. I always take the metro when in Mexico City and  find the  Mapway App (which also functions offline) a very helpful travel planner when getting around. The tickets (boletos) are 5 Pesos per route and you can buy as many in advance as you like at the ticket counters (Taquilla) in every metro station. One is valid until you have reached your final destination, no matter how many times you will have to change lines in-between. It can get very crowded from time to time, but I personally have never encountered any unpleasant or awkward situation so far. A lot of my colleagues tend to take UBER for public transportation, but it is way more expensive and very dependent on traffic. But now learn everything about my cultural hotspots to experience while visiting Mexico City.

Catedral Metropolitana

My first stop of the day was the Plaza de la Constitutión, also known as Zócalo, at the very heart of the Centro Histórico. As I was hungry and looking to enjoy some lunch with a view, I made a quick hop into the beautifully and impressively fitted main cathedral at the square´s northern end. The church was built in different sections between 1573 and 1813 and was designed in Gothic style. Due to dropping water tables and a permanent sinking of the base, the cathedral belonged for long time to one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites worldwide, but structural works could finally prevent a further sinking by the year 2000. Apart from the gigantic interiors, particularly worth seeing are the gigantic organ, the Altar of Forgiveness and the opulent golden side altars of the main nave.

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Cine Opera & San Rafael

Just west of the historical downtown area (Metro San Cosme) lies the neighbourhood of San Rafael. Back in the late 19th century, it was established as one of the first formal neighbourhoods outside the city center and initially catered to a more wealthy crowd . While having lost most of its precedent glamour, there are still many of these old luxurious mansions telling stories from the golden era, as well as many old movie theatres that had established in this area over the centuries. One of the most popular ones is the abandoned Cine Opera theatre just a few blocks away from the metro station. While being abandoned these days, its marvelous Art Deco architecture makes it stand out from all the buildings around. Having hosted over 4,200 seats when being used as a second run movie theatre, one can only imagine the romance and glamour of the ancient days in which the spectators enjoyed  box office hits at that time. I would have loved to get inside and take a few shots from the interiors, but the premise was well locked, making it only possible to snapshot the entrance area through the bars.

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Frida Kahlo Museum

My favorite neighbourhood in town is the colorful and artistic Coyoacán. While being home to many artesian shops, cafés and galleries, it is also the location of one of Mexico City´s most anticipated museums around: The Frida Kahlo museum. La Casa Azul, as it is also mostly referred to, not only marked her birthplace, it also remained her home and studio for the remaining years until her death. Her husband, famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, donated the home to be turned into a museum and memorial for his former wife in 1958 after his death. Today, it houses some of Frida´s most personal art works and photographs, as well as selected parts from her personal closet and diaries from the time after her fatal bus accident in 1925 which eventually led her to begin to paint. While the collection and the visit itself is recommendable, I found the admission fee of 200 Pesos (for the rather small amount of art on display) plus an extra 60 Pesos for taking photographs a little overpriced. A visit can be well combined with a stroll through the beautiful Coyoacán and a coffee plus pastries at my favorite place Café el Jarocho!

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Museo de Arte Moderne

If you like the early ages of architectural modernism, a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (Metro Chapultepec) is a must! While the exhibition itself is rather small, the building, particularly the entrance hall, is an impressive piece with a gigantic yellowish illuminated glass dome towering above the staircase. I particularly found the permanent exhibition of local artists upstairs very interesting that displayed works by Varo, Kahlo, Costa, Rivera or Orozco. Just to name a few. The admission is 60 Pesos (cash only) and a visit can be well combined with a promenade through the beautiful Chapultepec Park that lies around.

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Palacio de Bellas Artes

Dedicated as Monument to the Arts by the UNESCO in 1987, this gorgeous palace is Mexico City´s most prestigious location for the performing arts (Metro Bellas Artes). While the entrance hall is accessible throughout the day, the auditorium can only be explored with an official guided tour or when visiting one of the many performances on schedule. I had planned to come see the famous Mexican Folklore Ballet various times, yet it was not until this layover that I finally had the chance to book a ticket. The show itself lets you experience the folk dances and traditional costumes of a traditional vibrant Mexican fiesta and takes you as a spectator to each unique region of Mexico as expressed through dance. This event should be on everybody´s bucket list as it is a colorful journey through the Mexican culture. Apart from that, it is such a privilege to enjoy it inside the extraordinary beautiful auditorium! I bought the tickets online via Ticketmaster which was easy to use. To pick it up, I had to bring my ID and the credit card on file to the counter where the ticket was issued. I had opted for one of the more expensive seats up on the Gallery in Row I (1,044 Pesos = 51€), yet next time I would choose a seat in the center of the Anfiteatro between rows A to F to have an even better view. Still, it was the perfect ending to this day filled with arts and culture and I can highly recommend it to everyone! By the way, you do not have to dress up formal for the evening, yet a decent smart casual look is always a good idea!

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