Touring Mexico City’s Centro Histórico…with your feet off the ground

On August 22, 2012 by MexicoToday

Mexico is a city that wears its age well–almost 700 years old and still full of youthful energy. Founded in 1325, it’s got Aztec splendor and ruin, Spanish majesty and bombast, 50’s modernism, quirky time-warp shops, smoke tinged cantinas, excellent museums and restaurants, and street life that never stops.

After years of neglect following the 1985 earthquake, the Centro Histórico of Mexico City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been transformed. There are increased security measures, new paving and lighting, and hundreds of old buildings have been spruced up. New museums, hotels, restaurants, outdoor cafés and shops have opened. Several streets are now traffic-free pedestrian zones. New bars, jazz clubs and dance halls draw crowds on weekend nights.

But one thing hasn’t changed–the intense level of energy on the street, which can excite and exhaust you in equal measure. When it gets to be all too much, I’ve discovered a solution to regain my tranquility–I take my feet off the ground.

With so much going on at street level you might miss what’s happening up above.  Over the years I’ve discovered several places where I can escape the hustle and bustle of street level by heading upstairs.  Here’s my list of the ‘Top Ten Above Ground Oases of Tranquility’ in Mexico City:


  1. Sears Café (across from the Palacio de Bellas Artes) On the 8th floor of the rather mundane Sears store you’ll find a small café with a balcony overlooking the Palacio and its lovely manicured gardens.  The coffee is good and the view is great.
  2. Museum of Architecture, Take the elevator to the very top of the Palacio de Bellas Artes (separate ticket required). The changing exhibits on Mexican architecture are OK, but the real treat here is the surprising view you get of the building itself (closed Mondays).
  3. Pasteleria Ideal (16 de Septiembre #18). The Ideal is a classical Mexican pastry shop that has been around for generations.  On the ground floor you’ll find a dazzling array of pastries.  But the real surprise is on the second floor, where you enter a world of cakes—some big enough to feed 2000 people—that will delight children of all ages.
  4. Shoe Museum (Bolivar #27). Located above the venerable Borcegui shoe store, this entertaining mini-museum has shoes from all over the world as well as shoes worn by famous people…and it’s free.  Link HERE.
  5. Studio of  Joaquin Clausell  (Pino Suarez #30 at El Salvador).  Tucked away on the second floor of the Museo de la Ciudad is the former studio of Mexican impressionist painter Joaquin Clausell (1866-1935). His wife’s family owned this exquisite colonial mansion and gave him a little room upstairs to paint. For years he used the walls of his studio as a sketchbook, and the result is a delightful mural of overlapping paintings and sketches.  This is a jewel box oasis, completely cut off from the outside world.
  6. Don Torobio (Juarez 30, 5th floor). To reach this restaurant you have to pass through the tacky Plaza Juarez, full of pirate DVDs and Chinese imports, but once upstairs you can leave the chaos behind.  The corner table on the balcony has great views of the Alameda.  To read a review of this place click HERE.
  7. Cathedral rooftop tour.  Get a 15-peso ticket at the gift shop for a tour of the bell tower and undulating rooftop of Mexico’s main place of worship (don’t go in high heels!).  Tours run every 20 minutes from 10 AM to 4PM daily.
  8. Isabel la Católica 30, Located in a smartly remodeled colonial building, this new complex includes a hotel, restaurants and several chic shops on the second floor.
  9. Miralto (41st floor of the Torre Latinoamericana). This is as high as you can get in the Centro for a drink or a meal.  On a clear day the views are astounding.  (Click HERE for more information.)
  10. Zócalo view restaurants.  Several restaurants overlook the colonial splendor of the Zócalo, Mexico City’s massive main plaza.  While the food at many is variable, the view doesn’t change. Try Puro Corazón (Monte de Piedad 11, 6th floor) near the Cathedral, or Restaurant El Mayor (Republica de Argentina 15, corner of Justo Serra) where you can contemplate the remains of the Templo Mayor. (For more information on these restaurants, click HERE.)

    Above and beyond the Centro Histórico you can tour the major attractions in Mexico City on the Turibus. The open top deck affords great views and a wonderful feeling of being above all hubbub below. Click for information.

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