Mexico City has had different names and occupations throughout its history. In the times of the Mexicas (Aztecs), the city took the name of Tenochtitlan. During the Spanish invasion, it was known as Mexico City. After the Mexican War of Independence, the city took the name of Federal District and remained so until 2016 when it became Mexico City. With almost 10 million people, it’s one of the most populated cities in the world and if that wasn’t enough, it’s also the second city with more museums in the world! Here are some pretty cool and interesting facts about Mexico City (CDMX).
Psssttt… Headed to Oaxaca next? Here is our guide to the best things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico!
Mexico City History Tours
Luis Carlos is a local history guide based in Mexico City (CDMX). He guided us through CDMX on his tour of the Anthropology Museum and his tour of the Historic Center. They were both major highlights of our time in Mexico City. We, at Dominican Abroad, cannot express enough how important it is to have the right guide to help contextualize your travels through Mexico City. And Carlos’ storytelling and detail of history are riveting and fun to learn through. That’s why we were excited to have him write this article about these fun and super interesting facts about Mexico City!
32 Fun Facts About Mexico City
The below list of fun and interesting facts about Mexico City is divided by: history, culture, largest things, and gastronomy. If you have any questions or want to add to the conversation, feel free to leave us a comment below!
History Facts About Mexico City
Mexico means “the navel of the moon”
The capital of Mexico was founded on the site of a divine sign discovered in a lake, hence the name Mexico, which means “the navel of the moon”, as it refers to the center of Lake Texcoco, the heart of the Mexica/Aztec Empire.
Mexico City Was Built Over a Lake
The City of Mexico has been built over the Texcoco Lake, I know, it sounds like a lousy idea. However, for the Aztecs this lake had a great significance, since it was where they found the sign that their god Huitzilopochtli had told them to look for: an eagle on a nopalera (prickly pear cactus). After more than 30 years of searching for the sign, they found it, on a small island in the middle of Lake Texcoco.
Mexico has the Largest Pyramid in the World (By Volume)
Just 2 hours from Mexico City is the city of Cholula in the state of Puebla. In the city of Cholula, you can find the largest pyramid in the world: the Pyramid of Cholula. It has a height of 55 meters and a base of 450 meters on each side, it’s larger than the Pyramid of the Sun in the city of Teotihuacan and even larger than the pyramid of Giza in Egypt. With the arrival of the Spaniards it was decided to build Catholic temples over the pre-Hispanic temples, so if one day you go to Cholula, you will notice that at the top of the pyramid there is a Catholic church from the XVI century.
The Oldest Street in Mexico is Tacuba Street
The Mexicas built this 5-mile street in the 14th century as a trade route between Tenochtitlán, the capital of the empire, with the towns of Texcoco, Tacuba, Tepeyac, and Tlatelolco. It was called Tlacopan, a name that the Spaniards pronounced as “Tacuba” and means “place of the jarilla plant”.
México City Has the only Monarchic Castle in the American Continent
Built in 1785, the Chapultepec Castle is considered the only monarchic castle in the entire American continent. The original purpose was to be the country house of the Spanish Viceroys, after the Mexican Independence, the castle was transformed into the military college of Mexico, in 1864 it became the residence of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlota, after the fall of the empire and until 1939 it functioned as the house of the presidents of Mexico.
Mexico City Was Conquered by the United States in 1847
In the year 1847, the war between the United States and Mexico hit its peak when the war reached the gates of Mexico City. The main battles took place in the months of August and September, the most famous was the Battle of Chapultepec.
Finally, on September 15, 1847, the United States Army arrived in Mexico City and its principal square finding very little resistance, raising the American flag in the National Palace of the capital, which marked the end of the hostilities and gave way to the military conquest of Mexico City. This is where American troops occupied the city for more than 6 months. Undoubtedly one of the darkest chapters in Mexico’s history.
Churches Built Over Indigenous Temples
During the years following the Spanish Conquest (1524-1529), the Spanish conquistadors built more than 68 Catholic churches over prehispanic temples of great importance for the ancient Mexicas, but not only this, the stones of these prehispanic temples were also used for the construction of the new Catholic religious centers. Today, after 500 years, only 20 of these Catholic temples are still standing and 5 are partially standing.
Tenochtitlan Was Built in a Clever Way
Mexico City (formerly Tenochtitlan before colonization) was cleverly designed with small roads that were elevated above the water to connect to dry land and allow the passing of the canoes. Like Venice! The bridges were very easily removable in case anyone attempted to attack the city; closing off the entrance points around the city.
It is the Oldest Recorded City in the American Continent
Mexico City was founded on an island in the middle of a lake in the year 1325 by the Aztecs, at that time it was called Tenochtitlan which means “the place where prickly pears grow”. When the Spaniards arrived, they decided to keep the capital of the new empire on the site of the old Aztec capital.
Cultural Mexico City Facts
Mexico City Has More Than 167 Museums
The Mexican capital is the second city in the world with more museums, reaching 167 throughout the city. Some of the most famous museums are the National Anthropology Museum, the Chapultepec Castle, the Fine Arts Museum, the Frida Kahlo Museum, and the Soumaya Museum. Visiting all of them can be a great odyssey but it is not impossible to do.
Mexico City is Nicknamed is “The City of Palaces”
In the 19th century Mexico had a special guest, the British journalist Charles La Trobe, who wrote a book called “The Excursionist in Mexico”, and from it is this fragment: “Look at his works: the monumental aqueducts, churches, roads and the luxurious City of Palaces”. And it is a very appropriate nickname since throughout the city we can find more than a dozen viceregal palaces.
The Jacarandas Tree: The Purple Beauty of March
The Jacaranda trees are considered by many as the Mexican cherry blossoms, but these trees are a species brought from Brazil more than 90 years ago. This was thanks to the intervention of Japanese gardener Tatsugoro Matsumoto, who managed to convince Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio to desist in his attempt to plant the cherry blossom trees in Mexico City because the climate was not suitable for their growth. So between the months of March and April, Mexico City is dyed purple thanks to the jacaranda trees.
The Second-Most visited Catholic Temple in the World is Located in Mexico City
The Basilica of Guadalupe is the second most visited Catholic temple in the world, only behind St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The temple of the Virgin of Guadalupe receives more than 10 million visitors each year, both from Mexico and abroad. The new Basilica was built in 1976 to house the sacred mantle of the Virgin of Guadalupe. But the old Basilica of Guadalupe was built in the 16th century.
It Was the First City to Host the World Cup Twice
Mexico City has hosted the World Cup twice in Mexico’s history, in the year 1970, the final match of the tournament took place at the Azteca Stadium, with a victory of Brazil over Italy. After 16 years, the Mexican city won again the right to host the World Cup, this second time Argentina brought home the gold trophy thanks to Diego Armando Maradona in a controversial game against Germany. But that’s not all, in 2026, Mexico together with the United States and Canada will host the World Cup, making Mexico the only country to host the World Cup on 3 occasions.
Zócalo Square is the Center of Celebrations and Protests in the City
The Zócalo of Mexico City has been a symbol of Mexican culture since its construction 500 years ago. The square was the stage of protests against the Mexican government, the most notorious ones are those that took place in 1968 by the local students of the city. It has also been used on several occasions to host free concerts of international artists such as Paul McCartney, Shakira and Roger Waters. It is the favorite place for citizens to express their discontent or their happiness.
Today’s Day of the Dead Parade is Thanks to James Bond
In 2015 the world was amazed with the new James Bond movie: 007 Spectre. Some of the sequences of the movie were filmed in Mexico City where the celebration of the Day of the Dead was referenced and for the first time a parade was held in commemoration of this holiday. The city government decided to use this fame to create the International Day of the Dead Parade in 2016 and since then it has become an important tradition in the culture of Mexico City and an attractive tourist destination. So the people of Mexico City should thank James Bond for the Day of the Dead parade.
The Downtown of the City is Considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Mexico City’s Historic Center, considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, is one of the largest historical centers in Latin America, with over 668 streets and more than 1,500 buildings. In this place full of cultural richness, you can admire the Aztec ruins, enter the colonial palaces built 200 years ago or have a coffee in one of its modern skyscrapers. All these activities are in the same place.
The Historical Center: Mexico City’s Commercial District
Throughout all the 668 blocks, the Historical Center of Mexico City has turned over the years into the largest commercial center in the country. In the different streets that make it up, we can find any item we are looking for. On Madero Street we can find jewelry stores, on Motolinia Street we can find hospital articles, on Mesones Street we can find school supplies and on Callejón Girón Street we can find toys of all kinds. So if you are looking for something in particular on your visit to Mexico City, be sure to visit the Historical Center.
Weird Facts About Mexico City
Mexico City is Sinking
Due to the fact that Mexico City has been built over a lake, the Mexican capital is currently sinking almost 20 inches per year, which is a serious risk for the local population, as some buildings are at risk of collapsing. According to some experts, the sinking is a natural and unstoppable phenomenon, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
Some of the City’s Monuments are Crypts
The history of Mexico has been marked by several armed conflicts, which has led to the construction of several monuments to remember those historical events. However, some of these monuments are considered crypts or mausoleums because they contain the remains of some national heroes. In the Angel of Independence, located on Reforma Avenue, are the remains of the heroes of the War of Independence. In the Monument to the Revolution located in the Historic Center of the City, are the remains of the Mexican revolutionaries and finally in the Monument to the Homeland located in the Chapultepec Forest are the remains of the Mexican soldiers killed in the war of 1847 against the United States.
San Juan Market: A City Market Full of Exotic Items
A few steps away from the heart of Mexico City you will find the San Juan Market, a place that has more than 150 years of history. This Mexican market is far from being a conventional market because here we can find an incredible variety of unique items among which insects, scorpions, cockroaches, ants, grasshoppers, and maguey worms stand out. Fruits, vegetables, and cheeses also occupy an important part of the shelves. But what takes the prize for rarity is animal meat such as lion, crocodile, ostrich, and zebra. Undoubtedly a unique place to explore.
Tepito’s More Interesting Facts
Back to Tepito, the neighborhood has infamously been known for its crime due to high poverty levels. However, the neighborhood has also been known for other interesting things:
- Its tianguis (open-air markets) since pre-colonial times.
- Boxing is also a tradition here.
- Korean presence of 2,500 Korean merchants.
- For its deep cultural traditions. For example, the deep-rooted cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death).
Dark Tourism in Mexico City
Dark tourism is considered as a tour that brings travelers into places that are mysterious, dangerous, or have had historically morbid experiences. In Mexico City there are several dark tourism routes. One of the most famous is touring the neighborhood of Tepito, a place where dangerous and illegal activities are not uncommon. Since this neighborhood is known for this, in many cases stolen products can be found in its streets.
Another place to visit in Mexico City with a mysterious theme is the Sonora Market, a market out of the ordinary. Here, you can buy materials for witchcraft, spells, and black magic; as well as the trafficking of animals.
Many Mexico City Locals Believe that September is Cursed
Due to the type of soil in Mexico City, the city is susceptible to earthquakes in a violent way. But the month of September has been marked by some of the strongest earthquakes in the country’s history. The most famous are those that occurred on September 19, 1985 and 2017, yes, two earthquakes on the same day in different years. But also the earthquakes suffered on September 7, 2017 and in 2021. Sounds like a macabre coincidence, doesn’t it?
“Largest” Mexico City Facts
One of the World’s Largest and Oldest University
In the southern part of Mexico City lies Ciudad Universitaria, the heart of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The university is home to more than 300,000 students, 60,000 teachers, and 30,000 administrative workers. It also houses more than 30 museums throughout the country and has more than 57 campuses around the country.
There are also some foreign exchange agreements with countries such as the United States, Canada, China, Spain, Germany, South Africa, and France among many others. Lastly, it is considered the oldest University in the Western Hemisphere, opened in 1551 as the Royal and Pontifical University of New Spain.
The Largest Park in Latin America
The forest of Chapultepec is the largest public park in the Americas, with an area of 686 hectares, twice the size of Central Park in New York. Surrounding this park you can find more than 12 museums to visit, including the National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of History and the Museum of Modern Art. As if that were not enough, the forest is the lung of Mexico City, cleaning almost 4,000 tons of CO2 per year.
The Largest Museum in Mexico City is…
The National Anthropology Museum of Mexico City is the largest museum in the country. It was opened on September 17, 1964, and inside are 22 halls of history related to the original civilizations and cultures of Mexico. The most famous are the Mexica/Aztec Room, the Mayan Room, the Toltec/Olmec Room, and the Teotihuacan Room.
If you wanted to see the whole museum you would need approximately 10 hours or at least few days!
One of the Most Populated Cities in the World
With approximately 10 million inhabitants in all its extensions, Mexico City is in the top 5 of the most populated cities in the world. But not only that, it is believed that every day more than 11 million people come and go from the Metropolitan Area of the city since there is a large labor supply with greater benefits for workers.
Mexico City’s Subway is the Largest in Latin America
The subway of Mexico City transports approximately 5 million commuters every day, making it one of the most used subways in all of Latin America. It is also the longest in all of Latin America with more than 195 stations and a little more than 140 kilometers in length. The subway opened on September 5, 1969, with the One Line which runs from the east to the west of Mexico City.
Gastronomy Facts About Mexico City
Insects in Mexican Gastronomy
The insects in Mexico have been a very important cultural, gastronomic, and medical reference in our country for centuries! Among the most used insects in Mexican cuisine are the crickets, ants, worms, and scorpions — all of them are used to make sauces, tacos, mezcal, stews, and even as snacks. That is why in some restaurants in Mexico City you will find dishes that include insects and that are considered gourmet meals.
Taco Stands Every 400 Meters
In Mexico, there are approximately 115,000 taquerias across the country. In 2019 geographer Baruch Sanginés designed a map of Mexico City where it can be noticed that every resident of the city has a taco restaurant approximately 400 meters away. Making it easier to find such a street restaurant than a school or a hospital.
The Guajolota: The Unusual Torta
Guajolota is one of the most traditional dishes in Mexico city. Maybe you heard about this before but may don’t know what’s exactly. This kind of torta is like a baguette, sliced open and filled with a tamale, but not only tamales are used, we also use enchiladas, chilaquiles, or enfrijoladas. In Mexico City, we eat this like breakfast with a cup of coffee. So if you visit Mexico City you need to try a guajolota in the morning.
About the Author: Luis Carlos
Carlos is a history student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He spends most of his time giving tours around the museums of Mexico City. His favorite place in the city is the Chapultepec Castle because from there you can see a different side of the city. He’s a cat lover but ironically he adopted a dog named Lucky. Carlos is a big fan of science fiction movies and Colombian novels. His favorite food is enchiladas and his biggest dream is to have his own tourism agency one day! Follow him on Instagram @Viajando_Con_Carlos.
About the Editor: Gerry Isabelle
Gerry is the founder of Dominican Abroad – a culture and travel blog that loves to educate, amplify multicultural/BIPOC voices, support local small businesses, and explore natural wonders. She is currently spending some time traveling through and falling madly in love with Oaxaca! Follow our adventures on Instagram @DominicanAbroad.