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The Ultimate Mural Tour In Mexico City

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4 months ago

After my first solo trip to Mexico City, I fell madly in love with Mexican murals – they make both culture and history super accessible! In this ultimate guide, I have set out how to have the Ultimate Mural Tour in Mexico City. And best of all, I will share all my tips on how to do it for free.

You’re probably thinking, but do I really need to go see art in Mexico City?  

My answer: YES.

Mexico City’s murals should be everyone’s Mexico City Bucket List

diego rivera's mural at Mexico's parliament with Frida Kahlo
Mexico City’s most remarkable mural: Diego Rivera’s ‘The History of Mexico’ at the Palacio Nacional.

Whether you only have a weekend in Mexico City or you are not sure what to see in Mexico City in four days, make sure these murals are on your Mexico City itinerary! 

Before you go: Everything you need to know about Mexican murals

Mexico has a long history of muralism, dating back to the Aztecs! 

aztec era mural at the Museo de historia mexicana in Monterrey, mexico
A recreated Aztec-era mural in Monterrey

Between the 1920s and 1950s, the Mexican government hired artists to paint giant murals across Mexico’s public buildings. Mexico had just gone through a revolution and the government wanted to promote an inclusive image of Mexican society.  

mural in art centre in San miguel de allende
You can find political and historical murals all over Mexico, like this one in the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez El Nigromante in San Miguel de Allende

In short, all Mexicans should feel they have a stake in their country!  

There are three names you need to know before visiting Mexico City: 

  1. Diego Rivera: perhaps more famous for being the husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera is the most recognised Mexican muralists. 
  1. José Clemente Orozco: famous for powerful social and political commentary. For me, Orozco was the greatest surprise – he really gets your brain ticking about why Mexico City is so unique! 
painting by siqueiros of mexican campesinos in museo soumaya
David Alfaro Siqueiros’s ‘Coal Miners’ at the Museo Soumaya in Polanco, Mexico City’s safest area to stay
  1. David Alfaro Siqueiros: known for his bold and often dark colours, expect lots of strong images on social justice. After my crash course in Mexican murals, you’ll be able to spot a Siqueiros from a mile away!  

Travel tip: I always recommend visitors to watch the film ‘Frida’ before visiting Mexico City. You will learn so much about Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo an the historical context of Mexican Murals.

Top 5 murals in Mexico City  

Mexico City has a history going back thousands of years and before you visit Mexico City, you want to make sure you at least understand the basics.  

mayan calendar at anthropology museum
You can learn more about Mexico’s pre-Hispanic civilizations at the National Anthropology Museum

The monumental murals of Mexico City give you the quickest crash course in Mexican history and society – and who doesn’t like the picture book version? 

1. Palacio Nacional 

If you only see one mural in Mexico City, make sure it is the Palacio Nacional.  

The political center of Mexico, the Palacio Nacional (or parliament) is home to the most famous Diego Rivera mural in Mexico City. ‘The History of Mexico’ an epic, multi-level mural which tells the story of Mexico from the Aztecs to modern times.  

diego rivera mural at the palacio nacional
Can you spot both Karl Marx and Frida Kahlo here?

As you take in Diego Rivera’s murals, keep your eyes open for famous figures like Frida Kahlo and Karl Marx!

How to visit the Palacio Nacional

The Palacio Nacional can be a little annoying to visit.

a close up of workers and socialist figures in diego rivera's murals at the palacio nacional
The murals at the Palacio Nacional reflect some of the Socialist ideals of Diego Rivera.

First, you can arrange your free tour slot at the building next door, Calle Moneda 4. I always recommend getting there early (ideally before 9 am) to get in line. For a free English tour of the Palacio Nacional, there are a handful of tours a day – you will be allocated a spot and told to return (this gives you time to explore the Zocalo or Templo Mayor).

Travel tip: When visiting Palacio Nacional, do not forget to bring your passport!

If you’re considering staying around the historical centre, check out my guide to the best neighborhood in Mexico City to stay.

diego rivera murals in the hallways of the palacio nacional
The painted hallways of the Palacio Nacional.

The Palacio Nacional is often included in Mexico City tours. But, don’t worry, you can only visit this mural with a guide which really makes for the best experience!

2. Palacio de Bellas Artes  

The symbol of Mexico City, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is a cultural gem and houses murals from all of Mexico famous muralists (you’ve got the list handy above!). 

palacio de bellas artes mural

One of Diego Rivera’s most controversial Mexico City murals is here: ‘Man, Controller of the Universe’ . This mural aims to capture humanity’s quest for knowledge but includes a whole selection of historical characters.

diego rivera mural of leon trotsky and karl marx
Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and other historical Socialist figures

American tourists to Mexico City: this mural was originally meant to be in the Rockefeller Center in New York City but was destroyed (!) because of the inclusion of Soviet leader, Vladimir Lenin.  

Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin in one of Rivera’s most controversial artworks

How to visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes

Budget travelers to Mexico City will be pleased to know the Palacio de Bellas Artes is free to visit on Sundays! Otherwise, at the time of writing, entry is 75 Mexican pesos ($4.50) a person.  

Local tip: For the best views of Mexico City, head straight across the plaza from the Palacio de Bellas Artes into Sears. If the café on level 6 is busy, go up one more flight (level 7) and you will find panoramic windows with no other visitors in sight!

view over palacio bellas artes in mexico city
View of the Palacio de Bellas Artes from Sears

For a truly special and unique Mexico City experience, I always recommend booking in for the Folkloric Ballet at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

3. Museo Mural Diego Rivera 

The name really gives it away, but I was surprised to find out this museum only houses one mural!

But this is perhaps the most famous mural in Mexico – Diego Rivera’s ‘Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central’.

close up of diego rivera's dreamy afternoon at the alameda central featuring La Catrina, Frida Kahlo and a young diego rivera main feature of mural tour mexico city
This may be the most iconic scene in all of Mexico murals.

I won’t give away too much, but this mural is HUGE and offers a crash course of the who’s who in Mexican history: Frida Kahlo, Emiliano Zapata and the most famous painting of La Catrina (the Mexican skeleton glamour lady!)  

The Alameda Central mural is huge.

How to visit the Museo Mural Diego Rivera

Like the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Museo Mural Diego Rivera is free to visit on Sundays and the two buildings are only about a 7 minute walk from each other.

Otherwise, entry is 40 Mexican pesos ($2.20) a person.  

4. Secretaría de Educación Pública (Ministry of Public Education)  

In my opinion, the murals at the Ministry of Public Education are one of Mexico City’s hidden gems.  

mural at the ministry of public education in mexico city during mural tour mexico city

Across two huge open-air courtyards, you can find both Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros murals covering the ‘life of the people’.  Don’t worry, there are English captions to help you understand the murals!

colonial architecture rivera mural tour mexico city

The building still operates as the government ministry. Take a moment to ponder how government officials feel when they’re working underneath such powerful social statements.

How to visit the Secretaría de Educación Pública

As a government building (and technically not a museum), the Ministry is closed on Sundays but open on Mondays – a rarity in Mexico City!

frida kahlo handing out guns in diego rivera's mural at the ministry of public education
Diego Rivera often painted his wife, Frida Kahlo, into his murals.

The Ministry is one of the best free things to do in Mexico City, just make sure you have a government ID (passport to be safe) with you!  

Walking around this area can feel a little rough, don’t dress too fancy and keep a watch on your pockets!  

5. UNAM Buildings 

The National Autonomous University of Mexico (or UNAM) is a sprawling campus, recognised by UNESCO as world heritage for its public murals! 

central library of universidad nacional de mexico
The Universidad Nacional de Mexico or UNAM.

In my opinion, no mural tour in Mexico City is complete without UNAM.

The main Central Library of UNAM is the big showstopper, but don’t forget to also check out the Rectoria, with a 3D mural by Siquieros jutting out of the building!  

mural of Siquieros at UNAM mexico city
The remarkable 3D murals of Siquieros.

Diego Rivera fans will want to take a walk over to the Olympic Pool at the University, which has a small Rivera mural above the entrance. In the late afternoon UNAM is full of students and residents having picnics and walking their dogs.

After a few days in this megapolis, visiting UNAM is one of the most relaxing things to do in Mexico City!  

Travel tip: The UNAM buildings are about 20 minutes by Uber from Coayacan and the Frida Kahlo Museum. An easy add-on to your Mexico City itinerary!  

public mosaic mural of pre-hispanic history at UNAM during mural tour mexico city
The pre-Hispanic and First Encounters history panel of UNAM’s Central Library.

How to visit UNAM

The university campus is free to walk around. It is quite far from the center of Mexico City but easily accessible by public transportation, with Line 3 extending to Universidad station (right on campus).

Uber is the safest way to get around Mexico City. For ride-sharing apps, you will want to make sure you have a local Mexican SIM. I always prefer having an eSIM ready just to make my trip a little more convenient!

mural and modern building at UNAM on mural tour mexico city

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