When you’re doing business in a foreign country, don’t forget to see the sights. Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City is one of the country’s iconic structures. It’s steeped in history and culture. Even better, there’s a lot to see and do nearby, so it’s easy to make a day of it.
About Chapultepec Castle
You don’t normally think of castles when you think of the Americas. And it’s true — Chapultepec Castle is unique. In fact, it’s the only royal castle in the Americas. And since its construction in 1785, it has served as a home for emperors and viceroys, as a military academy, as an observatory, and, since 1939, as a museum. If you’re going to be in Mexico, Chapultepec Castle should be at the top of your must-see list.
Chapultepec Castle facts and history
Chapultepec Castle began life in 1785 as a home for Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez and his family. Some people, however, believed that de Galvez was planning a rebellion against Spain. The castle, they argued, was actually a fortress. De Gálvez died suddenly, amid rumors of assassination. The castle sat empty until 1803 when the municipal government of Mexico City purchased it.
The castle remained unoccupied during the Mexican Revolution. During the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848), it was the site of a famous battle, the Battle of Chapultepec. The Marines’ Hymn remembers the castle to this day as “The Halls of Montezuma.”
During the Second Mexican Empire (1863 to 1867), the castle, then known as Castillo de Miravalle, was home to Emperor Maximilian I and his wife, Empress Carlota. And it was Maximilian who constructed the long, straight boulevard that connects the castle to the center of Mexico City.
After the end of the empire, the castle once again fell into disuse. Then, in 1878, Chapultepec Castle was reborn as the Astronomical, Meteorological and Magnetic Observatory. Just five years later, the observatory relocated, and the castle became a military school. It also served as the presidential residence.
In 1939, Chapultepec Castle once again transformed — this time into its current incarnation, as the home of Mexico’s National Museum of History.
Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez built his home on the highest point of Chapultepec Hill. As a result, the castle boasts incredible views in all directions. The name Chapultepec is from the Nahuatl language. It means “at the grasshopper’s hill.” The Aztecs considered the hill to be sacred. And today, the hill offers spectacular views of Mexico City and the surrounding forest.
Chapultepec Hill sits in the middle of Chapultepec Park, which is one of the largest green spaces in Mexico. The park is a vast area with a variety of activities, comparable to New York City’s Central Park. Visitors can enjoy museums, exhibition spaces, fountains, gardens, lakes, a zoo, and more. You could easily spend an entire day enjoying selected amenities in the park. Or you could take several days and see them all.
The Museo Nacional de Historia comprises twelve rooms, each housing artifacts from different periods of Mexican history. You can learn about the Aztecs who flourished in the area between 1300 and 1521. There are also exhibits and dioramas about the Spanish colonial period. You can likewise learn about the different leaders who lived in the castle. In addition, you can experience the memorial to the Niños Héroes, the teenaged soldiers who died defending Chapultepec Castle from American Marines during the Mexican-American War.
Additionally, you can experience the museum’s collections of coins, artwork, documents, technology, and costumes that tell the exciting story of Mexico’s history.
Chapultepec Castle hours and information
The Chapultepec Castle hours are Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is free on Sundays and free for teachers, students with ID, seniors and children at all times. Admission is $70 MXN, or around $3.56 USD.
To get there, take the metro to either Auditorio Station or Chapultepec Station. From there, walk to the Bosque de Chapultepec Park. Walk up the hill to reach the castle. There is also a small train that runs up the hill.
Make a Day of It
Chapultepec Castle is located in the heart of Chapultepec Park. The park itself stretches out over more than one thousand acres. The park is divided into three sections. Take a look at what each of the sections has to offer, in order to find what most interests you.
La primera sección (the first section)
The first section is the easternmost part of the park. Here, you will find the attractions of greatest interest to visitors. The Alfonso Herera Zoo is in the first section, for example. Named for biologist Alfonso L. Herera, the zoo opened in 1929. Today it is home to over 2,000 species. The first section also has two lakes and numerous fountains by famous sculptors like Jose Maria Fernandez Urbina. In addition, you will find a world famous botanical garden.
The first section also boasts archeological treasures such as “the Baths of Moctezuma.” In the 15th century, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina built the Banos as a pleasure garden, as well as to breed exotic fish. In addition, the Banos stored water from a nearby spring. Over the course of many years, this site has been excavated and restored.
The Museum of National History in Chapultepec Castle is just one of the five museums located in this part of the park. In addition, visitors can enjoy the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, El Museo de Caracol (which displays historical dioramas), and a Museum of Anthropology.
La segunda sección (the second section)
The second section is a hit with families, as it is home to numerous family-friendly attractions. There, you will find the El Papalote Children’s Museum and the CFE Museum of Technology. There is also a skate park.
In addition, you will find the famous Tlaloc de Carcamo. This is Diego Rivera’s massive fountain sculpture of the God of Rain. The structure was part of a failed water infrastructure project. However, a 2010 restoration has returned the sculpture and fountain to glory as a work of art. Part of El Lago Mayor (the larger lake) overlaps with the Second Section. And in this lake, you will find the Monumental Fountain, which is the largest in Latin America.
The Feria de Chapultepec amusement park is another draw. The park has a capacity of 15,000 people and receives some two million visitors every year. The park’s claim to fame is the Montana Infinitum, which was the first roller coaster in the world to have three vertical loops.
La tercera sección (the third section)
Chapultepec Park’s third section is for nature lovers. The third section is a designated ecological preservation area. It is the largest urban forest in Latin America. Some organized activities take place there, such as archery and horseback riding. However, the main function of this part of the park is to act as a sanctuary for various species of plants and animals.
In addition to more than a week’s worth of attractions, Chapultepec Park is also home to numerous restaurants and picnic areas. So it’s easy to take a break when you need to.
Plan Your Visit Today
Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City is a wonder in its own right. It has been a seat of power, culture, leadership and learning throughout many periods of Mexican history. And today, it offers a pleasant, and educational day out for visitors and residents alike. Even better, it is one of the dozens of attractions located in a beautiful and unique park in the heart of Mexico City. If you’re in Mexico City, don’t miss it.