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Chapultepec Castle - Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico City

Chapultepec Castle & Park

Mexico City's stately castle has a remarkable history

Historic Building

Roma, Condesa & Polanco
Mexico City


Chapultepec Castle

Set on a hilltop with sweeping views of the Valley of Mexico, this grand and palatial building has seen Mexico’s history unfold within its walls.

The site of Chapultepec Castle was sacred in Mexica (Aztec) times. It was the summer home of the Viceroyalty of New Spain in the colonial era, then a military academy during the U.S.-Mexico War, before becoming an opulent presidential palace under Emporer Maximilian’s rule of Mexico, and continuing as the home of Mexico’s president after the restoration of the republic.

Since 1939, when the President moved to another building within Chapultepec Park, the castle has been home to the National Museum of History, filled with thousands of artifacts and epic murals that offer a fascinating retelling of Mexico’s past.

Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
Emperor Maximilian, who ruled Mexico during the French intervention in the 1860s, developed Chapultepec Castle in the style of a European palace

Escape into Nature

With over 1,600 acres of forest, twice the size of New York’s Central Park, Chapultepec feels a world away from the traffic-clogged streets, pollution and urban sprawl that characterises much of Mexico City.

A walk through the park passes idyllic lakes, neatly paved pathways for jogging and cycling, and an abundant forest.

Over forty tree species help maintain a healthy biodiversity within the park, including several giant Montezuma Cypress trees, considered sacred in indigenous culture with the oldest in the park dating back to Mexica (Aztec) times.

Chapultepec Forest makes a vital contribution to the environment of Mexico City, stabilizing the climate, reducing air pollution, and providing a home to dozens of species of birds and other wildlife.

Chapultepec Park - Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City
Chapultepec Park's two artificial lakes offer a tranquil retreat from the bustle of Mexico City

Museums, Zoo and Botanical Garden

Several of Mexico’s most prestigious museums can be found just outside the Chapultepec Park gates.

Highlights including the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology, two contemporary art museums (the Rufino Tamayo Museum and the Museum of Modern Art) and the Natural History Museum.

Inside the park, the Botanical Garden contains over 300 species of plants from across Mexico’s landscapes.

Chapultepec Zoo is one of the world’s most visited, housing rare Mexican wildlife, notably the Mexican wolf, ocelot and jaguar, as well as species from across the globe, including the giant and red panda, lion and snow leopard.


Sacred Mexica (Aztec) Site

Evidence of human habitation of Chapultepec dates back to Preclassic Era (2500 BC - 200 AD). Archaeological discoveries suggest that the area was also settled in the era of Teotihuacán, and later, by the Toltecs.

Chapultepec took on increased importance in the Mexica (Aztec) age, when it was a forest outside of the imperial capital of Tenochtitlan.

Considered a sacred site by the Mexica, the hill where Chapultepec Castle now stands was used for astronomical observation. Archaeologists uncovered an observatory and a temple on this site.

Chapultepec became an important water source for Tenochtitlan, with an aqueduct delivering water from springs into the metropolis. This aqueduct would contribute to the fall of Tenochtitlan. It was blocked by the conquistador Hernán Cortés during the Spanish siege of the city, cutting off the water supply.

The Battle of Chapultepec

Chapultepec was the site of one of the most consequential events in Mexico’s history.

In 1846, a territorial dispute over Texas’s southern border erupted into full-scale war between the United States and Mexico.

Invading U.S. troops reached as far south as Mexico City, capturing Chapultepec Castle on September 13, 1847.

At the time, the castle was being used as a military academy. Here, six young cadets died defending the castle. One reportedly leapt to his death wrapped in the Mexican flag to prevent it being captured by the invading forces.

The six fallen cadets, known as the Niños Héroes, are commemorated in Chapultepec Park to this day, with the imposing Monumento a los Niños Héroes (Monument to the Hero Children) standing at the foot of the hill below Chapultepec Castle.

The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ended the U.S. occupation of Mexico, but resulted in around 40% of Mexico’s landmass, including the present-day states of Texas, New Mexico and California, being ceded to the United States.

Monument to the Hero Children - Monumento a los Niños Héroes, Chapultepec Park, Mexico City
The Monument to the Hero Children commemorates the cadets who died defending Chapultepec from the U.S. army

A Royal Residence

Chapultepec Castle first housed Mexico’s leader in the colonial period, when the Viceroyalty of New Spain used the building as a summer house. But it was not until the French intervention in Mexico in the 1860s that Mexico’s ruler, Emperor Maximilian von Hapsburg, transformed the castle into his grand imperial residence.

Maximilian hired a team of architects to renovate the castle. Filling it with works of art shipped from Europe, he reconstructed the castle in the style of a European royal palace.

Maximilian’s reign did not last long. In 1867, his empire was defeated by republican forces, the emperor was captured and executed, and Chapultepec Castle was left abandoned.

But the presidents of the newly restored Mexican republic would soon claim the castle as their official residence. It remained so until 1939, when the president moved to Los Pinos, another building in Chapultepec Park.

The castle was then converted into the National Museum of History, and the building has been open to the public ever since.

World Class Urban Park

In 1895, President Porfirio Díaz established a commission to transform Chapultepec Forest into a recreational park.

As with many of Mexico City’s constructions from this era, the plans for the park took inspiration from Paris, in this case the Bois de Boulogne park near the Eiffel Tower. The park’s two artificial lakes were constructed and the terrain landscaped.

Throughout the 20th century, crowds of Mexico City’s residents eager to escape the chaos of the city for an afternoon flocked to the green open spaces of Chapultepec Park. The opening of several world-class museums and the Auditoria Nacional concert hall defined the area as a preeminent cultural center in the city.

The park expanded westwards with the opening of the second and third sections in the 1960s and 70s. In the 21st century, significant investment in renovating the park over two decades resulted in Chapultepec being awarded the World Urban Parks’ Gold Award in 2019.

Chapultepec Park - Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City
The serene forest of Chapultepec Park is a popular retreat for Mexico City's residents


Chapultepec Castle

Chapultepec Castle sits on top of a large hill within the first section of Chapultepec Park.

Visitors should head to the ticket office located at the bottom of the hill, which is a short walk from the park's main entrance gates (Puerta de los Leones) on Avenida Paseo de la Reforma.

After purchasing a ticket ($95 Mexican Pesos), visitors should walk up the paved road to the castle's entrance gates. The walk takes around 15 minutes and can be steep at times.

Within the castle, visitors can explore the National Museum of History, which features artifacts, displays and some spectacular murals depicting important chapters in Mexico's history.

Chapultepec Castle is open from 9am to 5pm on Tuesdays to Sundays. The castle is located within the gates of the first section of Chapultepec Park, which are open from 5am to 6pm.

Both Chapultepec Castle and the gated first section of Chapultepec Park are closed on Mondays, as is the case with many of Mexico City's attractions.

Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
Vsitors to Chapultepec Castle can enjoy grand architecture, sweeping views and explore the National Museum of History

Walking Routes

The Puerta de los Leones (Gateway of the Lions) marks the most popular entrance to Chapultepec Park.

Here, two grand lion statues mark the gateway on Reforma Avenue, next to the Estela de Luz monument built to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of Mexico’s independence.

Entering the park, a short walk across a bridge takes you to the Monumento a los Niños Héroes (Monument to the Hero Children) with a view of Chapultepec Castle above.

From here, either head up the hill to visit the castle, or follow the path to the right. Passing a long row of characterful stalls selling souvenirs and Mexican candy, don’t miss the Botanical Garden, the entrance to which is signposted to the right of the path.

Further along, you will find Chapultepec Lake, a relaxing spot to escape from the chaos of the city. The lake is a short walk from a number of prestigious attractions that are worth a visit, including the National Museum of Anthropology, Museum of Modern Art and Chapultepec Zoo.

Four Park Sections

Chapultepec is a vast park, stretching from the central districts around Paseo de la Reforma and Polanco across to the western perimeters of the city.

This large area is divided into four sections. The first section, on the eastern side of the park bordering Paseo de la Reforma, Polanco and Condesa, is by far the most popular with visitors and is home to most of the park’s attractions.

The second section, further west, is popular with locals, particularly dog walkers who are prohibited from entering the gated first section.

The third and fourth sections in the far west are primarily ecological preserves with few visitors.

Bike Rental

Exploring the park on bicycle makes for a great day out.

Bikes can be rented using the app Ecobici, which has bike stations around the Roma, Condesa & Polanco area. Use the app to unlock the bikes by scanning the QR code printed on every Ecobici bike. Alternatively, BiciGratis stalls along Paseo de la Reforma and in Polanco offer free bike rental, leaving an official ID (passport or driving license) as a deposit.

As with the walking tour, the Puerta de los Leones gateway makes an ideal entry point into the park. Heading across the bridge to the Monumento a los Niños Héroes, you can either turn right to cycle towards Chapultepec Lake, or turn left for a longer ride into the second section park across the bridge Calzada Flotante Los Pinos.

Cycling in Mexico City is particularly enjoyable on Sunday mornings when Paseo de la Reforma is closed to traffic. This allows a car-free cycle from the Centro Historico, past the Angel of Independence, around Chapultepec Park and into Polanco.

Last Updated: January 22, 2024
First Published: November 1, 2023