When I arrived to Mexico City other travelers and people back home in the states were interested into why I chose to go there. The city’s reputation as a dangerous, dirty, and overcrowded metropolis hardly may sound appealing to American, Canadian, and European tourists that prefer the turquoise waters of the Mexican Riviera. Many travelers may write it off altogether, but I believe they are missing out on one of the most culturally rich and historically significant cities in the world.
Why Mexico City?
My interest was sparked in travelling to Mexico City after watching the World’s Busiest Cities BBC episode on Mexico City. Learning about how the city is sinking, runs on a daily basis, and the urban planning that was involved in running the largest metropolitan area in the Americas with a population of 22 million people was something that I had to see with my own eyes.
I am not only a nerd, but I am also a spontaneous nerd. I booked my flight the night before I left to the largest city that I have ever been to! When I got on the plane, I had my accommodations booked at Hostel Suites DF and only did rudimentary research on Mexico City from what I saw on the BBC special and that I could see some amazing Mesoamerican Ruins when I got there. Boy was I naive to all of the great experiences that Mexico City offers.
There was so much to do I still was left needing more time at the end of my 8 days in Mexico City. Here are some of the places you cannot miss when travelling to Mexico’s Capital.
Hopefully after reading this post you will see Mexico City for the vibrant and exciting city it is. The city is easily accessible and incredibly affordable so maybe you will even book your ticket there right after reading this!
1. Get to the Center of it all at the Zocalo
There is no better place to get oriented in Mexico City’s urban sprawl then going to the center of it all in the heart of the Centro Historico neighborhood. The Zocalo which just refers to this massive square surrounded by the government palace, the largest Cathedral in Latin America and ruins literally in the center of the city. There is always something going on at the Zocalo. I saw a symphony perform there during the day as I scooted by on my Lime scooter one day.
2. The Metropolitan Cathedral the Largest in Latin America.
There is no missing the Metropolitan Cathedral from the Zocalo. It is the largest after all in Latin America. The Cathedral is reminiscent of Cathedrals in Spain and is uniquely decorated in various architectural styles since it took over 250 years to construct! The Cathedral is free to enter and open from 8 am – 8 pm.
3. Step Back in Time at Templo Mayor
The coolest thing about Mexico City is you can see Aztec Ruins without even leaving the city center. Templo Mayor Museum was one of the coolest museums I have been to. It was an open air and indoor museum that showed you the main temple of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. Here you will learn all about how Mexico City has been the center of everything in Latin America for a very very long time. Also, you can see offerings that were found at the temple, and the progression of the growth of the temple overtime.
Templo Mayor remained hidden under the city for many years. The temple had been destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors in order to bring Catholicism to the land. Interesting fact many of the stones of churches in Mexico from the Spanish Colonial era used stones from Aztec ruins.
The entrance is 70 pesos or $3.66 and is open Tuesday through Sunday. On Sundays it is free!
4. Diego Rivera Murals at the National Palace
The seat of the government of Mexico City has sat in the same spot literally since the time of the Aztecs. In fact, just like the churches, the Spanish used pieces of the last Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II.
However, the reason I am pointing you to the National Palace for a visit is to view the world-famous murals by Diego Rivera depicting Mexico’s History.
The National Palace is free to enter and open from 9 am to 5pm every day except Monday.
5. Take a Day Trip to Teotihuacan “The City of Gods”
A mere 30 km away from Mexico City, and easily accessible by public transport or one of many tours that will pick you up at your hotel/hostel is Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan is a massive complex of temples, residential compounds, and pyramids that you can climb. Once home to over 100,000 people and the stronghold for the Aztec empire these ruins show just how immense the power of the Aztec was during their zenith.
Shrouded in mystery as to who built the place, and home to the third largest pyramid in the world it is a trip not to be missed. Also, you can actually climb the pyramids here (The Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon)! I went with a tour that picked me up and dropped me off at my hostel for 500 pesos, which is about $25 USD. Otherwise you can take a bus from the Autobuses del Norte Station in Mexico City. The bus ride takes about an hour and Teotihuacan is open every day from 9am-5pm for 70 pesos. Pro tip come on a Monday because most things in Mexico City are closed in regards to tourist attractions on Mondays. Also, avoid on Sundays since the place will be packed since Mexican residences go for free.
6. Anthropology Museum
I know what you are thinking, another museum? Everyone suggested I go to the Anthropology Museum and I was a little skeptical at first. People said it was the number one museum to visit in Mexico City and I was wondering if it was a tourist trap. But at 70 pesos it was worth a shot. However, in the end it was amazing and offered a cultural and historical background of everything I saw in Mexico City/Mexico.
If you love history, want more information on the Ruins and cultural makeup of the many different areas of Mexico this is the place for it!
7. Say Hola to the Independence Angel
On a Sunday morning hop on a Bike or a Lime Scooter and drive right through the city center on one of the main Avenues- Reforma Avenue WITHOUT any cars! Along the ride you will see the famous Independence Angel, where you can get the perfect picture to show your friends and family you have made it to Mexico City.
The Angel of Independence was built in 1910 to celebrate Mexican Independence from Spain. It is a symbol of Mexico City and is not to be missed. It is in the center of a round-a- bout on Paseo de la Reforma.
8. Get the best view at Chapultepec Castle
For another 70 pesos ( less than $4 usd), you can get some of the best views in the city center of Mexico City. Chapultepec Castle is the only castle in the Americas that was lived in by a sovereign. It was one of many surprises I learnt about during my time in Mexico City. Fun fact it is also where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed the 1996 Romeo and Juliet. So maybe you can come here to find your Romeo?
9. Stroll Through Bosque De Chapultepec
There are many museums and markets in Chapultepec Park. It is one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere, granting Mexico City Residents the much needed green space in an overpopulated and polluted city. I enjoyed going here not only to see the museums in the area, but also to admire the markets and walk around in a peaceful atmosphere to get away from the city for a bit.
10. Xochimilco Canal Tour to be “That Tourist”
While your experience here can either be very authentic, or very touristic it is worth it either way. Xochimilco is where tourists go to let loose in Mexico City. It is an area with a network of canals that weave through farms and homes, that offer boats called trajineras at 500/600 pesos per hour to tourists to eat and drink together. Sometimes you can see Mariachi Bands on neighboring boats, local families also enjoying the boats celebrating birthdays, or just watch people taking their groceries home on their own boats.
There are different areas where you can disembark, but the best is place to begin is Nuevo Nativitas if you are looking for the best price and the most authentic experience. Also go on a Sunday if you want to be surrounded by locals celebrating birthdays, spending the afternoon with their families, and just relaxing to enjoy the day.
11. Frida Kahlo’s House and Museum
Also, known as “The Blue House” by locals, this National Gem of Mexico is located in the beautiful neighborhood of Coyoacan. It is where she was born, grew up, and died as well as lived with her husband the famed muralist Diego Rivera.
Be warned by your tickets in advance!!!! This is a super popular destination amongst tourists and there are a limited number of online tickets available. If you do not get a ticket beforehand be prepared to wait upwards of 1.5 hours to get in.
Interestingly only a small number of her works are located here, it is more of a historic site to see how the artist lived.
The museum is small and you will need an hour at least to see everything. It is open 10am -5:30pm Tuesday through Sunday.
12. Explore my Favorite Neighborhood Coyoacán with the Free Walking tour
As I said before the Coyoacán neighborhood is one of the most beautiful in all of Mexico City. It is not only beautiful, but also very affluent. Here you will find amazing square surrounded by nice restaurants, local markets, pop up boutique markets, and of course Frida Kahlo’s place.
I decided after my tour of Frida Kahlo’s house to stick around for the free daily walking tour at 3:30 pm that meets in Coyoacán. There I found places that I would have never found on my own. I spent my entire afternoon and evening in Coyoacán because simply there was so much to see and do. This vibrant corner of Mexico City made me not want to leave. I did Salsa in the park, ate at an amazing little restaurant, and shopped in the Market. I highly suggest giving this place an afternoon in order to feel as if you are not in a massive city.
13. Lucha Libre Night Out at Arena
Remember the Jack Black film Nacho Libre? I didn’t realize Lucha Libre was a real thing until I landed in Mexico City. What is Lucha Libre? At first it may look like guys dressed up in gawdy costumes that are just a more violent version of a telenovela. It was steeped in tradition dating back to the 19th century.
The masked fighters one goal is to keep their identity a secret, win, and entertain the masses. The free fighting was born a violent competition that has now been tamed down for TV and tourists. The fights are choreographed, but the participants are famed for their aerial abilities and their athleticism. I thought it would not be for me, but I bought a head band that I proudly wore to support one of the headline fighters. It was impossible to not get caught up in the theatrics of Lucha Libre and I highly recommend a night out to see what it is all about. Many locals go to support their favorite fighter, so don’t worry this is not a tourist trap. Just do not book a tour and come with a group of friends or hostel mates in order to get better seats at half the price!
14. Soumaya Museum
If I had a billion dollars, I would also build one of the most beautiful museums in the world to house my private collection of art from around the world. Well Carlos Slim did exactly that, the richest man in Mexico and one of the richest men in the world decided to make a museum with modern architecture free to the world in his home country in Mexico City.
Come here to see Renoir’s, Rodin sculptures, Van Gogh’s, and many more world-renowned artists from around the world and throughout history. This ritzy museum is also located in one of the richest neighborhoods of Mexico City- Polanco. Polanco is often referred to as the Beverly Hills of Mexico City. It is full of upscale shopping, hotels, restaurants, and embassies making this the see and be seen spot in Mexico City. I found it worth a stroll after seeing the museum and ate lunch here for a reasonable price as compared to back home.
15. Palacio de Bellas Artes
Striking architecture that spans 30 years is what makes the Palacio de Bellas Artes so awe inspiring from first appearance. Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Neo-Classical styles blend to make a beautiful building that people from around to flock to when in Mexico City. It is not only known for the museums inside, but also for the theater.
Fun fact the building has sunk 4 meters since construction began in 1904. Actually Mexico City is sinking at an alarming rate every year.
Also, if you want to see some of the best work from world renowned muralists just walk inside. Here you can view famous Mexican Muralist’s murals, such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and Diego Siqueiros.
16. Grab Street food and head to Alameda Central
Some people maybe weary of trying the street food in Mexico since they are afraid of food poisoning and getting sick while on vacation. However, many Mexicans and tourists eat at food stalls everyday without getting sick. There are many local favorites and you can see how good they are by the line or hoards of people eating around them.
Alameda Central Park is right near the Palacio Bellas Artes and is the first municipal park in Mexico City. It is a perfect place to grab some food from a food stall and sit with friends to enjoy the good weather. Definitely a relaxing respite from the honking horns and hoards of people walking the streets.
17. Roam through Roma and Condesa Night or Day
The Bohemian and artsy enclaves of Roma and Condesa are not to be missed on any itinerary of Mexico City. La Condesa’s tree lined streets and plethora of restaurants, shops, and cafes will not leave you wanting.
It neighbors Roma which is the same, but has more of a hipster vibe. Day or night both neighborhoods are always lively, full of fashionable people, and never boring. Condesa offers nightclubs and bars that will have you dancing until 4 am, while Roma offers bar restaurant types that are for an older more chic crowd. I love both and felt the neighborhoods day and night were very safe to roam around.
18. Visit one of the many Markets/Mercados
My favorite Mercado is Mexico City’s largest- La Mercad. My second favorite and more manageable market is Mercado de San Juan. Both markets offer a lot, food, artisan products, house butchers, fish mongers, and fruit galore, but I go for the color, the people I meet, and the food!
Great if you want a souvenir or a very cheap bite to eat. Markets are one of my favorite stops in any country I visit.
19. Take a bike or scooter down Reforma Avenue
I was amazed that a city of 20 plus million people is able to shut down the major avenue in the city 8am – 2 pm every Sunday for locals and tourists alike to cycle or scoot down Paseo de la Reforma with freedom.
Muevete en Bici, a government initiative, aims to promote active lifestyles. If you don’t have access to a bike don’t worry. There is a tent at Glorieta de la Palma you can borrow a bike for two hours. Get there early! Otherwise get a Lime Scooter or rent a bike from your hostel/hotel.
If you like local and authentic experiences this is definitely a phenomenon you cannot miss!
20. Try the Churros at El Moro
Satisfy that sweet tooth at the best Churros in the city at one the El Moro locations! After a long day siteseeing an afternoon sugar rush will get you through the day. Get the hot chocolate to dip your warm lovely churros.
El Moro was found by a Spaniard in 1935 and is open 24/7. Also, it is very Instagrammable! For 72 pesos you can get a cup of hot chocolate with four massive churros. You won’t be leaving this place hungry!
21. Sunset at the Monumento a la Revolucion
It was amazing that one of the best sunsets in Mexico City was a hop skip and ump away from my hostel (Hostel Suites DF). Monumento a La Revolucion is an amazing monument that you can climb or simply admire, while the sun goes down. During the evening a water fountain gives quite the show, and you can even run through it if you need to cool down from a long day of site-seeing.
How to get to Mexico City?
While I flew to Mexico City if you are looking to travel onward to some other amazing destinations in Mexico bus travel is definitely an option. Some popular destinations you can easily reach by bus are Puebla, Oaxaca, and Merida. I prefer to book in advance so I know I have a seat and Bookaway makes it easy to plan and book with their easy to use website.