Mexico City is an intoxicating, passionate, and culturally-rich place with a largely misunderstood reputation. Though stories of crime and violence have warded off some travelers, the people who go are quick to tell you that it is one of their favorite destinations in the world.
Built upon an ancient lake bed and the site of an Aztec city, Mexico City is brimming with history, breathtaking architecture, world-class art and museums, limitless entertainment, and some of the best street food that will ever hit your tastebuds.
To see the highlights you’d have to spend at least a week in Mexico City, but even with more time you’ll surely find it impossible to cover everything to see or do in Mexico City. Thankfully, many of the best attractions are located in close proximity, so you can cover a lot even in a short period.
Here are the top 28 things you don’t want to miss!
THE 3 TOURS MOST WORTH DOING
Most things to do in Mexico City can be done independently, but several tours offer significant added value over the DIY approach.
This is either because you’ll get an expert guide, more efficient transport, or because the activities are more fun to do with a group.
These are my 3 top recommended tours:
- Day trip to Teotihuacán. Doing it yourself will involve 2,5 hours of travel each way, but the tour picks you up from your hotel, saving you time. Take it from me, the epic ruins are also far more fascinating when accompanied by an expert guide. You can book it on GetYourGuide or Viator.
- Canal boat ride at Xochimilco. Having drinks on the boats is much more fun in a group setting, and it’s much cheaper to pay for the Mariachi bands together. There is a great tour that includes Xochimilco, the Frida Kahlo Museum, the historic area of Cóyoacan, and the beautiful university grounds — there are all sights pretty far outside the center. I did this exact tour on GetYourGuide (also available on Viator) which I recommend.
- Lucha Libre night. Watching some Mexican wrestling is even more fun in a group and when there’s someone to explain the masks, plot twists, and tell you who the baddies are. Things can get rowdy but it’s all in good fun. You can book it here.
Plan your trip to Mexico City
- Find a hotel in Mexico City on Expedia.com. Roma and Condesa are popular areas to stay. Polanco and Juarez are also great.
- On a budget? See my personal tips for the best hostels in Mexico City.
- Stay connected by buying a local SIM card, for instance at a Claro shop, or get an eSIM for Mexico before you go.
- It’s always wise to travel with insurance. I personally use Heymondo and you’ll get 5% off travel insurance using this link.
THINGS TO DO IN MEXICO CITY
If you’re wondering what to do in Mexico City, the following are some of the main attractions that should definitely top your list.
1. The Zócalo
Location: Google Maps
Not only is a visit to the historic Zócalo, or central plaza, a proper introduction to the city, but it will help you get your bearings and discover a plethora of nearby attractions and delights.
Also known as the Plaza de la Constitución, it’s home to the National Palace, the famous Metropolitan Cathedral (Latin America’s oldest and largest), and several other historic buildings.
By day, the square is often host to public events and festivals. At night, concerts are sometimes played. Stroll the Zócalo at sunset to watch the changing scenery as the lights come on over the city.
2. Ruins of Templo Mayor
Opening hours: Tue – Sun, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Admission fee: $90 MXN
Location: Google Maps
Though unexpected, Templo Mayor became one of my favorite places to visit in Mexico City. Preserved just behind the Zòcalo, these ruins are what remains of the ancient Aztec city, Tenochtitlán.
Since the Spanish conquerors razed the temple to the ground, you need some imagination to envision what it may have once looked like, but the displays do an excellent job of helping you do so.
The impressive adjoining museum showcases the Precolumbian history with an array of artifacts and cultural information. Relics, such as a skull rack, have only been excavated in recent years and new discoveries are continuing to be collected each year.
Watch my video for a more personal introduction to Mexico City, where I show my favorite places and give you an idea of what to expect of this enormous metropolis. Or scroll along for more things to do in Mexico City!
3. Panoramic skyline views
Opening hours: 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Admission fee: $10.36 – $12.50
Location: Google Maps
The perfect way to get your bearings, you’ll get a panoramic overview of Mexico City from the top floor of one of CDMX’s tallest office towers, the Torre Latinoamericana.
You can easily see the Xaltepec volcano and other peaks in the distance while gaining a perfect angle at the stunning roof of the Palacio de Bellas Artes that’s just across the street.
4. National Museum of Anthropology
Opening hours: Tue – Sun, 9:00 AM – 5 PM
Admission fee: $57 MXN
Location: Google Maps
With over 150 museums, Mexico City is a Mecca for history buffs, art and culture enthusiasts, and anyone craving to learn a bit more about Mexico, the world, innovative concepts, and perhaps about themselves too. In the next few items, we’ll highlight several museums most worth visiting.
The absolute must-see is the stunning Anthropology Museum. With two massive floors of high-quality exhibits covering every major ancient civilization in Mexico, you should plan to dedicate at least a half day.
From the totemic pillar greeting you as you enter to all of the artifact-filled rooms, it’s easily Mexico City’s most impressive museum.
5. Artworks by Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera
No visit to Mexico City would be complete without seeing some of the works by this iconic artist couple!
Rivera was known principally for his epic murals. The most famous can be seen in the National Palace, but since this is actively used as a government building, you can only do so with a prior reservation (free). Other murals can be seen inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes (entry costs $75 MXN) and the Diego Rivera Mural Museum (entry costs $40 MXN).
Frida’s works are sprinkled across a variety of art museums; you can see the best museums for Frida Kahlo art here. She also has a museum dedicated to her in her place of birth in Cóyoacan, which is mostly biographical (entry costs $250 – $270 MXN).
6. Chapultepec Forest — the biggest city park
Opening hours: Tue – Sun, 5 AM – 7 PM
Admission fee: Free
Location: Google Maps
The hustle and bustle of the city can get a little overwhelming at times. Fit in a trip to Chapultepec Forest, conveniently located near downtown and Roma/Condesa.
One of the world’s largest urban parks, it spans 450 acres and provides numerous enjoyment options, including botanical gardens, a lake with paddle boats, hiking trails, special events, and three of Mexico City’s best museums, including the National Museum of Anthropology.
To top it off, Chapultepec Castle rests atop the hill where Aztec rulers once convened for respite. As you wander this Nueva España estate, you can enjoy one of the best views of the city.
The lakeside Librería Porrúa (location), a cafe/book store with trees growing inside it, makes for a lovely spot to grab a chai, latte, or coffee.
7. Palacio de Bellas Artes
Opening hours: 10 AM – 7PM (museum: Tue-Sun 10 AM – 6 PM)
Admission fee: Free ($70 MXN for museum)
Location: Google Maps
The Palacio de Bellas Artes takes the cake for stunning architecture. In springtime, the purple jacarandas bloom for an impressive sight. But any time of the year, Palacio de Bellas Artes provides a spectacular ambiance at golden hour.
For a better view of its colorful dome, just pop inside the Sears department store and head up to the top floor. Cafe Finca Don Porfirio has a terrace with the perfect angle onto the palace and park. You can also go up the Torre Laticoamericana for the view pictured above.
Next to Parque Alameda, couples tend to mingle, basking in the romance. It also offers great entertainment with offerings of the Ballet Folklorico, world-class art exhibits, and other events.
8. Boat rides in Xochimilco
Opening hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Admission fee: $350 – $500 MXN/hour/boat
Location: Google Maps
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Xochimilco offers one of the city’s most quintessential experiences. This area contains a large system of ancient canals that serves as a major agricultural center for the region.
Visitors can ride through the canals on traditional and brightly colored boats called trajineras, while vendors in paddle boats bring snacks and drinks and Mariachi bands hop from boat to boat performing songs.
It’s either a peaceful, refreshing experience or a private party, depending on the crowd you bring. A boat fitting up to 20 people costs about $40 USD for 2 hours. It may seem touristy, but it’s a real tradition for the chilangos who come here, particularly on weekends when it’s decidedly busier.
9. Museum of Popular Arts
Opening hours: Tue – Sun, 10 AM – 6 PM; Wed, 10 AM – 9 PM
Admission fee: $60 MXN
Location: Google Maps
This museum doesn’t seem to get a lot of mentions, but it’s one of my favorites in CDMX. If you want to dive headfirst into Mexican visual culture and folkloric art, then this underrated museum is an absolute must!
Utterly bursting with color, it takes you on a vibrant journey through Mexican culture in folk art. It’s a medium-sized museum but count on needing at least about 90 minutes to cover it well.
10. Explore Cóyoacan
Location: Google Maps
Cóyoacan is a charming neighborhood in a historically significant site, as it’s here that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés once launched his attack on Tenochtitlán.
Many arrive in Cóyoacan to tour Frida Kahlo’s home, Casa Azul. It’s a very interesting stop, but a bit pricey by Mexico standards at $12 for general admission.
Other intriguing stops nearby include the Museo Casa Leon Trotsky Museum, the Diego Rivera Museo Anahuacalli, and the Museo Nacional de las Culturas Populares.
And yet, simply walking the streets of Cóyoacan is rewarding enough with beautiful gardens and courtyards, quaint squares, brightly colored colonial homes, and mouth-watering food.
Note that the Frida Kahlo Museum is one of the most-visited attractions in Mexico City and it’s not uncommon for it to be booked out days in advance. I advise you to reserve a ticket and use the option for early access offered by GetYourGuide. If you’re not getting early access, consider the first normal timeslot of the day (10 am) to avoid the crowds.
10. Discover Roma & Condesa
Location: Google Maps
These adjacent neighborhoods are a joy to explore. With an unbelievable collection of international restaurants, sidewalk cafes, excellent nightlife, boutique shops, and some of the most beautiful parks in the city… it’s a bit of a paradise for foodies and dreamers.
Known as hipster and digital nomad havens, these affluent areas are also some of the most beautiful in Mexico City. You can use these wonderfully calm oases to recharge in between your sightseeing. The parks even have chill-out areas with headphones playing soothing sounds!
Definitely stroll or take a run on Avenida Amsterdam, an old horse track turned into a gorgeous Art Deco residential street with a pedestrian loop through lush gardens.
11. Artisans Market
Opening hours: Mon – Sat, 10 AM – 7 PM; Sun, 10 AM – 6 PM
Location: Google Maps
Looking for some souvenirs or gifts? Then you can’t go wrong with the Mercado de Artesanías. It’s absolutely brimming with all manner of colorful paraphernalia, textiles, Day of the Dead skulls, and more.
Predictably, some of the goods are mass-produced (and possibly not in Mexico) and not so great, but there is a healthy share of genuine craft, including handcrafted items from regions such as Chiapas and Oaxaca.
12. The UNAM Central Library
Location: Google Maps
Located not so far from Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighborhood, the UNAM university campus is filled with architectural highlights. When built in the 1950s, it was on the cutting edge of 20th-century modernism, which later earned the whole site UNESCO World Heritage recognition.
But the best part is definitely the Central Library, which features enormous mosaic murals created by the Mexican artist Juan O’Gorman. I found it interesting to listen to a guide explain the significance of the numerous symbols and historical events depicted in it, though the university campus is also just a safe and pleasant area to explore by yourself, particularly if you’re heading to Coyoacán.
13. The art museums
Besides the cultural and archaeological museums mentioned earlier, CDMX has numerous art museums worth checking out.
Museo Soumaya is one of the best things to do in Mexico City, home to a private collection of over 66,000 pieces of ancient and modern art.
The Modern Art Museum in Chapultepec Forest and the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo are two other highlights.
14. See the Lucha Libre
A truly unique local entertainment experience—a famous professional, albeit scripted and comical wrestling match of masked figures that dates back to the early 20th century.
Similar to WWE-style wrestling, the iconic masked Mexican wrestlers can be seen performing live several nights per week. There’s the stadium-size Arena México or the more intimate Arena Coliseo to choose from.
Besides watching the show itself, I found that half the fun was watching the audience’s reactions. The spectators were getting far more worked up than I expected… even parents swearing in front of their kids! But it’s all in good fun.
Consider going to a Lucha Libre fight with a tour because being with a group makes the experience of observing the spectacle a lot more fun.
Tip: photo or video cameras (besides smartphones) are not allowed inside.
DAY TRIPS FROM MEXICO CITY
Many travel guides refer to Teotihuacán as being a destination in Mexico City, but it is really an hour out of the city from the northern bus terminal. You can catch a bus from Mexico City to Teotihuacán. In total, the trip can take about 90 minutes one way. Although not difficult to visit independently, doing it with a tour can give you more context.
The largest temple, the Sun Pyramid is the most well-known and can be climbed. Be sure to grab a map to explore the great variety of historical sites and especially make sure you visit The Temple of the Feathered Serpent.
As with many other top tourist attractions, beware of souvenir sales tactics here… ”Almost free,” is not almost free, and “One dollar” usually means “one dollar off.”
Mexico has designated over 100 “magical towns,” or “Pueblos Mágicos”. Aimed at increasing tourists to these places, they’re genuinely a great way to discover some of Mexico’s most charming towns.
A little over an hour south of the city by bus, Tepoztlán is a particularly special destination, offering unique opportunities to become more acquainted with prehispanic cultures. The local market is fantastic, offering foods that highlight traditional prehispanic herbs, seeds, and produce.
Another treat is the hike up to Tepozteco, an Aztec archaeological site sitting atop a steep cliff. The hike takes about 1.5 hours and is strenuous, but people with diverse fitness levels complete it daily. At the top, you’ll likely make amigos with the friendly coati—avoid feeding them.
Another Pueblo Mágico, this former silver mining town is about 2,5 hours by bus south from Mexico City’s southern bus terminal. It’s a popular weekend spot for locals and its charming winding streets are a delight to explore.
Besides the many silver jewelry markets, Taxco makes for a fun base for excursions. You can take a dive in the Blue Pools, visit an ancient prehispanic mine that was discovered underneath a hotel, or see the epic waterfalls at Mil Cascadas.
The traditional stew pozole hails from Taxco and can be sampled there in three classic varieties.
Puebla is the fourth largest city in Mexico but maintains a relaxed small-town vibe. As one of the oldest cities, Puebla is a great destination to enjoy historic sites, visit museums, and stroll colonial streets.
Puebla is where the misunderstood Cinco de Mayo celebration originated, following the Battle of Puebla in which the Mexican Army achieved an unlikely victory over the occupying French troops.
Check out Museo Amparo and do not leave until you’ve eaten the tacos árabes, a local Arab-Mexican creation of schwarma-style meat and pita-style tortillas dating back to the 1930s.
Just outside of Puebla, this Pueblo Mágico is an easy day trip from Mexico City or an extension to your weekend in Puebla. Known as the City of Churches, the small town of Cholula is home to 365 churches.
Undoubtedly the most visited one is La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora which sits upon the big “hill.” Actually, underneath the church is the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest pyramid in the world by volume… once abandoned, overgrown, and later mistaken as a hill by the Spanish.
Cheap semi-structured trolly tours from Puebla depart multiple times daily.
21. Paso de Cortes
This scenic pass actually flows between two massive volcanos, the active warrior Popocatépetl and the sleeping woman, Iztacchíuatl. Spend the day or a couple of days hiking up Izta.
A short hike will reward you with incredible beauty. Skilled hikers can navigate the snowcaps, but be aware this is a technical hike and people have died. Staying overnight is possible by bringing a tent or arranging at the park office to stay in the old microwave station… which is a bit spooky.
From the station, the trail heads down to the base of Popo through dreamlike meadows. Though a day trip is possible, I recommend staying overnight to enjoy the sunrises, sunsets, and many hours of exploration and hiking available.
From Mexico City, you can take a public bus to the small town of Amecameca to sign in at the national park office and arrange a shuttle to the La Joya parking lot at the base of Izta.
FOOD IN MEXICO CITY
Where to start?… Anywhere.
If you see something tasty, I say be brave and go for it!
Okay, first make sure you see a clean source of water and follow the rule—eat where other people are eating… it’s a good sign that it is tasty, safe, and food is turning over quickly.
To help you make sense of and prioritize your food options, here are some of the best choices.
21. Street food!
The street food options are practically endless in Mexico City and can be found on most blocks.
One option is to find a tianguis, or small street market, distinguished by outdoor tents and various vendors. The Tuesday Condesa Tianguis is a great spot where you can try many different dishes as you stroll the local produce market. Other permanent markets, such as Mercado Jamaica offer daily options.
Tacos al pastor: schwarma-style pork topped with pineapple, onion, and cilantro on fresh corn tortillas.
Tortas: the Mexican sandwich on a large airy bun, stuffed with your favorite provisions.
Huaraches: “Sandal”-shaped, oblong masa boats filled with refried beans and queso, cooked on a comal (Mexican griddle).
Tamales and Atol: traditionally served together for breakfast, the tamal is savory or sweet masa steamed in corn husks or banana leaves, often stuffed with meat, salsa, or fruit. Atol is a thickened hot masa beverage, usually served plain or with champurrado (with chocolate).
Juices & Licuados: While it’s true, you need to be careful about eating raw fruits and veggies, I just can’t resist the fresh juices and smoothies available in the city. The variety and richness of the produce is unreal and these make for a great late-morning refreshment.
Pro tip: With street food, always ask how much before ordering, pay after you eat, and eat there at the stand.
22. Deserts and pastries
For some “postres”, consider these:
Churros: Essentially fried dough covered in cinnamon sugar…yes you need them.
Pasteleria: Bake shops, which seem to line every street in Mexico City offer more carby, sugary things than you could imagine. With a few pesos, you can walk out with a box full of goodies.
23. Prehispanic dishes
Keep your eye out for some of these authentic specialties for a uniquely preserved culinary experience.
Huitlocochle: The Mexican truffle, a rich corn fungus, often served warm with cheese and bread for dipping…trust me, it’s wonderful.
Hoja santa: A savory large-leaf herb with a sassafras profile, frequently served with melty Oaxaca cheese.
Chapulines: Not my favorite on account of an intense bug phobia…these are actually one of the most popular snacks for locals in the region. Streetside vendors sell them in bulk, or you may find them accompanying your mezcal at the bar. Roasted crispy, they resemble pumpkin seeds.
24. Celebratory favorites
Pozole: The stew of celebrations, this tomato-based soup incorporates hominy, meat (usually pork), and an array of garnishes. It’s a quick, nourishing, and absolutely delicious meal.
Chile en Nogada: Arrive in Mexico City anytime between August and October and you’re likely to see advertisements for these roasted peppers all over the city. Traditionally stuffed with pork and fruit, then topped with a creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds, this dish symbolizes the Mexican flag in celebration of Independence Day, September 15th.
25. World cuisine
Don’t get me wrong—the Mexican food is mind-blowing. But you’d be amiss if you didn’t take advantage of some of the global eats in the city.
Asian food was particularly impressive, with a revitalizing Chinatown (location) and numerous Japanese eateries. Great options for Lebanese, French, Italian, Brazilian, Colombian, and American gastro are also in plenty.
MEXICO CITY NIGHTLIFE
Nightlife in Mexico City is excellent and available til sun up for those who seek it. A few places to start are:
- Mezcalerías: usually laid-back, chill bars offering tequila’s cousin…a unique, smoky liquor, harvested from wood-fired agave.
- Pulquerías: typically alternative dive bars serving pulque, a traditional thick fermented drink made from agave sap.
- Colonia Juarez, Roma-Condesa, and Polanco: the hot spots for world-class nightclubs, dance parties, shows, and the like.
Transportation: Public transportation is plentiful and cheap with an extensive bus and subway system. Ubers are inexpensive and reliable (though some may try to take you the long route). Taxis can be obtained from official stands in the airport. Otherwise, avoid them due to the perils of cash handling, such as refusal to provide change or having a “broken” meter. Mexico City is not an ideal place to rent a car.
Money Matters: ATMs are the easiest way to get money. For street (food and shopping) purchases, you’ll need cash (pesos). Otherwise, most places accept cards.
Safety: Particularly at late night hours, travel with a group in well-lit, public areas. Keep your passport in a safe, secure place. NEVER keep your wallet in your pocket, but especially not on the bus/subway. Methodical thieves are known to work together to crowd and push people, while one takes the wallet…unbeknown to the person until later when they go to make their next purchase. I follow the two-zipper rule (money in a zipper, in a zipper).
Original version of this guide written by Tiffany Mead, who spent 6 months researching every corner of Mexico City. Revised and expanded 2023 guide by Marek Bron.
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