Mexico City is the most surprising city that we have ever been to, and we’re confident it will charm you, too! With over 21 million people living in the metro area, it is the largest city in the Americas, but it truly doesn’t feel that way.
Mexico City has some of the best cultural, historical, and artistic sites anywhere in the world, and is absolutely worth a visit. We spent an entire week here and were already planning another trip before we’d even left– as we did not even scratch the surface of everything there is to do.
Mexico’s history is brimming with amazing stories, empires, and larger than life characters. We set out to its capital, Mexico City, with a small understanding of the history of the region, but little did we know that we would learn so much just by being there and soaking it in.
With ancient Aztec temples located right in the city center and the vast Teotihuacan pyramids just a short bus ride away, you are in for a historical adventure worthy of Indiana Jones– climbing the epic pyramids of Teotihuacan awed us, and filled us with respect for a civilization from hundreds of years ago that was able to build such massive structures, all before modern machinery.
Mexico City’s world-class cuisine is every foodie’s dream, from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants. It is impossible to go hungry here, with handmade tortillas, overflowing mango and pineapple cups with chili powder on top, or massive elote-on-the-cob on every street corner, as well as restaurants ranging from classy to comfort-food to hip.
You’ll love the vibrant neighborhoods, and sprawling, verdant parks, each with its own personality, architectural style, and trove of restaurants, bars, and shops to explore.
For such a huge city, Mexico City is eminently walkable. We absolutely loved our time here and can’t wait to go back– it exceeded our expectations in every way.
Read on for our top 10 places to visit, from museums to parks to a hidden gem for mezcal sampling.
Top 10 Things to Do in Mexico City
Paseo de la Reforma
Originally built by Emperor Maximilian during his brief tenure to resemble a traditional European boulevard, like the Champs Elysees in Paris, the street was renamed Paseo de la Reforma by Benito Juarez when he assumed the presidency.
This street is home to many statues of Mexico’s heroes and it’s a really fun promenade to stroll down. These beautiful monuments exemplify the country’s national image, with statues of the Aztec emperor Cuauhtémoc and The Angel of Independence victory column, among others.
One of the best things about the Paseo de la Reforma is that on Sunday mornings, the road is totally closed down to car traffic.
During this time, tons of people flock to enjoy the majesty of this tree-lined avenue. This is the perfect time to bicycle up and down the road or to take in the many monuments that dot the Paseo de la Reforma.
If you keep walking down the Paseo de la Reforma, you will reach the Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City’s idyllic city park.
If you’re looking for a complete 4-day Mexico Itinerary, check out our full guide.
Zocalo Plaza & Templo Mayor
Did you know that Mexico City’s main square, the Zocalo, was built on top of an ancient Aztec temple? Even better, you can still tour these ruins today, at the Templo Mayor!
Once the site of the great temple of the Aztec city, Tenochtitlan, these ruins have strong historical significance for the Aztec civilization that lived here. You can see the architectural magnificence on display at this pre-Hispanic temple complex, and walking through the ruins gives you an understanding of how sophisticated the Aztecs were.
The nearby Zocalo Plaza, one of the largest in the world, is a classic example of Spanish plaza design, with the Palacio Nacional and the Metropolitan Cathedral bordering the sides of the plaza. These buildings are exquisitely designed and showcase Mexican architecture throughout different eras, and we recommend peeking into both!
The Zocalo has also been the spot of many historic occasions, including various protests, Day of the Dead celebrations, and rallies.
Touring the Zocalo and Templo Mayor is essential for any trip to Mexico City as you will learn so much about Mexico’s history and identity.
National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de la Antropología)
Located inside the Bosque de Chapultepec, we recommend pairing a visit to the forest and castle with a few hours at one of the world’s best museums. No visit to Mexico City is complete without a trip to this museum, and even if museums aren’t typically your cup of tea, we recommend you make an exception for this one.
This museum is truly a national treasure, and is the largest museum in the whole country, with thousands of years’ worth of artifacts stretching all the way back to Mexico’s Pre-Columbian period.
Perhaps most striking is the Aztec Sun Stone, as well as the giant Olmec stone heads. Civilizations and tribes covered include the Aztec, Maya, Gulf of Mexico, Oaxaca, Mexico, Toltec, and Teotihuacan, as well as sections dedicated to modern rural populations and the colonial period.
There are also a variety of gardens and outdoor exhibits, including a full reconstruction of an Aztec outdoor temple.
We cannot recommend this museum enough!
Did you know that right in the center of Mexico City lies one of the largest parks in the entire Western Hemisphere? Measuring in at 1,700 acres, the Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Forest, is an absolute treasure.
Be sure to set aside ample time to explore the area, as it includes gorgeous walking paths, vendors selling delicious treats, and a zoo.
It is also home to the Castillo de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Castle, which served as the official residence for Mexican presidents until it was converted into a history museum in 1940.
Built during the colonial period, its most famous resident was arguably Emperor Maximilian I, an Austrian royal who became emperor of the (very short-lived) Second Mexican Empire from 1864 until he was executed by incoming president Benito Juarez in 1867.
The walk from the forest to the castle is one of the best parts of the visit, although it is a bit steep! Be sure to take a look inside the castle, as there are beautiful stained glass windows and sweeping views of the city below.
Fun fact: Chapultepec Castle was used as the Capulet Mansion for the 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet, starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Frida Kahlo House and Museum
In the beautiful Colonia del Carmen area of Coyoacán, enjoy exploring a gorgeous, leafy neighborhood paired with a visit to the house shared by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, called La Caza Azul (or the Blue House.)
Frida was born in this house and spent the entirety of her life there, ultimately dying there in 1957. The house has been essentially frozen in time from the time of Frida’s death, and contains a treasure trove of the couple’s art, clothes, letters and other personal belongings, and quirky period furnishings.
The couple were close friends with Russian revolutionary figure Leon Trotsky, and facilitated his asylum to Mexico. The house where he and his wife lived until the time of his assassination is nearby and available for tours as well.
It costs 230 pesos to enter on weekdays, or 270 on weekends, with significant student discounts with a valid ID. We recommend arriving early, as this is one of the biggest attractions in the area and gets very crowded later in the day.
If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat or a pick-me-up, check out nearby Cafe El Jarocho for what is rumored to be the best Mexican-style coffee in the whole city, as well as delicious (and enormous) donuts.
If you’re in the mood to venture a little outside the city, consider a visit to the Xochimilco area, located about 17 miles south of the city. We recommend pairing Xochimilco with a visit to Frida’s house, as the house is approximately halfway between the Zocalo area and Xochimilco.
The claim to fame of the area is its trajineras, or flat-bottomed boats hand-decorated with fabulous colors and designs. Floating along the myriad of canals and enjoying the UNESCO World Heritage chinampas (or floating gardens) is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.
You never know what you’ll see next– floating taco merchants, mariachi bands, rowdy bachelorette parties, etc.
Tour companies like Viator and Get Your Guide offer guided tours (many of which include lunch), for an easy day out. Check out this tour that includes a visit to Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul and a stop in Coyoacan.
That said, it’s perfectly possible to DIY this if you’re seeking to keep it more low-budget.
However, we do recommend a bit of caution here — the price set by the Mexican government per boat (not per person) is about $25USD. If you don’t speak Spanish well, there’s a good chance you’ll get ripped off, and some haggling is necessary and the vendors can be quite pushy.
A good rule of thumb is that, if anyone tries to tell you that the price is per person, walk away.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
This stunning fine arts museum is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Mexico City, and arguably the world! With its spectacular roof and ornate exterior, the building is an architectural gem.
Inside you can find many famous murals, including by Diego Rivera, as well as a large collection of Mexican art. You will be amazed by the quality of the pieces here and the fact that so many of Mexico’s most illustrious works are found here is reason enough for anyone to visit.
If you’re pressed for time, be sure to visit the outside and check out the iconic roof!
Spending an evening watching Lucha Libre bouts is one of the most fun and unique experiences to take part in while in Mexico City.
The entrance fee for most of the wrestling shows is quite cheap at the Arena Mexico, but the entertainment value is huge. We had such a good time watching the antics of these masked luchadores, and highly recommend that everyone experience it.
The excitement of the match is palpable, and you really get into the action of the fight, despite it being largely stage-fighting. With each match, the announcer hypes up the crowd and introduces you to the fighters. They often have funny names that make you want to root for them.
These acrobatic fighters will amaze you with all of the moves and tricks that they undertake– they jump on top of each other and spin around with such grace and strength! At some points, we were on the edge of our seats waiting to see who would win the fight as the luchadores know how to amp up the drama and spectacle.
If all of this action makes you hungry, there is lots of food on offer, including some truly unique provisions– you can even get a cup of hot noodles, or popcorn drizzled with hot sauce! And of course, ice-cold Mexican lagers to accompany whatever treat you choose.
Who would have imagined that you can eat a piping hot cup of ramen while watching a Lucha Libre match?
If you can get past the initial silliness of Lucha Libre, you will have a great time at this uniquely Mexican event.
Tequila’s smoky cousin, mezcal is a unique spirit that hails from Mexico. All over Mexico City, you can find bars that specialize in mezcal, and you can try tons of different varieties.
If you expect mezcal to taste just like tequila, though, you will be quite surprised! It has a really smoky and earthy flavor, despite also deriving from the agave plant. You can learn all about how mezcal is made, and how it’s much more complex in flavor than tequila.
Plus, tasting mezcal in Mexico City is one of the most authentic things you can do here! We really enjoyed our mezcal tasting at hipster haunt Bósforo, conveniently located in the city center, but there are a variety of places you can visit all over the city.
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, a visit to the sprawling Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe area is a must. The architecture of the various buildings is beautiful, and the surrounding neighborhood is really fun to explore as well.
The original shrine was built in 1709, with the area chosen for its proximity to where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Juan Diego in the 1530s. Juan Diego is the first indigenous saint, and his cloak, with its depiction of Mary, is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Catholic religion, and the world’s most-visited Catholic site.
Ingeniously, there is a circular path with an airport-style moving walkway, so as to see the cloak from all angles.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it is said that the Virgin Mary gave Juan Diego a bouquet of roses, so he could prove that he had seen her on one of her visits to him– as roses do not bloom in Mexico in winter. He gathered them in his cloak and went back to town, but when he arrived the flowers had transformed into a gorgeous depiction of Mary herself instead.
Check out Mexico Travel Tips for more on traveling Mexico!
Headed to Mexico? Check out these articles
- 20 Amazing Things to Do in Riviera Maya, Mexico (Don’t Miss Out Any!)
- 13 Marvelous Mayan Ruins in Mexico You Have to Visit
- Best Things to Do in Merida, Mexico: The Ultimate Travel Planning Guide
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